Third Sunday in Advent

“Christ used the flesh and blood of Mary for his life on earth, the Word of love was uttered in her heartbeat. Christ used his own body to utter his love on earth…In this the Christian life is a sacramental life. This Advent God invites you to touch, and taste, and smell. Listen to your body this Advent. Stretch your senses and taste and see that the Lord is good.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.’”Matthew 11:2-6

This is Guadete Sunday. We light the third Advent candle as a sign of joy. It is to remind us that when we dream like God dreams—wild visions flowing over with grace, and justice, and mercy—then our road will be lit by this third candle.

Sometimes it is hard for us to feel the scriptures in our bones until we see them acted out. In Venezuela I met a nun who for twelve years had worked in a poor neighborhood located on a steep hillside high over Caracas. Her name was Sr. Begoña. She had been a religious Sister of the Sacred Heart for many years in Spain before moving to Venezuela.

Sr. Begoña talked about the change that she had seen in the self-image of the poor since the government began prioritizing social programs for “the least of these.” Initially, she was very skeptical of the Venezuelan president. He had a military background and she’d grown up in Spain under General Franco. She had no use totalitarian leadership. She was also skeptical of how successful government programs could be in helping the poor. Would they create dependence? What happens when a new administration comes into office? “But,” said Sr. Begoña, “I have lived in this neighborhood for a long time and the poor were for the government programs and for the president. I decided that I would take my chances with the poor, with the people. They were first to understand the new national project.” She said that if the government programs were a mistake she would still rather err with the people than against them.

Not long after making this decision, the neighborhood people invited her to a big march in support of the national agenda to give preferential option to the poor. The day arrived and hundreds from her neighborhood walked the two hours down the hillside into the Caracas city center. Along the way they were joined by thousands of other very poor people from the slums that ring Caracas. There was singing and chanting and laughing—a palpable energy of joy, hope, and possibility. “I always wondered what it meant in the Gospel that the blind saw, the deaf heard and the lame walked,” said Sr. Begoña, “but on that day I was walking with poor people who were blind and deaf and lame. Suddenly, I began to understand—because they were seeing and hearing and walking.”

Where do you see the gospel brought to life?

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.

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Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

"Our Lady of Louisiana" by Rick Delanty
“Our Lady of Louisiana” by Rick Delanty

“Christ has lived each one of our lives. He has faced all our fears, suffered all our griefs, overcome all our temptations, labored in all our labors, loved in all our loves, and died in all our deaths. Through Jesus, God knows our hidden selves, and still God delights to be one with us.”—Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain, their tongues are parched with thirst. I, the LORD, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open up rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the broad valleys; I will turn the desert into a marshland, and the dry ground into springs of water.”Isaiah 41: 17-18

It was a cool, dry day with a breeze when I walked through the market that surrounds the Cathedral of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Everything related to Guadalupana was for sale. T-shirts, bumper stickers, ash trays, rosaries, plastic roses, 3-D posters with eyes that followed you as you passed by. I passed under an allee of riotous red, pink, and orange bougainvillea into the Cathedral plaza and finally into the church itself. Downstairs is the painting of the Virgin that appeared to Cuatitloatzin (Juan Diego), a Nahuat Indian in 1531.

To view the painting you must stand on a moving walkway that takes you past the painting. That day several viejitas were riding the walkway on their knees, then returning to the front and riding it again. My friend told me that I had to prepare my heart before passing before the painting. She translated the message engraved on the marble wall. Among other things, it said that one must not approach the Virgin of Guadalupe with a list of demands. On the contrary, one must approach her with an open heart and a clear mind so that one can hear and fully receive the message of the Holy Spirit.

“That light, does it rise from the earth or fall from the sky?” writes Eduardo Galeano in his reflections on Cuatitloatzin and the Virgin of Guadalupe. “Is it a lightning bug or a bright star. It doesn’t want to leave the slopes of Tepeyac and in the dead of night persists, shining on the stones and entangling itself in the branches. Hallucinating, inspired, the naked Indian Juan Diego sees it: The light of lights opens up for him, breaks into golden and ruby pieces, and in its glowing heart appears that most luminous of Mexican women, she who says to him in Nahuatl language: ‘I am the mother of God.’”

What healing of the feminine do you need in your life?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…vent.

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

Second Sunday in Advent

“The law of growth is rest. We must be content in winter to wait patiently through the bleak season in which we experience nothing of the sweetness of the Divine Presence, believing that these seasons when we feel most empty are most filled with a still small Christ-life growing within us.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”Romans 15:4

Youngest Child: What does the second candle mean?

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. We light the second candle to remind us, and God, that we are still waiting for the Messiah, patiently and actively like a farmer waiting for the sprouting seed.

“There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things,” writes the 20th century English mystic Caryll Houselander, “until the habit of Advent returns to us.” The disciplines of Advent are ones that teach us to do small things greatly, to do few things but do them well, to love in particular, rather than in general. This habit of small “successes” generates creativity, a sense of well being, a generosity of spirit rooted in satisfaction. It generates hope.

The Greek word for hope is elpis. In the Greek pantheon of spirits Elpis was the female personification of hope. When Pandora opened the jar given to her by Zeus, the spirits of disorder flew free into the world. Elpis remained in the jar, thus preventing humans from suicidal despair. Hope is depicted as a young woman carrying lilies in her arms.

Christians engaged in social transformation often get discouraged. We are acutely aware of the evils of the world. Sometimes we despair. Sometimes we allow our anger at injustice to be the source of energy in our lives. Sometimes we actually create despair and depression in our lives when we only fight losing battles. It is mandatory that we yoke ourselves to disciplines that generate hope.

Walking on the streets of a Las Vegas suburb, I met an 8-year-old boy out riding his bike. The bike was a clunker and the boy was wearing hand-me-downs. I asked him, “How’s it going?” “Great!” he replied. “I’m in my ninth week of having fun!” I laughed and laughed. Then I took out my date book to mark out my own nine weeks of fun.

Having fun is not the same as having hope, but they are related. Dipping in the deep refreshing pool of joy and contentment is one reminder that the world and everything in it—good and bad—belongs to God. It is our work to live in “day-tight compartments”—receiving our daily bread, doing good, offering hospitality, choosing compassion and forgiveness, serving the “least of these,” singing, praying, and, when night comes, giving our bodies and souls over to sleep.

What habits do you have that generate hope?

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 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..

Merry Christmas!

 

Bureij refugee camp, Gaza

“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 has not overcome it.”John 1:1-5

It was 1999. There were 1,500 Kosovar refugees in this camp on the dusty outskirts of Sarajevo. They had come by bus, car, and on foot. First held in the expansive bottling rooms at the Coca Cola factory, the refugees now lived in an old cattle barn, in tents, and on an open field.

We were invited into the barn’s converted milking room and given the best of the plastic seats around a plywood table. Forty families live here in 6-by-8 foot cubicles separated by curtains. The men tell us that Serb soldiers (self-proclaimed Christians) herded them out of their homes. One asks us to find information about his brother, who he presumed was dead in Kosovo. Adem, the oldest man in the camp at 80, wears a blue wool beret and his weather-worn face glistens with tears. Thirty members of his family were killed by Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo.

The women stand around the ring of conversation holding children on their hips. They serve us coffee in chipped red cups. Harija, in her mid-30s, shot her words at us like fire. “How can I live with this pain that my neighbor—my husband shoveled snow from her walk before he even cleared our own—stood in our yard while I was hanging laundry and spoke aloud how she was going to kill me and my children because we are Muslim? She was trying to decide between mortar or sniper.” Harija looked at us. “Did you come here just to stir up pain, or are you going to help us?” she said. Then she wept.

There was no doctor in this camp. The outhouses were overflowing. The only food available was bread and canned vegetables. The graffiti on the wall showed a young man with a gun to his head. We delivered watermelons to a few of the families. One man led me down a shoe-strewn hall. He opened the curtain and there, on the bunk bed, lay a 2-day-old baby boy wrapped in clean linens and a rough gray army blanket. The mother looked worn but happy in her torn T-shirt and dusty skirt.

I pray over the child, making the sign of the cross on his forehead. No one seems to mind the mix of religious symbols. For Christ to come at all, he must be born in the lowliest of places.

Christu natus est! Blessed Christmas!

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

Christmas Eve: ‘O Holy Night’

Henry Ossawa Tanner "Virgin and Child"

“Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother And in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name.”—Placide Cappeau

“‘And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.’”Luke 1:76-79

Welcome, my friend, to the fruition of our Advent pilgrimage. We have peregrinated the sacred wheel of time. We have endured the refiner’s fire. We have rested at the caravanserai of the candles of Christ.

Tonight is the Great Night. O Holy Night! An English custom says that a loaf of bread baked this night will cure the sick and heal the broken-hearted. It is believed that on this night at the crossing hour animals are given the power of speech as a gift for their service at the manger in Bethlehem. It is said that on Christmas Eve at midnight honeybees hum the 100th psalm (“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come into the Presence with singing.”)

“It is a strange thing to come home,” wrote Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlof. “While on the journey, you cannot at all realize how strange it will be.” Tonight we creep into that sacred darkness. It is a strange place. One, perhaps, where we never thought we’d find ourselves. Yet, like dreamers, we have been drawn to the Light. There is no present that we can wrap. There is no money we can offer. There is no sin that should hold us back. As the Talmud says, “God wants only one thing: the heart.”

“O come, O come Emmanuel, come our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!”

Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Christmas Eve.

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

Fourth Sunday in Advent

“Come Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; From our sins and fears release us; let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”

“Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.“—Romans 1:5-7

We light the fourth Advent candle to remind us that things are not always as they seem, and that hope springs forward at the sound of its name.

In William Blake’s poem “Jerusalem” he wrote:

I give you the end of a gold string.
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
built in Jerusalem’s wall.

The followers of The Way in the early church wove together a “gold string” that reached back to the creation of light in the Genesis story and forward to this very Sunday in Advent. There is a golden thread that sews us together as students of Jesus. Paul calls this thread the “grace of apostleship.” It is passed, hand to hand, from one generation to the next. Like kindergartners on a field trip through the big world, we are given a rope and told to hold on. We know that the rope reaches all the way back to the teacher, the anchor, the shepherd.

Advent is a time to marvel at the golden thread and to make sure that we have not become separated from it. If, by chance, you have become separated from it, do not be afraid. Jesus extends the end of the string to you again. What glistens in your life? What sweetens your days? Your answer is the beginning of the thread. “Only wind it into a ball,” my friend and “it will lead you in at Heaven’s Gate.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

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

Third Saturday in Advent

 

“‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.’”—Matthew 1:20b

For a short while after 9/11, people living in the terrorist “bull’s eye” of Washington, D.C. were encouraged to create a sealed room in their house with plastic wrap and duct tape. This was to protect them in the event of a chemical or biological weapons attack. The military surplus stores sold out of gas masks. Plastic sheeting and duct tape were soon rare commodities.

The frenzy appeared to be mostly among the middle class. The rich thought they were impervious to such danger. The poor figured they die anyway. But those in the middle rushed to protect themselves—caught between fear and the illusion of control.

Joseph also had the illusion of control. He controlled who came in and out of his house. He was the gatekeeper of his home. Tradition tells us that he was much older than Mary. He was “established.” He was also from the royal lineage of King David and yet had not produced an heir. When Joseph learned that Mary was already pregnant, he had little reason to continue with her. The lineage had to be kept pure. He didn’t need to invite this complication into his house. God knows what havoc it might wreak!

Joseph, however, like his namesake, was open to the importance of dreams. When the messenger entered Joseph’s dream and said “do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home,” he listened.

Who are you afraid to take into your home? Why? Do you see your home as gift to be shared or a right to be protected? Do you have possessions that are so precious they hinder hospitality? Have you ever had to “depend on the kindness of strangers”?

“O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

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

Third Friday in Advent

Good_shepherd_icon“At Christmas, Christ is born in us. At Passiontide he suffers and dies in us. At Pentecost the flame of the love of the Spirit is kindled in us. Advent returns, Christ prepares to be born in to the world again in us.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.”Matthew 1:1-3a

Names. In traditional cultures, names are sacred and secret. A person’s name may change in their life to mark rites of passage. In oral cultures, names and genealogies are chanted from generation to generation.

Once, in Venezuela, I heard a schoolteacher tell this story about the success of their national literacy program. “There was a very old man who came to our classes. He had never learned to read. After he had learned to write the alphabet people saw him out wandering the hills going from house to house with a little scrap of paper and pencil stub. When asked what he was doing, he replied that he was collecting names. When asked why, he said ‘I have always wanted to learn to write down the names of his friends, so they will know how important they are to me.’”

What names are written on the leaves of your family tree?

We are now in the season of the ancient Christmas octave. In the monastic tradition, these are called the days of the “O” antiphons. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine, writes “these prayers describe quite clearly the type of leadership that marks the coming of the reign of God.” Savor them.

“O Shepherd that rulest Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep, come to guide and comfort us.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

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

Third Thursday in Advent

SANCTUS by Elizabeth Wang
SANCTUS by Elizabeth Wang

“Jesus says to us ‘You are the light of the world.’ We have grown accustomed to Advent being the season of light, but let us agree to make this Advent a season of fire. Be consumed by the energy that dwells and is growing within. Let it burn in you. Let God use fire to purify the cosmos through you and make ready the Way of the Lord.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“‘What did you go out to the desert to see—a reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine garments? Those who dress luxuriously and live sumptuously are found in royal palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.’”Luke 7: 24-26

Jesus is challenging the crowd—provoking them to push their questions deeper. Did they think they think John the Baptist out preaching in the desert was someone who they could use for their own political purposes—a reed swayed by the prevailing political winds? Did they think they would find someone preaching a prosperity gospel? If they sought either of these, then they should around and go home. If, however, they came seeking the word of God, then they should stay. In John they have found not only a prophet, but in the community around John there is one of whom John will say, “Behold! The Lamb of God.”

For most of his ministry, Jesus worked the edges of the field, the social and political margins. He gathered around him those who fell through the safety net; those for whom the institutions weren’t working; those forced to make do in the chaos of areas that had been abandoned by civilized society.

It was not because the people he found there were better or purer or more righteous or more innocent. It was because that’s what God told him to do. Travel writer and mystic Phil Cousineau says, “The purpose behind questions is to initiate the quest.” At some point in his life, Jesus asked a question.

What question directs your life?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

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