Sunday, December 30, 2012

Feast of the Holy Family: School of Gratitude and Hope

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

The Gospel today 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 longtime 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 (including our own family and communities), 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?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas: 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 last year, 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

Friday, December 28, 2012

Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

“Then Herod . . . was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region.” – Mt. 2:16

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. The senseless killing of 20 children and 7 adults in Connecticut two weeks ago is a shocking reminder of the reality of Christmas. 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.

adapted from a reflection by Quyen Ngo

For more reflection, see:

1.    Archbishop Diarmuid Marti’s thoughtful Midnight Mass Homily that Christmas is about humility and simplicity.

2. The statement from three US Bishops calling all Americans especially legislators, to address national policies that will strengthen regulations of firearms and improve access to health care for those with mental health needs. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist: Eyewitness of Love

“Beloved: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life … we proclaim now to you…” – 1 Jn 1:1, 3

“Why do you always speak to us about love? Tell us about other things Jesus taught?” According to Christian legend, this question was posed to the Beloved Disciple by his disciples. The Beloved Disciple answered, “This is the central truth that Jesus taught and lived, there is no greater message I can pass on to you.” The beginning of the First Letter of John echoes this urgency. Its author can barely contain his excitement and conviction, as if he is saying: “I have seen with my own eyes, heard with my own ears, and felt with my very hands someone who touches my deepest longings and elicits purpose and meaning in my life in a way that surpasses my wildest imaginations. Let me share it with you …”

Have you experienced or discovered something or someone so life-giving that you can barely contain it? Like something that’s bursting within, you can’t wait to share it with others. It happens often when genuine friendships and relationships draw a person such that he or she cannot keep it for themselves. The Beloved Disciple is someone who has a special bond and intimacy with Jesus that he or she can hardly speak about anything else.  Today’s feast is about this kind of friendship with God. It celebrates a friendship that testifies to a personal, heartfelt knowing of Christ’s love. Two days after Christmas, we are challenged to let this love take hold of us. And transform us into eyewitnesses.

What goodness touches you in such a way that you cannot keep it to yourself? Ask God how you might embrace this gift more fully and share it with others wisely?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Feast of St Stephen: 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, the Pope urged for an end to the bloodshed in Syria, just as he did pleaded last year.

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 manger 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.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas: Love Revealed, Glory Surprised

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

In the past two Christmases, God’s love and glory is made real to me in two surprising ways.

Last Christmas, 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 us whom God loves.

This Christmas, God is revealed through the death of my young cousin Thy. She knew the risks of opting for an experimental treatment that could accelerate her demise. Yet, she embraced them, because she wanted her young boys to have the best chance of having a healthy mother; she wanted her husband to have the best chance of a healthy wife. She chose life and what she deemed best for her family, even as her own life was slipping away. In her death, I encounter Christ who sacrificed to give his best for those he loves. It’s been almost a month since her passing, and her husband had this to share, “Thy is so beautiful and very much with the boys and I every moment.”

Today, we celebrate a love born in the crib and continue to the cross. Jesus, Word of God, Who is God, became one of us. He built his house next to ours, lived among us, suffered with us, for us, and to save us. He came as a child, a poor child, born in a humble manger. He came to be with us, to sacrifice for us because he loves us. In Miguel, God reveals to me a love willing to accept all costs to be with those God loves. In my cousin Thy, Christ is revealed as love beyond tragic loss and death. When we look at a person who is poor (or migrant), who loves, who forgives, who sacrifices genuinely, we see God. 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?

p.s. – Pope Benedict’s Christmas Eve Homily is worth taking a look for prayer and reflection. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday 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

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Receiving Peace, Bearing Peace

“He shall be peace.” – Mi 5:4a

Two days before Christmas, we hear the same Gospel reading as that at Mass two days ago. This repetition echoes the coming near of God described by the reflection two days ago: God desires to visit us, bearing contagious joy.

However, what if the circumstances of our lives do not lend us to experience happiness or joy? What if we are mourning the loss of a loved one who passed away around this time? Or wrestling with the loss of lives at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut? Or troubled by the deep underlying issues surrounding that tragedy or the rising purchase of guns and large ammunition clips? Or worried about the gridlocked fiscal cliff negotiations?

The young Mary of Nazareth had many concerns and faced many unknowns when she received news of her pregnancy. Yet, she traveled “in haste” to assist her older cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:39). Her journey to be of helped seemed to bring her peace which erupted in joy when she arrived.

This Advent has seemed more like Lent to me. My young cousin Thy passed away less than three weeks ago due to a sudden onset of a rare blood disease. Some family members and I were able to leave “in haste” to be at her bedside when she went to the next life. These days were not marked by joy, but they were sustained by peace. I received many unexpected blessings through her courageous spirit, through the way she died surrounded by many loved ones and medical personnel singing the Prayer of St. Francis, through the way she deeply impacted the hospital staff, through the way she brought tears of gratitude to a local pastor who anointed her, and through the way so many of her work colleagues were moved and consoled at the wake and funeral Mass. In ways I am unable to understand or describe, I experience consistent peace, even though I am still sad and grieving her loss. A peace underlying sadness and uncertainty; a peace amidst challenging and troubling realities; a peace that occasionally erupts in joy.

God’s coming near elicits a peace within. Christ the God-child brings peace by being peace. Through Mary’s journey to visit and to serve, the child in her womb enables her to receive peace and to bear peace. We are given the same grace with a similar promise as we journey to visit others. Will we trust this promise of peace?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday of the Third 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

Friday, December 21, 2012

Third Friday of Advent: Visitations of Joy

“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 a young relative visiting her older cousin, triggering bursts of joy.

This painting by a Vietnamese Buddhist invites us to imagine the scene of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth:

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 may be 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? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Third Thursday of Advent: Discovering Favor

"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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Third Wednesday of Advent: Unexpected Signs and Opportunities

“Then Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’ And the angel said to him in reply, “… You will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.’” – Lk 1:18-20

At the announcement his son’s birth, the elder Zechariah asked for a sign.  He was slow to believe that a son is possible for him and his wife in their advanced age. He was given a dramatic, unexpected sign: he became mute for 9-months.

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. 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. It was a long three-month waiting, unbearable at times. When I finally spoke, I was filled with gratitude and expectancy. I caught a glimpse of what Zechariah experienced. When he finally spoke, 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. His unexpected sign allowed him the opportunity to grow in trust.

We all ask for signs, for special favors from God. Yet, we often receive unexpected responses which bring about opportunities. There is a wonderful depiction from the movie Evan Almighty about invitations to grow through seemingly unanswered prayers: “If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If she prayed for courage, does God give her courage? Or does God give her opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings? Or does God give them opportunities to love each other?” 

What signs are you asking for in your life? How might you be invited to grow through unexpected responses?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday 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

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Third Sunday of Advent – To Our Joy

“Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.” – Zeph 3:16-17

Joy is something different from hope or gratitude or awe. Joy is the heart’s leap in the encounter with the one we love. We’ve all felt this kind of joy at some time or other. A parent greets a beloved child; lovers find one another and embrace; old friends reunite. And in that moment, we know joy. The loving recognition of the other fills the heart with gladness. Joy trembles on smiling lips and shines from the eyes. The spiritual gift of joy comes from the Holy Spirit. Yet it participates in these deep and true human experiences of joy—the loving encounters that lift care and make the heart sing.

If we come to Jesus looking for gifts, often we do indeed receive them. And we shall be glad, temporarily, as we receive them. But if it is Jesus himself whom we love, we can rejoice always because we are glad in him. This still leaves us with a problem however. How do we experience such a loving encounter with someone whom we cannot see, or hear, or touch? Whether hidden behind the veil of history, or enthroned in heavens above, Jesus can seem too far away to love, too distant to make my own heart sing.

Perhaps this is why prayer, imagination, and Eucharist are so important to discipleship. Pray. Believe. Love with a whole heart. Break the bread and share the cup with others who are likewise caught up in love, and faith, and prayer. And behold, he is near. To our joy, the One whom we love is with us.

Rita Ferrone
(from today’s reflection in Give Us This Day)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Second Saturday of Advent: Brick Walls Challenge Resolve

“Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.  So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” – Mt 17:11-12

On September 18, 2007, Carnegie Mellon computer science professor named Randy Pausch gave hislast lecture before of dying pancreatic cancer a year later at the age of 47. His talk was meant to encourage his children to follow and achieve their childhood dreams with patience and persistence. Yet, millions of people have viewed his talk on YouTube, to see a man facing death with contagious energy, clear optimism, and a joyful purpose. One of his wise counsels was about seeing challenges as opportunities: “Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us show how badly we want things.”

I find an interesting parallel in attitude between Randy and Jesus. After coming down the mountain after his Transfiguration, Jesus faced a brick wall with his disciples, who impatiently asked about the prophesized return of Elijah before the “day of the Lord” (Mal 3:23). They apparently have to come believe that such coming of the Messiah would bring them the rewards they (as the Jewish people) had been long promised for their faithfulness. They did understand that the return of Elijah was fulfilled in the mission of John the Baptist. But they failed to understand that suffering must precede the realization of hope. That in the spiritual life, something lesser has to die for something greater to emerge. Like a caterpillar dying to its worm-like life to be transformed into a butterfly. Like a baby leaving the inner world of his or her mother’s womb to become alive in the outer world. Although I try to be patient, I find myself caught up at times expecting instant results and fruits, in prayer as in people. At times, I focus on certainty rather than confidence, needing to know that something will happen and clinging to fear rather than trusting that God knows best and will bring it about in God’s time and God’s way. I am challenged to trust God’s dream more than follow what I think best.

I’m grateful to be reminded by Randy Pausch’s message that brick walls provide an opportunity to strengthen resolve and deepen desire. Randy’s role is more like John the Baptist than Jesus’. He points to way to the One who can help us beyond brick walls. To see brick walls as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks.

Let us pray for and with the victims of the tragic shooting in Connecticut, that God’s healing love comfort and strengthen all who experience loss and turmoil at this time.

How am I clinging to certainty? Or am I trusting with confidence? Help me, O Lord, to trust in your mysterious ways and that you seek what is best for us.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Memorial of St John of the Cross: Trusting One’s Inner Experience

I, the LORD, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go.– Is 48:17

Every choice we make essentially involves following our true self or our false self. Saying “yes” to our true self involves trust in our inner experience of God. Giving in to our false self involves following an outer authority more than our inner teacher. St John of the Cross followed his inner compass, composing mystical writings which depict one’s journey to God as a stripping away of false self and desolations as much as by experiences of joy. He was imprisoned in a dungeon for nine months, left with only bread and water, by brothers from his own congregation. Following God’s lead, he endured mistreatment until he died. Mary and Joseph took a similar journey, trusting their inner experience of God, risking ridicule and misunderstanding from those closest to them. With little outer assurance from others that they were right, they relied on their inner sense of God.  Their son, Jesus, did likewise.

My young cousin Thy passed away recently, opting for an experimental treatment for her rare blood disease. She knew the serious risks. Yet, she embraced them, because she wanted her young boys to have the best chance of having a healthy mother; she wanted her husband to have the best chance of a healthy wife. She chose life, even as her own life was slipping away. Accompanying her in her last days left me profound gifts and graces. Among them is this deepened sense from God: “I am here, with you, through your inner voice. Trust me.” This sense lead me to be with my cousin and our family in the past two weeks; this sense teaches me to grieve; this sense opens me up to an Advent like no other, trusting in today’s psalm responsorial: “Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.”

“Today, let us take some time to let our inner voice speak, even through our inner noise and chaos. Let’s follow its lead to God.”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Memorial of St Lucy: A Disturbing Comprehension

"From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” – Mt 11:12

Southern writer Flannery O’Connor, with her eye for the grotesque and her ear for the bizarre, was so riveted by today’s passage from Matthew that she wrote a 150-page novella titled after one of the lines: The Violent Bear It Away. Unfortunately, like generations of Bible scholars before her, even a literary genius of O’Connor’s ilk could not quite pin down what Jesus meant by this strange statement. Like many of his sayings, it is both profoundly mysterious and more than a little disturbing. But one thing is clear: he is trying to tell us something important about this spiritual path we are on.

First, Jesus is warning us not to get ambushed by our familiar old worldview. The Kingdom of Heaven is nothing if not utterly surprising, and if we keep trying to comprehend it through a lens that makes us feel comfortable, we’ll never even get close. For it is no longer the credentialed and the competent and the careful who are winning the prize, but those whose longing for God knows no bounds, who are audaciously claiming for themselves what more cautious heads have rejected.

Second, Jesus is urging us to wake up. Throughout the Gospels, miracles are occurring and great prophecies are being fulfilled, yet still we hesitate. Despite the divine invitation lying on our doorstep, we’d rather huddle inside, peering through the peephole at a Kingdom bursting with fire and light: God, transforming the world while we watch from a safe distance.

Paula Huston
(from today’s reflection in Give Us This Day)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe: God’s Personal and Preferential Love

“I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD … the LORD will again choose Jerusalem.” – Zec 2:14, 16

Today, people all over Latin America and especially throughout Mexico, celebrate Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. It is the most prominent Catholic feast among Spanish speaking Catholics in the US and certainly in Boyle Heights, near East LA.

Three aspects of this feast really help me this Advent. First, it celebrates the feminine side of the divine. Scholars like Elizabeth Johnson observe keenly that Mary is the maternal face of God. Mary’s active and total “yes” provides a home for God to dwell in human flesh. She models the values of receptivity, openness, and hospitality which make space for Emmanuel, God-with-us. Second, the feast celebrates how God relates personally to us. Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, not as a European Madonna, but as an Aztec princess, wearing native dress, and speaking to him in Nahuatl, his own language. Through Mary, God relates to us through the customs and language that we can understand. Third, the feast celebrates God’s preferential love for the poor and powerless. In their context of mistreatment and oppression by Spanish colonizers, Our Lady’s tender assurance to Juan and his people opens them up to greater hope in God: “Am I not here, who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and protection?” Not surprisingly, more than 9 million local people became Catholics shortly after Our Lady’s apparition, whereas before conversions to the faith had been sporadic.

Through Our Lady of Guadalupe, God is revealed as one who is maternal, who speaks our language, and who stands with and for the poor. This God encounters us where we are and as we are. As the loss of my young cousin sets in my heart and violence rises in the neighborhoods around Boyle Heights, the feast of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is touches me in a profound way. Join me in this petition found in the opening prayer at Mass today:

“… grant that all who invoke the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe,
may seek with ever more lively faith
the progress of peoples in the ways of justice and of peace.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Second Monday of Advent: Allowing Ourselves to Be Carried

“Some people brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence … [They] lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles into the middle in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘As for you, your sins are forgiven.’” – Lk 5: 18-20

As I prayed today’s Gospel, I was struck by three images. First, I am inspired by the friends of the paralytic who did their utmost to bring him to Jesus. Their faith and hope is placed in Jesus’ compassionate power. Second, I am drawn by the paralytic’s willingness to allow people to care for him. In doing so, he “brought” them to Jesus. If they did not step up to help him, they might not have approached Jesus on their own and be carried by Jesus, for those who bear the light to others cannot keep it from themselves. Third, I am moved by Jesus’ courage and compassion. Knowing well the cost of being misunderstood and the risk of being persecuted, Jesus allowed himself to be carried by his trust in God-Abba and desire to reconcile others to God.

In similar ways, I find myself being carried. I am that friend who brings my young cousin, Thy, and our family through her last days and funeral this past week. In the process, I am being carried to Jesus. I am also the paralytic as I let others support and accompany me as I grieve the deep loss of her sudden death in the coming days and weeks. I am also invited to be like Jesus in allowing faith and strength to be drawn from me and embrace the costs of this choice. God has many ways to bring us closer to Godself. There is much grace in allowing ourselves to be carried by helping, by accepting help, and by being God’s healing presence and power, often unbeknownst to us. Let us allow ourselves this Advent to be carried to God. In the process, we empower others to do likewise.

“Lord, with whom and through whom are you inviting me to be carried in grace?”

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Second Sunday of Advent: An Invitation to See Beyond

“John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” – Lk 3:3

Often times, it is easier to say sorry than to change one’s mind. I apologize often; and most of the time, I am genuinely sorry. This is part of what John the Baptist means by repentance. However, the Greek word for repentance, “metanoia,” means more. Literally “metá” means “beyond” and “noos” means “mind.” Hence, metanoia signifies a change of mind, a shift in mindset, a different way of seeing the world, ourselves, and others. This shift of mind triggers a conversion of heart and change in the way one relates to others, God, and self.

To my surprise, there are occasions when a conversion of mind and heart happens in me, beyond just saying sorry. I had an “allergic reaction” to a brother in the house. When I am physically near him, I feel like a bomb goes off inside. I feel agitated, annoyed, anxious, tempted to judge. I also feel bad and guilty for having these feelings. It took me some time, but slowly I learned just to let my feelings be without judging myself. I learned to embrace these negative feelings, be at peace, and actually listen to discover what might be going on within me. Gradually, I became more honest with myself and to even allow God in, to make space for God. I tried to look at my brother Jesuit with the eyes and heart of Jesus, to imagine Jesus being with him, caring for me, and loving him in his needs and struggles. I tried to pray this brother, for his well-being, even to imagine how I could cooperate with Jesus in loving the man. It took some time. But I began to notice a shift in attitude, in the way I see this Jesuit brother, with the way I relate with him. I became a bit more patient with myself, and grew to trust God more. Perhaps this is a glimpse into the baptism with “the Holy Spirit and fire” that John the Baptist announces: a conversion from rejecting my “allergic reactions”; a conversion for greater acceptance of someone quite different from myself. I am grateful for this change.

Lord, what negative feelings do you invite me to embrace and listen without judgment? Who do you invite me to greater acceptance, including accepting myself?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday of the First Week of Advent

"Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” - Matthew 9:35-10:8

In today's Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples not just the authority to perform miracles but a special mission to give of themselves to the "troubled and abandoned" and "lost sheep". When we think of giving ourselves to others, we naturally think of our talents. Our talents are our unique abilities that we can do especially well. However, in thinking that we give only from our talents, we start to forget that what we can do exceptionally well does not completely define the extent from which we can give.

We each may have a few talents, but our gifts are more abundant. Henri Nouwen wrote, "our gifts are the many ways in which we express our humanity...friendship, kindness, patience, joy, peace, forgiveness, gentleness, love, hope, trust..." These gifts are often things we take for granted and do not think as gifts to give others. For most of our lives, we sometimes struggle to give because we remember how hard we had to work to cultivate and maintain our talents. So, the idea of giving it away to those who did not put in the time to earn these talents sometimes seems unfair to us. However, we must remember that God is the source of all good things. He freely gave us the seeds of our talents and our gifts so we may give to others.

"True joy, happiness, and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others". Lord, grant us the grace to give freely to others the same joy, happiness, peace, and love that we experience when we acknowledge and show gratitude for your gifts to us.

Are we aware of the gifts we have in our daily lives? How can we be more willing and alert to times when God calls us to give to others?

adapted anonymously from Henri Nouwen