Preparing the Way

A Reflection for the Second Sunday in Advent

By Sr. Donna Fannon, MHSH


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”?







Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 2

2015_WPCU_Poster_inner_240x349Day 2, Tired of the journey, Jesus sat down facing the well (John 4:6)


  • Genesis 29:1-14, Jacob and Rachel at the well
  • Psalms 137, How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Each one of you says, I am for Paul, or I am for Apollos
  • John 4:5-6, Jesus was tired out by his journey



Jesus had been in Judea before his encounter with the Samaritan woman. The Pharisees had begun to spread the word that Jesus baptized more disciples than John. Perhaps it is the reason behind Jesus’ decision to leave. Arriving at the well, Jesus decides to stop. He was tired from his journey. While he was resting, a Samaritan woman came near the well to fetch water. This meeting took place at Jacob’s well: a symbolic place in the life and spirituality of the people of the Bible.

A dialogue begins between the Samaritan woman and Jesus about the place of worship. “Is it on this mountain or in Jerusalem?” asks the Samaritan woman. Jesus answers, “neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” (John 4: 21- 24).

It still happens that instead of a common search for unity, competition and dispute mark the relations between the churches. Communities extol their own virtues and benefits in order to attract new members. Some think that the bigger the church, the larger its number of members, the greater its power, the closer they are to God and present themselves as the only true worshippers. As a result there has been violence and disrespect to other religions and traditions. This type of competitive marketing creates both distrust between the churches and a lack of credibility in society towards Christianity as a whole. As competition grows the “other” community becomes the enemy.

Who are the true worshippers? We need “wells” to lean upon, to rest and let go of disputes, competition and violence, places where we can worship “in Spirit and in Truth.”


Gracious God, often our churches are led to choose the logic of competition. Forgive our sin of presumption. We are weary from this need to be first. Allow us to rest at the well. Refresh us with the water of unity drawn from our common prayer. May your Spirit who hovered over the waters of chaos bring unity from our diversity.

GREAT SOULS – A reflection on the death of Maya Angelou

By The Rev. F. M. “Buddy” Stallings, Rector,
St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City*

Maya Angelou died this week. Over the years, I have read her work and heard her rich, sonorous voice at various events, never once failing to be inspired by what she had to say. I have quoted her poem, When Great Souls Die, as part of All Saints’ Day sermons, probably more often than permissible. The poem begins: 

Maya AngelouWhen great souls die,
The air around us becomes
Light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
See with
A hurtful clarity.

And it ends:

And when great souls die,
After a period peace blooms,
Slowly and always
Irregularly. Spaces fill
With a kind of
Soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
To be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
For they existed. 

And now she is one of those great souls gone from us. Our world is diminished for that, not quite as actively good as it was when more than her spirit prevailed: when her voice, even if only through Twitter, as it was a few days ago, could still be heard.

This week I have contemplated what it was about her that moved me so. A woman and a person of color, Maya Angelou and I don’t/didn’t have much in common—though the power of common southern-ness should never be completely discounted. But it was more than our regional connection…that made her so profoundly compelling.

She knew me—without even knowing that I existed. She knew what hurt inside me, the part that I never wanted to share with anyone; she knew what held me back, what gave me hope, what enraged me and what made me laugh. To be known like that is an amazing thing and the rare gift of a great soul, particularly one who can do it through her words from afar. I will miss her, but even as I do I shall give great thanks that because she existed, I can “be and be better.”

*This reflection first appeared in Fr. Stallings’ weekly e-letter, “From my Heart to Yours.”




Book Review by Marilyn Dunphy

In the 1990s Gary Smith found himself contemplating yet another turn in his life.  Smith, a Jesuit priest ministering to prison inmates and homeless people in Portland, Oregon, felt called to something else. The “something” felt like it was radical call, not just a tweaking of his then-current life.

After much discerning and with the approval of his Provincial superiors, Smith, then age 63, left for Uganda in 2000 to work with the Jesuit Refugee Service.  He would spend the next six years providing pastoral care and catechetical training to Sudanese refugees.

Smith’s life had already seen at least two major shifts:  converting to Catholicism after years of espousing atheism, then entering the Jesuits and being ordained to the priesthood.

“They Come Back Singing” emerges from Smith’s journal of his time working with the Sudanese refugees who fled to northern Uganda to escape the ravages of the civil war in Sudan.  Smith describes his book as a “portrait of refugee hearts” and a “story of mission.”  It is a deeply moving, elegantly written account of his experience.

Smith is the antithesis of the aloof cleric or the judgmental Westerner. He comes to know and love the people he ministers to and freely acknowledges how he is changed by them. In the face of overwhelming infant, child and maternal mortality as well as violence, he comforts the grieving, provides material assistance and tries to come to grips with his own sense of outrage over such poverty and deprivation.  He enters into their suffering without reservation, and the bonds of friendship and affection between priest and people are apparent.

But the book is not a portrait of darkness. Smith captures the resiliency and vibrant spirit of these people as they face continuing hardship.  We see how their faith and strong sense of community sustain the refugees. We are invited into celebrations with food, music and dancing, and we marvel at their gratitude and hope for the future. We see young people determined to get an education and women demanding their rightful place in society.

Smith’s sense of humor (often self-deprecating) is evident in this book as is his honesty about his occasional callousness and impatience with the never-ending needs of the refugees.  His articulation of his own inner spiritual journey is both inspiring and instructive.

The subtitle of this book is “Finding God with the Refugees,” which is a variation on the Jesuit motto “Finding God in All Things.” In reading this book you will see how both Smith and the refugees find and hold onto God in their situation.
Chances are that after reading it, you will find God anew yourself.