The Gifts of Christmas

By Sr. Clare Walsh, MHSH

Growing up in my family, Christmas Eve meant gathering around the Christmas tree, house lights dim, tree lights glowing, the scent of logs burning, the fragrance of pine needles, as my Dad read with great fanfare The Night Before Christmas. His boisterous rendition was always followed with our attention turned to the creche as my mother proclaimed, with more hush than gusto, Luke’s Infancy Narrative. From an early age, I learned that the sacred and the secular go hand and hand.

This is the time of Christmas. This is the time of a global pandemic. Perhaps there has never been a time when we were more in need of God entering our chaos and becoming human in Jesus.  The Incarnation is plain enough to be understood by the shepherds and almost by the sheep.

The troubadour of Christmas. G.K. Chesterton, helps us to uncover the spiritual center of the secular:

THE OTHER STOCKING

 What has happened has been the the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it.  It happened in this way. As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good ~ far from it.  And the experience was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. Of course, most people who talk about these things get into a state of some mental confusion by attaching tremendous importance to the name of the entity.  We called him Santa Claus because everyone called him Santa Claus, but the name of a god is a mere human label. His real name may have been Williams. It may have been the Archangel Uriel. What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.  I have merely extended the idea. Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking, now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now, I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.  Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.

                                                                          

                                                                                             

For our pondering

 Where in my life is God inviting me to enlarge my heart and to love a bigger God?

Recall a moment of Wonder/Amazement in your life.  Revisit.  What happened inside of you?

Does the Incarnation provide an invitation to live your life differently post-COVID?

 

 

 

 

“It’s For Us!” An Epiphany Reflection by Sr. M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

“Hurry up and wait” isn’t just a sarcastic Army slogan.  We do it often when going to doctors’ offices, and for our Sisters, it seems like it is the standard practice at the podiatrist’s office.  So I was not surprised to be sitting and sitting while the Sister I had taken there was back in the treatment area.

The waiting room is the length of a train car, and it is narrow.  So those in the waiting area sit facing each other with about four feet from knee to knee.  I was across from the receptionist, and a young man she’d addressed as Timothy was discussing payment options with her.  When it was settled and he walked toward the other end of the room, I noticed that his gait was awkward, like someone with cerebral palsy.   He sat down opposite me and watched as I crocheted a top on a towel.

il_570xn-594290918_rmjx“What are you making?” he asked.  I held it up and replied, “One of those towels you can hang from a knob or a handle on a cupboard.

“Oh, that’s pretty!” he exclaimed.  Then he was called to the treatment area, leaving his jacket next to another young man and an older man I presumed was their driver.

It occurred to me that I could hide the finished towel inside his coat, so I hurried to finish it and tucked it into his jacket, cautioning the other young man, “You didn’t see anything.”  He nodded solemnly.

I returned to my seat and began reading a magazine, hoping to get out of there before he returned, but no such luck.  He came out and picked up his jacket.  Out fell the towel I’d rolled up and tied with red yarn.  He picked it up and showed it to the others, a big question mark on his face.  “That lady (pointing to me) put it there,” said his companion.  So Timothy walked it back to me and held it out.  “It’s for you,” I explained.  “It’s Christmas, it’s a present.”  His face lit up and he hurried back to the others, exclaiming, “It’s for us!  We can keep it! It’s a Christmas present for us!”

Maybe he doesn’t get many gifts, although he seemed well dressed and well groomed.  Maybe it was the surprise element that delighted him. Whatever, I was delighted by his reaction and later, walking to the darkened parking garage to retrieve the car, it occurred to me that he had repeatedly said, “…for uswe can keep it!” Not “…for meI can keep it!”

joy-of-giving-8What a rare treasure Timothy turned out to be, so in union with his living companions that there seemed nothing self-centered in his view of my simple gift.  He gave me a much richer gift, and I’m still cherishing it—and him.

ARE NOT OUR HEARTS ON FIRE? Pentecost 2012

By Sister Barbara Baker, MHSH

Once again we approach a significant moment in the life of our church—a moment when that special gift of the Holy Spirit fills all with new life and an invitation for a new beginning.  Jesus’ appearance, once again, from out of nowhere, in the midst of a scared group of followers takes them up short.  Jesus stood among them and said “Peace be with you.”  He tried to reassure them that indeed it was HE who had recently ascended to the Father.  Once they realized the truth, they rejoiced.  Jesus addresses them again and says “Peace be with you.”  He has returned to them to send them forth as commissioned ambassadors to spread the Good News.

There are tensions and divisions within the community.  Each received a special gift from the Holy Spirit and could not rejoice in this because of jealousy and comparisons with the gifts others received.  They didn’t realize that the gifts were to be shared with others for the good of the community.

Paul reminds us that our bodies are the same—each part has a role to play and no one is more important than another if it wants to be whole, healthy and in harmony.  So, as we approach this great feast of new birth perhaps we could look at our hearts to discover the fire or lack of fire within us for life and service to one another.

For Reflection:

What is the “special gift” that God has bestowed on me, and how do I share the gift with the community no matter what my age?

In this time of uncertainty about our future, how and where do I see the Holy Spirit guiding and leading us to a new place with new fire and energy?

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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 1 Prayer and Reflections

Day 1, Changed by the Servant Christ.
Scripture

Zechariah 9:9-10, A King righteous and victorious – and humble.
Psalm131, My heart is not proud.
Romans 12:3-8, We have different gifts with which to serve.
Mark 10:42-45, The Son of Man came to serve.

Meditation
The coming of the Messiah and His victory was accomplished through service. Jesus wants a spirit of service in the hearts of His followers as well. True greatness consists in serving God and one’s neighbor.
Zechariah’s prophecy concerning a victorious and humble King was fulfilled in Christ. The King of Peace comes to Jerusalem – the City of Peace. He does not conquer it by deceit or violence, but by gentleness and humility.
Psalm 131 describes the picture of a mother and child as a sign of God’s tender love and of trust in God, to which the entire community of believers is called.
St. Paul challenges us to discover our own abilities. Each of our traditions has been endowed by the Lord with gifts that we are called to place at the service of others.
By His service, Christ redeemed our refusal to serve God. St. Paul reminds us that the diverse gifts given to us are for service. In our diversity we are always one body in Christ, and members of one another. The use of our diverse gifts in common service to humanity makes visible our unity in Christ. They are an expression of the practical ecumenism which the Church and the world badly need. The imitation of Christ the Servant provides eloquent testimony to the Gospel, moving not only minds, but also hearts. It is a sign of the coming Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of the Servant Christ.

For Your Reflection:

On this day we encounter Jesus, on the road to victory through service. We see him as the “one who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life, a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Consequently, the Church of Jesus Christ is a serving community. The use of our diverse gifts in common service to humanity makes visible our unity in Christ.

  1. What opportunities for service are most threatened by pride and arrogance?
  2. What should be done to ensure that all Christian ministries are better experienced as service?
  3. In our community, what can Christians of different traditions do better together than in isolation to reveal the Servant Christ?

Prayer 
Almighty and eternal God, by traveling the royal road of service your Son leads us from the arrogance of our disobedience to humility of heart. Unite us to one another by your Holy Spirit, so that through service to our sisters and brothers, Your true countenance may be revealed; You, who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

(Source: Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute)

Renewal

By Eloise Downing

Reflection for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

There is comfort in the familiar. Our daily routines keep us from having to “re-invent the wheel” for each of our mundane endeavors. Over the years, the relationships we’ve built with our families and friends pave the two-way street of love, understanding and trust by which we support one another on our journeys. Yet, if we entrap ourselves only in the familiar (the “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” approach to life), we run the risk of being bored (and boring!) and cheating ourselves out of the wonder of discovery, the exciting potential for growth and spirited life.

I find the Scriptures call us from the comfort of the familiar to openness to the new. There are passages we’ve heard time and time again — so much so that we can recite them from memory. However, just when we hear a familiar proclamation, when it is easy to think, “Oh, I’ve heard this all before”, is perhaps just the time we’re invited to forsake the familiar and seek out the ever-renewing unfolding of the spirit-life.

Sometimes this openness to a renewed inspiration in Scripture is revealed in the simple turn of a phrase or in reading a different translation of the passage. Recently, I experienced this in the phrase from Ezekiel – “I will create a new heart in you and breathe into you a new spirit” — a passage I’ve heard, read and sung many times.

But for some reason, I found myself reflecting on a paraphrase: “I will create a new heart in me” — not in the sense that I am an ultimate creator — but rather in the sense that, because the new heart has already been bestowed on each one of us, we are responsible for how we continue the creation of the new heart, the enlivening spirit, in our midst.

So, my paraphrase of Ezekiel is my Lenten reflection, calling me to continue the creation of the new heart and spirit with which we’ve all been so richly blessed. May your Lenten inspirations be times of gratitude for all the gifts of heart and spirit in your life, whether they be familiar or new or some of both.