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.

Richard Rohr: Antidote To ‘The Dirty Rotten System’?

Police flank Dorothy Day, seated at a farm workers picket line in Lamont, California, in 1973.

“We are all complicit in and benefitting from what Dorothy Day called ‘the dirty rotten system.’ That’s not condemning anybody; it’s condemning everybody because we are all complicit and enjoying the fruits of domination and injustice. (Where were your shirts and underwear made?) Usually the only way to be really non-complicit in the system is to choose to live a very simple life. That’s the only way out of the system!

Thus most of the great wisdom teachers like Gandhi, Saints Francis and Clare, Simone Weil, Dorothy Day, Jesus and Buddha—lived voluntarily simple lives. That’s almost the only way to stop bending the knee before the system. This is a truly transfigured life in cultures which are always based on climbing, consumption, and competition (1 John 2:15-17).

Once we idealize social climbing, domination of others, status symbols, power, prestige and possessions, we are part of a never ending game that is almost impossible to escape. It has its own inner logic that is self-maintaining, self-perpetuating, and self-congratulating as well as elitist and exclusionary. It will never create a just or happy world, yet most Christians never call it into question. Jesus came to free us from this lie which will never make us happy anyway, because it’s never enough, and we never completely win.”–Richard Rohr, ofm

Adapted from Spiral of Violence by Richard Rohr

Lent and Life in the ‘Affluent Fifth’

Lent is an opportunity to right-size our relationships with our neighbors. Today, less than one-fifth of the world’s people have more than four-fifths of the global wealth, but the poorest billion have less than one-fiftieth, according to the U.S. Catholic bishops. The most affluent fifth control 80 percent of world trade, savings, and investment.

Sometimes we who live in the “affluent fifth” feel immediately uncomfortable or guilty at reading this information. But our faith gives us the opportunity at Lent to think creatively about our balance in the world–and to act in new ways with our time, money, possessions. We are invited to refresh our hearts through prayer and scripture. We can lay down the burdens accumulated in an over-sated society. We can fast and rest; sing ancient songs; draw closer to God. Lent is an invitation.

“Over a few short generations,” observes Alan Durning, “we in the affluent fifth of humanity have become car drivers, television watchers, mall shoppers, and throwaway buyers.” But many in our culture are concerned about the prevalence of greed, selfishness and conspicuous consumption, which seem to be crowding out meaningful family, community and spiritual values. We fail to think about the damaging consequences of our lifestyle for the future of our children – and our planet.

The 10th commandment is straightforward: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.” And Jesus was often blunt about over-consuming and attachment to material goods: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19)

Christian simplicity is not frugality for the sake of penny-pinching or deprivation. Rather, we want to become aware of how our personal choices and spending habits are connected to the issues of global poverty and care for creation. Our faith motivates us to develop life-styles that respect the limitations of our planetary resources and protect the creation for the future of our children. The hallmark of such a life-style is not greedy accumulation, but compassionate sharing, and heartfelt contentment. That is the abundant life which Jesus promised.–From Lent 4.5 on Christian Simplicity

Thomas Merton: The Prayer of the Heart

by Courtney Shapiro

The prayer of the heart introduces us into deep interior silence so that we learn to experience its power. For that reason the prayer of the heart has to be always very simple, confined to the simplest of acts and often making use of no words and no thoughts at all.–Thomas Merton

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton, (Image Books, 1996, p 42).