For me, the pain of leaving is not as sharp as it is for most students; unlike them, I’ll be returning to Gaming in the spring. So, I’m looking back two years to remember what I felt as a junior leaving one of the most transforming semesters of my life.
I knew I had been changed, but I wasn’t quite sure how. I realized that I owed a lot to the environment of the semester, daily Mass, the focus of classwork, and the personal commitment of those around me. In the Kartause, that environment comes easily—sometimes jostling with the excitement of travel. But overall, a sense of personal growth permeates the semester.
Leaving that first time, I had a choice. I could leave all that I gone through, all the ways I had grown, all the good habits I had formed, abandon in Austria—chained to the place and experience that had brought them about.
Or, I could pack them in my suitcase, right between 17 bars of chocolate and a funky tapestry I picked up in Barcelona, and carry them back home.
Advent is like a semester in Austria. It’s an intense time of growth (if one makes the commitment to make it so) and can sometimes be forgotten when the magic of the newness wears off. But, even though the semester is ending for students, warmth is fleeing all across the northern hemisphere. And even though the year goes through a type of death, there’s newness of life.
Advent brings in the new liturgical year. A baby is born in Bethlehem. A semester in Austria—or any growing experience—is a beginning. Students in Gaming might relieve their Austrian semester by beginning with “Once upon a time in Austria…,” but Catholics everywhere can start a similar story: “Once upon a time in Advent…”