A crystal reflects the light. Peter van Breemen. S.J. says in The God Who Won't Let Go that "Whoever accepts a mission needs to be transparent. The master should shine through him. This requires a great clarity so that the master is seen through the emissary." The author says that the older he gets the more important transparency has become for him. "Transparency is unambiguous. The light shines through." He also says that Jesus was a "completely transparent person. "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."(Jn 14:9) Do I allow Jesus to shine through me?
I am thinking much about transparency because I had a dream on December 20 (I seldom remember a dream and when I do it is significant and usually a real grace for me). This dream had me in a place (schoolroom?) with many children around me; there was a little old nun in full habit and piercing black eyes who told me that I needed to be transparent; I think I was trying to prepare for spiritual direction. I did not write down immediately what I could remember, but I did keep coming back to the word transparent and did record something in my journal. Later, as I kept reflecting on it, I wrote a poem and will try to be open enough to share it with all of you tomorrow, on New Year's Eve, as I suspect it will be a year of transparency for me or maybe I should say that I want to have the humility to be transparent!! I really think it was St. Madeleine Sophie who came to me in the dream. She appeared to me in a dream shortly after I had been sent to Chile in 1960 and I shall never forget the great peace and joy she left me; I felt that I had no concerns (this was when I was struggling because I did not know the language and was trying to manage a huge study hall of 157 Middle School children!). Now she has returned and I think her gift is also peace and joy but there is definitely a call to be humbly transparent.
Thomas was born in London and ordained a deacon in 1154; the next year he was made Lord Chancellor and seven years later was made Bishop of Canterbury by King Henry II. He did not agree with the King and went into exile for a time; he returned and again had a disagreement with the King who expressed a wish to be rid of him and so four of the King's men murdered Thomas in the Cathedral in Canterbury. He was quickly declared a saint and Canterbury became a site for pilgrimages.
The first readings this week are from the First Letter of John. Today's Gospel is again from Luke telling us how the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to God in the temple. There they meet Simeon, a devout man awaiting the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was upon him. "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord." When he took Jesus into his arms he blessed God saying: Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled; my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel."
Mary and Joseph are amazed; Simeon then tells Mary, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted...so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
The whole mystery of the Incarnation is before us during this Christmas season; it is one of joy and gratitude because God sent his only Son to save us; Jesus reveals God to us! We can have a personal relationship with the one who made us and all things. It is easy to let God love us when we are able to believe in his infinite love.
Today we celebrate the Holy Innocents usually, but it is the Sunday after Christmas and so it is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It is also a day to celebrate all families. Children bring such joy to a family but they also bring trials and anxieties. Even the Holy Family suffered when Jesus stayed behind and said nothing to his parents. Imagine what it means to think you have lost your child. I think this story in the Gospel is there for families today who struggle to raise a child in this world of ours. The opening prayer for today's liturgy is "Father, keep us to live as the holy family united in respect and love. Bring us the joy and peace of your eternal home.
I looked at the Alternate Opening Prayer and it has us asking to be taught the sanctity of human love and says "show us the value of family life, and help us to live in peace with all men that we may share in your life for ever."
I have been reading a book that I just realized that I have not shared in the list of good spiritual books on the right of this blog. I love Peter van Breemen, S.J.'s books and this one is called The God Who Won't Let Go (Ave Maria Press, 2001); perhaps I did not share it because I mostly share books published in just the last year or so, but this one is worth reading and praying over. The book is the result of a retreat he gave to the Benedictines of St. Hildegard Abbey in Bingen, Germany. Peter says in the Preface that whoever knows his previous books will recognize the central theme of God's unconditional love for each of us as we are (and not as we should be). God loves us into existence and longs for us to have life and joy in abundance. It is God's abiding desire that our lives be eminently meaningful and bear rich fruit, fruit that lasts. Put simply, what counts is love.
I find the book full of pithy sentences that I want to copy in the section of my Journal that I keep for quotes. "God will go to any length to seek us out" - I believe this and think you will find this book helpful.
Today is the Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. John is also known as the Beloved Disciple who was present with Jesus from the beginning until the end; with Peter and his brother, James, John was present with Jesus at the Transfiguration, at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, and the agony in the garden. Tradition has identified John as the author of not only the fourth Gospel but also of the Book of Revelation and the three letters that bear his name. The Prologue of John's Gospel is a continual source of prayer for me. In the beginning was the Word, And the Word was with God And the Word was God; He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. 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 hass not overcome it.... He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him....
Have a good day and take time to enjoy the season!
Today is the day after with all that means to so many of us - left over food; presents to thank for, people to call, or maybe we just take some time to be and think of what a difference it is for all of us that Jesus became fully human, like us in all things except sin. I spent Christmas morning recalling the many graces of the year. I usually do this on New Year's Eve, but the house was quiet on Christmas morning and I just began by thinking of all that had passed during the year and started listing graces to thank for and found this to be very helpful so I pass it on to you. On Christmas eve we had a lovely prayer service on the O Antiphons; I found the ones I wrote last year and wonder if I am brave enough to share them. Maybe I will one day this week or put on one a day. We will see if I have enough humility to share them.
I wish everyone a joyous Christmas season. The Lord told us that "As the Father loves me, so do I love you" and then Jesus tells us, "Remain in my love" and then he will also tell us that he told us this so that we can have his joy.
I should also mention that this is the feast of St. Stephan, the first martyr. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that Stephen is the first-named among the deacons chosen by the Apostles to minister to the Greek-speaking Christians in Jerusalem. He was stoned by a crowd who accused him of blasphemy for he was filled with the Holy Spirit and said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Stephen is the patron saint of Deacons.
Lord, we thank you for coming as an Infant; you are totally accessible to all in your dependence as any infant is; the stable was open for others to come to see and to believe. When we look at the Nativity scenes today, we can feel so close to you. Here is something to reflect on today, one of my favorites:
In the Bleak Midwinter Christina G. Rossetti, 1830-1894 In the bleak midwinter, frost wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago. Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can, I give him: give my heart.
I feel for all those who have been stranded by snow storms in the East and those who have been without power.
Opening prayer: "Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay! Give new courage to your people who trust in your love. By your coming, raise us to the joy of your kingdom, where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
Isaiah said: A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; a spirit of wisdom and of understanding; a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord,... The time has come; tomorrow our Savior, Christ the Lord is born! Let us rejoice as we prepare our hearts today to receive the Infant Jesus who longs to be with us, to love us and to be loved by us!
The O Antiphon is "O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free." Emmanuel, God-with-us, is our joy. I came across something today that made me think. There was a big party on Christmas; lots of food and drink; lots of presents, toasts, and much conversation. But, the one who wrote this said that no one remembered that it was his birthday; he was not even thought of and no one had brought him a present. It is a sad Christmas when the Lord Jesus is forgotten; we have made Christmas a great day for eating and drinking and opening presents but what about praying, remembering the one who we celebrate the birth of so many years ago but who is still giving us presents, countless gifts daily, and we do not remember to thank, do not remember to give him the gift he really wants on Christmas, our love, our hearts. Let us plan time to really celebrate with Jesus this Christmas and prepare our gifts with care.I think that stopping to thank for a gift is also a gift.
Here is a tidbit from the Little Blue Book that I did not know about a Christmas custom in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is called "Radish Night" or Noche de Rabanos and all the decorations are carved from radishes, the local specialty. Some of the radishes weigh up to 10 pounds. The festival includes pinatas and fireworks, as well as deep-fried doughnuts, covered in syrup. After a person has eaten the doughnuts, they are to toss the plate over their shoulder. The more shattered pieces of the plate, the better that person's luck in the New Year. I would not like to have to clean up after that Christmas festival. I like the other custom of the different Posadas or "Inn" that receive the Christchild on the nine days before Christmas. We used to go in procession singing from the different houses that were to host the Infant Jesus with the host carrying the Infant. No radishes but wonderful songs. This was when I was in Chile and I find myself often going back to the torchlight procession on Christmas eve that assembled at our convent school and walked on Christmas eve all the way down to the little Chruch on the beach for Midnight Mass. There was always a live enactment of the Nativity scene as part of the Liturgy. The procession back was still an experience to remember for the joy of all.
Advent has flown by and this fourth week is short since Christmas is Thursday! The O Antiphon for today is: "O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save us, whom you formed from the dust!" The office translation has the wonderful phrase, "O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart;" Do you not find this more personal to think of the Son of God as the joy of our hearts?
The Gospel is the Magnificat of Mary beginning, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked upon his lowly servant..." May our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord, the King of nations, who desired to come as an infant and experience life as we do to enable us to share in his divinity, he who shared in our humanity.
Since we have been reading about Samuel, I thought I would share these thoughts from the Little Blue Book for the Advent and Christmas Seasons 2008-2009. These are six minute reflections on the First Reading for daily Mass during the Advent/Christmas season. On December 19 the left side of the page tells us that the Old Testament has numerous stories of women who were unable to bear children at first: Sarah, wife of Abraham, who gave birth to Isaac at an older age; Rebekah, wife of Jacob; Samson's mother (who is not named); Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. The main purpose of these stories of barren women who later gave birth to a child was to underline the specialness of that child.
Today's Gospel is that of the Annunciation; the "O Antiphon for December 21 is "O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death."
It is interesting to see Mary's confusion when the angel came to her. She was "greatly troubled" and wondered what this could mean. She did not say "yes" until she had asked how it would be possible. Then she gave herself totally to whatever God wanted, but she could not have understood at that moment all the joys and sorrows that would be part of her life because of her Fiat. Mary understands us and helps us to say "yes" to whatever her Son asks of us. Jesus is the center of her life now and wants to be the center of ours and the only joy of our hearts! I think that as we begin this last week of Advent that is not even a week, we need to just let the mystery of the Incarnation fill our thoughts and our hearts. This God who is the Radiant Dawn and splendor of eternal light is coming again, is here now, and we are no longer in darkness; he is the Light of the World!!
Today's antiphon has inspired many a reflection. It is: "O Key of David, opening the gates of God's eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!" I am using the O Antiphons found in the Alleluia verse before the Gospel in each day's liturgy. I have used other translations in the past and that gives one a richness. This antiphon really inspired Joyce Rupp's latest book, The Open Door Some doors need to be opened with a key. Sometimes the key is in the lock; other times the key is hidden; our hearts need to be open to receive Jesus. What might have locked my heart? I am going to copy the translation in my office book so you will see that the Liturgy has shortened and probably tried to simplify the O Antiphons; "O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom." I guess I am fascinated by the different symbols that are "names" for Jesus who comes to break down the walls and free us.
Today we have the O Antiphon: "O Root of Jesse's stem, sign of God's love for all his people: come to save us without delay."
This is one of my favorite antiphons since I often find myself crying out to God: "Come! Come to save us without delay." The without delay is important!
Jesse was the father of King David and is therefore related to Jesus. He was the grandson of Ruth and was from Bethlehem. There are different symbols for this antiphon but the point is that Jesus is the shoot that Isaiah said would sprout from the stump of Jesse, "and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
I have a poem that a dear friend in Scotland sent me. It is by Nano McHardy, RSCJ who died at the age of 102! It is called "God's Troubadour" and I would love to share it with my readers today:
"It is what He does that I love And what He loves, I do."
And when His will Like a two edged sword Pierces my flesh Then I cry aloud. I'll soar on Love's wing Like a lark while I sing: "It's what He does that I love And what He loves, I do."
When fears and doubts Harass my mind, Sap my strength And leave me blind, The face of my King I shall seek as I sing: "It's what He does that I love And what He loves, I do."
When sorrow's dark Has cut to the quick And storm clouds gather Fast and thick- Then with a fling Of my heart I will sing: "It's what He does that I love And what He loves, I do."
It is a lovely poem to reflect upon this week with Our Lady.
Today we have the O Antiphon: "O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power."
Some translations say O Lord but the Lord was the Leader of the House of Israel. He had chosen Israel and made a covenant with his people. He led them to freedom but kept this stiff-necked group of people that he loved in the desert for forty years before leading them to the Promised Land. He gave them the Law of Moses, the ten commandments, on Mont Sinai and expected that all would keep his law. He went before his people in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. We pray today, "come to rescue us with your mighty power." It is a cry for help; we are sure of his power to help us and his unconditional love. What is it that we need to be rescued from today? In this season? In our busy, cluttered lives? Come, Lord, and free me from the expectations of others, from the entrapment of material things, from, above all, myself and instead keep me in Your Heart during these days of preparation for Your coming.
Today we begin with the O Antiphon that begins with O Wisdom but I have put the symbols for all eight antiphons for you to see today. O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge! Alleluia, alleluia. We are asking God to come with all his Wisdom and to teach us. What is it that we need to learn from God whose power and love guides all creation? We ask to be taught by God the path of knowledge! It is a daring request! We ask God to come and teach us! And he does and does it with love for God is Love! I leave you to make your own meditation or reflection on this O Antiphon.
Last year I wrote my own O Antiphons and must see if I can find them. It was just a way to help me make them part of my life at the time. Maybe you will be inspired to write your own, too. What is it that you wish the Wisdom of God to teach you today?
Tomorrow we begin the O Antiphons and pray with a different one each day until Christmas. You can find the antiphon of the day in two places: it is part of the Alleluia verse for the Liturgy and, if you say the Divine Office, it is the antiphon before the Magnificat at Vespers each day. The Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office, always has an antiphon to be recited before and after each Psalm and canticle. The antiphon will reflect the feast or season and the O Antiphons are special ways to prepare us for the great event of Christ's birth. They are called the "O Antiphons" because each begins with an "O" - the Scripture passages sometimes need a slow and deep meditation to extract the meaning. When I get to the O Antiphons, I know that Christmas is very near. It is time again to look back at the resolutions made at the beginning of Advent and see what can be done in the next eight days to at least make a stab of keeping what we resolved to do over three weeks ago. The days are shorter in Advent and there seem to be so many little extra things to do - I think I have finally finished sending Christmas cards and then remember another friend whose address I need to find, etc. We have our tree up but with only lights now and will put the ornaments on next week end. We have planned our Christmas dinner and will probably eat it outside this year as we have been having glorious weather. I feel sorry for all those who are so cold in New England and other parts who are still without power. Again, how much we have to be grateful for and how exciting our lives are when filled with the presence of God!
Today I am continuing with some of my thoughts from Gaudete Sunday taken from the newest published Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2009 I usually use the online site for Sacred Space but have just received this book and it begins with Advent so here is some of the yesterday's reflection: "Christian joy is not vapid hilarity nor having a laugh, but rather a deep contentment because we are in the hands of a loving God who desires only what is ultimately good for us. This joy goes with gratitude." I thought about all the sheep I saw on the hillsides in Scotland and how contented they looked. And I remembered the deep contentment that filled me on December 15, 1952 when I made my vows and it has only deepened in the years since then so I feel blessed today to be in God's hands. Sacred Space also says that "Our proverbial 'thanks be to God' is no idle phrase. It expresses a powerful faith and keeps is in touch with Christian joy."
I think the Gospel of today show us how fear takes away joy. The chief priests and the elders asked Jesus by what authority he was teaching. Jesus responds, as he so often does, with his own question and then says, "If you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?" They do not know what to say --they are afraid of the crowds. Do we let fear control us? Fear of what others may think or say? Jesus tells us over and over "Fear not!" Let us ask for the grace to trust Jesus and live in joy and gratitude.
We break into joy as we reach the Third Sunday of Advent. The priest appears in rose colored vestments. The entrance antiphon is "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice! The Lord is near." That, of course, is the reason we are rejoicing - the Lord is near. Isiah in the first reading says: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul..."
Then we have in the second reading from Paul: "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit...Test everything...The one who calls you is faithful..."
Let us look at the joy in our own lives. Mother Stuart says that "Joy is the song of the spirit under the pressure of happiness." How am I cultivating joy? Gaudete, the Lord is near, rejoice!
One way to cultivate joy is to be aware of all we are given every day of our lives! Joy and gratitude go together. Have you ever seen an unhappy grateful person? So, in all circumstances give thanks!
Today I am going to share a poem someone gave me that is from Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th century Mexican nun, scholar, and poet. I hope it will mean as much to you as it does to me. Poor little lost sheep, forgetful of your Master, where can you be straying? When you depart from me, it's life you leave behind, will you not see?
Drinking stagnant waters our of ancient cisterns, you slake your foolish thirst, while deaf to your mistake, the spring of waters you forsake.
Call to mind my favors; you'll see how lovingly I watch over you to free you of offense, laying down my life in your defense.
Covered with frost and snow, I leave the flock behind, to follow your foolish steps; still you spurn this love of mine, though for you I've left the other ninety-nine.
Consider that my beauty, beloved of every creature, desired by them all- by every single one- has set its heart on winning you alone.
Down paths through briary wastes, I follow where you have trod, I brave these rugged woods until my feet are torn, are stabbed and pierced by every passing thorn.
Still, I shall seek you out and, even if in the search I risk my very life, yours I shall not disown; to find you, I would sooner lose my own.
The Lord is still seeking each of us whenever we stray and wants to carry us home!
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1531 Mary appeared to the Mexican Indian Juan Diego; Mary, looking like a Mexican peasant herself, left her image on Juan's cloak (see Juan's feast on December 9). The cloak is still preserved in the Basilica. After St. Peter's in Rome, the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic shrine. That was a surprise to me, but I went there myself when only 16 and visiting a school friend in Mexico City. My friend's uncle was a doctor in a mountain village and his wife had just born twin boys; he had promised to go barefoot to the shrine to thank Mary for his healthy sons. I immediately asked to go with him. Imagine my astonishment to be called for by this barefoot doctor in a taxi! I thought we were going to walk there but the cab took us right to the square and then we just walked into the Basilica. I was impressed by the number of people there and most were walking on their knees to approach the altar. Now there is a new Basilica. Our Lady of Guadalupe was named the patron of New Spain in 1910; 200 years later she was that of Latin America and, in 1999, she was named as patroness of the Americas.
It is also the birthday of St. Madeleine Sophie. I took the habit on this day 58 years ago. This year is special as our Provincial was elected Mother General and begins her mandate today; I suspect we may also be hearing the name of our future Provincial today as the present Central Team were to name her before leaving office. Here is a famous quote from St. Madeleine Sophie: "Ah!If only it were possible, if I were not unworthy, if God would give me the grace, to speak to you of the happiness of the person who gives herself over to the Holy Spirit… completely… whole and entire… with no reservations! If only I could tell you what takes place in her… if I could describe her happiness; it is no longer herself who acts, it is God… every step she takes is by the inspiration of the Spirit… everything becomes easy… she no longer knows difficulty, she meets no more obstacles… The Holy Spirit holds this person captive; the Spirit possesses her, binds her, establishes communication between her and heaven; it is like Jacob’s ladder on which the angels continuously ascend and descend; the good actions, desires, sacrifices of this faithful person mount towards heaven, and the Holy Spirit comes down laden with the new graces that God is pleased to bestow on her. I regret that it is time to end; but if the happiness of the individual open to the Spirit is so great, what would be the happiness of a group of people, of a whole Society that would allow itself to be guided unreservedly by the Holy Spirit. That would be a foretaste of heaven! What peace, what union and, at the same time, what good we would be able to produce."
Today is the eve of St. Madeleine Sophie's birthday. She loved the "cleft in the rock" and so do I - it is an image for me to enter the Heart of Jesus. I have been praying over a quote from her; she was only 26 at the time but wise beyond her years. She said, "Trust must be safeguarded, together with joy, which is the fruit of the contemplation of what the Lord has done for each one." Should we not ask ourselves each day what we are most grateful for and soon we will have a wonderful litany of gratitude to use in prayer that will enkindle our joy! She continues, "When your flaws disturb you, place yourself humbly before him and before others and continue your way with that courage which comes from the knowledge that it is he who has called you." Jesus continues to tell us that we have not chosen him but it is he who has chosen us!
Today is also the Feast of St. Damasus who was one of the 4th century Popes. He worked for the primacy of Rome over Constantinople. He made Latin the language of the liturgy and had St. Jerome translate the Bible into Latin which was the language of the people in Rome and so Damasus wanted the people to have the Bible in their own language. It took 16 more centuries before the Church followed up and acknowledged the need for the vernacular in the Liturgy!
The reading today from Isaiah begins, "I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'Fear not, I will help you.'" How is Jesus trying to help me today? Will I allow God to help me or am I trying to manage on my own?
It is time to review the resolutions we made at the beginning of Advent. A resolution that was worth making surely has seen us breaking - that is why we need to resolve just the thing that we keep failing to do. However, do not be discouraged; Jesus loves us in our weakness. He tells us in today's Gospel, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves, for my yoke is easy and my burden light." In Advent, we say to Jesus, "Come!" and repeat and even sing, "Come, Lord Jesus, and do not delay!" We long for his coming. But Jesus is also saying to us: "Come!" He invites us each day to come to His Heart and there to find all that we need, even if it is what He has asked of us.
Juan Diego was canonized in 2002 but it was in 1531 that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and asked that a Church be built on the spot, Guadaloupe, near Mexico City. Bishops are hard to convince when it comes to apparitions so Mary told Juan to gather flowers and take them to the bishop. He did this and when he let fall the flowers from his cape, there was a painted picture of Mary. Now there is a Basilica in her honor and she is called Our Lady of Guadaloupe; her feast is celebrated on December 12. Mary brought consolation to Juan, a poor Mexican Indian; she told him, "Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything." It would be good to hear Mary saying this to us today. The reading from Isaiah is the same as the second Sunday of Advent; it begins with "Comfort, give comfort to my people says your God." It ends with favorite verses of mine: "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care." I often feel Jesus carrying me in his arms. It is an image that gives me great comfort. The Gospel tells us about the man who leaves his sheep to search for the stray one. God is always seeking us; let us be found by God today and carried for He loves us.
The Feast to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared in the 7th century and was firmly established in England by the 12th century. However, both St. Bernard and St. Thomas Aquinas debated whether Mary could have been born without original sin. In 1854 Pius IX ended any debate when he defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of faith. Even before this, in 1846, this feast was declared the patron feast of the Catholic Church in the United States. The preface of the Mass contains the theology of the feast. It states that "no stain of Adam's sin" was allowed to touch Mary. "Full of grace" she was to be a worthy mother of God's Son and a sign of favor to the Church. It was fitting and so God "chose her from all women to be our advocate...our pattern of holiness." O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us. We ask God in the opening prayer of the Liturgy that "we may live in your presence without sin." This is with the help of Mary's prayer. What a joy to know that our Immaculate Mother intercedes for us! Advent is a time when many recite thousands of "Hail Marys" -- each time we pray "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death," Mary is praying for us!
"Prepare the way of the Lord!" This was the message of John the Baptist who appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance. He affirmed that "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." It is a Sunday when all the readings speak of waiting, preparation, repentance. Isaiah, in the first reading begins with these words of consolation: "Comfort , give comfort to my people, says your God. speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. A voice cries our: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!" Peter warns us not to ignore this one fact:that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like on day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard 'delay', but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.." Peter also says that we must "be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace."
Advent is a time for some serious inner work. Let us take the time for this and not rush around concerned with exterior preparations and neglect the essential preparation of our hearts to receive Jesus this Christmas.
Some put out their shoes on this Feast in the hopes that St. Nicholas will fill them with good things. He is a popular saint who was a Bishop in Turkey at the beginning of the fourth century. The tales of his gift-giving formed the basis for the figure of Santa Claus. May we be as kind and thoughtful as St. Nick and have his spirit of giving as we prepare for Christmas by finding Christ in all and giving of ourselves to help those in need.
Matthew's Gospel today has Jesus restoring sight to two blind men who followed him, crying out, "Son of David, have pity on us!" Imagine being blind and hearing that Jesus was near. What desire they must have had to approach Jesus crying out, "Have pity on us!" Jesus hears them. He asks them, "Do you believe that I can do this? They answer, "Yes, Lord" and Jesus touched their eyes and said, "Let it be done for you according to your faith." And their eyes were opened. To what am I blind that needs the healing touch of Jesus to open my eyes? Have I faith to see? And do I cry out to the Lord with the same intensity of desire?
Here is a great Advent calendar to help prepare for Advent; it is found at http://www.ewtn.org/devotionals/Advent/index.htm
John of Damasus is the last of the Greek Fathers of the Church. He was a great preacher and scholar. His summary of theology, "Fountain of Wisdom" influenced many in the eighth century. He was named a doctor of the Church in 1890.
In today's Gospel, Jesus reminds us that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." How am I doing the will of God today? The will of God is not something static out there somewhere, but it means that I seek to know what pleases God in the daily living of my life; God wants me to be happy and I need to listen to the way God calls me each day and do my best to respond. If we listen and act on these words of Jesus in today's Gospel, we will be like the wise man who built his house on rock. Rain, floods, wind - nothing collapsed the house; "it had been set solidly on rock." Jesus is our Rock! Isaiah tells us: "Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal Rock..." Doing God's will, moment by moment, in the circumstances of our ordinary daily lives is the way to build our houses on the solid foundation of rock! Advent is a time to examine the foundations of our lives!
St. Francis Xavier was one of the first companions of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Francis was one of the seven original members of the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits. He was a great missionary as Ignatius sent him to India where he converted many and then went to Japan. He was preparing to go to China when he died. I think he has inspired many missionaries and he is the patron saint for all missionaries. I used to pray to him when I was in Chile because I admired and needed some of his qualities, especially his ability to adapt and his courage. Advent continues to call us to be alert, be aware of God's presence in our midst now and to prepare our hearts so that He may truly find a home there.
The Lord is coming! Isaiah tells us, "On that day a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord." Here we have the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, will have the fullness of these gifts but we, too, receive these gifts from the Holy Spirit; the Sacrament of Confirmation confirms what we have received in Baptism. We need to take time during Advent to examine how we are developing these gifts as we prepare for the Lord's coming. In today's Gospel (Luke 10), Jesus "rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, 'I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.'" Jesus wants us to cultivate the qualities we find in children: their simplicity, their trust, their spirit of joy and wonder.
Today's opening prayer in "Lord our God, help us to prepare for the coming of Christ your Son. May he find us waiting, eager in joyful prayer." In Advent we are asking God to help us to prepare for the coming of his Son and we ask this in the name of the Son. God is pleased to be asked and wants to help us prepare for the coming of Jesus. Advent celebrates the triple comings of the Lord: his birth, his coming into our hearts, and his final coming. We need to prepare and Isaiah tells us in the first reading of the Liturgy:"The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the highest mountain...All nations shall stream towards it; many peoples shall come and say:'Come, let us climb the Lord's mountain...'" Why? So "he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths." This is what Advent is about--letting God teach us his ways so we can walk in his path, a path of peace. The Gospel shows us the faith and humility of the centurion who was interceding for his sick servant. He said to Jesus, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed." Jesus was amazed at this faith! We need to say to Jesus, too, "Lord, I am not worthy, but I desire to prepare for your coming into my heart this Advent in a deeper way.
Hello, my name is Helen Rosenthal, RSCJ. Those initials stand for Religious of the Sacred Heart in Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish. Since my religious congregation began in France in 1800 and now is all over the world, we have kept the RSCJ. By now you know that I am not only known as Dr. Helen Rosenthal, but also as Sister Helen Rosenthal.
I am the oldest of four children. We were all born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. We lived in a big house with a playroom on the third floor. On Sundays we either went to my paternal grandmother's house where her six children would gather faithfully for supper or we would have my mother's father and our great aunt and uncle for a roast beef dinner at home. In summer, I would go to the lake with my Dad and I still love to swim.