As we make our way through Lent, various themes are brought to our attention. These include: repentance, healing, forgiveness, obedience and listening to God.
As we approach Holy Week, however, the theme of the cross becomes ever more on our minds. We recall that Jesus is headed for Jerusalem where He will suffer and die before rising again. We are reminded, too, that we cannot be His disciples without taking up that same cross. All three synoptic gospels (Matt. 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9: 23) tell us this. Luke even includes the adjective daily. If we wish to follow Jesus, we must be united with Him in His cross.
While this can include offering our little day-to-day hardships in union with all that He suffered, there are also times when we feel the weight of the cross more acutely. We feel, at times, that we are truly under the heavy wooden beam with Jesus on the way to Calvary.
As hard as these times may be, I have really found them to be occasions for growth. In walking with Jesus through these dark valleys, we learn to trust Him, to lean on Him, to confide in Him, to cling to Him. If it were not for these times of carrying the cross with Jesus, where would I be?
These crosses, I have found, take various forms. They might include: teasing from peers in school…having to stand up for what is right…facing an illness or disability…struggling with persistent temptation… In various circumstances, the cross comes to us.
The wonderful news is that Jesus is with us! And, He has gone before us.
In facing each day, I like to borrow from the words of the disciples after their journey to Emmaus, praying “Please, stay with me, Lord.” This is a wonderful prayer to use regardless of what cross we may be facing, and especially fruitful in facing our own weakness.
A prayer of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, for use after Holy Communion, draws from this phrase in a beautiful way. May I share some poignant excerpts here?
“Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You. You know how easily I abandon You. Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak and I need Your strength, that I may not fall so often. Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life,and without You, I am without fervor. Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light,and without You, I am in darkness…Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love Youvery much, and always be in Your company. Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You…Stay with me tonight, Jesus, in life with all its dangers. I need You.”
In preparation for Christmas this year with my family, I have been baking a lot of cookies. I started weeks ago searching the internet for ideas and inspiration and dreamed of how my cookies would turn out. I inevitably waited until the last minute and ended up frosting cookies late the night before leaving. While I felt rushed, I also took a brief moment to look at the counter full of baked and decorated cookies in front of me, that had been mere ideas and dreams just days before.
We usually get more time in the final week of Advent to finish our more internal preparations of the season. This year, the fourth week of Advent lasts just for the day. In today’s Gospel, we hear of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to give the news that she will bear a child. It calls me to reflect on what this season is about, a real child, a real birth, about God coming into the world. This is something I don’t reflect on as often as I maybe should, but when I stop to think about God coming into human form I am always truly amazed. In my life of prayer and in my ministry, sometimes I can fall into thinking of God in more of the abstract and as wholly different than me and those around me. The Christmas season is a reminder of God incarnate, of God being with us in a tangible way.
Today I will surely be scurrying around to finish up some last minute Christmas preparations, but I will also spend some time in final preparation for our celebration of Christ’s birth. I invite you to reflect on the real ways you see God in our world and in one another during these last hours of preparation and for the Christmas season to come.
The Third Sunday of Advent — the readings, the “pink candle,” Gaudete Sunday — reminds us of the promise of hope amidst what can feel like a long time waiting for the birth of Christ and joy in a world that does not always make us feel joyful.
My husband and I have been waiting for the past 38+ weeks for the birth of our baby. Every morning when I wake, I look in the mirror and marvel at how the baby grew overnight. As the child’s size has grown from that of a lentil to a watermelon in the womb, we anticipate and dream of the ways s/he will soon grow in the world. While we can only feel the baby’s moves and stirs from within, we look forward to the day when we can hold our child on the outside.
Pregnancy and this type of waiting can symbolize the gift of the Incarnation for all of us. While in pregnancy we can feel the movements of the child, we cannot truly see the child. We can notice a reflection in a woman’s shape, but we cannot embrace the baby’s hugs or hear it’s coos. We can only believe that those sights and smells are coming.
At this time in Advent, we are aware that there is an “already” and a “not yet” to the coming of our Lord. We believe in the presence of the Kingdom of God, though perhaps at times we can only feel the slightest of an interior movement. We feel joy around loved ones and still a longing in our hearts. We know that Jesus is “born” on Christmas day, but we do not hold the 6-pound newborn Christ.
And when it is most difficult to hope, we believe that we will one day see the glory of God, despite days that feel dark and desolate. For example, I am aware that while I trust our child will be healthy and whole, I am aware that not all pregnancies come to fruition. Most women around the world do not have access to adequate maternal health care. The holiday season can bring sharp reminders of pain and loss for many.
Our call in faith is to hope and believe, even when we cannot see exactly what we long for.
As Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans (8:22-24):
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?”
We groan and we wait and we hope and we believe. And when don’t hear anything at all, let us remember the Gospel of today:
[John] said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,'” as Isaiah the prophet said.”
“I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
As we prepare a nursery or a Christmas tree, let us all prepare for God. Christ is coming, in the form of a baby (crying out)! Let us prepare ourselves to recognize God in the most vulnerable and unassuming of places. Let us celebrate and rejoice. God is moving within us and around us, here and now. Can we listen?
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.