The day before yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, and I didn’t go to Mass. I haven’t been to Mass in a few weeks, actually. At first I didn’t go one Sunday because I was mad about the Synod (yes, it was the equivalent of a spiritual temper tantrum, and I’m sure it showed the bishops, so there), then I needed to go to confession, but I didn’t, so I didn’t go Mass again, thinking I’d go to confession and Mass the next week, and so on, until the weeks went by and I wound up here, starting out Advent in a state of spiritual screwage.
As penitential seasons go, I prefer to start Lent out a hot mess. Remorse and repentance are easier at Lent, for whatever reason. Probably because the world keeps turning, oblivious to the coming Death and Resurrection, and it’s easier for me to cultivate a spirit of reparation in midst of the quotidian. Advent is different. There’s anticipation everywhere – even this early, it’s palpable. The lights and the wreaths, the scent of our Christmas tree, the excitement of my children…I can touch it, taste it, feel it. I want to share in the joy of Advent and the excitement of the coming of the Christ Child. I don’t want to do an examination of conscience, go to confession, and beg that Child to pull my soul back from the brink, once again.
But there’s the rub. I can’t have the joy without the pain. I can’t have mercy without admitting that I need it, and asking for it. It wouldn’t be mercy otherwise – it would just be spiritual Snuggie, covering me up so I feel more comfortable while I freeze to death.
I don’t know why I’m still dragging it out, though. I love confession. I mean, I hate confessing, but as a chronic oversharer, confession has always been my favorite sacrament. I don’t think I’ve ever gone this long without confession, actually. 2 months is usually my limit – this time it’s been closer to 5. I can feel the weight of it all building up, too, like plaque does in between trips to the dentist. I feel gross and dingy and sad, and yet I’ve put it off again till next week…or the next. It just seems, like everything, to be one more thing I can’t quite manage today.
I know I’m not the only person who does this. It’s kind of like a theme for human beings…we put off doing the things that we need to do, that we want to do, even, because…why? Is it a fear of suffering? Maybe for other people, but I don’t think that’s the case for me. I know the guilt and subsequent angst of a merry-g0-round of mortal sin is far more painful than confession ever will be. Pride, maybe? I don’t want to look at myself honestly in the confessional, but I’m okay with spilling my sin all over the internet? Doubtful. If anything, it’s sloth, I guess. Spiritual apathy.Sometimes during this pregnancy, I’ve not eaten till the afternoon. Not because I’m not hungry — actually I’m starving, but making food for myself seems like an insurmountable task. I’ll make food for the kids, or at least pour them cereal, because they’re sitting in front of me and asking and they need to eat and I love them. But doing the same for myself has occasionally seemed impossible. I know, rationally, that I need to eat, that the baby needs food, that I absolutely can get up and make myself some eggs, and that I will feel better afterward, but I still can’t quite force myself to do it. Mostly I’ve seen this as a symptom of depression, since not eating is about the most atypical behavior for me ever. But as the weeks drag on and I keep not quite forcing myself to go to confession, I’m starting to wonder. How much of depression is tangled up with sloth? Is it all the same thing, and could I just pray my way out of it if I really tried hard enough? But when the will to try is what’s missing, how do I even go about beginning?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not starving or suicidal or anything. I’m taking my meds and gaining weight exactly according to schedule, one pound a week, and the baby is active and beating the crap out of my uterus. I’ve begun to feel better in the last few weeks, and nothing seems as bleak as it did. But there’s still that listlessness, that missing inclination to do things, whether it’s this one thing, or anything. Instead of just feeling sorry for myself about it, I’m wondering if that itself is a sin. Or the result of sin. Or something.
Luckily for me, I don’t have to figure it out. It’s Advent, and the Church in Her wisdom has thrust a penitential season upon me whether I’m up for it or not. Pope Francis has declared this the Year of Mercy, so the least I can do is drag myself to the confessional and beg for some. Maybe it will help, and I’ll feel so clean and shiny and hopeful that whatever mixture of depression and sloth has taken root in my soul will disappear. Maybe it won’t, and I’ll have to slog through whatever this is for a while longer. In any case, at least I’ll be able to go to Mass with my family and light the Advent candles, as we wait together for Hope to enter the world.