Wake Up Call
What are you looking for? Where are you staying? Come and see! In John’s gospel this weekend we hear about succession and a transfer of power. John transitions his followers into being followers of Jesus by first naming Jesus as Teacher. Jesus then asks Andrew: What are you looking for? Perhaps Andrew was befuddled and like most of us today answers the question with another question—Where are you staying? Jesus responds with strong, but inviting action words—Come and see! And they stayed with Jesus. And Jesus changed their names!
Imagine that Jesus is asking us the same question: What are you looking for? For yourself? For your family? For our parish community? For our country? Can you STAY with Jesus and let Jesus inform you? Where do you go to “come and see?”
This conversation is really about discernment—seeking new information from reliable teachers, seeing and listening with a new, inquiring spirit and the openness to hear challenges, often beyond our understanding at the moment. It is about searching for what God wants of us, for us.
Many of us are overwrought with fear of COVID and with concern for what’s happening in the transfer of power in our country after a difficult election period. These are life-changing times and hopefully we are asking Jesus where Jesus is staying today, in all of this conflict and confusion. Are we taking the time to “come and see” what Jesus is revealing to us in all of this?
In the other “call” narrative we hear this weekend, Samuel hears a call in his dreams. His response is quick and repetitive. Three times he mistakes who the caller is and confidently responds: “Here I am. You called me.” It is Eli who convinces Samuel to respond differently with “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Eli understood that this call was coming from the Lord. Eli helped Samuel to discern this call and what it meant. Samuel’s response changed and the words he used mattered.
We learn that the young Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
Eli’s guidance provides a different perspective, not simply Samuel’s own thinking of what his response should be. Samuel announces to the Lord that he is listening and that he is listening to the voice of God in everything, at all times. He listens with humility and a desire to serve God, rather than his own interests, and the Lord blesses Samuel, “not permitting any word of his to be without effect.”
Can we be like Samuel? After listening and discernment, seeking different perspectives, what words do we choose to use? Words matter! May our words have the Lord’s blessing!
Come to the Water
We rediscover our own Baptism in the Feast of the Baptism. Just as Jesus is the Beloved Son of the Father, we too, reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, know we are loved children—the Father loves us all!—the object of God’s satisfaction, brothers and sisters of many brothers and sisters, assigned with a great mission to bear witness and proclaim the Father’s boundless love to all mankind. -Pope Francis, Angelus, January 12, 2020
Several years ago at SFA, we attached paper drops of water to a tree branch across from our baptismal font. Written on them were our names and the date and place of our Baptism. Some were able to do this quickly; others had to do substantial research! What we all learned from this activity was a renewed sense of what Pope Francis says—we rediscovered our own Baptism. In doing that, we also spent time reflecting on the meaning of this sacrament and both the grace and the responsibility that comes from reception of the sacrament. What does it mean to be reborn by water? By the Holy Spirit? What are we being reborn to—in our being and in our actions? When do we know that we are the object of God’s satisfaction? That we are beloved? Baptism makes us brothers and sisters to many brothers and sisters. When are we most aware of that? When do we forget? And when do we fulfill our mission of bearing witness and proclaiming the Father’s boundless love to all? Jesus spent his life fulfilling His mission of compassionate care for those often “left out” or avoided, for those who did not have access, and those with need for healing. Our Baptism calls us to that same mission, one that requires us to come to the water. May we be blessed in our efforts!
Stars of Light
We are drawn to light. We seek light in the darkness. So many of us eagerly waited to see the “Christmas Star” that graced our vision just before Christmas. Did we imagine the star that guided the Magi?
The Magi followed the light of a star to find the light of the world, Jesus. Who or what has lit the way for you, guided you toward Jesus, shown you the love and mercy of God, and helped you to see Christ in all people?
St. Paul reminds us that the star’s light shines on each and every person, unique and precious in God’s eyes. No exceptions! Jews and Gentiles, women and men, people of all skin color tones are the recipients of God’s light. Do we search for the light in persons who are different—who look different, who think differently, who love differently, who believe differently?
God warned the Magi not to return to Herod because he knew what was in Herod’s heart. Herod feared the light. Jealousy and greed kept him from an encounter with Jesus. Jealousy and greed led to his desire to eliminate Jesus, resulting in the slaughter of many innocent children. How does jealousy and greed distract us, even desiring to extinguish the light, the life in others?
The Magi, following God’s warning, went home by a different path. Pope Francis, in recent publications, reminds us that the pandemic has brought us to a crossroads too. We have the opportunity to choose a different path. Pope Francis says we must use this decisive moment to end our superfluous and destructive goals and activities and to cultivate values, connections, and activities that are life-giving. Many of us have used the time we have been given to read, to educate ourselves about differences, to think differently—to choose a different path, to find another way home. Even the home we know has changed.
When God reveals to our understanding something of God’s self, we call this gift an epiphany. Where will the star lead us? What path, what different way home will we find and follow? Who will be our companions on this journey? Will our light attract others to follow the same path?
May we be epiphanies to each other, overflowing with love and extravagant care for each other. Make us shining stars that lead others to Jesus! For this, let us all work and pray!
The Age of Miracles
They were faithful for so many years—Abraham and Sarah, Simeon and Anna—and God worked miracles through them, the very old. God has the power and the will to bring life where it does not seem possible. To bring life, is about bearing children. To bring life is also about bringing to life—the understanding of mysteries, the experience of perseverance, constant prayer, consistent faith, the wisdom that comes from living a long life. How do we see the beauty of God through the eyes of those who have lived long?
God also works miracles through the very young. The Holy Family, young and inexperienced, dealt with difficulties—finding shelter, escaping the jealousy of rulers, fleeing danger. How do we see the beauty of God through the lives of those who are very young?
For the last nine months of waiting, many of us have experienced family—the very young and the very old—in intense ways. The pandemic forced us to stay at home, to hunker down, to eat together, to play, to pray, to tell stories, to study and to supervise learning, to watch movies, to clean, to finish projects and to start new ones. We have been living the reading from Ecclesiastes—there is a time for everything!
Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple to “present him to the Lord.” At various times in our lives, we too present ourselves or others. We present our children for Baptism. RCIA sponsors present their candidates for welcome and acceptance and as witnesses of their readiness to receive the sacraments. Parents present their sons and daughters for Marriage. We present persons who are to be recognized and acknowledged for excellence, for achievements, for lifetime contributions.
If we were to present our family, ourselves, our faith community to the Lord this weekend, what would we experience? How would we feel? How would our presentation give witness to the beauty of God working in our lives? What miracles is God working in our lives, no matter what age we are?
She said “Yes!”
We often see pictures of the joyful couple’s public engagement announcement! We rejoice with them and often celebrate the good news of a love story, a journey leading to all sorts of possibilities. Mary also said “Yes”—to God! Every year at this time, I search for images of The Annunciation, and each year I find new meaning, new messages as I study them. Google makes it possible to find hundreds of images, surprisingly inclusive of a variety of cultures and color tones. Mary said “yes” even in the midst of her confusion, fear, wondering, and overwhelming feelings. The messenger’s answer to her queries was steadfast: “…nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary’s foundational faith, her constant prayer, and the values of her parents led her to overcome fear and to become a carrier of Jesus! Can Jesus be at home in our flesh as he was in Mary’s?
L.R. Knost, award-winning author, feminist, and social justice activist is the founder and director of the children’s rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources. Often quoted, one of my recently discovered Knost quotes is:
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.
Mary carried Jesus, the light of the world. We too carry Jesus, every day, every moment. How do we bring light to the world? How are we witnessing to the promise that nothing will be impossible for God? Can Jesus be at home in our flesh as he was in Mary’s?
Turn on the Lights!
“A man named John was sent from God…to testify to the light.” In the darkness of our days these past nine months, we too have been challenged to testify to the light—Jesus! We sing in our hearts during pandemic times, “Ready the Way of the Lord.” Advent candlelight reminds us of faith, love, joy, and hope. Our readings invoke us to tell of the greatness of God’s work in our lives. We are anointed and sent to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to release prisoners.
Like John, we are also sent from God to testify to the light—to speak of how Jesus is calling each of us. Who are the people most in need of compassion to whom we are called to bring God’s love? How are we singing our personal “Magnificat?” As we reflect on the great things God has done for us, do we recognize our blessings, personally and communally? Do we express gratitude? How are we called to bring glad tidings?
Christmas is always about lights. We put them on trees, both indoors and outdoors. We decorate our homes with them. It can be difficult and time-consuming work to string those lights! But this labor of love this year, I think, has even greater significance. We are invited to focus on how each of us brings light to this world we live in! We illuminate, brighten, and enlighten. We can bring clarity to situations and decisions. We can light up the face of someone homebound with a phone call or letter or gift left at the front door. We can lighten the burdens of those who are suffering job loss, food insecurity, eviction notices. We can light candles as we pray unceasingly for our brothers and sisters who have lost loved ones to the covid virus, for those who survived the infection but are living with lingering effects, for the medical professionals and the related workers. We can “leave the light on” for anyone who just needs to talk and to have someone listen!
Jesus is the reason for the season! Jesus is the Light of the World! Jesus is the promise of mercy! Let it be so for each of us and all those we love!
Leading the Way
Have you ever been tasked with being the “advance person” for a new project, a new way of doing things, the rollout of a new policy or procedure? As the advance person, the messenger, you can create a plan and follow it, consistently and intentionally. Or you could just wing it, or go with the flow?
This pandemic time has given us some freedom to explore “alternative ways” of doing things. We don’t go to school the same way, go to work the same way, or even go to church the same way. We are being invited (and in some cases, forced) to think of other ways. We are experiencing the “desert” and “rugged lands.” A lot is uncomfortable, demanding of different attentiveness, requiring patience and persistence. We are an Advent people, living Advent themes, here and now!
We are also examining ourselves. How much do we trust the Shepherd? What kind of “messengers” are we being? What are we doing to ready the way for the coming of Jesus? Be creative!
Think of someone you know who needs encouragement, and ask yourself how you could “give comfort.” Then “speak tenderly” to that person, rousing new hope in his or her heart.
Sit with someone and create a list of Christian virtues that you think would help hasten the coming of Jesus. Then practice at least one of those virtues during the next three weeks before Christmas.
As we engage in being “advance persons” or messengers like John the Baptist, we have many opportunities to “prepare the way,” to live through the desert and rugged land, and to ready the way of Jesus to be central in our lives. We can make a plan or we can wing it. Which will we choose?
Perhaps God, the eternal messenger, is clearing the way for us and making our paths straight. And we can imagine a world where kindness and truth meet, where justice and peace kiss. Consider then, these questions created by Network for a national Zoom discussion I participated in last night:
What do you expect Christmas to look like this year—given all that is going on?
What are your concerns about engaging with family or friends who have different world views?
What is one step you can take to help heal a relationship in the coming year?
Messages of love and comfort for our mutual journeys can be found in the music and lyrics here:
Welcome to Advent
Welcome to Advent! The images in our readings are so relevant to what many of us are experiencing in daily life. These days, we know for certain that we are not in control of what happens. We are indeed clay in the hands of our potter, God! I don’t know about you, but I find myself changing without exerting a great or even conscious effort. Paying attention, slowing down, and being grateful for what I have, bringing to mind all the people I love and miss and long to share hugs with, and just waiting. We are waiting for a vaccine. We are waiting for so many things.
We can wait because we know that God is faithful. We may, however, also subscribe to the maxim I hear often: Pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on you. Paying attention to how God is “molding” us in these pandemic times helps us to recognize the bounteous ways in which we are graced.
Advent is also a time of being God’s faithful love to others—in the love and care for our families, in our workplace, in our volunteer efforts, in our donations to our favorite causes, in our work for justice, in our working together as a community.
This Advent, may we be found watchful, alert, and ready! We sing Tom Booth’s song creation often.
“Find Us Ready”
Find us ready, Lord, not standing still.
Find us working and loving and doing your will.
Find us ready, Lord, faithful in love,
building the kingdom that’s here and above,
building the kingdom of mercy and love.
We must wait for the Lord
for we know not the time.
So here and today
we gather and pray,
discovering love in our midst.
We must make straight the path,
God’s love revealed.
With sin cast aside,
God’s mercy alive,
fear not for here is your God.
Lifting up those bowed down,
we prepare for our God.
Rejoice in the Lord,
for hope has been born
in hearts where our God finds a home.
Optional final ending
Brick by brick, stone by stone,
find us working and loving and doing your will.
Find us ready, Lord, faithful in love,
building the kingdom that’s here and above.
Pope Pius XI saw a world that had pushed Jesus Christ out of view. He established the feast of Christ the King in 1925 to shine light into a world of darkness, the darkness of greed, violence, and selfishness. The feast is officially titled the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
Jesus, then, is king of the universe, of all of creation—a creation that is moving, that is in process until its completion which we call the kingdom of God. Some people name it the kin-dom of God, emphasizing the connectedness, the relationship of all, akin to the sheep and shepherd imagery. We acknowledge this relatedness each weekend when we hear our names, brothers and sisters, in the prayers and the readings of the Mass. Do we need to be reminded that we are all brothers and sisters, no exceptions?
In the Scripture readings for Sunday, we hear about kings and we hear about shepherds. The prophet Ezekiel acknowledges that the most powerful leader is not the self-serving tyrant but the humble servant. The shepherd watches carefully, tends the injured, and knows each and every sheep that belongs to his flock.
How do we know that we belong to the flock? That we are known by God? God knows us by the way we care for the least among us. The least include the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. We recognize these loving, compassionate responses to “the least” as the Corporal Works of Mercy. Who are the least among us today who need our attention, our care, our mercy? How will we respond to God’s invitation to us?
What are five things you do very well? And how do you use these things you do well, your talents, in service to God and for the common good? The parable of the talents suggests that we are to make more of a good thing for the sake of others.
Are we willing to take risks to grow our talents? What kind of risks are we willing to take to ensure our growth and the thriving of our community, our church, our country, our world, and our earth? How are we “children of the light” in the midst of darkness?
Perhaps the “burying of talents” or our hiding of talents today comes from a kind of false humility or lack of belief that we have talents to offer. Often those talents are coaxed out of us by others who name them for us. An example of this is the naming of the characteristics of the Proverbs woman. “She reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.”
Some of the talents needed today are talents for healing, for bringing about unity, for creativity and adaptability in dire circumstances, for accompanying the grieving or those filled with fear, for working to become anti-racist, for leading in climate change, for naming injustice and having the courage to lead for change. Who among us has those talents? Do we seek to learn from them? How do we grow our capacity to grow our talents?
Pope Francis urges us to reflect on our talents:
Have you thought about the talents that God has given you? Have you thought of how you can put them at the service of others? Do not bury your talents! Set your stakes on great ideals, the ideals that enlarge the heart, the ideals of service that make your talents fruitful. Life is not given to us to be jealously guarded for ourselves, but is given to us so that we may give it in turn….Do not be afraid to dream great things!
-Pope Francis, General Audience, St. Peter’s Square, April 24, 2013
We pray that each and every one of us does our part to bring healing, to recognize the beauty of all of God’s creation, and to share in God’s great joy!