Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas: A New Beginning

Lose Weight. Get Organized. Spend Less. Start . . . tomorrow. After all, New Year’s Eve is about recollecting. Tomorrow the resolutions presently percolating will be put into action. We will be better—thinner, healthier, tidier—but what about today?

Today is an end. But, in the midst of countdowns and retrospectives, it is also all about beginnings. “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God . . . all things came to be through him . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The life that brought all of creation into being is the life that shines in each one of us. When we look back at all that this year has held, that life is the grace we see. It shimmers beautifully. It has drawn us into relationship and calls us to live lives that radiate faith, hope, and love. If we can give ourselves to that call, the Word can take on flesh in us.

Fortunately, we get a chance to do that each and every day. Today is a new beginning. There’s no need to wait until tomorrow. We know the Truth; we have encountered Christ. We’ve been given new life, and so we can’t help but live, letting God’s creative love flow through us each day. It’s not a matter of year’s end or New Year’s resolutions. Today is a new day. So, like every day we are blessed to live, let us embrace it with creative love, sharing the fullness of our being and trusting that our Creator will be, and has been, with us from the very start.

Reflected by Sr. Colleen Gibson from Give Us This Day

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas: Perseverance Through Thick and Thin

“Anna never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” Lk. 2:37-38

The widow Anna in her faithfulness to Temple worship and prayer reminds us of the many women who form the core of the faithful at daily worship, who probably do more than anyone to foster and pass on faith. The real mark of any virtue is perseverance in it through thick and thin, in fervor or dullness. Anna “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer” (Luke 2:37). It’s so much easier to do things by fits and starts and to pray by whim and feeling. The wisdom and insight which Anna has—that those who have stayed with prayer over the years gain—is to a large degree the result of staying with prayer in dry periods and times of fervor, when our heart sings, and also when it is heavy as a rock.

Some insights come from constant attentiveness to God and prayer which cannot be gained from books or study. Anna’s recognition of the Child and his significance is an example of such insight. The poor, hungry, abandoned, abused, and discarded children of our world, of our big cities, and elsewhere need more people who see the Christ Child in them and feel obliged to care and help.

The world of which John speaks so negatively today is not God’s creation as such, but a world which is under the domination of selfishness and self. Those who do identify these children with the Child Jesus can pressure the powers of our world and work themselves to see that they are given respect and love. The children of the world require more than an occasional smile or gasp of admiration at how cute they are; each one of them requires someone to show God’s love to them.

Reflected by Fr. Don Talafous from Give Us This Day

Monday, December 29, 2014

Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas: Rejoice!

“Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all you lands.
Sing to the Lord; bless his name.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!” Ps. 96:1-2,11

My nephew John is two and a half years old and has begun to speak much more since the last time I saw him. He is adept at commanding his older brother James to “Share!”, expressing his displeasure over the church outfit his mother picked out for him, and voicing his opinion about the food put before him. However, what he is best at communicating is his delight in others while playing. Sometimes, he gets so caught up in play and the enjoyment of those around him that his squeals becomes a song of rejoicing.

Perhaps we do not squeal anymore. Perhaps the adult version of squealing is belly-laughing. How often do we allow ourselves to rejoice unselfconsciously? It seems as we grow older, we may become more filtered and more collected in our expressions of joy. We may sometimes even feel silly, undeserving, or even worse, guilty about being so raw with our happiness. Maybe we do not have trouble with delighting in the present, but rather we do not perceive anything to delight over. The burdens of our personal struggles or the seemingly unending litany of global issues weighs down on us preventing any opportunity to rejoice.

Christmas is a time of joy not only because we give and receive gifts or spend time with our loved ones, but most importantly, we celebrate the mystery of God’s romance with humanity and his greater desire to become even more intimate with us. Pope Francis writes in the opening of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accepts his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”

Indeed with so great a gift as Jesus, how can we keep ourselves from singing to the Lord a new song and blessing his holy name?

Lord Jesus Christ, open my eyes to see how wonderful a gift you are. May my response to your gift of love inspire those around me to rejoice.

Reflected by Michael Jamnongjit

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: A Family Growing in Love

"Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." – Colossians 3:12-13

This year we failed at getting our Christmas lights up on the house and I only decorated the tree the day before we planned to leave to visit out of town family. In many respects, we “failed” at our son’s first Christmas. Yet, when I look back on the past 8 days, I notice the people our son has spent time with. He has seen nearly every significant person in his life through traveling and coordinating of schedules across families.

He also celebrated his first Christmas with the families at Dolores Mission Parish in Boyle Heights. Our young adults adopted three families this year with gifts and necessities for Christmas. At the brunch where we presented the gifts, my son and one of the little boys we sponsored shared a bowl of dry cereal, taking turns picking up pieces and eating. They ate together, patiently giving each other a turn, locking eyes, and then laughing. This bowl of cereal became an opportunity to bridge, to share, and to build community.

When we got married two years ago, my husband and I specifically chose today (the Feast of the Holy Family) for our wedding day. When we welcomed our son nine months ago, the images of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (a family growing together in love) took on even more significance. Long before Jesus began his active ministry, he was a member of a family. He learned “compassion, humility, gentleness, and patience” from his relationships with his parents, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

I hope that these moments with family and friends, including the community at Dolores Mission, will form my son in compassion and mercy. I hope to continue to direct his natural joyfulness towards building community and sharing the joy of God’s presence with others. Despite our limitations in so many other ways, I cannot think of a better foundation to set on his first Christmas.

Reflected by Jen Coito

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Feast of St. John the Evangelist: Love Bursting

“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, 3a

I don’t know who is more in love with their newborn, my brother Tho or my good friend Jen. The way they look at their child betrays their deep love. Every time I witness this gaze, I am caught in tenderness. I also catch a glimpse of the way God looks at us, his beloved children.

Have you experienced 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 when genuine friendships and relationships draw a person such that he or she cannot keep it for himself or herself. The Beloved Disciple is someone who has a special bond and intimacy with Jesus that it cannot be contained. Today’s feast is about this kind of relationship 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 incarnate love take hold of us. To let is deepen in tenderness. And transform us into life-giving eyewitnesses. For love becomes more real when it is lived out.

Perhaps our experience this Christmas is bereft of genuine love or lacking life. Maybe we do not feel longing for either. Yet, we can heed the advice of St. Ignatius and beg God for the “desire to desire” greater life or love.

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 generously share it with others?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Second Day in the Octave of Christmas

For my family, Christmas is drawn out over many days of visiting and family gatherings between my own immediate family, extended family, friends, and relatives. For my whole life we have had a big Christmas dinner at my aunt’s house with traditional Italian dishes (the menu only changing once in my 30 years). The house is filled with chaos, laughter, and my cousins’ teasing. Presents are opened in a whirlwind of wrapping paper, boxes, and bows.

As a child, we would go to my grandmother’s (just my siblings and me) on the morning of December 26 to spend time with her and receive her gifts to us. After all the busyness of the holiday season, the morning after Christmas was like the extra icing on the cake. The joy of Christmas Day was drawn out just a little bit longer.

Our “second Christmas morning” at my grandmother’s house is an image for me of lasting joy, the bountifulness of God’s love, and an opportunity to savor a little bit longer. Although December 25 has drawn to a close, today marks the beginning of the sinking in and deepening of God’s loving us through the gift of His Son.

Today I enjoy the leftovers in the fridge, tidy the rooms where we celebrated, and enjoy the physical and spiritual gifts of Christmas.

Lord, how might I savor each moment a little longer and relish your presence a little more today?

Reflected by Jen Coito

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Nativity of the Lord: Life Awakened

“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.” – Jn 1:4-5

My eleven-month old niece, Olivia, was a distraction during Mass last night. She engaged everyone around her, sang her own songs, and squirmed all over those of us who held her. At one point, she looked intently into my eyes, smiled, and gave me her version of a kiss filled with saliva. In her tiny embrace, I sensed the presence and life of God.

Little Olivia drove home Pope Francis’ Christmas Eve homily for me: “God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.” In her smallness, she helped me get in touch with my own frailty, limitation, desires and hopes. She helped awakened life in me.

Today, we celebrate a Mystery most central to our faith. God, in the Christ child, comes to give greater life to all. God is in love with each of us, as we are. Yet, those who are in touch with their smallness – their weakness, vulnerability, and interdependency – will recognize him most. And live in his radiant light. For others, it will be just a cultural ritual. When we accept Jesus poor and humble, in our smallness, our lives will be transformed. When we look at a person who is poor, who loves, who forgives, we see God. We experience God who is poor, who loves, who forgives. God chooses to show God’s light most clearly through human beings, through you and me. This is the glory of God’s humility. The light of God’s love.

Letting Olivia look, smile, and kiss may seem little. This warm-fuzziness cannot dispel the darkness of racial tensions in Ferguson, stop the religious genocide of the Islamic State, lessen the unjust enhanced interrogations inflicted by the US intelligence after 9-11, or take away the allergic reactions I have with certain people with whom I regularly interact. Yet, when I receive such tenderness of God through others and embrace my smallness, life is awakened within. As do joy and peace. I trust that Christ’s light will illuminate darkness within and around me. I am humbled to be awakened by a transformation of tenderness rather than remain asleep in a stupor of fear.

“Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict” – Pope Francis

p. s. – For two poignant reflections, see Ronald Rolheiser’s and Brendan Busse’s.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Fourth Wednesday of Advent: Christmas Eve

“You will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
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.”  - Luke 1:76-79

We begin the last day of Advent; yet my heart is still unprepared in so many ways. We are assured that Christmas will come tomorrow and that we will celebrate God’s nearness and tenderness. A simple encounter ten years ago provides a touchstone moment for me in appreciating how God invites me to collaborate with Him to “prepare His way.”

A few years ago when I arrived at Christmas Eve Mass the priest saw me and exclaimed, “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,” to 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 Coito 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fourth Tuesday of Advent: Challenges as Signs of Favor

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

When I was 21 years old, I underwent jaw surgery to correct a severe underbite. My mouth was wired shut for 12 weeks to let my jawbone heal. I could not talk and was limited to a liquid diet. With torturous humor, my siblings paraded my favorite dishes in front of me. It was a long three-month waiting. But it helped me to be in solidarity with people who go hungry and those who are mute. When I finally spoke, I was filled with gratitude and expectancy. I was eager to eat substantial food, but more excited to share. I caught a glimpse of what Zechariah experienced.

At the announcement his son’s birth, the elder Zechariah asked for a sign. He was given a dramatic one: 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. The disguised gift of being mute allowed him to get in touch with his longing for a child and his people’s hope for the promised messiah. So when he opened his mouth, it was to bless God. He sang out an effusive canticle, beginning 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, but also favor to his people, to the poor and lowly.

The jaw surgery not only improved my bite, it also bolstered my self-esteem helped improve my stammering speech. It was a disguised gift that prepared me to speak of God’s love and favor. It was God’s way of preparing me, like Zechariah, to enter the unfurling drama of Christ’s saving love. I am convinced that God has been preparing each of us to take our place in this mysterious and magnificent drama of liberating love. God’s favor is often disguised as challenges.

What if the challenges you’re facing is a preparation for an unfurling of God’s saving love? Take a few minutes of quiet, step back, and imagine this possibility of how you are favored.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Fourth Monday of Advent: Magnifying Greater Trust

“My spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked upon his lowly servant.” – Luke 1:47-48

There is such a beautiful weaving through the readings today, drawing on parallels between the lives of Hannah and Mary. Hannah dedicates Samuel for the Lord's service. Mary similarly offers herself to the Lord, ultimately leading to her becoming the mother of Jesus.

Both Hannah and Mary through their proclamations in the responsorial psalm and Gospel also echo similar sentiments. Hannah begins, “My heart exults in the Lord,” and Mary, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” These words provide a glimpse into what a life of dedication entails – it’s always about God, His word, His works. For Hannah and Mary, it was never about themselves.

Yet how often do I say that I’ve dedicated my own life to God, to follow Him, to serve Him… and end up making it about myself? Since things are not panning out the way that I thought dedicating myself to God would look like - whether by way of timing, circumstance, or otherwise. I belabor not getting enough credit for my work, not feeling valued or acknowledged, not being far along enough in my life, and so forth. It begins to dawn on me that it just never feels like enough. That I don’t believe I’m enough.

Then a gentle voice asks, what am I defining myself by, and really how much credit, value, and acknowledgement have I been giving to God?  For all that He has and continues to do in this life He has given me, I only look at what seem to be holes. How often am I despairing or complaining, versus giving thanks and magnifying God’s invitation to greater trust and love?

Lord, please help me to proclaim your greatness in my own life, to be a witness and bearer of your deep presence in each person I meet today.

Reflected by Quyen (Nhi) Ngo

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Dwelling in Faith

“...for nothing will be impossible for God.” - LK 1:26-38

All four candles are lit during this week, characterizing the cycle of a single day moving from dusk till dawn with a hope of light to emerge. Advent remains a continuous season of our spiritual life, encouraging us to reflect on who we think we are to what God has called us to be, from observant believers to active doers. It invites us to pause between our plans, goals, and agendas to face deeper issues. Shaking our steadiness, it challenges us to change our present situation and learn how to live with insecurity, develop deeper trust in the unknowns, and believe more fully in His promises. All easy to speak, yet sometimes difficult to truly accept.

Three days before Thanksgiving, I received news that my uncle was diagnosed with stage IV cancer and had only three to six months to live. My heart saddened and never was it so clear how much I loved and admired him. Upon arriving to Colorado, I was prepared to marinate in the pain. What struck me in spending time with my uncle was everything he was not - angry, felt cheated, or singled out by fate. He shared, “I am not afraid and feel blessed this lifetime. If this is His will, then I am in complete trust. But while I am here, I want to live each moment presently and enjoy it.”

My uncle modeled Mary for me this Advent. He showed me how to say ‘yes’ when it gets uncomfortable and inconvenient. He heard a summons from deep within and responded with love. He inspired me to ask myself, “Do I believe in His promises? How do I choose to wait?” All our lives God invites us to discover and accept who we are because each moment is part of an eternal process of becoming. He gives us the help, strength, and means to respond. We can either yield to His grace or resist and go on our way.

Lord, you enter into the heart of our transformation. Help us wait like Mary with willingness, obedience, and abiding trust.

Reflected by Tam Lontok

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Third Saturday of Advent

“May it be done to me according to your word.” – Lk. 1:38

I’ve come to believe that the words “Let it be done to me according to your word” are among the most meaningful words we could say in our Christian lives.  For me, these words signify an openness to God’s desires for me and for the world.  They signify a willingness to embrace all of the little (and big things) in my life that I sometimes find difficult to accept.  These words communicate an openness to all God is creating me to be.

I don’t always have this disposition in my own life.  I’m sometimes like Ahaz, not willing to even ask God to receive all that God wants to give me.  Let us pray for the grace to trust God more deeply, and to know God as the one who gives ALL good gifts, who gives ALL that we truly need.

Most importantly, as we approach Christmas, let us pray for the grace to welcome the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, into our hearts once again, as Mary did.  To all God desires to give us, let us say, “May it be done to me according to your word!” 

Reflected by Greg Celio

Friday, December 19, 2014

Third Friday of Advent: So Great a Silence

When I was a child, stillness prevailed in our home on Christmas Eve. Bedtime was early and quiet was counseled, despite the excitement. I’m sure I was more excited about the coming of Santa than the coming of the Christ Child, yet I learned to be silent and still before so great an expectation.

In our culture, in this season, what could be more startling than silence? The final round of holiday parties is taking place. Shops are filled. Decorative lights blink incessantly. Time moves like a train gathering speed, as if it, too, was in a hurry. Everything around us bespeaks haste and clamor.

In the midst of this din, today’s readings call us to silence. Manoah’s wife was silent before the message of an angel. “I asked no questions . . .” she said. Zechariah did question, and was brought to silence.

Surrendering to the bustle around us can be a form of questioning the angel, of disbelieving the message. Perhaps an inward silence can help us still the outward clamor, if only for the moment of a prayer.

Today’s Gospel Acclamation is based upon the O Antiphon O Radix Jesse: “O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer . . .”

Amidst the thousands of signs around us, we are called to notice this sign, the sign of God’s love. Before so great an expectation, may we be filled with so great a silence.

Reflected by Sr. Lynn Elizabeth Meadows, OSB taken from Give Us This Day

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Third Thursday of Advent: Be Not Afraid

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid…” – Mt 1:20

I find that when I perceive myself as self-sufficient in various aspects of my life, it is then that I live with the most fear, a fear that stems from knowing deep down that I cannot completely control every facet of my life. This fear prevents me from living with freedom, joy, and love. The irony is that society bombards us with messages of empowerment through independence, self-reliance, and other themes of self-actualization.

How often do we encounter situations where a child needs to hold her mother’s hands before entering class on the first day of school fearing the new environment, or when a shy young man needs his best friend to psyche himself up before approaching a beautiful girl he has been eyeing across the room for fear of rejection, or when a husband needs his wife’s affirmation to make a career leap? It is not that we depend on those we love to completely exorcise our fears, because in reality no one can do that. Rather we seek our loved ones to share our fears with, to be in solidarity with us in our times of uncertainty. And if we can share our fears and concerns with our parents, best friends, or spouse, how much more so can we trust God who loves us perfectly with our anxieties?

In today’s Gospel, Joseph experiences apprehension from taking Mary already with child into his home. However, it is his trust in God that dispels his fears. If we allow ourselves to emulate St. Joseph’s trust, we allow ourselves to experience the peace that comes from Emmanuel, God is with us.

Which fears of mine is an obstacle to peace this Advent season? St. Joseph, may your intercession grant me the grace to submit my concerns to the One who is with us always, yes until the end of time.

Reflected by Michael Jamnongjit

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Third Wednesday of Advent: The Mothers of Christ

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” – Mt. 1:1

Advent is a time to grow in appreciation for Mary, the Mother of Christ and motherhood in general. In the sweeping story of salvation there were many mothers that made Christ’s coming possible for us. Matthew’s genealogy highlights some of Christ’s special mothers (Mt. 1:1-17). We tend to avoid or skip over genealogies. The procession of names isn’t intended to be a comprehensive genealogy, but rather a selection of important people, many of them serving as a clue to Jesus’s mission and message.

Breaking with traditional genealogies, Matthew highlights four female figures, each an ancestral mother of Christ that lead us to Mary. Instead of choosing the famous matriarchs like Sarah, Rebekeh and Rachel, the Gospel writer chooses women whose lives were filled with shame and pain (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba). They endured prostitution, widowhood, and even rape. They were “outsiders,” foreigners brought into God’s family through faith and the Lord’s providence. They are a revelation of God’s love in Christ that would soon break into our world to bring healing and wholeness, setting us free from our shameful pasts. Their stories reach their fulfillment in the final mother of the genealogy: Mary. In her Magnificat, Our Lady speaks of God’s “mercy on those who fear him in every generation” like Rahab of Jericho and Bathsheba the Hittite. She praises the Lord who has “lifted up the lowly” like Tamar and “filled the hungry with good things” as he did for Ruth (Luke 1:46-55).

How may this season of Advent invite me to give Jesus and Mary all the “messiness” of my personal history: all of the brokenness, pain and shame and to trust that it can be redeemed and to find wholeness in Christ?

Adapted from Thomas Smith

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Third Tuesday of Advent: Gradual Conversion of Heart

“When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.  Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.” – Mt. 21:32

God’s Word can challenge and console at the same time. Today’s Gospel brings bad news before the good. Jesus’ parable about the two sons unmasks our tendencies as believers to preach more than we practice. We say and promise trust and surrender, yet our actions show otherwise.

There is someone close to me who brings about allergies in me. Whenever he speaks with a certain tone or acts in a particular way, I get annoyed and judgmental. It’s like an inconvenient bomb goes off within me. He has little idea. But I find myself impatient, mostly with myself. I can easily give in to the temptation to withdraw. Deep down I know it’s an invitation to be transformed, healed, or freed. Yet, I feel a resistance and hardening of heart.

Advent prepares us for metanoia, which literally means “beyond mind”  (metá-noos). It involves a shift in mindset, a different way of seeing that triggers a conversion of heart in the way we relate to God, others, and self. A radical change takes place, like those who we consider tax collectors and prostitutes entering God’s kingdom before us – those who profess to believe.

It’s a wake-up call to recognize that my mind and heart are much smaller than I admit. Yet, when I take a step back, I see hope. If such life-giving transformations can take place in others, it can happen to me. It’s sobering to know that I fall short; it’s also freeing to realize that I do not have to “make it happen.” I can ask for help, humbly accept the “bad” news. Slowly, slowly, God’s totally free gift of grace will bring about Good News and good changes.

LORD, enable me to truly ask for help and patiently wait for your “slow” work in me.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Third Monday of Advent: Remembering Goodness

“Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your kindness are from of old. In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.” – Ps. 25:6-7b,c

This past Saturday, I was very blessed by a gathering of young adults who attended the previous Caritas 34 Retreat. We came together to reconnect and to remember. Four people shared stories of their experience on the retreat and how it has impacted their lives since. I was deeply moved by their honesty and vulnerability. Not only did I recall what happened but realized with greater depth and meaning God’s goodness to me on that retreat. God’s aching desire to be with me and to come closer to each of us became more personal, profound, and magnified.

Remembering goodness does not solve the challenges that I’m facing or take away the concerns themselves. But it does shift my perspective and attitude. I can approach these matters with greater receptivity and hope. We often cajole God and others to remember their promises to us and to do good to us. Yet, when we allow ourselves to remember their goodness to us, we are not just recalling the past, but living fully the present into a future of greater hope. In remembering goodness, we grow in goodness and live out goodness.

Give yourself a few minutes to remember an experience of deep goodness in your life. Let Audrey Assad’s song, Good to Me, trigger this reconnecting.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Third Sunday of Advent: Receiving Joy

“I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul.” Isaiah 61:10

My godson Paul is one of those joyful babies. He often smiles with a sparkle in his eyes and laughs with a fire in his belly. Whenever he sees his mom or dad, he practically leaps towards them. He erupts in joy as they come near.

Little Paul teaches me a huge lesson about joy. When we sense someone who loves us comes near, we experience joy. The loving recognition of the person fills our hearts with gladness and hope that radiate through our dancing eyes and beaming cheeks. Since Paul readily accepts love and care from his parents, it is as if his souls smiles.

The readings today encourage us to receive God like little Paul. We are challenged to welcome a God who simply wants to come closer, to delight in us like a lover, to make us fruitful like a verdant garden. A good part of me yearns for this. Yet, another part of me resists this coming near. The part that harbors self-sufficiency, self-importance, self-preoccupation, or self-comfort; the part that opposes bringing glad tidings to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, and freedom to captives. However, whenever I witness the eruption of joy in Paul, the healing of past hurts in young adults I accompany, or the swelling of hope among needy families in Tijuana whose homes I help build, a greater desire in me emerges. Joy erupts gradually. A joy in recognizing that God wants to delight in me; a joy in seeing myself as part of something much greater.

Lord, help me to receive joy. May I let go of my resistances enough so that Your joy can erupt in me and through my relationships!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Memorial of St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr: Seeing Beauty

“Lord, let us see your face and we shall be saved.” – Ps. 80:4

St. Lucy was a martyr who lived during the late 3rd century. Today, she is one of the many saints who are commemorated by name in the Canon typically celebrated during special masses. Since the Middle Ages, several accounts of her death include her eyes being gouged out before her execution. For that reason, she is the patron saint of the blind and those with eye trouble.

Our first inclination of beauty is that which appeals to our sight. Many find beauty in the vast number of stars in the dark sky, the majesty of nature, paintings by our favorite artists, or perhaps a gaze into our beloved’s eyes. These things we find beautiful profoundly affect us. Many may even confess to being “saved” by beholding such beauty. But if these created instances of beauty can move us so powerfully, how much more so can the Author of beauty work in our life, as St. Augustine once addressed, “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new…”

Like many, I often wonder what it would be like to finally see God face to face. Would I be able to soak in all that He is? Or would I just be blinded by His infinite love and goodness? St. Lucy is a model for us to gaze upon him beyond the sight of eyes and with the sight of our heart. And perhaps when we see Him heart to heart, we cannot helped but be overwhelmingly affected by Beauty and be saved by Him.

St. Lucy, may your intercession grant us the grace to see that which can only be seen by our heart.

Reflected by Michael Jamnongjit

Friday, December 12, 2014

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron Saint of many places in the Americas, by the name of Guadalupe or the Immaculate Conception. Mary’s “self-portrait” on St. Juan Diego’s tilma is of the Immaculate Conception – the woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon. Today’s readings overlap with the readings we read on Dec. 8th.

My own thoughts of Our Lady of Guadalupe are impacted heavily by my eighth grade teacher. I remember her talking about her own affinity for Guadalupe. I recall her saying that she liked how Guadalupe was strong and powerful, which weren’t Marian traits that had been emphasized in her youth. In fact, Quyen’s reflection from Wednesday of “demonstrating power without undo harshness” reminded me of this image of Mary. So many Saints, and the (lowercase s) saints I know exhibit this trait. They are powerful and strong, protective and resolute, driven by a passionate love and courageous Gospel vision.

In the reading from Revelation, the loud voice in heaven announces that salvation and power have come, and yet the dragon continues to pursue the woman (and does so into the following chapters). To me this speaks to my own feeling of conflict as we prepare to hail the coming of the Prince of Peace. In the midst of injustice and brokenness, this Advent is once again an opportunity to proclaim that victory has come, in spite of evidence to the contrary. Our Lady told Juan Diego not to worry, but to trust.

Kids give such life to Christmas, but Christmas is not child’s play. Advent challenges us to stand against all that threatens to overcome us and have the courage of Mary.

Where do I stand? How can I take courage or consolation from the thought that Our Lady stands for me and with me, loving me with the heart of her son?

Reflected by Jason Coito

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Second Thursday of Advent: Catch!

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.” – Mt. 11:15

Who of us hasn’t at some time been quietly minding our own business when we hear a voice shout “Catch!” and see a ball or some other object speeding toward us? Natural, deep instincts come into play—and we either catch the object or get hit by it.

The Gospel today is enigmatic. Scholars themselves are mixed in their interpretations, from the notion that the violent have always exerted force to obstruct the kingdom of God to the suggestion that only those with passion and a sense of urgency are able to take hold of it.

What if we allow our reflection on the passage to depend on the final line: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Perhaps we make too much of Advent as a time of waiting and not enough as a time of watching and listening for the sudden shout, “Catch!” Here. Now. The kingdom is in our midst. Seize it.

Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus tells us, “the lame walk, the blind see, the poor hear good news.” What more are we waiting for? Sometimes we seem to “discern” ourselves right past the moment of opportunity and on past the moment of grace, rather than see and hear the all-too-obvious signs of the reign of God being offered us—a hurt that needs healing, an injustice that demands righting, an offense calling for forgiveness. Don’t wait. Don’t squander another moment being too careful, too cautious. Catch! Here it is, in front of you. Whoever has ears ought to hear.

Reflected by Sr. Pat Kozak taken from “Give Us This Day"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Second Wednesday of Advent: A Gentle Invitation

“Come to me all you who labor… Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” – Matthew 11:28-29

“Come all you who labor” – I have seen these words practically my entire life every Sunday, etched into the stained glass at my parish, Sacred Heart in Altadena. They rest underneath a grand image of Jesus and two angels at the front of our church. I would often mouth them without any understanding.

Even now as I’m older, the lines in today’s Gospel still puzzle me. How can Jesus give me rest, especially by my taking on a yoke that also includes being meek? The word “meek” has always had a negative connotation for me: shy, nervous, cowardly, and so forth. Webster’s dictionary defines it as mild; submissive; moderate. Great. This is not helping, when on the one hand I’m concerned about all the events surrounding Ferguson, the recent downtown fire… my own challenges with work and relationships. How is being meek going to help anything get better?

However, the original Greek word πραΰς (praus) conveys a more gentle, patient nature, more specifically “demonstrating power without undue harshness.” It begins to come together. As Jesus invites, “Take my yolk upon you,” it’s not to try to escape my daily situations, but rather to approach them in a different way. A pathway of gentleness and openness towards others - and myself – that makes space to see and value how Jesus is so much already present, waiting to surface. Waiting to break through. It makes me wonder, is it me waiting for Jesus, or is it really Jesus waiting for me?

Lord, how are you inviting me to look at my life differently during this Advent season? Help me to see through the eyes of Your heart.

Reflected by Quyen (Nhi) Ngo

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Second Tuesday of Advent: God Chooses Us

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” Mt. 18:12-14

The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home. God is the shepherd who goes looking for his lost sheep.

It might sound strange, but God wants to find me as much as, if not more than, I want to find God. Yes, God needs me as much as I need God. God is not the patriarch who stays home; does not move; and expects his children to come to him, apologize for their aberrant behavior, beg for forgiveness, and promise to do better. To the contrary, he leaves the house, ignoring his dignity by running toward them, pays no heed to apologies and promises of change, and brings them to the table richly prepared for them.

I am beginning now to see how radically the character of spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it as difficult as possible for me to find him, but instead as the one who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding.

Can I accept that I am worth looking for? Do I believe that there is a real desire in God to simply be with me?

Adapted from Henri Nouwen

Monday, December 8, 2014

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception: God’s Tenderness

“Adam and Eve hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden, at the breezy time of the day. The LORD God then called to the man and asked him, "Where are you?” He answered, "I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself." Gn 3:8-10

To me, the story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden is more about God’s tender mercy than about our sin. After Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, shame and fear overcame them. They judged themselves as ugly and unworthy of God’s friendship. They hid from their daily walk in the breezy late afternoon with God, from the enjoyment between dear friends. Yet, God still seeks to walk with them. God is not focused on blaming. Instead, God makes a promise to save, stating that Eve’s future offspring will strike at the head of evil. In a crowning gesture, God does something full of tender mercy. Before sending them out of the Garden, God clothes their nakedness with leather garments (Gen 3:21). It is as if God says, “I don’t see your nakedness as ugly. But if you think so, I will cover your nakedness so you won’t reject yourself all the time.”

Like Adam and Eve, I hide from God because I feel “naked and afraid” whenever I sin, make mistakes, or fail to be true. I can be perfectionistic, hard on myself, judge my nakedness as unworthiness, and remove myself from God. Yet, God – often in the form of very loving people – does not shrink away from my self-rejection. Like wise parents, God allows me to suffer some consequences of my foolishness and wrongdoing while tenderly offering mercy and reconciliation.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is less about sin and more about God’s tenderness. It celebrates Mary’s “yes” that fulfills God’s offer to save. Like her, we are invited to humbly accept God’s tender mercy, to embrace that we are “full of grace”, that God is with us, even in our self-rejection.

Would you consider taking a walk with God or Mary as with a dear friend? Let yourself be seen through their eyes, especially if you feel ashamed, naked, or wanting to hide.