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Archive for the ‘Advent Reflection Series’ Category

This post is part of our Advent Reflection Series – a collection of original blog posts written by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

In today’s reading from the Gospel according to Luke, Mary rushes to visit with her cousin Elizabeth. The Angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was with child, and Mary herself was to bear the Son of God. Both women discovered in each other a mystery that they did not fully understand, and yet they were filled with the joy of eager anticipation.

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What struck me about this scripture passage was the faith and humility of Elizabeth. She is humbled to be visited by the future mother of her Lord. She will share in the joy of motherhood with Mary, her relative. How often do we have the grace to share such an intimate moment with a friend, relative or even a stranger, knowing that God is making known his presence in us?

I have a friend, Brittney, whom I consider to be my sister. We share many things in common, but what binds us is our faith in Jesus. We pray the rosary together whenever possible, and we have confidence that no matter the challenges that we face in our life journey, we share in the joy of God’s love and mystery. We feel God’s presence through one another.

As we draw closer to celebrating Christmas, we are called to remember and reflect on the blessings of the people who have touched us with their wisdom and witness of their lives of faith. How can we reflect the presence of God to others as we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”?

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This post is part of our Advent Reflection Series – a collection of original blog posts written by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

The tradition of gift-giving at Christmas stems from the reality of God’s gift to us in the person of Jesus.  Although we tire of black Friday, pre-Christmas/post-Christmas advertising and all the commercialism that surrounds gift-giving, abundant reflection awaits us.

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With gift-giving comes the ever essential wish list. As children, after we sat on Santa’s lap, whoever accompanied us to see Santa would carefully ask us what we had requested of him. Now families who are adopted by various charities provide wish lists of their needs and desires. And anyone can create a wish list on Amazon.com.

In John 4:10 Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If only you knew the gifts God wants to give you.” We might flip this idea of a wish list. As the calendar year comes to a close, we might take stock of our recent spiritual and relational life. Then ask the Spirit, “What are the gifts you want to give me?” or “What is on your wish list for me?”

In Mary we find a model of great receptivity. Humbly I might ask her for the grace to be receptive to the gifts God wants to give me—this Advent, this Christmas and in the New Year. And a fitting New Year’s resolution might be the commitment and courage to ask this question in our daily examination of conscience: “O God, what are the gifts you want to give me?”

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This post is part of our Advent Reflection Series – a collection of original blog posts written by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

It seems hard to believe that we have already reached the second week of the Advent season, when we revisit the story of John the Baptist calling out to us in the words of Isaiah: “Make ready the way of the Lord! Clear him a straight path!”

We might choose to lament that “making ready” has come to mean decorating and shopping, planning, scheduling and traveling; but how sad it is if we don’t move beyond those thoughts to make our own preparation for the coming of the Lord. Imagine how Mary was preparing in those last weeks before her son’s birth. She had to be so focused on that life within her, what his birth would mean, how her life would change. She was clearly making ready and clearing the path for him.

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So, we may need to ask ourselves: What am I doing this Advent that is different than previous years to make ready the way of the Lord in my heart, in my life with others, in the larger world? What am I actively doing to clear Him a straight path?

We need to make within us place and space. This may mean that we need to focus on gratitude and joy, and weed out the negative and our tendency to judge others. It may mean that we are called to simplify our life in some way: reduce our commitments and our busy-ness; clear out our possessions to pass on to others; challenge our own decisions so we give time and attention to relationships that are healthy and helpful.

Maybe this year, clearing the path is about dealing with a thorny relationship, or something we are holding on to which blocks the path for the Lord’s presence. Perhaps it’s about reaching beyond ourselves and forming new relationships with persons who have something to offer from a background, culture, experience, or education that is different from our own.

It may mean that we spend more time in silence and prayer to foster a greater openness within, a clearing out of our own heart, to make way for the message God has for us. As we celebrate this week of Advent, how will we respond to the question: Will I be ready to hear what he has to say to me this year?

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This post is part of our Advent Reflection Series- a collection of original blog posts written by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

Ah, Night! Bursting with new-born-stars
Strewing pathways of fire as they soar
In silent pilgrimage through endless space,
And I stand smallened by their hugeness.
And yet within me, deeply rooted, is a light
Already safe at home and never to be dimmed.
– (Rainer Maria Rilke translated by William J. O’Malley)

The stars are lighting up the skies even when we cannot see them clearly. Our God is present in our midst even when we are unconscious of the very real presence of the divine. The divine spark is within each of us even when we focus only on our failures and limitations.

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When I was a postulant, the bulletin board outside our dining room had the following Advent reminder:

“Many saw the star, but only a few had the courage and wisdom to follow the star that led to love!”

Advent is a time for renewing ourselves in seeking and finding and celebrating the light that is Jesus. It is a time to get back in touch with the star that calls us to believe, to follow, to discover the gift that is Jesus living within me. Do I have the courage?

It is a time for pulling away (for a few moments each day, for perhaps an hour or maybe for even a day) to put aside the hustle and bustle of the pre-Christmas season to concentrate on the star that is beckoning.

Advent is a time to reach into my own soul and find the God who dwells within; the Child who yearns to be born anew in me; the Child who has perhaps been forgotten in the busyness of everyday life; the Child who needs to be tended to, loved, cherished in my heart; the Child who is the Prince of Peace.

Advent is a time of preparation. It is a difficult time if we use it properly. It is not limited to buying gifts, but is discovering anew the gifts within ourselves. It is not limited to decorating trees, but is challenging us anew to prepare (yes, even decorate) our hearts for the rebirth of Jesus in our lives. It is not limited to cleaning our homes for guests, but is calling us to “clean up” and get rid of the clutter in our lives that is preventing us from being a truly Christ-welcoming home. Do I have the courage to follow the star of Advent, the star that leads to love?

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Fourth Sunday of Advent: Behold Emmanuel
By Sister Rose Marie Tulacz

 

“Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.” Matthew 1: 23

The scripture readings for this week hover expectantly at the approach of Christmas.  In this threshold moment, I sense it is not a time to write something new, but to pull back the veil, clarify and magnify what has been revealed.

There is incredible beauty in being human. We are precious to God. God loves us unconditionally. God rejoices in us. God delights in our beauty. True humanity is God’s presence revealed in the world. The Incarnation is about God’s longing and passionate desire to be known, loved and embraced in the humanity of His Son, Jesus. The Incarnation is about God taking up residence in us. It is about God’s pulsing delight in being visible in human form. At our very core is the movement of the Holy Spirit throbbing behind every heartbeat and graced activity within our souls.

As we pause and reflect on what true humanity is, we are pulled into the heart of the world, with all its sufferings, injustices, fears, joys and goodness. We cannot despair or become indifferent to the cries of the poor as the truth of the Incarnation is revealed and the work of transformation into God-likeness has its way.

The birth of Jesus in time and space is indeed a bright star in the history of the world. Our prayer and Eucharistic moments as faith communities are the necessary means to continue to liberate and celebrate God’s being with us in our everyday experiences and relationships. The path to human fulfillment is embracing the truth our relationship with God and with one another is inseparable. 

 

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Third Sunday of Advent: Evangelii Gaudium  

By Sister Mary Lisa Megaffin

Pope Francis I recently issued an Apostolic Exhortation entitled The Joy of the Gospel or Evangelii Gaudium.  What Catholics are discovering and treasuring is his simplicity-especially in his lifestyle and in his direct approach to faith as a profound experience of the person of Jesus. What is also exciting for us as Sisters of Notre Dame, consecrated women religious who have always tried to be true “daughters of the Church,” is the simplicity of his writing style.

In this document, Francis helps us understand Mary’s role as the Mother of Evangelization, the Mother of the Good News. This image is a powerful message for us as we prepare for the good news of Christmas.

“Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love. She is the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises. She is the friend who is concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives.  She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love. As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love. (In the Marian shrines) we find strength from God to bear…weariness and suffering. As she did with Juan Diego at Guadalupe, Mary offers maternal comfort and love, and whispers in our ear:  ‘Let your heart not be troubled…Am I not here, who am your Mother?'”

Follow this link for the full text of “The Joy of the Gospel.”

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html

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Second Sunday of Advent: Saint Joseph

By Sister Mary Grace Leung

When I was in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program some years ago, I was intrigued with Saint Joseph. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke present Joseph as a man of great faith; a man who was called to be the foster father of Jesus; a man who personified quiet strength and who had the utmost trust in God. Joseph’s tremendous faith stands out especially in Matthew’s infancy narrative. This faith makes Joseph open to receiving and recognizing divine communications through his dreams. Joseph is a model of faith, always listening and doing what God asks him to do without hesitation. His life was totally devoted to God’s plan of salvation by helping to raise the Child conceived in Mary’s womb, no matter what challenges life brought him.

As I learned more about my new-found faith through RCIA, I asked myself, “Can I also be as faith-filled and trusting in God as Joseph was?”

Advent is a season of patient waiting and joyful anticipation of the coming of the Lord. I find that these days of anticipation bring welcome moments of contemplation of the great mystery of the incarnation. Let us take a few moments each day during this busy season to appreciate the graces of our eager longing for Jesus, our Savior!

 

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First Sunday of Advent: John the Baptist

by Sister Mary Regina Robbins

Preparation for Christmas calls to mind striking personalities from the Old Testament who with great expectation and consistent longing set the stage for the Advent of the Messiah. We marvel at their faith, hope and insight since they are “before Christ” and did not have the benefit of the Incarnation and the Gospel truths as we do today.

One such character, who epitomizes the scripture texts of Advent, is John the Baptist. He is called “the Baptist” to distinguish him from John the Evangelist and to portray him as the one who baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. Usually pictured as a loud, wild-looking and extremely passionate young man, John is the forerunner of Christ. His identity in the opening of Mark’s Gospel (Mk. 1.2) echoes the words of Isaiah: “a messenger…a voice crying in the wilderness.” (Is.40.3). John’s mission is clear: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” In humility he knows who he is in relation to Jesus: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” (Mk.1.7). John is strong, single-minded, focused and without compromise in his relationship to God and his life-purpose. Jesus said of him, “There is no greater man than John.”

The son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, John grew up with Jesus and probably went in the family caravan up to Jerusalem the time Jesus was “lost in the temple.” Perhaps at an early age he recognized the specialness of his friend and cousin. We can imagine what these two boys talked about as they took in the world around them and dreamed of something better, sensing they both had a mission!

John responded to the call to give his life to God by joining the Essenes, desert monks. Out in the desert, fasting, living radical detachment from the world of his time, he became a contemplative and then felt compelled to go forth as a prophet, in imitation of the prophets of the Old Testament.

Like all prophets John was painfully conscious of his world environment; he saw the good and the evil. He named sin, called for reform and prepared people to change. John’s message was a call for everyone to be ready for an upside down turn of values and meaning in a world of pride, violence and disregard for the poor. John was a fascinating preacher. Even King Herod liked to hear him, but was also reluctant to follow him and uncomfortable with the truth of his words. At his death by Herod’s command, John’s life purpose was complete. He said of Jesus, “that he may increase and I may decrease.” (Jn.3.30).

As we look at our world today, we see what is not of God, what is blind to the truth. In our own way, we too can be a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. In our own style, we can be prophets not in the wilderness, but in the market place and neighborhoods. With generosity, gentleness, good example and compassion, we can give hope to the world that the Messiah has come and is among us.

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 “This is what Yahweh asks of you—only this—

to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Beautiful, simple, direct words—words that we as educators can easily say “yes” to.  We want to dedicate ourselves not only to acting justly, but to helping others to do what is right and to love what is good.  Even as we say “yes”, we know that there is still a deeper question:  “What does it mean to act justly in the daily situations of our life?”

Caught up in constant activity, demands, change, noise, our homes and places of work often are places where justice is overlooked in the urgency of “getting things done.”  We may forget to give each person the special time needed to meet his/her needs. Doing justice is giving what rightfully belongs to someone.  As the people of God, we need to give all those we meet the attention they deserve, the help they need.  We need to treat each other with a respect that is genuine and sincere.

What does it mean to love tenderly?  If we act justly, we are well on the way to loving tenderly.  Loving is the natural follow-up to justice.  It entails giving MORE than is required.  Most people, especially at this time of year, are feeling pressured and harried.  We may be counting down the shopping days much as children do, waiting for Christmas.  Instead we are called to open our eyes to each person in need.  We are called to love tenderly by helping out a friend who is stressed, by reaching out to another who is sad, by showing interest in someone who is not ordinarily a chosen companion.

What does it mean to walk humbly with our God?  None of us is perfect; all of us need God.  We are called to acknowledge our weaknesses and limitations, to be aware that we do not have all the answers, and that we are in need of each other’s gifts and talents, prayers and support.

In this time of Advent, we wait.  We wait for many things, but most importantly we wait for a renewed awareness of God’s life active in our own.  We wait for the simplicity of a child to be reborn in us.  We wait to receive the gift of generosity shown by gentle shepherds and faith-filled wise men.  We wait for the goodness and provident care of God to be revealed in our daily lives.

We pray for all of our needs and intentions through Mary’s intercession.  She teaches us above all what it means to act justly, to love tenderly, to walk humbly and to wait patiently. . .

Sr. Marie Paul Grech

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We are very familiar with the concept of waiting when it comes to Advent…we know we are supposed to be anticipating the birth of Jesus and preparing for his re-birth in our lives…but what if we turned that around…what if we looked at advent as a time of Jesus waiting for me…waiting for me to give up my preoccupations, my worries, my unnecessary anxieties…

Jesus is a patient wait-er…or is it waitor?  Jesus as servant longs to be servant to me…waiting to fulfill my every need…if I would only allow him to be that in m life….or is it that I need to be in such control that the thought of Jesus waiting upon me seems so foreign.  Allowing Jesus to wait on me…would be to admit that I am in need or something I cannot provide for myself…I open myself up in vulnerability to the infant vulnerable one….I open my door to the One waiting at my door…knocking, eager to be invited into my crowded life….can the call to advent be really a call to simply be…to revel in the knowledge that my God is waiting for me to recognize his presence, to accept his love for me, to say yes to the miracle of rebirth, to speak his name with courage, to tell his story, to follow in true discipleship.

God is waiting for me to become as simple as the shepherds, as wise as the magi, as brave as Joseph, as open as Mary…God gives me this time each year to become the best I can be….and waits year after year for me to wake up and see the star…and then to follow it…

– Sr. Marie Paul Grech

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