First Saturday in Advent

“The story of Joseph’s bewilderment when he realized that his future wife was going to have a baby is well known, and it is well known too that Mary did not explain. Sometimes there is little to be gained by trying to explain, especially when misunderstandings arise from Christ conceived in us. At that time, in that Advent moment, God’s voice is silent within us; it is simply the sound of our heartbeat. Love is more effective than words.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.”—Isaiah 29:18

In Jose Saramago’s allegorical novel Blindness he uses a quotation from the Book of Exhortations as the epigram: “If you can see, look. If you can look, observe.”

The metaphor of “giving sight to the blind” is meant to be used as just that…a metaphor. Isaiah is not talking about physical blindness or deafness. Often when one physical sense is lost then acuity is heightened in other senses. There are however other kinds of blindness and deafness that both Isaiah and Jesus address. For one, the blindness of ignorance, specifically ignorance of Torah (“the scroll”). It is important to study scripture. You don’t have to be a “master” or academic, but you need a hunger for the text. There are many things that dull our hunger, our desire, for the Word. There are many things that we allow to prevent us from exploring the question “Who am I really?

Near the end of Saramago’s novel, when the blind people are getting their vision back, a character says, “I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind. Blind but seeing. Blind people who can see, but do not see.”

In Advent we brave the darkness. In Advent we ask God to give us “second sight” or true sight. In Advent we dare to open our ears to the deep song of prayer that under girds all creation.

Take time today to gaze at something beautiful.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

First Friday in Advent – December 8: ‘Women are desirous of serving in the Church as fully participating members’

On 8 December, 1854, Pope Pius IX announced that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

I don’t know exactly what Pope Pius meant by this, but for me it means that Mary was whole and integral unto herself from the moment she was a twinkle in her parents’ eyes and that through this she reminds the Church that all women are capable of serving in all ministries in the church through the merits of Jesus and the example of his mother Mary.

When Pope John Paul II visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, in 1979, he was welcomed by LCWR president Sr. Theresa Kane (see video) in which she called the church to recognize women as “fully participating members.”

The most relevant part of her speech was:

“As I share this privileged moment with you, Your Holiness, I urge you to be mindful of the intense suffering and pain which is part of the life of many women in these United States. I call upon you to listen with compassion and to hear the call of women who comprise half of humankind.

As women we have heard the powerful messages of our Church addressing the dignity and reverence for all persons. As women we have pondered upon these words. Our contemplation leads us to state that the Church in its struggle to be faithful to its call for reverence and dignity for all persons must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of our Church.

I urge you, Your Holiness, to be open to and respond to the voices coming from the women of this country who are desirous of serving in and through the Church as fully participating members.”

It is worth noting that Sr. Kane’s speech received thunderous applause. And “when she finished speaking,” newspapers report, “the gray-haired nun moved to the altar of the magnificent National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and knelt before the pope. He gently touched her head.” Such is the agonizing and beautiful paradox and mystery of Catholicism.

December 7: Advent and Pearl Harbor

“Ask not, doubt not. You have, My Heart, already chosen the joy of Advent. As a force against the great uncertainty, bravely tell yourself, ‘It is the Advent of the great God’” —Karl Rahner

“What is your opinion? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will the shepherd not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?“—Matthew 18: 12

200px-MitsuoFuchidaIn the United States yesterday, December 7, is remembered as “Pearl Harbor Day.” Early on a Sunday morning in 1941 the Japanese military attacked a U.S. naval base on Oahu, Hawaii, killing 2,403 Americans. There were about 100 Japanese killed. The Japanese squadron leader was Mitsuo Fuchida.

“We hate, and are hated in return, and then we hate more, and we have all seen where that can lead,” said Fuchida years later. But, he said, “We love, and we are likely to be loved in return, which begins the cycle of love.”

In the late 1940s, Fuchida heard some Japanese POWs returning from U.S. detainee camps, talking about an American teenager who visited them. She brought them soap, toothpaste, and asked what else she could do for them. The prisoners didn’t trust her. Finally they asked why she had been so kind to them, her enemies. She told them that her parents had been Christian missionaries in Japan and the Philippines.

They had been murdered, beheaded, by Japanese soldiers who thought they were spies. The girl’s life began to be consumed by hate for the Japanese, until she was able to reconnect with what her parents had taught: Love of enemies and forgiveness. She gave “aid and comfort” to the enemy to honor her parents and because she was a Christian.

Mitsuo Fuchida was deeply moved by this story. Eventually, Fuchida became a Christian out of a need to heal the hate in his own life. “I have participated in the cycle of hate for much of my life,” said Fuchida. “For the rest of my life I want to begin the cycle of love as often and in as many places as possible.”

Fuchida traveled extensively in the United States. Every time a Pearl Harbor survivor approached him Fuchida bowed slightly and said “Gomenasai” [I’m sorry], then reached out and took their hand.

To whom do you need to apologize before the Christ Child arrives?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

First Thursday in Advent

Near San Salvador, 2011.

“Trust in the LORD forever! For the LORD is an eternal Rock. He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.”–Isaiah 26:1-6

“Our baptismal vocation to holiness is intensified by God’s creative life hidden within us this Advent, while at the same time more and more things are demanding our time and energy. More shopping. More travel. More planning. Pressure builds, and it is increasingly difficult to find quiet time for our Advent-life. As we brush elbows with more and more people who are more and more anxious for the season, we hear again our call to simplicity. The great mystery of this Advent is that our personal holiness touches the lives of all those with whom we come into contact. When we are made holy as individuals, it is the whole world the reaps the reward. Being faithful to our baptismal vocation is an honest gift of self that we can share with our family and friends this Advent. Be faithful to God who has called you by name. Other blessings will follow.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

First Wednesday in Advent

Moses on the Mountain of God (1991) by Albert Herbert.

“Our alternative to dehumanizing, scientific, economic objectivity is not sentimentality or shapeless love. It is objective love—a dispassionate passion. It is the passion of God for all people—regardless of habit or custom, race or disposition, gender or economic status. It is a daring and brave position, but it is one that sides with God who stretches our hearts and minds this Advent to see the stranger, the dispossessed, and the outcast, and invites us to love. O God, enlarge and warm the caverns of our hearts this Advent.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine … And the Lord will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations.”—Isaiah 25: 6-7

The God who creates and destroys is fundamentally ambiguous to our human mind. It is an assault on our attempt to create moral order and coherency in the world. It is an assault on our need to control.

The mountain of God is sometimes compared to a nursing breast. The people are entranced by it. It is their whole world. It provides essential nourishment. They can’t live without it. They are completely vulnerable and dependent on this mountain. It is this dependency that creates fear. What if the life-giver becomes the life-taker? This fear may then generate separation and, eventually, individuality.

It is this process, which is repeated many times through one’s life, which makes us distinct and unique.

How can you learn to embrace creation and destruction, life and death, certainty and doubt?

Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Ad……vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

First Tuesday in Advent

 

Craig Stephens

 

“There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things until the habit of Advent returns to us.” —Caryll Houselander

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said, “Come away with me to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest with me awhile.” —Mark 6:30-31

Youngest Child: Why do we light this candle?

Oldest Person: We light the first Advent candle to remind us of the promise of the prophets that a Messiah would come, bringing peace with justice and love to the world.

A d  v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part) … There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

First Monday in Advent

“Advent is a season of silence and rest with God. Take time to focus and examine your conscience. What is the shape of your emptiness? How are you still connected to God’s abiding beauty? This Advent, how will you fulfill the work of giving Christ life?”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.'” Matthew 8: 5-6

Advent is a time of ambiguity. It invites us to embrace conflicting images. Not to harmonize them into one, but to simply let our soul be tempered and strengthened by the fire this conflict creates.

In the story of the centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant, we have the warrior and the weak. Our imagination expects several things.

First, since Jesus has just healed a leper, one of the least of these, maybe he’s tired and doesn’t need to heal again.

Second, Jesus isn’t a collaborator with the Romans. Why would he even speak with a centurion—storm trooper of the state?

Third, we expect the mighty centurion to ask for something for himself or one of his family—not to act with compassion for a servant.

Finally, we don’t expect the Roman commander to become an occasion for Jesus to be amazed, saying, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

Today, pay attention to your response to ambiguity.

Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

First Sunday of Advent

“There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things until the habit of Advent returns to us.” Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”—Romans 13:11

Gathered around the Advent wreath, the youngest child asks: Why do we light this candle? The elder answers: We light the first Advent candle to remind us of the promise of the prophets that a Messiah would come, bringing peace with justice and love to the world.

Advent is about knowing what time it is. Though we try to stay spiritually awake, we are human. We fall asleep. We are lulled into the addictive habits and patterns of the world. We begin to act and think and live like unbelievers—like those whose vision is not shaped by God.

There are basic question that every human will eventually ask. Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? These are the essential questions of the human spirit. They are the questions that launch the quest into the nature of our mystery. Advent is a time specifically set aside in the liturgical year to accompany those questions.

It will require us to walk in dark places, sometimes without even a flicker of light. We will listen to prophets railing about the end of time—exploding our known and familiar world, our moral and cognitive self-understanding—until we are blown back to our essential elements. Advent will reduce us to atoms, bits of stardust. “We are only syllables of the Perfect Word,” says Caryll Houselander. We will be uncreated. We will be made feminine, until our nothingness becomes a nest.

On the first Sunday of Advent we must get ready to get ready. The alarm clock is about to go off. We are about to be roughly roused. We will be shaken to the very depths, so that we may wake up to the truth of ourselves. For this, we must prepare. God invites us on a journey. We are only lacking one piece of information. We have no idea where we are going.

What do you need to do to prepare?

Ad……vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

December 2, 1980: Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean

“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 life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in the heart. This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the wellspring of Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of Abba in heaven.”Matthew 7:21

On December 2, 1980, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan—Catholic missionaries from the United States—were murdered by National Guardsmen in El Salvador. Dorothy and Jean were driving to the airport outside San Salvador to pick up Maura and Ita.

On the way back from the airport, they were pulled over at a roadblock by National Guardsmen. The four women were taken to an isolated location, raped, tortured, and shot. Then they were buried in a shallow grave beside the road. The National Guardsmen were also “good Catholics.”

These four women died in the same manner as many of the poor Salvadoran people they served. They are martyrs because they laid down their lives in love for the poor—just as Jesus calls all Christians to be prepared to do. The witness of these four women teaches us about listening to the call of Christ, taking up the cross and following Jesus, and being born again.

A stone cross and small plaque mark the country road where the four women were buried. It reads: “Receive them Lord into your Kingdom.”

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Faith Leaders Arrested in Civil Disobedience Action Against Tax Bill

Faith Leaders Arrested in Civil Disobedience Action Against Tax Bill
Message to Senators: The tax bill is an assault on the poor

On the last day of the liturgical year, on the feast of Saint Andrew, 12 Christians entered the Senate Hart offices to read just a few of the #2000verses in the Bible about the poor and justice. This was our liturgical direct action brought to the Senate door against the horrific tax reform legislation that they are conspiring to pass in the next few days.

I was honored to lead worship with Jim Wallis, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Bob Sabath, Patrick Carolan, Bishop W. Darin Moore, Jeff Hoagland, David Potter, Feriel Ricks, Carole Dortch-Wright, Catherine Griggs, and Joshua (who joined us at the last moment with a wonderful rendition of the Magnificat).

This is what church looks like.

Here is a  short video from today: 3-minute video of arrests & reading

Use it in your churches for the first Sunday of Advent. — Rose Berger (in the purple)