Advent is here, the beginning of… everything! This year, the words seem particularly poignant and relevant this year: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” We have all been through a year of terrible darkness, but just in time, Advent is here to give us hope. How can you best mark the season?
If you’ve never before kept an Advent wreath in your home, now is a good time to start. The act of lighting the candles will lift your mind and your spirit. The light is coming!
Join the Daughters of St. Paul choir for its annual Christmas concert—available virtually online for you to share with your family and friends.
Give and give… choose a different charity every week and make a donation. It will enable you to reach out even in these days when we cannot be together physically.
As we prepare to welcome Christ into the world, let’s take some time to be mindful and prayerful about our preparations. They will remind us of a life beyond the pandemic… and a life in the world to come!
Here in the United States it’s the week of our Thanksgiving celebration, a celebration that will feel very different from other years. But it does remind us to be grateful every day, not just on that one Thursday in the fall. In fact, in scripture, God commands his people to give thanks in all circumstances. Gratitude should be a way of life for Christians.
Bring it back to the basics. The challenge of the Christian life is to know who we are and to whom we belong.As daughters and sons of God, through grace, we possess all we need to nurture gratitude in our lives. Start every day with an Or Father, even before you get out of bed, to remind yourself.
Make a list. In our world, many suffer from an inability to be grateful: homelessness, malnutrition, lack of basic healthcare, racism, fear of deportation, loss of affection, broken relationships… The list is long. But for the grace of God, any one of us could find ourselves in a seemingly hopeless situation. That’s worth saying thank-you for.
Materialism fuels our ingratitude. Our culture and greed often lead us into a vicious circle of materialism: The more we get, the more we want. Materialism leads to the “give me” mindset in which “stuff” fills the void of our hearts. It is important to focus on the non-material world where we share our thanks with words of affirmation, kind deeds, and prayers of thanksgiving.
Even in the waning days of what has been a very hard year, we can find reason to celebrate. We can find moments of joy. We can find things to be thankful for. And we can keep doing it—through the approaching holy season of Advent, the miracle of Christmas, and a new year that, we hope and pray, will be better than the last. In so many, many ways, God is joy. And spreading that joy has to be our fundamental response to him.
We’ve all been through a lot this year. Without enumerating all the fears, all the grief, all the pain, we can probably agree that it’s been difficult. But here we are now, on the cusp of a new liturgical year that begins with Advent and the anticipation of Our Lord’s birth, so perhaps it’s time to dust off our sense of hope and wonder and look ahead. But… how?
Ask God for courage every day. We often awaken and fear is the first emotion that floods our minds and hearts. Resist fear by immediately saying an Our Father and asking God for courage in facing the day. Do it long enough and it will become a habit… that makes waking up easier!
Remember your Good Samaritans. Rewind the film of your life in the spirit of prayer and awareness and you will notice the many times that God placed in your path some Good Samaritan who helped you in your need. This will keep your thoughts focused on gratitude, not worry, and hope for more of them.
And finally, dream of a world still not seen, but will certainly come one day. Think of those who sailed oceans, scaled mountains, conquered slavery or made life better for people on earth. It will give you courage to work toward that which is good, holy, and hopeful!
“Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. The Holy Spirit…He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” (CCC #1817)
Impatience is built into our culture. We eat fast food, use the self-checkout lines in grocery stores, pay extra for overnight shipping, hit the horn when the light turns green. This impatience takes its toll on our spiritual lives, and we all long to somehow become more patient. But how?
Ask yourself the right questions: is this thing making me impatient really important? What’s behind my sense of rush and urgency? Sometimes just checking your feelings against reality is helpful.
Remind yourself that God is in control, even when we feel out of it. Perhaps especially when we feel out of it! God sees the whole picture, while we only see a tiny bit of it. We’re not the ones running the world, and we’re only hurting ourselves when we try to.
Live in the present moment. Stuck in traffic? Instead of thinking ahead to being late for an appointment, ask yourself what God wants you to be doing with this time right now. Is there something to learn? A prayer to say? An idea to have?
The poet W.H. Auden wrote, “Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.” Finding patience in our everyday lives is an everyday grace. And you can do it!
It’s easy to long for those childhood moments when we could turn to our mothers for comfort and strength, no matter what challenge we might be facing.
The good news is that we still can. Our Lady is with us even as we move through this particularly difficult time here in the United States, where next week’s election will determine the course the country will take, while at the same time we experience so much death and devastation as the coronavirus continues to spread through our communities.
Throughout Church history, popes have formally consecrated the world and nations to the Blessed Mother during other times of great distress.
This spring, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome to pray before the icon of Mary, Salvation/Health of the Roman People housed in the Pauline Chapel of the Basilica. Following the pope’s example, numerous leaders around the world have entrusted their nations to Our Lady, including the United States, whose bishops reconsecrated the country to her on May 1.
The witness of the pope and Church leaders is clear: Mary is both the Mother of the Church and the Mother of all people. Even people with whom we disagree.
Fr. Greg Cleveland’s new book,Beholding Beauty: Mary in the Song of Songs, arrives just in time to assure us of the great love God shows us through the Mother he’s given to us all—Our Lady. She is clearly the Mother we can turn to with our fears and pain. At the same time, as divisions strike at the heart of our nation, she offers us a gracious example of how to live with others, even in times of crisis. Fr. Cleveland writes,
The favor of God often takes the form of mercy in our relations with others. We are called to imitate our Father, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45). We have many opportunities to offer forgiveness “seventy times seven” to those we love, as well as to those we might consider enemies. We experience something of God’s unconditional love toward us when we love others despite their faults and the ways they have hurt us. As we consider our own sinfulness and how the Lord has forgiven us so much, we find ourselves in solidarity with our neighbors who are sinners. Since Mary was without sin, she must have been extra sensitive to sin in others and to the hurt it caused. Yet she must have also been more compassionate in her response to sinners. As full of grace, she no doubt allowed God’s forgiveness to flow upon others, even the many who must have judged her for being pregnant before she lived with Joseph. Mary refused to go down the path of judging others in return, most likely returning a blessing instead (see 1 Pet 3:9).
In a 15th-century prayer called the Lament of Mary, Mary’s invitation to “come weep with me” gives us permission to collectively grieve and turn to her in our time of need. Her enduring love and presence are an invitation to pray for those suffering from the virus, for those who are most vulnerable, especially our elderly community, for all essential workers risking everything for others, for those who have lost livelihoods and homes and food security. The history of most shrines throughout the world gives testimony to Mary’s special love for the insignificant ones, and even as we reconsecrate ourselves to her, we must share in her concerns.
Everyone knows the deep love St. John Paul II had for Mary. “In this grave hour, which gives rise to trepidation,” he writes, “we cannot do other than turn our mind with filial devotion to the Virgin Mary, who always lives and acts as a Mother in the mystery of Christ, and repeat the words Totus tuus (all thine).”
It’s the time of year when we all feel a little exhausted. Advent hasn’t yet started, the beginnings of fall are over and many of us are settling in to colder weather, more biting winds, and no resolution to any of the problems we’re facing. Next weekend we mark All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day, our annual remembrances of those who have gone before us. And it can all feel just a little bleak. How can we respond?
By staying grounded in the Word of God. Use a daily missal to hear a message every day, and remember there is nothing new under the sun: God’s people have been through every possible disaster, and have persevered. We can, too!
By looking for joy. There are more occasions to find joy in small moments than we realize. God sends unexpected gifts to us all the time: the smile on the face of a child, a tree’s leaves turned scarlet, sun breaking through the clouds. Be on the lookout for joy.
By praying always. The moment you start feeling discouraged, make it into a prayer, a moment to share with Our Lord. Develop a habit of turning your thoughts to Jesus—he will always share your burdens.
Be of good cheer: Advent is on its way, and with it the end of walking in darkness. The Lord is on the way!
With over 216,000 deaths in the United States alone over the past eight months, there are few of us who haven’t experienced the loss of someone we care about. That loss is exacerbated by the covonavirus itself, which has meant that memorial services have become virtual Zoom events and family cannot gather to mourn the way we’re used to.
So how do you cope when someone you love dies?
Take care of yourself. This can be a dangerous time for you; many people experience a temporary “cognitive slippage” and none of us pays enough attention to eating, sleeping, driving, crossing streets.
Keep God with you. Keeping rosary beads in your pocket can be helpful. That immediate, physical touchstone recalls your mind and heart to God even when your feelings of grief and loss are overwhelming.
Celebrate life. Plant a flower, adopt a pet, volunteer some time, make a donation. In other words, do something positive. Death feels negative; it’s up to us to turn it around.
We may have faith that those who have passed have been welcomed into the Kingdom of God, but that doesn’t take away the pain of losing them. What they would want is for their friends and relatives to remain healthy. So this is one thing you can still do for them.
I love autumn. The colors, the flavors, the crisp air—everything about it makes me want to go outside for a brisk walk and then curl up in an armchair with a hot cup of coffee, a fleece blanket, and a good book. Some books are best enjoyed this way.
Fratelli Tutti is not one of them.
Fratelli Tutti is an encyclical to be read in a straight-backed chair with both feet planted firmly on the ground, so you can spring into action whenever the text summons you to step beyond yourself and encounter Christ in someone else—which happens just about every paragraph.
What is Fratelli Tutti? The title of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical is not a topic, but a statement of truth and an appeal to live this truth. The phrase “Fratelli Tutti,” or “Brothers and sisters all,” is who we are: siblings who have been reconciled with God in Christ. It is also a summons to become who we are by realizing Jesus’ prayer that we “may all be one,” just as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:21). This is a sublime and beautiful prayer—and, remarkably, God is looking to us to answer it. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis sheds light on the many places, faces, and situations where God is waiting for our answer, and reminds us that he waits with greatest longing in the very people we are least inclined to talk to, associate with, welcome, trust, or forgive.
Fratelli Tutti will challenge you. There is nothing easy about making a daily effort to “transcend ourselves through an encounter with others” (111) or to pursue reconciliation not by avoiding conflict, but “in conflict … dialogue, and open, honest and patient negotiation” (244). It takes discipline to assume an “alternative way of thinking” (127) about the world and our place in it, which is nothing short of Saint Paul’s plea to “put on the mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5). But if we choose to walk this path with God, he promises to “turn our life into a wonderful adventure” (8) of dying and rising with Jesus, one moment at a time, to a new and fuller way of living.
How can we begin this adventure? By reading Fratelli Tutti and letting it bother us. I invite you to ask the Holy Spirit to read this letter with you, and pay attention to where, when, and how the Spirit stirs your mind and heart as you read. What is your dream for unity—in the world, in your family, in yourself, and between you and God? Which of the Gospel challenges outlined in Fratelli Tutti make you uncomfortable or resistant? What faces and relationships come to mind as the Holy Father speaks of fraternity, reconciliation, conflict, forgiveness, and dialogue? Who walks into the room while you are reading, and how do you sense the Spirit inviting you to see him or her differently?
This is not a year to be wasted. As tragic and weird and frustrating and [add-your-own-adjective-here] as the year 2020 has been, it is first and foremost an “acceptable time” (2 Cor 6:2) and a new reality to claim for Christ. We must not renounce our Christian vocation by putting our feet up and biding our time until things return to “the way they were,” but rather use the unique circumstances of this year to forge a new culture of encounter, beginning with those closest to us. Fratelli Tutti can help us toward this goal.
Let us approach this letter as an urgent yet hope-filled examination of conscience on how we relate to others and how we can do better. Every step we take today under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, no matter how small, can prepare us for the day when we will finally be able to peel the masks from our faces (and from our hearts) and look at each other: God willing, with more honesty, authenticity, humanity, and love than ever before.
In the words of our Holy Father, “Let us dream … as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all” (8). And “may God inspire [this] dream in each one of us” (287).
This has been a year completely unlike any other year, hasn’t it? And it’s easy to react by feeling mentally, emotionally, and especially spiritually unmoored. Many of us have faced long months without being able to attend Mass or receive the sacraments. We have experienced doubt, loss, grief, and pain. And yet there is a light, shining brighter and coming closer, if only we can have the eyes to see it.
Our Church very wisely starts the liturgical year with Advent, the expectation of the coming of Our Lord, the beginning of new things: nothing less, in fact, than the salvation of humanity. And perhaps that’s the way to see Advent in this very difficult year: as a reset of sorts, a recommitment to our faith in Christ. If what we’ve experienced so far is about coming unmoored, then Advent and Christmas are here to moor us again. To help us reconnect, in the midst of confusion, with that which is never confused.
How can we do that?
We can, because we believe God is faithful. In this difficult year, despite all the signs to the contrary, we believe there is a point, and meaning, and purpose to our existence. We believe that despite the horrendous mess humanity manages to make, of the world and of itself, God loves and forgives—and even provides us the means to repair the chaos we have made.
God loves us so much he’s willing to offer us a way out of our selfishness, our violence, our lack of charity. That way out begins in a stable in a small insignificant town, on a night unlike any other night, a night of angelic ecstasy and unexpected visitors, a night when the stars dance with the One Star over the birthplace and the world for one holy moment catches its breath.
In response, we must rejoice. We are called to rejoice. To lift our exhausted gazes from the trauma of this year and breathe in the love of God.
I’m hearing from so many people that Christmas won’t be the same this time around; some even feel there’s no use in celebrating. And it’s true: this will be a different Christmas than others we’ve experienced. We cannot be with our beloved friends and relatives. We even have to order gifts early, as the post office is struggling. For many of us, this is our first Christmas after losing someone we love. That is all true.
But what a narrow view that reality gives us of Christmas, the Mass of Christ, the acknowledgment that centuries of waiting came miraculously together on that starlit night in that poor borrowed space! Emmanuel is here, God-among-us, to tell the real truth of this year: that despite sickness and unemployment, wildfires and hurricanes, even death and grief, God is here with us. He is beside us at the Zoom memorial service. He is beside us as we shutter a shop for the last time. He is beside us no matter what this year has brought; even on the worst days of our lives, he is with us.
We know that he is with us because of what started with an angel’s voice telling a young woman to rejoice. We know that he is with us because of her difficult journey to that nondescript town and the birth—surrounded by tired working animals and rough exhausted shepherds—that preceded the rest of our story of salvation.
Most of the Hebrew prophets brought God’s word to the people; Habakkuk, on the other hand, brought the people’s laments to God. He spoke of injustice, of misery, of evil, of tragedy; and yet his conclusion is clear: “yet,” he says, “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”
What he only knew was coming, we have experienced: Emmanuel, God-among-us. Through Emmanuel, we have become children of God. Through Emmanuel, we shall be part of the kingdom. Through Emmanuel, life has conquered death.
This is the start. The start of the new year. The start of the story that ends, not on the cross, but with Christ triumphant. That birth, that death, that resurrection are all for us, because God loved us so much he gave us something better than health, or riches, or careers, or even family: he gave us eternal life.
There is nothing greater than that gift, and to say it’s barely worth celebrating because we are hurt and confused and lonely is to deny it. We are called to rejoice. No matter what our circumstances, we are called to rejoice. No matter what our challenges, we are called to rejoice. To let the magic of that star-drenched night seep into our skin and our hearts and our souls. To prepare for it with hope and light and awe.
We’re all in bad-news overload these days, it seems. Natural disasters, political frays, grief and sadness… it’s a constant assault on our minds and hearts, and with so much bad news coming at us, it’s easy to feel small, insignificant, and ineffectual.
But we’re assured that God loves us, that he has carved us into the palm of his hand. We are important in God’s eyes, and knowing that can empower us to take action:
Pray about it. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. God has arranged his world so we can make choices, and we can often discern his will when we open ourselves to it. Remember the words of Padre Pio: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry changes nothing. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
Do something locally. The world is a vast place, and changing it is a tall order. But you can make a difference locally. Support a local political candidate of your choice. Volunteer at a local shelter. Encourage your community to reuse and recycle. Support your local parish. This is the level at which you can effectuate change.
Educate yourself. If you accept everything you hear, then there’s reason to be discouraged. But choose something that bothers you, or excites you, and learn all about it. Explore it from different viewpoints. Expand your horizons. The world still might not make sense, but you’ll have gotten a little control over at least your understanding of it.
We live in difficult and confusing times. So did Christ; so did many of the saints of the Church. For some reason, God has called you to live in these times. Meet that challenge thoughtfully and prayerfully, and you can make a difference.