There is a poetic meditation of an early twentieth-century Greek novelist named Nikos Kazantzakis that I keep on my nightstand when Advent comes around every year.
He pictures Christ as a teenager, watching the people of Israel from a distant hilltop, not yet ready to begin his ministry but acutely, painfully sensitive to the longing and suffering of His people.
The God of Israel is there among them—but they don’t know it yet.
I was reading this to my students the other day, as I do every year at the start of Advent, and one of them said to me after class: “I’ll bet that’s how Jesus feels now too.”
I asked him what he meant. He said: “You know, Jesus, sitting there in the tabernacle, and us just walking past like He isn’t even there.” Ever since, I’ve had this new image in my Advent prayers of Jesus, waiting in the Tabernacle, looking out over His people—hearing our groans, our pleas, and our cries.
Somehow, this is the way God chooses to come to us. The birth of the Messiah is THE KEY EVENT IN ALL HUMAN HISTORY, and yet, God wanted it to take place ‘so quietly that the world went about its business as if nothing had happened.’ A few shepherds noticed, and so did the magi (and we could even mention Herod, who noticed for all the wrong reasons!). Then, apparently, the whole thing was forgotten. For a time.
Somehow…there must be something in the waiting that is good for us. God chooses to wait for us. He chooses to make us wait for Him. And when you think about it in this light, the whole history of salvation becomes a history of waiting.
So, you see, there’s this simultaneous sense of urgency—that we need to answer God’s call and that we need Him to answer our call, and soon. “Answer me, Lord, when I call to you,” the psalmist says. There’s something so brazen about this verse that it’s charming.
There’s an urgency in the Psalms. But there is also this sense that we must learn to be patient and wait—wait in joyful hope—and find God’s answer in the waiting.
Father Augustine Wetta O.S.B is a Benedictine monk who serves as chaplain to the Saint Louis Priory School. He is the author of “The Eighth Arrow” and “Humility Rules.” Father Augustine lives in Saint Louis Abbey at Saint Louis, Missouri.
Q: My Protestant friends say that Catholics believe we need to earn our salvation. They say that salvation is by faith alone and that we can’t add to anything that Jesus already did for us on the Cross. But don’t we have to do good works to make it to Heaven? A: This is a pretty big misunderstanding for both Protestants and Catholics. It may seem to be theological minutiae, but it actually has a huge consequence in our spiritual life. The truth is this: We are saved by living faith—our belief in Jesus Christ that is lived out in our words and actions. We must be clear—we do not need to earn our salvation, as if salvation was a prize if we reach a certain level of good deeds. Consider this: who was the first one to be saved? According to Jesus, it was the Good Thief. While he was being rightly crucified for his evil deeds, he cried out to Jesus for mercy, and the Lord promised him: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) So, salvation consists in that radical faith, trust, and surrender to what Jesus did on the Cross to purchase mercy. Why is this important? Because many Catholics think that all we have to do to be saved is ‘be a good person’—even if the person doesn’t actually have a living relationship with the Lord. I can’t begin to tell you how many people tell me something like: “Oh, my uncle never went to Mass or prayed, but he was a nice man who did many good things in his life, so I know he’s in Heaven.” While we certainly hope that the uncle is saved by God’s mercy, it isn’t our kindness or good works that save us, but the saving death of Jesus on the Cross. What would happen if a criminal was put on trial for a crime, but he said to the judge, “Your Honor, I did commit the crime, but look at all the other good things I did in my life!” Would the judge let him off? No—he would still have to pay for the crime he committed. Likewise, our sins had a cost—and Jesus Christ had to pay for them. This payment of the debt of sin is applied to our souls through faith. But, faith is not just an intellectual exercise. It must be lived out. As Saint James writes: “Faith without works is dead” (2:24). It’s not enough just to say: “Well, I believe in Jesus, so I can now sin as much as I want.” On the contrary, precisely because we have been forgiven and become heirs to the Kingdom, we must then act like Kingdom-heirs, like sons and daughters of the King. This is very different than trying to earn our salvation. We don’t do good works because we hope to be forgiven—we do good works because we are already forgiven. Our good deeds are a sign that His forgiveness is alive and active in our lives. After all, Jesus tells us: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) If a husband loves his wife, he will seek concrete ways to bless her—giving her flowers, doing the dishes, writing her a love note. He would never say: “Well, we’re married, and she knows I love her, so I can now do whatever I want.” Likewise, a soul that has known the merciful love of Jesus will naturally want to please Him. So, to answer your question, Catholics and Protestants are actually much closer on this issue than they know! We both believe that we are saved by faith—by a living faith, which is expressed in a life of good works as a sign of thanksgiving for the lavish, free gift of salvation that Christ won for us on the Cross.
By: Father Joseph GillMore
As a teenager, I did what every teen tries to do—I tried to fit in. I had this feeling, though, that I was unlike my peers. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was my faith that made me different. I resented my parents for giving me this thing that made me stand out. I became rebellious and started to go to parties, discos, and nightclubs. I didn't want to pray anymore. I just wanted the whole excitement of putting on makeup, dressing up, daydreaming about who's going to be at the parties, dancing all night long, and most of all, just ‘fitting in there.’ But, coming home at night, sitting on my bed all by myself, I felt empty inside. I hated who I'd become; it was a total paradox where I didn't like who I was, and yet I didn't know how to change and become myself. On one of those nights, crying by myself, I remembered the simple happiness that I had as a child when I knew that God and my family loved me. Back then, that was all that mattered. So, for the first time in a long time, I prayed. I cried to Him and asked Him to bring me back to that happiness. I kind of gave Him an ultimatum that if He did not reveal Himself to me in that next year, I would never return to Him. It was a very dangerous prayer but, at the same time, a very powerful one. I said the prayer and then totally forgot about it. A few months later, I was introduced to the Holy Family Mission, a residential community where you come to learn your faith and know God. There was daily prayer, Sacramental life, frequent Confession, daily Rosary, and observation of the Holy Hour. I remember thinking, “That is way too much prayer for a single day!” At that point, I could hardly even give five minutes of my day to God. Somehow, I ended up applying for the Mission. Every single day, I would sit in prayer in front of the Eucharistic Lord and ask Him who I was and what the purpose of my life was. Slowly but surely, the Lord revealed Himself to me through the Scriptures and from spending time in silence with Him. I gradually received healing from my inner wounds and grew in prayer and relationship with the Lord. From the rebellious teenage girl who felt totally lost, to the joyous daughter of God, I underwent quite the transformation. Yes, God wants us to know Him. He reveals Himself to us because He faithfully answers every single prayer that we raise to Him.
By: Patricia MoitieMore
Caught in a spiral of drugs and sex work, I was losing myself, until this happened. It was night. I was in the brothel, dressed ready for “work.” There was a gentle knock at the door, not the big bang by the police, but a truly gentle tap. The brothel lady—the Madame—opened the door, and my mother walked in. I felt ashamed. I was dressed for this “work” that I had been doing for months now, and there in the room was my mom! She just sat there and told me: “Sweetheart, please come home.” She showed me love. She didn't judge me. She just asked me to come back. I was overwhelmed by grace at that moment. I should have gone home then, but the drugs would not let me. I sincerely felt ashamed. She wrote her phone number down on a piece of paper, slid it across, and told me: “I love you. You can call me anytime, and I'll come.” The next morning, I told a friend of mine that I wanted to get off heroin. I was scared. At 24, I was tired of life, and it felt like I'd lived enough to be done with life. . My friend knew a doctor who treated drug addicts, and I got an appointment in three days. I called my mom, told her I was going to the doctor, and that I wanted to get off heroin. She was crying on the phone. She jumped in the car and came straight to me. She'd been waiting… How it all began Our family shifted to Brisbane when my father got a job at Expo 88. I was 12. I was enrolled at an elite private girls’ school, but I just didn’t fit in. I dreamed of going to Hollywood and making movies, so I needed to attend a school that specializes in Film and TV. I found a school renowned for Film and TV, and my parents easily gave in to my request to change schools. What I didn't tell them was that the school was also in the newspapers because they were infamous for gangs and drugs. The school gave me so many creative friends, and I excelled in school. I topped a lot of my classes and won awards for Film, TV, and Drama. I had the grades to get to University. Two weeks before the end of grade 12, someone offered me marijuana. I said yes. At the end of school, we all went away, and again I tried other drugs... From the kid who was laser-focused on finishing school, I went on a downward spiral. I still got into University, but in the second year, I ended up in a relationship with a guy who was a heroin addict. I remember all of my friends at the time telling me: “You're going to end up a junkie, a heroin addict.” I, on the other hand, thought I was going to be his savior. But all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll ended up getting me pregnant. We went to the doctor, my partner still high on heroin. The doctor looked at us and immediately advised me to get a termination—she must have felt that with us, this child had no hope. Three days later, I had an abortion. I felt guilty, ashamed, and alone. I would watch my partner take heroin, get numb, and be unaffected. I begged him for some heroin, but he was all: “I love you, I'm not giving you heroin.” One day, he needed money, and I managed to bargain some heroin in return. It was a tiny bit, and it made me sick, but it also made me feel nothing. I kept on using, the dose getting higher and higher each time. I eventually dropped out of University and became a frequent user. I had no idea how I was going to pay for almost a hundred dollars’ worth of heroin I was using on a daily basis. We started growing marijuana in the house; we would sell it and use the money to buy even more drugs. We sold everything we owned, got kicked out of my apartment, and then, slowly, I started stealing from my family and friends. I didn't even feel ashamed. Soon, I started stealing from work. I thought they didn’t know, but I eventually got kicked out of there too. Finally, the only thing that I had left was my body. That first night I had sex with strangers, I wanted to scrub myself clean. But I couldn't! You can't scrub yourself clean to the inside out...But that didn’t stop me from going back. From making $300 a night and spending all of it on heroin for my partner and me, I went to make a thousand dollars a night; every cent I made went into buying more drugs. It was in the middle of this downward spiral that my mother walked in and saved me with her love and mercy. But that wasn’t enough. A Hole in My Soul The doctor asked me about my drug history. As I went over the long story, my mum kept on crying—she was shocked by the fullness of my story. The doctor told me that I needed rehab. I asked: “Don't drug addicts go to rehab?” He was surprised: “You don't think you are one?” Then, he looked me in the eye and said: “I don't think drugs are your problem. Your problem is, you have a hole in your soul that only Jesus can fill.” I purposefully chose a rehab that I was sure to be non-Christian. I was sick, starting to slowly detox when, one day after dinner, they called us all out for a prayer meeting. I was angry, so I sat in the corner and tried to block them out—their music, their singing, and their Jesus everything. On Sunday, they took us to church. I stood outside and smoked cigarettes. I was angry, hurt, and lonely. Begin Anew On the sixth Sunday, August 15, it was pouring rain—a conspiracy from Heaven, in hindsight. I had no choice but to go inside the building. I stayed at the back, thinking that God couldn't see me there. I had started to become aware that some of my life choices would be considered sins, so there I sat, at the back. At the end however, the priest said: “Is there anyone in here who would like to give their heart to Jesus today?” I remember standing in front and listening to the priest say: “Do you want to give your heart to Jesus? He can give you forgiveness for your past, a brand new life today, and hope for your future.” By that stage, I was clean, off heroin for almost six weeks. But what I didn't realize was that there was much difference between being clean and being free. I repeated the Salvation prayer with the priest, a prayer I didn’t even understand, but there, I gave my heart to Jesus. That day, I began a transformation journey. I got to begin anew, receive the fullness of the love, grace, and goodness of a God who had known me my whole life and saved me from myself. The way forward was not one without mistakes. I got into a relationship in rehab, and I got pregnant again. But instead of thinking of it as a punishment for a bad choice that I had made, we decided to settle down. My partner said to me: “Let's get married and do our best to do it His way now.” Grace was born a year later, through her, I have experienced so much grace. I've always had the passion to tell stories; God gave me a story that has helped to transform lives. He has since used me in so many ways to share my story—in words, in writing, and in giving my all to work for and with the women who are stuck in a similar life that I used to lead. Today, I am a woman changed by grace. I was met by the love of Heaven, and now I want to live life in a way that allows me to partner with the purposes of Heaven.
By: Bronwen HealyMore
You may or may not be a good dancer, but you are still called to sway in this dance of life It was a beautiful morning; the sun was shining brightly, and I could feel its warmth seeping into my exhausted bones. By contrast, mentally, I was in great spirits, enjoying the beautiful Perth scenery as I strolled along the foreshore at Matilda Bay. I paused on the riverbank to allow the natural beauty to fill my senses. The melody of waves breaking on the shore, the cool breeze gently ruffling through my hair as it danced through the trees, the subtle scent of salt and bushland, the delicate mosaic of tiny white shells adorning the sand…I felt rather overwhelmed by the experience. An image of ballroom dancing flashed through my head. In my mind’s eye, I pictured God dancing with me... Syncing in When you begin ballroom dancing, there is a phase where your whole attention is focused on trying to remain in sync with your partner and avoid mistakes. You are consumed with fear of stumbling over the other person's feet or moving the wrong foot in the wrong direction. Consequently, this self-conscious effort to control your movements makes your body stiff and rigid, making it difficult for your partner to lead you in the steps of the dance. But if you loosen up, flow with the music, and let your partner be the guide, he will lead you in a beautiful, enchanting, rhythmic dance. If you allow this to happen, you will speedily learn to dance as beautifully as your partner, feeling your feet moving gracefully across the floor as you enjoy the rhythm of the dance. Hold My Hands Reflecting on that image, I felt as if God was saying: “You and I are partners in this dance of life, but we cannot dance well together if you don’t allow Me to lead you. I am the expert, guiding you to excel if you follow Me, but I cannot if you insist on keeping control. On the contrary, if you surrender yourself and allow Me to lead you in this dance, I will keep you safe, and we will dance beautifully. Do not be afraid to stumble on My feet because I know how to guide you. So, entrust yourself to My embrace and join Me in this dance together. Wherever the music takes us, I will show you the way.” As I pondered these thoughts, I felt a deep sense of gratitude to God, for always being present in my life, leading me in this dance. He knows my every thought and desire and never fails to bring them to fruition in ways I do not expect (Psalm 139). God accompanies each of us in this dance of life, always ready to take us in His arms and guide us expertly. Some of us are beginners, still taking baby steps, while others are advanced enough to assist the rest, but none of us are so advanced that we could ever afford to step away from the lead dancer. More Happier, Less Anxious Even Our Lady, God's perfect dancing partner, knows that her expertise in the dance comes from following His every move with perfect grace. From an early age, Mary accepted His loving embrace, following His lead perfectly in even the smallest things. Her ear was attentive to the rhythm of Heavenly music so that she never took a false step. Mary was perfectly at one with God in mind and heart. Her will was so in tune with God that she could utter: “Be it done to me according to Your will” (Luke 1:38). What God wants is also what Mary wants. If we let go of our desire to serve ourselves first and, like Mary, lose ourselves in the Lord’s embrace, our lives will be freer, happier, more meaningful, and less anxious, stressful, and depressing.
By: Father Peter Hung TranMore
I was going through my old prayer journal, wherein I had written prayer requests. To my amazement, every single one of them was answered! Anyone taking a cursory look at the news these days may find themselves despairing, wondering where God is, and needing hope. I know I have found myself in this position on certain days. We feel out of control, and we wonder what we can do about all of the horrible things we see. I want to share with you a story. A few years ago, I started keeping a journal of prayer requests of the people and things I was praying for. I often prayed a Rosary for these things, as I still do today for prayer petitions. One day, I came across an old journal of my written prayer requests. I began to peruse the pages of what I had written long ago. I was astounded. Each prayer had been answered—maybe not always in ways I thought they would be answered, but they were answered. These were no small prayers. “Dear Lord, please help my aunt stop drinking alcohol. Dear Lord, please help my infertile friend have children. Dear Lord, please heal my friend from cancer.” As I scrolled down the page, I realized that every single prayer had been answered. Many in a bigger and better way than I imagined. There were a couple that, at first glance, I thought had not been answered. One friend who needed healing from cancer had passed away, but then I remembered that she had confession and anointing of the sick before she died. She died peacefully in the mercy of God, surrounded by His healing grace. But other than that, the majority of the prayers were answered here in this world. Many prayer requests had seemed like impossible mountains, but they had been moved. God’s grace takes our prayers and our perseverance in prayer, and He moves all things toward good. In the quiet of my prayer, I heard a whisper: “I have been working all these things throughout time. I have been writing these stories. Trust me.” I believe we are in perilous times. But I also believe that we are made for these times. You may say to me: “Your personal prayer requests being answered seems great, but nations are at war.” And my response to that is, again, nothing is impossible with God, not even stopping war by using our prayers. I remember it happening in the past. We should believe that God can act that big right now. For those not old enough to remember, there was a scary time when it looked like a blood bath was coming. But through the power of the Rosary, things changed. I was in 8th grade, and I remember hearing about all the turmoil in the Philippines. Ferdinand Marcos was the dictator of that country at the time. It was shaping up to become a bloody battle with a few people already dead. A staunch critic of Marcos, Benigno Aquino, was assassinated. But it didn’t become a bloody battle. Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila had asked people to pray. They went out in front of the military, praying the Rosary aloud. They stood in front of tanks praying. And then, a miraculous thing happened. The military laid down their weapons. Even the secular media, the Chicago Tribune, reported how “Guns fell to Rosaries.” The revolution was over, and the glory of God was seen. Don’t stop believing in miracles. Expect them. And pray the Rosary every chance you get. Lord knows our world needs it.
By: Susan SkinnerMore
The burdens of life can weigh us down, but take heart! The Good Samaritan waits on you In the past few years, I have traveled from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, literally crisscrossing the country, speaking and leading women’s retreats. I love my work and am often humbled by it. To travel and meet so many faithful women on their knees, seeking the face of the Lord, is one of the greatest graces of my life. But earlier this year, my work came to a halt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my second bout. Thankfully, we caught it very early; it had not spread. We weighed our options for treatment and settled on a double mastectomy. We had hoped that following that surgery, no further treatment would be required. But when they got a good look at the tumor under a microscope, it was determined that my recurrence rate would lower significantly with a few rounds of preventative chemo. With a heart full of dread and pictures of me nauseated and going bald running through my head, I called the oncologist and made an appointment. Just then, my husband walked in from work and said: “I just got laid off.” Sometimes, when it rains, it is monsoons. Mayday, Mayday So, with no income and the prospect of overwhelming medical bills about to assail our mailbox, we prepared for my treatments. My husband diligently sent out resumes and garnered a few interviews. We were hopeful. Chemo, for me, it turned out, was not too nauseating but terribly painful. The bone pain had me in tears at times, and nothing alleviated it. I was grateful that my husband was home and could help take care of me. Even in the moments when there was nothing he could do, just having him nearby was a great comfort. It was an unexpected grace in his having been laid off. We trusted in God’s plan. The weeks went on. My hair decided to take an extended vacation, my energy waned, and I did what little work I could. No job offers came in for my talented husband. We prayed, we fasted, we trusted in the Lord, and we began to feel the strain of the season. Struck to the Core This year, my women’s prayer group is praying through the masterwork Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene. One Sunday, when I didn’t feel l could carry these burdens another step, his reflection on the Good Samaritan struck me to the core. You recall the beloved parable from Luke 10 when a man is robbed, beaten, and left on the side of the road. A priest and Levite pass him by, offering no aid. Only the Samaritan stops to tend to him. Father Gabriel reflects: “We, too, have encountered robbers on our way. The world, the devil, and our passions have stripped and wounded us … With infinite love [the Good Samaritan par excellence] has bent over our open wounds, curing them with the oil and wine of His grace … Then He took us in His arms and brought us to a safe place.” (Divine Intimacy #273) How keenly I felt about this passage! My husband and I do feel robbed, beaten, and abandoned. We’ve been stripped of our income, our work, our dignity. We’ve been robbed of my breasts, my health, even my hair. As I prayed, I had a strong sense of the Lord stooping over us, anointing and healing us, and then taking me into His arms and carrying me while my husband walked along with us, taking us to a place of safety. I was flooded with tears of relief and gratitude. Father. Gabriel goes on to say: “We should go to Mass in order to meet Him, the Good Samaritan … When He comes to us in Holy Communion, He will heal our wounds, not only our exterior wounds, but our interior ones also, abundantly pouring into them the sweet oil and strengthening wine of His grace.” Later that day, we went to Confession and Mass. We had a beautiful visiting priest from Africa whose reverence and gentleness washed over me at once. He prayed for me in confession, asking the Lord to give me the desires of my heart—dignified work for my husband—and to heal me. By the time it came for Communion, I was weeping on my way up to meet the Good Samaritan, knowing He was carrying us to a place of safety—in Him. Never Pass Me By I know this may or may not mean my husband gets a job, or I get through chemo without too much pain. But there isn’t a doubt in my mind, heart, or body that I met the Good Samaritan in that Holy Eucharist. He would not pass me but would stop and tend to me and my wounds. He was as real to me as He has ever been, and even though my husband and I are still feeling beaten, I thank the Lord for being so present to us as the Good Samaritan who stops, tends, heals, and then gathers us up to a place of safety. His safety is not the world’s safety. To stand and wait in the midst of this “attack,” this robbery, is some of the hardest spiritual work I have ever been invited to do. Oh, but I trust our Good Samaritan par excellence. He is waiting there to carry me—to gather up anyone who feels robbed, beaten, and abandoned—and, through the Blessed Sacrament, set his seal of safety upon our hearts and souls.
By: Liz Kelly StanchinaMore
It takes courage to start a 1000-piece puzzle and finish it; so is it with life. Last Christmas, I received a 1000-piece puzzle from my Kris Kringle at work featuring the Twelve Apostles of the famous Great Ocean Road (a spectacular group of rock formations in Southwestern Victoria, Australia). I was not keen to start. I had done three of them with my daughter a few years ago, so I knew the hard work they entail. However, as I looked at the three completed puzzles hanging at home, in spite of the inertia I was feeling, I felt an inner drive to meditate on “the Twelve Apostles.” On Shaky Ground I wondered how the Apostles of Jesus felt when He died on the cross and left them. Early Christian sources, including the Gospels, state that the disciples were devastated, full of disbelief and fear that they went into hiding. They were not at their best at the end of Jesus’ life. Somehow, this is how I felt as I started the year—fearful, uneasy, sad, broken-hearted, and uncertain. I had not fully recovered from the grief of losing my dad and a close friend. I must admit my faith was standing on shaky ground. It seemed as if my passion and energy for life had been overtaken by lethargy, lukewarmness, and a dark night of the soul, which threatened to (and sometimes succeeded in) overshadowing my joy, energy, and desire to serve the Lord. I could not shake it off despite great efforts. But if we do not stop at that disappointing episode of the disciples fleeing their Master, we see at the end of the Gospels, these same men, ready to take on the world and even to die for Christ. What changed? The Gospels record that the disciples were transformed on witnessing the Resurrected Christ. When they went to Bethany to witness His Ascension, spent time with Him, learned from Him, and received His blessings, it had a powerful effect. He did not only give them instruction but a purpose and a promise. They were not only to be messengers but witnesses as well. He promised to accompany them in their mission and gave them a Mighty Helper at that. This is what I have been praying for lately—an encounter with the Resurrected Jesus once more so that my life will be divinely renovated. Not Giving Up As I started the puzzle, trying to put together this scenic marvel of the Twelve Apostles, I recognized that every piece was significant. Every person whom I will encounter in this New Year will contribute to my growth and color my life. They will come in different hues—some strong, others subtle, some in bright pigments, others grey, some in a magical combination of tints, while others dull or fierce, but everyone necessary to complete the picture. Jigsaw puzzles take time to put together, and so does life. There is much patience to be asked for as we connect with one another. There is gratitude for when the link is done. And when the pieces don’t fit, there is hopefully a trusting encouragement to not give up. Sometimes, we may need to take a rest from it, come back, and try again. The puzzle, like life, is not covered by splashes of bright, happy colors all the time. The blacks, the greys, and the dark shades are needed to create a contrast. It takes courage to start a puzzle, but more so to finish it. Patience, perseverance, time, commitment, focus, sacrifice, and devotion will be demanded. It is similar to when we start to follow Jesus. Like the Apostles, will we hold on till the very end? Will we be able to meet our Lord face to face and hear Him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23), or as Saint Paul says: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)? This year, you might be asked too: Are you holding that piece of the puzzle that could make someone’s life better? Are you the missing piece?
By: Dina Mananquil DelfinoMore
There is just something about a baby. If a baby is introduced into a crowded room, everyone will want to see him. Conversations will stop, smiles will spread across people’s faces, arms will reach out to hold the child. Even the crustiest and most curmudgeonly denizen of the room will be drawn toward the baby. People who, moments before, had been arguing with one another will be cooing and making funny faces at the infant. Babies bring peace and joy; it’s just what they do. The central and still unnervingly strange message of Christmas is that God became a baby. The omnipotent Creator of the universe, the ground of the intelligibility of the world, the source of finite existence, the reason there is something rather than nothing—became an infant too weak even to raise his head, a vulnerable baby lying helpless in a manger where the animals eat. I am sure that everyone around the Christ child’s crib—his mother, Saint Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi—did what people always do around babies: they smiled and cooed and made funny noises. And they were drawn more closely together precisely by their shared concern for the child. In this we see a stroke of divine genius. For the entire length of the history of Israel, God was endeavoring to attract His chosen people to Himself and to draw them into deeper communion with one another. The whole purpose of the Torah, the Ten Commandments, the dietary laws outlined in the book of Leviticus, the preaching of the prophets, the covenants with Noah, Moses, and David, and the sacrifices offered in the temple was simply to foster friendship with God and greater love among His people. A sad but consistent theme of the Old Testament is that, despite all of these efforts and institutions, Israel remained alienated from God: Torah ignored, covenants broken, commandments disobeyed, temple corrupted. So, in the fullness of time, God determined, not to intimidate us or order us from on high, but rather to become a baby, for who can resist a baby? At Christmas, the human race no longer looked up to see the face of God, but rather down into the face of a little child. One of my spiritual heroes, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, was known as ‘Thérèse of the Child Jesus.’ It is easy enough to sentimentalize this designation, but we should resist that temptation. In identifying herself with the infant Christ, Thérèse was subtly endeavoring to draw everyone she met, out of themselves, and into an attitude of love. Once we understand this essential dynamic of Christmas, the spiritual life opens in a fresh way. Where do we find the God we seek? We do so most clearly in the faces of the vulnerable, the poor, the helpless, the childlike. It is relatively easy to resist the demands of the wealthy, successful, and self-sufficient. In point of fact, we are likely to feel resentment toward them. But the lowly, the needy, the weak—how can we turn away from them? They draw us—as a baby does—out of our self-preoccupation and into the space of real love. This is undoubtedly why so many of the saints—Francis of Assisi, Elizabeth of Hungary, John Chrysostom, Mother Teresa of Kolkata, to name just a few—were drawn to the service of the poor. I’m sure that most of those who read these words will gather with your families for a Christmas celebration. Everyone will be there: Mom and Dad, cousins, uncles and aunts, perhaps grandparents and great-grandparents, some friends who find themselves away from home. There will be lots of food, lots of laughter, plenty of lively conversations, most likely a fierce political argument or two. The extroverts will be having a splendid time; the introverts will find all of it a little more challenging. I would be willing to bet that at most of these gatherings, at some point, a baby will be brought into the room: the new son, grandson, great-grandson, cousin, nephew, what have you. Could I urge you this year to be particularly attentive to what that baby does to everyone, to notice the magnetic power he has over the entire motley crew? And then I would invite you to remember that the reason you are gathering at all is to celebrate the baby who is God. And finally, permit yourself to be attracted by the peculiar magnetism of that divine child.
By: Bishop Robert BarronMore
The Scripture read at Mass always sounded beautiful to my ears as a young girl. However, as it was confusing, I put it amongst the “too hard” pile of things to comprehend, thereby categorizing all of Scripture as a mystery that someday will be explained when I’m in heaven with God. Later, as a young adult, I heard a life-changing quote by Saint Jerome: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Saint Jerome was telling me that I didn’t have to wait for “someday.” Instead, I had God’s permission to understand and know Christ at this very moment. My journey into God’s word was like assembling a puzzle that became clearer as the pieces were put into place. Scripture, especially John’s Gospel, reveals that the Almighty Word of God, creator of everything, became flesh because He loved me. As a part of His creation, He wants me to be His daughter, to inherit His Kingdom, and to live with Him in peace for eternity. However, the King of Glory humbly chose to take on flesh as an infant, suffered, and died on the cross for me to achieve His plan. With each turn of the page, the veil of ignorance becomes lifted while my faith and love for Him grow; I now know that I belong to Him. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I try to encourage others not to be ignorant of Christ because of a lack of understanding of the Scripture. For many years, my husband and I have been the coordinators of the Scripture study program at our parish in the hope of drawing others to The Word of God and coming to know Jesus, the Son of God, made flesh.
By: Teresa Ann WeiderMore
Gifts are part and parcel of Christmas, but do we realize the value of The Gift we have been so freely given? I was awakened one December morning by my son Timmy’s exuberant proclamation: “Mom! Guess know what?” (his way of expressing an invitation to respond, without a requirement to wait). He was brimming over with the need to impart urgent information...so pronto! Seeing my eyelids forced apart, he blurted out with glee, “Santa brought ME a bike and YOU a bike!” The truth, of course, was that the larger bike was for his big sister, but as you can imagine, that was actually a bit of irrelevant information; what really mattered was Timmy got his heart’s fondest wish—a new bike! The season that causes many of us to pause and linger nostalgically on memories from the past is fast approaching. There is something about Christmas that brings us back to those times as children when life was simple, and our happiness was predicated on having the desires of our hearts filled as we opened the gifts under the tree. Switching the Lens As any parent knows, having a child completely shifts our perspective from life being about what is important to us to being all about meeting our child’s needs and often, wants. It’s almost as if we gingerly dusted off our own View-Master toy and handed it, freely and happily, to our offspring with nary a thought! For those of you fortunate enough to open one of those toys on Christmas morning, you will remember it came with a thin cardboard reel containing pairs of small Kodachrome photographs that, when viewed through the apparatus, created the illusion of three-dimensional scenes. Once a child comes into our family, we see everything not just through our own lens but through theirs. Our world expands, and we remember, and in some ways relive, the innocence of the childhood we left behind long ago. Not everyone has a carefree, secure childhood, but many are fortunate to remember the good in their lives while the difficulties we experience growing up recede in time. Still, what we focus on repeatedly will shape the way we ultimately live our lives. Perhaps that is why it is said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood!” What this requires, however, is intention and practice, especially through choices such as expressing gratitude. Repeated peering through a View-Master, which once enlarged the landscape of our small worlds, led us to recognize beauty, colors, and different dimensions in the pictures within our field of vision. In the same way, a frequent habitual practice of gratitude can lead to seeing of life as a prospect of opportunities, healing, and forgiveness rather than a series of disappointments, hurts, and offenses. Social scientists, who examine and observe how individuals interact and behave with each other, have concluded that gratitude practices are psychologically helpful. “Thanking others, thanking ourselves, Mother Nature, or the Almighty – gratitude in any form can enlighten the mind and make us feel happier. It has a healing effect on us” (Russell & Fosha, 2008). A wise proverb says, “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” Untouched Gift Pondering the past leads to remembrance. Focusing on the things we should be grateful for reveals what we couldn't grasp in our youth…that is, until we receive the gift of a View-Master one Christmas! In truth, we have all been given one, but not all have opened theirs. One present lying under the tree may remain there while other gifts topped with colorful bows are eagerly scooped up by outstretched hands. Was the reluctance of the recipient to select a particular package based on the subdued hues of the plain wrapping? Perhaps the lack of curled ribbons and gift tags? The View-Master inside would open new vistas, bring new adventures, and change the world of the one who opens it, but that recognition requires receptivity from the receiver. And when a gift is presented by another in a way that doesn’t invite curiosity, it will likely remain untouched. Those who have been longing for a View-Master, who actively look for it under the tree, who are able to trust that something better lies underneath the simple exterior, won’t be disappointed. They know that the best presents often come unexpectedly, and once they are opened, their appreciation develops as their value is recognized. Eventually, as more time is spent exploring the many facets of the gift, the treasure now becomes a cherished part of the receiver’s life. Time to Unwrap! There was a certain group of people long ago who were hoping to be given what had been promised to them for years. Yearning for it, they lived in anticipation that one day they would receive it. When the time came for this promise to be delivered, it was wrapped in ordinary cloth, and was so small that in the darkness of the night, only a few shepherds knew of its arrival. As the light began to grow, some people tried to block it, but the shadows gave evidence of this light's influence. Reminded of the value of becoming a child again, many people began walking with this Light that illuminated their path. With enhanced clarity and vision, meaning and purpose began to frame their daily lives. Filled with wonder and amazement, their understanding deepened. For generations since, numerous individuals’ devotion has been strengthened with the remembrance of receiving the promised Word that became flesh. The realization of what they were given changed everything. This Christmas, may you receive the desire of your heart, as my son did many years ago. As our eyes open, we too may exclaim, "Guess know what?" God brought ME a "Wonderful Counselor" and YOU the "Prince of Peace!" If you have unwrapped this precious gift, you know the fulfillment and joy that follows. As we respond with gratitude, it causes us to want others to experience what we’ve received. Thoughtful consideration of how we present what we now want to give increases the likelihood that the gift will be opened. How will I deliver the treasure I’ve discovered? Will I swath it in love? Cover it with joy? Envelop it in a peaceful heart? Cloak it in patience? Enfold it with kindness? Package it in generosity? Protect it through faithfulness? Bundle it with gentleness? Perhaps the final fruit of the Holy Spirit might be considered, if the recipient is not yet ready to open this gift. Could we then choose to encase our treasure in self-control?
By: Karen EbertsMore
I was driving home when I noticed two street signs that seemed incongruous. The train station and shop signs were pointing in the wrong directions; the exact opposite ones, to be precise. If I were a tourist, a traveler who is not familiar with the suburb, I would have followed the sign and got lost. I guess somebody had moved the street signs as a prank or even as an intentional deception. In our walk with the Lord too, we need to know who is navigating us—God, ourselves, others, or the evil one. If we are not aware of our surroundings, we can easily get lost or misled. This Lent, whose voice will we listen to? Judas…the crowd…Pilate…or Jesus…?
By: Dina Mananquil DelfinoMore
To be good at anything, we have to put time, effort, and practice into it. The same applies to our preparation for eternity. How well are we going to do at the end of year exams if we have put little or no time towards studying during the year? Similarly, how well will we stand up on judgment day when we are held accountable for our lives? In our preparation period on earth for eternity, how much of our life was spent in prayer, good works, and sacrifice? Our Lord paid the ultimate price for our salvation, but we have to play our part. As He has graciously allowed us to be part of that sacrifice, let us not waste this valuable opportunity. He, through Calvary, has given us a chance to be part of His redemption, to be part of His sanctity, consequently allowing mere humans to be called into sainthood. What a privilege! As my mother would always remind us, children, this life of ours on earth, short or long, is but a preparation period, the springboard to eternity. How we fare in the structure of eternal life will be determined not only by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but by every thought, word, and deed we perpetrated during the time we spent on earth.
By: Sean HampseyMore
If your sacrifices are dragging you down and causing you to dread Lent—take heart. Our Lady at Fatima gave the children a prayer which offers compelling reasons to sacrifice. Her words may help dispel your Lenten dreads. The prayer begins: “O Jesus, it (this sacrifice I am making) is for love of You.” Why not borrow those words and make them your own? Telling Jesus you are doing this hard Lenten thing for love of Him may remind you why you are denying yourself in the first place: you are making room in your heart, so that you may love Him more. Further, the prayer helped the children offer their sacrifices for “the conversion of sinners.” You can do the same. When you make a Lenten sacrifice, offer it for a specific loved one who is living far from God. “O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of......” Praying in Our Lady’s words will not lessen the difficulty of your sacrifices; but, because it sweetens them with love for Jesus and for lost souls, her words may truly help to dispel your Lenten dreads.
By: Margaret Ann StimatzMore
I am not one of those holy souls who look forward to Lent. However, I do have a few friends and family members who do. So, I try to take note of why that is the case. Just last week, my mom mentioned she was looking forward to Lent so she could invite her band, who are all senior citizens, to her parish fish fry. She said she’s really looking forward to it, since most of them aren’t Catholic but have mentioned that they like attending fish fries. After enjoying their traditional fish and chips, my mom is planning on reserving a room in the parish hall so the band can make music together after dinner. They call themselves the Silver Foxes and often visit nursing homes together to spread a little joy. My mom is a joyful evangelist, even at age 80! And she has unlocked the secret that Lent is for more than making penitential acts, but it is a time for growing the Kingdom of God by growing the Body of Christ.
By: Denise JasekMore