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When we can’t see but we know.

I had something else started and almost complete for my blog post today but then I encountered the most incredible sunset Saturday evening. It was very similar to the sunset picture I added to this blog but I was driving so I didn’t stop to capture it and to be honest, I didn’t want to spoil the moment. I wanted to keep watching it glow and change in all the regal colors of pink, purple and blue. I felt immense gratitude for a beautiful day, warmer temps (after frigid cold on Friday), morning coffee with a friend and a lovely Saturday Vigil Mass.

As I drove I looked to the left where the evening before I saw 20 or so deer grazing in a field. They weren’t there, I wondered where they had ventured for their evening meal. I turned at an intersection on the edge of town to head toward my house and looked up at the sky to see the beginning of the almost full moon (full today on February 5) shrouded in secrecy due to the clouds.

All of these images reminded me of a drive home many years ago at a time that the corporation I worked for had an office building about 20 miles from my home. I would take a scenic route along the backwaters of the Illinois River, drive through what we, in the Illinois Valley area, affectionately call “The Curves” that wind through Starved Rock State Park and then along fields until I arrived home. Fall, Winter, and Spring, during dusk and night times, you have to be especially watchful for deer on the side of the road, hoping they won’t dart out in front of the car.

One very dark evening, with no moonlight, on my drive home I was being careful to watch each side of the road. I said to myself “just because you can’t see the deer, doesn’t mean they aren’t there, so be careful!” Instantly I pondered that as a reflection on God as well. There are moments that God feels right next to me, nudging and pointing the way, and other times that I have to stop and look hard, wondering where God might be. But my faith tells me, God is in fact there regardless of the circumstances of the moment.

This past week we celebrated the memorial of Irish Saint, St Brigid of Kildare. Her feast also marks the cross-quarter day of the Celtic celebration of Imbolc, which means in the belly of the Mother. It is the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox, a time when all within begins to rumble and stir to life. The Celts believe that these special days are threshold days or days when the veil between the sacred, spiritual world and the physical world is thinner and the spiritual realm more accessible. Like lighting a votive candle in a church, lighting a candle and placing a scarf out for St. Brigid to touch as she passes by, symbolize a belief in the great communion of saints standing by to intercede on our behalf. Most of us don’t see or hear them with actual vision or sound. But not seeing doesn’t diminish my belief in their heavenly aid.

Last year I purchased Braving the Thin Places by Julianne Stanz. It’s a fantastic book that presents numerous ideas for cultivating moments of grace with God by embracing Celtic Christian wisdom. In one of my favorite sections of the book, Julianne reminds us that silence can speak volumes. She writes that children are especially good at seeing beyond what is spoken given their growing vocabularies, being able to imagine and hold on to a sense of wonder, and to celebrate simple moments like walking barefoot in the grass or dirt.

I recall going to my father’s gravesite with my nephew just after his burial. The plot was still dirt covered. My nephew, six years old, stuck his finger deep down in the dirt and said he wanted to touch grandpa one more time. He believed it and in that moment, so did I. For that brief moment, we were in a threshold space, a thin space of touching the sacred world beyond the physical.

I hope this week brings you moments of sensing the sacred in daily moments, moments that you feel the presence of the Divine even when you can’t see it.

Peace, Deena

Resource Info:

Matthew Klein has a great drone video of “The Curves” on his Facebook page. Visit his website for more information about his photography and films, as well as links to his Facebook and Instagram pages.

Starved Rock State Park is a lovely park to visit if you are in the Illinois Valley area. For more info visit their website.

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All Our Choices Matter

This past week I listened to a seminar by Tony Robbins. Two steps of a 5-step plan for successful living that he outlined were to choose good role models, and create clear goals, for the type of life you want to live. He also said that proximity is power, the more you spend time with those people, the more likely you are to take on those characteristics and begin to live a similar life. We can’t always be in physical proximity with the people we want to learn from and emulate but there are certainly virtual ways to listen to or even study them. You’ve probably heard the saying that you become like the five people that you spend the most amount of your time with. I think it is true. So, we have to choose those five people carefully!

Saturday, January 28, was the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas. One of the quotes attributed to St. Thomas is “the things that we love tell us what we are“. I invite us to take a moment this weekend and think about those things. To ask the question where we might be focusing our time and attention. Also, to consider who we are allowing to have such a dramatic impact on the outcome of our lives. I understand that we can’t eliminate some people from our life because of jobs or family situations. But we can control how we let those people impact us. We can also make sure that we are finding ways to be with the people that lift us up, to balance out the situations that we can’t walk away from. We have to live the right story. It can be painful to change our existing story if it isn’t creating the life we want. Here is the interesting part, we will hang on to that pain until we value something else more. Of course it is easier to stay the same, but is that the life we want?

The Gospel for this Fourth Week in Ordinary Time is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those mourning, and those who are persecuted, etc. What in this world makes me want those qualities over the opposite of each of those “blessings”? Nothing. That’s right, nothing in this world. It isn’t easy to choose these qualities over the ones that the world constantly presents to us as desirable. We each have to search our hearts to see if we make choices that will enhance the opportunity of eternal life over temporal satisfaction now.

In saying that, I don’t think that the choice means that we can’t or won’t enjoy the blessings of this life while we are living it, graces like joy, happiness, peace or security. It just means that we don’t cling to those things. We don’t seek them as an answer to the question of finding meaning in life. It means keeping a watch on the importance we attach to them.

Let’s circle back to role models and the 5 people we spend most of our time with. Perhaps the choice is to spend time with people that have a proper balance and attitude about the things that matter. We watch them, and we choose, to make choices that feed our mind, body and spirit over things that feel good for a moment. This week let’s take a loving and non-judgmental glance at the people and choices we spend our time with. Let’s reflect on them in light of St. Thomas Aquinas’ quote – the things we love tell us what we are.

Peace, Deena

Image by Chang Duong on Unsplash

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Have you ever had a God moment?

Have you ever had a “God moment”? One of those moments that you felt that the Divine reached down and said “I just want you to know I see you, I hear you, I am with you?”

As part of a weekly prayer group, after attending a Light of the World Retreat (a kerygmatic parish renewal retreat), four friends and I have met each week for the past four years (it will be five this Lent!) to pray, study and grow together in our faith lives. We have followed the same format each week, which begins with a prayer of thanksgiving. We then share a “God moment”, move to our reading or study for the week and then conclude with prayers of petition. Some weeks the God moments are bigger and more obvious, other weeks it might be something less dramatic but that touched us in a personal way and reminded us of God’s presence in our lives. It is a gift to hear those moments in each other’s lives each week. It reminds us that God is with us, in big and small ways every day.

This week my God moments caught my attention immediately. They were reminders that I am not on this journey alone, trying to figure it out without some guidance and inspiration. I seem to forget that, a lot! I am grateful that God will use daily moments to remind me to take it easy, pause and ask when I need the help.

Monday, after talking about the value of Rest in my last blog, promising myself I would take time to be still and listen, I was frazzled again. I was worrying about something and was also not giving myself enough time to do what I wanted to get done in the house, get gas in the car and get to my cousin’s veterinary clinic for Butters check up (one of my two cats was recently diagnosed as diabetic and needs insulin twice a day). I got to the gas station and a new clerk was learning the cash register. She made an error which meant my purchase had to be cancelled and re-entered to correct it. I felt myself trying to be patient but looking at the clock I knew I had not given myself enough time. The two attendants had to call the manager for assistance, something wasn’t working right for them on the cancel process. The manager said she had to go outside and pump gas to fix it. Another delay. Finally, “come on guys” just blurted out of my mouth and I knew I failed the patience test. The issue was corrected, I got gas in the car, got on the highway and I called to indicate I would be late. Of course it was fine but I was upset with myself for not getting it all done perfectly and on time.

The appointment for Butters was fine and I had a delightful visit with my cousins. On the drive home I saw my phone light up. I glanced down thinking it was a response to a text I sent after the appointment and noticed it was the Hallow app playing.

I don’t usually play music in my car or listen to the radio. I did a couple of days prior, listening to classical music on the car radio to relax on a drive, but I did not have the Hallow app on. I also did not have the particular “course” that started playing on. I had been listening to Night Prayer at home the day before.

What lit up on my phone? This is the God moment – the phone started playing Stress Management by Reform Wellness, a short 8-session program on Hallow.

I laughed out loud, put it on the car audio to play and said “Thanks God, I appreciate it and am glad you have a sense of humor!” The recording was actually very good, just what I needed to hear. I plan to listen to it again, especially when I feel myself getting upset about something insignificant!

So was it a coincidence? Does God reach down and select the app to play on my phone? Seriously, I don’t know or care. What I do know is that in that moment I needed to take a deep breath, hand it over to God, and trust that everything is ok. In that moment, and through the stress management hints the program shared with me, I felt the Divine saying “relax, breathe, let me handle it”. That is a “God moment”.

On Tuesday I was checking Facebook after work and noticed a post by the Franciscan Sisters of Joliet.

The post was: “Come away by yourself and rest awhile…” Mark 6:31

I loved seeing this on Facebook that afternoon after sharing my blog post on Rest last weekend. It was an affirmation of what I wrote about and a reminder to listen myself. The Joliet Franciscan Sisters are a special community to me. My aunt was a Franciscan sister and my cousin who is still living in Joliet, founder of The Upper Room Crisis Line, has been a faithful member of the Congregation for 72+ years! It was another God moment; a reminder to rest, listen to my own wisdom, trust God a little bit more and through the post, was also a special family connection.

As you move through your week, look for those moments. When you look you will find them. Some days they are big blatant reminders, like lightening strikes, to pay attention and know that we are not alone in the world. Other days they are like a soft breeze, gentle whispers, as if to say “I just wanted to catch your attention”.

The Spirit is always with us, some days we are sleeping and miss it. Other days we are alert and notice. It certainly is more comforting and reassuring to be aware and feel Divine Presence throughout each day. Be on the lookout this week. I’d love to hear what you notice.

Peace, Deena

Photo posted on Joliet Franciscan Sisters Facebook page on January 14, 2023 (@ Sisters of St Francis)

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When you are weary – rest

Saturday morning I attended a workshop by my friend and essential oil teacher/mentor, Kate Brown, and several of her colleagues from the aromatherapy school that she teaches for. It was a wonderful event, “Regroup – Reboot – Re-Emerge”, during which Kate and the other presenters shared techniques, and essential oils, for centering, grounding, setting intention, etc. But after it was over I realized I needed more one R – Rest!

I don’t mean sit with a book, the “chill and relax” sort of rest, or sit and mindlessly watch YouTube videos or scroll social media. I can decompress and relax by doing those things if I don’t want to focus on anything specific. I can unwind by looking out the window at the birds or going for a drive. I have apps and a variety of podcasts or programs to listen to that help clear a racing mind, especially if I am intensely focusing and giving energy to something I would prefer not to.

I tend to get involved in a lot of activities or sign up for programs and workshops so that I can learn more. I usually love all of that activity. But I realized I was just exhausted and overwhelmed by a multitude of daily events and responsibilities. I thought about watching my favorite YouTube artists and crafters or getting my daily “Catechism in a Year” video and notes with Fr Mike Schmitz done. But I knew that wasn’t the answer. It was Rest that I needed.

I laid down on the bed. Butters, my ginger cat, jumped up alongside me and we just rested. Not napped, just rested. It was the kind of rest that was like the Contemplatio step in prayer practice, Lectio Divina, the final phase of just resting in the presence of God.

After awhile I asked why I overextend? Why I don’t put more rest time in my day, or even my week? I am not sure who I was asking – myself, God? I don’t really think I needed an answer beyond knowing that I need to take more time to sit quietly, to listen and not talk, to just be.

In Sacred Scripture we hear that Jesus, when the apostles returned after being sent out on their own to teach and heal, told them to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6: 30-32)

Why would I even assume that with a busy week of ministry work, parish involvement, caring for my pets, keeping up with friends and family, studying and learning more about my faith and other interests, that I wouldn’t need time to rest and listen for guidance? To pause on the doing of more activities and just rest in the presence of God.

Every night, as part of Night Prayer/Liturgy of the Hours, I recite (or listen to, if using an app) this verse:

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.

I think that prayer will have a different meaning for me each night from now on. Instead of just to rest in God’s peace while sleeping, I want more hours in each day where I feel I am just resting in the gentle embrace of God. I want to feel the peace of knowing if I stop talking and start listening during prayer, maybe a bit more of that peace will wash over each day.

If you feel busy all the time, or overwhelmed, I wish the same for you!

Peace, Deena

Resources:

To learn more about Kate Brown, her essential oil programs and practice, visit Kate Brown Healing Essentials.

Catechism in a Year – study the Catechism of the Catholic Church with Fr Mike and Ascension Press on YouTube or download the study guide and read on your own. It’s still early in the year and the sections reviewed each day have been short, you could easily join in and catch up.

Image: My cat, Butters, resting in the sun earlier in the week. They are masters of rest.

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An Epiphany – Thoughts for the new year

Today January 8 the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. The traditional date in the Church is January 6, but like so many other Feast Days it has been moved to Sunday. It’s a beautiful text in scripture; the Magi or Wise Men, are called by King Herod to find the child that has been prophesied as a new king, a ruler of the nations. They follow a star, using their scientific knowledge to navigate their course to Jesus in Bethlehem. They bring the gifts of homage; gold, frankincense and myrrh.

We all know the story, the wise noble men, seeking someone wiser than themselves. We have heard various reflections on the meanings of the gifts they bring. We have been asked to consider the symbolism of offering our own gifts to God as we come to learn what they are and grow in our capacity and confidence to offer them in the world.

As I was thinking about what I might write for today’s blog, a multitude of things came to mind. I wondered about the trust that the wise men had to have, in themselves, to follow their knowledge and insights in seeking this unknown place and child king they were searching for. I wondered whether I would have turned around and headed back home when the star didn’t shine as bright or as clear, when the journey was difficult.

I also thought about each day we wake up and try to offer our best in the world. As I sat at my desk I glanced at a journal I didn’t mention last week. I frankly forgot about it when I was writing and sharing some of the journals I use or how I use them. It’s a 5 year Memory Book by Natural Life. Each day there is a space to jot down activities or thoughts for the day. Now that I have started my second year, it’s interesting to reflect on that date, in 2022, and what happened. The title, or thought, on the cover is “Each Day is a Gift”.

On Monday, I listened to a YouTube video by Monique Jacobs, a spiritual director/vlogger I subscribe to. In her video Monique talks about the value of an annual Examen, a practice of looking at our day, or year in Monique’s example, in review. Monique offers the idea of looking at each month of the past year, identifying a peek experience, and remembering myself in each of those experiences, what happened and how I responded. Then she asked that I look at myself as God sees me, to see myself with the loving gaze of God.

As I saw the title of my memory book and reflected on Monique’s video in light of the feast of Epiphany, I wondered, what it would be like if I looked at each day in this year of 2023 as a gift that I then turn and offer back to God?

There is a common prayer practice called the Morning Offering. It’s a prayer said at the beginning of each day in which I offer my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of the day to God. It’s a lovely prayer. I try to say it each day and have even tweaked it a bit to include prayers for peace between Ukraine and Russia, and to include the intentions of my family and friends. I also like to do an evening Examen, to look for the graces of the day and to be thankful. It’s also a chance to view the day for those moments of opportunity to improve and grow closer to God. But what would it feel like, at the end of each day, as I review or conduct an Examen of the day, to offer it back to God as a gift?

As I kneel before Jesus, as King and Lord of my life, I can’t imagine feeling content with the gifts I offer, with the tattered gifts of impatience, anger, self-centeredness or self-indulgence. I can’t imagine…unless I see the loving gaze of God looking upon me, as Monique suggested in her video. Nothing that I can do or present is worthy, when viewed in my eyes. But God’s gaze of unconditional love and compassion is different than my gaze.

All of these stories in scripture remain stories or narratives of a time 2000+ years ago, unless we hear them with the desire that God has for us to be in relationship. The Saints of the Church knew this, the desire to offer what they were to God was stronger than the urge to withdraw because their gifts felt inadequate. Catherine of Siena, 14th century Dominican mystic and woman Doctor of the Church, said in her Dialogue (60) “Love transforms one into what one loves.

May our prayer and desire each day, as we offer the gift of the day back to God, be that we are transformed by that gaze of Love.

Peace, Deena

Image from a visit to Our Lady of Angels Chapel

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Christmas 2022

On Christmas Eve we heard the Gospel of Luke in which Zechariah is able to speak again after proclaiming his son’s name as John. He recites a prayer, blessing God for sending the Messiah and states that his own son will be a prophet to the Most High. This prayer, the Benedictus, is recited daily in the Church as part of morning prayer. The verse at the end is my favorite and gives me hope every day.

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1: 67-79

Christmas Day the dawn breaks upon us. The Light comes to us.

All of the Christmas Masses from Vigil on Christmas Eve, Christmas Mass During the Night, Mass at Dawn tell us the story of Jesus’ genealogy, his birth, the visiting shepherds, the angels singing “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on earth on whom his favor rests” and then culminates with Mass During the Day with John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This gospel reminds us that those who came before testified to the Light, the true Light, which enlightens everyone, the Light that came into the world for us. To be with us, to show us the way.

This Light does shine for us. Perhaps some days we see it more clearly than others. But it can guide our life to be one of peace, an inner peace that helps us deal with the chaos in the world around us.

My hope and prayer for each of us on this Christmas Day is that the Light shines bright in our hearts and in our lives so that we can bring that peace and hope to those we encounter. May it shine bright not just on Christmas Day but each and every day until we become one with the Light.

I extend wishes for a happy and holy Christmas Day and Christmas Season.

Peace, Deena

Image from a Nativity Scene at my church, Holy Family Church in Oglesby, a few years ago.

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Advent – December 18, 2022

The Fourth Week of Advent. Here we are. Typically I arrive at this point wishing I had taken more time to slow down, more time to pray or read spiritual writing, and taken more time to savor the coming of Christmas. I absolutely see missed opportunities in the past three weeks but this year feels a little different. My weekly prayer group, assisting on an Advent prayer guide at work and facilitating two Advent small groups has helped. Perhaps the more we immerse ourselves in something that we desire, the easier it is to attain the desired goal.

This weekend I was reminded of something that a parish priest, Fr. Tony, said to me when we were meeting to discuss my involvement in activities at the parish over 25 years ago. The priest assigned and then reassigned after one year, right before Fr. Tony, was the first one to reach out and ask me to get involved. He not only asked me to get involved, he gave me the task of writing a weekly prayer guide for Advent, with a prayer and reflection for each day. I had never written anything like that before! They turned out pretty good and I found the task of writing each week to be quite enjoyable. I wrote one for Lent as well. Then he was reassigned and Fr. Tony came to Holy Family. I shared some of my experiences of living in Michigan (parish life, women’s groups, studying at an ashram…), interests and ideas I had for Holy Family. He either thought I was from another planet but was desperate for the assistance or he saw potential. I chose to believe the latter.

The conversation I was reminded of this weekend was “I’m open to trying different things here at Holy Family…but before that I would like you to go to the deep, dark incense-filled corners of the church and experience the beauty of the rituals and traditions of the church.” That began a journey that has led me to a deepening of my faith life, an ever-growing appetite for learning about the Church and our spiritual mothers and fathers, and some of most amazing spiritual experiences. Not too long after that I considered religious life, but discerned I wasn’t cut out for community life. I compared and visited different communities to learn about their “associate” programs ultimately leading me to the Sisters of St. Benedict at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, IL (initially Nauvoo IL). After three years of formation and study, I became an Oblate. Again, the more we immerse ourselves in something, the more likely we will achieve the desired goal.

One of the rich traditions of the Church begins each year on the evening of December 17 with the recitation of the first of the O Antiphons, “Come O Wisdom”. The seven days of reciting the O Antiphons are absolutely my favorite week of Advent. Each of the seven antiphons (Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of the Nations and Emmanuel, God with us) have been sung (or recited) as part of evening prayer, with the Magnificat, since as early as the eighth century. The antiphons use images from the Bible that remind us of Old Testament prophecies of the coming of Jesus Christ.

My mother was hospitalized in early December many years ago after a fall that required spinal surgery. I visited the large chapel at St. Francis Hospital in Peoria every evening to pray before leaving her and beginning the hour or so drive home. The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, the hospital sisters, came to the chapel during Advent and prayed each evening. Seeing me there a few evenings, they invited me to pray with them. Hearing them sing the O Antiphons each night, the final week before Christmas, was a profound experience. I will treasure it and the time with the sisters forever.

I saw a delightful version of O Wisdom, shared by the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies on Facebook written by St. Hildegard. St Hildegard, a favorite saint, was a Benedictine Abbess in the twelfth century. She studied herbs and oils and wrote about medicine, composed chants and sacred music, created amazing art, wrote poetry and was a mystic. She wrote “O Wisdom…hip, hip, hooray! From earthen clay have all God’s splendid wonders sprung, that the new Sun might come forth, the new Light shine, the new Song sound in us!” (oi, oi! De limo Terre in Latin)

There is still a full fourth week of Advent available to us this year. Next year it will only be one day long. Sunday will be the Fourth Sunday of Advent but also Christmas Eve, so we will lose a week of Advent. Treasure the full week this year. And what an amazing week it is! We began on Saturday hearing the genealogy of Jesus, then for the Fourth Sunday of Advent reflect on Joseph’s dream and decision to trust the message and protect his little family. On Monday we listen to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Zechariah’s visit by Angel Gabriel and his disbelief when Gabriel tells him aging Elizabeth will bear a son, John. We hear the Annunciation and Visitation stories, my favorites, scripture passages of Mary and Elizabeth. We experience the prayers, first declared by Zechariah and Mary, that are now prayed each and every day, the Benedictus and the Magnificat, in the Liturgy of the Hours, at Morning and Evening Prayer respectively.

How might some of these remaining days of Advent help you prepare for Christmas? How can we experience the joy that would leave us singing a “new Song sound in us”? With last minute baking, shopping or cleaning left to do, can you create time to enter into the rich tradition of our Church lived through scripture or the praying of the O Antiphons? What do you desire in these final days of Advent so that you feel ready to welcome Emmanuel, God With Us?

Peace be with you, Deena

Photo from Shutterstock on PicMonkey

Visit the monks at St John’s Abbey and scroll down to find the nightly singing of the O Antiphons

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Advent – December 11, 2022

The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song. Isaiah 35

Isaiah continues in Chapter 35 by describing a world that will see the splendor of God, where hands are strong and knees are firm (ok, that part of the prophecy hits home), the frightened are now fearless and unafraid, eyes and ears seeing and hearing and the lame able to leap and move about. The prophet continues to talk about a new world order, as I shared last week. It’s a beautiful vision to hold and rejoice in during this Third Week of Advent.

Today after a parish cookie sale, I dropped off our excess cookies at the homeless shelter. The person that greeted me said that the cookies would be appreciated because there are so many children staying at the shelter at the moment. It broke my heart. You don’t have to look far to see similar stories of hardship, just watch the news. I know families grieving the loss of a loved one as we prepare for Christmas, and in two specific cases, one in my area and another in Baton Rouge, two families trying to navigate life after the suicide of 13 year sons. Weather catastrophes, homelessness, violence – how do we rejoice? Where do we see glimpses of the world to come? We have faith that when Jesus comes again, we’ll see the glory of the Lord. But what about now?

I am in a weekly prayer group that began about 4 years ago after attending a weekend parish retreat. We select different books or programs to study and discuss. We are currently reading the Advent and Christmas Reflection book by Word on Fire, The Word Became Flesh. One of the homilies included for reflection in the book was written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. St. Bernard was a Benedictine Abbott and major leader in the reformation of the Benedictine order. He was canonized a short time after his death and named a Doctor of the Church in 1830. I was awestruck! St. Bernard writes in dramatic fashion of the brief moment that the Angel Gabriel is waiting for Mary to respond yes, her fiat. He writes that God needs Mary to respond yes, to give her consent to the angel, for the fulfillment of salvation to take place, and that the rest of humanity waits in anticipation. It is one of the most moving pieces I have read. (The homily can be found in the Office of Readings, for the Fourth Week of Advent, in the Liturgy of the Hours, the “Divine Office” or Breviary.)

I have been thinking about that homily all week. I don’t mean these next ponderings on the same level of importance as Mary’s fiat, but I wonder if God waits for our consent, the decisions we make and actions toward others, to be part of the plan of bringing love and hope in the world. Does God wait for us to help provide hope to those we encounter?

Perhaps God places desires in our heart as way to serve. Perhaps God waits with a similar anticipation for us to stand in our “yes” to those desires, our call.

One of my favorite prayers is by St. John Henry Cardinal Newman regarding our mission in life. It was shared in class when I was in the Lay Ministry program in our Diocese. I have never forgotten it and when I wonder about my purpose or have a decision to make, I often return to this prayer.

This is the beginning of the prayer:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.

As we try to identify and live that mission, we can live in an Advent spirit of Gaudete, Rejoice. We help our world move a step closer to that vision that Isaiah shares of the ransomed returned and where sorrow and mourning are ceased. If not ceased, maybe paused for just a moment. We enter singing, crowned with an everlasting joy that cannot be filled by the passing moments of this world. We anticipate and look to that day, as we do this Advent for Christmas, with hearts full of rejoicing and joyful song.

Peace be with you, Deena

Image by Shutterstock on PicMonkey

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Advent – December 4, 2022

On this Second Sunday of Advent we hear about a new world order. It certainly doesn’t sound like the world we live in today. The world feels more chaotic, like we should be listening to the voice of the prophet John the Baptist, calling us all to reform and repent. Yet, Isaiah tells us of a world that will be filled with justice, harmony, animals that usually attack each other lying down peacefully together, and the ultimate prize, peace for ever.

While we prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas and again, at the end of time, we seek that peace in our hearts and in our families. Our daily prayers help us to vision the world that Isaiah foretells. They help us to slow down, to listen, to be still in the midst of our holiday shopping, baking and preparations. To see the world differently, to be a bit kinder.

But in the scripture readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, I was most struck by St Paul’s letter to the Romans. St. Paul tells us that the God of endurance and encouragement will help us to think in harmony with one another and that with one voice we will glorify God. He asks us to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. Harmony? One voice? This can seem like a remote fantasy too.

If you have ever visited a Benedictine Monastery, you have experienced that kind of being welcomed that St. Paul speaks of. The community makes sure that your needs are taken care of and that you have someone to guide you to chapel, that you feel included and part of communal prayer. In The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53, The Reception of Guests, Benedict writes that “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.”

Can you imagine if we spent our days trying to see Christ in others? The person that races up behind you in the car or cuts you off? The grouchy clerk that tosses your items down to the end of the checkout counter like a frisbee? The colleague that says they are listening but is distracted the entire time? The politicians we don’t agree with? The governments around the world abusing our natural resources? I am sure we can all come up with a list of people we are challenged to see as the body of Christ standing before us.

One of the daily prayer guides I use for reflection and daily Mass is Give Us This Day. I read editor, Mary Stommes’ reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent on Welcome. She talks about Advent as a time that exists right now but also not yet. She says “The thing is, the more clearly we see Christ, the more Advent will cut to our core. The more we will realize that hope and hurt are close companions. The more we will recognize our own sinfulness, the ‘harm and ruin’ we inflict within and without.” (December issue, Second Sunday of Advent Reflection.).

I am challenged to look at how I encounter others when I am distracted or in a bad mood. Do I set aside my own concerns and look for the face of Christ in the person standing right in front of me? Can I say a silent prayer for the person that I see as treating me unfairly? Where am I inflicting “harm and ruin” by being angry at or judging others? Are you willing to join me on this challenge this week?

My prayer is that we find opportunities to be kinder, more welcoming and hospitable to those we encounter each day this week. If we can, then I think we close the gap a bit between the way the world is today and the way we long for it to be. We help prepare the way and help make straight the path. We help water the roots so a bud of peace will blossom.

Peace be with you, Deena

Note: I highly recommend subscribing to Give Us This Day if you don’t already.

Image by Laura Nyhuis on Unsplash

Advent – November 27, 2022

Starting this blog on the First Sunday of Advent seems fitting, it’s the first day of the Liturgical Year 2023. Happy New Year! I would like to share a few thoughts about why I am writing and then a thought about Advent.

The idea to write about journeys began many years ago when I owned my little ice cream/health and wellness shop in Oglesby, Illinois. I had an idea for a book and bought a url for a website. Seriously, I mean MANY years ago, a time before blogs! I wanted to write about how our call, to live our lives authentically using the gifts and talents we each have, comes to life when we share it with others. We help others as we honor the call we each have and encourage each other to listen to it. I sat on it for years!

In more recent times, I have been encouraged to listen to the voice within that seeks expression, by exceptional writer, journalist, contemporary poet and friend, Judith Valente. I’ve been inspired by Judith to keep journaling, writing haiku and letter writing. (A must read regarding two spiritual companions sharing their journey in letter writing – How to Be by Judith and Brother Paul Quenon) Although I am not as faithful as I would like with poetry writing. Judith said write for yourself, write to share your thoughts, even if no one reads it. I have pages of ideas that would be part of a book. I waited for a sign, for more ideas, to have more time. I kept putting it off.

About a month ago, I had a pretty significant emotional setback. It wasn’t a crisis of faith, but one of purpose. I wondered what the point was if I didn’t have a purpose. I had a lot going on in my personal and work life, so I know now, looking back, things seemed worse at the moment than they actually were. But it was a moment of crisis that resulted in deep self-reflection and setting goals to focus on things that are important to me. One of those goals was to begin this blog. So, today I begin.

Perhaps you have had moments like that on your life’s journey. Think about who and what helped you moved out of the darkness of not knowing what to do next. Write about it – capture your thoughts in a journal or write a letter (yes, the long-hand kind, on stationery, not an email or text) to the person who was there for you.

Advent is a time of waiting and preparing. In life we wait. We wait for summer vacations, holidays and family gatherings. We wait for good health reports or wait in hopes that the news isn’t bad. We wait for the arrival of a new baby, a new job, new beginnings. We live in a time of instant gratification. We don’t like to wait or we wait impatiently. All you have to do is look at Black Friday sales that begin in September or October and continue long after “the” Black Friday. We are marketed to and sold that we have to act now or we’ll miss out.

In some ways, spiritually, this is true. We need to “awaken from our slumber, to always be aware of the presence of God, and to welcome Him in our daily lives.” (Pope Francis, Angelus Message on the First Sunday of Advent) Pope Francis also said we need to shake off the lethargy of daily life and be vigilant always. To wait for, prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas and at the end of times should give us reason for hope. It is a foundation of our Christian faith.

I attended the funeral of a wonderful woman yesterday. I will miss her warm smile and greeting at daily and Saturday Masses. Madeline had a long life and the celebration of her faith was a reason for rejoicing that years of believing and confident trust will be worth the wait for her. The “discipline of doing God’s will is not … quick and easy. Neither is bearing with things that we have repeatedly asked God to fix” says Judith Sutera in Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from St. Benedict. As a Benedictine Oblate (lay associate of a Benedictine monastery) we begin the year (and repeat twice through the year) with the Prologue of The Rule of St. Benedict reminding us to get up, to rise from our sleep and to open our eyes and ears to God’s voice.

Advent helps us take a deeper look at the delicate balance of waiting, slowing down in hopeful anticipation, and being prepared for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. My goal is to be more thoughtful and prayerful this Advent. I don’t want to arrive at Christmas saying I wish I had prepared better, spiritually. I also don’t want to say that at the end of my days.

On this first day of Advent, make a “new year’s” resolution of your own. How would you like to spend this time of waiting, preparing for Christmas? What changes might you make to deepen your faith life or your spiritual practices and communal prayer life this new liturgical year? Is there a slumber or lethargy that you would like to wake from? How can you be more aware of God’s presence in the common and ordinary moments of each day?

Peace be with you, Deena

Note: My goal is to write weekly but during this holy time of Advent and Christmas, I may post a bit more. I hope that this blog will provide some food for thought and inspiration, but at least, know that you have a friend on this journey with you.

Image by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash