In Exile

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: BARUCH 5:1-9

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.

Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.


REFLECTION

The passage from Baruch refers to the Babylonian Exile, an event in Israelite history that rivals the Exodus.  During the exile, the people, especially the leaders of the nation, were removed from their homeland and scattered across Babylon. It was a strategy to control a conquered people.  This was a bleak moment for Israel as God’s chosen people were removed from the promised land for which they had long waited.  God’s chosen people no longer had their home.  Baruch says they were, “Led away on foot by their enemies. . .”  A lost people; displaced and uprooted they scrambled to hold onto their identity and find meaning in this tragic experience.  Scholars suggest that throughout the book of Baruch, the author explains the exile as a pattern of sin, death and return/renewal. This is a pattern that leads to spiritual growth in our lives as well. 

While the Babylonian Exile impacted an entire nation, each one of us have moments in our life where we are removed from what is comfortable and familiar.  We experience our own personal exiles.  Some of these moments come from our own choices that force us to redefine our identity or purpose.  While other moments the experience of exile may be completely out of our control such as losing a job.  The closing of Inspirio was one of those moments for me.  Starting in ministry in 1991 I had been involved in Church for 25 years when the retreat center closed.  This caused me to ponder my skills, interests and vocation.  What was once familiar was no longer an option because of circumstance, but also it brought a realization that it was time for change.  Uncertain, scared, broken and feeling like a failure the pursuit of a new life was forced upon me.    

Difficulty in family life is another area where many feel exiled.  Being exiled is having lost the safe place of acceptance and welcome. It is losing our foundation.  Therefore, when there are broken family relationships it cuts to the core of who we are.  The holidays, for many people, are a time of high anxiety and stress, often because of these family issues. In November a friend told me that her immediate family intended to spend Thanksgiving alone.  They made a conscious choice not to see extended family because of difficult relationships.  She asked, “Why spend the holiday with people who just cause stress and anxiety?”  No one is immune from their unique family dynamics.  Those relationships are so foundational that when they go astray it is as though we are wayward and homeless.  It can be a source of pain.  It was sobering to me when my son Andrew said to me, “Dad, how do you get along with your family?  You are so different do they even know who you really are.”  The epitome of exile is being alone, misunderstood and living in a foreign land.  It is especially painful when being with family is a foreign experience.    

While personal exile is being separated from who we are created to be, our community is in exile when we do lose our values.  Our community is in exile when our Church protects pedophiles over children.  We are in exile when we do not have the will to address gun violence; we are in exile when young women are being bought and sold through human trafficking; we are in exile when the inmate is ignored; we are in exile when the homeless do not have a meal or a place to stay on a cold night; we are in exile when those struggling with mental health issues do not have needed resources; we are in exile when we despise someone because of race; we are in exile when we turn our back on the suffering of immigrants; we are in exile when we refuse to protect and value life; we are in exile when we gossip; we are in exile when we betray those close to us; we are in exile when material items are more important to us than relationships; we are in exile when our phones are more important than the person with whom we are dining; we are in exile when we do not care for creation; we are in exile when we use someone else for our own gain; we are in exile when we forget that we have a responsibility to care for one another. 

Fortunately, exile is not the end of the story!  In today’s passage we enter the story as the exile is ending and Jerusalem is set to rejoice and begin anew.  A period of exile can be an opportunity for spiritual growth.  Eventually the Israelites are able to return home, with a new understanding of their purpose and identity. Baruch calls on Jerusalem to,

 

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“take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.”

Regardless of the reason of exile, something new and redemptive can occur.  Going through a divorce was hurtful, but it allowed me the opportunity for a lifelong love and the gift of witnessing the relationship between my son and his step niece and nephew.  Losing my job brought many emotions and self-doubt, but after years of ruminating there is an opportunity for a new life with a new ministry.  Advent is the time for us to see the new life that is budding from the ashes.  It is a time to return home full of hope, rejoicing in the renewal and new opportunity that comes when we discover the liberating impact of God’s grace, forgiveness, mercy and justice. 

Everyone must come out of exile in their own way
— Martin Buber

CONTEMPLATION

  • What has been your experience of exile?

  • How has exile led you to a spiritual rebirth?

  • Emerging from exile can lead to new life. What new life do you need in your own life or do you want to see occur in our society? What are you doing to make it happen?


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Joe Nettesheim is the Founder/Director of 12plus1. He has served as a pastoral minister since 1991. He and his wife Maribeth have a blended family of five kids, three son-in-laws, six grandkids and a Golden Doodle who is a big, loveable oaf.

SAY YES!

FIRST SATURDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: ISAIAH 29:17-24

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel,
"How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.


REFLECTION

Today we celebrate one of the most significant events of our liturgical year, the Immaculate Conception. Luke’s Gospel is all too familiar to us as human beings who believe in and celebrate the life and existence of Jesus. We know this story like the back of our hand: Gabriel came to Mary to tell her that she was having a baby and her baby would be the Son of God and BAM -- Jesus was born and our lives were changed forever. I, and maybe you too, have heard this story what feels like millions of times. It’s a tale as old as time. I even recall reenacting the full story of the Nativity 20+ years ago in elementary school as an auxiliary angel, not quite cut-out to be Gabriel. I probably became qualified for the part with my possession of hand-me-down angel wings from my sisters. Regardless, this story and this day is one that is difficult for us to forget, no matter what our memory of it is.

I often catch myself reading and reflecting on this passage as one that brings life to Jesus, which is 100% accurate and undeniably true. Without Mary’s yes, this story would hold a drastic twist. But that’s exactly it -- Mary said YES. A really big, packed, multi-faceted yes. Had she any idea how her life was about to change? That this yes was one of the most important yeses anyone would ever say yes to? Talk about a drastic twist she didn’t see coming in the story of her life: unveiling her radical trust in our God to bring Jesus into the world, which in turn brought us to life. 

I love the word radical. I need to use it more, and probably live it more. Google defines radical as such:

adjective

(especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.

Jesus lived a pretty radical life, serving the unloved, broken, poorest of the poor people among Him. He never let anyone get in His way of living His purpose. And now in reading today’s Gospel over and over again, I find it difficult to deny that He inherited some part of that radical lifestyle from His mama. She set the stage for what was about to come through her example for her Son and for us to radically trust in what God has planned.

The excitement of what Christmas brings can sometimes overshadow Mary’s unbelievable, inspiring, unwavering, and confident faith. Her yes appears to come with little hesitation, although there may be much written unknown to the human eye between those carefully crafted bible verses, especially amongst “Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ “

We too are hand-maids and -maidens -- hand made -- of and by the Lord. Mary knew it (obviously) and lived it (again, obviously). She was, to bring it to the 21st century, living her best life, which is rooted in this day and this moment of saying yes. As we dive deeper into this Advent season and new liturgical year, let’s find what our own yes is and live it, without hesitation, following the example of our beloved Mother Mary and the best gift she could have given us.

Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.
— Tina Fey

CONTEMPLATION

  • What is your yes? How can you live your yes?

  • Are you living your best life? What does that look like?’


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Kimberly VanBeek is a 20-something year old constantly in search for her purpose in life. She loves ultimate frisbee, Trader Joe’s, twinkly lights, and anything that kicks her in the feels. Kimberly currently is the Advancement Associate at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Milwaukee.

FREE OF SHAME

FIRST FRIDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: ISAIAH 29:17-24

Thus says the Lord GOD:
But a very little while,
and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard,
and the orchard be regarded as a forest!
On that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book;
And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.
The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD,
and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
For the tyrant will be no more
and the arrogant will have gone;
All who are alert to do evil will be cut off,
those whose mere word condemns a man,
Who ensnare his defender at the gate,
and leave the just man with an empty claim.
Therefore thus says the LORD,
the God of the house of Jacob,
who redeemed Abraham:
Now Jacob shall have nothing to be ashamed of,
nor shall his face grow pale.
When his children see
the work of my hands in his midst,
They shall keep my name holy;
they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob,
and be in awe of the God of Israel.
Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding,
and those who find fault shall receive instruction.


REFLECTION

What is the shame you carry? 

Some people believe that shame is good.  An internal check and balance to keep themselves in line.  This week I am at the National Catholic Youth Ministry Conference.  Our new, little, organization 12plus1 is an exhibitor, promoting a gap year for young adults to the adults who work with youth and young adults.  As I was setting up my booth, I took a glance around the ballroom.  One organization had stage lighting, another had a large screen TV, some had these enormous banners proclaiming their program to be the best one ever.  Suddenly I found myself ashamed of 12plus1.  Feelings of inferiority and shame welled up inside me.  Questions raced through my head: What are we doing here?  Why would we belong?  Who is interested in learning about a gap year?  How could I be so stupid to think this is a good idea? I was ashamed that I thought this could work and started to buy into the idea that the people who doubt this endeavor (or my ability to make it happen) are right.  These negative thoughts went through my head because I was ashamed. Shame made me think I was not good enough.  Not a productive or completely healthy process I will admit. 

Shame has been a powerful and at times paralyzing part of my faith development.  On some level -probably unconsciously – the message was passed on that I was not good enough for God’s love or forgiveness.  Getting sucked into a spirituality of shame is dangerous and destructive. First it is based on the idea that salvation has to be earned. God will only love you if you are perfect. Secondly, whatever actions brought shame need to be hidden, buried and denied.  Not too long ago I was with colleagues who began speaking about a person of whom they had judged their behavior was less than acceptable.  As they went on speaking about how they could never respect a person who has done x, I listened silently knowing I am like that person.  It is one of the issues I wrestle with most often.  My shame will not allow me to let it go.  Shame has made me feel that God could not possibly forgive me.  How could God forgive me when I am unable to forgive myself?  Shame prevents a person from opening themselves up to God’s forgiveness.  Both of these examples deny our need for God.  Shame is so powerful it drives us to keep God and others at a distance. 

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of

God that is within us.
— Marianne Williamson

It is also a serious misunderstanding of God’s relationship with us.  The underlying message of shame is that we are not worthy enough to access God.   This theology views God as an aloof judge who lacks mercy.  Our guilt, brokenness then becomes irreconcilable.   This stands in opposition to the core foundation of Christianity.  As Christians we believe that God loves us so desperately, so passionately that God became one of us. Sharing in every aspect of what it means to be human just to be present to us.  The starting point of our relationship with God is not that we are sinners and separated from God.  Our focus needs to be on the fact that God wants a relationship with us and pursues us even when we sin.  God is our creator who brought us to life by putting his own Spirit within us. 

We are called to share that Spirit of Christ with the world.  Through our unique talents, compassion, forgiveness, love, service and justice we bring glory and praise to God.  Even Jacob, who was a scheming and manipulative person brought glory to God.  Isaiah writes:

Now Jacob shall have nothing to be ashamed of,
nor shall his face grow pale.
When his children see
the work of my hands in his midst,
They shall keep my name holy;
they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob,
and be in awe of the God of Israel.

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Isaiah presents a hopeful situation.  He speaks of a day when the deaf will hear, the blind will see, the lowly will find joy and the tyrant will be no more.  Understanding that God makes us co-creators and trusts us in being vehicles of his forgiveness, love and mercy is incarnational!  Being Christ-like  makes the name of God holy.  It will help others to see the awesomeness of God.  We have a powerful witness to make.  One that will not happen if we are handcuffed by shame.  This advent you are invited to place your shame before God .  Open yourself up, allow God to see what you are hiding, allow God’s forgiveness to permeate your entire being, let it go, be free- and share that freedom with others.    


CONTEMPLATION

  • What causes you shame? How does it impact your relationship with God?

  • How does it prevent you from being your true self?

  • What will free you from this shame?


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Joe Nettesheim is the Founder/Director of 12plus1. He has been involved in parish ministry since 1991 serving as Executive Director of Inspirio Youth Ministries for six years. Joe and his wif Maribeth have a blended family of five kids, three son-in-laws, six grandchildren and a GoldenDoodle known as TS Eliot the wonder dog.

DOERS OF THE WORD

FIRST THURSDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 15:29-37

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,'
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

"Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined."


REFLECTION

As a carpenter, Jesus would probably have known a thing or two about building houses. When we read the Gospel, we hear Jesus saying that those who listen and act upon his words will be like the people who built their houses on rock. They have a firm foundation and will remain strong even in bad weather. The others, who hear but do not act, will be like those who built houses on sand. When the storms come, the houses on sand will collapse. I think I remember hearing something similar in The Three Little Pigs, so what is the message Jesus is trying to share?

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I think that the message is pretty clear- we have to listen and act on the words of Jesus. Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” This can sometimes feel overwhelming. What would happen if we took the message of Jesus to heart and then acted on it? Would we do as Jesus suggested to the rich young man and sell everything we have and give to the poor? Would we follow the example of Jesus and share a meal with those on the margins? Following the way of life Jesus modeled for us today would be considered radical by many, but isn’t that what we are called to do as disciples? 

I think that the message is pretty clear- we have to listen and act on the words of Jesus. Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” This can sometimes feel overwhelming. What would happen if we took the message of Jesus to heart and then acted on it? Would we do as Jesus suggested to the rich young man and sell everything we have and give to the poor? Would we follow the example of Jesus and share a meal with those on the margins? Following the way of life Jesus modeled for us today would be considered radical by many, but isn’t that what we are called to do as disciples? 

I think that the message is pretty clear- we have to listen and act on the words of Jesus. Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” This can sometimes feel overwhelming. What would happen if we took the message of Jesus to heart and then acted on it? Would we do as Jesus suggested to the rich young man and sell everything we have and give to the poor? Would we follow the example of Jesus and share a meal with those on the margins? Following the way of life Jesus modeled for us today would be considered radical by many, but isn’t that what we are called to do as disciples? 

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
— James 1:22

Do we listen to the Word and then allow it to transform our hearts? How often do we hear jokes about maintaining a Christian attitude in the parking lot after mass? Under the joke lies the truth that we hear a message, but do not always act on it. It is not always easy to listen and act, but imagine what sort of place the world would be if we took to heart the message to love our neighbors. The world would be a much peaceful, loving, and forgiving place.

Advent is a time of waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. What better way to prepare for Christ than to consider how we are living the messages he taught? This Advent, as we prepare for the coming of Jesus, what are we doing to be doers of the word and not just hearers?


CONTEMPLATION

  • What can you do this Advent to act upon the word and not just listen?

  • In the first reading, Isaiah reminds us to “Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal Rock.” On what foundation will I build my house? When the storm comes, what will happen to my house?

  • What is one way that I can intentionally focus on the Scripture message?


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Taylor Baar is the Director of Youth Ministries at Our Lady of Lourdes in Milwaukee.

CHASE FOR PERFECTION

FIRST WEDNESDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 15:29-37

At that time:
Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee,
went up on the mountain, and sat down there.
Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.
The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole,
the lame walking,
and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.

Jesus summoned his disciples and said,
"My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
for they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat.
I do not want to send them away hungry,
for fear they may collapse on the way."
The disciples said to him,
"Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place
to satisfy such a crowd?"
Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?"
"Seven," they replied, "and a few fish."
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.


REFLECTION

Jesus gave the crowd seven loaves of bread, and they gave back to him seven baskets of bread.  Jesus’ followers repaid him with more than he gave them.  Within the Bible the number seven symbolizes spiritual perfection and completion.  The story of God’s perfect creation is completed in seven days and Joshua marches around Jericho seven times on the seventh day blowing seven horns.

Within this particular passage Jesus gives us, his followers, perfection and completion through the seven loaves.  Jesus’ disciples give seven baskets of bread back to him, demonstrating their desire to follow him and strive for the perfection of the Kingdom of God on earth.  As humans, giving Jesus more perfection than he offered us is impossible, as we are born in a fallen nature of original sin.  Usually the temptation of sin outweighs our desire to be perfect, and we turn away from God.   

Oftentimes in a world filled with violence it seems futile to imagine what a perfect world could look like.  It is easier to ignore the latest news story about a mass shooting.  Our stomach’s do not drop like they used to, and we have become numb to the violence that takes place within our world, country, and even our own city.  The question of what to do about this violence continues to prevail. 

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We often feel powerless and believe that our actions will not impact others whether on a small or large scale.  On the contrary, what we do does affects others, whether positively or negatively.  In reality every single one of our actions has an impact, and your action can cause a chain reaction.  Just this past week someone put a post-it note on my locker that said “Have a Great Day! – Pass it On.”  That note of positivity brightened my day and brought a smile to my face, encouraging me to spread the joy of Christ to others.  I moved it to someone else’s locker and people have been passing the message on this past week.  Even though it is not possible to make every single one of our actions perfect, we ought to try our best.  The struggle with sin is a tough battle and attempting to love like Jesus is one of the hardest things we will ever do.  We should strive to make our actions emulate the perfection of the Jesus. 

Jesus’ entrance into our imperfect and violent world through his birth offers a possibility of a peaceful perfection.  All of Jesus’ actions were done through perfect kindness.  The perfection in the giving of seven loaves was eventually returned to him when his disciples brought back to him seven full baskets.  Our ultimate goal should be to act in perfect kindness, peace, and love towards others, and those actions will eventually be reciprocated to us in greater measure than what we gave. 

 


CONTEMPLATION

  • What are simple actions that you can take in your everyday life that will make a lasting impact on someone else?

  • Where do you see the perfection of Jesus in the world?


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Margo Cushman is a senior at Dominican High School, is a senior at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, WI.  She enjoys participating in theatre and campus ministry, and loves being outside!

On That Day . . .

FIRST TUESDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 11:1-10

On that day,
A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A Spirit of counsel and of strength,
a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
But he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land's afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra's den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.

On that day,
The root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
The Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.


REFLECTION

It is that time of year, the time that many wait for with eagerness. Where bright lights fill the street and compensate for the fast approaching night. Trees shine bright inside windows, and holiday tunes fill every store. It is Christmas time. Not only does the physical atmosphere change, but the social one does as well. During this time, you see people being more generous and more forgiving; the Spirit of the Lord is more evident in our daily lives.

The reading mentions in the first stanza the Spirits of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord as a budding blossom growing among the people. We all see these attributes flourish among people during this season. A sense of understanding and humbling as we recognized all people are God’s children; a sense of counsel as families and friends come together to celebrate their unbreakable ties; a sense of strength (to make it through Wisconsin’s cold winter and) keep focus with distractions from multiple breaks and marketing traps; and knowledge and fear of the Lord to remind ourselves of what we are celebrating: the birth of Christ. The birth that allowed us to be beautifully imperfect in every way possible.

Open your eyes to the beauty around you, open your mind to the wonders of life, open your heart to those who love you.
— Maya Angelou

In the second stanza this idea is built upon with an overwhelming sense of community. Enemies are reconciled and appreciating each other, as seen in “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb” and “the lion shall play by the cobra’s den.” In many biblical passages the message is spoken loud and clear to forgive and reconcile with one’s enemy, but this passage paints a clear picture of all of God’s creation coming together. Seemingly incompatible creatures are meeting, and living together, working to improve the lives of others. This reading is screaming the message of unity. Our preconceived prejudices and arguments need to be thrown out the window. For some this may be removing racial bias, acceptance for people with different sexual orientations or preferences, or letting an estranged family member or friend back into our hearts. The bottom line is that all are given a place the table, and that the meal is shared with love.

Special attention, however, is given to the poor. The reading specifically states that people will not be judged on appearance and “the poor [shall be judged] with justice.” Extreme pressure is placed to give and get the biggest, shiniest, most practical, most fun gift. The passage completely demystifies this statement. While earthly gifts do have value in life, people should realize that the most important gifts are family and God, because they have the only ties that cannot be broken. Instead of spending money on material things, it can be well spent on items of survival for the poor and homeless. It is our responsibility as Christ’s disciples to bring justice to those in need.

While this is the most wonderful time of the year, I experience some dissonance with the notion that people should be especially kind and giving during this season. Our hearts should be open every season, care should be given to those less fortunate constantly, and attachment to earthly possessions should be disregarded daily. While I will encourage you to focus on giving now, I remind you that we should be giving all year round. Because the problems we pay attention to during the holiday season are prevalent all year long. This Christmas I encourage you to open your heart and keep them open forever.

 

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light.”


CONTEMPLATION

  • When are times that you have not been receptive to all people?

  • How can you put aside your differences to unite yourselves?

  • How can you give back to the community?

  • What is a plan to keep an open heart and “Christmas spirit” a part of life when advent is over?


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Amira Elsafy, a senior at Dominican High School, lives in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.  She has been the class Student Council President, a member of the honor roll for the past four years and loves to volunteer.  Outside of the academic world, you will find Amira on the stage, recently winning an award for playing the Witch in “Big Fish”.

United in Faith

FIRST MONDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 8:5-11

When Jesus entered Capernaum,
a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying,
"Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully." 
He said to him, "I will come and cure him." 
The centurion said in reply,
"Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof;
only say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes;
and to another, 'Come here,' and he comes;
and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." 
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him,
"Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. 
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west,
and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven."


REFLECTION

Sometimes we encounter faith where we least expect it. Actually, because it is unexpected, our experiences of faith in people and places outside of the normal religious contexts are far more impactful than those from within. Jesus encountered faith outside of religious contexts more often than he did within them. This gospel story is one of those encounters, and one that Catholics are reminded of at each celebration of the Eucharist.

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Since the revision of the Roman Missal (introduced to the Catholic Church in the United States in 2011), the words of this unnamed centurion from the Gospel have been given a lot more attention. He asks Jesus to heal his servant, but insists that he must do so by word, rather than in person, because he is unworthy to have Jesus “under his roof”. Expressing our unworthiness before God, prior to the reception of the Eucharist, is not new. The newest missal translation simply recovers the scriptural basis of the phrase. Since this has become our primary point of reference to this gospel story, it is easy to miss the second half, and what might be the more important theme, of the story. The centurion reaches across a significant social divide and personally connects with Jesus. He recognizes Jesus as spiritual authority, which he relates to his own experiences of societal authority. He acknowledges this authority in Jesus as the basis of his conviction that Jesus will undoubtedly be able to heal his servant. Jesus is “amazed” by his faith, the likes of which he has not seen from within “Israel”.

We quote this unnamed man of the Gospel as we prepare ourselves to unite with Christ in the most intimate way that we are able. We unite across another divide – human and divine – in sacrament, to be sacrament. These words of conviction, expressing our faith that Jesus can indeed heal across any divide, are the most appropriate words we can utter at such a time. It should then call us to consider what other divides might we be empowered by faith to overcome.

In the incarnation, Jesus is the living icon of integration, “the coincidence of opposites” who “holds all things in unity” within himself (Colossians 1:15-20). God is One.
— Richard Rohr

In this time of divisions, we should remember this man who reached across a divide, to connect in an act of faith. Divisions have the power to make us feel all kinds of negative emotions that keep us from connection, community, communion. We feel unworthy, ashamed, guilty, anxious and fearful. This centurion teaches us that we cannot let that stop us from acting in faith, seeking connection and striving for unity.

I have mostly thought that the words uttered before receiving communion were simply the reminder of my own unworthiness before God. Reflecting on the whole of this story, I realize the primacy of the next step, the conviction that the divisions that cause such judgments of worth are overcome through faith, and the realization that those divisions cannot be a reality within the unity of the Divine.

Our sacramental encounter, that bridges the divide between the human and divine, reminds us that in all places, with all people, we ought to be more open, interested, and able, to bridge all divides. We ought to be empowered in faith to reach across them, to connect, to embody the divine within us, and to become a force of unity.


CONTEMPLATION

  • Which divisions that exist in the world today do you find most disturbing?

  • What divides do you feel too ashamed, guilty, anxious, or scared to overcome?

  • Knowing that in God there is no division, how can faith empower you to reach across a divide? What can you do to bring unity there?


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Mary Gentile is the Associate Director of hte St. Clare Center for Catholic Life at Cardinal Stritch University. She was previously a Theology Teacher at Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha

Promise of Hope

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: JEREMIAH 33: 14-16

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise
I made to the house of Israel and Judah.
In those days, in that time,
I will raise up for David a just shoot ;
he shall do what is right and just in the land.
In those days Judah shall be safe
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure;
this is what they shall call her:
“The LORD our justice.”


REFLECTION

You are not finished;  you are not stuck in the lifeless grind of busyness that overwhelms, paralyzes and takes away self-awareness; you are not defined by the worst of your actions or doomed by broken relationships; you will not be reduced to an object or defined by any institution that uses you.  Your world is not one headed for disaster and decay.  This is a time of renewal and rebirth.  You are created for greatness and joy; your very existence gives glory and praise to your Creator who is with you right now!  And if these words are difficult to believe there is a shoot- a branch that is growing in the unlikeliest of places that will bring you new life, justice and help you to see your true self- a valued child of God.   

Those words were not easy to write.  It isn’t that I don’t believe them- I do!  However, it is my personality to focus on the negative, so I can fix it.  Isn’t that ridiculous?  At times this mindset blinds me to the ADVENT- new life- incarnation that has been occurring before my eyes.  My divorce was 12 years ago October 2006.  It was destructive, devastating and hurtful.  It ripped apart two families in a way that did not seem reparable.  The scars and scabs of those wounds still exist and can be easily opened.  There are three people though, whose relationship represents the healing that has also occurred.  My son, step-granddaughter and step-grandson have a beautiful and adorable relationship.  He is 18 and a freshman in college.  They are 7 and 5.  When they are all together there is chaos in the house.  Chaos every house should have.  Laughter, running, shouting, playing, joy, hugs and lots of love.  They admire him and soak up his attention.  He feeds off their innocence and unconditional love.  These three are the ‘just shoot.’  They are justice; they are hope; they are forgiveness and healing; they are a new moment; they are Advent; they are the incarnation.  When I am not vigilant; when I am drowsy from the anxiety of guilt, when I am too busy, I miss it.  I miss the forgiveness.  I miss this incarnational moment. 

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The scriptures tell us that a sign of the incarnation (God in human form) is the presence of justice.  A common definition of biblical justice is “being in right relationship.”  Our relationships need balance.  There should be a balance between ourselves and others, ourselves and God and within our own self.  For this to become a reality it is imperative that first we know who we are.  We are not God. We are a creation of God.  We belong to God.  Our essence – the most important element of what defines humans- is that we are a child of God.  This truth should make us humble.  It also means that every other person also belongs to God.  Therefore racism, greed, poverty, discrimination, betrayal are examples of injustice.  It is not what God wants.  When one person does not have their needs met and another person is pursuing materials items for as a hobby our human relationships are not right.  The relationship is out of whack and it is a betrayal of ourselves and to God. Injustice breeds hurt, anger and hopelessness.  The incarnation brings healing, peace and hope. 

While optimism makes us live as if someday soon things will soon go better for us, hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with the deep trust that God will never leave us alone but will fulfill the deepest desires of our heart
— Henri Nouwen

Sometimes our family seems to be a puzzle whose pieces do not fit.  Yet there are unexpected, bonding moments, like summer pool parties, Sunday brunches,  Halloween bonfires and Christmas gatherings, (even when Maribeth is in the hospital) that are like the, “Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”  Those three kids, laughing and giggling freely is a sign of that promise of redemption.  Their relationship is healing for me.  It promises forgiveness and offers a glimpse into a world where all the pieces of the puzzle fit.  Even if it is only a sign; it is a promise that someday, I will be able to let go of the all the guilt and experience redemption.  Even if it does not happen at one moment advent is a promise that what seems impossible is possible. 

Advent is not about a baby.  Jesus has already been born.  The incarnation we are awaiting is within our own life.  There is a parable about a monastery that had lost its way.  The monks were gossiping, jealous, stuck in their routine.  They had lost God.  The abbot was beside himself, so he went to his spiritual director asking for advice.  His spiritual director paused and told the abbot these words and then fell silent. “The Messiah is among you.”  The abbot returned to the monastery and shared this with his fellow monks.  As they looked at each other they wondered, who could it be?  Who was the Messiah?  Soon they started treating each other differently.  They were kind, stopped gossiping and less judgmental. Forgiveness was offered freely.  There was a desire to live in  the moment, treat each other kindly and be present to whoever was the Messiah.  A calm and peace came over the monastery.  Hope was renewed.  They were awake.  Their mission was renewed.

The messiah is among you.  The messiah is with you.  Your redemption is at hand!


CONTEMPLATION

  • What prevents you from recognizing the “shoot “of God’s presence in your life?

  • What relationships in your life are not in balance?  What might you be able to do to restore this relationship?

  • The messiah is among you.  Where do you see the Messiah?  How can you be the incarnation?

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Joe Nettesheim is the founder and Director of 12plus1. He has been involved in Church ministry since 1991. He and his wife Maribeth have a blended family of 5 children, 3 son-in-laws, 6 grandchildren and one crazy large Golden Doodle named Eliot.