In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul,
St. Th—r—se of Lisieux writes that Christ was most often present
to her not "during my hours of prayer...but rather in the midst
of my daily occupations."
The time leading up to Christmas, though, is not a
good time to talk about things ordinary. Life seems anything but.
What with gifts to buy, parties to attend, homes to decorate,
travel plans to finalize, meals to cook, who actually has time
to stop and reflect about the presence of God in their daily midst?
Yet, Advent's invitation concerns just that. In
a culture which sings, "You better watch out, you better not cry,
you better not pout, I'm telling you why...," the Church offers
us another tune: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."
Advent is here to allow us time to focus on who's
really coming. In Advent, the Church has traditionally offered
the followers of Jesus, those who follow in the footpaths of the
Magi of old, three comings to think aboutChrist's incarnation
2,000 years ago, Christ's continued presence in our midst to this
day, and Christ's anticipated glorious return in the future.
In this Update, let us focus on Christ's
presence in our ordinary lives. For if we miss Christ in our daily
lives surely the utter ordinariness of a child born in a feed
box (a manger) will pass us by as well. The reflections that follow
offer an antidote to the cultural pull of busy-ness and commercialism
and invite us to see something new. Where we often discover Godand
where God most often discovers usis in the midst of ordinary,
First Sunday of Advent
door. In his book, The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking,
Brother Rick Curry tells the story of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez.
He was so able a spiritual guide that he was made the porter,
or doorkeeper, at the Jesuits' college on the island of Majorca.
He quickly became a favorite there as he tried to see God in everyone.
Every time there was a knock at his door he would answer, "I'm
Lord, help me
to open our doors to those needing welcome.
Monday of the First Week
(Is 2:1-5; Mt 8:5-11)
Faithuse it or lose it. Like all
things, faith is only good if we live it. It's one thing to say
we have it, another to practice it. According to Jewish legend,
the Red Sea did not first part when Moses stretched out his hand.
Only when the first person jumped into it did the promised miracle
God, be with me
when I take the risks that faith requires.
(Is 11:1-10; Lk 10:21-24)
Be playful. This past summer I was able
to spend extra time with my toddler-daughter. One of the things
that we enjoyed doing together was visiting the park. Just to
watch her at playswinging, going down the slide, climbing
around, interacting with other childrenthe excitement, innocence,
trust that she displayed was awesome. God too is a lover of children,
a lover of play. Too much of our life is spent at supposed serious
Lord of Joy, enliven
(Is 25:6-10; Mt 15:29-37)
Give without cost. St. Nicholas is a
perennial Advent favorite. Little is known of him, though there
are some wonderful stories that have survived. One tells of how
he rescued three young women whose father was about to sell them
into prostitution for lack of a dowry. Hearing of this, Nicholas
secretly tossed three gold bags through the home's window. It
was enough to pay for each dowry.
Help me to be
generous and cheerful to the poor,
as Nicholas was.
(Is 26:1-6; Mt 7:21, 24-27)
Expect the unexpected. A lesser-known
but no less important figure of Advent is St. Ambrose (d. 397).
When he was sent to quell an uprising in Milan over who was to
be the next bishop, a voice shouted, "Ambrose for bishop!" The
crowd agreed. Ambrose was taken abackhe wasn't a Christian,
let alone a priest. After a little resistance, he accepted, convinced
that it was the will of God.
Teach me to love the
unexpected, Lord, and to answer
when you call.
(Gn 3:9-15, 20; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Lk 1:26-38)
See heaven on earth. English poet Elizabeth
Barrett Browning once described the beauty of creation and God's
presence in it with these words: "Earth's crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes
off his shoes, the rest sit round and pluck blackberries." If
only we, like Mary and the saints, had such eyes.
Lord, open my
eyes and my heart to the splendor of creation.
(Is 30:19-21, 23-26; Mt 9:3510:1, 6-8)
Choose wisely. During the Middle Ages
there was a popular morality play entitled Everyman. Surprised
by Death's arrival, the hero asks if he can spend a few moments
conversing with his friendsMoney, Fame, Power and Good Works.
Death agrees. When asked to accompany him to the next life, all
refuse except Good Works.
Be with me, Lord,
when I make the many choices of each day
that add up to a life.
Second Sunday of Advent
It's not about
us. It's easy this time of year to get selfish. Our culture
almost mandates it. John the Baptist's message was different though.
He was preparing the way; he was not the way. For John someone
greater was to come. For me the children among us have only reinforced
this idea. The love we offer our children is preparing the way
for their future.
Help me take the
steps to get ready, Lord, for your new
arrival in my life.
Monday of the Second Week
(Is 35:1-10; Lk 5:17-26)
Extend a hand. Those who care for young
children often take walks with them. What a familiar sight is
the outstretched hand, waiting to be held. As much as the child
needs it for steadiness, the caretakers need it to be reminded
of the power of touch. It's so freeing, so healing, so loving
to hold a child's hand.
I extend my hands,
O Lord, to you, to the world, to my neighbor.
(Is 40:1-11; Mt 18:12-24)
Visit Bethlehem here. In this new millennium,
there is much talk of pilgrimage, of going somewhere. Perhaps
we need to stay closer to home. Dom Helder Camara, former archbishop
of Olinda and Recife and fearless champion of Brazil's poor, once
said: "Why should I go on pilgrimage to Bethlehem...when I see
Christ being born here....Oh, how blind we are, how deaf we are!
How hard it is to grasp that the Gospel of Jesus is still going
Help me, Lord,
to see the Gospel story in the people around me.
(Is 40:25-31; Mt 11:28-30)
Welcome home. Whenever I turn the corner
and head toward home, I can't help but smile. Whatever happened
during the day, its various frustrations, mishaps and pressures,
leave me as I picture my child waiting for me. As I walk up the
steps I can't ask for a more welcoming gesture than her beaming
smile and tight hug around my legs.
Let the children
teach us, O God, to welcome with open arms.
41:13-20; Mt 11:11-15)
Tell your story. At a certain age, most
kids won't go to sleep without first reading or hearing a story.
After bath time, the anticipation mounts for the fun and closeness
of story time. Children love stories. More importantly, we are
living stories. Elie Wiesel, author and winner of the Nobel Peace
Prize, says that the reason God created is because God loves stories.
God, author of
life, show me today how my story fits
into your Story.
(Is 48:17-19; Mt 11:16-19)
Pray for interruptions. Whether it's
sleeping, taking a shower, reading a book, relaxing, you name
it, with a little child running around the house it's sure to
be interrupted. Sometimes I wish for a day of no interruptions,
no obstacles to get in the way. Then it hits me: Without interruptions
where would the newness and freshness of life be?
Lord of surprises,
help me to find you in the interruptions
of my day.
(Sir 48:1-4, 9-11; Mt 17:10-13)
Stay alive. In his book, Trappist,
Michael Downey tells of a conversation between a visitor and a
monk. The visitor asks, "What is the toughest thing about the
monastic life?" The monk responds, "It's not obedience. It's not
celibacy. It's certainly not that we don't have our own bank accounts
and credit cards. It's staying alive to it, doing the monastic
thing day after day."
Let me stay alive
today, O Lord, in your light and love.
Third Sunday of Advent
I have an old car, a very old car, in fact. One thing I'm glad
that doesn't work after all these years is the radio. Not having
it allows me time to think, to listen, to reflect. With so much
noise elsewhere, it's the one place that I know will be quiet.
to me in the quiet moments of the day, Lord, whether they be few
(For December 17 or later, see Late
Monday of the Third Week
(Nm 24:2-7, 15-17; Mt 21:23-27)
Expect great things. So often we sell
short ourselves and our families. Where does holiness reside?
Jesus tells us again and again, holiness is all around us, every
day. Yes, we need sacred places and sacred actions, but God speaks
to us everywhere.
Lord, help me
to look close at hand for your revelation.
(Zep 3:1-2, 9-13; Mt 21:28-32)
Listen to the poor. Many of us close
ourselves off from the world, seeking shelter from the world in
safe homes, easy living. There's nothing wrong with safety, but
the gospel instructs us never to neglect our neighbors, especially
the poor. When we reach out to our neighbor, we are reaching out
Help me to hear
the cries of the poor, and to act in solidarity.
(Is 45:6b-8, 21b-25; Lk 7:19-23)
Proclaim the Kingdom. How can we be
Kingdom people? Jesus tells us the signs: The blind see, cripples
walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and
the poor hear good news. How can we be good news in our homes
and to society's poor? Where is blindness, paralysis, shame and
deafness that we can help to heal?
Lord of life,
help us to see your face in the people we live with, and in the
distressing disguise of the poor.
(Is 54:1-10; Lk 7:24-30)
Prepare the way. Did you ever show up
at a party or a restaurant in the wrong outfit? It happens to
everyone sometime. Without preparation, we really can't enjoy
the action as fully as we might. But when we think ahead, we're
ready for good things!
the crooked paths in our hearts, Lord, and let us be ready for
(Is 56:1-3, 6-8; Jn 5:33-36)
Praise the Lord! Late in Advent, our
excitement builds for the coming holiday. Amidst the gift-buying
and holiday preparations, let's be mindful of the incredible gift
that God gives to us every day in Jesus. It's the gift of life,
the gift that keeps giving.
You are great,
O God. Thank you for the gift of life, the wonder
of all creation.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Find God in the details. All of history
had been leading up to the IncarnationGod made flesh. Imagine
a surprise weekend trip a mother and child plan for Dad. They
might say later that the trip wasn't the only fun. Most memorable
might be all the planning of the mother and child: directions,
lodging, food, money, packing, all done with loving care. In human
history leading to the Incarnation, God has been doing the same
Let us know your
care and concern, God, in the events
of our lives.
(Gn 49:2, 8-10; Mt 1:1-17)
Get with the plan. Now is the time to
remember! We enter the late days of Advent, joyously tending to
the last-minute details, and welling with excitement like a child
before her father's surprise party. Let's remember what we're
about, and make sure we are ready for the king's arrival.
Make your ways
my ways, Lord, in everything I do today.
(Jer 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-24)
Look out for angels. Talk about being
caught between a rock and a hard place! After finding out that
Mary, his betrothed, is pregnant, Joseph is confused and troubled.
He doesn't know what to do. There appears to be no other possibility
than adulterythat is, until an angel of the Lord appears
to him in a dream.
Speak in my heart,
O God, and through your messengers who reveal your ways to me.
(Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25; Lk 1:5-25)
Remain hopeful. Childless and now too
old for children, Zechariah and Anna must have experienced the
fine line between patience and hopelessness. Many newborns don't
arrive on time but are days or weeks overdue. God's time is different
from our time. During the time of waiting, new parentsespecially
momsbecome more focused and alert for any signs of labor.
Tune me in, O
Lord, to the signs of your presence in Advent.
(Is 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38)
You are the chosen one. Picture this:
Betrothed in marriage, Mary, a young teenager, is visited by the
angel Gabriel and asked to do that which at best seems improbableto
bear the Christ child. She knows all too well the penalty for
adultery in her culturedeath. Despite the possible misperceptions,
she cannot avoid the fact that she has been chosen by God. In
an act of great bravery and trust, Mary responds, "May it be done
to me according to your word."
Help me to listen,
like Mary, Lord, and to open my life
to your will.
(Sng 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18; Lk 1:39-45)
Keep it in the family. Family photo
albums can be fun, revealing, comforting. If I ever need to relax
and "find" myself, they are one of the first places I go. There
is always a sense of anticipation, excitement and newnessour
dating years and engagement, our wedding and first house, family
vacations and get-togethers, and the birth of our daughter.
Lord, you show
us the Incarnation in the people we love.
Help us to love freely.
(1 Sam 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56)
Discover the other. The Magnificat,
named from the first word of the Latin translation, is such a
traditional Catholic prayer. It is also a very Jewish prayer,
based upon Hannah's words in the First Book of Samuel. It reminds
us that Jesus and his family were Jewish, that we ourselves have
Jewish spiritual roots. In finding out about another, we discover
things about ourselves.
Jesus, help us
to love Judaism, to respect all of the faiths where people seek
(Mal 3:1-4, 23-24; Lk 1:57-66)
Be excessive. A little-known saint celebrated
during Advent is the Polish priest John Kanty (d. 1473). He was
known to be a kind and humble man. As the story goes, one day
he was robbed by thieves. Asked if he had more money, he said
no. Later, he discovered coins in his pocket. Shouting, he chased
the thieves down and gave them what he had. In response they could
only give back what they had initially taken.
Show us your generosity,
Lord, and help us to imitate it.
(2 Sam 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Lk 1:67-69)
Rejoice! The season of waiting ends.
The entrance antiphon for this morning's Mass says it in the spirit
of St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians: "The appointed time has
come; God has sent his son into the world." As we move into the
Christmas celebration, let us remember that the Incarnation is
our key to the future.
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
Shine on us!