THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

Once again Advent is here. A time which can be a time of reflection and preparation, but is often just a hectic time in readiness for Christmas Day. I, like many of you, are relishing the opportunity to reunite with family and friends. Times of fellowship, love and renewal with others all beckon. As the weather cools in New England, the fires are lit and our hearts are warming. It is a time of great anticipation.

The early Christians viewed Advent as a time of readiness for the second coming of Christ. It might be hard for us to comprehend now, but the Church only added Christmas to the liturgical calendar in the fourth century. For these Christians Advent meant being ready for Christ’s second coming, which they all believed was just around the corner.

So, our Christmas celebration, as practiced for the last 1,700 years was not on the mind of the early Christians. They were more concerned about spiritual preparation, being ready to meet Christ. This is evident in the Gospel and other readings during Advent. Something worth noticing.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux has a great sermon which brings us right up to date on how we should be thinking of Christ at this time. This sermon is called the Three Comings of Christ. Three Comings? I thought there were only two. Here are his words:

“We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.”

What a wonderous image and gift. Of course, God is here and now. In the Holy Spirit, in the Eucharist, in our daily lives, in nature, in all we have. He, unlike Elvis, never “left the building”. He stayed, within us … amongst us … in our very beings.

Let us turn inwards at this time, so that the love of Christ can refill our souls with grace, and then others will see it spilling out in the acts, words and love which is Christ within us.

A blessed Advent to all.

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THE SECRET ROOM

Moving slowly, with eyes gently closed,

The door is closed once more,

This time bolted, to avoid distractions,

And traffic noise from the outside street.

 

Now seated, the emptiness seems to engulf me,

As a divine darkness descends like a cloak,

Sealing me off,

So I may concentrate on nothing.

 

Except the breath of life and its source.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

I could not help being touched by Bobby Hillis’s recent piece outlining his faith journey. What struck me the most about his writing was the way he presented the events which have shaped his spirituality on a continuum. While there are special events which represent the milestones, will still pass them; continuing the journey.

As Advent arrives, we now have a beautiful time to start a new beginning in our own journey. Preparing for the arrival of the birth of Jesus. Today we automatically make the connection with the birth of Jesus and the Holy Family in the beautiful Nativity scene. This tradition was brought to us by St. Francis of Assisi, who obtained permission from the pope to present the “nativity scene” for the first time in 1223. St. Bonaventure (d. 1274) in his Life of St. Francis of Assisi tells the story the best:

“It happened in the third year before his death, that in order to excite the inhabitants of Grecio to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus with great devotion, [St. Francis] determined to keep it with all possible solemnity; and lest he should be accused of lightness or novelty, he asked and obtained the permission of the sovereign Pontiff. Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis, the Levite of Christ. Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem.”

This tradition is brought forward in our own parish for many years with the Welcome the Child program, and of course a whole litany of beautiful liturgical preparations as the Advent Season begins.

So where will Advent be on your journey this year? Is your spiritual life ready for a recharge of the batteries? Perhaps you might do something “special” for yourself during this time. An Advent devotion, trying a new prayer group such as Centering Prayer just started in the parish; maybe a new ministry from the many wonderful ones to chose from here and around in the world. Maybe you try and carve out some time for just you and God, Daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, or even an online devotion such as sacredspace.ie with their Gospel and Advent retreat you can download to your cell phone.

The time of giving is coming, but it is also a time of receiving. We need the additional spiritual nourishment to prepare ourselves for His arrival. Give yourself the gift of time with God, and hold Him close to you.

Then you can be truly the face of Joy to the World, as Christians rejoice on his birthday.

THE BLUE TREES

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The Blue Trees soak up the early evening light, and remain awakened.

As Christian’s prepare to walk down the path towards the celebration once again.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

By now we may be enjoying the last remnants of Thanksgiving meals; perhaps more turkey sandwiches … something I could eat any day of the year and never be bored with it. For many of us, the visiting family has perhaps departed to another state, leaving the remains of wonderful days spent together again.

For those of us who don’t have our family close by, these remembrances are even more sacred. Even untidy rooms, toys left out from children playing, or another broken ornament leaves its signature on our hearts. It’s hard to feel the describe the emptiness we feel as they drive out into the crazy traffic on their way home.

Just as we feel this emptiness, we can enter the Paschal Mystery and feel the same sadness which Jesus felt as those close to Him left his side. It’s a loneliness which is encased in love for others close to us and the feeling of separation from them. We desire their presence. Just as He desires ours. Perhaps it’s little wonder we turn towards Him at times of loneliness, of separation, the sadness of joy itself.

Maybe this sadness can be offset this year by moving closer to God and thanking Him for the love which is made visible by family and friends at Thanksgiving. Taking this year’s precious memories and placing them firmly in a heart lit up with the love of God.

We can prepare ourselves again to enjoy a Thanksgiving celebration which lasts more than a few days.

PARABATUR (In preparation)

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In preparation, a candle sits;

Unlit, on the edge of an altar,

Waiting for the rest of the community to join them,

In the late afternoon night,

As sunset draws near,

Beckoning the night,

And its divine darkness,

To swallow me fully.

 

Then, as darkness falls,

I will wait patiently,

Quietly, silently,

Until one comes with the fire which will ignite my life again.

Spreading wisdom, gifts and light.

 

For me, and others to see God’s presence in my soul.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

Earlier this week, my eldest son Ian celebrated his 36th birthday. He is the answer to a lot of prayers, but at the time of his birth I experienced my greatest crisis of faith in my then short 25-year life.

Ian was the younger of undiagnosed twins. It was the first pregnancy in our young marriage; we were very excited. Due to an error by an inexperienced GP in England, my wife Sally went into labor 9 weeks early. We raced to the hospital and shortly thereafter became the parents of Michael and Ian. Michael was a mere 3lbs 5oz, Ian a little bigger at 3lb 10oz. Both were 17 inches long and identical twins.

That night, were we both elated and scared. For other reasons my wife had limited access to premature baby ward. Both Michael and Ian were hooked up to equipment which dwarfed their tiny bodies and were barrier nursed in incubators. We prayed for their survival. Michael didn’t make it, he passed on the 16th November 1981.

We had experienced the gift of life and the loss of a child all within 24 hours. It’s hard, even after all these years to process what it meant to us. Just over a month later, Ian was strong enough to come home, tiny though it was, he was a survivor and a precious gift from God.

Even today, I can still recall the feeling of the unanswered prayers given up for Michael. And yet, they were answered. Just not in the selfish way we desired them at the time. Our family has been blessed with three other children, and now their children. Ian has two of his own and one more due early next year.

I often say to others, God is not a ATM machine for our wishes. We cannot just place prayers, novenas or acts of goodwill in the deposit slot and expect something in return. We will receive from God, but what we need to move closer to Him, not what we want to satisfy our own personal needs. Times like this, remind me of the gift we have of all the souls gone before us, praying for us, looking after us. Whether family, saints or the Holy family, we can all stay safe in the warmth of each other. Those here and now in a Thanksgiving celebration, and those above who will look after our spiritual well-being.

A Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving to all of us, and our families.

Mike +++

THE GRANDSON

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He sits on the floor of his grandfather’s house,

Granddad has just passed, and he waits for the funeral tomorrow.

An electric fire beams warmth,

And his Texas workplace sends last minute tasks over the night air.

 

Pondering the work,

I watch with joy the man he has become.

The twin who survived those 36 years ago,

While his brother, watches out for him, above, but ever present in his life.

 

Meanwhile, the tiny child has grown,

Not only in stature, but in love.

Surrounded by more, he spreads the joy to others,

Always relying on the power of another.

 

Who lives within and without … eternally.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

I was hoping this week we might pen something wonderful and inspiring without having the shadow of another tragedy over-powering the good in the world. Perhaps over-powering is too strong a view, but it is at least consuming our news cycles. As Americans try to regroup again from another violent act, questions of faith are thrown once more into the air, provoking responses of sadness, prayer and anger from our midst.

There seems to be an insatiable demand for these weapons. I was listening to anther Texas  pastor the day after the shooting. He commented “This would not happen in my church … because 25% of my parishioners have concealed carry permits and have weapons with them.” What a frightening prospect! It reminds me of the shock I had at Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC during this summer; when I found the exposed Blessed Sacrament being protected by an armed member of the New York police force. The juxtaposition of the House of God and weapons seemed very counterintuitive to me.

When Jesus Christ gave us eternal spiritual life through His own sacrifice and example, it is hard to understand the powerful methods available to those who want to create havoc in the world. We know the inner peace of the Holy Spirit has in someway been rejected by the culprits. We may never know the inner turmoil of a mind which consider such actions as possible, but rather save our empathy for those affected victims.

The beatitudes provide us with great guidance at these times, of what God wants us to become, so we can be closer to Him. However, we also need courage. Courage to move to enact the beatitudes in our lives as action, not just as words or silent prayer. The source of this courage is the Holy Spirit. Today, as with many recent days, we need reach out more as ask for the courage to do His will.

And for the wisdom to discern where He beckons us … so we can follow.

Sad Bird

The sad bird lands again in the family garden,

Unexpected, and hungry to leave some baggage there,

For us to consider,

As she stares at us from the garden,

Expressionless, holding no anger,

Rather sitting for us to view the disarray,

Which is our life today.

 

Leaving us to consider active and lost love in both hands,

Once again.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

This week brings us joy and peace in the happenings of the Church and the parish itself. Joy and Peace prevailed in the most wonderful form as our newly minted Confirmation candidates received the sacrament last Saturday. This was preceded by a one day retreat the prior Sunday and a night of reflection on the vigil of their Confirmation. It was truly a wonderful experience and the sunny disposition of the weather reflected the warmth and love we were all surrounded by on that day. Bravo to all of you, and thank you to the parishioner who sent in the Prayer of St. Theresa which was presented just before they received the sacrament.

We also had the feasts of All Saints and All Souls this past week. It was wonderful to hear the names of those saints and individuals who have, and will, influence those confirmed last week. Some we might know well, like Patrick, Francis, or Joan, but also others less so, like Magdalena, Seraphina and Brigid. Having these mentors traveling with us on our journeys is a boundless spiritual resource.

The confluence of the community of saints in the Church merges with those we know who have passed on All Souls Day. When I was growing up, this viewed as a time of remembrance, even sadness. However, we have to remind ourselves this is a time of joy, when those who have left this physical life, and now in an eternal metaphysical one. At home at last, by God’s side.

Nowhere is this better expressed in the Latino tradition of the Day of the Dead, which began in Mexico. This starts on Halloween and concludes on All Souls Day. These celebrations illustrate to us how close we are to moving from one life to another, and the transition is something to be celebrated, not feared. The traditions have some wonderful insights, I would recommend you learn more about this very special Catholic tradition, as there is much beauty therein.

So this week, let us reinforce our faith, remember those close who have passed, and pray for us all on the journey.

THE CANDLE

The candle comes from nature,

Hand hewn, emitting light,

Warmth,

And guidance.

 

In loving hands.

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

Sometimes we just find ourselves lost. We recall a time when it seemed we were so much closer to God, when those around us didn’t seem to be questioning all we did, when all we believed in made sense.

The separation we feel at times like this can be genuinely painful. We recall how our faith was before and a holy longing takes over, wishing for those times to return. There are many words used for such times in our spiritual journey. “Periods of dryness”, when we thirst for God, but cannot connect; the “Dark Night of the Soul”, when the separation appears severe and somehow permanent. However, it is often these dry periods which cause the greatest deepening of faith and relationship with God. It is then we seek for more, try new prayer forms and stimulation to bring ourselves closer to Him, search for meaning in other paths in a desperate attempt to fulfil our desire.

At times like this we may find ourselves moving from a relationship of obligation to one of deep longing and desire to be close to God. We know God is always with us, but we want to “feel” God, not just learn about Him. This search for an experience of God in our lives is at the root of our relationship to Him and all those around us.

So, as we hit these dry spells, let us remind ourselves the greatest of saints have encountered them. St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta has one such spell for twenty-five years! The deepening of her faith which resulted is recognized as one of the most beautiful spiritual stories of our age.

Next time we see the dryness coming, let’s try and welcome the deepening and challenges it may bring; and not always be looking for a short-term reward for each request we make to Him.

For the dry spell may precede a monsoon of felt consolation.

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