Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas: God with Us

“But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth.” - 1 John 2:20-21

The end of the year brings about a lot of rejoicing and celebration amid the holidays; however, it can also magnify the restless places in our hearts: our sense of loneliness, our desire for more, questioning of where we are in life or perhaps our desire to find a sense of home – in our families, among a community, in our working lives, in a romantic relationship, or simply in our hearts.

I have so much to be thankful for this year - many blessings, gifts, and even the saving grace of God as I endured a serious car accident and only walked away with minor injuries - and while the joy of Christmas fills my heart and the anticipation of renewal in the New Year is present, I can’t help but still hear the evil spirit creeping in, saying, “Next year will be the same as the last, nothing will change…save yourself the time and energy and just give up trying to search for all that you desire.” I find it easy to give into this voice of despair on both a conscious and subconscious level, but the gift of the Christmas season beckons me beyond this darkness toward the promising light of the baby Jesus.

As I take in today’s readings, I recognize many of God’s simple and subtle invitations amid the restlessness within my own heart. 1 John reminds me that I have been not only loved and created by God, but faithfully anointed. A deeper look at the meaning of this word opens up God’s present invitation: “to consecrate or make sacred; to dedicate to the service of God.” Perhaps I am being invited to embrace the ways I am already sacred. God invites me to rest in this: “you are sacred…you are my beloved….that is enough for me.” I am invited to a deeper peace in knowing that one of the greatest ways to serve God is to embrace this notion in the deepest depths of my being- in the marrow of my bones and sinew of my muscle. I recognize this is the ongoing invitation of my spiritual journey- to come home to this over and over again.

I am reminded that the joy of my being is deeply rooted in whom God has created me to be and has less to do with what I do, who I know, or if I have it all “figured out.” God desires my very heart. The more that I let this soak in, the more that my longings for all that I wish was present gently subsides. My restless desires don’t go away completely, but I feel less panicked or worried about how all will unfold in the coming year. God further invites me to recognize that I have “all knowledge and truth” with me here and now. I know enough to be fully in this moment and trust that God has and will be with me revealing each next step as necessary in the coming days, weeks, and year to come. My heart is opened…..can I trust this? Can I rest in God’s promise knowing all that I am and my present moment in life is enough?

As you look to the coming year, what is most present in your heart? Invite God to show you how His anointing is present in these areas of your life. Listen and allow God’s words to soak deeply into your every part of your being.
Reflected by Elena Mireles-Hill

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas: With 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 readings these days continue the hope of Christmas. Today, the eight-four year-old and long time widow Anna gave thanks to God when she saw in the child Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s age-old promise to save her people.

The Christmas Season and end of the year celebration has been full of joy for me. However, as I catch up with family and friends, I also hear much pain, suffering, confusion and hardships. Much of these trails and tribulations I cannot really alleviate. However, as I try to be present and listen without judgment, without fixing, without dismissing, medicating, 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 become the safe place where people can present their vulnerabilities, hurts, and fears to God, hope is born. As we struggle to trust God’s promise, we become the contagious place or threshold of hope. Our gratitude can overflow in hope like Anna.

There is much we need to be saved from, especially as we close the old and enter the New Year. To be freed from our own selfishness, debilitating fears, physical infirmities, divided relationships, addictions, political conflicts, and economic strife and worries. Yet, it is possible to hope in gratitude, trusting that the One who will deliver us is already here with us, often in the form of other people who are bearers of hope.

With which attitudes am I entering the New Year? With whom can I be present in hope and gratitude, even in pain and suffering?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Ever since I can remember, I have been enamored by the story of the Holy Family. As a child, I always wondered what having a mom like Mary must have been like. Would she have sent Jesus up to his room for punishment as my mother so often seemed to do? As I grew older, I became fixated by countless images of the Holy Family, especially those portraying Joseph as protector and guardian of this innocent and most pure group. 
On today's feast, I'm brought to compare my family dynamic with that of the Holy Family. Being so far from home, the holidays have always been a cherished time to reconnect, especially with my immediate family. This year, we decided to go on a mini road trip which meant long car rides and quality time with each other. It has been a joy to be with them, but at the same time, old habits and wounds have found their way back in. Distance can make the heart grow fonder just as proximity can reveal those creeping annoyances and frustrations that I thought I had let go.
As I stop to pray over today's readings, they are an especially fitting reminder to me of the need to love. To love my parents, even when they say just the right thing to unnerve me. To love my sister, even when her personality and temperament conflicts with mine. I can only throw out a guess here, but I'm sure that the Holy Family didn't always find it so easy to always be "holy." 
In the craziness of the holidays and time reuniting with old friends and family members, do you find these readings striking a chord with you as well? 
Reflected by Regina Galassi

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs: Walking with the Innocents

The children slain by Herod were, of course, innocent because of their age.  Their deaths would be forgotten, however, if they had not been martyred for Jesus.  His time to die for us would come, but not until much later.

The reading from First John gives me a picture of what it means to walk in the light. I may fail time and time again, trying to follow Jesus, but it really isn't the failure that blots out the light. It is the pretense that there was no failure to begin with that blots the light out. I might think, "oh! that's not really a sin!" until I stop and think about how it might affect someone else.  This is so simple, and yet I often find myself complicating it; I cling to the lies that I tell myself about my sins as if the lies were a place of safety. Opening my eyes and heart to the truth has brought me the freedom to confess my sins, turn away from them, and live in the light of Christ. 

The most wonderful thing of all is that Jesus gave the whole world this same chance to live in the light with the innocents. 

How is God inviting you to be more open and free? Are there moments when you can be more real and honest with who you are with God and others? 

Reflected by Sharon Sullivan

Friday, December 27, 2013

Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist: Anchored in Love

“Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.” - Jn 20:8

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist loved Jesus greatly. He is known as the “beloved disciple” of Christ and “the Apostle of Love.” He was the only apostle who never abandoned Jesus and stood at the foot of His cross at the Crucifixion. He affirmed that “God is love.” (Jn 4:8) Christ’s love is the central topic in St. John’s writings, his anchor per se. He spoke of pure true love, which is rooted in God, and devoted his life teaching and living in His love.

I attended a Celebration of Life today. The deceased did not want a funeral service. In his “Checking Out” note, he wanted the living to celebrate his life. He wanted a party. To him, his passing should be a celebration because he was going home to his father’s house – that was the destination of his life. His family and friends saw him as the anchor of their lives as God has been the anchor of his life. With every life he touched, he left an anchor of Christ’s love so that they can leave their anchors on others to spread His word. It was the most beautiful celebration. It was full of love, joy, and laughter. Family members shared stories and pictures of how the deceased is their anchor in life. It was one of the best analogies of Christ’s love.

Do you live your life in Christ’s love? Who anchored your life and whose lives have you anchored? 

Reflected by Katherine Tran

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Feast of Saint Stephen: Already Here but Not Yet

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

The Christmas holidays can be a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I experience jubilant joy and cheerful spirit with people. On the other, I also go through difficult moments of loneliness, loss, and sadness. My perfectionistic tendencies don’t take a vacation but plays peek-a-boo. I don't seem to be alone in this predicament. The holidays allows many of us to be in touch with the loss of recently deceased loved ones, 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. Violence is escalating in South Sudan, persecution of Christians persists in Egypt, and the conflict in Syria has only slightly improved since last Christmas. Peace with ourselves and peace with others remain elusive.

The readings this week 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 closely intertwine. God in Jesus came as a baby born in a feeding trough and died as a criminal on the cross. Throughout Christ’s life, God loves consistently despite the costs. God is not ashamed of human lowliness or messiness, she entered into it. Moreover, God often comes as an unexpected, uninvited, often unrecognized guest. Christian hope lies not in something, not in some belief or idea, but in Someone. In someone who often surprises us, entering our brokenness, magnifying our joy, desiring to stay, whispering peace, “I am here.”

We live in this tension, in the already but not-yet. It may not be easy living in suspense. Like Stephen, can seek to be receptive and open in the midst of incompleteness. Peace is dawning, already in-breaking.

Unexpected One, receive my spirit, whatever I may be experiencing.  May I receive your surprising visit today, in whatever shape or form.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord: Celebrations of First Loves

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [pitched his tent] among us” – Jn 1:14

The most memorable and meaningful Christmas celebrations for me have been with my family and God’s poor. In 1996 with ethnic minorities in Central Vietnam. In 2010 with indigenous people in the remote mountain villages of Tanudan, Northern Philippines.  In the past three years with kids at Dorothy Kirby Juvenile Detention Center in Los Angeles. Last year with my family soon after the death of my young cousin Thy and just before my parents’ 50th Anniversary.

The common denominator seems to be about first loves: my first love, my family; and God’s first love, the poor and marginalized. From my family, I learned about the nearness of acceptance, forgiveness, faith, believing in and empowering in each other to grow through joys and struggles. From those on the margins of society, I learned about God’s consistent presence and sacrificing love. In 1996, I celebrated Mass with some underground catechists in training so they can return to witness and pass on the faith among their people. They did so at the cost of imprisonment, for it is illegal under Communist Vietnam to proselytize. When asked why they would take such risks, they replied consistently: “We cannot but proclaim a God who is willing to come and be with us, to love and help us.”

Each Christmas, 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 “pitches his tent” 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, into 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. Like people who love – crazy in love - God wants to be one with us, very near to us, tenderly.

What’s amazing is that while making us his favorite hiding place, Jesus makes God his favorite resting place. He is  “at the Father’s side,” literally, “at the breast” or “bosom”—an image of abiding intimacy (Jn 1:18). Their intimacy is fruitful; their love goes out, giving birth to all that lives. From the crib to the cross, this self-emptying love pours forth through families and people on the frontiers.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us rest at home (and in the bosom of God). Let us also “pitch our tent” with the most vulnerable and needy. Listen to the Urbi et Orbi message of our brother Francis and consider concrete way to reach out to our sisters and brothers in South Sudan, Syria, Philippines. May Christ’s peace and joy be with you and your families!

Jesus, help us celebrate your coming-near with our and your first loves.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fourth Tuesday of Advent: Peace In-breaking

“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

Yesterday at Mass, the presider asked if we are ready for Christ’s coming this Christmas. Immediately racing through my mind was the list of unfinished things I needed to do, the many “should's” that I needed to complete in order to be ready for God to come closer. In this thinking, I was not ready to receive the Divine Guest because my house (outer and internal states) was not in order. Yet, I did not give in to the perfectionistic temptation that I had to have it “all together” in order to be ready. Realizing that fulfilling all the “should’s” was secondary, I found myself nodding ‘Yes Lord, come in, here I am …” A smile dawned on my lips and peace like a gentle breeze flowed through.

For many of us, Christmas Eve is often full of many activities. We feel outer or inner pressures to get things done, including being happy, cheerful, joyful. In addition, we notice people we find difficult knocking at our doors, hard feelings crowding in our hearts, children clamoring for our attention. A hectic reality.

Yet, imagine another reality taking place: The “tender compassion of our God” breaking upon us, shining through our outer shadows and inner darkness, guiding “our feet into the way of peace.”  As we stumble and fumble along our paths these days, we find ourselves being lead somehow. We don’t know the journey well, yet we are lead along the way. St. Ignatius Loyola discovered this. At the same time he sought God, God was guiding him into the way of peace. A peace beneath the hustle and bustle of life. An underling peace that sustains eruptions of joy. A peace in trusting that we don’t have to make it happen, that God’s tender mercy heals our dis-ease. Something wondrous is happening, just let it unfold …

Lord, help me trust that you are already with me, whispering: “Peace. I am here!”

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fourth Monday of Advent: God’s Tender Compassion

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

Because God’s compassion is so tender, it is mysterious.  At the announcement his son’s birth, the elder Zechariah asked for a sign.  Little did he know that he would receive a dramatic one: he became mute for nine months.  Some say he was punished for doubting.  Yet, my experience of not talking for months after undergoing orthognathic surgery helped me to see Zechariah’s imposed silence as effective preparation. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth have been waiting all their lives for a child as well as for the Messiah. Little did they know that these longings would both be fulfilled in their newborn.  For nine months, as his son was growing in his wife’s barren womb, Zechariah was being prepared in silence.  God prepared both husband and wife to join the unfolding drama of God’s saving love.  When John was born, Zechariah spoke again, immediately blessing God.  He sang an effusive canticle which included: “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 guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1: 78-78).

During a silent retreat eleven years ago, I experienced spiritual gifts that eluded me. Perhaps because they were deep and tender, they were beyond me.  Gradually, I have come to realize that God was preparing me for Christus Ministries bridging young adults and parishes.  God has been readying me for all of my life actually, albeit hidden.  Like Zechariah, I discover it better through silence.  

I am convinced that God has been preparing each of us to take our place in the mysterious and tender drama of God’s liberating love.  Like Zechariah (as with Mary and Joseph), listening in silence is the best way to cooperate with God’s dream for our lives.

Let us follow Pope Francis’ advice to ask God for “the grace to love silence, to look for it and to have a heart guarded by the cloud of silence.”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Space to “Be With”

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” - Mt 1:20

Amidst the many questions, concerns, fears, and struggles that confronted Joseph is an invitation to “be with.” He allowed himself to sit with many conflicting thoughts and feelings. Even more, he trusted God working through his dreams, during sleep as in waking moments. Without a word, he listened quietly and acted in trust.

Amidst our many goings, coming, and doings these days close to Christmas is a similar invitation to “be with.” To allow God to come near, to be with each of us in whatever thoughts and feelings that we may experience.

In prayer these past few weeks, I sense a consistent invitation from Jesus: “Tri, I want to be with you.” It’s more than an invitation to slow down, to make more time and create space. He seems to be sharing with me his desire to enjoy me more fully, to be with me more deeply and intimately. More than I have known. To be honest, I am a bit uncomfortable. I hesitate. Yet, the quiet, trusting example of Joseph, helps me to adopt an attitude that allows God to “be with” me, through myself and others.

Lord, help me these days to welcome moments of silence and quiet as a response to your desire to “be with” with me and others.

Enjoy a minute of solitude through the following video

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Third Saturday of Advent: 'Tis the Season

"Arise my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land." - Song of Songs 2: 8-14  

Advent and Lent tend to be seasons when I am on high alert as to how my spiritual life is going. Am I spending good time with Jesus? Have I gone to confession lately? Are my priorities straight? However, my thoughts sometimes lead me to forceful "shoulds" rather than graceful "coulds".

As an over achiever, I'm pretty hard on myself. I'm learning to catch myself sooner, to take a deep breath and make space. As I invite Jesus in, I see His loving eyes, His gentle face, and listen to His words call me His Beloved.  

The first reading today reminds me of the seasons for rain and for flowers, for pruning and for blooming. There are times when I feel tight with God, when "life is beautiful even when everyday's not pretty," and times when I feel we're distant, maybe because of distraction, excuses, indifference, or fear.

I've just arrived in Toronto where it's wet and icky and the maple leaves aren't crunchy anymore. I love stepping on crunchy fall leaves. Jesus tells me on our walk today that it's alright, enjoy the crisp air. It's alright that I've been crazy busy, that I haven't spent as much time with Him in the Word as I used to, that I haven't been serving as much or addressed that one relationship that's been "ugh." He's here in this moment, in all the truth, beauty, goodness, and love around me. In awe I tell Him:

Lord, I'm amazed by your grace. Thank You for always gently being here so that I may spend time with You who meets me where I'm at, in whatever season I find myself in. I want to make a path for You, to deepen my faith and trust in you, because I can, not because I should. Amen.

Reflected by Chau Anh Kim

Friday, December 20, 2013

Third Friday of Advent: Awaiting with Wonder

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." - Luke 1:35

These words never fail to resonate in my heart.  God calls each of us to serve, but  very seldom tells any of us how we will be enabled to carry out our mission.  Mary is the exception, perhaps because her mission was so important and so intimate.  Any woman who has carried a child in her womb for nine months knows this intimacy.  If her child kicks, moves, or even hiccups, she feels it and is profoundly aware of the new person living inside her body; and with the child, a powerful urge to love also lives in her body.  

Imagine the baby being the son of God.  What wonder!  God, that joyful, exuberant center of cosmic love, irresistibly eager to expand and create, held Mary in profound embrace and became flesh in Jesus! Wow! I have heard this scripture for seventy years, and I am still filled with wonder. What is it like in God's shadow, I have wondered.  Could I survive that intimacy?  Does the shadow of the Most High block out the light?

YHWH's Shadow

The light inYHWH's shadow
Fills the center,
And the edges of my soul,
Dances like fireflies
With the joy of being.
The light in YHWH's shadow
Warms my life with
The searing fire of love;
Sings the lark's song
Of exultation.
The light in YHWH's shadow
Brings abundant life;
Delights my heart like
The laughter of a child.

Reflected by Sharon Sullivan

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Third Thursday of Advent: Opportunities to Listen and Receive

“I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these tidings take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” - Luke 1:5-25

How often do I jump to answer or react to someone, without even really listening and processing what the person is saying? This passage from Luke’s gospel is a good reminder to me about stopping and listening.  Admittedly, Zechariah just had some highly suspect information given to him by Gabriel.  Still, Zechariah was able to overcome his initial fear of the angel to respond, not with, “Who are you?” but with, “How shall I know this?”  It’s a pretty brazen statement when I think about the shock he must have initially felt.  We often do the same thing when presented with opportunity.  It’s so much easier for me to question someone else’s motives rather than listen and hear what the person is really saying to me.

Zechariah models a kind of openness to receiving the generosity of God, even without fully understanding. As we prepare for the birth of Christ, I have been asking myself how I might be more generous to others and also receptive to the generosity of others. What if I weren’t so worried about what gifts to buy, but focused on the the generosity of giving?  What if in doing so, I might also becomes more open to receiving?  Receiving without questions, but with grace, could become a powerful charism.

Am I being invited today to listen longer and more fully before responding to those around me?

How might I be more receptive, like Zechariah, to the overflowing generosity God might be offering me today?

Reflected by Rick Billups

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Third Wednesday of Advent: Letting God Be God

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” - Matthew 1:18-25

As we draw near the end of Advent, Joseph reveals a reality resembling our own path at times. Not only did he plan his future with Mary, it was already mapped out in his heart, mind, and calendar. But of course, as with any journey involving us trying to create our own destiny, life and God happens, inviting us to forsake all of our knowledge and understanding to participate in a larger story. 

Like Joseph, we may not have all the information about our lives before us. And more often than not, God’s dream does not come in a neatly wrapped box for me. It comes in the shape of a challenge of faith and asking me to let go of my deepest fears, pride, and need to be in control. Although His path has always been better than mine, it also meant choosing the road with more struggle and heartache. Yet at the same time, leaning on His love and grace to give meaning and direction.

Though it is a daily surrender, God asks for our patience, trust, and self-emptying of ourselves to grow in deeper love and faith for Him. He may not always give the desires of our hearts the way we might expect, but He knows what lies at the core of those desires and what is best for us. As we remain open to walking with Him every single day, He will continue to write our story and weave each experience together to create something more grand and fulfilling than we could have possibly imagined.

Lord, may I anticipate the work of Your hands to transform my nothing into Your everything.

Reflected by Tam Lontok

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Third Tuesday of Advent: Sensing the Slow, Gentle Work of God

“Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob, listen to Israel, your father.” - Genesis 49:2

Usually God does not communicate with me in a “flash” of inspiration or a moment of extreme clarity where the heavens open up and enlightenment ensues. I am stubborn and slow to accept help, both from other people and from God. Oftentimes, the realization that God has been working and present comes slowly and gradually.

Today’s readings can be difficult to approach in prayer. The genealogy can be confusing and uninspiring. For me, the list of ancestors of Jesus (a family tree filled with imperfection) helps to place the coming of Jesus in the context of a pattern of God’s grace. When I read this list that documents several thousand years of preparation, I am awed at the slow, gentle work of God. The Annunciation and the birth of Jesus are not some “jolt” or “flash” that comes out of nowhere, but rather a radical expression of God’s consistent love.

I am also struck by a sense that as amazing and beyond comprehension as the Incarnation is, how equally inconceivable it would be for the Incarnation to NOT have happened. I imagine a God who sees His people and cannot help but desires to be there with them in the midst of their daily realities. Today is a reminder that God has always been present to us and is present to us now. We are also reassured that God will be present to us tomorrow.

Can I imagine a God who desires intimacy with me so much that He has prepared a way to my heart long before I was even aware? I pray today, “Lord, help me to settle into your gentle movement. Help me to rest in You.” 

Reflected by Jen Coito

Monday, December 16, 2013

Third Monday of Advent: We Can See God's House From Here

Gifted with particularly sharp vision as he has, the seer Balaam would have been at home piled in the backseat of our family sedan. And I mean piled. As many as ten of us shared the space at times. Window seats were coveted, since the ride home always included a contest to see who would be the first to spot our house. The first to see started the chant: "I can see our house from here!" If one could see then all could see, and the chant grew louder and more rapid and continued until we pulled into the driveway: "I can see our house from here. I can see our house from here. Icanseeourhousefromhere. Icanseeourhousefromhere." A number of us, despite being at the bottom center of the backseat heap with a view of only backsides and elbows, could still "see" our house more than five miles away. In our mind and heart, we could see it, and so it was there.

Balaam did not have the best vantage point to see and hear all that he did either. He was not an Israelite (think: bottom center of a heap), yet God still used him as a mouthpiece. Summoned by an enemy king to curse the Israelites, Balaam can utter only blessing. What God says is true, Balaam knows to be true. What God sees, Balaam sees too. Balaam sees the Israelites encamped in the desert, but so much more: "a king that will rise and be exalted"…"a star that will advance from Jacob and a staff that will rise from Israel."

In this third week of Advent, do you see what Balaam sees? Rather, who Balaam sees? God incarnate, dwelling among us in the humble abode of a newborn baby.

We can see God's house from here.

Reflected by Mary Stommes

Mary Stommes is editor of Give Us This Day.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Third Sunday of Advent: Waiting for Joy

“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” – James 5:7
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” – Matthew 11:3

Visiting my family this past Thanksgiving showed me contrasting attitudes as well as the cost of waiting. My dad called and impatiently asked what time I was going to arrive, since heavy traffic delayed my journey home. He was hungry. When I arrived, my niece Tiki erupted in joy. She jumped on me like a three year old, although she’s approaching eleven. Two contrasting attitudes: patient and impatient waiting.

The second reading (as well as the first) and the Gospel today also show dissimilar attitudes of waiting.  While the author of James’ epistle calls for “patient, firm hearts,” John the Baptist betrays desperation for a clear answer. Given his imprisonment and dire circumstance, it is understandable. (Likewise, my dad’s bursitis was handing him a difficult day). For patient waiting involves bearing suffering. The word “patience” comes from the Latin verb “patior,” meaning to “suffer.” Such suffering may take the form of a dying to one’s preferences, wants, agenda, timeline; it may take the form of letting go, of paying attention to what is happening here and now, especially feelings of discomfort and uneasiness, yet focusing on the one who is coming near.

My niece Tiki is delighted to see me. She is confident in my love for her. When someone we know loves us comes near, joy also visits. We are more than happy, because happiness is based mainly on favorable circumstances. Joy erupts when we encounter someone who loves us, grounds us, and brings out our best selves. Our heart leaps, our eyes beam with gladness, our feet risks dancing. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation bursts with “the joy of the Gospel” that “fills the heart and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” Our joy breaks forth when we meet the One who comes always offering healing, forgiveness, and freedom. Jesus comes to meet us where we are, to stay, offering peace and joy beyond measure. Even when things are hard and do not go our way, we’re motivate to wait patiently because the One who elicits joy is coming.

Jesus, help me to accept you as the One who is coming near, giving life, and staying.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Memorial of St John of the Cross: Letting God Lead in Mystery

“The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’
He said in reply, ‘Elijah will indeed come and restore all things …’” (Mt 17:10-11)

Jesus is often enigmatic. In today’s Gospel, he does not directly answer the “why” question of the disciples. After experiencing the powerful transfiguration of Jesus, they impatiently questioned about the expected return of Elijah before the “day of the Lord” (Mal 3:23). It is as if they were asking, can’t we just skip the difficult intermediary stage and get to the prize already? Instead, Jesus readjusts their vision of a Messiah who emerges through suffering and patient hope before manifesting power and might.

Much to my chagrin, God never answers the “why” questions that I pose. Why do the people in the Philippines suffer? Why do such young people have to die so young of diseases? I often forget 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 its 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, easy answers, or quick fixes. I forget that fasting comes before feasting, that night precedes the dawn, that Christmas’ joy will be deeper by going through a mindful Advent.

St John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate today, composed mystical writings which depict one’s journey to God as a stripping away of false self and illusions as much as by experiences of joy. From his own sufferings inflicted by brothers from his own congregation, he encourages us to let God lead us mysteriously through the “dark night” of our experiences. Gradually, we will also experience the “dark gladness”. Listen to Loreena McKennitt’s interpretation of one of his a famous poems.

Help me, O Lord, to trust in your mysterious ways - that you­ seek what is best for us - and let go of my need for certainty and control.