Tag Archives: hope

1st Sunday of Advent, cycle B

Let us pray with St. Irenaeus…

It is not you that shapes God,

it is God who shapes you.

If then you are the work of God,

await the hand of the artist

who does all things in due season.

Offer God your heart,

soft and tractable,

and keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you.

Let your clay be moist,

lest you grow hard

and lose the imprint of God’s fingers.  AMEN

1st Reading:  Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7

From commentator Roger Karban:  Today’s Third-Isaiah reading only makes sense when we understand that our biblical writers believed people thought with their hearts, not their minds. So when the prophet accuses his people of “hardening their hearts to Yahweh,” he’s actually charging them with closing their minds to Yahweh. Since they don’t expect anything from God, they don’t even think about God. Though Third-Isaiah knows Yahweh is on the verge of helping those recently released from the Babylonian Exile, God can only do what people permit God to do. Anticipation of God’s actions plays a big role in experiencing God’s actions.  Isn’t that part of what Advent is…waiting in joyful expectation of what God is going to do in our lives?

This reading may make us feel we’ve got to try harder, do more.  But the reading ends with a different message.  We are to be clay.  We are to allow God to work on us.  So it is more a message of surrender.  Allowing.  Letting God in.  Gerald May describes the difference between willfulness and willingness.  Willfulness is the setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control, or otherwise manipulate existence.  Willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering-into, an immersion in the deepest processes of life itself.  Willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment.  Willfulness is saying no, or perhaps more commonly, “Yes, but…”.  Both reflect the attitude we have toward the wonder of life itself  (Will and Spirit, p. 6).  How might an attitude of willingness be helpful as we walk toward Christmas?

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 1:3-9

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series:  There are 3 things that stand out in this passage of thanksgiving:

  1. A promise which came true.  Paul preached Christianity to the Corinthians and said Christ could do certain things for them.  He proudly claims that all has come true.
  2. A gift has been given.  Paul uses a favorite word of his, charisma, which means a gift freely given to someone.  It comes through salvation and through whatever special skills we may need in life to be the most of who we are.
  3. There is an ultimate end.   If we are clothed in Christ, we have nothing to fear.

How might how “willingness” help us live our lives as Paul sees the Corinthians doing?  Might it help us live in gratitude like Paul?

Gospel Reading:  Mark 13:33-37

From commentator Roger Karban again:  Mark’s Jesus directs his call for watchfulness to a community still expecting an imminent Parousia. Yet the command to be alert goes far beyond just looking for Jesus’ Second Coming. The story he tells demonstrates how constantly being on guard is an essential part of our faith. As servants of the risen Jesus, we never know when the “master” is going to break into our lives.  If we’re not continually attentive, we’ll miss what, as Jesus’ servants, we’ve been uniquely trained to experience.  How do we do this?

When someone we care for travels abroad, we wait with HOPE for their return.  So there is an eagerness in our watching.  We are looking for good to happen.  “Like the seed long since sown in springtime, God’s inward arrival comes through unobtrusively and slowly, but with terrific force, and becomes manifest in all the seeming banality of our lives,”  (M. Birmingham, W&W Worksbook, cycle B, p. 53).  We often have apocalyptic readings during Advent because Christ came to us as a child, and he came to us in his resurrection.  He keeps coming and coming every day into our lives.  Do we see it?  Do we wait in hope for it?

Waiting is active.  Most of us consider waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands.  The bus is late?  We cannot do anything about it, so we have to sit there and just wait.  It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.”  Words like that push us into passivity.  But there is none of this passivity in Scripture.  If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait.  Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it, (Henri Nouwen’s “Waiting for God” Advent Prayer Booklet, p. 2).

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15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading – Isaiah 55: 10-11

In this ‘biblical world’ rain is precious. The total rainfall averages 20-24 inches (Mobile, Alabama, gets about 65 inches.) Certainly then rain was eagerly awaited as a vitally necessary commodity. It was seen as a ‘gift of God.’  Isaiah saw the idea of rain as a far greater reality, as an image of the loving, creative, redeeming Word of God whose utterances could transform even the most hardened heart. The rain of grace could soften and bring life. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  We must be open to receive this grace so that it can transform our life.  How do you know and feel this to be true in your life?

Thomas Merton had no religion growing up.  His father was an artist that travelled extensively, although a spiritual man.  His mother was a Quaker who died when he was still little.  He lived for himself, had fun…yet little nudgings from God would occur in him.  He finally made a decision to go to a Catholic church, he began spiritual reading, spoke to Catholics about their faith and before you know it-he wanted to be baptized into the faith.  It was only a couple years after that he wanted to become a priest.  In his book, The Seven Storey Mountain, he speaks of the peace that came over him as he got to know the Lord.  This is ‘giving seed to the one who sows’.  Not that we should all become priests, but what is it that God is planting in YOU?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 18-23

Paul is not a ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die’ kind of guy. On the contrary, Paul regarded the struggles of Christian living as productive, necessary and inherent part of the process whereby we are saved and even all creation is transformed. We are a part of the struggle, but we are also people of hope who live with a joy-filled anticipation of the fullness of life to come. Even in the world of nature we see transformation and struggle as part of the whole process: Butterflies strain to use their new wings as they emerge from their tomb-like cocoons. Salmon swim incredibly long distances in order to spawn and bring forth life. Seeds must crack open and trust the ‘earth-grave’ around them to sprout forth with growth. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  Brene Brown says hope is a function of struggle.

“Hope is realistic…Hope simply does its thing, like that spider in the corner of my bookshelf.  She will make a new web again and again, as often as my feather duster swooshes it away – without self-pity, without self-congratulations, without expectations, without fear…On my level the stakes are higher.  But I bow to that spider,”  said by Brother David Steindl-Rast.  To learn a little more about this hope and being open to the unimaginable, watch this 6 minute clip of him:   Spirituality for the Future series.

The Gospel – Matthew 13: 1-23

When we hear this parable, we often focus on ourselves as the various types of soil. Are we rocky, hard soil? Are we choked by the weeds of our life? How do we become good soil, receptive to God’s planting and bountiful care? Things to think about . . .

  • What if we focus on ourselves as the sower?  As the seed?
  • Parables are certainly open-ended. They invite us to sit with mystery awhile – to allow time for its secrets and power to penetrate our minds and hearts. Isn’t it true that sometimes we are not sure we have much – or even that there isn’t much there? As Louie Armstrong said once: “There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell ‘em.”  Perhaps, Jesus was trying to say something similar:  “To anyone who has, more will be given . . . from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  (Exploring the Sunday Readings, July, 2011, & Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p. 197)
  • Imagine! Our God is willing to put up with a 75% failure rate! This parable certainly asserts that the kingdom will not be found by those who are afraid to waste – to ‘waste’ their time, energy, and love. God’s reign is fostered not by carefulness but by openhandedness – not by scrupulously measuring but by generously giving – not by the small gesture of micro-management but by large motion which allows seed to fly from our hands and to land where it will. If we give freely and love generously, a lot of our effort will be wasted. But the few things that do work will more than compensate for our losses. The harvest is worth the waste! God assures us. Jesus promises us that the growing seed will produce a harvest of 30, 60, and a 100 fold.  (Living w/ Christ, 7/11, p. 4-5)

3rd Sunday in Advent, cycle A

This Sunday is Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday.  What is happening in your life right now that causes you to rejoice?  How is Christ present in this?

Isaiah 35:  1 – 6a, 10

How patient are you?  Patient enough to wait for the desert to burst into flowers?  For shaking hands to be stilled, for weak knees to be strong again?  Patient enough to wait for the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to run, the mute to sing?  That kind of patience is a divine quality.  For most of us, these things are too wonderful to imagine, much less to expect.

The prophecy to the people of God in exile is that they will return home to their land, a thing as impossible to dream of as a blooming desert.  Still the message delivered to the door of God’s people is always the same:  God will save you.  From Egypt, from Babylon, from your sins and yourselves, God will save you.  To those who believe, the desert is a garden waiting to awaken.  No situation in life is barren, no defeat final.  No matter the depth to which we have fallen, God is prepared to raise us up.  When our hearts are most frightened, we can lean on this word  (Exploring the Sunday Readings, 12/98).

A doctor in Aleppo recently said, “We are under attack.  We have the feeling that the whole world has abandoned us, left us here in Aleppo to be killed brutally with no help at all. We can’t defend ourselves. We can’t do anything. We can’t protect our hospitals. We can’t protect our lives. We can’t protect our patients’ lives. We can’t protect our families’ lives. It’s desperate here.”  Perhaps these words from Isaiah would comfort him.

What do you make of that word vindication?  Vindication is not up to us.  We must trust God and wait for God to execute justice for God surely will.  It will be in God’s time, not ours  (www.patheos.com).

James 5:  7-10

Henri Nouwen says, “What strikes me is that waiting is a period of learning.  The longer we wait the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting.  As the Advent weeks progress, we hear more and more about the beauty and splendor of the One who is to come.  Advent leads to a growing inner stillness and joy allowing us to realize that he doe whom we are waiting has already arrived and speaks to me in the silence of our hearts.  Just as a mother feels the child grow in her and is not surprised on the day of the birth but joyfully receives the one she learned to know during her waiting, so Jesus can be born in our lives slowly and steadily and be received as the one we learned to know while waiting.”

Consider how you would finish this sentence:  Jesus, I await your coming more fully into my life so that now…

Is this how we make our hearts firm?

Matthew 11:  2 – 11

Why did John question Jesus?  Perhaps conditions were so harsh in prison that he began to doubt.  Maybe he was growing impatient for something good to happen.  Maybe he wondered if it was all worth it.  We all have moments of weakness, when we let our thoughts take over and cloud what we know down deep to be true.  Jesus assures John by naming the actions done in faith.  Like the saying says, actions speak louder than words.  John and Jesus had their own followers, but they all had the same goal:  salvation!

John had the destiny which sometimes falls to men; he had the task of pointing men to a greatness into which he himself did not enter.  It is given to some men to be the signposts of God.  They point to a new ideal and a new greatness which others will enter into, but into which they will not come.  It is very seldom that any great reformed is the first man to toil for the reform with which his name is connected.  Many who went before him glimpsed the glory, often labored for it, and sometimes died for it, (Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 7)

Jesus questions why the people went out to see John.  This Advent season, look at what fills your day.  Why do you do what you do?  Does it bring meaning to your life?  Does it bring you closer to God?  Are you preparing a way towards Jesus?

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading — Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4

From Celebration, October 2004:

If scholars are right, Habakkuk might have been a contemporary of Jeremiah. He is probably here lamenting the destruction of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army. He is probably also lamenting the corruption that took place in Judah before the fall. Yet, he is told that he must trust in a vision that can yet come to be. With this vision comes an assurance of God’s love and care even though there is destruction and suffering. He was told to write down this vision; in other words, make it permanent. And, it is to be in large, legible letters so that all the people may see it, read it, hold on to it – a public display of faith in the midst of tragedy. This is faith that gives life.

Br. David Steindl-Rast’s gratefulness, the heart of prayer:

How difficult it is to live in the creative tension of hope, the tension between not-yet and already!…Some people imagine that hope is the highest degree of optimism, a kind of super-optimism.  I get the image of someone climbing higher and higher to the most fanciful pinnacle of optimism, there to wave the little flag of hope.  A far more accurate picture would be that hope happens when the bottom drops out of our pessimism.  We have nowhere to fall but into the ultimate reality of God’s motherly caring  (p. 126, 136)

2nd Reading – 2 Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14

By the time of this writing, many have given their lives for the faith in Christ; others have endured increasing difficulties and hardships. (Some have also fallen away or fallen into heresy –see 1:15, 2:17-18 and 4:9) This writer wants to use the example of Paul’s imprisonment and suffering along with some of perhaps Paul’s own words to encourage others to use their faith to live with courage, power, love and self control.   (Celebration, October 2004)

We hear Paul telling Timothy to seek God’s help through “the imposition of my hands” and “the sound words that you heard from me”.  In other words, Timothy should feel hope in the Lord because of how the Lord works through Paul.  Don’t we often find hope in the Lord through each other too?  The warmth of a loving touch and comforting words can be all we need to get through a really hard day.  It gives a whole new meaning to “being there” for someone.  We bring God into that accompaniment when we have faith.

The Gospel – Luke 17: 5-10

This whole chapter in Luke’s gospel is about “the decisiveness and urgency of discipleship.” We cannot just wait (or even pray) until we have enough faith, for then we may never begin living as the servants we are called to be. A seed is small, but it is filled with potential ‘power’ for growth. Jesus wants to convince us that our faith is like this.  We must ‘burst open’ like a planted seed allowing growth and new life to begin.

“We must use what we have.” Jesus then shows us what the faithful disciple looks like – one who not only works the fields, but also serves at table. In fact, as we put this all together we see that serving at table is as great as moving trees – and other more amazing feats of faith! Jesus like many good preachers of his time loved to use hyperbole and humor to get his point across. (Living Liturgy, Cycle C, p.220)

What do you think of the phrase “unprofitable servants”?  The Greek adjective that is used here actually means “without need.” Although it is translated here as ‘unprofitable’ it seems to mean more that this servant is without the need for ‘pay.’ He is not motivated by reward or recompense.  As servants of an all-merciful and loving God we need to do everything with gratitude that we have been called to serve such a ‘master.’ We are servants that are ‘due nothing,’ because all we have has been given to us with love. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context, liturgy.slu.edu)

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading – Isaiah 35: 4-7a

This section of the Book of Isaiah was added to the earlier part of the book. It probably is prompted by the Babylonian exile which brought great fear and despair to the people whose country now lay in ruins and many of the people were back in slavery. The writer of Second Isaiah wants to inject hope and fearlessness born of faith: a trust in the God who “will come with vindication.” It speaks for all of us who believe in a God who is greater than all evil and whose grace is more powerful than any affliction.  (Celebration, Sept. 2006)

Brother David Steindl-Rast in gratefulness, the heart of prayer talks about the difference between hope and hopes.  Hopes are for a particular thing, while hope is a virtue, a way of being.  Hope does not depend on hopes, because hopes don’t always work out.  Hopes can even get in the way of hope.  It makes a world of difference where we put our weight – on those hopes out there ahead of us, or on the hope that is within.  A person of hope will have a whole array of lively hopes.  But those hopes do not tell us much.  The showdown comes when all the hopes get shattered.  Then, a person of hopes will get shattered with them.  A person of hope, however, will be growing a new crop of hopes as soon as the storm is over.  Do you want to be a person of hopes or hope?

2nd Reading – James 2: 1-5

James is trying to move us away from our common tendency to favoritism. As Peter states in Acts (10:35) God shows no partiality and Paul says in Galatians (3:28) that we are all one in Christ Jesus – so James is encouraging the same idea. At this time, while by far most of the Christians were poor and just about all were powerless politically, they were a diverse social group. Jews and Gentiles, women and men, slave and free – and the rich and poor – all came together – and they were to come together in love. This was a challenge. It still is.

From Understanding God’s Word, September 10, 2006:

When God chooses the poor, it is not to set up a new, inverted pecking order. It is meant to eliminate the pecking order altogether. God gives privilege to the marginalized to abolish privilege. The biblically poor are not just those who are economically poor; it is anyone who lacks the power to protect their interests against misfortune (Who can we think of today?).  James’ advice gets set in Catholic Social Justice teaching with the phrase: ‘God’s preferential option for the poor’. Showing the poor this preferential option does not mean making them more dependent on others. It is about empowering them to stand on their own two feet, in love and dignity. This is what James means by calling the poor ‘heirs’ of the kingdom.

Notice the word LISTEN.  We must truly hear one another and be in open dialogue for change to happen and have a world with no partiality.  Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, says, “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can relieve the suffering of the other person.” 

The Gospel – Mark 7: 31-37

Our world is filled with words – and we have become very efficient at hearing, but not listening. We almost must ‘tune-out’ in order to survive! Yet, the Word of God that comes to us in Jesus is a word we need to hear and to take to heart.  What do you hear in this gospel?  What do you need to listen to in order to more deeply hear God’s voice?

Yet, the purpose of God’s word is not, first of all, to challenge us towards charity, social justice, morality, or even to worship of something higher . . . Christ came as God’s incarnate Word, to bring us life, light, and love. Loving parents call forth their infant with their smiles, their voice, their touch, their attentive reassurance into a world of self-expression and conscious love. Hopefully, we all have been called out of the darkness and chaos of infancy by loving voices that cajoled, caressed, reassured, and kept luring us beyond ourselves. Helen Keller, much like the poor man in the gospel today, had been trapped in blindness and silence until her teacher, Annie Sullivan, broke open the world for her. Annie’s infinite patience, touch, and breathing-presence slowly, but eventually, revealed the world to Helen. Christ as Word is like that for all of us. It is meant to be that voice of the loving mother/father/teacher who calls us out of fear, darkness, chaos and frustration to freedom, thought, self-expression and an awareness of love. But it is not easy to be led out of darkness. We need to trust in the voice of love, the gentle, beckoning, patient voice of our God-in-Christ. (Ron Rolheiser, “In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

Mark gives further meaning to this story by where he places it in the overall gospel narrative. Throughout Mark’s gospel the disciples have been ‘deaf’ to Jesus’ word – lacking ‘insight’ and understanding. They and many others have been unable to make any confession of faith about him, Eventually, however, at Caesarea Philippi (after the feeding of 4,000, the blindness and deafness of the Pharisees, and the healing of another blind man at Bethsaida) their ears are opened, their tongues are released, and they speak clearly about Jesus as the Messiah through Peter, the spokesman.  But even here their faith is limited and blind when Jesus talks of suffering and rejection.  Jesus will have to walk with them further, talking, cajoling, correcting, and healing . . . Only on the cross will Jesus and God’s love be fully revealed. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

We may be a bit shocked by Jesus’ spitting in today’s gospel. We have become such a ‘germ-conscious’ culture. But in the Middle Eastern culture, spitting was a common precaution against evil. Traditional healers routinely used this strategy to ward off evil and thus heal. Hands were also the customary way that any therapeutic power was transmitted. (Even today we pay a lot to have ‘massage therapists’ work their wonders.) Also, the word, ephphatha, is an original Aramaic word. This was the language that Jesus would have used. It was believed that the actual word itself had power. So it was remembered and recorded.  (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

How can you be opened to the Lord?

A Sign of Hope By: Debbie O’Brien

lone crocus

     When I went to work today, it was a grey, chilly morning.  I can’t say I was full of enthusiasm and hope for the day.  After all, even when you know you are part of doing good work, working can be a bit of a drag.  As I rounded the corner to my office, I saw a lone orchid colored crocus standing tall and waving slightly in the breeze.  Seeing that tiny little flower changed my whole outlook on the day.  Hope for spring…hope for a good day.
     And I really did think…this is a bit of what Easter is in our everyday lives.  Much as we wish to live in the intensity of closeness to Jesus that we experience in Holy Week, and the excitement and joy of Easter’s amazing revelation, few of us can really do that each and every day.  But our faith encourages us to be Easter, as Fr Bob said in his Easter homily, in our world each and every day.
     And so I come back to the lone orchid colored crocus standing alone on a grey, chilly day.  A sign of hope…for spring, for sunshine…and a reminder that being Easter for another person doesn’t need to be a big deal.  We just need to stand tall, maybe sway a little in the breeze…be a little unexpected hint of color on a grey day…and be a sign of hope for one person who needs to know that this day doesn’t have to be cold and grey…there is hope because love is alive!

July with Jeremiah: Chapters 42-52

jeremiah

Let us pray…

God who dwells within,

God who is with us in good times and in bad,

We turn our hearts again to you and we proclaim:

nothing can come between us

and your love for us,

even if we are troubled or worried or persecuted,

or lacking food or clothes,

or being threatened or even attacked.

We can grow through difficult times

because of this power of your love at work in our lives.

We lean upon you and offer you thanks and praise. AMEN

If you are looking for a happy ending in Jeremiah, you are not going to find one. The people do not listen to Jeremiah’s words from God, and go the walls of Jerusalem fall into the hands of the Babylonian Empire.  The only sign of hope is the Oracles against the Nations which spells out the demise of Babylon, implying the release from exile and a restoration of Jerusalem.  After the oracle is read by Seraiah, Jeremiah instructs him to tie a stone to the scroll and throw it into the Euphrates as a sign, “Thus shall Babylon sink.  Never shall she rise, because of the evil I am bringing upon her,” (51:63-64).

Don’t we sometimes feel this same despair, that there will never be an end to it and God will never come to our aid?  Jeremiah provides such imagery for this:  “shattered Moab like a pot that no one wants” (48:38), “flee, retreat, hide in deep holes” (49:8), “they toss like the sea which cannot rest” (49:23) and “she shall be empty, and become a total desert” (50:13).  The only thing to hold on to in times like that is hope.  What is hope?

From Fr. Pat Butler’s talk, “Though He Slay Me, I will hope in Him”:

According to Thomas Aquinas, hope is a special desire that has a special object.  That object must be clearly good, apparent, in the future, difficult to get YET possible.  We must have faith that it is possible.  Faith is necessary for hope.  Both faith and hope must be in love (which you ALREADY HAVE by the grace of God).  God is love.  That’s all God can do.  We choose hopelessness when we cannot see a better outcome.

Despite the harsh language in Jeremiah, God wants us to choose hope!  Jeremiah doesn’t know Jesus yet, but we do.  Jesus promises us hope.  Jesus gives us the happy ending.

From Harry Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People:

Let me suggest that the bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us.  They do not happen for any good reason, which would cause us to accept them willingly.  But we can give them a meaning.  We can redeem these tragedies from senselessness by imposing meaning on them.  The question we should be asking is not, “Why did this happen to me?  What did I do to deserve this?”  That is really an unanswerable, pointless question.  A better question would be, “Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?”

Closing Prayer:

When you come to the place

where the shadows are,

And the light ahead is withdrawn:

Put your hand in God’s and keep it there

Till he carries you over and on.

You may have to tarry a while in the dark

Till God is ready to lead

But while you are waiting just pray and pray

To Him your great need.

Then hold on to God’s hand with a

solid grip,

Let nothing deter your stand:

Keep waiting and waiting and holding on

Till the shadows pass from the land.  AMEN

Let us Gather Around the Flame… BY: Kris Rooney

EasterVigil2014

This picture was taken at our recent Easter Vigil.  The paschal candle was lit by the Easter fire outside and brought to each person.  The flame represents the presence of the Risen Christ.  Each of us receives it so we may all be “enlightened”.  And now, the paschal candle remains lit throughout the Easter season as a reminder to us.  This picture really strikes me as who we are as church.  We all have the light of Christ within us, and together we can light up the world.

But lately, I don’t feel so lit up.  Thinking back on the last week for our parish:  It. has. been. hard.  So much having to live in not knowing and needing to be in the tension of that.  I feel like I’m supposed to be OK with it all.  I am not OK!  Not knowing and having to wait for things out of my control are not easy for me.  I don’t want to be OK with it.  You know what I do want?  Company.  I want to hold hand-in-hand with my God and our parish and sit together in the discomfort.  Hold vigil.  This is what we did on Holy Saturday.  We gathered around the flame…the Easter flame…and we are still doing this now.  Coming to church and gathering around the flame, like a campfire, is what is comforting and healing right now.

The awesomeness of the Easter Vigil is that we wait, but in hope!  Despite any odds and unknowing, Jesus lives!  Good news still happens!  What causes death (to life, to hope, to love) never has the final answer.  Jesus sees us through the cross.  We hold vigil knowing there will be light again.   We don’t have to have that peaceful, touchy-feely feeling.  Spirit comes in our moments of wacky unknowing and keeps us company.  We can wait in hope despite the answers.  Because we have a God who broke through history and chose to dwell among us, even after death.

So I take it back.  I do feel lit up.  Because God is with me.  Because God is with us.  And the flame will never go out.

It Feels Like Christmas Time…but I think I’d prefer experiencing Advent! BY: Marian Brinker

Advent crazy

The snow hit last night, so 8:30 AM Mass was a difficult service to make.  I’m glad I did wake one hour after Adam had cleared the driveway and walkways of snow.  We just made it to Mass to join about 20 other brave drivers… and Al was the sole altar server for Mass. It was the only period of time today where I felt successful as a parent and relaxed enough to enjoy some time for reflection… until now?

Before the snow hit hard, we all enjoyed Jade’s school production of Willy Wonka.   The kids went to bed late; yet still, perhaps, “all snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.”  After church, I ran late running Jade to her matinee performance in the school musical. I lost my patience with attempting to write my annual Christmas letter (due to Alejandro’s constant demands to download more Apps and videos).  He got shipped to work with Dad at the rink, and I could escape my guilt of using “screens” as a babysitter again. My nightly visions “dancing in my head”  are predominantly only of “what I needed to do!” and “ways I was falling short!” Every year it seems those lists grow exponentially.   I hope it is just nostalgia that makes me think it was so much easier to put on Christmas when the kids were tots.

Like many others, financial stresses seem to grow these days rather than subside despite the fact that I went back to work once the kids started school.  Will I stop questioning my decision to NOT teach but work as an hourly-paid aide so I can be present for my kids after school rather than grading English class compositions? (I’ve always justified this decision as a balance between still wanting to work with kids and Adam’s around-the-clock demands of managing the athletic facilities at Union College, sitting on the Youth Hockey Board, coaching youth and women’s club hockey, working as a referee, staying tuned to ESPN updates, and all the phone calls, texts, emails… With the stress of budgeting bills instead of just paying them off each month, nostalgia for the heedless bliss of two incomes and no kids has regretfully also come into existence.

Then there’s that nagging trait of thinking it’s not good enough, so I just have to strive harder toward perfection.  I get home–sometimes bruised or bitten–from working with kindergarteners with social/emotional needs, nearly always emotionally drained.  I pride myself in gaining more empathy (rather than disdain or blaming them) for their life situations and reactions to them.   Yet, when I arrive home, I’m physically exhausted.  Why can’t I find it thrilling to attempt explaining multiplying and dividing mixed numbers with my son?  Why is driving across town to take Jade to hockey and walking the dog outside the rink during her practice not filling me with serenity?  Why can’t I take pride in buying the precooked meal deal and timing my arrival home with a rare break in Adam’s work schedule so we can all sit together? Since returning to work, I find myself having to predominantly act reactively to what is thrown at me rather than having the time to be proactive. (I took pride in being proactive when I was teaching).  I wasn’t the hockey goalie growing up—reactive is not my forté!  I was going to live like Thoreau; write a Great American novel or one good poem.

I understand that even in the days of Leave it to Beaver or even The Brady Bunch, working class people couldn’t relate to how rewarding domestic life was supposed to be.  Still, there’s this side of me that wants desperately to live like June Cleaver.  I know life back then wasn’t so rosy for even the upwardly mobile middle-class; that is, it was closer to Betty Draper from Mad Men… and I am certainly glad to live without all the sexism, infidelity, and alcohol abuse portrayed in that setting. (I think I’d like the clothes though!). But I guess being upset that life isn’t what it’s supposed to be is the whole problem.

Hence, why I wish it was more Advent than Christmas time.  Advent is a more reflective time.  It’s not getting caught up in “Christmas”, but taking time to reflect on what Christmas should mean… in the abstract not material sense.  So the kids are going to be disappointed that they don’t get all the THINGS they want.  I’m upset that my house isn’t sparkling clean and orderly as well as decorated to the nines… looking like a gingerbread creation. We can’t get a new car—yet—and we won’t pay the bills off until the tax refund.  (Yeah, that instead of the Disney vacation or new furniture.)  Adam being upset that the Cardinals didn’t win the World Series is just as trivial as the rest of my supposedly grave concerns.

This is as good as it gets, and maybe that’s pretty good!  Being a perfect parent isn’t being perfect.  I can’t explain fractions no matter how I try.  I couldn’t make better lasagna than Stouffers anyway.  We still have a home.  I got to see most of my family this year, and we all will see Adam’s side over Christmas. What more could one want for Christmas?  Even if my kids don’t get many new clothes or electronics, they are healthy and growing into better people every day.  I make a difference in my job… even if it’s not getting kindergarteners to pass a common core test; but rather, they feel better about themselves by learning to deal with disappointment, self-regulate their behavior issues, and become more disciplined students. Adam’s hard work heats the house and puts food on the table.  Really, isn’t life about wanting what you have instead of getting what you want?  I think if we all just take time to reflect on what makes us truly happy, we won’t get caught up in achieving Christmas before we’ve honestly taken time for Advent.

The meaning of Advent comes from the Latin words, advenire (to come to) & adventus (an arrival), and refers to Christ’s coming into this world. My prayer is for all of us to come to an understanding of what “Christ in the world” means.  It means allowing Christ to arrive into our hearts and find the gratitude in what we have.  For me, I think making it to Mass this morning helped me reconnect with that concept, especially in seeing the Advent wreath.   The first purple candle means: hope. The second purple candle means: faith. The third pink candle means: joy. The fourth and final purple candle means: peace.  I hope 2014 finds us striving for hope, faith, joy and peace, no matter what our circumstances or expectations.  A Blessed Advent to all!

Scripture Commentary for 1st Sunday of Advent, cycle A

Advent = 3 comings!  From St. Bernard (1090-1153):

We know that there are three comings of the Lord.  The third lies between the other two.  It is invisible, while the other two are visible.  In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men [and women]; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him.  In the final coming “all flesh will see the salvation of our God,” and “they will look on him whom they pierced.”  The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved.  In his first coming our Lord came in the flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.  Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last.  In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation. 

1st Reading – Isaiah 2: 1-5

This section is from ‘First Isaiah’ – that part of Isaiah that was written by an 8th century prophet when Assyria was attacking Israel (chapters 1-39).  This was a world in crisis. 1st Isaiah uses this powerful poetry to give the people of his time a vision of God’s plan that goes beyond the immediate disasters.  (Celebration, Dec. 2001)

Isaiah has an agenda against injustice, oppression and idolatry.  He implored the people to turn from their wicked ways and return to Yahweh.  Isaiah proclaimed a God who was in control of the whole world, a God who blessed and disciplined those who were in covenant with God.  In spite of Isaiah’s warnings, Israel’s kings did not heed his advice.  They refused to believe the promise that Yahweh would protect and defend their nation.  As a result, Isaiah turned his hopes to a future king who would obey Yahweh.  From this moment, the words of Isaiah inspired hopes of a messiah, a new king in Israel’s future who would better serve God and bring about a full measure of the divine blessing on the land.  The bottom line:  peace is possible only in God (Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 49-50).

2nd Reading – Romans 13: 11-14

From Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

A Christian life is a life of tension, yet a tension that is filled with peace – a darkness that is filled with Christ’s light. Christians stand in the dark with our faces lit by the coming dawn. The early Christians actually lived thinking that Jesus was coming at any minute; we have a longer view of this coming. Yet, we, too, must live with a certainty of his coming that is so strong that his light casts his goodness on all we do.

From Share the Word, Dec. 2001 p. 16:

This passage changed St. Augustine’s life from waste to knowing the wonder of God’s power and love. Augustine as a young man knew orgies and drunkenness and promiscuity quite well. One day he heard a sing-song voice say to him: “Take, read.” His eyes fell upon this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Augustine let these words touch his heart and mind. These words helped to cut the cords of sin beginning a transformation that would eventually help him to become St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the Church’s greatest pastors and theologians.  He was able to cast off the ‘false self’ (flesh) that had led him to the ways of darkness and death, and  “to put on the Lord Jesus” being enlightened by this “armor of light.”

From Richard Rohr, CD’s: Great Themes of Paul:

When Paul talks of ‘the flesh’ he means all that leads to death; he does not mean sexual activities so much as activities that are destructive of human life and relationships.  Paul sets before us the essential conflict. In this essential conflict, something does have to die – something has to live. Flesh (translated from sarx, not soma) does not just mean body or sex. It is not the body that has to die. It is falsehood – sinful self-interest – the little self – the trapped self: insecure, attention-seeking, needy, fragile, wounded, broken, always looking outside of one’s self. It often ‘causes’ us to do things that are not in our own best interest. We end up treating ourselves and others as objects instead of persons valued and loved by God. The false self – the flesh – which is ruled by sin, has an overwhelming desire to make itself special. Paul would want us to believe (this is the faith that saves us) that in Christ, as a fully alive human being, we are already special and loved by God – so then we can get ‘off the stage’ and live the reality that is God’s love!

The Gospel – Matthew 24: 37-44

From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship, Year A p.53-54:

Today’s gospel reminds us that Advent calls for a response of faith. Whoever can wake up and be truly present to one’s life, sensing right now how Advent mysteriously lets the inexperience-able God be experienced. So we do not know the hour or day. So what? What difference does it make? What does make a difference is the way we live our lives in hopeful anticipation and quiet presence now. How are we nurturing our relationship with the living God in our midst? Prayer can be our help. This watchfulness and prayer will also help us pay more attention to the needs of others who are suffering or despairing. For we are people of hope and good news – let us reflect the Light bringing the love of God to those around us.