Today's reflection is first of all a poem taken from an Iranian Christmas card and used by Bishop Hunthausen in an annual letter to the Catholics in western Washington. Here is the poem: "If, as Herod, We full our lives with things, and again with things; If we consider ourselves so important That we must fill every moment of our lives, When will we have time To make the long, slow journey Across the burning desert As did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars As did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the child As did the Magi?
For each one of us There is a desert to travel, A star to discover, And a being within ourselves To bring to life."
Hunthausen said that "the journey we make across life's desert following a somewhat elusive star, is a journey that will most surely lead us to the Child who is God, and in discovering the Child, we will really only be discovering our true selves and the key that unlocks all of life's mysteries." He then goes on to say that we do not make this journey alone. It is one we make together in faith and in hope, supporting each other along the way.
Throughout the ages, spiritual writers have always seen our way to God as a spiritual journey. Where and how God will lead me in this coming year is not as important as my willingness to follow the star and to set out again with joy and gratitude,
I still send Christmas cards. And I receive Christmas cards. Some are very beautiful; some I use for meditation. I keep them all in a basket and pray each day for the senders. My favorite cards are those showing the Infant Jesus with his arms reaching out the way babies do when they want to be picked up and loved. I think I may make a collage with some of the cards this year to keep in mind that I am to pipe a song of joy to the Infant Jesus. That desire has stayed with me over the years and came back during the days of Advent prayer; I know that I have a special vocation to give joy. I do not know if I am living up to this grace, but I know it is a call given to me by Jesus and so I need to try to cultivate it with his help.
We will be looking back over the past year during the next few days and thanking for all the graces given to us. Sometimes it is only when we take time to reflect back that we are able to see what a great grace some event was for us. At the time we may not have thought so, but we see now how God was working in our lives and that brings gratitude. Sometimes we see that we missed the boat and need to ask pardon for not heeding the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I think that a reflection over the past year is always fruitful. This allows us to see also how the Lord wants us to spend the New Year. Let us pray for one another.
This is the end of Pope Benedict's homily on Christmas and I thought it worth our reflection today. " This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is his humility. God's sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist's sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God's love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood" (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)" (in Lk 22:3).
Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen."
Someone sent me some information on the World refugee population that is connected with the famous line in the Christmas story, "for there was no room for them at the inn" This is from Luke's Gospel.
Matthew tells us that the Holy Family had to flee into Egypt as Herod was searching for the Child to destroy him. That made the Holy Family "refugees" in the legal sense defined by a 1951 UN Convention: that is, men, women and children who have crossed a national border "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, are outside the country of nationality, and unable to, or owing to such fear are unwilling to" return home.
There are 10.5 million people in our world today who are refugees! There are 26 million people who are "internally displaced", meaning that they have fled or been forced to leave their homes to avoid persecution, but as they remain in their own countries are not technically "refugees" with the largest populations in Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Congo and Colombia.
The Holy Family is a model of family life; actually, we know very little about the day to day life of the Holy Family, but it is in our family that we learn to receive and to give love. The opening prayer for today's liturgy says: "Father, help us to live as the holy family, united in respect and love. Bring us to the joy and peace of your eternal home."
We receive so much from our families. Each family has its own traditions, small things that add a distinctive spirit. Christmas is a time for remembering all that we have received from our families.
There are three different prefaces for Christmas and each gives a slightly different view of how God is made visible in the Incarnation. Preface I tells us: In the wonder of the Incarnation your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith a new and radiant vision of your glory. In him we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.
Preface II tells us: Today you fill our hearts with joy as we recognize in Christ the revelation of your love. No eye can see his glory as our God, yet now he is seen as one like us. Christ is your Son before all ages, yet now he is born in time. He has come to lift up all things to himself, to restore unity to creation, and to lead mankind from exile unto your heavenly kingdom.
Preface III says: Today in him a new light has dawned upon the world; God has become one with man, and man has become one again with God. Your eternal Word has taken upon himself our human weakness, giving our mortal nature immortal value. So marvelous is this oneness between God and man that in Christ man restores to man the gift of everlasting life. In our joy we sing to your glory...
There is a great deal of theology contained in these Prefaces for Christmas and much for us to reflect on during the Christmas octave.
I wish you all a very happy, holy, and merry Christmas today. I am thinking that happy means more to me than merry - maybe because happiness is deeper and lasts longer than merriment. Anyway, I am going to share some of a meditation called "Remembered in My Heart" from a book that I love by Macrina Wiederkehr; it is not a new book but one I return to and is called Seasons of Your Heart. She begins by saying: Every day I take my friends to my prayer. They are remembered in my heart....then Today, my friends, I am leaving my head for a while I am on a journey to my heart. I am taking each of you with me to the oven of my heart to the very center where God lives. I am taking you separately one at a time. I take you there to remember you well like yeast remembers dough. Remembering is a kind of loving a kind of baking and sometimes breaking.
With love, my God talks to me there in the oven of my heart And shows me why it's part of heaven's plan that you became a part of my heart.
I remember you walking into my days (or did I walk into yours?) I reflect on all the ways you've been grace to my heart. I remember the times you've been sacrament to me a real presence for my journey, a communion feeding my weariness new strength.
I am grateful for your presence in my life because of you I own a warmer heart a heart more breakable more pliable, soft and rearrangeable.
When people touch me deeply it is my heart that remembers. And so, I remember you, lovingly, dearly. I cherish you, and then... I leave you there, somewhere in the oven of my heart. I go back to pick up someone else and bring them too until we're all together remembered in my heart.
I find joy as well as comfort in the love of my friends and want you to know this Christmas that I hold you all in my heart.
I suspect that I should save this picture for Christmas morning, but I was thinking about the angels letting the shepherds know about the birth of Christ; they are the first to know the good news that today a savior is born to us!" They had to be the most humble of people as the Jews looked upon them as the lowest class and they were even considered outcasts. Yet they believed the angels and went off seeking the newborn savior. I have been thinking about and trying to stay with Jesus in the womb of Mary this Advent. He was in darkness but experiencing growth. He was being prepared in that darkness for life and was to become the Light of the World. The Incarnation is a mystery that gives all of us joy and gratitude. Tonight we have the traditional "veilee" which is a time of prayer to prepare for the coming of the Lord this night. I was reading about the first Christmas that Mother Duchesne prepared at St. Charles in 1818 and marvel at the holiness of those first missionaries. They all had to sleep on the floor in the same room with the children and seemed to think nothing of this. I think I shall read an account of that first Christmas at our veilee tonight.
The O Antiphon is "O Emmanuel, King and Lawgiver, Desire of the Nations, Savior of All People, come and set us free, Lord our God." Finally, God is to be with us again in a special way on this day when He came into the world. He was content in the womb of Mary to grow as all babies do, but now He is coming into his own - "the Word was made flesh!" we can only adore and pay homage to the Lord of all who came to us as a child in need. He cannot talk or walk or even stay awake, but his whole being is here for love of us! Let us love Him in return! Let us spend the day with Our Lady as she prepares for the birth of her Son. Silent Joseph must have been a comfort for her; however, I think she was very much alone in what she was going through and both were trusting God and praying that all would be according to his will. Let us pray that we may all be set free from all that hinders our union with God.
The O Antiphon is "O King of Nations, the Only Joy of Every Human Heart: O Keystone of the Mighty Arch of Humankind, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust." We celebrate Christ as King of the nations and prince of peace. He comes as a helpless baby to save us. He reigns from the crib and wants us to live in love and peace. What can I do to further peace in my world today?
The O Antiphon for today is "O Radiant Dawn, Splendor of Eternal Light, Sun of Justice: Shine on those lost in the darkness of death." This is the shortest day of the year and it is one on which we celebrate the Radiant Dawn. Christ is the Dawn that comes to shine on all of us who sit in darkness. This is a reason to be cheerful. If it is pouring rain, or cloudy, we still know that God is here with us even if the sun is not shining. Here is the Litany of Humility that I promised to share. I do not know where it comes from originally, but it is powerful, I think, and I am trying to say it and mean it.
A Litany of Humility
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being honored, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being approved, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of comfort and ease, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being criticized, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being passed over, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being lonely, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being hurt, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of suffering, deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
Please pray for two special intentions; one is my sister-in-law who is now numb from her waist down and the doctors are not sure what is the problem and so she is having multiple tests and treatment and no results yet. I would really appreciate your prayers for both my intentions this week. Thank you.
The antiphon for today is "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." This is the fourth and last Sunday of Advent so we know that Christ is coming within the week. We need to be the key that releases those who are dwelling in darkness, those who are grieving. Christmas is a time for reaching out to others to bring them joy.
I have been thinking much about humility this Advent and praying to really be humble. God seems to be providing the opportunities. I came across the Litany of Humility again and intend to copy it for all - then we can pray for one another to increase our humility in this Advent season when Jesus was still stirring only in the womb of Mary.
Matthew has an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream to tell him; "Do not be afraid to take Mary into your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." And Matthew adds that all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means "God is with us."
Joseph believed and obeyed the angel. I think we forget what a leap of faith this must have been for Joseph.
I had such a wonderful three days of prayer at the Cenacle in Gainesville; it is a long drive up and back, but the quiet prayer in Advent really helps to prepare the way of the Lord. I went back over my life and found that I have always felt a special call to stay with Jesus and give Him and others joy. It was good to have the time to reflect back and to just sit quietly in the Presence of Jesus. I prayed for everyone as I know what a busy time this is and here I was having three full days of prayer plus the long drive up and back.
We are getting close to Christmas when we begin the O Antiphons. The first is "O Wisdom, but all the antiphons go way back in the liturgy and are still found in the Mass and sung by those reciting the Office during the seven days before Christmas.
An Antiphon is a brief liturgical chant based on the Psalms, or sung as a refrain to the Psalms, and is usually sung responsively. This Antiphon for Advent is a setting of the "Great Antiphons", or "O" Antiphons, appointed to be sung at Vespers, each on its own day before Christmas.
The author of the Advent Antiphons is not known for certain, but many have been attributed to Gregory the Great in the 6th Century. During the 12th Century, five Antiphons were arranged as a hymn contained in the old Spanish Breviary, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel".
Here is today's antiphon:
O Wisdom of God, which art the Word proceeding from the Most High; reaching from the beginning to the end; firmly and gently disposing all things: Come Thou, and teach us in the way of understanding. Come, Lord Jesus!
I am sure that some of my readers will recognize that To Live with the Spirit is the title of a poem written by Jessica Powers. One of my dearest friends sent this to me; it is her favorite and I prayed over it and want to share it with you:
To live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener. It is to keep the vigil of mystery, earthless and still. One leans to catch the stirring of the Spirit, strange as the wind's will.
The soul that walks where the wind of the Spirit blows turns like a wandering weather-vane toward love. It may lament like Job or Jeremiah, echo the wounded hart, the mateless dove. It may rejoice in spaciousness of meadow that emulates the freedom of the sky. Always it walks in waylessness, unknowing; it has cast down forever from its hand the compass of the whither and the why.
To live with the Spirit of God is to be a lover. It is becoming love, and like to Him toward Whom we strain with the metaphors of creatures; fire-sweep and water-rush and wind's whim. The soul is all activity, all silence; and though it surges Godward to its goal, it holds, as moving earth holds sleeping noonday, the peace that is the listening of the soul. (1949;1984)
The first line in each of the three stanzas is worth a meditation!
I remember this day so well. I had a marvelous private retreat before it and Jesus was so present to me and I kept asking Him to let me realize what I was really doing when I took my vows and consecrated my whole life to Him. As I had had all the sports for the high school and seventh and eighth grade for the whole of my second year as a novice, I was allowed to go talk to the children that afternoon. I still remember standing on a bench so they could all see me as they crowded into the locker room; they wanted to see my vow crucifix and. of course, they had been present that morning when we were given our black veils. It was the octave of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and I had several days before going back to St. Louis to begin my active life as a religious. My family had not come for the ceremony as it was too far to travel since they would be seeing me in St. Louis. I went by train with one of the students so had to wait until vacation began. I was still so caught up in the grace of my vow retreat that I seemed to have had the grace of tears, but i think it was because everyone was so kind to me.
I love John of the Cross and he certainly pictured our spiritual life as a longing for divine union. He not only is known for his reform of the Carmelites, his friendship with Teresa of Avila, his dark nights and all his writings and magnificent poetry, but he is also a doctor of the Church.
I love his "The Living Flame of Love" and I think the image of the inner wine cellar fits with my Advent in the womb of Mary. I am longing for silence and solitude and feel that this longing is from the Lord.
This Sunday is called "Gaudete Sunday" and means in Latin "rejoice"! We rejoice for the Lord is coming, He is near. We forget that Jesus is here with us, Emmanuel, but we prepare our hearts to celebrate his coming closer as we make room for him in our hearts.
The first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah begins with "Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel. Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!...The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals."
Let us slow down and keep our joy! It is important to do this as everyone is having a busy time with material preparations for Christmas and Jesus is looking for us to be busy with our spiritual preparation - Come, Lord Jesus, and do not delay! That is the refrain I am trying to keep along with my "smiling yes" that is not as easy as I try to balance too many things. But, by the time you read this, I am in retreat at the Cenacle in Gainesville where I will be praying for all my readers. I am trying to schedule ahead as I will be off the computer for five days. :)
Our Lady of Guadalupe is Patroness of the Americas. It is a lovely feast and we need to think of our Mexican neighbors who had Our Lady leave her image on the cloak of Juan Diego who was recently canonized, I think. He was a native Aztec peasant on a country trail near what is now Mexico City. The little Blue Book for Advent says that the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe came from Juan's description of the woman who appeared to him as "te quatlaxupe". The bishop's interpreter misunderstood what he heard and thought Juan was referring to a shrine in Spain named Guadalupe. Actually what Juan said means "woman who crushes the serpent." Our Lady always chooses the humble, the poor, and those who the world does not think much of as they are not rich or educated, but Mary prefers the simple, humble ones.
Today is also the birthday of St. Madeleine Sophie and I took the habit on this day in 1950. My parents came to the ceremony; we were dressed as brides and walked down the center aisle and then received our habits and went out and had our hair cut and were dressed in the habits which had been blessed before they were given to us. Then we came back in our black habits and white veils. I was happy but think it was very hard on my parents. However, they went to New York and shopped at Macy's and sent me a whole box of toys for Christmas and we had such fun playing with them all - jacks, pick-up sticks, Parchesi, ball on a paddle, yoyos, harmonicas, and I do not remember most of what was in that box but know it gave us all joy.
I am driving to Gainesville today, a six hour drive, to have a mini retreat and ask for your prayers; I will be back on the 16th. I am trying to schedule some blogs for while I am away as there is so much to reflect on during Advent. And tomorrow is the Third Sunday. It goes by so fast when we have so much to do before Christmas; I like to think that my three days of retreat are always a counterculture sign that what really counts is the spiritual preparation. However, I am pressured to get things done so that I can go away for these days!
Again I am quoting from Caryll Houselander: "It is part of God's plan for us that Christ shall come to us in everyone; it is in their particular role that we must learn to know him. He may come as a little child, making enormous demands, giving enormous consolation. He may come as a stranger, so that we must give the hospitality to a stranger that we should like to give to Christ... If we see everyone in our life as "another Christ" we shall treat everyone with the reverence and objectivity that must grow into love..."
One of the books I am using this Advent has been on my bookshelf. It is a small book called Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany with Caryll Houselander and is edited with Scripture selections ad comments by Thomas Hoffman. It was published by Sheed and Ward in 2000. I first read Caryll Houselander's The Reed of God when I was still in High School and I have loved it ever since. Here is an extract:
"When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defense.It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child's frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish, and some day to bring forth the life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in its heart.
This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation....
By his own will Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent; he was absolutely helpless; he could go nowhere but where she chose to take him; he could not speak; her breathing was his breath; his heart beat in the beating of her heart.
Today Christ is dependent upon us. This dependence of Christ lays a great trust upon us. During this tender time of Advent we must carry him in our hearts to wherever he wants to go, and there are many places to which he may never go unless we take him." The Reed of God, pp.30-31
Benedict XVI also had these thoughts on Advent (again taken from the blog, "Whispers in the Loggia"):
"Another essential element of Advent is expectation, expectation that at the same time is hope. Advent drives us to understand the meaning of time and history as "kairos," as a favorable occasion for our salvation. Jesus illustrated this mysterious reality in many parables: in the account of the servants invited to await the return of their master; in the parable of the virgins who await the bridegroom; or in those of the sowing and harvesting. Man, in his life, is in constant waiting: When he is a child he wants to grow, as an adult he tends to his realization and success, growing in age, he aspires to his deserved rest. However the time comes in which he discovers that he has waited too little if, beyond his profession or social position, he has no choice but to wait. Hope marks the path of humanity, but for Christians it is animated by a certainty: The Lord is present in the course of our life, he accompanies us and one day he will also dry our tears. In a not too distant day, everything will find its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God, Kingdom of justice and peace.
However, there are very different ways of waiting. If time is not filled by a present gifted with meaning, the waiting runs the risk of becoming unbearable; if something is expected, but at this moment there is nothing, namely, if the present is empty, every instant that passes seems exaggeratedly long, and the waiting is transformed into a weight that is too heavy because the future is totally uncertain. When, instead, time is gifted with meaning and we perceive in every instant something specific and valuable, then the joy of waiting makes the present more precious."
Mary was never tainted with sin. We all believe that from the moment of her conception she was kept free from sin. She was to be the Mother of God. Jesus was like us in all things except sin. His mother had this special grace and so we pray, "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you." And Mary listens to us and helps us to live our lives today. We also pray every time we say a "Hail Mary": "Pray for us now and at the hour of our death." It is consoling to have Mary praying for us, telling Jesus what we lack as she did at the Wedding Feast, and then telling us to "Do whatsoever He tells you."
In Advent we think of Jesus in the womb of Mary. Jessica Powers has a lovely poem called Advent that I used in my Christmas letter this year and I am still praying over it. I will need to copy it for you sometime as I am trying to get ahead and schedule the blog for when I will be in retreat next week. I think I may also be sharing some "Stations of the Crib" that I did one year for Advent. In the meantime, I like the idea of spending Advent in the womb of Mary.
Ambrose was proclaimed bishop of Milan in 370 by the people without even having been baptized. He excelled as a preacher, teacher, and pastor. He baptized St. Augustine. He was named one of the four great Latin fathers of the Church.
I found in the blog, "Whispers in the Loggia", which I try to read to keep up with what is going on in the Church and which I have posted on the right side, the following excerpt from a homily of Pope Benedict XVI which is worth reflecting on for Advent:
Let us reflect briefly on the meaning of this word [Advent], which can be translated as "presence," "arrival," "coming." In the language of the ancient world it was a technical term used to indicate the arrival of a functionary or the visit of a king or emperor to a province. But it could also indicate the coming of the divinity, which goes out of concealment to manifest itself with power, or which is celebrated as present in worship. Christians adopted the word "advent" to express their relationship with Jesus Christ: Jesus is King, who has entered into this poor "province" called earth to visit everyone; he brings to participate in his advent those who believe in him, all those who believe in his presence in the liturgical assembly. With the word adventus an attempt was made essentially to say: God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not left us alone. Although we cannot see or touch him, as is the case with tangible realities, he is here and comes to visit us in multiple ways.
The meaning of the expression "advent" includes therefore also that of visitatio, which means simply and properly "visit"; in this case it is a visit of God: He enters my life and wants to address me. We all experience in daily life having little time for the Lord and little time for ourselves. We end up by being absorbed in "doing." Is it not true that often activity possesses us, that society with its many interests monopolizes our attention? Is it not true that we dedicate much time to amusements and leisure of different kinds? Sometimes things "trap" us.
Advent, this intense liturgical time that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to grasp a presence. It is an invitation to understand that every event of the day is a gesture that God directs to us, sign of the care he has for each one of us. How many times God makes us perceive something of his love! To have, so to speak, an "interior diary" of this love would be a beautiful and salutary task for our life! Advent invites and stimulates us to contemplate the Lord who is present. Should not the certainty of his presence help us to see the world with different eyes? Should it not help us to see our whole existence as a "visit," as a way in which he can come to us and be close to us, in each situation?
The first week of Advent is over and we are now looking at John the Baptist who came to prepare the way of the Lord. We have Luke, in this Sunday's Gospel telling us how John went about proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; Luke quotes the prophet Isaiah's words: "A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
All the readings give us hope.
We had a wonderful Advent retreat yesterday at St. Thomas University given by one of the most articulate RSCJ that I know; she integrated the spirit of the Society of the Sacred Heart, St. Madeleine Sophie's life and prayer, and our Advent preparation. It was so well done and one of the best Advent retreats I have made and I have been giving them or making them for the past 23 years at the University. I will share more later in the week. The quote that stays with me from yesterday is one of my favorite from a letter of Sophie: "Be humble, be simple, and bring joy to others."
I suppose I should save this image for Christmas, but we are saying, "Come, Lord Jesus, come" and it is nice to know that He is here. I was reflecting on another of Jessica Powers poems and will copy it here for you. (I am at the Advent retreat at St. Thomas University today; it is a day I began over twenty years ago as a good way to stop and listen and prepare for Christmas.)
The Hidden Christ
I went into the Christmas cave; There was no Child upon the straw. The ox and ass were all I saw.
I sought His stable where He gave His goodness in the guise of bread. Emptiness came to me instead.
Filled with my Father’s words, I cried “Where have You hid Yourself?” and all The living answered to my call.
I found Him (and the world is wide) Dear in His warm ubiquity. Where heart beat, there was Christ for me.
I went back to the Christmas cave, Glad with the gain of everywhere. And lo! The blessed Child was there.
Then at His feasting board He gave Embrace. He multiplied His good And fed in me the multitude.
I have been reading a new book called Compassionate Fire: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Catherine de Hueck Doherty. It is edited by Robert A. Wild and I am adding it to my list of spiritual books as I find these letters give me new insight into these two contemporary spiritual authors. Both were striving for sanctity. I was glad to hear that Robert Wild is the Postulator for the cause of canonization for Catherine. He says in his afterword that postulators gather material for the Church's discernment regarding a person's heroic living of the gospel. "One aspect of holiness concerns how a person inspired others to love the Lord. Such influence is another indication of the love of God working through her or him." Wild is convinced that Catherine had a strong and life-changing influence on him. Both authors had a great deal of influence on others and both were prophetic voices; it is good to see their spiritual friendship. I was amazed at the length of some of the letters! I am also thinking how good it is to be able to inspire others to love the Lord. I think that all spiritual directors try to do this and hope that I am inspiring not only directees but also my students to love Jesus. I am grateful for all those who have inspired me to love God beginning with my parents and continuing to this day.
This Jesuit was the first great missionary in the Society of Jesus. He took the faith to the Far East beginning in India and then going to many countries before Japan. He died while waiting for a ship to take him to China. His body is still intact but the right arm, that blessed and baptized thousands, was sent to Rome. Francis was a man of faith and worked many miracles. He can help us keep our Advent resolutions, if we have made any. I have a little booklet that follows Luke's Gospel through Advent and it has a place at the beginning to write one's resolutions. I have not yet done that as I am just trying to do what is needed each day. I am taking time for afternoon prayer and I am determined to get rid of clutter! This has meant some tiring days sorting through all the things in my office. Yesterday I found all the questions for my comprehensive examinations - not for my PH.D. but for my Masters- and really was amazed at how well I prepared and how lovely my handwriting was at that time. I felt that I no longer knew most of the material, but pitched it all. I could have used it in my teaching days, but now I am not keeping anything. The next thing I need to tackle is the other walls since the one filled with books is being emptied quickly. I have one wall with diplomas and plaques, but what to do with them? My community will not want them hanging anywhere at home (my room has no place for them) - I may just give away the frames and see if I can put some of the diplomas and certificates in a book!! In the meantime, I am saying, "Come, Lord Jesus, and help me get rid of my clutter. I am including interior clutter, too.
Mater had to let go of her expectations when the angel appeared to her to ask her to be the mother of God! How unexpected, how terrifying, and yet how simple was the entire experience. Mary "let go" and trusted God.
We, too, must learn to let go. John Gallen says: "An important part of the Advent experience is letting go--of not being in control--of waiting. Advent is a time when we wait upon the Lord. We are not waiting for his coming to Bethlehem. That already is our treasure, and he is already with us. It isn't that we forget or disregard Bethlehem. The gift of Bethlehem draws the focus of our waiting beyond that small town to his brimming presence about to be shown in all its transfiguring fullness...The dynamics come to this: Experience of God occurs and flowers only when the God who aboundingly transcends every form of human experience and human imagining uncovers himself to us...We need to wait on God. Advent shapes our prayer as a prayer of letting go of expectations."
I have started my new Journal for Advent and thought about the different ways we experience God during Advent that we prayed over in community on Sunday. God comes in the unexpected; God comes when we let go; God comes in simplicity. Well, Mary was one who first experienced the coming in a way she did not expect. What were her thoughts when the angel came to her? She was told not to be afraid and she seemed to summon trust in this unexpected moment and was able to respond with great simplicity: "Be it done unto me according to your word." I am trying to find God in whatever happens and God sent an angel to help me today. I am also trying to say "yes" with a smile no matter what I am asked or what the circumstances. I need to take this one day at a time, but God is only in the present moment. I think God smiles back when I manage to say "yes" with a smile!
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.