part two: an advent circle of grace


the second light: community

Earlier this year, when I realized that my laptop was on its last legs, I started the painstaking process of tidying up the files on my hard drive. It’s always so time consuming to do this, isn’t it? And, typically, it’s a rushed process because it seems like there’s always a critical deadline looming for which you can’t live without the computer. In the process of creating new file folders, deleting old ones, organizing and weeding out, I found myself sorting through the old “Christmas Cards” folder on the hard drive. This task of cleaning up that I wanted to complete as quickly as possible suddenly slowed down to a crawl.

When we were first married, we experienced several cross-country moves in a relatively short period of time. Sending out Christmas cards in which we included an annual Christmas update letter easily became integrated into our annual Christmas traditions. Once we started our family, we loved taking the girls out on a sunny late-autumn day for a photo at a local landmark to include in the card. Isn’t it funny how these wonderful rituals seem to grow and change from year to year? When we lived in Maine, we wrote about the time that the moose strolled right down our street just like in the opening of a popular old TV show called Northern Exposure. A couple of years later, we suffered the loss of my dad and two of our grandparents in the same year, so we wrote touching tributes to each them in the annual letter. Our home just outside of Washington, DC afforded us with one of my favorite family photos, taken inside the National Building Museum. The girls were so small and everyone was so happy in that picture. One year, when we started to grow tired of coming up with new material, we creatively wrote a Mad Lib with lots of fill-in-the-blanks for our family and friends to fill out. So when I started going through the old files on my computer and came upon all of this Christmas stuff from years gone by, I delighted in the walk down memory lane.

I realized, as I was going through all of these things, that I had also saved the annual spreadsheet lists of people to whom we would send out cards. Talk about going through the archives! As you might imagine, the people on the lists changed from year to year, because the places we lived and the circles of people in our lives changed from year to year as well. Our families, as all families do, suffered great losses over the years. As time went on, we lost contact with some friends for a variety of reasons. Likewise, we gained so many new relationships, new friendships, and new communities. When I compare the most recent Christmas card lists with the ones from 5 or 10 or 20 years ago, I am blown away. Memories of faces and moments and life come flooding back. This is the stuff that life is made of, isn’t it? Remembering each person on these years of old lists was an astounding moment of grace for me. And as I reflect on it this Advent season, I find myself reflecting on one of my favorite images from the Letter to the Hebrews. The author of the epistle writes:

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (-Hebrews 12:1)

Reflecting on this scripture causes me to pause. In my mind’s eye, I picture the dozens of people who have filled the lists on all of those Christmas card spreadsheets. I think about the couples, the families, the aunts and uncles and cousins, my brothers and sisters in law, my nieces and nephews, the old neighbors and co-workers. I reflect on all of the places the cards have travelled – the cities and towns and neighborhoods, the mailboxes and kitchen tables they’ve graced. I think of those who have died, and I think of the communion of saints, this great cloud of witnesses, and the way I sometimes feel their presence like a whisper. In the process of remembering, the invitation, for me, was to give honor to all of the holy souls that have graced me in my lifetime. The invitation for Advent is to celebrate the innumerable communities that have formed so many circles of grace in each of our lives.

As Michael Taylor says, “Grace happens when human life is lived and celebrated authentically.” And so this is my prayer for all of you: May you find solace and growth in the relationships in your lives. And may you delight in the presence of those holy friendships that enfold you in circles of grace.

 

[This material was presented as part of an Advent talk given to women in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Here is the introduction to the talk.]

prophets

communion of saints

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


 

*This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.” The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him.

of many things…

http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=951

A beautiful piece by Fr. James Martin, SJ on women religious. These women are full of grace.

holy week

This was one of those weeks here.

One of those weeks where the parent of a teenager dies, and my daughter helps to hold that friend up, while grieving and tears and sadness swirl around them all.

It’s happened before.

The first time, the father of one of her friends was killed in a car accident. A couple of weeks later, a guy lost his mother to brain cancer. Another time, a girl in her class watched her kid sister die of brain cancer. A few weeks ago, a young man whose father committed suicide a few years back decided to take his own life. This week, the dad died of a heart attack.

These are the times when people ask God, “Why? Why is this happening?” And these are the times when, sometimes, God’s answer is so unclear.

Why do we suffer? Why do kids who haven’t even graduated from high school lose their parents? Why do these tragedies happen?

From my perspective, as I watch these teenagers go through some of the most difficult moments that they will face in their lives, I have become profoundly aware that these experiences are changing them.

The night of the viewing, a close-knit group of Katie’s friends stood in line for over two hours. As adults, we all know how this can be. People talking in hushed tones around us. As we get closer to the casket, the raw emotion of the family who has lost someone. The awkwardness of not knowing what to say, even though we have all been on the receiving end before.

The day of the funeral, my daughter waited for the mass to start in a pew next to the girl whose father died in a car accident. I’m sure that thoughts of that funeral 12 months ago were forefront in their minds. When the opening song began to play, it was the same song they had heard a year ago, “Be Not Afraid.”

These are moments that change us. These are moments that, like it or not, make us holy men and women. Or teenagers, as is the case for my daughter, many times over, these past couple of years.

These are moments where our faith can be strengthened or lost. Our understanding of suffering can be profound. Our human bonds are transformed. Our commitment to those relationships that have changed because of death are magnified. Our hope in resurrection can be questioned, and then, in the end, sustained.

And though we may not ever truly understand why, in our deepest souls. we come to know, through these holy experiences, that God is good.

This Holy Week, I pray for all those touched by deaths that don’t seem to make any sense. That the grieving in our midst know God’s grace. And that they hope in the resurrection that is to come.

I invite you to do the same.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses,

that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults,

hardships, persecutions, and calamities;

for when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10