FOLLOW THE WILL OF GOD

FOURTH MONDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: 2 SAM 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16

When King David was settled in his palace,
and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side,
he said to Nathan the prophet,
"Here I am living in a house of cedar,
while the ark of God dwells in a tent!"
Nathan answered the king,
"Go, do whatever you have in mind,
for the LORD is with you."
But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
"Go, tell my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD:
Should you build me a house to dwell in?

"'It was I who took you from the pasture
and from the care of the flock
to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went,
and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.
And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.
I will fix a place for my people Israel;
I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place
without further disturbance.
Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old,
since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel.
I will give you rest from all your enemies.
The LORD also reveals to you
that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his Kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your Kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.'"


REFLECTION

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I often find myself giggling over my similarities to King David- including in today’s reading. In this passage we find David “chillin.” The passage sets it up that God has taken care of David’s enemies and he’s not currently at battle with anyone nor hiding for his life- he’s just hanging out in his big fancy house with his BFF/mentor Nathan.

It’s in this relaxed state that David has the thought that he expresses to Nathan, “Hey, I have this awesome house that I’m sitting in, yet the Ark of the Covenant is in a tent with no real walls. So let’s build a fancy house for the Ark.”

What made David have a desire to do this? An after-thought of “Oh, do I seem selfish in my present circumstance?”, or he may even have had a desire for formality, ya' know, “this seems like the right thing to do”, or it truly could have been a thought that came from a heart posture of worship and adoration. We don’t get to peer into his heart’s intentions.

But before David could pour any building foundation, God speaks to Nathan about David saying, “When did I ever ask for a dwelling place? Have I ever expressed that I wanted that?”

 

Ding, ding, ding!

There it is. Here’s where I relate. Many times, I have tried to sacrifice something for the Lord, or perform a spiritual ritual, or do a bold act of faith, and the Lord has had to step in and say “Hey, that’s nice but have I asked for that?” When I reflect on why I initiate those actions I believe often times it’s because “it seems like the right thing to do” or it comes from a heart of “Wow, I am so grateful for what the Lord has done for me, I MUST repay Him”. And it is there that I start striving instead of abiding. But like 1 Sam 15:22 mentions, The Lord desires obedience over sacrifice. And sometimes our obedience is resting in the promises of the Lord.

As we look further down the passage, we see our sweet Lord is wanting to send the message to David, “Hey, don't build Me a house. I don’t need one! But I’m going to build YOU a house!” and He continues to give promises to David.  

[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.
— CS Lewis

Isn’t that the Gospel? When we want to earn our spot at His table, we’re reminded this season that the most perfect gift was given in the form of a child, giving us an invite to His table if we choose to accept it.

Let us prepare our hearts to receive the greatest gift to ever enter the world.


CONTEMPLATION

  • On this Eve, let us ask ourselves- what is our heart position in celebrating the greatest gift of Jesus Christ. Is it tradition? The right thing to do? Desiring to pay back for that gift? Or obedience, reverence, worship?

  • What promises are our Lord speaking over you this season? Record those.


Raquel Fletcher is a staff member at Shepherd’s Fold Ranch. She has a calling to share her faith and bring people to Christ.

EMBODY GOD

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: LUKE 1:39-45

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled."


REFLECTION

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As we decorated Christmas cookies Soren, my five-year-old step grandson, took the spatula filled with frosting and stuck it in his mouth.  After eating the frosting, he quickly went to put the spatula back in the frosting again!  Already concerned about the effects and energy associated with high blood sugar level and worrying about tainting the frosting with a “double-dip” I screamed NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  He was startled, but it certainly got his attention and stopped him in his tracks.  No five-year-old germs would go into that frosting on my watch!  For a moment it looked like he might cry, and I thought, maybe there was a better way to stop him.  Yet I doubt any parent or grandparent would question my use of adult power.  Isn’t that what all of us do when we want to obtain someone’s attention in a hurry?  We react, we get loud, we scream, we wave our arms, we do what it takes.  In the age of social media, the competition for attention leads many to be boastful and bombastic.  Others use their sexuality or violence or ridiculous controversial assertions simply to gain attention.  We live in a culture where power, position, popularity and wealth are upheld as the measure of success.  Too many people will do whatever it takes to gain that notoriety and the trappings that accompany it.  Our society claims those as the winners.  Immigrants, those in poverty, sick, and victims of violence are the losers.  Who then, in their right mind, would decide to communicate to the world through the most common, unremarkable, not unique experience- the birth of a baby?  The answer:  our God! 

Micah writes,

“Thus, says the LORD: You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel;”

The source of delivery for the people of Israel will come from a place that is small, unremarkable and barely noteworthy.  God will claim power through the line of David, a shepherd who was a nobody.  Everything about the incarnation story is one of humility and gives us insight into how God views power and the importance of the mundane.

When I was in college, I remember often speaking to one of my mentors about Jesus and the nature of Jesus.  He used this phrase many times: 

Jesus is the fullest embodiment of God in human form. 

Paul’s letter to the Philippians says it this way, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,” Becoming human was a step down for God.  By becoming human, God does yield his power as fear or judgment or condemnation or “winning,” instead God sets limits.  Where God is all knowing (omniscient), Jesus had to grow in wisdom and stature (Luke); Where God is all-powerful (omnipotent), Jesus dies on the cross; where God is everywhere (omnipresence), Jesus is vulnerable, born in a barn and placed in a feeding trough in a town that is nowhere.  God’s involvement in the transformation of humanity occurs through a quiet, humble action that no one notices, and culminates in an execution. 

Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier if God would have arrived in a scene with great production value, thunder and lightning, earthquakes, a significant light show and the music building to a crescendo?  And then in the most dramatic way -like yelling at a little boy putting a spatula in the frosting- screamed- repent the time of the Lord is at hand!  Change your life and become obedient to the King of Kings! 

God has never operated that way.  The arrogance of this age is not and has never been the way of God. 

The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in shit and straw…a child… I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry … Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable.
— Bono

Jesus is Emmanuel- God with us; living in the mess of our lives with us.  The Gospel reveals how common the incarnation is.  The story includes a visit from one cousin to another; welcoming and joy in their relationship, conversation about the stirring of the babies in the womb.  This situation is occurring all across the globe to millions of people right now as you read this.  What is remarkable about this story is the degree to which God is present in the common aspects of our lives.  God is not out there waiting to yield his power as a “winner.”  God is in our awkward and insufficient attempts to love, relate and care for one another. God is in our stale and stilted hopes and dreams; God is in our failings and shortcomings.  This is the incarnation.  God is not the all-powerful deity out there, aloof and above humanity.  God is present- right now.  God is with us through Jesus as the fullest embodiment of God in human form.

Two days from now we will celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We can focus on the historical event and how God humbly got involved in humanity 2000 plus years ago.  Or we can also celebrate that the incarnation has not ended.  It was just a historical event, but it is also a cosmic event.  The incarnation happens every day.  God is incarnate in the family you will see and struggle relating to, the friends you confide in, the young person you mentor, the vulnerable person you serve.  You are the incarnation.  Whereas Jesus is the fullest embodiment of God in human form, we are a flawed and partial embodiment of God in human form, but we do have a choice about revealing God.  Not in the same way as Jesus, we are adopted sons and daughters.  As adopted sons and daughters we can embody and communicate in humility the love, forgiveness, justice and mercy of God to the world.   As advent comes to a close and we transition into the Christmas season, will the incarnation happen through you?  Will you see God’s activity all around you in the mess of your life?

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CONTEMPLATION

  • Who has been an example of the embodiment of God for you?

  • In what ‘common’ ways have you expereinced God?

  • Reflect on your spiritual preference: do you prefer a God who is all-powerful, mighty or one who is common, with you every step of the way? Why do you think this is so? What does it say about your spirituality?

  • How do you embody God?


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Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1, a service learning ministry focusing on giving witness to Jesus through action and finding Christ in all we serve.

THREE REASONS MARY'S YES MAKES ME CRY

THIRD SATURDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: LUKE 1:46-56

Mary said:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever."

Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months
and then returned to her home.


REFLECTION

The story of Mary didn’t used to make me cry.

Oh sure, I cry now. Especially when I listen to this Jackie Francois song based on today’s gospel:

My Soul Rejoices

That’s the best song to get stuck in your head, isn’t it? It sings so beautifully the words of one of our faith’s champions.

In this prayer of praise Mary proclaims a God who surpasses all human understanding. She’s the model of all models. She’s an arrow that points to God better than any other human. She’s...well…”most blessed” as Elizabeth puts it so well. And Mary’s Magnificat prayer, if you let it sink deep within you, will make you cry and see three crazy awesome reasons why God is the best thing to come into our lives in the history of mankind.

Mary’s Got It Rough. Don’t Tell Her, Though

Mary is a pregnant high schooler who has accepted the likely shaming or even potentially a stoning for carrying a child she has to explain as not even by another man. She has to risk losing her betrothed, Joseph, with this news (just imagine that conversation.) Mary’s circumstances in giving birth to our Savior are pretty disastrous. By the world’s standard.

What does Mary do, though? She praises God, rejoices in this news and circumstance and calls God great for blessing her.

Blessing her with pregnancy she can only explain by saying, “God did it.”

Blessing her with a pregnancy that could get her killed.

Blessing her with a pregnancy that could get her completely bounced from society.

It seems she is aware of the surroundings that could make her life hard with her reference to being a “lowly servant.”

Yet, she still says, “Yes.”

Makes you a little weepy, doesn’t it?

Could you take the worst circumstance in your life and call it a blessing?

Are you willing to become Mary in your devotion to God? What are you willing to change to make it possible?

 

Her Joy

Let’s go back to that “lowly servant” comment Mary makes in her praise song. It seems like she’s being a Debbie-Downer and about to go into a big “oh woe is me” speech. Mary, instead, leaps for joy in her trust in God.

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“All generations will call me blessed,” she rejoices.

“The Almighty has done great things for me,” she exclaims.

“Holy is His Name,” she glorifies.

She’s all in. The joy she feels is deep within her as a teenager. She knows what’s her’s and knows God does great things - for her. No one can take that away from her ever. She can sing this song at any point in her life in any situation.

That’s joy that goes beyond all understanding.

 

Do you have joy that gets you through all the tough stuff in your life?

 

You Better Believe Mary Knows

Mary takes her joy to the next level in preaching the gospel. She can see God reaching His hand of mercy down through all of time. He raises the lowly. He fills the hungry with good things. He’s here to help nations and children of God forever.

Mary knows and believes all the promises of God. He’s not a myth or some symbol of good humanity. Her declaration is a powerful statement that anyone can get behind.

 

Do you know God enough to know that He can do great things for you? More importantly, do you want to know?

 

We all think we have a good life. We struggle, though, with stress and depression and anxiety. And we make pains to cover all this up. We don’t deal with what’s underneath.

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Take a good look at Mary. See a life of hardship and craziness. I can’t see her being able to hide much of that life.

But now, look underneath. Look at her joy. Look at the promises of God that she knew. Look at the belief she had in a real God who came into her life and took real steps to make her life great and blessed.

Take some time to cry over Mary’s story today. Take some time to get the joy she had. Take some time to rid yourself of all your frustrations by knowing what’s yours and who God is. And even more, take a lot of time to start or develop your relationship with the man, the God, Jesus, this Christmas.

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Bryan Ramsey loves his wife, his family & his faith. As the youth minister at St. James in Menomonee Falls, he loves finding ways to draw people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

SHOUT FOR JOY

THIRD FRIDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: ZEPHANIAH 3:14-18

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you,
he has turned away your enemies;
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
He will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.


REFLECTION

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Shout for joy O daughter Zion! 

 

When is the last time you felt real, deep authentic joy and wanted to shout it to the world?  When I was younger, I used to be free and silly.  It seems harder to come by these days.  Between the burdens that accompany adult responsibilities, mistakes made over 50 years and an overwhelming and paralyzing chaos in the world, being joyful is a challenge.  This past fall I marveled at the my castmates in Becky’s New Car.  They were relaxed, laughed easy, joked readily and able to live in the moment.  It made me reflect on joy and happiness.  Often, I dwell on what is wrong: what needs to be fixed; and miss the joy and beauty that is around me.  I long for the moment when I can do my touchdown dance and be content, happy, peaceful and shout for joy.  Yet life can be a brutal grind where people inflict pain on one another or become victims of circumstance.  This is, of course, short sighted.  My personal reflection on being joyful allowed me to identify a number of strategies to try and become a more joyous person. 

You have been chosen by God.

Imagine your favorite musician dedicating their concert to you because of how much they delight in you! Well, here is U2- singing A Beautiful Day to remind us that joy can be found in the midst of challenges.

The reading in Zephaniah is addressed to the people of Jerusalem.  God refers to them as daughter Zion, daughter Jerusalem.  Not only do we belong to God, but God rejoices and delights in who we are.  Zephaniah says, he will rejoice over you with gladness and sing joyfully because of you.  Imagine your favorite musician or band dedicating their entire concert to you and the joy YOU bring THEM!  (Bono, I see you!)  This is how God loves and appreciates us.  Each one of us is a prized possession.  God celebrates us right now as we are.  The biggest spiritual illness is the notion that we are not worthy.  It is easy to play the “If only” game.  The game happens when we hear an internal voice saying, “If only I had a house like person A, then I would be good.”  Or “If only I was smarter then, I would be a worthwhile human being.”  It is likely most of us have a go to “If only” phrase.  True joy is rooted in knowing our authentic self.  We are created and chosen by God.  We are good, worthy and loved.  Pause, right now and listen to the concert God is performing for you.   

You are forgiven

Being good, worthy and loved is not the same as being blameless.  Each one of us is a sinner.  These two realities stand side by side.  God rejoices in us, claims us and yet we stand in need of God’s mercy, forgiveness and redemption.  Pelagius, a priest from long ago, believed that we could earn our redemption.  This is dangerous because it is a belief that we are saved by being perfect.  God is no longer needed.  Joy is being humble enough to own our imperfections and accept God’s forgiveness.  Zephaniah tells us, “The Lord has removed the judgment against you.”  We are free.  The burden has been lifted, your debts are paid off.  Now we need to offer this forgiveness to those who have harmed us.  The holidays are a stressful time in large part because of lingering resentments, disillusionment and disappointments.  Let it go!  Remove your judgment of others as God’s judgment has been removed from you.  Finally, lift the judgment you place on yourself and shout for joy!

Gratitude Over Entitlement

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My wife, Maribeth cries easily.  Sometimes she cries at commercials; almost always at the last story on the news- you know the one that is uplifting and shows us the true meaning of life; and always at important family moments.  Sharing this information about her in this reflection will embarrass her, but the world needs more people like her.  People who recognize the value and specialness of every moment. One year ago, I took her to the ER.  She was limp, fevered and barely there.  Very quickly she was diagnosed with influenza, pneumonia and sepsis.  For 11 days she was on the strongest IV antibiotics they had.  There were moments she was delusional.  It was the flu.  Why wasn’t she getting better?  When she finally came home, she would tire walking from the living room to the kitchen.  This was a strong person who had run a marathon.  It was another two weeks before she could go back to work.  According to the CDC, Maribeth had an illness that killed 80,000 people during the 2017-18 flu season.  It was the most people who died from the flu since the CDC began keeping statistics.  Life is difficult.  We lose jobs, relationships break a part, illnesses occur, jealousy abounds, money can be scarce, families argue, and the list goes on.  It is not a coincidence that Maribeth is emotional and sees the value of every single moment.  Our life is a gift.  It is not a right.  We are not entitled to an easy life.  Joy comes with an attitude that is grateful for every breath. 

Emmanuel:  God with Us  

I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.
— Anne Frank

Seeing life as a gift is just part of what will help us be joyful.  This advent we focus on searching for the presence of Christ in our life.  While we may want to become despondent when life is brutal the theology of the incarnation is that God becomes one of us.  As John writes in his Gospel, he pitched a tent and dwelt among us.  Experiencing joy isn’t when everything is smooth; it is realizing that God is in the mess, the burden, the grind, the chaos, “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior;” We are not alone, we are not defeated; life is transformed into something sacred because of the presence of the Holy One. 

Therefore, shout for joy O daughter Zion!


CONTEMPLATION

  • What prevents you from shouting for joy?

  • Which ingredient for joy speaks to you the most?

    • Knowing you are chosen by God

    • Forgiving

    • Being grateful

    • Finding God

  • How will you implement it in your life?

  • What is your prayer today?


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Joe Nettesheim is the founder and director of 12plus1, a service learning ministry focusing on giving witness to Jesus through action and finding Christ in all we serve.

Do NOT BE AFRAID

THIRD THURSDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: LUKE 1:26-38

In the sixth month,
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

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Anxiety is a universal human experience—hardwired into our brains to keep us alert to danger. Threats to our physical or emotional well-being result in feelings of anxiety and fear that trigger a fight or flight response. Our bodies are designed to go into overdrive—in order to react to the threat and keep ourselves and those we love safe. So, for instance, we slam on the brakes when a car suddenly veers into our lane. Our bodies are also designed to go into a recovery period after a stressful event, as things return to “normal.” 

To this day, my 24-year-old son sighs loudly if he is with me in the car when I have to brake suddenly—as my right arm automatically stretches out in front of his body. This behavior disappears when I am driving alone, but when my son is the car, that protective instinct takes over. It’s as if a switch has been turned on inside my body—one that I can’t control.

For people who deal with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), that switch stays on most, if not all, of the time. They seldom, if ever, go into a state of relaxation that allows their bodies and minds to recover. GAD applies to overwhelming feelings of anxiety that are unreasonable and not connected with an actual threat to one’s safety or well-being. According to a large study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2017, the incidence of GAD is growing and is more prevalent in high-income countries—though within those countries, it is more likely to affect people of lower socioeconomic status. The reasons are widely debated and open to speculation, but we do know that Millennials are the most anxious generation.

So, what does this have to do with Mary and the passage we read today?

Mary, after all, had reasons to be anxious. First, she was visited by an angel, hardly an everyday occurrence, even in Biblical times. Second, she was told that she was going to have a baby. As an unmarried woman in first century Palestine, the shame of such an event was frightening and life altering. It’s no wonder that Mary was “greatly troubled” by this anxiety-producing news; it was certainly NOT what she had imagined for her life.

 But the angel’s response is one that we hear over and over in the Bible, including several times in Luke’s account of the Christmas story. Do not be afraid. Fear not. We also hear it when the angel appears to Joseph and again when an angel appears to the shepherds in the fields on the night Jesus is born. Fear not. Do not be afraid.

Smile, breath and go slowly
— Thich Nhat Hahn

I know that simply hearing these words does not take away anxiety—whether it’s cause is rational or not. But they are a reminder to me that there is a divine presence active in the world that is bigger and more powerful than I am. That God’s imagination is greater than anything I can imagine. That ultimately all things will be made right. That I can simply breathe and relax into God’s presence. That I can trust God, as Mary did, and say, “May it be done to me according to your word.”


CONTEMPLATION

  • Who do I know that suffers from anxiety? How do I process my own anxiety?

  • Am I supportive, empathetic, encouraging and available to people who are anxious?

  • Have I encouraged the anxious people I know to seek professional help?

  • Have I helped anxious people in my life to imagine a better future?


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Sandra Christensen is a child of the Divine who is beginning to understand that the rest of it doesn’t really matter.

Hope for the Hopeless

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels


THIRD WEDNESDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: LUKE 1:5-25

In the days of Herod, King of Judea,
there was a priest named Zechariah
of the priestly division of Abijah;
his wife was from the daughters of Aaron,
and her name was Elizabeth.
Both were righteous in the eyes of God,
observing all the commandments
and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren
and both were advanced in years.

Once when he was serving as priest
in his division's turn before God,
according to the practice of the priestly service,
he was chosen by lot
to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside
at the hour of the incense offering,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him,
standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.

But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you shall name him John.
And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb,
and he will turn many of the children of Israel
to the Lord their God.
He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah
to turn the hearts of fathers toward children
and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,
to prepare a people fit for the Lord."

Then Zechariah said to the angel,
"How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."
And the angel said to him in reply,
"I am Gabriel, who stand before God.
I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk
until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled at their proper time."
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah
and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary.
But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them,
and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.
He was gesturing to them but remained mute.

Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home.

After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived,
and she went into seclusion for five months, saying,
"So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit
to take away my disgrace before others."


REFLECTION

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CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT DISCOVERY HOUSE

I have always loved Advent (and Lent) from the time I was a child. As I was growing up, I knew I was an odd duck because unlike other kids who were excited about Christmas and Santa, I was excited that it was Advent. I used to think it was simply because I loved the traditions and rituals of the season. As I’ve continued to grow and mature, I’ve realized yes, its tradition but more importantly it’s a season of preparation, a season preparing for the hope, the peace, the joy of the Good News. Advent is a season that reminds us God promises that He will always be with us and care for us in His loving arms. All we need to do is expectantly await Him, and He will be there waiting for us.

I want to say I’m someone who radiates joy, hope, and peace from the very essence of my being. Sometimes I am. More often I’m not. My hope has always been a more hesitant hope. I’m going to celebrate something good, but I know that means something terrible must be coming sooner than later. Heck, that’s been my life experience, right? Something good happens, and I say, “This is going to be my year.” Then a month later something terrible happens, and I’m totally crushed and in the depths of sadness and darkness. I’ve recently been in one of these moments. Almost simultaneously, I had a moment in which God’s abundant providence was so evident and I could not praise Him more for what He has done for me. And days later a situation arises that I can’t see a way out of. All I see is despair. It leaves me questioning, “How could this happen when God has brought me this far? He made all things come together for my good. It had to be the work of God for all this to happen. He did all that for what - for everything to fall apart?” As I was talking (to be honest crying) through my situation with a friend, he reminded me that the beauty of being a person of faith is that we know there is hope for the hopeless. (OK, Lord - I get what you’re trying to teach me this Advent.)

As I was reading today’s readings, what immediately struck me is that when an angel appears in both readings, it’s a “terrible” and “fearful” experience to the recipients. Why? Their prayers are being answered. Well I think their fear comes from a place of being overwhelmed. First of all, an angel is standing in front of them. Secondly, it’s a lot to believe.

As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.
— CK Chesterton

When we look at today’s Gospel, most of us can relate to Zechariah. He’s in a hopeless situation, and he keeps praying. When his prayer is answered, he doesn’t believe. He questions. He’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. And Gabriel simply says believe it because God sent me to give you the good news. There’s nothing else you need to know.

Yes, our life is going to be filled with lots of up and plenty of downs. When we objectively sit back, I think we can say life is filled with more ups than downs. We choose to focus on those downs and make them seem bigger and more frequent than their reality. If we are truly going to be a Christmas people, we won’t live life with hesitancy waiting for the other shoe to drop. We will always expect hope. There is hope for the hopeless because God promised that to us. And He is a man of his word. After all, He is the WORD. He is Emmanuel, God with us.


CONTEMPLATION

  • When do you feel hopeless?

  • What are some recent ways that you have seen God fulfill His promises to you?

  • When your hesitantly hopeful, what are some things you can do to change your heart position to expectant hope?


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Julie Trzebiatowski is the Camp Director for Shepherd’s Fold Ranch in Avent, Oklahoma. She has been a teacher, retreat facilitator and Girl Scout Camp Leader

WELCOME

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THIRD TUESDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: JEREMIAH 23:5-8

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
As king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”

Therefore, the days will come, says the LORD,
when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives,
who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”;
but rather, "As the LORD lives,
who brought the descendants of the house of Israel
up from the land of the north”–
and from all the lands to which I banished them;
they shall again live on their own land.


REFLECTION

Hear, O (whoever is reading this), the revelation of God as it came to the prophet Isaiah, from which today’s First Reading comes. And focus in particular on the deep desire of the chosen people for a stable home and reliable, conscientious, faith-centered leadership. And know how rare it was (and indeed is) in the much-conquered Holy Land.

And mark these things: that Moses was an unaccompanied minor. That in his youth Jesus of Nazareth was a refugee. And that Judea-Palestine, as it was known at the time of the Incarnation, was occupied territory. And when he became man and entered into God’s plan of salvation, as Simeon foretold (“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” [Lk 2: 34]), Jesus’ execution happened as it did because of his “status.” What he experienced at the hands of the state would not have happened had he been a Roman citizen. These are not original insights, rather, they have been brought to the forefront of my consciousness through the words and wisdom of my brothers and sisters who are living out our common call to welcome and to care for the strangers among us. But first, a word from the home office:

I was introduced to this message at the Justice for Immigrants conference sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which took place in Washington DC on December 5-7, 2018. The content arises from the work of the Vatican office on Migrants and Refugees (https://migrants-refugees.va/). And the work of that office was foundational in the creation of the United Nations Global Compact on Migration ( https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/07/1014632) – to which the United States is not a signatory. The unprecedented scale of the global refugee crisis (https://www.npr.org/2018/06/19/621283130/a-record-number-of-people-were-displaced-in-2017-for-fifth-year-in-a-row) and the images and reality of vulnerable youth suffering on the US southern border merges, in my prayers and Advent reflections, with the ever-challenging story of Jesus’ fragile entrance into this world, which we remember this time every year.

Ever ancient, ever new. My faith, as I understand it, is not to be driven by polls. I don’t seek them out, I don’t avoid them, and I understand their role in policy-making. That said, recall that when the current administration instituted its short-lived zero-tolerance and child separation policy for people arriving at the US southern border, it did not “poll well” (https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-trump-border-family-separation-20180619-story.html). And it was altered, though government agencies are still struggling to deal with the surge of families arriving from Central America, even as our brothers and especially our sisters are committing whatever resources they can to respond (https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/migration/despite-migrants-plight-outreach-them-gives-nun-hope-humanity-55664). Still - why bring this up? Why talk about such a controversial issue?

Well, as the kids say – yeah, no. It’s not controversial. I beg you, dear reader, re-watch the video. Is there anything controversial in it? Does Pope Francis say anything contrary to the Gospel or to the example of Jesus, who he has called “the face of God’s mercy”? Where is the controversy? Where is the scandal? I was taught in moral theology that the Church’s definition of scandal is “to do or say anything that might cause another person to doubt their faith.” Not reaching out to help vulnerable people, not seeking out people who are suffering and offering them refuge, not responding to people who have lost their homes and safe havens – there we will find controversy to last all our days. Si flagitium requiris, circumspice.

 

Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven,
— POPE FRANCIS

CONTEMPLATION

  • Who do you consider a stranger? How do you welcome them?

  • How willing are you to welcome, protect, promote and integrate the refgee or simply those who are different than you into your life? (from video)

  • What is your response to difficult teachings- to dismiss them or to allow them to transform you?

  • How are you being transformed this advent?


Fr. Robert Wotypka, OFMCap. is a Pastoral Minister for the Capuchin Community Services.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

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THIRD MONDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 1:1-17

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham became the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.
Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez became the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab became the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz became the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth.
Obed became the father of Jesse,
Jesse the father of David the king.

David became the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.
Solomon became the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asaph.
Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Uzziah.
Uzziah became the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amos,
Amos the father of Josiah.
Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers
at the time of the Babylonian exile.

After the Babylonian exile,
Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.
Abiud became the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor the father of Zadok.
Zadok became the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar became the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

Thus the total number of generations
from Abraham to David
is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations;
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ,
fourteen generations.


REFLECTION

Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew accomplishes an incredible feat – tracing the genealogy of Jesus from the Patriarch Abraham all the way to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian Exile, fourteen generations from the Exile to the Christ.

I would be misrepresenting my Old Testament acumen by claiming to have perfect (or even passable) comprehension of this Gospel’s full significance. Many of the names, of course, are familiar – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Boaz, Ruth, Jesse, David, Solomon, Amos, and others. But there are plenty of names I hardly recognize, especially as the list draws nearer to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. I have been reflecting on the need to read more Scripture this Advent season, and this passage confirms this need for me! 

This list of men’s and women’s names serves not only as a people’s chronology, but also as an epochal bridge. The full arc of God’s redemptive narrative for humanity is pressed within this passage, linking His covenant with Abraham and Israel all the way to His new covenant with all of mankind. This is, I suppose, why the reading comes to us during Advent – when God arrives once more, “O ancient, beauty ever new,” as St. Augustine put it.

Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise;
Often, often, often,
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.
— OLD GAELIC POEM

One thing I have tried to focus on this Advent is gratitude for those people around me – the people who have stood by me through all of my ups and downs. For whatever reason, I have always had the tendency to shy away and isolate myself when I am feeling low - whether from my own doing or from outside circumstances. It is exactly in these moments that I feel the “love language” of God at work. 

It will happen like this - just as something goes wrong or gets broken, and as I am ready to abandon hope, abandon another, or abandon myself, that is just when God sends a friend to me. Sometimes a person I love very much will call or text randomly, just to check in with me. Other times a complete stranger will offer words of kindness on the street, or in a coffee shop, or on the Metro. This happens with such regularity that it has become a bit uncanny – to the point where I can almost count on its occurrence! 

This continual pouring-out of kindness, patience, and gentleness from the hearts of others has kept me afloat for my entire adult life, and these warm souls have gifted me the fragments of sunshine that I brandish against grim December days. Like the succession of “strangers” in today’s Gospel, God keeps sending, sending and sending, at times when I am certain I don’t deserve it, but certainly when I am most in need, from a love beyond my understanding.


CONTEMPLATION

  • Who is one “stranger” that has helped you on your Advent journey?

  • What is God’s “love language” with you?

  • What are you praying for most this Advent? How do you think God might respond to your prayers?

  • What habits help you connect your past understanding of God with your present relationship with God?


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Mike McCormick is a graduate of Elon University and a former Augustinian Volunteer. Born in Queens and raised in Staten Island, NY, Mike now resides in Washington, DC, where he is the Outreach Coordinator for the Catholic Volunteer Network.

THE LORD IS NEAR

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THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: ZEPHANIAH 3:14-18A

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you
he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.


REFLECTION

A wife, mother of five, tirelessly works to keep her family routine together while her four year old son is undergoing chemotherapy. The Lord is near. An elderly widower, estranged from his children, suffers from loneliness and regret. The Lord is near. A teenage girl struggles with temptations, insecurities, and fitting in at school. The Lord is near. A husband and wife, married twelve years, slowly grow apart as selfish desires overtake their promise of, “until death do us part.” The Lord is near. It is at difficult times like these that we are waiting most impatiently to see, hear, and feel God’s presence in our life. Through fear…through doubt…through resentment…through isolation…through pain…wait, the Lord is near. 

 

I don’t like waiting. My penchant to avoid waiting has caused me to leave baseball games before exciting extra-inning finishes. I regularly walk out of restaurants rather than wait for an open table. An elementary education major in college, I graduated with my degree but one semester short of completing my student teaching requirement and earning licensure. I simply couldn’t wait to be done. I struggle to see the desirable outcome through my web of inconvenience and impatience. I have never been good at waiting. I want information on-demand, shipping in no more than two days, and a commute free from red lights. For as long as I can remember, the act of waiting has elicited the emotions of frustration, anxiety, and disappointment. Whether it is waiting in lines, waiting for test results, waiting for an elevator, or waiting for important milestones to pass, in my weakness I have allowed the wait to overshadow the final destination. As Tom Petty sang, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.”

 

On this third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, the first three words of our first reading are, “Shout for joy.” The second line begins, “Sing joyfully.” The third line continues, “Be glad and exult.” No time whatsoever is wasted getting to the point of the matter. We should be excited and comforted because, “The Lord is near.” Gaudete Sunday is when we rejoice and remember that our time of waiting and preparing is almost over. Our perseverance is buoyed by the promise that God is Emmanuel (God with us).

Zephaniah continues by noting that, “The LORD has removed the judgment against you; he has turned away your enemies.” Thank goodness we can let go of the fear, self-loathing, hatred, and anything else that might get in the way of our rejoicing–they are no longer obstacles to welcoming Jesus into our lives. We are free to fully embrace and celebrate the coming of Jesus. And our reward is that Jesus, “will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.” If only I could wait.

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What if I won the lottery? Would I take the lump sum payment now or choose the annual payment option? Most winners choose the lump sum and I suspect I would too even though waiting has some advantages. The Freudian concept of the pleasure principle suggests that I instinctively seek pleasure and avoid pain in order to satisfy biological and psychological needs; delaying gratification fires off painful emotions. Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth the wait as the outcome is undesirable, such as sitting in the waiting room to see a doctor who I don’t really want to see in the first place. Other times the value of the outcome doesn’t seem to justify the wait, as in waiting forty-five minutes in line to partake in a three-minute amusement park ride (and I don’t even like rollercoasters to make the matter even worse). Grocery store check-out lines only keep me from getting the next thing on my list done faster, and the passing of highlights (e.g. vacations, birthdays) leaves me disappointed and wondering how it can be over that quickly. It is perhaps the smallness and relative brevity of that which I waited for that makes the waiting the most dissatisfying for me? Why is waiting so hard? Waiting is hard because my needs are urgent, or so I think, and I want immediate results. This is where Jesus transforms me. Jesus is not just worth the wait, He is the wait. He is not ephemeral. Jesus is the destination and the journey all in one. Jesus is so much bigger than what I can fathom with my earthly abilities, if only I can wait.

One of the ways I try to pass the time waiting during Advent is through serving others. I hate to say it that way because it is so much more than just “passing time.” But Advent is a season I am reminded to share what I have been blessed with and tend to the needs of others. For that very reason, this time of year is a very attractive time for me to engage in volunteer activities (or at least feel like I should). And in doing so I may get a temporary boost in hope and filled with joyful expectation. But just as John answers the crowd saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming,” I have an opportunity to be a part of something bigger. Giving of my time, talent, and treasure only during advent season is analogous to the fleeting thrill of a rollercoaster ride. Rather, I should be using Advent as a time to prepare for how I can make my relationship with Jesus and living his lessons a part of my life all year long. Knowing that my enemies have been turned away and judgement against me removed, how could I go about loving others in a more profound way? The act of waiting is selfless, humble, and of Jesus’s example. In so many simple ways I can use the art of waiting to serve others. I can wait and hold the door for a stranger; I can pray for a friend while waiting for the elevator; I can wait for someone to finish talking and not jump in with my own comments and opinions; I can wait to let someone merge in front of me in traffic; or I can wait to buy myself something special and give the money I would otherwise spend to a charity. If only I could wait.

I know from experience that dying onto myself and loving others brings the most meaning to my life. I have seen it work but don’t live it consistently enough. I get caught up in my own annoyances and hurriedness. Yet Advent can be a time to lean into the waiting and reflect on where Jesus fits in to my life, knowing He brings the promises of lasting joy and eternal life. It is important I remember that in Jesus’s sense of timing waiting isn’t slow; it’s the fastest way to reach what or who is most important. And while I celebrate that Jesus is coming during Advent, perhaps more importantly is the reminder this Gaudete Sunday that He is near; He is always near. Let us rejoice and be glad.

Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent.
— BILLY GRAHAM

Imagine waiting for a table at a restaurant and you have one of those devices that buzz when your table is ready. Wouldn’t it be convenient if there were a buzz about three-quarters through your wait to let you know your table is near and the meal will be delicious? Wouldn’t it make the wait a little more tolerable because you didn’t have to wonder how much longer it was going to be?  And wouldn’t it be fun if there was a celebration in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, about three-quarters of the way through your wait, reminding you to rejoice-the doctor is near and he will renew you? While I don’t anticipate that happening, we can take and implement the doctor’s recommendations on diet, exercise, or lifestyle changes; not just for a month or so but all year long. Jesus asks the same of us, to take his Word and allow it to renew us all year through. And at those times when we are feeling most vulnerable, defeated, or hurt, we must remember something mightier is coming. The Lord is near.

Happy Gaudete Sunday, and have a blessed Advent.


CONTEMPLATION

  • What have you missed out on in your life because you couldn’t wait for it?

  • What challenges or struggles are you confronting where you need a reminder that the Lord is near?

  • How could you use the act of waiting to do something unexpected for someone else?


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Dan Burnett is an author, speaker, instructional designer, and founder of dANIMATED, LLC. He holds a degree in education and has 20 years of experience in workplace learning and performance. His passion rests in helping others use their God-given gifts to be the best they can be. Dan has worked for companies that are among the largest for-profit and not-for-profit organizations in southeastern Wisconsin. He is married and has two teenage children. You can read more of Dan’s blogs at https://danimatedonline.com/blog/

DON'T MISS YOUR LIFE

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SECOND SATURDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 17:9A, 10-13

As they were coming down from the mountain,
the disciples asked Jesus,
"Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"
He said in reply, "Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;
but I tell you that Elijah has already come,
and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.
So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands."
Then the disciples understood
that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.


REFLECTION

Are you going to miss your life?

No. No. No. Not after your life is over, and you are dead.

Are you going to miss your life right before your very eyes? Are you going see things in such a way that you miss what is actually going on? Are you going to miss your life?

Our gospel today has Jesus followers hyper focused. They, like many of that day, need to see certain things happen before their reality could be created. Events need to happen in just such an order. Elijah needs to make an appearance before their savior, their king, their superhero swoops in and saves them from all the junk going on in the world. It has to happen just so.

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There ain’t no Elijah coming though. Sure, in the story before this passage, they just saw Elijah in the Transfiguration, so that focus just got ramped up even higher. Here it comes, the triumphant victory of our people, is  I’m sure they were thinking. But no, nope, uh-uh. The disciples were missing their life.

There are many, many times in Jesus’ journey with the apostles where they don’t get it. They don’t see the savior right in front of them. They don’t see how this Jesus dude is going to “restore the kingdom.” He’s not looking to start a revolution or build an army or overthrow the government. And big shocker, here, there ain’t no Elijah either. 

Can you imagine a life knowing that your savior is, personally and in the flesh, guiding you and bringing you into heaven?

Do you know that life right now with a God who dwells within you? 

Just like the disciples, we are missing our life. There are times we catch a glimpse, but most of the time, we look for fabulous, awesome, unbelievable events to show us Jesus. Meanwhile, he is in our midst right now. He is guiding us. He is telling us to look right in front of us and not miss our lives.

At one point in the gospel, Peter, the disciples of all disciples and probably one who kept looking for Elijah around every corner, is asked over and over by Jesus if he loves him. Peter keeps saying, yes, and Jesus ends the conversation with, “Follow me.” Peter is such a great example of us today. We need to be reminded over and over of Jesus love for us and reassuring ourselves of our love for him. And yet, Jesus still says to us, “Follow me.” Think of the literal sense of what that means. Keep Jesus, visibly, in front of you. Let him lead you. Let him be right in front of you. And don’t miss out on the awesome life he provides.

If we wish to follow Christ closely, we cannot choose an easy, quiet life. It will be a demanding life, but full of joy.
— POPE FRANCIS
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CLICK ABOVE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT DISCOVERY HOUSE


CONTEMPLATION

  • What is in the way and making you miss your life with Christ?

  • What will it take to get Jesus right in front of you when he says, “Follow me?”


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Bryan Ramsey loves his wife, his family & his faith. As the youth minister at St. James in Menomonee Falls, he loves finding ways to draw people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

LETTING GOD REALLY BE GOD

SECOND FRIDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 11:16-19

Jesus said to the crowds:
"To what shall I compare this generation?
It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another,
'We played the flute for you, but you did not dance,
we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.'
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said,
'He is possessed by a demon.'
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said,
'Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.'
But wisdom is vindicated by her works."


REFLECTION

In today’s Gospel, Jesus powerfully cuts through the excuses of the crowds.  Some people rejected John the Baptist because his lifestyle was so ascetic and extreme; the same folks dismissed Jesus because he ate and drank freely, spending time with tax collectors and sinners.  The Lord’s point is that we human beings can pretty much always find a ready-made excuse to justify our predetermined opinions and decisions.  So often, God does not fit our categories of judgment or act the way we think He should.  In such moments, the strong temptation is to walk away from God rather than let Him stretch our concepts and understanding of the Divine Mystery.

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Today we celebrate the feast of St. John of the Cross, the famed Carmelite mystic who penned “The Dark Night of the Soul” and the “Ascent of Mount Carmel.”  The Lord led John into a profound contemplative experience which went beyond all categories of understanding God.  Constantly surrendering the limits of his mental concepts of the Divine, John of the Cross embraced a purifying dark night in his soul where God led him to a deep union with Himself.  All of his thoughts about who God is were shattered.

John of the Cross would tell us that God’s light is so bright, it appears to our senses as darkness.  God’s presence is so profound that it appears to us as absence.  God is love, but His love is so beyond our grasp of what love could be that John would assert that God is not love because it is so much bigger than our puny concepts.  Such ideas may take time for us to understand and get used to but if we are open to a life of deeply meditative prayer, the Lord will gently but firmly lead us to a deeper experience of Himself and show us the vast universe of His heart.

When you think about it, this life is a tremendous mystery.  We do not choose to be born; we do not know how or when we will die.  We live for a brief time on this planet on the conviction that an eternal life awaits us in some other grand dimension of existence, but we know not how.  We are here to fall in love with God, to know His ways and to bring others with us into this new life in Christ.  The fact that many people rejected Jesus should come as no surprise because His very Incarnation as the Son of God in human flesh shatters all of our categories of how we think God should act.  Can we embrace this mysterious Lord whose love transcends all logic and reason?

The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.
— Joseph Campbell

When we suffer a debilitating loss, when we experience deep sorrow, when life comes apart on us and God seems very distant, cry we should, question we must, but in the end can we surrender and trust that God’s love has not abandoned us and that we are being led into the Divine Mystery where words, ideas and concepts fail to express what we have come to know?  Today’s readings and feast teach us that God is bigger than we think and that if we dare to enter more deeply into the Divine Mystery, we will find God in darkness as well as light, sorrow as well as joy, not knowing and knowing at the same time.  When we feel stretched, disoriented, off-kilter, as crazy as it sounds, TRUST and REJOICE because God is doing something beautiful.  Just hang on for the ride!

CLICK ABOVE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT DISCOVERY HOUSE

CLICK ABOVE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT DISCOVERY HOUSE


CONTEMPLATION

  • How is God stretching you this Advent?

  • How has your understanding of the Lord changed this past year?


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Most Reverend Donald J. Hying, installed as the Fourth Bishop of Gary on January 6, 2015, was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on May 20, 1989.  On July 20, 2011, he was ordained the seventh Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  Prior to being named auxiliary bishop, Bishop Hying served as Rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary from 2007 to 2011, appointed by then-Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan.  Bishop Hying served as Temporary Administrator at St. Augustine Parish, Milwaukee in 2006; Dean of Formation at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, from 2005 to 2007.  He was Pastor at Our Lady of Good Hope Parish, Milwaukee from 1999 to 2005; Associate Pastor at St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee from 1998 to 1999.  Hying served as Temporary Administrator at St. Peter Parish, East Troy, 1998; Team Member  for La Sagrada Familia Parroquia, Dominican Republic  from 1994 to 1997.  His first priestly assignment was as associate pastor for St. Anthony Parish, Menomonee Falls from 1989 to 1994.

Bishop Hying is a native of West Allis, Wisconsin.  He was born to Albert and Catherine Hying (both deceased) on August 18, 1963, and is the youngest of six sons. He attended St. Aloysius and Immaculate Heart of Mary grade schools, Brookfield Central High School, and Marquette University.  He earned his Masters of Divinity from Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.

Bishop Hying serves as the Episcopal Liaison for National Association of Catholic Chaplains and as Episcopal Advisor to the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul.  He is also a member of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

BEING FULL

SECOND THURSDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: ISAIAH 41:13-20

I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, "Fear not,
I will help you."
Fear not, O worm Jacob,
O maggot Israel;
I will help you, says the LORD;
your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
I will make of you a threshing sledge,
sharp, new, and double-edged,
To thresh the mountains and crush them,
to make the hills like chaff.
When you winnow them, the wind shall carry them off
and the storm shall scatter them.
But you shall rejoice in the LORD,
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain,
their tongues are parched with thirst.
I, the LORD, will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will open up rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the broad valleys;
I will turn the desert into a marshland,
and the dry ground into springs of water.
I will plant in the desert the cedar,
acacia, myrtle, and olive;
I will set in the wasteland the cypress,
together with the plane tree and the pine,
That all may see and know,
observe and understand,
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.


REFLECTION

In reading today’s message from Isaiah, I’m reminded of how much God longs to be in relationship with me. Right away I read “I am the Lord, YOUR God.” MY God. God belongs to us all and knows and loves us with an agape love unlike any other being in this universe, but God is also MINE, if I choose Him to be of course. I am a bit overwhelmed as I read and soak in a small fraction of what God has done for me and the people who came before me. We go on to read of how God protects us and provides for us. There are countless passages like this one in which God tells us to not be afraid, simply because God is with us, always in our corner. We are people of constant need, but also people who have the ability to constantly give; to protect and provide as God does for us.

A few weekends ago I volunteered at the Riverwest Food Pantry in Milwaukee. If you have not been before, you MUST go. Go solo or pick-up a friend or bring a whole group -- your heart will be stirred in a way it hasn’t been before. My coworker and I drove a few vans of high school students to restock shelves, assist guests in their selection of food, help carry bags of groceries, and most importantly, be a kind and warm presence among a community of generosity. That is what the Riverwest Food Pantry is all about, being a community of generosity, rooted in the example of who our God is and forever will be. It was here that I had the opportunity to protect and provide for all gathered that morning at the food pantry.

With God all things are possible.
— Matthew 19:26

It was just the week after the Thanksgiving holiday, and I wasn’t certain that everyone I would converse with that day had had the same turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green bean casserole I was still digesting. The Riverwest Food Pantry is a no judgement zone (another thing I absolutely love about this place), and people come from all sorts of situations, but most importantly come together on Saturdays like this one to give and receive, protect and provide, in a variety of ways. With an abundance of volunteers that day, I found myself walking around collecting empty plates and cups from guests and volunteers enjoying hot coffee and egg bake together. One gentleman stopped me and asked me how my Thanksgiving was. We chatted for a bit, sharing our favorite dishes of the Thanksgiving meal; his sweet potato pie and mine mashed potatoes. We laughed as we rubbed our bellies and reminisced of how full we were on Thanksgiving Day. As I wished him and his friend a happy day and was swept away to grab more cans of green beans for our guests, I felt full again, but not in the way three slices of sweet potato pie and/or five scoops of mashed potatoes makes you feel full, but full only in a way the movement of the Holy Spirit combined with something good can make you feel full. In the spirit of no judgement, it is not my place to determine who did the giving and who did the receiving in my Thanksgiving talk with this kind gentleman, but I think it is safe to say we each did a little of both whether we knew it or not.

CLICK ABOVE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT DISCOVERY HOUSE

CLICK ABOVE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT DISCOVERY HOUSE

God gave us life and a gigantic world full of many things and invites us to join in on protecting and providing for the people God made to know and love. God is our ultimate protector and provider and works through each of us to reach the people who may not know God, or may not feel close to God, even if we ourselves are distant from, angry with, or uncertain of God. I’m in a constant search of seeing and knowing, observing and understanding, how the hand of the Lord works in my life. I delight in the moments when complete strangers in unfamiliar places, sharing in our love for different forms of potatoes, can end my search, even just for the time being.


CONTEMPLATION

  • When is the last time you felt full of God’s love?

  • Who or what made you feel full?

  • How are you protecting and providing for God’s people?


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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.

LET IT BE

SECOND WEDNESDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 18:12-14

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled."

And Mary said:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior."


REFLECTION

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Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  We celebrate Mary’s appearance to Blessed Juan Diego, a Mexican peasant, in 1531.  She sent him to the Bishop in Mexico City to request that a church be built for her.  Through the miracle of her image emblazoned on his tilma, a kind of cape, the Bishop did build the church and to this day Our Lady of Guadalupe is revered throughout Mexico.  People look to Our Lady of Guadalupe as a symbol of the dignity of all people regardless of stature in life or race.  In our current times we can look to her to inform our treatment of immigrants seeking refuge,  the disadvantaged, and the marginalized.

In today’s reading, we hear the story of the visitation.  It is the section of Luke’s Gospel immediately following the Annunciation—when the angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce that God had chosen her to be the mother of Jesus.  To bolster Mary’s faith by way of a real-life example, Gabriel also shared the news that Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, was also with child, in spite of her advanced years. Nothing is impossible for God!  Mary travels “in haste” to be with Elizabeth.

We can look to Mary as the ultimate role model for discipleship in both her words and actions.  When  learning how God wanted to work through her, her response was “let it be”.  She didn’t question her worthiness, she didn’t express concerns about her reputation, she didn’t question the means by which this miracle would happen, she just said yes to God’s plan for her. 

God comes to us disguised as our lives
— Paula D'Arcy

After accepting God’s invitation, the first thing she did was to reach out in service to Elizabeth.  When filled with the grace of being aligned with God’s plan, she gave of herself in love.  We too can experience this.  When connected to Divine Love, it flows through us.  This shows itself in how we interact with the world.   Connection to Divine Love gives us the source and strength to live lives of love, compassion, forgiveness and service.  The true marks of a disciple.

It would be nice if God’s plan for our lives was articulated to us as clearly as it was to Mary.  It’s a little harder for us to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading us.  The busyness of our lives distracts us from the ability to hear God’s call.  We have to pay attention to what is happening inside of us; listening to our hearts to hear the call.  This requires time.  It requires space in our days.  It requires time in silence. All of these things can be in short supply in our culture. The calling can come in the elderly person you encounter who just needs a listening ear or in hearing that a person you know is suffering.  The calling comes during every day encounters when we are drawn to respond.  As Paula D’Arcy says, “God comes to us disguised as our lives”.

Elizabeth is our teacher here.  Her baby leaps for joy in her womb and she is filled with the Holy Spirit. She had the grace to recognize Christ in her midst.   She could see that she was in the presence of a miracle and responded with wonder and gratitude.  She blessed Mary as one who believed and had faith in God’s plan.  We too need eyes to see the miracles of God’s incarnation that are all around us.  To take time to see Christ in the beauty of nature, the kindness of a friend or in the rituals of our faith.

Immediately after this Gospel passage is the Magnificat, Mary’s hymn of praise to God. This is a beautiful and inspiring rendition of that passage in David Haas’ song Magnificat (All That I am) You can listen to it here.



CONTEMPLATION

  • What new life is God trying to give birth to through you?  Where are you hearing God’s call in what is happening right in front of you?

  • In what way can you honor the spirit of Our Lady of Guadalupe by getting involved in service or activism in support of the marginalized?


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Clare Peiffer is the Meal Program Coordinator for MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary and a 2015 graduate of the Living School for Action and Contemplation.  Married with three adult children she enjoys cooking, yoga and spending time in nature

You Are Loved

SECOND TUESDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 18:12-14

Jesus said to his disciples:
"What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost."


REFLECTION

This stinks.

It’s been so long.

I’m so alone.

Everything has gone so wrong. I never do anything right.

When I woke up today, I just wanted to make it through the day. I’m tired of getting yelled at. I’m confused about what I’m supposed to do to make things right. I can only see that dark night that seems to fall faster and faster on my day. And yet the next day happens.

I keep trying to find the right way. I keep making mistakes though. And every time, there’s someone there to tell me all about it. I don’t know how to change things. I don’t know how to stop the yelling.

Things used to be a whole lot easier. I used to get smiles. I used to laugh. Those days are so gone.

Things are so messed up. There’s been so many missed moments. It’s been one wasted day after the next.

This is a tough question: Have you ever felt this way?

Or maybe a tougher question: Have you ever felt like you inflicted this feeling on someone?

(Don’t dwell too much on the questions. Especially if it hurts. And if it does, quickly read on.)

Here comes the shepherd.

She’s been looking so long.

She left the rest days ago. Just to find me.

She picks up the crying mess that is me. She pulls the exhaustion of my body into her arms.

She’s crying. She’s shaking. She can’t believe she has me back.

She grips me like I’m her only possession. Tight. And doesn’t let go. Her arms are like clamps that keep pushing me closer to her heart.

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We both are crying.

The shepherd has me back. Of course, I have always been as close to her heart as I am right now. She has not had a single second of lost love for me. And she will always come after me to show me. To hold me. To say she will never let me go. She will never not love me.

---

Here’s a good question now: When have you felt that loved?

Or maybe a better question: When have you been able to give that love?

God’s love doesn’t stop. God’s love will never go away. And God’s compassion doesn’t even care about your failings, your mistakes or your wrongs.

Let me put that another way to be totally clear.

God cares about you. God loves you. And no failings, mistakes or wrongs will EVER keep that love from clinching you closer and closer to God’s heart.

This is our God.

No failings, mistakes or wrongs will EVER keep that love from clinching you closer and closer to God’s heart.
— Unknown

And for us who feel like we could never love like that. For us who feel like we’ve lost the one. For us who feel like that one is never coming back. Start searching now. Start putting on the love of God. Let your love never stop. Let God’s compassion take you over. That day you find the one is going to be the best day ever.


CONTEMPLATION

  • Where, in your life, do you need to feel the love of God? What will it take to let Him find you?

  • Who, in your life, needs to feel the love of God through you? What will it take for you to go after them and give that love?


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Bryan Ramsey loves his wife, his family & his faith. As the youth minister at St. James in Menomonee Falls, he finds ways to draw people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Seeing Incredible Things

SECOND MONDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: LUKE 5:17-26

One day as Jesus was teaching,
Pharisees and teachers of the law,
who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem,
were sitting there,
and the power of the Lord was with him for healing.
And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed;
they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence.
But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd,
they went up on the roof
and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles
into the middle in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
"As for you, your sins are forgiven."

Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves,
"Who is this who speaks blasphemies?
Who but God alone can forgive sins?"
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply,
"What are you thinking in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,'
or to say, 'Rise and walk'?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"–
he said to the one who was paralyzed,
"I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home."

He stood up immediately before them,
picked up what he had been lying on,
and went home, glorifying God.
Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God,
and, struck with awe, they said,
"We have seen incredible things today."


REFLECTION

There is a tension that exists in today’s Gospel that is laid out in the first paragraph.  In this passage Luke identifies three groups who participate in this story.  First there are the teachers of the law; second there is Jesus who is under the influence of healing power of the Spirit and the people who are desperately trying to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing.  As the story unfolds Jesus tells the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven.  The teachers of the law are indignant and ironically ask themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies?  Who but God alone can forgive sins?”   As readers of the Gospel, we know that Jesus is God.  By making his readers insiders, Luke highlights the blindness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Their strict interpretation to the law was so strong that they are unable to experience the presence of God that is standing in their midst.  A miracle is occurring at that moment and they are missing it.      

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For the Pharisees the law is the way to know God.  The law is God’s command and is part of the covenant.  It brings the values, virtues, order and morality to society.  A person who follows the law is faithful and in good standing with God.  They also believed that physical illness was the result of sin.  It would not be out of the realm of possibility that they would have viewed the paralytic as getting what was due him because of his own sin or that of a relative.  This underscores how radical and challenging the actions of Jesus would have been.  He broke the law by offering forgiveness, to someone who did not deserve it, and since only God can forgive sins, this was the equivalent of claiming he was God. It was a scandalous moment.  It was also a moment that God was present in an unexpected and miraculous way.  When Jesus is accused of being blasphemous for forgiving sins, he takes it further.  He heals the paralytic stating that he is doing so to show them that the, “Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” All depart glorifying God.

God wants you to be delivered from what you have done and from what has been done to you- Both are equally important to Him.
— Joyce Meyer

This past weekend there was a workshop at the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry about ministering to young people who have experienced trauma.  Trauma was defined as a verbal, emotional or physical abuse that is witnessed or personally experienced that exposes the individual to prolonged stress.  It also has a lasting impact.  Some examples of trauma are divorce, death, depression, anxiety, abuse, gun violence, or addiction.  Based on this list it would seem as though most of the population are victims of trauma. One participant remarked if you are alive you have experienced trauma.  The reality is we live in a broken world that is in desperate need of the forgiveness and healing of Jesus.  Pope Francis spoke about the Church needing to see itself as a field hospital whose mission is to be on the battle field and heal people of the wounds, they experience daily.  The truth is when our wounds are not tended to, they fester and often become the fodder for us wounding ourselves or others.  A cycle of hurt and trauma can only be broken by Jesus healing and forgiveness. 

Jesus’ response is the most important element in this story.  When confronted by the Pharisees Jesus does not back down.  Instead he reminds us that the path to God is through healing, forgiveness, love and compassion.  His love exposes how they have missed the presence of God and it changes them, as Luke states that all depart, “glorifying God.”  His forgiveness is redemptive and offered to us in unexpected ways.  Sometimes our own faith and suppositions about how God operates are the reasons we miss God’s presence.  The Bible is full of stories that should cause us to be alert and awake.  One consistent characteristic about God is surprise.  Just when we think we have it figured out we see how blind we were.  This reality should cause us to be humble.  Humility and openness will prevent us from choosing judgments and law over healing and forgiveness. 


CONTEMPLATION

  • What is the pain or hurt for which you need healing?

  • Who do you know who has experienced trauma for whom you might be a source of healing and forgiveness?  What might you do to bring healing?  What might prevent you from following through?

  • What assumptions about God prevent you from being open?

  • How do you reconcile when the law and healing seem at odds?


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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 grand-kids and a Golden Doodle who is a big, love-able oaf.

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!