We are in the fourth week of Advent already and inches away from Christmas. Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation, and often I find myself too exhausted to think about Christmas. This season is no different.
The physical depletion left me the moment finals week ended. Now, I have entered into the emotional exhaustion.
For months I have thought of themes I wanted to explore. Typically during Advent, there is time to reflect on Mary’s silent ‘yes’ or the depth of Joseph’s character. The events of this year paved the way to reflect on the ever-evolving “ecclesiology of Pope Francis” and his critical example for pastoral ministry. There were opportunities to reflect on the Year of Mercy and how might we push forward with mercy beyond this year. This year, to say the least provided a myriad of possibilities for critical reflection.
With as many opportunities I had to personally reflect, I found myself in mourning for the world. My heart aches each time I read another headline. When I think of it, perhaps reading the headlines is an Advent prayer.
We sit in lonely exile waiting in expectancy for the Rod of Jesse to spring forth again and relieve from our self-destruction. We shout from the depths, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
“Where is God?” We cry out in sorrow as children die in the streets of Aleppo.
“Where is God?” We ask when our water is poisoned in Flint and Standing Rock.
“Where is God?” We ponder as we bury our unarmed black sons from Chicago to Ferguson.
In a soft whisper, we hear God say, “Be still and know that I am God.” If we turn to the cross, we can see a God who suffers with us, understands our pain, and mourns when we mourn.
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Advent reveals to us that in the darkest moments of our earthly existence, Christ, through the Paschal mystery, is the light shown for all. We light the Advent wreath to remind us that the flickering of one small flame can pierce even the most impenetrable darkness.
As we sit in darkness waiting for Immanuel to come again, we can rest at the foot of the cross. There is at the foot of the cross, but there is faith, hope, and love residing there too.
Earlier this year I was doing some work for school, and I noticed my cat playing with something on the floor. I smiled and thought, “how cute!” Then I saw what he was playing with, and a high pitch scream came shooting out of my mouth, and my furry friend ran inside his little cat house into hiding. To my horror, my cat had been playing with a big, black ROACH.Horrified, I left the dead roach on my floor, grabbed the cat and my laptop, and ran into my office. ( As if that thing was going to come back from the dead and have a hostage takeover in my apartment). I messaged my brother and said,” my cat killed a roach, and it’s on my FLOOR in my apartment. What do I?” He replied, “Sammy ( he loves to call me that name), you live in the city! It’s dead. You will be okay.”
After a while, I gathered up enough courage to dispose of the unwelcome guest and cleaned my already clean apartment top to bottom. As I was cleaning, I kept thinking about how dirty and uncomfortable I felt by the sight of one bug. I felt dirty and exhausted, so I went to bed. The next day after work I headed out to buy sealable containers, baits for my cabinets, shelves- anything and everything to seal off and hide food and shoo away any future guests.
As I debugged my life, I discovered a few surprising things. First, because I have a cat, I became more aware of what items I keep in my house. I have absolutely no toxic cleaning chemicals and except the baits, I placed in my cabinets, I used no pesticides. Second, as roaches cling to things like cardboard and paper bags, I decided to reduce my Amazon orders and make a conscious choice to use reusable bags at the store. Third, as roaches also love clutter, I decided, I could simply learn to live with less. As I cleaned, I began to think of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ and how he writes that our throwaway culture contributes to our excess waste perpetuated by greed. This exploitation of our natural resources, as Francis explains, taints the core of society. As we share a common home, our actions impact each other. How we treat the environment correlates to how we treat each other.
As Pope Francis is a Jesuit, he is also familiar with St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual writings. Ignatius writes of detachment.This freedom of detachment is experiencing freedom from anything that hinders us from growing closer to God. The more we become detached from the things of this world, the freer we become. As free people, we become more open and receptive to things of the Spirit. We become joyful, open, loving individuals who respond to all circumstances with the understanding that God is at work in our lives in all circumstances. We begin to see “God in all things.”
In a strange way that roach was a blessing in disguise. It reminded me that I am not bound to this world, but I am responsible for caring for it. In caring for the Earth, I should be mindful of how my purchases impact the environment as well the individual who made the good I use. I also had a reminder thatI could and should live with less.As Ignatian Spirituality teaches us thatnothing is out of the realm of spirituality, each day presents us with an opportunity for spiritual growth-yeseven through roaches.
Our words matter. Sometimes they last longer than we do.
Last week, I visited the Chicago History Museum’s exhibition entitled Lincoln’s Undying Words. As I entered the exhibition, I slowly read the name of the exhibition and the phrase “undying words” stuck with me the entire day.
I uttered those two words to myself over, and over, and over as I viewed the pieces of the exhibition.
The exhibition explores how Lincoln’s views concerning slavery had changed during his presidency and emphasizes on the lasting impact of his most powerful speeches: the Gettysburg Address, his inaugural speeches, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Even if we know nothing of slavery or abolition or even Lincoln, for that matter, we are probably familiar with his words.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” – from the Gettsburg Address
“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”- a passage from Lincoln’s second inaugural speech.
These words have weight, and often people quote people without even knowing who said it first, or the context in which is was spoken. Alas, this the strength of words both spoken and written. In Lincoln’s day, as we all know, words were not so quickly passed as they are now. People had to listen to as they were being spoken in that moment and wait weeks, months, or years to read them in print. Now, we have a multitude of platforms in which to express our every passing thought. What we send into the digital world can get passed on and passed on through every social media network out there.
As both a writer and a person of faith, I am well aware that my what I express to the world bears great importance. Every post I write reflects on me as an individual, the values I carry, and what I profess to believe. As I profess a belief in God and proclaim myself as a disciple of Christ and his teachings, then do the words I utter, scribble or type reflect the actions of Christ? I admit, sometimes I fail to express anything that reflects my discipleship. It would suit me to spent some time in solitude before I sit before I press a single key.
In a world that limits you to 140 characters, words must be carefully selected. One wrong Tweet, post, or status update and your social media network will quickly disengage. When our society relies on #trendingtopics and immediately responses, how do we engage and connect on an intimate level? How do we effectively use social media to bridge the gap from the screen to the heart? How can be digital disciples to the world in which its inhabits seem to have an attention span of a gnat? Can our words be undying? If they are, what message will they leave for the next generation?
What we say matters, so whatever platform or method we chose to communicate, we should remember to use them wisely.
“By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words will be condemned” -Jesus in Matthew 12:37,NABRE
Yesterday was Palm Sunday and I found myself sitting in mass thinking, “how did that happen?” Followed by,” I’m not ready for Holy Week. I was barely ready for Lent.” As far as I’m concerned, we should still be in Advent. This liturgical year is zipping by and I feel like I’m barely holding on to my pants. Every year I set super ambitious goals for both Advent and Lent and once things get going, I feel like I haven’t done much of anything. I’ll be honest, Lent was a struggle. I did Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory and if you are unfamiliar, you can go here.
I was feeling very discouraged by my own downfalls, but then I realized we all struggle with Lent.It’s okay to think, “Wow, I’m really terrible at Lent.” The truth is, we are all kind of bad at Lent and, that’s the point. If we were perfect and amazing at Lent, then we would not need it, and we would not be in need of Jesus either. Lent reveals to us our fears, our failures, our weaknesses, and our struggles. The purpose of Lent is to strengthen us and reveal to us the area of our lives that need fixing. It is a painful process and is difficult to get through because, during this time of relenting (surrender, abstinence, fasting, and prayer), we become vulnerable. By the end, we might feel defeated as if we disappointed God, but we needn’t feel that way. God knows we are not perfect, and so he sends us the Holy Spirit to comfort us and lead us closer in communion with Him.
Lent is a time in the desert. Even Jesus was tempted in the desert.Dwell on that for a moment.
So, if Jesus required much prayer to endure his desert time, don’t you think we need it too? What makes us think we can endure this life alone and without prayer? Friends, do not take this spiritual journey lightly. When we recite the Creed during mass, we acknowledgethe existence of things” visible and invisible.” There is an entire spiritual world out there that we can not see. Therefore, it is necessary to, as Jesus said to disciples the night of his arrest, “to take watch and pray.”
Our goal is Heaven. Every day is another chance at Sainthood, but great Saints are not born, they are made. Great Saints did not become Saints by sitting on their hands. Every great Saint became a Saint by enduring sorrow, struggle, and weakness.Pope Benedict XVI said, “the world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Carry your cross knowing that life will not be easy, especially when you strive for holiness (the Devil does not like us working for God), but know that you are not alone for Jesus carried that cross before you.
I got news last week that my newly wedded friend and her husband are expecting their first child in July of the new year. When I discovered the news,initially, I was surprised. My surprise confirmed the certainty that life does, in fact, move us forward.I have had many friends over the years get married and have babies, but news from this one particular friend stirred a different emotional response.Why this one friend above the rest? Because we knew each other when we were teenagersand when I when I saw the pregnancy announcement, it was as if the last remaining memories from girlhood and adolescence had diminished and suddenly, I was not only confronted with my friend’s motherhood, but my own desire for marriage and motherhood. She will be a mother.
I began to think. When does this desire for family begin?
After pondering a bit, I concluded with a fundamental truth that has shaped my life. We want family around us because we were born with innate desire within us.Anthropologists, socialists, and biologists would say this desire for family stems from a biological instinct of self preservation. We procreate in order to pass on genetic material to future generations resulting in the preservation of our species. Where does this biological instinct of self preservation come from?
That desire has been coded in out DNA long before we came to be. We were built to love because we were made from love.Without love and without desire to love, we would cease to be.
We are all called to family life. In all vocations (marriage, religious life, single life, consecrated single life), we are all called to be family to others. Whether we are married to God and devoted to the church family or whether we are married to a man or woman and devoted to a flourishing, physical family, we are all called to serve one another in love as just as God has done for us.As God loves us and made us for love, he has also put in our hearts the desire to love, nurture, and care for life here on Earth.
Last week, most of us around the world celebrated the Nativity of Jesus. Jesus chose to come down to us in the simplest form andthrough most incredibly beautiful way.Jesus entered the world the way we all do: through the female body- a body that nurtured, cared, and fed him. Jesus was born. He did not magically fall down from the sky. Just as we recite in the Creed, he was begotten not made. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he was knitted in his mother’s womb. Mary obediently agreed to be the Mother of God and with her desire to please God (and for God), she brought forth Jesus.
Brothers and sisters: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary. It is a day we honor her holy motherhood. Through Christ’s conception to birth, death, and resurrection, there Mary remained. She was blessed for generations not only because she said yes to the will of God, but she sat with Jesus through it all. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, Simeon, in the Gospel of Luke, looked at the face of his newborn savior and proclaimed to Mary, “a swordwill pierce your soul too.”
During mass this morning, the priest spoke in his homily of the beauty of God’s way. God loves us so much that he sent his son as one of us. What is so profoundly beautiful as he chose a woman to bring him forth. God created women in such a unique way.They (neuroscientists and psychologists) say thatwomen and men are biologically identical. We might possess similar biological features, but we were not designed to be the same. We are complimentary. For instance, women posses a significantlygreater percentage of estrogen in their body than men. As women have wombs, estrogen and protesteroneis needed to regulate egg production in the ovaries. The increased production of these two hormones significantly impacts how a woman’s brain communicates and processes emotion. We are simply different.
Reflecting on the motherhood of Mary allows us to understand how greatly God loves us.Because of God’s specific design, women are often the nurturers of society. God chose to come to us as a vulnerable infant because he chose to have his son nurtured and loved in a unique way only a woman can.* She nurtured Jesus through her body in gestation and infancy. She fed, clothed, and held Jesus as a boy. She held Jesus in her arms in death and received him in resurrection. Mary is the essences of divine femininity. Because of her pure and holy love of God, she has shown us how profoundly God loves us and how much we can love others. Through Mary, we can understand where this desire to love comes from.
*Men are nurturing and sensitive too. I am speaking about the physical act of bearing children and feeding them from their body. I am also referring to the hormones in a woman’s body that makes her more (typically) emotionally expressive and instinctively responsive (women’s intuition).
Yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Monday night I went to the vigil mass at my parents’ church and the priest said in his homily something I heard before but didn’t contemplate until he said it. He said that many Catholics confuse this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception as the conception of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary , but it really celebrates the conception of Mary in the womb of St.Anne. On the Miraculous Medal it says, “O, Mary conceived without sin, pray for us.” She was born completely without the stain of original sin. Pope Piux IX proclaimed in 1854:
“The Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
Mary’s desire to follow the will of God made her highly favored among women and it was her pure, perfect, and Divine holiness that made her the first tabernacle of Christ. It is her holiness that we celebrate on this feast day.
The readings for the Immaculate Conception are perfect. The first reading comes from Genesis 3: 9-15 telling of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Eden; the second reading comes from Luke 1:26-38 when the angel Gabriel announces that Mary has been chosen to bear the Son of God. In Genesis, when God inquires as to the ongoings of Adam and Eve and it is revealed that they both have disobeyed God’s commandments. Eve confesses that the serpent gave her the fruit and she gives the fruit to her husband. God says (to the serpent) in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Almost every sculpture (particularly those depicting Marian visitations) , she stands on the foot of a serpent indicating that she, being the one who brought forth Christ, has victory over the serpent (which is believed and indicated throughout the scriptures to be Satan). Jesus in his resurrection defeats the sting of death that could not have victory of him. Mary, as the bearer of Christ, shares in the victory.
Now, how is Mary the New Eve? How are these two women connected? Eve comes from the Hebrew word chawwah which means “to breathe.” From Adam’s rib, God made Eve and He breathed breath into her lungs. Chawwah is is closely linked to the word chayah which means “to live.” So as God breathed life into Eve, so did she breathe (or give) life to future generations as, what the Bible calls, the Mother of All.
Mary, like Eve, has become the Mother of All. Before Jesus drew his last breath on the cross, St. John writes that Jesus looked down to his disciple and said, Son, behold your mother” and to his Mother he said, “Woman, behold your son.” From then on, Mary would become the mother to the disciples and to us here on earth.
Both women were born without original sin. Both women were created by the hands of God. Both women bore life. What is the difference between them? Obedience to will of God. Eve disobeyed and Mary did not. St. Irenaeus explains, ” the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.”
What is profound about Mary’s “yes” to God is that it was simple. The news from Gabriel was very startling, but she embraced it as a handmaid (servant) of the Lord. Mary’s consent gave us the Savior of the World and it was the purity of her heart, her humility as a servant, and her profound faith that made her the Mother of All.
Eve sinned and it was her generation that had need of a Messiah. For without Eve’s disobedience, there would be no sin, but without Eve, there would be no need for Jesus. Without Mary’s consent to the will of God, there would be no Jesus.
It’s the second week of advent and edging closer to winter. It’s been a beautiful autumn here in the Northeast, the one season that I have missed the most. Autumn is beautiful in San Francisco mostly because it is the only time in San Francisco when there is consistently warm weather and an abundance of sunshine. Autumn in San Francisco means great concerts, a fantastic outdoor music festival (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass) and plenty of opportunities to laze about on the beach. It’s a warm welcome after a dark, foggy, and chilly summer.
There is something magical that happens once the leaves begin to change. The apples become ripe for the picking and the squash is ready to be harvested. The temperatures begin to drop and there is a recognizable crispness in the air.
Of all the beautiful sights and smells of autumn, the changing of the leaves is my favorite part. Essentially, autumn’s falling leaves is death and hibernation. It is the end of blossoming buds in preparation for winter’s frost. Autumn kindly transitions our body and mind for winter. Imagine what a shock it would be to our system if we did not have autumn. We would be entering into below zero temperatures from 90 degree heat. We have the beauty of autumn to ease us into the harshness that comes from biting chill of winter. This transition from green blossoms to barrenness reminds us not all seasons last forever.
It is fitting that I entered into a transformation of my own during the autumn. I left San Francisco in a bit of hurry due to unexpected turn of events that unraveled rather haphazardly. I found myself leaving San Francisco the way I came, with just a few suitcases in hand. This transition was not an easy one for me. For starters, I was walking away from a parish community that I grew to love and friendships that were just beginning to blossom. I was also an adult moving back into my parents home and it reminded me that even though I left, the world kept spinning. My nephews and niece have grown up to become their own people and my parents are a bit older than they were before. Life kept moving forward without me.
One day this fall, I sat outside on the porch with my morning coffee and looked out at the trees behind my parents’ house. I said a silent prayer asking God what I was supposed to do while I waited for my new life. Then I remembered something Fr. Mike Schmitz* said on one of his videos for Ascension Presents, ” What is the task you need to be doing today?” I sat for a moment and pondered what I might do for God today as opposed to just sitting outside waiting for winter. What can I do now? That day, all I did were simple tasks like making sure my Grandma didn’t get lost while taking a walk (she has dementia), taking the dog out, praying, looking up scholarships for graduate school, and helping my mom set up her wi-fi. Whatever task we have at this moment whether it be helping at home, studying, paying the bills, loving our spouse- that is what we are called to do.
Fr. Mike speaks in another video about discernment. In this video he talks of the Annunciation of the Birth of Christ to Mary by the angel Gabriel in Luke One ( very seasonally appropriate) and how, once the angel revealed to Mary that she will become the Mother of God, she said, once she asked clarifying questions, “let it be unto me according to the scriptures” and then the angel was gone! See, Mary understood what God was calling her to do because being a Jewish girl, faithful to her God, she was familiar with the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah that would predict the birth of Christ.
Fr. Mike explains that, like with Mary, God is with us. Our certainty is not that God will spell out every step of our lives at every moment. No, our certainty is that we can trust Him and know that He is with us. He gives us autumns in our lives, so that we may be prepared for winter.
While I pondered in silent prayer why God had me in this strange life transition, it was revealed to me that I may not be where I want to be, but I am exactly where I need to be. This autumnal time in life has been a period of prayer, contemplation, and preparation. As I will be studying theology in the Winter, these past few months have given me time to dive deeper into my faith now, so I will have a solid foundation for my studies later. This is how God works. Use this time in your life NOW to prepare yourself for what God wants you to do in the future.
* Fr. Mike Schmitz is the chaplain at Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at UMD (University of Minnesota Duluth) and also serves Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth. You can find some of his homilies at http://bulldogcatholic.org/homilies-archive/ and the videos he created for Ascension Presents can be found on the Ascension Presents station on You Tube. There’s a lot of great material on Ascension Presents and I encourage you all to check it out!