Contemplating the Mystery of Christmas

A Reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent
by Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

Advent-wreath-week-2Each year, the Church invites us to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christmas by focusing on the birth of the One who reveals the infinite love of God, the Creator and Father.  The Sunday Scripture readings that we hear in the season of Advent invite us to look again at God’s creation and rediscover God’s love.  The Advent scriptures offer us some rich images to contemplate as we approach Christmas.  Here’s a sampling:

John the Baptist: …a man who reduced life to the essentials so he would not be distracted from hearing God’s voice and responding to it.  John’s single-hearted response attracted the attention of many who were seeking conversion and repentance, but didn’t know where to turn.  John pointed them to Jesus, the image of the invisible, all-loving God.  What can you do to minimize distractions? What do you do to make yourself available to hearing God’s voice?

Isaiah’s description of rain falling down from the heavens producing plants that sprout and bloom: This image invites us to appreciate the hidden work of God who enlivens all of creation and brings all things into being, including ourselves!  This image calls us to patient attention and grateful appreciation of all God is accomplishing in us and in others.  What are some of God’s gifts for which you are grateful?How do you affirm the gifts of others?

Mary: …in whom the word became flesh. Mary’s example can serve as a blueprint for our own lives.  She holds the mystery of God in her heart.  She trusts God.  She is present and attentive to Jesus from conception to the cross, and beyond.  Her entire life is shaped by Christ.

How do you see your life as shaped by Christ? In what way(s) are you inviting Christ into your life in a new way this year?                       

God’s very being revealed in an infant: …vulnerable, needy and dependent on others for its very existence.  This image invites us to look at our dependence on others, as well as others’ dependence on us.  It leads us to grasp the interconnectedness of everything in the created order and, ultimately, the connection of all creation to God.  We exist in a web of inter-dependence that extends throughout all of creation and into the mystery of the divine.  Who are the people who thrive on your attention?  Who are the people who inspire and enliven you?

Contemplation is a way of discovering the truth that all of creation receives its existence from God.  According to Thomas Aquinas, when we learn a humble, serene attentiveness, we shall see the goodness of the world. The world is simply the expression of divine bounty, simply an expression of love.   As Christmas draws closer, let’s look deeply at creation.  Let’s discover God’s presence in the world around us.   Can you imagine God looking at you?  Can you imagine God loving you?  Can you imagine God depending on you?  Can you see God in others?  That’s the mystery of Christmas!

Come Aside and Rest

A Reflection by Sister Mariel Ann Rafferty

It is a cold, brisk winter day.  I have paused at this bench in the courtyard of our Mission Helper Center.  Not too long ago, I sat on this bench as I grieved the death of Sister Helen Hiehle, my dearest friend of 43 years.  The bench became a special place for me in the deepening realization of Helen’s joy in seeing the face of God.

I wonder how many people have sat here during the spring and summer months…a few teens preparing for confirmation, perhaps…someone receiving guidance from a spiritual director…a novice meditating on her call to serve God….A Sister Jubilarian reflecting on her sixty or more years as a Mission Helper…a mother concerned about her teenage children…. someone praying for the courage to approach another for reconciliation…a young man or woman discerning a call to become a missionary!

Countless people have sat here with others, or alone in silence, to experience God’s presence and the whisper of God’s voice.

Listen!  Is Jesus inviting you to “Come aside and rest awhile”?  Come!  In your imagination, sit awhile on this bench with Jesus.  Take a few minutes to speak with Him in this sacred place and be sure to listen.

You will be surprised at all that stirs within your heart!

Simple Steps in Prayer

By Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

Many people are looking for real and practical ways to pray that help them pay attention to God in the midst of their busy lives.  A way that has proven helpful to me is to structure my prayer time around four movements: Reading, Reflecting, Responding and Remaining (in the Latin of the Middle Ages they would refer to Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio and Contemplatio).

READING: The fundamental act of prayer is listening (paying careful, loving and alert attention): to Scripture, first of all, but also to the events of our lives. We are people to whom God speaks. That’s the heart of the art of prayer, the art of genuine attention.

REFLECTING: Digesting what we have slowly read, using imagination, paying attention to insights, noticing feelings and connections: all are essential aspects of understanding and integrating what we have heard in God’s speaking to us in Scripture and in the silence of our hearts.

RESPONDING: Saying words (our own or formal prayers) comes as a natural response to the first two elements of prayer.  Often, giving thanks—gratitude—is a first response to noticing God’s presence in the Scriptures and in the experiences of our lives.

REMAINING: A simple resting (in faith, hope and love) in the reality of the Triune God who speaks to us in order to draw us into a sharing in the Divine Life.  In this silence we offer ourselves as an empty vessel that God may fill with grace and love.

We will never acquire the art of prayer unless we give the time to practice prayer. A specific time of 20-30 minutes each day can be our gift to Christ, a time no longer at our own disposal, but a time that belongs to Christ and us together. Sometimes spent with others, sometimes in the company of Mary, this Christ-time in each day will become the place where we discover the depth, creativity andprofound human value in the living art of Christian prayer.

Prayer is communion and conversation with God.  We all know from our experience that a genuine conversation requires speaking and listening.  We are often ready to speak, but neglect to listen carefully and attentively.  Communion, or friendship, develops when both dynamics are present.

How do you pray? What works for you?