Saturday, December 31, 2011

Through Him was Life

“What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”

2011 brought a myriad of unrest in Arab Countries in the Middle East, including Egypt where Mary and Joseph fled in Matthew’s Gospel that we heard this Wednesday. Syria, a significant site in the Bible from Abraham to St. Paul’s conversion, has also overflowed with violence since early spring. At year’s end, the United Nations has challenged Syria’s government to end the bloodshed and imprisonment of its own citizens.

Today’s Gospel brought to mind an email I received earlier this week from a Jesuit who lives and works in Syria, particularly with CLC. In the midst of the suffering of the human race he experiences daily, he recognizes glimmers of hope, and signs that God remains Incarnate in the people of Syria.

“We are certainly living some historical moments in this country, and that’s for sure: things will never be the same again afterwards. Our Christmas festival here was of course quite unique this year. In fact, there were no celebrations at all, because, for safety reasons, people tend to stay at home as much as possible…But when we do find the courage to get together, we have the chance to share our experiences and even our fears with each other. This then makes us see the situation in a different, usually less dramatic perspective… It is so encouraging to discover that there are so many people around the world expressing their concern and sympathy with us. This really stimulates us to carry on and helps us to believe that there is Someone out there who cares and who is able to change our troubles into blessings.”

At the close of 2011, I thank God for the safety of my own family, and the privilege to gather with others on this journey rather than walking alone. I ask for the grace and courage to be “Someone out there who cares” for all people in my own life and in the world. I ask to be a visible reminder that in small ways the darkness has not overcome the light which Christ enfleshed in this world.

Farewell 2011, Welcome 2012. May 2012 be filled with Life!

reflected by Jen Horan

Friday, December 30, 2011

In Gratitude and Hope: Feast of the Holy Family

“Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem..." – Lk 2:39

How interesting that the Church chooses the same Gospel reading for these past two days. To me, it is full of hope. Hope in a promise to be fulfilled. We see the old Simeon “awaiting the consolation of Israel” praising God when he saw the baby Jesus being presented in the temple. We hear Anna, the 84 year-old and long time widow, giving thanks to God when she saw in the child Jesus the fulfillment of God’s age-old promise to save her people. We witness a poor couple, Mary and Joseph, entrusting their child to God. This gesture of consecration deepens their “yes” to trust in the divine promise despite struggling and understanding little of God’s plan. They become the Holy Family as they place their hope in God.

These days visiting and celebrating with families, friends, and the communities to which I belong have been full of joy for me. However, as I spent time with them, I also hear much pain, suffering, confusion and hardships. Much of these trails and tribulations I cannot alleviate. However, as I try to be present and listen without judgment, without fixing, without dismissing, or patronizing, something mysterious begins to happen. When I try my best to care, to listen attentively, to sit with people in their misery and pain, while trusting that God is present-with-us, suffering-with-us, laboring to love us in our struggles, something surprising happens. Albeit painstakingly slow, God happens. When we can lift up our struggles to God and become the safe place where people can present their vulnerabilities, hurts, and fears to God, hope is born. As Mary and Joseph presented their child Jesus to God in the temple, along with their hopes and challenges, they elicit hope in Simeon and Anna, who have been waiting for a long time. Similarly, as we struggle to trust God’s promise, we become the contagious place or threshold of hope. Our gratitude can overflow in hope like Simeon and Anna.

It’s so interesting that God chooses the human family (and community) as the school of hope and gratitude. We have a lot to be thankful for our families. Yet, through the struggles in our families and communities, we can also learn to bear hope.

How am I grateful for my family/community? How can I place greater hope in God regarding my family? With whom can I be present in gratitude and hope, even with pain and suffering?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ready to See

“Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” – Lk 2: 29-32

Early November, my husband and I hydroplaned on the freeway. While the car was spinning rapidly, I can still recall gripping on the side handle and my husband asking me, “Are you okay? Are you okay?”

After hearing his concern, the spinning turned into a slow motion effect as I was moved by his selflessness and worried less about what could possibly happen to us. The car was finally put to a stop as we hit the embankment on the freeway. In the rain, we stepped outside and two cars pulled over to help us. In one car, it was a couple checking whether if we were safe and offered to drive us to the closest exit and gas station. As for the other car, the driver mentioned to us that he had already notified the police of our accident and for us to continue to leave the area.

In the gospel story today, my eyes glistened as I read, “My own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people.” Images of the accident replayed in my mind and I was able to see Him and His salvation through the goodness of my husband and the people who helped us.

Today, we rejoice as we celebrate the cross, the way the Lord saves. Simeon encountered baby Jesus and rejoiced because he had seen salvation. Each moment of our lives, we are given the chance to make a choice of living out God’s gospel. Are we helping others to see the works of His salvation? Have we been open and grateful to see this salvation ourselves? Are we rejoicing in this salvation?

Lord, please help me not only to receive you, but also to reveal you…

reflected by Tam Lontok

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." – Matthew 2:20

It can be tempting to romanticize the season with the cheer and festivities of the holidays. Hot chocolate and ribbons can make us feel so warm and fuzzy. Yet, there’s more. Today’s Gospel presents a sobering reminder of the reality of Jesus’ entering into the world.

Christmas gives the opportunity to celebrate: Jesus Himself comes to be with us and bring about fuller life. Of course, with any new, significant shift that challenges the current norms, there’s also going to be a reaction. King Herod was no exception to this. He enjoyed dominance over his kingdom and was now threatened with its fall. His intense need for control and its subsequent fear drove him to the extreme of having a mass number of infants murdered.

After getting past the horror of Herod’s actions, I realize I'm actually not that different sometimes. That is, when a door is opened for a new way of looking at or going about life, there is a reaction and deep resistance - external, internal, or both. Why? Growth is better, but not necessarily easier. I might not like my old ways, but they require less effort than moving into something new and unknown. I want to be more present to God, but sometimes find myself allowing activities like Facebook and projects to become hindrances rather than helps. It’s often very subtle. Moreover, these shifts have sometimes meant uncovering and facing some seriously deep fears.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He knows and still chooses to come in the midst of it all. The Herod within me is encouraged then to shift from reacting out of fear to responding in love and trust. I become more free, more hopeful. If I try to cooperate more with God's movement in my life, and be real to the times when I still struggle (sometimes quite significantly), there’s a deep confidence that the effect - in time and with God's grace - can be nothing less than profoundly transformative.

reflected by Quyen Ngo

Monday, December 26, 2011

Not Entirely Ready but Receptive

‘Stephen called out "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."’ – Acts 7:59

I am often torn around the Christmas holidays. On the one hand, I experience much jubilant joy and cheerful spirit among people. On the other, I also go through difficult moments of loneliness, loss, and sadness. I am not alone on this predicament. The holidays allows many of us to be in touch with the loss of loved ones recently deceased, the pain of family members seriously sick, the weight of financial worries, the separation of close relationships and the awkwardness of strained ones. While we celebrate God already-with-us, we also become more aware that God seems not-yet-with-us. On Christmas Day yesterday, a series of deadly bombing rocked the capital of Nigeria while the Pope urged for an end to the bloodshed in Syria.

The readings around Christmas point to this already-here but not-yet coming of God. In two days, we celebrate the feast of innocent children massacred because Herod wanted to kill the infant Jesus. Today, we remember Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The promise in the crib and the sacrifice on the cross are closely intertwined. Love has a price tag. God in Jesus came as a baby born in a and died as a criminal on the cross, loving consistently. God is not ashamed of human lowliness or messiness, she entered into it. Moreover, God often comes as an unexpected, uninvited, often unrecognized guest. We are not always ready for this coming; yet we can be receptive and allow it to dawn within us. A friend recently shared that our hope lies not in something, not in some belief or idea, but in someone. In someone who often surprises us, entering our brokenness and magnifying our joy, desiring to stay, whispering peace, “I am here.”

While we cannot always be ready for this, we can be receptive.

Let’s continue to ask for the grace to be receptive. Allow God to surprise us through difficult as well as positive moments and feelings throughout these festive days.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Love Revealed: Solemnity of the Nativity

“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory … full of grace and truth.” - Jn 1:14

Almost two months ago, I met God. Rather, I received an epiphany – God’s revelation through a migrant man. Let me call him Miguel. I met Miguel at a homeless shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, a day after he was deported. He entered the US twenty-two years ago by walking along the San Diego beach and simply crossed the border. He found honest living as car mechanic, eventually owning a body shop and providing for his wife and two beautiful daughters. One day, he was accosted by the police and was immediately deported for not having immigration papers. He told me of his plans to reenter the country as soon as he could. I asked if he understood the great risk of being caught and branded a criminal, never to have any chance of entering the US again. He looked at me, with tears swelling up his reddened eyes, and said: “I have to do it. I want to be with my family. They are my home.” Looking at his teary eyes, I encountered God. It struck me that God embraces a similar risk to be with you and me, willing to pay the cost to be with those whom God loves.

Today we celebrate the love of a God who humbly became human like us. Jesus, Word of God, Who is God, became one of us. He built his house next to ours, lived among us, ate like us, suffered with us, for us, to save us. He came as a child, a poor child, born in a humble manger. To a poor family. To serve and give his life because he loves us. He wants to make us God’s home, God’s favorite hiding place. God is crazy in love with us. Like people who love, God wants to be one with us whom He loves.

Today, we celebrate a love born in the crib and continue to the cross. In Miguel, God reveals to me a love willing to accept all costs to be with the beloved. When we look at a person who is poor (or migrant), who loves, who forgives, we see God. God who is poor, who loves, who forgives. God chooses to show God’s light most clearly through human beings, through you and me. Through us who are poor, weak, and sinful. This is the glory of God’s humility. The light of God’s love.

What if God wants to surprise us in humble and unexpected ways, revealing Godself in the least of those we interact during these festive days? What if God desires to encounter us in our poverty and humility?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Advent

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace." Lk 1: 78-79
Over the last few weeks of advent, the time to prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus, I must admit I’ve been so preoccupied with work that I haven’t had much time to think much about Christmas.  I’ve been so stressed out focusing on everything that has gone wrong with my experiments and working so hard to finish up before the holidays, that some days I wished we didn’t have time off so I would have more time to work.  I imagine that many of us feel stressed out during this season, with all the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping and preparing for the holidays, that we often overlook the greatness of Christmas.   But it’s never too late!
Today, Christmas Eve, Luke’s gospel is a reminder that Jesus came to set us free -  “free to worship him without fear” (Lk 1: 74), free to be ourselves and celebrate this joyous occasion! What a perfect way to remember what Christmas is all about: a celebration of the birth of Jesus, who came to save us from sin and set us free.  It’s amazing how all my stress and worry can seem so insignificant when I think about how wonderful Christmas really is.  When I give up my need to control everything and lift up all my stress and worry to the Lord, I’m left with a deep sense of peace knowing that everything will work out.  There might never be enough time for me to get everything done “my way” but there is peace in knowing that God often has a plan we don’t always see or understand.  Although it is so easy to let the troubles and difficulties of the day or the month get me down, I can’t keep letting it cloud what I believe is true: that Jesus loves us greatly and He will provide, we just have to open ourselves to let Him.  With that in mind everyday, there are no obstacles we can’t overcome, nothing we can’t do, the possibilities are truly endless!
What keeps you from being free, from the peace in knowing Jesus will provide?
Lord, may the celebration of your miraculous birth guide us all into the way of peace. 

reflected by Ylan Nguyen

Friday, December 23, 2011

God has shown favor: Friday of the Fourth Week of Advent

“Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God” – Lk 1:64

When I was 21 years old, I underwent orthognathic surgery to correct a severe under bite. My mouth was wired for 12 weeks shut to allow my jawbone to heal and set in. I could not talk and was limited to a liquid diet. My siblings were so nice, they teased me relentlessly for being unable to talk and paraded my favorite food in front of me while enjoying these delightful delicacies. It was a long three-month waiting, unbearable at times. When I finally spoke, I was filled with gratitude and expectancy. I was eager not just to eat substantial food, but excited to converse with people. I caught a glimpse of what Zechariah experienced.

At the announcement his son’s birth, the elder Zechariah asked for a sign. And he became mute for 9-months. What a dramatic sign. Talk about being careful of what you ask for! Some say he was punished for doubting. Yet, my experience of not talking for months helps me to see Zechariah’s imposed silence as effective preparation. Zechariah had been waiting all of his life for a son; like his people and wife Elizabeth, he had been hoping for God’s decisive action to liberate his downtrodden people. So when he opened his mouth, it was to bless God. He sang out an effusive canticle which began with: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people and set them free …” (1:68). For nine trying months, as his son was growing in his wife’s womb, Zechariah was being prepared to join the unfolding drama of God’s saving love. Before he spoke, he wrote his name’s son on the tablet: “John” which means “Yahweh has shown favor.” Favor not only to his family, favor to his people, favor to the poor and lowly.

I was told that my jaw surgery would improve my bite, my self-esteem, and possibly my speech. Little did I know that it would prepare me to speak of God’s love, of God’s favor to me, to God’s poor, to people I’m so privileged to encounter and serve. I understand more deeply now how God had been preparing me, like God prepared Zechariah, to enter the unfurling drama of Christ’s saving love. It is my deep intuition that God has been preparing each of you as well, to take your place in this mysterious and magnificent drama of liberating love. For nothing is impossible with God.

What if whatever you’ve been experiencing these past weeks is a preparation for a magnificent epic of love? Take a few minutes of quiet, step back, and imagine this possibility of how you are favored.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

“My spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked upon his lowly servant.”
I can’t understand Mary’s willingness in her response to God. I am often filled with many questions and fears. I like to plan things out, analyze things, and be in control of everything around me.  I could never quite understand this exchange between Mary and God. A few years ago, a personal encounter with a priest before Mass changed that.
When I arrived at Mass, the priest saw me and his first reaction was, “Oh there you are! I was hoping you were coming. I need your help.” He wanted to draw out the importance of Mary’s “yes” in today’s Gospel and help the parish understand this responsiveness to God in our own lives. He had come up with this great idea to have me carry the statue of the baby Jesus in the entrance procession, place it in the crèche, and sit down in my seat like normal.  At the start of his Homily, I would go and take the baby away. He thought the visual of someone taking the baby away from the crèche would be provocative, and highlight the incredible role that Mary’s openness played in the Incarnation.  
I do not remember the words of his homily, but what is seared in my memory is his joy in sharing his scheme with me. It mattered that I had come. It mattered that I participated in this Eucharist. And for that one moment I glimpsed God’s joy in inviting Mary to be a collaborator in His plan.  My one small part mattered in his bigger plan. It seemed very insignificant, but he took such delight in asking me to participate, and I in turn was excited to help him make his vision come alive in some small way.  
Can I imagine a God who looks it me so lovingly and so excited to share His delight with me? I am as excited as He is to share in this plan?

reflected by Jen Horan

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Visitations of Joy: Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

“Hark! my lover – here he comes …” – Sgs 2:8
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” – Lk 1:45

The readings today are spectacularly rich. They depict special visitations. The first portrays a breathless anticipation of a lover visiting his beloved, beckoning her to “Arise, and come!” The second paints a picture of the young Mary visiting her older relative Elizabeth, triggering bursts of joy. This painting by a Vietnamese Buddhist invites us to imagine the scene of this visitation:

Take time to look at the picture. There are several distinguishing features. A meeting of poor peasant women. Notice the mud house with bamboo and straw roof … ceiling hanging down … walls peeling off. Mary arrives unexpectedly, before Elizabeth can tidy up. Notice the light surrounding the young Mary … how she arrives ... barely in the door … handbag barely off her shoulders … her left palm open and lifted up … feet ready to move … eyes brimming with eagerness … with good news ... A posture of total openness … Joy overflowing in both women. We can almost see the child in Elizabeth’s womb, leaping for joy …

This joyful visitation foreshadows what is to come as Christmas draws near: God is coming to visit, in our home, as we are. Like Mary with the child in her womb visiting Elizabeth with her child in her womb.

I often confuse joy with happiness. Yet there is a key difference. Happiness is about “getting what you want” while joy is about “wanting what you get.” Happiness is dependent on external circumstances, triggering feelings that comes and goes. Joy is more of an attitude of openness to life as it unfolds, an acceptance of the way things are. It lasts beyond feelings of satisfaction, even when things do not go one’s way.

Christmas is not always rosy or easy for many of us. We don’t get the gifts we want. We don’t have enough time or resources to give the gifts we’d like. We don’t always get the visitors we prefer. We attend gatherings with people with whom conflict or tension exists. In these difficult economic times and busy holidays, happiness seems fleeting.

Yet, what if God desires to be with us as we struggle to embrace our current worries, troubled past, uncertain futures, deep fears, and pains? Even as we wrestle with guilt, forgiveness, unhealthy attachments, addictions … longing for home, for healing, yearning to embrace that we are simply loved. What if it is through our own fragile humanity – that mysterious mix of grace and fall, beauty and brokenness, lights and shadows – that God visits us, that God comes near?  What if God wants to visit us bearing joy rather than happiness?

What if God hides in the people who visit us this holiday? How can we visit others in a way that helps them experience God’s coming near? What if we visit someone outside our present circle of friends, family, and comfort?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word."  Then the angel departed from her. – Luke 1:38.
The scripture for today is the story of the Annunciation.  It’s one of the most dramatic stories in the bible that has inspired many artists to paint, write, sculpt, and perform it over the centuries.  Just Google “the Annunciation” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  (My personal favorite is by Henry Ossawa Tanner.  Look him up!) It’s a great passage to contemplate in the Ignatian tradition (i.e. entering into the scene with our senses) because of its rich imagery and meaning to our Christian lives, especially in this Advent season of waiting. 
However, what struck me this year in my meditation of this passage is the final sentence: “Then the Angel departed from her.”  What happened to Mary after she said “yes”?  Did she ever have “buyer’s remorse” in her nine months of waiting!  I imagine this to be like that moment when we come home from a retreat, high from the many graces of our prayer experiences of having said “yes” to Jesus’ invitation to enter into our lives, but then having to plug back into the chaos, noise and busyness of our “world.” I don’t know about you, but I often feel disappointed at how quickly that “feeling” I get on retreat, disappears.  
But as my novice director once told me, the spiritual life is not about seeking the consolations of God, but seeking the God of consolations.  In other words, living out our faith means trusting that God is with us regardless of whether we “feel” God present or not.  After all, consolation is not just  a feeling, but more of a movement towards God.  The important thing to remember is that God encountered us at all, and to trust in the grace of that encounter to carry us through the chaos, noise, and busyness of our daily living, until the next time we are blessed enough to go on another retreat.  Saying “yes” to God is only the first step.  How we live out of our “yes” is what is worth our further prayer for today.  
Am I living out of my “yes” to God, or am I experiencing “buyer’s remorse”?  How can I continually seek the “God of consolation” in my life, rather than relying on the “consolations of God”?  
reflected by Fr. Radmar Jao, SJ

Monday, December 19, 2011

Not on Track... Says Who?

At times I feel as though I can’t keep up with the world. I’m not set in my career, I don’t have a place of my own, and my parents are definitely not getting the grand children they had hoped for by this time. I’m glad that I got to know Elizabeth better in reflecting on today’s Gospel. A righteous woman who followed God’s commands and yet still was disgraced before others because of her inability to bear a child. Until later in her older age, when the angel Gabriel appeared to her and said she would be the mother of a son. In God’s perfect plan and His perfect time, Elizabeth’s prayers were answered and John the Baptist, who would be one of the greatest followers of Christ and leaders for Him, was born. 
Last week I got a text from my roommate: our house got broken into, your room’s a mess, but we’ll clean it up together. On my drive home from work, I talked with God about it. Though there was an initial eerie feeling that my space and stuff were invaded, I was glad that everyone was safe, and though some things had sentiment, they were all just things. I came in, found the gifts that I had wrapped opened, my drawers overturned, even my bed all lopsided from being thrown aside. I was actually okay with it, and with the robbers. While cleaning up, I realized how much I’ve grown in my decision a few years back to live simply and detach from things.   
How wonderful would it be to be able to detach from my set plans and the expectations of the world for success, marriage, and a perfect life for all to see. I get worried and tense when I don’t know my goals or can’t see a direct path to them. Elizabeth reminds me that when our relationship with God is right, and if we loosen the grip that we have on our plans, the process is full and rich and the goal comes along the way. Let’s not miss it because we were looking for something else.  
God of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, thank You for SO many things that are not wrong. May we make way for your plans, to live Your will for us, a life fulfilled with freedom and joy. 
reflected by Chau Nguyen

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Discovering Favor: Sunday of the Fourth Week of Advent

"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God." - Luke 1:30

We spend so much of our time and energy maneuvering in our lives (our daily struggle). We assess, compute, reason, forecast and then act. Why do we not simply respond? Respond out of a secure place within. A place made safe by God and His love for us alone.

I believe that this is God’s hope for each one of us. That we look within another at their core and simply be in awe of them. That we not let society or human politics interfere with what is inherently amazing about us.

There is a reason that humans are drawn to one another. There is a reason I find comfort when I cross someone on the street after seeing no one for a while. The very embodiment of everything God loves just walked right by me.

I am also slowly seeing that I too possess that grace. Caritas has helped me build a repertoire with God in order to begin to see and embrace the stunning-ness of people. By fostering a space where I don’t have to maneuver, Caritas lets me just be present with others in ways that is difficult in my everyday. I am not talking necessarily about deep moving personal conversations that bond people (although not to say that it does not happen), I am talking about something more now. Just sitting with someone, silently, feeling whatever emotions or feelings that are coursing through me, knowing that God placed this person next to me and that He is loving us both uniquely and like crazy. A state of unconditional presence that is truly hard to describe. The more I participate in and around Caritas, the more ways I find to live this unconditional presence with others outside of Caritas. This may sound very Nouwen(-esque), but to experience it beyond words on a page and have trouble describing it… it’s just incredible. :)

In what ways are you in awe of God's creation in others? In what ways do you see God's creation at work in yourself?

reflected by Eric Rodriguez

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

Therefore, the days will come, says the LORD, when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives, who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”; but rather, "As the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of the house of Israel up from the land of the north”– and from all the lands to which I banished them; they shall again live on their own land. – Jer 23: 7-8

The book of Jeremiah details a troubled people. The people at this time had been freed from captivity in Egypt, they had escaped generations of hardship only to find more conflict and grief. Where was the promised land and powerful nation promised to them?

God, sometimes it is so hard to follow you, to listen and act on what we truly believe you are calling us to do. We try to find comfort in the thought that you are watching our movements, guiding our actions, yet there are times when we need you and instead of the comfort we long for, we only find more suffering and hurt. We cling onto past instances of your goodness and we make excuses and try to find the motivation to keep moving on.

The reading today reminds us that although Your past deeds were wonderful, Your work here never ends. The same Spirit that brought Jesus among us 2000 years ago is here with us transforming us as our lives continue to change. We call You our God today and always; You have not abandoned us and intend to keep your promises with all the patience and love we can receive. Let us live the faith which we have inherited; one that has not gone stale. It is thriving and alive like the life you have given for each one of us.

Lord, help us to look beyond our limits, the fears and the worries, and wash away our hopelessness. Open our eyes to see to your dream for us, that we may live our life according to our true purpose, a unique promise you made in our hearts the moment you loved us.

reflected by David Pham

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

“Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel:
Others will I gather to him besides those already gathered.”
Is 56:8

So often in scripture do we hear about the fervor that God has to tend to His lost sheep. Jesus says how the shepherd would leave his flock in order to find that lost one, and rejoices when that one is found. The message in that is clear, and so very true: repent and God will gladly draw you home. Here we have God speaking through Isaiah say something similar, yet distinctly different. 
We all have those friends, you know, the ones that never really had a religion. They are the friends that we envied when we were kids. They never had to go to Mass on Sunday, they got to watch MTV, and their parents were cool. I’m not sure how the last point happened, but it always seemed to happen. Maybe some of us were even those kids. These are to whom God is speaking today. It seems odd, right? God has spent nearly 6,000 years speaking to the Hebrews promising them redemption and relationship with Him, yet here is God utilizing the mouth of a Jew to speak to non-Jews, in this case Babylonians! Now, in my childhood, I would as my dad for the reason that we had to go to mass, or why I wasn’t able to do certain things. In his infinite wisdom, and a response that many other Christian children have heard, “If you go to church on Sundays, you will go to Heaven.” I reasoned that if this were true, those who didn’t go to church didn’t make it into heaven. It’s that little bit of peace you feel when you see the person who cut you off rear-end someone else down the road. It’s justice. But that isn’t quite what God is telling us. 
The Hebrew people wanted the same retribution and reward that we all want when bad things happen to us. In terms of history, few peoples have truly endured the suffering of conquered and enslaved people like the Hebrews. They wanted what they felt they deserved. Yet, here we are today, those of us who are a part of the redeemed. How many of us can count the Hebrew people as a part of our ancestry? I am certain that very few. Most of us are a members of a Church gathered together sanctified by God, thankfully not by men. 
The reality that God has put forth is that many of those same kids I once envied are either unhappy with their lives or sit right next to me on Sunday. They are the ones who have yet to see the Light that God sent to the world or they have given up what they once had to follow that light. It is those people, former (and current) sinners that God uses to teach us His great love: that the only limit we put on a relationship with Him exists within our own hearts. 

How often do we open up our hearts to those who are different from us?
Do we forgive or condemn those who have done wrong to us?
Do we allow people who live different from us to garner our attention instead of God?

reflected by Matthew Keppel

Thursday, December 15, 2011

God's Enduring Covenant

"Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken,  says the LORD, who has mercy on you." - Is 54:10

The great news of our faith is that God makes an enduring covenant with us. Unlike many business and marriage arrangements, this covenant is more than a contract. A contract can be revoked if one party does not fulfill the terms of the agreement. A covenant can be sustained by the fidelity of one member, even if other parties fall short. The strength of our relationship with God lies with God's faithfulness and not with our failures and weaknesses.

In the 27 years of intentional relationship with God, I have faltered countless times. I have allowed my selfishness, past pains, present attachments, or fears about the future to overshadow God's enduring acceptance and love for me, and for everyone around me. To win me back, God shows tough love through many creative ways. Like good parents, God allows me to suffer the consequences of my foolish choices; God withdraws God's tangible presence in my life to deepen my longing for God and purify my lesser desires; God gives me opportunity to learn patience and trust in answering my prayers for those very virtues; God allows me to suffer by carving out greater space in my life and relationships for a more enduring love, like God's. Through all these ways, I gradually grow in shifting from focusing on myself and my abilities or failures. God's committed love is the bedrock of my striving to be faithful. When I behold God's consistent fidelity to me, I can imagine upholding my commitments. When I look at my parents' 49 years of committed love or a brother Jesuit's 50 years of priesthood, I experience hope.

Large earthquakes do happen in our lifetime. Life changing events, like major earthquakes, do shake us: loved ones do die, friends can leave us, significant losses and poignant suffering do visit us. Yet, geological processes that move mountains and elevate hills rarely happens. Even if they did, God's faithfulness and love endures. This is God's promise to us. 

Have God ever been unfaithful to you? What happens within when you recall the ways in which you have been loved or cared by God or others in your life? Get in touch with this.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Imaginings

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard” – Luke 7:22

The first thought that came to mind with today’s Gospel was a question: Why didn’t Jesus just answer with a “Yes”? Why, when John told his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come,” didn’t He give a straightforward answer? What is this roundabout response?
I often ask Jesus the same question in my own life, wondering why when I’m looking for answers, rarely – if ever – do I get a direct one. Whether it’s related to simple day-to-day activities or the larger wonderings of life’s purposes, I sometimes wish God would just be upfront with me. Wouldn’t that be nice? 
Then I’m answered with a question, something to stir my imagination and look from a different, deeper perspective. It’s almost as though Jesus is saying in his response to the disciples, “Here is the new reality you see before you. What do you think? Is it what you thought it’d be, or perhaps even, something more?” 
There’s an invitation, then, to move beyond the “yes” or “no,” into a new way of looking - one that is open to possibilities, leading to the promise of a deeper peace and joy than anything I could imagine. I find myself learning to look more at God, trying to trust in His mysteries, rather than focusing on my understanding and attempting to figure things out. 
St. John of the Cross, whose memorial we celebrate today, reminds me to continue listening in the quiet moments, to find the stillness within – seeing, imagining, and believing anew for myself “the one who is to come.”
How might I be encouraged today to look beyond the “yes” or “no” in my life? What new perspective might Jesus be inviting me to imagine?
O blessed Jesus, give me stillness of soul in You. Let Your mighty calmness reign in me. Rule me, O King of Gentleness, King of Peace.
Prayer of Peace by St. John of the Cross
reflected by Quyen Ngo

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Feast of Saint Lucy

“In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.
Teach me your ways, O Lord.” -- Ps 25:7

The word “kindness” now stays with me all the time, because of some incidents that happened to me in the past week…

Last Sunday evening, I was driving home after dropping my kid off at church, suddenly the car died, in the middle of the road, at a dangerous winded spot where there was no street light! It was a cold rainy night, and panic set in immediately when I pushed the emergency lights and they didn’t even work, so it’s pitch black all around me! Worse yet, I realized I didn’t have my cellphone with me; as we had rushed out of the house I didn’t even grab my jacket, thinking I’d just go for a quick 5-minute dride! After a few seconds debating what to do, I stepped outside. I must have waived at 10 cars but they kept on driving, splashing water all over me. Finally, one car stopped. (A quick shameful feeling jolted me, when I saw that the woman driver was of a certain “nationality”, and I hate to admit that I used to have some stereotypical prejudice agaisnt them – so this just goes to show a similar “Good Samaritan” lesson, but this topic can be reserved for a different reflection by itself.) She let me borrow her cellphone; I called my daughter at church and asked her to find someone there to rescue me. Truth is, I couldn’t think of anyone or anything else in that situation. After that quick phone call, the woman drove off; I was back on the curbside, alone in the dark, soaking wet, feeling so terrified as if I were in a horror movie myself, and I imagined all kinds of dangers that would happen to me any minute. Heck, I would have had a heart attack if only a black cat jumped out of a bush! I was scared and sad and angry; the rain kept pouring, and somehow the streams of water tasted pretty salty when they touched my lips… In any case, I was very blessed that only 10 minutes later, a youth leader came out to help me jump-start the car and he even escorted me home. Needless to say, that night I prayed extra hard, and gave extra thanks to our God for the kindness shown to me through other people.

The next morning, it’s still cold and rainy. I asked my daughter, repeatedly, to put on the thick hooded jacket. She kept mumbling, “no…no…I don’t want to…”. Anyone who went through a “power struggle” with a teenager could picture how fun this could be! So I blew up and yelled at her – big time! Oh how so little control I had over my temper, and my poor little girl looked rather stunned yet frightened - drops of tears came out from the corners of her eyes. After dropping her off at school, I found myself overwhelmed with shame and guilt ... In the past sometimes I wondered how a certain person could be so “cruel” to me; I lamented at how someone could treat me so bad or use harsh words with me unnecessarily. Now I committed the same offense, even worse. Just the previous night, I went through a tremendous experience, I was feeling pretty grateful when I recognized and received God’s kindness, how come I could not practice kindness toward my loved ones? What about the famous teaching “love is patient, love is kind” (1 Cor 13:4)?

Maybe it’s easier to show “kindness” – in form of “politeness” – to other people (than those in our close circle), since we’re more prudent to watch our language/behavior to guard our reputation? A little hypocritical in human nature?

Reciting my own examples seems trivial and inconsequent, and my warp sense of humor tells me that God must have tested me and I failed miserably! However, nowadays I trust that God’s Grace will guide me through and through. Reflecting more on this Twenty-fifth Psalm, I came to understand that it is God's goodness, God’s kindness, that I must rely upon. And I pray that I can learn to make “Kindness” the modus operandi from now on!

Dear God, please help us look honestly at our own “ways” and our behaviors. We are crying out sincerely, “TEACH US YOUR WAYS, O LORD”… Please teach us to be kind, all the time and to everyone.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Third Sunday of Advent - More God, Less Me

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.” – Jn 1:7

St Catherine of Siena gives solid spiritual counsel. She says that there are three basic lessons in the life of the spirit. First, that God exists. Second, that God loves you very much. Third, you’re not God! The more we allow life to teach us these lessons, the more our life will be built on a firm foundation.

John the Baptist is an excellent model and teacher of this foundation building. In today’s Gospel, we come to know that he is not the light, nor the long-awaited Messiah, nor a Moses-like prophet. He humbly admits that he does not come close to such great figures. He acknowledges that he is not God, but one who came to “testify to the light” to “make straight the way of the Lord.” Later in John’s Gospel, he sums up his role succinctly, “[Jesus-God] must increase, I must decrease” (3:30).

It is easy for me to miss this fundamental truth that the spiritual life is about subtraction, not addition. In these busy days filled with Christmas preparations, parties, and buying gifts, I can easily get caught up having to do more and to acquire more. Thinking that I need to add-on brings increased self-pressure and self-preoccupation. How can I balance my time, fit everything in, make it happen? Thinking this way and hosting such attitude born choices that elevates my self-importance. I am again tempted to self-sufficiency, to earn love, to buy love, or at least make myself loveable. More me, less God.

John’s call to subtract and let-go wakes me up. I am not the One, but an echoing voice. I am not the Way, but one who clears path. I am not the Light, but a mirror that reflects. I don’t need to make it happen, just to let it happen. More God, less me. Such realization brings more than just relief.  It gradually ushers greater freedom and joy. I don’t have to be God. I can allow myself to be loved, in my foolishness and selfishness. In doing so, I can testify beyond words that God loves all of us very much!

“Lord, help me to let go of self-pressure or craving to be self-sufficient. Help me to place more trust in you and less in myself. Empower me to help others experience more of you and less of me.”