Using Our Voice to Prepare the Way
Our Scriptures for this weekend are all about speaking, about being a voice. They are called exhortatory texts. In other words, they make an urgent appeal to listeners. They encourage, warn, or challenge and often include a call to action.
When a voice cries out, what does it sound like? When we cry out at the top of our voice, what does that sound like? And what do we use our voices to cry out about?
I can think of many things. When I think of what our voices can do, I know that they can hurt and I know that they can heal. I know the words of comfort that I witness at funerals. I also know the urgent voices of people marching in solidarity with those who are suffering discrimination or injustice. I witness the pleading voices of those suffering from raging fires in California, of those wanting to protect our earth, of the “Me too” victims of sexual harassment and assault, of those trying to escape domestic violence, of the Rohingya people experiencing persecution in Myanmar.
How do I use my voice and become one who, like the prophets, cries out in what seems to be a wilderness? I can challenge those in power, I can stop keeping secrets, and I can speak out for someone. I can listen to the voices, and I can act on what I know.
Ours is the task of being messengers of peace. We are also advocates, like the prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist. We too participate in “preparing the way of the Lord and making straight his paths.”
Our Advent journey of Living in Watchfulness and Waiting in Wonder continues. Jesus is coming. Freedom is coming. The desire to experience Advent hope and Advent peace challenge us to use our voices.
Living in Watchfulness!
Our parish’s theme for Advent is Living in Watchfulness; Waiting in Wonder. Watching is different than waiting. Waiting is rather passive; watching implies activity and engagement. When we watch we pay keen and sharp attention. We are alert with all of our senses and ready for Jesus to come into our lives and into our world. We don’t just wait for life to happen, we are helping with the building of the Reign of God on earth.
Watching and being ready for Jesus to come into our lives means that we are spending some extra time in silence and in prayer. We pray that we become more and more aware of what is being born in our personal lives, in our family lives, in our community, and in our parish. How is Jesus coming to life in me? How am I awakening a knowledge of Jesus in my children and in my marriage or my vocation? What light is the coming of Jesus shedding on the events in our world today? Are we passively waiting for it all to get better or are we working to be beacons of compassion and voices of justice?
Jesus tells his disciples and us to not be found sleeping! Living in watchfulness means being a light in the darkness, creating paths to peace, promoting reconciliation and generating new hope for all. One way to do that is to participate in our Taizé prayer experience this evening, Dec. 1 at 7 pm in the church. It’s an excellent opportunity to practice living in watchfulness.
To See as Jesus Sees
Who are “the least”? And who is “called to serve”? These are the questions to be answered as we reflect on the Scriptures for this Sunday. Jesus is King of the Universe, but Jesus’ royalty turns everything upside down. We are invited TO SEE royalty in the least and the lowly. And we are invited to pay honor by giving aid to them.
Jesus is very clear in his directive—“Whatever you did for one of the least…of mine, you did for me.” Jesus defines the least as those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, imprisoned, and strangers in need of welcome. Many of us recognize our response to these needs as doing the corporal works of mercy. Jesus says that if we don’t care for these who are least, we do not care for him! That’s the criteria for judgment at the end of our earthly lives—actions of mercy on behalf of “the least.”
The call to be shepherd and to care for the flock is both personal and communal. As we observe our Thanksgiving weekend and prepare for the beginning of Advent, we will doubtless see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears the many opportunities to see the face of Jesus in our brothers and sisters in need.
Jesus, help us to see as you see. Help us to act personally and communally in response to the needs of all—friends and strangers alike.
Giving and Receiving
Our generous God blesses us in so many ways in our St. Francis of Assisi community. Among the blessings are the gifts and talents that each of us has been given. This week we reflect on how we can multiply those gifts in service as a sign of gratitude. We also have the opportunity to reflect on what holds us back or makes us afraid to use those talents, to offer them in service to the larger community.
We have all received mercy, kindness, and unconditional love from God. Do we give that same gift to others? We have many physical, emotional, mental and spiritual abilities that can be used to better the lives of others. We have opportunities for spiritual renewal, growth, and maturity in our relationship with God, and continual access to continuing education in our faith. Are we generous in inviting others to experience the fruits of our giftedness, of our talents?
And so we pray: Gracious God, you lavish our lives with goodness and love. Create in our hearts great gratitude for the gifts and talents given to us. May we share freely and may our sharing become our pattern of existence as we continue to learn to be disciples of Jesus and to build the kingdom of God here on our precious Earth. May the gifts we have received become the gifts that we give!
How often do we hear those words? If you were a Boy Scout, you learned their meaning early in your life. For my family, be prepared usually meant, “Go to the bathroom now. We are going to church and there is no bathroom there.” Way back then, that was the truth!
Our readings for this weekend speak of a different time, the end time! It is otherwise known as the fullness of the Kingdom arriving, or the Second Coming. Jesus tells us that we never know when that will be. In the same way, we don’t know when we will die. Being prepared for death and conserving hope is part of our long-held Christian tradition. Most of us learned early that God made us to know, love, and serve God on earth and to be happy with God in heaven.
How does one prepare for death, especially in the midst of random acts of violence and terror, natural disasters of huge proportion, or the deaths of refugees seeking a better life? How do we make ourselves ready to meet the Lord each and every day? How do we stay vigilant with hope? How do we become like the “wise virgins” who keep their lamps lit with abundant oil?
First, hope in everlasting life with God asks us to not be afraid. Our much needed “oil” comes from a variety of sources. We consistently and intentionally reflect on God’s Word in Scripture, we look to the witness of Jesus, we celebrate the liturgy whole-heartedly, we live according to commandments to love unconditionally, and we seek spiritual guides or mentors. There we will find Wisdom. Paying attention to God’s presence in our lives will be our guiding light. Our lamps will burn brightly and illuminate our path. And we won’t run out of oil!
So we pray: Fill our lamps with hope so that we might be a light in the darkness. Help us to stay awake and open our hearts to act in ways that express love. And may we do all this with our eyes constantly fixed on you, God! We live in hope that you will come again to establish justice forever. This is your promise and our heart’s yearning.
Walk the Talk
Jesus often asks his disciples to practice what they preach—to walk the talk. This is appropriate behavior for religious leaders. Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees of power grabbing, of seeking greatness. “They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”
Instead of heavy-handed teaching and interpretation, Jesus asks them to be aware of the need to walk the talk. Instead, he counsels them to be humble in their service. He reiterates the lesson Paul teaches about the gentleness of the nursing mother. The mother’s life is inseparable from the survival of her baby. She quietly disappears into the nurturing role, a role of coaching. Paul tells us that the best leadership is the kind that vanishes into its service.
This week is Vocation Awareness Week! Each of us has a unique vocation, a unique way of knowing, loving, and serving God. Vocation awareness is not about power. It is about service. It is not about seeking greatness. Only God is great!
Today we have an invitation to name the persons in our lives who disappear behind their service. What lessons do they teach us? How can we “walk the talk” in our own lives? When we lay heavy burdens on others, how do we assist them? In what ways do we have lifting fingers?
We pray: O God, help our deeds match our words and nudge us to attend to one another as a nursing mother cares for her children. Help us to know what it means to have lifting fingers and hands of service. Amen.
How Do We Express Our Love for God and Neighbor?
Love for God and love for our neighbor are inseparable and complementary—just like the pairs of shoes we wear! You can’t have one without the other! Jesus refers to this as the greatest and first commandment. He also adds, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Just how is it that we express our love for God? Our love for neighbor? The lyrics of a song by Sister Kathy Sherman provide a musical reflection on just those questions. You can listen here:
You can also find a prayer experience based on this song here: http://mercyassociationleadershipnetwork.blogspot.com/.
What does love of God and love of neighbor look like at St. Francis of Assisi? With which reasons for loving God do you/we most identify? For me, the experience of traveling to Haiti to drill a well that would provide water for the community is just that sort of inseparability of love of God and love of neighbor. For many of you, the same is true of Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Love of God impels us to both make sandwiches and to meet our neighbors who hunger for connectedness.
Our stretching most likely involves encountering the alien, the stranger, and persons who are not yet our friends. It involves all acts of mercy and compassion. That’s loving God with our whole heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. May our feet walk the talk! We know the rules of the road—the journey that is ours as disciples.
Giving God What is God’s
What is Caesar’s? What is God’s? How do we answer this question in our lives today? What did Jesus imply in his answer to repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. What really belongs to God?
In just over a week, our St. Francis community will celebrate 25 years of ACTS (Adoration, Community, Theology, and Service). During these years, there have been over 75 adult retreat teams that have spent 13 weeks each time “getting their act together”—forming themselves, paying attention to how God is working in their lives, how the Holy Spirit is animating them to use their gifts for the sake of the community, and in praising and thanking God for who they are “becoming” as a result of these actions, these ACTS!
For each retreat that is given, there is an equal number of retreatants who experience God’s love both personally and intensely. Just listen to the hundreds of parish members who have attended. They will tell you boldly and loudly that we bear the image of God and are to give to God what is God’s—our lives.
In very real ways, this is our experience of identifying and proclaiming what is God’s! All we have is a gift from God. Each of us, conceived in love, is a gift from God in our very being. All that we become through all of God’s formative processes—our worship, our study, our prayer, our practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, our GIVING in every sense is acknowledging that all we have is a gift from God.
God’s work in our lives, God’s providential care is amazing and bounteous. For this, let us offer gratitude and praise. Let us be generous in our YES to using our gifts in service to others in our families, our vocations, our community, and our world!
No Better Offer
Do you ever wait to RSVP to an invitation thinking that you might have a better offer? Even when the invitation is extended, I’ve had people ask me, “Would you come to our house for dinner with my family—unless you have a better offer?”
In this Sunday’s readings, there can be no better offer than the banquet Jesus proposes. Listen closely to all the banquet and feast language that is found in each of the readings. Imagine juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines, lavishness, abundance, goodness, and kindness. This festival language only begins to describe the fullness of life we will have in the presence of God, in God’s heavenly kingdom.
The invitation to the feast is extended each time we celebrate Eucharist. Our RSVP is both our presence, our expression of belief, and also a commitment to act. We are guests and we are also the ones doing the inviting. What happens to us, in our own conversion and transformation, becomes an invitation not only to stay on the path but also to invite others to enter the journey.
When Jesus says, “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find,” Jesus is asking us to be inclusive at the table—to invite ALL. Jesus is asking us to enlarge the table, to make the circle expansive, to welcome those least expected to be participants.
This is our way of preparing for the ultimate banquet—the reign of God! Ven al banquete! Come to the feast! There is no better offer! Help us clothe ourselves with gratitude, generosity, and mercy.
Happy Feast Day!
Most of us know something about him. We always think of the blessing of animals, the love of creation, statues and birdbaths. Beyond that, we might think of selling all and living poverty, of a peacemaking journey to a Sultan, a brotherhood of men and what they learned from each other. Visiting Assisi reminds us of the need for quiet, for simplicity and for an intentional “building up of the church.” That building up for us today is our great desire to be bridge-builders—to risk being community with friends we do not know yet, those we might not ever imagine welcoming into our midst.
Our Franciscan sisters and brothers teach us additional values that are their way of life and that offer something for us to reflect on as well. They teach us about contemplation, poverty, and conversion. Francis’ conversion story is a radical “turning around” from a focus on riches and possessions to a complete following of Jesus. That meant deep study of Scripture, lots of return to simple ways of just being with nature, and a refocus on what matters if we are disciples of Jesus.
At St. Francis, we celebrate by remembering why our community, our church came to be. Read our mission statement; better yet, sing it with us on Sunday. And let your prayer and reflection, your intentions and your actions be a response to Francis’ example to us all. Happy Feast Day!
Our Parish Mission Statement
We, the parish family of St. Francis of Assisi, formed in 1980, are gifted with wisdom, productivity, and vitality. We are Sacramental people journeying toward our Christian mission to know, love, and serve Christ. To better know, love, and serve Christ, we strive to emulate our patron, St. Francis of Assisi by:
Focusing our greater concern on the building of our people, giving our time, talent, and treasures, in reaching out to others, and promoting peace and harmony within God’s creation.