Monday, 31 December 2012

A New Year's Blessing

May God bless you with discomfort...
at easy answers, hard hearts, half-truths ,and superficial relationships. .
May God bless you so that you may live from deep within your heart where God's Spirit dwells.
May God bless you with anger...
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people.
May God bless you so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears...
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war.
May God bless you so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, in your neighbourhood, so that you will courageously try what you don't think you can do, but, in Jesus Christ you'll have all the strength necessary.
May God bless you to fearlessly speak out about injustice, unjust laws, corrupt politicians, unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners, and senseless wars, genocides, starvations, and poverty that is so pervasive.
May God bless you that you remember we are all called to continue God's redemptive work of love and healing in God's place, in and through God's name, in God's Spirit, continually creating and breathing new life and grace into everything and everyone we touch.

"Troubadour: A Missionary Magazine," published by the Franciscan Society, Liverpool, UK Spring 2005.

The Carmelite Friars of the British Province
of the Assumption
wish you a happy, holy and gracefilled 2013.
Please keep us in your prayers.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Blessings

The Nativity by Michael D O'Brien

Well the feast is on us again and I am pondering my Christmas homily. O'Briens image of the Nativity always moves me and my reflections of the feast have this year been once again shaped by the book '10 things they never told you about Jesus - A beginners guide to a larger Christ'. So I'll leave you with his words to ponder

An Alternative 'O little town of Bethlehem.' by the Rev. John Bell

O little town of Bethlehem, how rowdy you appear
as homecome emigrants are buoyed
by sentiment and beer.
The long haired tearaway returns
grandfatherly and grey,
and former glamourpusses’ pasts
emerge in all they say

Who knows if Ned the publican
whose rooms could take no more
would pleasantly or angrily
greet strangers at the door?
Who knows if he had cats and dogs
around his cattle shed,
or whether robins twittered on
or even Mrs Ned?

But if he let his stable out
to be a labour room
for some expectant teenage mum
and her embarrassed groom,
the breath and stink of tethered beasts
would set the midwives wild
If keen to minimise the risk
to Mary and her child.

And would poor shepherds, when disturbed
from midnight peace and calm,
presume a newborn baby boy
would want to hold a lamb?
And if the magi from the East
did ‘enter in all three’
were they distinctly Siamese
In bending just one knee?

And did the baby never cry,
and was the mother mild
when Herod sensed that he’d been duped
and let his men run wild?
And was the father pre-programmed
to take a passive part
when one old man foretold the child
would break his mother’s heart?

Christ was not born at Christmas time
invoked by practised choirs,
embrace by plastic mangers
and fulfilling our desires.
No kindergarten was his home,
no drummer boy his page,
no earth had frozen snow on snow
when God had come of age.

Instead, on the periphery,
eccentric through decree,
the power behind the universe
was born a refugee;
A refugee from heaven above
Is the world’s creator,
and chose an unknown peasant girl
as host and liberator.

May God bless you and those you love.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

23rd December

Fourth Sunday of Advent

During Advent we have been celebrating our emptiness. I suppose this sounds odd, and yet give it a thought. If we were completely filled up we would have no room to let anyone or anything in. We would be like a clump of mud or a great thick mountain. Nice to look at, maybe, but not so good at letting other in.

Somewhere in scripture the people ask God to take their hearts of stone and make them into hearts of flesh. Throughout Advent we have been asking especially for that. A time to become aware of God and then thank God for the spacious emptiness that a human heart has within it. Living hearts, not stone ones.

But increasing our own emptiness and increasing our darkness can be frightening. The dark spreads out its kingdom every day here in the Northern hemisphere as Christmas comes nearer. We see less by natural light, and our body systems squirm to readjust.

True confession time: I used to be resentful as the daylight hours became shorter and shorter—and especially when “daylight savings time” collapsed and the dark settled in an hour sooner in the afternoon. It was dark well before I left the office. Depressing.

Finally, a few years ago, I saw some wisdom in deprivation and darkness. Increased dark allows human beings to hunker down inside their shelter, cozy and patient, waiting for the light to come back. It helps them reflect upon themselves.

Such small creatures within so vast a night.

God says as much to Bethlehem in the First Reading,

“You are so tiny! You are not even counted among the clans of Judah. You are empty of big ideas, power, royalty and influence. How can you be sufficient to bring forth a ruler of Jerusalem?”

Light had already come from that darkness, of course, sufficiency from insufficiency. King David had been born in Bethlehem, centuries before (see 1 Samuel: 17:12). And of course, Jesus was to be born in the same town. This strange, wide place in the road produced Kings?

It is the same way within our souls. Our darkness and our emptiness are where Jesus is to be born on Christmas. The places in us that are gloomy, angry, or jealous, these are our darkness. The friends who leave us behind, who have a high, family time while we feel so alone, this is where the child will be born.

Watch Mary hasten to her cousin’s house, a long trip, on foot, over dirt and sand and rocks, under the hot, hot sun (Gospel). She does not have to be coddled and queenly in order to bring forth The Holy One. She does not spend a second worrying whether the way is too hard. Her soul somehow knows about the soft light that will shine from within her. Everything else is in second place.

Maybe emptiness can speak humbly from within us too. For a minute or two we could quit trying so hard to make everything alright. Let go and let God. That way we will get to know the one whose “origins are old” (First Reading). We might even let him take up his home in us, with loving respect of course. He can make himself whatever size is needed for our souls.

What better Christmas could there be?

John Foley, S. J.

Come, Lord Jesus.  Come and visit your people. 
We await your coming.  Come, O Lord.

Reflecting on Tragedy

Apologies for the blog gap. it had been my hope to post every day in the lead up to Christmas but other things got in the way.

I am aware that for many people this is a difficult time. It might be a 'first' time for many. The first time without a beloved relative, the first time having to work, the first time I haven't made it home. For others this is just a time when loneliness is heightened. The horrible events in an elementary school in the US has probably stopped most of us and made us think. Why this, why now? The following is a reflection posted by the Jesuit community at Creighton University

The shocking murderous violence at an elementary school has shaken us all. Our very sense of security has been shaken. We ask questions about why this could happen, with a sense of outrage. We grieve and feel deep emotion, which touches all other sadness and emotion we are experiencing in our lives. We do not, and may not ever, know the details of what caused a person to shoot innocent people - especially little children and their teachers. However disturbed we may discover the person was, or whatever discussion may be begun about assault weapons in our midst, it is undeniable that we feel, individually and communally a sense of vulnerability - for ourselves and for our children.

For now, our experience of the second part of Advent, and our preparations for Christmas are deeply disturbed. We hear of people or towns taking down their Christmas decorations, out of guilt for celebrations at this time, or simply a sense of not knowing what is the right thing to do before such a terrible reality which has visited us. What should we do? How should we respond? What does our faith offer us at this troubling time?

At the heart of our Christian faith is the wonderful mystery of a Creator God who enters into a relationship with all of us who are created as unique and irreplaceable children, with infinite value. We must re-centre our vision on the absolute dignity of every human life -- from conception to natural death. That respect for life much confront a culture of death on so many levels. Every life must be regarded as precious and we must work hard, work together, work with renewed zeal to re-introduce respect, reverence and special care into our regard for every human person. We must let the Holy Spirit into our discussions and into our divisions.

We must pray for peace and healing in our own hearts and in our communities. The night before he died, Jesus prayed to his Father, "May they all be one." This must become our prayer and our mission. We must overcome our prejudices, or judgments, our bigotry. We must learn to deal with our hurts, our wounds, our anger in ways that respect one another and the absolute dignity of every person. We must learn to beat our "swords into ploughshares" and our "spears into pruning hooks." [Isaiah 2]

We must develop a culture which cares for those who are wounded and on the margins of our society. We must find ways to develop our compassion and our solidarity with those who suffer - for whatever reason. We do not and cannot live in isolation from those who experience great pain. When one part of the Body of Christ suffers, the whole body suffers. [1 Corinthians 12:26]

This is for us believers to rely on the promises of our God: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone." [Isaiah 9] It is a time to enter more deeply into the real meaning of preparations for Christmas. The good news is that we will find our salvation, in a messy place, in a barn, "lying in a manger." This is the time to go to that place of intersection with our God's coming and presence among us. He meets us where we are poor. He comes to us in our distress. We can experience the plight of the Holy Family as our story - a story which comforts us and helps us know again that we are not alone. This is our God, with us - with us where and when we need a loving, saving presence the most.

When we don't know what to do or where to go these days, we can go to the manger. We can imagine being there. We can imagine going there and experiencing the solidarity we will be given there. We can unburden our fears and troubled heart there. We can let the spirit of that first Christmas night bring us to a very special and renewing Christmas this year - not only on this year's Christmas night, but for as long as we need it this New Year.

From that place, our renewal can begin. Our conversations in our families, among our friends, can be about solidarity and greater love and care for the dignity of every human life. We can check and renew our own patterns of dealing with hurt and anger badly. We can practice reconciliation and healing. And, the grace that came that Holy Night will come again in our hearts and bring Joy to the World again.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Last Days of Advent

In the Last Days of Advent the Liturgy takes on a new flavour. The atmosphere is filled with an increased sense of preparation and excitement. This is seasoned with a healthy does of desire. My favourite piece of liturgical music - O come, O come, Emmanuel! beautifully articulates this new atmosphere. Each night at Vespers, the Magnificat, Mary's wonderful hymn of praise and hope is begun and ended with one of the 'O' antiphons.
The exact origin of the 'O' Antiphons is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. By the eighth century, they were in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome.
The importance of 'O' Antiphons is twofold: each one highlights a title of the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel; also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.
Tonight we sing in praise of divine Wisdom -

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Third Sunday of Advent ~ Rejoice!

Our week begins with “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete means “rejoice” in Latin.  It comes from the first word of the Entrance antiphon on Sunday.  The spirit of joy that begins this week comes from the words of Paul, “The Lord is near.”  This joyful spirit is marked by the third candle of our Advent wreath, which is rose coloured, and the rose coloured vestments often used at the Eucharist.

Advent Song

“Brothers and sisters: rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice,” St. Paul commands in the Second Reading. The word for rejoice in Latin is gaudete, so quite naturally this Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday. Why all this exultation? Are we finally getting a break from the sombreness of Advent?

Yes, but there is more to it than that. Remember that Advent is like a retreat that the worldwide Church is making. In this upcoming third week we will consider our lives in the context of the great beauty God has put in us and around us. Can you think this way?

One line in the First Reading puts it in dramatic terms. Zephaniah says that the Lord “will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.”

Because of you! Have you ever in your life thought that God’s might be singing because of you? Have you ever let your image of God expand that far? Have you ever let him, in the most profound sense of the word, be one who sings you into existence?

In one of the books of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, the children are taken back to the very moment of creation. They hear the voice of Aslan (the Christ figure) singing into the wilderness. When the voice goes high, birds, clouds, blue sky appear. At a certain lengthy turn of melody the mountains laboriously raise their heads. A low hum vibrates forth the depths of seas. Creation seems to be made out of melody.

How about this for a possibility: God’s gladness sings out joyfully at every instant, and his song is the earth, the galaxies, the people and plants and chemicals and soaring hawks and encircling planets, droplets of dew and heavy black holes, youthful beauties, ancient wisdoms, and everything else that exists.

We are God’s song

Apply this, please, to Sunday’s Gospel. People in long rows gather to be baptized in expectation of the Saviour who is to come. Each segment (the crowd, the tax collectors, the soldiers) ask John the Baptist the exact same question: “Teacher, what should we do?”

"Let your life sing,” he answers.

Let it sing.

Let your life be what it is: God’s joyous, interleaved and always consonant melody, sounding outwards in deepest joy. Share your cloak and your food, collect only what is owed, do not extort, do these things and you will be sounding the true melody of your life.

Fr. John Foley, S. J.


I lift my heart up to you, Lord,
to thank you for the blessings
you shower on me each day.

You are the 'joy of my soul.'
I know that in your great love,
I am held and protected by you.

I pray and listen to the good news you send;
I ask and feel the healing.
I am freed by you
from the things in this world
that let me hide from you.

I rejoice, I rejoice, down to my soul.
Help me to prepare my heart
to be open and able to receive your immense love.

 Come, Lord Jesus.  Come and visit your people.
We await your coming.  Come, O Lord.

Senseless ...

Friday, 14 December 2012

Feast of St. John of the Cross, Carmelite & Doctor of the Church

John of the Cross was born in 1542 in Fontiveros in Spain. His father died whilst he was an infant the family was left destitute. They travelled for years from place to place in search of work and settled in Medina del Campo when John was 9 years of age. The family was at the bottom of the heap in a status-conscious society. John was placed in an institute for deprived children and then as a teenager he worked in a hospice for people dying from syphilis.

At 21 he joined the Carmelites and eventually became involved in the movement for reform within the Order. He died when he was 49. John was a poet (he is the national poet of Spain - Spain's Shakespeare) and a mystic. Whilst his poems are great works in their own right they are also poems of encounter. They speak of a lover who has moved on and for whom we must seek, finding our way in the darkness:
Where have you hidden Beloved, and left me groaning? You fled like a stag having wounded me; I went out in search of you, and you were gone.
The one we seek is not someone we have never known. The reason we seek is because we have already known the touch of the Beloved. For John the whole world has known this touch. Just as a child shares the visible characteristics and inner traits of its parents, so it is with creation. Everything is "made through Christ and is clothed with his beauty and goodness" (Liturgy). Creation is on our side - "for us". We and our world are caught up in the awesome relationship which is the love life of the Trinity and which is continuously poured out.

In his book The Impact of God, Iain Matthew reminds us that John's poetry speaks of a waterfall the size of an ocean which is the Father surrendering to the Son, Son self-emptying to the Father, Spirit-water spilling out to create a universe; the cosmos comes to sip it, though all - heaven, people, hell - are already drenched with it! And this source is within us! Jesus tells the woman at the well, "the water I shall give will turn into a spring inside you, welling up to eternal life". Yet all this happens "by night" beyond the place where our senses can see.

Much religious language is helpful when things are going well - for times we would call times of blessing, times when we can see and God is close. John's language takes over when we find that our normal language can't cope. His is language for times of darkness, panic and chaos; language for the night.

This night, though, is not empty or fruitless because nowhere is empty; even hell itself is "drenched" with God's loving. The night is filled with the presence of the Beloved. It does not keep us out but rather invites us in to walk along roads that are unknown to us, trusting that we are held by the hand of one who knows the way and who loves us. And slowly as we walk we find that we are being set free. The night is not passive but hugely active, not an empty but a healing darkness - a darkness in which we are set free to love.

It is in this context that we can take a part of one of John's works for our silent reflection today. It comes not from his poetry but from The Prayer of a soul taken with Love and is the conclusion of that prayer:

Mine are the heavens
and mine is the earth.
Mine are the nations,
the just are mine and mine the sinners.
The angels are mine,
and the Mother of God, and all things are mine;
and God himself is mine and for me,
because Christ is mine and all for me.
What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul?
Yours is all of this, and all is for you.
Do not engage yourself in something less,
nor pay heed to the crumbs which fall from your Father's table.
Go forth and exult in your Glory!
Hide yourself in It and rejoice,
and you will obtain the deepest desires of your heart.

 Antony Lester, O.Carm.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Saint Lucy - A saint for Advent

Today the Chrch celebrates the feast of Saint Lucy. We know very little about this saint of the early Church. We know she lived in Sicily and that she died in 304. Legend says that she was a devout Christian who offered the whole of her life to God to whom she offered a vow of perpetual virginity. The love she wanted as the prime focus in her life was for God alone.

However, the natural beauty of Lucy attracted admirers and one of these made it known that Lucy was a christian. For this Christian faith she gave her life. Her martyrdom took place during the persecution of Christians by the Emporer Diocletian.

Lucy is patron saint of the blind and images of her often depict her holding her eyes, or with empty eye sockets. There are two stories surrounding this. One says that her suiter fell in love with her because she had beautiful eyes, so Lucy is said to have ripped them out and presented them to him, in order that she might be free to love God. Another version of the story says that the gaurds who came to arres Lucy tore out her eyes.

Why is she a Saint for Advent. Lucy means light. And in this season of short days and long nights, when we are waiting in hope for the coming of Jesus it is light that we long for. Maybe some of the questions we can ask ourlseves in this mid Advent feast can be - How am I longing for light? What enlightens me? What am I looking for? Does the love I have for others enoble them ot diminish them? What is my perpsective on life? How do I see things? Is Christ the one I seek, the one I love?

Saint Lucy
Whose beautiful name signifies 'LIGHT'
by the light of faith which God bestowed upon you
increase and preserve His light in my soul
so that I may avoid evil,
Be zealous in the performance of good works
and abhor nothing so much as the blindness and
the darkness of evil and sin.
Obtain for me, by your intercession with God
Perfect vision for my bodily eyes
and the grace to use them for God’s greater honour and glory
and the salvation of souls.
St. Lucy, virgin and martyr
hear my prayers and obtain my petitions.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Preparing for the General Chapter

Every six years the Prior General calls the friars togather for a General Chapter. This gathering of the Order is vital to the ongoing life of Carmel. Each province will send delegates and these will elect the Prior General (senior friar of the Order) and his council who will serve for the next six years. The chapter also takes note of the 'vital signs' of the Order - a bit like visiting the Doctor to have your blood pressure, temperature and pulse checked. The British province is currently electing its delgates for the Chapter. This week the General Curia published this prayer to help us to prayerfully prepare for the Chapter

Loving God,
You are the source of everything that is good;
You are the living God of history,
Ever faithful to the little ones.

You called us to live in communion a life of allegiance to Christ
through a commitment to find you
and through our fraternal life in the midst of the people.

We humbly pray,
give us your wisdom and strength
that we may have the courage to live a life with the little ones,
speaking words of hope and salvation
in today's changing world - more by our lives than by our words.

Guide us in our preparation for the coming Chapter.
Pour out upon us your Holy Spirit,
so that we may remain faithful to our mission
and come together with sincere and humble hearts
as we reflect on our charism in the light of the needs of our times.

Keep us ever faithful to you.
Help us to seek your will
so that in many and various ways we may best serve your people.

We make this prayer through the intercession
of our Patroness, the Holy Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel,
who is ever near to us.

In the name of Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Veni, veni Emmanuel

Monday, 10 December 2012

Advent with Thomas Merton

In 1963 Thomas Merton wrote an essay titled, “Advent: Hope or Delusion?” Although I am particularly biased and would generally say that all of Merton’s work is good, I find this essay to be particularly good, especially during the season of Advent.
Unlike much of what’s available this time of year, Merton’s reflection is direct and substantial. His consideration of the meaning and place of the season of Advent and its relationship to the profound theological tradition of Christian Hope is refreshingly insightful amid the too-often “fluffy” seasonal Adventmas (the generic “Advent” material that really focuses more on Christmas than it does on Advent itself).
So without taking away from the profundity of Merton’s own words with more introduction than is necessary, I offer below some snippets from the lengthy essay for your prayerful meditation.

Selections from Thomas Merton’s “Advent: Hope or Delusion?”

The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.
It is important to remember the deep, in some ways anguished seriousness of Advent, when the mendacious celebrations of our marketing culture so easily harmonize with our tendencey to regard Christmas, consciously or otherwise, as a return to our own innocence and our own infancy. Advent should remind us that the “King Who is to Come” is more than a charming infant smiling (or if you prefer a dolorous spirituality, weeping) in the straw. There is certainly nothing wrong with the traditional family jours of Christmas, nor need we be ashamed to find ourselves still able to anticipate them without too much ambivalence. After all, that in itself is no mean feat.
But the Church in preparing us for the birth of a “great prophet,” a Savior and a King of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, of history, of man, of the world and of our own being. In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies. Our Advent faith is not an escape from the world to a misty realm of slogans and comforts which declare our problems to be unreal, our tragedies inexistent…
In our time, what is lacking is not so much the courage to ask this question as the courage to expect an answer…We may at times be able to show the world Christ in moments when all can clearly discern in history, some confirmation of the Christian message. But the fact remains that our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Second Sunday of Advent

A voice of one crying out in the desert:
 "Prepare the way of the Lord,
 make straight his paths.
 Every valley shall be filled
 and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
 The winding roads shall be made straight,
 and the rough ways made smooth,
 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."

Luke 3:6

During the liturgical year, we do not hear much from the prophet Baruch. As a messenger and poet of God, he has accompanied the Jewish people into exile and captivity. Jerusalem is their City of Identity, but only in memory and prayer.

The Israelites have been confronted with their infidelities and long to return to their homeland and their relationship with the God who brought them out of the first exile in Egypt. What we hear is a new song from the prophet. There is hope and Jerusalem is the centre or image of recovery and restoration. The great city, remembered by those now in captivity as beautiful, but in reality reduced to destruction, is pictured with new glorious dressing. This prophetic poem addresses Jerusalem, not only as a city, but more, the people who are to return and be adorned themselves with the glory of God.

There is return to Jerusalem promised and also the return of God’s faithful love for all God’s holy and redeemed people. They have been remembered by God. The way will be made clear as will the mercy and justice of God.

The prophet might have been standing in the sun too long or under the influence of some strange spirit. There he is in the midst of exile and he begins, like a cheerleader to expand what sounds like a dream. In reality it is the Word of God meant to begin the return. The prophet’s words are an advance-advertising alerting the people for the coming of salvation and the rebuilding of the Great City. The question would arise about whether the people will believe in the midst of their shame and gloom.

The main Advent character arrives on stage in today’s Gospel. After quite a lengthy historical setting, Luke presents John as appearing prophetically announcing the coming of “the salvation of God.” He, as did Baruch, speaks of valleys and hills being made level and the windy roads made straight.

John is preaching a baptism of repentance. Baptism itself is a purification ritual and John is inviting people to be purified from the unholy hanging-on-to's in their lives. In his way he is asking the people to check out what they are holding onto for their identities, their securities. In short he is announcing that they will be asked to let go of the old and stale forms of relating with God and prepare for something, a Some One who is coming to be held onto. The familiar is so comforting and the Baptist is proclaiming the latest surprise in a long history of unusual revelations.

Jesus is not on stage yet, but the dramatic tension is rising. The people, and we as well, are called to trust the off-stageness of the Promised One. The people in exile, the people listening to the Baptist, we listening to both, all are called to re-pent or return to our being held by the ever-loving and faithful God.    

Our hearts have hands in a way and we easily tend to reshape gifts into little gods and those hands and grasp these gods for life-support. This is a wonderful time of year, of preparing to give gifts and receive as well. The people of Israel were in exile, because they had forgotten the gift of their being God’s holy people and their city a holy place of God’s presence. We need Advent to remember what’s what and what’s not. The “off-stage” voice of the One Who is to come is what will get things straight, will fill in the empty valleys and level our mountains of defensive fear. To allow this, we trust the call, the unusual, the new of Jesus’ coming. We need these Advent moments to check out our little heart-hands and see if there is any room in those hands for our receiving the new Surprise.

Our Western World relaxes with the predictable, knowing causes and expecting results. This makes trusting the unpredictable and surprising God a great leap. The leap by God from eternity to time-bound, flesh-bound finitude is as unpredictable as God taking back the people of Jerusalem to their city of shame and glorifying it again with honor and fruitfulness. Advent can surprise us even more when we free ourselves from holding on to what we think we are entitled to, that is security and control.   

“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” Ps. 126

Dear Lord,
Through the darkness, I look for your wisdom.
I want my heart to be open to you.
But sometimes in these days, it seems that
so many things come between us.

Help me to be awake and aware
of the radiance you bring to my life.
Help me to be grateful each day
for the blessings of family and friends.

Let me be a peacemaker
in my own life, and in the world.
Let me pray especially for this difficult world
and those who are so in need of an end to violence.

My heart begs for this as my Advent prayer today.

Source: Creighton Online Ministries

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

In this feast it seems that all the quiet beauty of Advent bursts forth into exuberance and exaltation. In Mary we see all the beauty of Advent concentrated. She is the one in whom the waiting of Israel is most fully and most purely manifested; she is the last of the remnant of Israel for whom God shows his mercy and fulfils his promises; she is the faithful one who believed that the promise made to her by the Lord would be fulfilled; she is the lowly handmade, the obedient servant the quiet contemplative. She indeed is the most prepared to receive the Lord.

It seems that there is no better time to celebrate this feast than during these Advent days. It is the celebration of the beauty of her who is ready to receive the Lord. It is like admiring the palace where the King will enter, the room to which the bridegroom will come, the garden where the great encounter will take place.

I think of the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where God stretches out his hand to Adam to call him to new life. How beautifully humanity is created. Now God is again stretching out his arm to her who waits for his touch by which humanity is re-created ever more beautifully. The celebration of this feast is the anticipation of the great event of Christmas. It makes me feel like a child on the evening before a wedding, full of joy and anticipation. I have already seen the bridal gown. I have already smelled the flowers. I have already heard the wedding song. There is no longer any doubt. Tomorrow it will surely happen; everything is ready to be fulfilled.

This feast day gives Advent its true character. It is indeed primarily a season of joy. It is not, like Lent, primarily a time of penance. No, there is too much anticipation for that. All-overriding is the experience of joy.

Henri Nouwen, The Genesee Diary

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Advent Virus


Be on the alert for symptoms of inner Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Some signs and symptoms of The Advent Virus:
  • A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
  • An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
  • A loss of interest in judging other people.
  • A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
  • A loss of interest in conflict.
  • A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
  • Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  • Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
  • Frequent attacks of smiling.
  • An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
  • An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

Please send this warning out to all your friends. This virus can and has affected many systems. Some systems have been completely cleaned out because of it.

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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Advent Mid week thought

Take Time to be Aware  

"Take time to be aware that in the very midst of our busy preparations for the celebration of Christ’s birth in ancient Bethlehem, Christ is reborn in the Bethlehems of our homes and daily lives. Take time, slow down, be still, be awake to the Divine Mystery that looks so common and so ordinary yet is wondrously present.

"An old abbot was fond of saying, ‘The devil is always the most active on the highest feast days.’

"The supreme trick of Old Scratch is to have us so busy decorating, preparing food, practicing music and cleaning in preparation for the feast of Christmas that we actually miss the coming of Christ. Hurt feelings, anger, impatience, injured egos—the list of clouds that busyness creates to blind us to the birth can be long, but it is familiar to us all."

Edward Hays, A Pilgrim’s Almanac, p. 196
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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

An Advent Read

Once you accept the existence of God, however you define Him, however you explain your relationship to Him – then you are caught forever with His presence in the centre of all things.”

– Morris West

One of the gifts that my parents passed on to both me and my siblings, was a deep love of the written word. Today you will never find one of our clan far away from a book. Indeed, I am quite lost if I don't have a book on the go. One of my father's favourite novelists was Morris West. One year my father gave me this book, The Clowns of God. I think I read it in two sittings. This book is now a favourite of mine. The intrigue, the suspense, the plot and character development all work together to make it a great read. It has become part of my Advent to read this book and the plot situates itself beautifully in the scriptures the Church invites us to ponder on in these early Advent days.

What makes this book so apposite are the natural and man-made disasters devastating country after country in the world today. Armageddon-type disasters fuelling renewed speculations of the end of the world as we know it! Armageddon, as many call it, is predicted in the Bible. We are warned, not only by the Bible but by our ministers and priests, to always be prepared because no one, except our Lord God, knows when the end of the world will come. Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke to John in Revelation 22:12-13 saying: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

Written by Australian novelist and playwright Morris West, The Clowns of God is one of the three books in his best-selling The Vatican Trilogy: The Shoes of the Fisherman, written in 1963, followed by The Clowns of God in 1981 and Lazarus in 1990.

A prolific and brilliant novelist, West wrote over 30 best-selling novels, as well as plays. His books were published in 27 languages and sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. He started writing in 1945, and every new book he wrote after he became an established writer, sold more than a million copies each.

Here is a brief synopsis of The Clowns of God, as seen in the back cover of the latest paperback editions:

“After receiving the vision of the End of the World and a commission to announce that it is imminent, Pope Gregory XVII is forced to abdicate. Is his vision a symptom of insanity, or is he a new prophet, proclaiming the End of Creation? If his vision is true, how does he disseminate his message, and how will the world react to it?

Written during a period of escalating tensions during the Cold War, the impending doom of the world, as described here, no longer seems to be such a threat. However, this book explores themes of faith that are relevant, even if the End isn’t imminent.”

The story of Pope Gregory XVII, who two days before his 65th birthday abdicated his papacy and lived away from the Vatican as an ordinary man named Monsieur Jean-Marie Barette, is entertaining, provocative and full of deep thoughts and insightful information.

It has a lot to teach us about tyrannies, dictatorships, global economy, and politics. Though written in 1981, it provides a good narration on what is happening around us. The musings of the author can be frightening in their accuracy. It will clearly peak your interest, so much so that once you pick it up, it would be hard to put it down.

The publisher’s review also said: “Morris West clearly is a proponent of compassionate Christianity, where the fallibility of man is acknowledged, and forgiveness is the defining characteristic. As world tensions escalate towards the ultimate conflict, the characters struggle to spread a message of hope and faith in an environment that is bereft of both. The final pages provide a surprising climax that touches at the very core of faith.”

I hope you enjoy it. I love the last few chapters, they breathe hope for humanity.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

First Sunday of Advent

As we begin Advent, we light one candle in the midst of all the darkness in our lives and in the world.  It symbolizes our longing, our desire, our hope.  Three “advents” or “comings” shape our desire.  We want to be renewed in a sense that Jesus came to save us from our sin and death.  We want to experience his coming to us now, in our everyday lives, to help us live our lives with meaning and purpose.  And we want to prepare for his coming to meet us at the end of our lives on this earth. So, we begin with our longing, our desire and our hope.

When we wake up, each day this week, we could light that candle, just by taking a few moments to focus.  We could pause for a minute at the side of our bed, or while putting on our slippers or our robe, and light an inner candle.  Who among us doesn't have time to pause for a moment?  We could each find our own way to pray something like this:

“Lord, the light I choose to let into my life today is based on my trust in you.  It is a weak flame, but I so much desire that it dispel a bit more darkness today.  Today, I just want to taste the longing I have for you as I go to the meeting this morning, carry out the responsibilities of my work, face the frustration of some difficult relationships.  Let this candle be my reminder today of my hope in your coming.”

Each morning this week, that momentary prayer might get more specific, as it prepares us for the day we will face.  And as we head to work, walk to a meeting, rush through lunch, take care of errands, meet with people, pick up the phone to return some calls, answer e-mail, return home to prepare a meal, listen to the ups and downs of our loved ones' day, we can take brief moments to relate our desire for the three comings of the Lord to our life.

If our family has an Advent wreath, or even if it doesn't, we could pray together before our evening meal.  As we light the first candle on the wreath, or as we simply pause to pray together our normal grace.  Then, as we begin to eat, we can invite each other, including the children, to say something about what it means today to light this first candle.

Perhaps we could ask a different question each night, or ask about examples from the day.  How am I getting in touch with the longing within me?  How did I prepare today?  What does it mean to prepare to celebrate his coming 2,000 years ago?  How can we prepare to experience his coming into our lives this year?  What does it mean for us now, with our world involved in so much conflict? How are we being invited to trust more deeply?  How much more do we long for his coming to us, in the midst of the darkness in our world?  In what ways can we renew our lives so we might be prepared to greet him when he comes again?  Our evening meal could be transformed this week, if we could shape some kind of conversation together that lights a candle of anticipation in our lives.  Don't worry if everyone isn't “good at” this kind of conversation at first.  We can model it, based on our momentary pauses throughout each day, in which we are discovering deeper and deeper desires, in the midst of our everyday lives.

And every night this week, we can pause briefly, perhaps as we sit for a minute at the edge of the bed.  We can be aware of how that one, small candle's worth of desire brought light into this day.  And we can give thanks.  Going to bed each night this week with some gratitude is part of the preparation for growing anticipation and desire.

Come, Lord Jesus!  Come and visit your people. 
We await your coming.  Come, O Lord.
Source: Creighton Onine Ministries

As Advent Begins

What am I experiencing in my life, as Advent begins?

Many of us are in an ideal place to begin Advent, but we don’t know it. It can be tempting to think that, because we are struggling these days, we can’t enter into Advent without a big change in our mood or without distancing ourselves from our real experience. Nothing could be further from the truth. Advent is about letting God come to us. We do the letting and God does the coming. And, the whole mystery of our faith is that God is not reluctant to come into an unusual relationship (like Mary and Joseph’s) or to be born in the poverty of a makeshift stable. We are tempted to prepare for Advent by cleaning everything up first – by, in effect, saving ourselves first. Our opening to Advent is to realize we need saving and to accept the saving love of our God.

So, what are we experiencing? That is the first Advent question. If we chew that question, then the Isaiah reading will sound so good to our ears. Are we the people “who walk in darkness” or have “thick clouds” over us? Is the way before us full of valleys and hills? Does it seem like we are in a desert? Are there wild beasts out there who are ready to devour us? Have we been guilty of some things we aren’t proud of? Have we lost touch with who we really want to be? Has our fidelity become a bit shabby? Then, Isaiah proclaims that our God is ready to come and save us. And, none of the things that I see as barriers even matter to God.

Then, is Advent a passive season? No, we have work to do, but it is different from what we first think it is. It starts with understanding what our preparation is. If we haven’t prepared our hearts to be open to asking for salvation, we’ll never shout, beg, plead, “Come, Lord, Jesus!” Our work is to become who we are. Advent is a humble season, a season of self-awareness. To say it another way, before we decorate our homes for Christmas, we have to clear away some of the false masks we might wear. These made up identities help us be more “presentable” to others, and at times they even fool us. When I look in the mirror, which “me” do I see? There is nothing wrong with putting our best foot forward in public, and it is quite understandable when we want others to see our best selves. But, before our own consciences and before God, we want to be transparent and real. We want to have no illusion. If there is struggle in my life – and there has to be some struggle in all our lives – then we want to acknowledge that before our God and to let that struggle be the door into Advent’s graces.

How can we have hope and expect God will come to us? The readings of Advent open up a whole series of promises, full of powerful images, that keep reminding us that our God will come to save us. They free our imaginations to see and experience that coming with drama and joy – a banquet with “choice wines and rich, juicy food.” They invite us to imagine when “a time will come for singing.” They give us the opportunity to hope beyond our wildest hopes in the past – “the lion will lie down with the lamb” and “they will prepare for war no more.” They open our hearts to imagine the love of our God embracing us in the coming of one like us, who knows our life and its struggles and offers us the hope of the Spirits presence with us every day, in every moment.

What are the key first steps to enter into Advent? We can all slow down. We can all breathe more deeply. We can all begin to trust that this will be a blessed time. Then, when we let ourselves be who we are, and hear the Scriptures, we can begin to quietly pray, “Come, Lord, Jesus.” We might expand that prayer, in quiet moments of our days ahead, “Come into my life. I trust you don’t mind if it is still messy. I believe you love me, because I need your love. I don’t fear you can’t find the way to my heart. Come and fill me with peace and the love only you can give.” Some of us will want to open our hands on our laps or hold up our arms in the privacy of our rooms and say out loud, “Come, Lord, Jesus, come into this house, into my family, into our struggles. Come and heal us, and give us join again. Come and unite us and let us experience, each in our own way, a bit of the joy you are offering me now.”

And, before a single decoration goes up, we have prepared for Christmas’ message with the foundation of faith, with the mystery of Advent’s gift. God wants to be with us. Advent is letting God’s will be done in our hearts and in our everyday lives.

Source: Creighton Online Ministries 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Preparing for Advent

The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath, five candles are typically arranged. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Set on the branches of the wreath are four candles: three purple candles and one rose coloured or pink candle. In the centre of the wreath sits a white candle. As a whole, these candles represent the coming of the light of Christ into the world. On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the "Prophecy Candle" in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
Each week on Sunday, an additional candle is lit. On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some Traditions call this the "Bethlehem Candle," symbolizing Christ's manger.
On the third Sunday of Advent the pink, or rose-coloured candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the "Shepherds Candle" and it represents joy.
The fourth and last purple candle, oftentimes called the "Angels Candle," represents peace and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
On Christmas Eve, the white centre candle is traditionally lit. This candle is called the "Christ Candle" and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world. white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Saviour. Also, those who receive Christ as Saviour are washed of their sins and made brighter than snow.

Celebrating with an Advent wreath during the weeks prior to Christmas is a great way for Christian families to keep Christ at the centre of Christmas, and for parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.

How to Make an Advent Wreath

To begin, put four candles on a wreath or at least in a circle. Traditionally the candles are purple, because in antiquity, purple dye was very expensive and it was the colour of royalty. We use purple for Advent because it is the season of the coming of the King. If you can’t get purple candles, then use what is available to you. If you have a fifth candle, it goes in the centre of the wreath and it should be white.

Historically, the candles have no more meaning than a countdown. That is, they originally stood for 4, 3, 2, and 1. However, people like for things in the church to have symbolic meanings, so the candles have gradually acquired the meanings I gave you above. If someone in your church tells you that the candles have some other meaning than Hope, Love, Joy, or Peace, they aren’t wrong, they are just different. The meanings are so new that they aren’t completely standardized.
Purple is the liturgical colour for Advent. It is a regal colour and in ancient times was incredibly expensive; it is also the colour of remembrance and sorrow. The colours of the liturgy mirror our feelings and thoughts and place us in the right frame of mind for what we celebrate. The colour purple reminds us of the importance of the coming feast and of our own regal dignity as disciples of Jesus. It also reminds us that we should prepare ourselves to receive Christ well into our lives and be prepared for his second coming.  In some locations, the third candle is pink. This is the liturgical colour for the third Sunday in Advent called Gaudete Sunday. The This comes from the first word of the liturgy ‘gaudete’ meaning rejoice. The white candle is lit on Christmas Eve (that is, after sundown), when the liturgical colour is white. So that explains the colours of the purple and white candles—they just match the liturgical decor. But what about the pink candle, if there is one?
The pink candle is becoming more and more popular, but it has a strange origin. Long ago, the pope had the custom of giving someone a rose on the fourth Sunday in Lent. This led the Roman Catholic clergy to wear rose-colored vestments on that Sunday. The effect was to give some relief the solemnity of Lent, so this was a very popular custom. Originally—before shopping malls—Advent was a solemn fast in preparation for Christmas, so the custom was extended to the third Sunday in Advent to liven it up a little bit, too. Somewhere in there the third candle of the Advent wreath turned pink. Meanwhile, Advent is no longer solemn and the pope longer has the custom of giving out roses
How to Use Your Advent Wreath
The idea is to use the wreath in conjunction with worship services or personal or family devotions on the four Sundays in Advent. You light candles at the beginning of each service and snuff them out at the end.

•On the first Sunday in Advent, you light the first candle. Have your service, then snuff out the candle.

•On the second Sunday in Advent, you light two candles, first the one from the previous Sunday, then the second one. Have your service, then snuff out the candles.

•On the third Sunday in Advent, you light the two candles from the previous weeks, in the order you lit them before, then you add the third one. Have your service, then snuff out the candles.

•On the fourth Sunday in Advent, you light the three candles from the previous weeks, in the order you lit them before, then you light the fourth one. Have your service, then snuff out the candles. You should get a stair-step effect, since each candle is a different length by now.

If you have a fifth candle in the centre, then on Christmas Day you light the four candles in the order you lit them before, and then you light the center candle. Have your service, then snuff out the candles.
You notice how I emphasize snuffing out the candles at the end of each service? This has absolutely no liturgical significance whatsoever, but it is vitally important and you must not leave it out. It prevents the candles from burning your house down.
I recommend that you snuff out the candles, rather than blowing them out. The reason is that if you blow them out, you might spray hot wax over everything.
Prayers for Use With the Advent Wreath
When you use an Advent Wreath in personal or family devotions, you can use whatever scriptures and prayers you like. If you need a point of departure, here is something to get you started. Please don’t take it as a set form. You can use different readings, you can modify the prayers, and you can add hymns, carols, or other prayers as you like.

 On the first Sunday in Advent
■Light one purple candle
■Read Isaiah 60:2-3
•Pray something like this:

Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. We who have sat in darkness have seen a great light, the light of Jesus Christ, our salvation. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
On the second Sunday in Advent
■Light two purple candles
■Read Mark 1:4
•Pray something like this:

Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the way. We who like sheep have gone astray have found the way to you through Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
On the third Sunday in Advent
■Light three purple candles
■Read Isaiah 35:10
•Pray something like this:

Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who brings us great joy. We who have walked in the shadow of the valley of death have found life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 On the fourth Sunday in Advent
■Light all the purple candles
■Read Isaiah 9:6-7
•Pray something like this:

Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace. We who live in discord and strife have found peace in the promise of eternal life, through Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 On Christmas Eve after sundown or on Christmas Day
■Light all the purple candles and the white candle
■Read Luke 1:68-79 and Luke 2:1-20
•Pray something like this:

We praise you, Lord God, because on this day, your Word became flesh in our Saviour Jesus Christ, was born of a woman, and walked among us as a man. Help us to imitate your incarnation, by manifesting our faith in our conduct as well as in our speech. To you, O Lord, we give our honour, praise, worship, and love, in the most holy and precious name of the One who is born today; because He lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Enjoy your wreath. I firmly believe that if we celebrate Advent well, then we will have a grace filled celebration of the Solemn Feast of Christ’s birth.