Anchored in Hope

 

By Sr. Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH President

This Advent we were invited to a place of stillness as we lit the candles representing hope, faith, joy, and peace/justice.  In this stillness we pondered the promises of this season.  Last week on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Noreen reminded us that: “We celebrate God’s promises with every breath of our lives through our obedience to our faith in God.”  We desire to be rooted in the example of Mary by responding in this forever changing world, “I am yours, Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

My pondering this Advent takes me to one of the Christian symbols of hope (one of my favorites), the anchor.  Our anchor – that which keeps us grounded is of course Emmanuel, God with Us.

The following passage from Isiah is traditionally read on the night of Christmas Eve:

 

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

Upon those who dwell in the land of gloom

on them, a light has shone.

-Isaiah 9:1 (NAB)

These words were spoken to a specific time and situation – these words and this message are given to us as well — as we stand in this moment – at this time in our lives – anchored in a God who delights in us and desires to come to us in the flesh – the Word.  May we experience the hope of this message and bear witness to the Light – the Light that has already arrived and is yet to come!

 

 What is the hope that has been planted in your heart this Christmas?

What is it that you ask God to bring to birth in you?

Christmas Blessings to you and your loved ones.  May your hearts be touched with deep joy during this holy season!

Your sisters, The Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart

 

Lord, Make Us Turn to You.

A reflection for the fourth Sunday of Advent.

By Noreen Douglas

Click here for readings

 “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” (from the responsorial psalm).

In a forever changing world, we have this truth in our hearts. We humble ourselves through the wars of life, while being full of hope through the obedience of our faith. We rely on our faith to lead, to guide, to help, even to comfort us in all the details of our lives.

Therefore, we surrender our understanding, our time, our feelings, even our lives to allow our faith in God to be seen in this forever changing world.  We, too, cry out “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”

Through our love one to another we reflect God’s promises. We show his long-suffering and patience as we take on the trials of this conformed world with the compassion and understanding of our faith. We celebrate the newness and freshness of each day with gladness in our hearts.

We stand ready and willing to surrender to his will…ready to heed the mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself,” as we, too, cry out “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”

We celebrate God’s promises with every breath of our lives through our obedience to our faith in God. Like Mary in today’s Gospel acclamation, we respond in this forever changing world, “I am yours, Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Alleluia!

(Noreen Douglas is employed as the housekeeper at the Mission Helper Center. She and her husband, Rob, serve as Campus Life Directors at the Loch Raven campus of Metro Maryland Youth for Christ.)

We Need a Little Advent

By Sr. Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH

Maybe we need more than a little Advent this year. Although we have come through the worst of the pandemic, we are not out of the woods. There are yet concerns about the spread of the virus and its variants, along with the associated disruptions in our lives. The anger, stress and at times, outright violence that have been displayed by some among us are disturbing, to say the least. Bitter partisan political divisions still rage.  Who among us would not ask for some hope, some faith, some joy, or some peace/justice right now?

As we consider the Advent wreath, with candles representing hope, faith, joy and peace/justice, we are invited into a place of stillness where we ponder the promise of this season. On this second Sunday, we have lighted the candles representing hope and faith.

If you’re wondering what to pray with this week, some of the responsorial psalm refrains from the liturgies remind us of God’s saving presence and action in history. These same promises are made to us – both now and into the future.

Sunday: The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/120521.cfm)

Monday: Our God will come to save us. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/120621.cfm)

Thursday: The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/120921.cfm)

Friday: Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/121021.cfm)

Saturday: Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/121121.cfm)

Spend some time with these psalms.  Do you believe in these promises?  Do you find hope and/or faith?  Joy and/or peace?  Ask God for what you need this Advent.

Maranatha!

An Introvert’s Advent

By Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

This coming Tuesday, November 30, we celebrate the feast of St Andrew, brother of St. Peter. Were there ever brothers more different from each other? Peter was a leader, but it must be acknowledged, he was a bigmouth with a big heart and a desire to do great things. An old country song goes “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” – Peter’s theme song, it seems. But where did Peter get his inspiration? How did he learn about Jesus?  Maybe from brother Andrew? We may never know, but it is encouraging (to us more reserved and cautious in temperament) to reflect on the differences between the two – and on the fact that both were apostles, martyrs, and pastors for sure. There is no cookie-cutter for the coming Advent or Christmas season marked “Saint _______ “(fill in the blank). As the Grinch might put it, it is a “Come All Ye Who’s” – anyone, of any personality type, intelligence, skill level, degree of devotion – is welcome.

So, we look at quiet, reflective, helpful-in-subtle-ways Andrew, so outshone by the bombastic Peter, and we say to ourselves, “Well, I can do that!”  I can set aside a bit of extra time during Advent to pray. I can pay a little extra attention to a second child in a family who is feeling a bit eclipsed by her elder sibling and comment positively about a gift or quality unique to her. I can write appreciative notes to family and friends in my Christmas cards.

Andrew made himself useful wherever he saw a need. He did not need to be a star, a great orator like his brother. He did whatever came to hand. We pray to him to sharpen our vision so we, too, can accept our own unique giftedness as we “wait in joyful hope” this Advent.

 

 

 

Who’s In Charge Here, Anyway?

A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

By Sr. M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

Readings:
https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/122020.cfm

In today’s first Scripture reading (2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8b-12, 12A, 16), we see God issuing something of a course correction to the king.  David somehow had come to think that he had created his own success (“Settled in his palace”, “rest from his enemies”) and he wanted to share his prosperity with God.  As soon as you read that, you may think, “isn’t that backwards?” and in fact God instructs the prophet Nathan to remind King David of how he made it to the top – namely, with the power of God, not on his own merits.  Put more bluntly, God asks David, “Who do you think you are? I called you from herding animals.  I made you commander of my people.” In contemporary parlance, in other words, God is saying to David, “Get over yourself!”

Most of us have gotten such treatment at least once in our lives, maybe not from a prophet but from life itself.  We are shocked – SHOCKED – that thus and such is happening to us!  A pandemic – herenow? Businesses shutting, opening, shutting again? People who never could have imagined needing any kind of public assistance, forced by lack of funds to stand in line at a food bank? We are not citizens of a third-rate dictatorship – ah, but haven’t you heard that very term used recently, and repeatedly?

Here we are, folks – look in a mirror and confront your own need, then turn to God and express just what God has been hoping to hear from you: your longing for a savior.  Jesus’ coming to save us was not just centuries ago.  He will come again and again, in all sorts of disguises and through all sorts of people and agencies, whenever we humble ourselves to ask, and accept what has made available.

For reflection:

In what ways are you serving as God’s surrogate in reaching out to others’ needs? Think beyond the material to the emotional and spiritual. Take note of the expressions of longing in so many Advent and Christmas hymns, such as “O come, O Come, Emmanuel”. Make those songs your true prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

Rejoice!

A reflection for Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent

By Sr. Amarilis Flores Arrioja, MHSH and Sr. Rosa Sofia Toledo, MHSH

Readings: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/121320.cfm

The Third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete” Sunday, which in Latin means “Rejoice” — be joyful, be hopeful, be cheerful and glad.  The Canticle of Mary (“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”)  invites us to recite our own canticle of praise and joy to God, our Savior.

Liturgically, this Sunday of Advent is a joyous celebration flowing from the Spirit into our own hearts as we prepare to celebrate that the coming of our Savior and our Redeemer, in human flesh, is near.  In a world faced with so many threats in our times, particularly the Pandemic crisis, where some of our loved ones have died “alone,”  the Word of God comes to console the brokenhearted; to lift the sorrowful and neglected, to bring healing to the sick and hope to the hopeless. The Prophet Isaiah invites us to rejoice in the Lord with our whole heart and to find in our God the joy of our soul.

In the first letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians, we are reminded to rejoice in the Lord always, at all times, no matter what the circumstances of our lives are. He shares with us key exhortations on how to live the Christian life joyfully, as we prepare to celebrate the first Christmas, as well as being vigilant to the ongoing manifestation of the Lord who continues to come, and who will come in glory at the end of times.  Let us, then, pause to ponder on the message of Saint Paul in this Advent season:

  • Rejoice at all times.
  • Never cease to pray
  • Be grateful in all circumstances
  • Do not extinguish the fire of the Spirit
  • Do not underestimate the prophetic utterances
  • Examine all and keep what is good
  • Renounce any kind of evil

Like Paul, let us claim this prayer as our own:  “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As we enter more fully into the Advent joyful season, let us reflect on the following questions:

  1. What am I most grateful for to the God of my life?
  2. At this time, where is our world crying out for true joy?
  3. In Saint Paul´s letter to the Thessalonians, which exhortation stands out challenging me to live more fully in Christ during this Advent season?

(Srs. Amarilis and Rosa Sofia minister to  people in Manzanita and surrounding areas in Venezuela)

 

 

 

Preparing the Way

A Reflection for the Second Sunday in Advent

By Sr. Donna Fannon, MHSH

Readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/120620.cfm

During Advent in the northern hemisphere, we observe a shortened span of daylight.  For many people, this can bring on a downturn in mood, and some even suffer from a condition known as seasonal affective disorder.  This darkness can extend to our spiritual lives as well.  How then do we bring more “light” into our lives and the lives of others?  Lighting our Advent candles is one way of keeping vigil as we await the birth of Jesus, and the rituals we observe around the candle can bring a sense of hope and joy.  During this season we might also try to rid ourselves of egotistical tendencies and some of the “busyness” in our lives and spend some quality time in prayer and reflection, calling to mind who we really are in the sight of God.

In the Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Advent, we hear John the Baptist say:

“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In his book, Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent, Richard Rohr, OFM states:

“John the Baptist’s qualities are most rare and yet crucial for any reform or authentic transformation of persons or groups.  That is why we focus on John the Baptist every Advent and why Jesus trusts him and accepts his non-temple, offbeat ritual, while also going far beyond him.  Water is only the container; fire and Spirit are the contents, John says. Yet if we are not like the great John, we will invariably substitute our own little container for the real contents.  We will substitute rituals for reality instead of letting the rituals point us beyond themselves.

John the Baptist is the strangest combination of conviction and humility, morality and mysticism, radical prophecy and living in the present. This  son of the priestly temple class does his own thing down by the riverside; he is a man born into privilege who dresses like a hippie; he is a superstar who is willing to let go of everything, creating his own water baptism and then saying that what really matters is the baptism of “Spirit and fire”!  He is a living paradox, as even Jesus said of him: “There is no man greater than John…but he is also the least” in the new reality that I am bringing about (Matthew 11:11). John both gets it and does not get it at all which is why he has to exit stage right early in the drama.  He has played his single and important part, and he knows it.  His is brilliantly a spirituality of descent, not ascent.  “He must grow bigger; l must grow smaller.”  (John 3:30).

The only way such freedom could happen is if John learned to be very empty of himself already as a young man, before he even built his tower of success.  His ego was out of the way so much so that he could let go of his own ego, his own message and even his own life.  This is surely the real meaning of his head on a platter.  Some have cleverly said that ego is an acronym for “Edging God Out”.  There’s got to be such emptiness, or we cannot point beyond ourselves to Jesus, as John did.  Such emptiness doesn’t just fall into our laps; such humility does not just happen. It is surely the end product of a thousand letting-goes and a thousand acts of devotion, which for John the Baptist gradually edged God in.”

For Reflection:

How do you manage to schedule some down time in your day? Can you make this a priority during Advent?

How are you bringing more “light” into your own life, and the lives of others during this season?

Do you keep a journal to help you track your progress?

How is your spiritual life one of “ascent” or “descent”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching and Waiting in Chaotic Times

A reflection for the first Sunday in Advent

By Sr. Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH
President, Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart

Readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/112920.cfm

 

Our Advent season opens with Jesus saying to his disciples, “Be watchful! Be alert!”  Again, at the end of our Gospel reading Jesus says, “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”   Watch for what?  Watch for who?  This Advent season is like no other as we live in this time of Covid-19 with great unrest and division in our country and in the world.  We wait for healing, we wait for peace, we wait for a vaccine.  We focus our Advent waiting and watching on the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.  In faith, we trust that Emmanuel God is with us.  In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we are reminded of the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus.  We are reminded that as we wait, we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.  We have all that we need to prepare.  This time of Advent – this time before Christmas, we are given the invitation to deepen our awareness of God’s love for us and for all the world.  Just as Mary prepared for the birth of Jesus, we are invited to ready that space within us for something new to be born.  As we wait to welcome the Light of the world, we are called to be light for the world.  What does that mean in your life?  What would a deeper awareness of God’s love look like in your life?

 

We know that we come to discover our selves in and through our relationships.  Advent is an opportunity to take some time, to make some space in our busy lives to sit in quiet and deepen our relationship with God.  Tell God what it is you hope for, ask God to help you let go of whatever keeps you from loving with an open heart.  Confide your fears and concerns to God who loves and cares for you more than you can imagine.  Become aware of who you are becoming during this Advent season, not just about what you are doing.  As you wait, you may want to invite Mary and/or Joseph to wait with you.  Try to imagine their preparation, their hopes and dreams, their fears and concerns.

 

We pray, ‘Come Lord Jesus, come into our waiting, keep us alert and watching as we awaken anew to your presence within us and all around us.  Thank you for this time and may we use it to deepen our commitment to follow you and be instruments of your peace.’

 

 

 

 

 

Being Advent People…for Life

By Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH

Growing up in a tight knit Catholic, (Polish/German) faith community, I came to understand and appreciate the message, awe and beauty of the Advent season. 

The Advent wreath was the center of our homes, classrooms and parish. There was anticipation with lighting of each new Advent candle during the four weeks of Advent. Our religious imagination remained kindled with expectation, hope and the awareness that Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birthday was near.  I am delighted when I visit a family to discover the Advent wreath as the center of their home and Advent prayers become the fabric of their faith journey.

Many years ago I discovered the Advent homilies of Fr. Karl Rahner,SJ, a leading Catholic Theologian of the 20th Century.  His homilies enriched my understanding of the breadth and depth of the meaning of Advent. He reminded me that Advent is not only about the past but the present and future.

He wrote, “Advent demands that we look to the future: we are people of expectation and hope.”

Today we all need to embrace ‘hope’.  Advent brings a fresh perspective amidst the angst, stress, distractions and polarization we experience in our world today. If we embrace that we are ‘Advent people of expectation and hope’, this makes all the difference how joyfully we experience the Christmas Season. Contemplate that each of us can be a beacon of hope and promise during these Advent days within a world that experiences darkness instead of light.

 By reading select biblical narratives during Advent, we remember and celebrate God’s unconditional love for each one of us. This is one of the great mysteries we live each day: God with us ‘now’ but ‘yet to come’. 

How wonderful is this? It is only through the eyes of faith that we believe (embrace) the ‘newness of God’.  In one sense, we are referring to what we call is a Theology of Presence – a sense of sacredness to the now – the present moment.  With this awareness, we are people of expectation and hope. We live, move and breathe in a ‘sacred world’ of God’s spirit – alive, dynamic and energizing – inspiring us forward. 

Pope Francis consistently invites us to prepare for and experience an encounter with Jesus Christ. This is what Advent is all about. It is preparing our minds and hearts to be open to receive Jesus’ presence in our lives.

Fr. Rahner reminds us Advent means that every person and every Christian is and should be an Advent person- not just in this part of the church year, but also in his or her entire life. 

Therefore, there are many ways we can prepare our minds and hearts for living as Advent persons.  Prayer, sacraments, scripture reading, meditation, Lectio Divina and the study of our faith. It is in this spirit the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation offers a broad spectrum of online  e-courses and e-seminars to prepare us during the year to celebrate with depth, wonder and expectation the Advent Season.

Yes, we are women and men of expectation and hope. We are Advent People. Let us rejoice! 

Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min, is the Director of The Institute for Pastoral Initiatives. IPI oversees many university and global projects, including the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation, a distance learning program serving 88 (Arch)dioceses worldwide for adults who want to enrich their faith, for religious educators, Catholic teachers,catechists, youth ministers or those interested in faith formation.  To see the complete online e-course list in English, Spanish & Arabic, go to VLCFF.UDayton.edu

 

Becoming Bearers of God

A Reflection for Christmas

By Sr. Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH President

Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) was a German mystic, theologian and philosopher.  He was a member of the Dominican order.  He spoke of the Feast of Christmas and the Eternal Birth borne by God and which God never ceases to bear in all eternity.  He says, “but if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.”

During this year’s Advent time, I have been “sitting with” the words and meaning from the Christmas story:  “…and there was no room in the inn.” Of course, that phrase calls to mind and heart all those in our world who are seeking refuge, acceptance and inclusion.  How welcoming and inclusive am I/are we?

I reflect upon our Mission Helper outreach to women, men and children seeking asylum.  Those who flee from unspeakable, unimaginable persecution to save their lives.  They are bearers of the suffering, persecuted face of God.  They are bearers of hope and incredible courage as they leave all to begin anew.  What of my inclusion of those who may perhaps think or believe differently then I /we do? Can I/we make room for those people and life events that sometimes disappoint, exclude or dismiss me/us?  Can I/we make room for God’s surprises?

The phrase further calls me to reflect on how open my heart is to make room for God.  Do I welcome God into all of who I am?  Do I sometimes try to hide from God and clutter my life, thus leaving little room for that still, small voice of a God? Have you noticed, usually in retrospect, how people and situations come into our life and stretch or challenge us to make room for a new way of being?  We are all called to be bearers of God and to open ourselves to those many God bearers all around us.  Do I allow the Light of Christ to illuminate those dark, fearful, broken parts of myself that can only be healed by the love and compassion of God?

This Christmas may we truly experience the awesome gift of God’s very self coming to dwell within and among us!  May we welcome the Light of Christ that dispels the darkness and calls us to be light bearers. Let us celebrate Emmanuel – God with us!

We wish each of you a blessed Christmas and a New Year of peace and joy.  We extend our deepest gratitude to all our dear friends, donors and families who assist and support us in our efforts to give birth to Christ—the true Light of the World! Let us continue to raise our hearts and voices in prayers for Peace.

Let me end this Christmas greeting by sharing the following reminder of the Divine’s call to become the bearers of God:

Not to one
but to many you have called:
on the dancing wind
come
from the deepest forest
come
from the highest places
come
from the distant lands
come
from the edge of darkness
come
from the depth of fear
and become
the bearer of God.”

                                                  
–Jan Richardson, Night Visions