Since I was a little girl, my favorite Mystery of the Rosary has been the Visitation. I love reflecting on this mystery. I love thinking about Mary making haste to visit Elizabeth. I love imagining their embrace when they finally meet. I find myself tearing up at the greeting Elizabeth gives Mary, “And how could this happen to me? That the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And the great proclamation from Mary: her prophetic Magnificat speaking of God’s greatness, God’s mercy, and how the Lord is visiting his people!
I think what strikes me so much is how desperately I want this type of interaction in my own life when I visit family or friends. I want to greet others with this type of joy or amazement but so often I fail. In my ministry, especially at Mass, I try to facilitate in our space the greeting Mary and Elizabeth share. I stand by the door in the baptismal lobby and try to greet the “Mary’s” walking through with Elizabeth’s enthusiasm and recognition of the in-stirring of Emmanuel with them. Time and again I fail.
I recognize how often as women especially, we tear each other down. I know my own heart fails to reach out to other women and embrace the goodness and divine in them. I’m so grateful for the examples of women in my life who lift up and embrace and encourage others. I’m grateful for Mary and Elizabeth and I’m also grateful for those I’ve met who follow in their footsteps. I think of my friend Brenda who greets me always with a compliment, with an uplifting and encouraging word. I think of Farhiya who I’ve witnessed turn to every woman she meets with a smile, hug and laughter that makes my heart sing.
I am grateful for the Mary’s and Elizabeth’s in my life who challenge and encourage me to visit other women with love, respect, and honor. And I pray that this Advent might be a time for us to grow in grace so we all might welcome and experience the divine in one another as Mary and Elizabeth model for us!
Guest blogger Rebecca Calderone shares a reflection for the first Sunday of Advent. Rebecca is a chaplain at St. Benedict Senior Community. Read more about her in her bio at the end of her post.
There are some patients that I will always remember. Maggie* is one of them. I remember clearly the first time I met Maggie. I walked into her private room looking over the gardens at St. Benedict’s Senior Community and she was sitting at a table working on a puzzle. Learning that I was the chaplain, she put her puzzle piece down and used her walker to transfer herself into her recliner chair. Maggie was recently admitted to hospice. I was glad to see that she was still moving around on her own and talking with ease despite the use of oxygen. This indicated to me that she might be on hospice for a more extended length of time, and I always appreciated when I had the opportunity to build longer relationships with my hospice patients. We spent that first visit getting to know each other and she shared at length about her life story. I listened intently, honored as always, to be the recipient of the telling of one’s story.
Over the following nine months or so I visited Maggie about every one to two weeks. She stayed relatively strong most of the time leading up to the end of her life. One day while visiting I said to Maggie, “You’ve been on hospice for quite some time now. What has it been like for you to know you’re in this stage of life where the end is coming near?” Maggie shared about the challenges of waiting. She shared about how full her life had been, that she felt in good relation with those she loved, and that her faith was strong. She was ready to go, and yet her time had not come. She shared about what a trial this was for her, as well as the blessings she experienced in each moment, knowing that it may be her last.
Waiting for death is in many ways akin to waiting for the birth of new life. December 3 marks the beginning of the Advent season. We enter into a time of repentance, waiting and anticipation. The prophet Isaiah, who we will hear from often throughout the season of Advent, tells us,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2, NRSV)
There is no path to light, except through darkness, and without each other neither light nor darkness could exist. Darkness does not, however, have to mean the ugly or the evil. There is beauty in the dark moments of our life, beauty in the seasons of waiting.
The beauty of darkness comes in the form of hope and opportunity. Advent is an opportunity for all of us to turn ourselves toward the light of Christ. Maggie was a beautiful example of a woman who embraced the darkness of her period of waiting. There were challenges and there was pain as she transitioned through stages of her dying process. But there was also hope, which grew out of the assurance of Christ’s light being there to guide her from one life into the next.
As we enter into this season of Advent, I challenge each of us to lean into, and explore the darker areas of our lives. This isn’t an easy thing for any of us, and there are plenty of distractions with lights, presents, and decorations that keep us from remembering this season as a time of waiting, rather than already being a time of celebration. But it’s not just difficult because of distractions, it’s difficult because it is counter-cultural (especially here in central Minnesota!). How have you been taught to identify your emotions? To process your losses? I’m of a younger generation that is taught much more to be aware of emotions. And yet, engaging emotion and letting myself exist with it remains a challenge. This challenge is part of the core human experience that we are all called to participate in. Just as light and darkness cannot exist without each other, we cannot have inner peace without also knowing inner unrest.
Advent is about so much more than happy anticipation, it is a real opportunity to reflect inward. The gift of Christ’s birth can be more fully appreciated only if we enter into that process. Reflect back on your year. Reflect on what losses in your life still have some lingering hurt. For some people those pains may be deep, with the loss of a close relationship, or like Maggie, losses of independence and functioning. For others the losses, though still challenging and real, may be losses related to a happier event (like the losses that come after getting married as you transition into what it’s like to live together and share your whole life with another person). Learning to recognize what is a loss and to be aware of the inner journey through that is a gift of the human experience, and one that Advent calls forth in us.
The challenges of this season will be greatly rewarded. Of this we can be assured. One of the beauties of Advent, similar to what we go through during the season of Lent as we await the resurrection, is that we know the end of the story. We know that there is light that will shine into our darkest places. We know that new life exists in the birth of Christ. Christ comes, not to take away the pain of the journey, but to be our light and guide along the way.
May each of us experience the gift of turning inward this Advent. May we have the courage to face our pains, and the strength and wisdom to allow ourselves to live in that place. And when our challenges become overwhelming, may we turn our eyes to the light of Christ that is already shining at the end of this season. Peace to you on your Advent journey.
*Name has been changed to protect patient confidentiality.
Today is the feast day of our patron saint, St. Cloud.
Fathers Scott Pogatchnik and Doug Liebsch pray Day 9 – the last day – of the novena. They pray together at St. Cloud’s shrine, located inside St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud. After the prayer, Father Scott gives a short history of the shrine. Please watch the video and pray along.
Steve and Wendy Gessell pray together under the arch outside the Diocesan Pastoral Center in St. Cloud which Steve built and tends. Steve and Wendy are both staff members of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Join them in praying Day 7 of the Novena in honor of St. Cloud.
Today, Mayuli Bales, director of the diocesan Office of Multicultural Ministries and Venezuelan Father Oswaldo Roche pray Day 6 of the Novena in honor of St. Cloud. They pray today in Spanish. If Spanish is not your native tongue, we encourage you to follow along with the English text below and enjoy the beauty of their language.
Sixth Day THE HOLY EUCHARIST
LIFE OF ST. CLOUD (Lector)
Although St. Cloud shared many gifts with others there was one he could not give, the Body and Blood of Christ. People recognized this and many urged Eusebius, Bishop of Paris, to ordain the hermit-prince a priest. The bishop complied with the people’s request and in 551 St. Cloud was ordained a priest of the Church of Paris. He now was able to give the Bread of Angels as food for men and women to sustain them on their journey to heaven. He became the pastor of a small village consisting of poor fishermen and farmers near Paris. Today the village, now a suburb of Paris, is called St. Cloud. In his and his people’s hearts he developed a deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist. For this reason artists depict him holding a chalice in his right hand.
RADIANT WITH JOY (All)
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the Lord;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
Glorify the Lord with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the afflicted man called out, the Lord heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Taste and see how good the Lord is;
happy the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34: 1-9)
Through the liturgical renewal that has taken place in the past two generations and the renewed liturgies following the Second Vatican Council, we have experienced in our lifetime a reawakening of eucharistic devotion. Frequent, even weekly and daily reception of Holy Communion, is becoming a common practice among Catholic people. There is, however, a temptation which even devout people experience. Perhaps receiving Holy Communion has become so routine that we have become careless in our manner of receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus. Perhaps we show this in the physical manner in which we approach the altar. Exterior actions often reflect an interior attitude. May our spirit be that of the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus: “Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us …. “
JESUS SAYS: (Lector)
I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall ever thirst. … Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven for a man to eat and never die. I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he shall live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world. . . . Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up on the last day. (Jn 6:48-51, 53-54)
LET US PRAY: (Leader)
Heavenly Father, give us a devotion to the Holy Eucharist such as that which filled the heart and soul of St. Cloud. Help us to show in our actions our love for the Holy Eucharist which we profess by our faith. This we ask through Christ our Lord.
Residents of St. Benedict’s Senior Community in St. Cloud joined together to pray Day 4 of the Novena in honor of St. Cloud. Please join in praying with them via video message by clicking on the link below.
Stricken because of their wicked ways
and afflicted because of their sins
They loathed all manner of food,
so that they were near the gates of death.
They cried to the Lord in their distress;
from their straits he rescued them.
He sent forth his word to heal them
and to snatch them from destruction.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his kindness
and his wondrous deeds to the children of men.
Let them make thank offerings
and declare his works with shouts of joy …
But he who pours out contempt upon princes,
and sends them astray through a trackless waste,
lifted up the needy out of misery
and made their families numerous like flocks.
The upright see this and rejoice,
and all wickedness closes its mouth. (Psalm 107:19-22, 41-42)
We are all called by baptism and confirmation to be healers. Many people in all walks of life cry out for healing. In one way or another, each of us suffers from the effects of sinfulness in the world. We are weak; often we stumble and sometimes lose our way. We are called like St. Cloud to practice a ministry of healing. The Church is not a safe harbor for the saved but a health center for all who are sick and weary and over-burdened. Everyone is called to practice the seven corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
JESUS SAYS: (Lector)
“Then the just will ask him: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you drink? When did we welcome you away from home or clothe you in your nakedness? When did we visit you when you were ill or in prison?’ The king will answer them: ‘I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me.”‘ (Mt 25-37-40)
LET US PRAY: (Leader)
Heavenly Father, we know our own faults and failures, our own weariness and weakness. Help us to be mindful that those around us are also wounded and suffering physical and spiritual pains. Following the example of St. Cloud, make us wounded healers so that by Your grace we will experience Your healing power in ·our own lives by our efforts in binding up the wounds in our families, our communities, our nation and our world. This we ask through Christ our Lord.