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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

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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The Apostleship of Prayer ‘receives monthly prayer intentions from the pope and urges Christians throughout the world to unite in prayer for those intentions.’ Check back to our Facebook page each month for a reminder of Pope Francis’ universal prayer intentions. This month’s universal prayer intention is for hope for humanity. Read below for full post from The Apostleship of Prayer. 

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One night a long time ago an angel appeared to some shepherds and told them a savior had been born nearby who would save people from their sins and ultimately from death. Then many angels appeared proclaiming “peace on earth, good will to all.” What an amazing scene in the hills outside Bethlehem!

Jesus was born to reconcile humanity with God and with one another. He came to establish the just order based on loving God above all else and on loving others as children of God. Sharing human life to the point of suffering and dying, Jesus brought hope. He rose from the dead never to die again, and he offers eternal life to all who come to him.

Pope Francis has called Christmas “the feast of trust and of hope which overcomes uncertainty and pessimism.” He said: “And the reason for our hope is this: God is with us… he comes to abide with mankind, he chooses earth as his dwelling place to remain with people…in joy or in sorrow. Therefore, earth is no longer only ‘a valley of tears’; rather, it is the place where God himself has pitched his tent, it is the meeting place of God with humanity, of God’s solidarity with people.”

The Son of God took flesh so he could be with us. He offered his flesh on the cross for the life of the world. He continues to offer his flesh, his Body and Blood, in the Eucharist. As Pope Francis said, “This closeness of God to every man and woman, to each of us, is a gift that never fades.”

May this Christmas bring peace and hope to all!

Reflection

How do I find peace and hope in the celebration of Christmas?

Scripture

Colossians 1: 15-23 Christ is our peace and reconciliation.

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The Sisters of Notre Dame have a few Advent traditions that they hold dear. One such tradition is their annual service project. This year, the sisters spent three weeks shopping for children’s toys to donate to the Ventura County Rescue Mission, which serves homeless families in Ventura County. Today, Sister Shirley (second from left) and Sister Rebekah (second from right) delivered those toys to the mission in Oxnard.
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“Twinkle, twinkle, little star….when you wish upon a star…would you like to swing on a star….”  Well, I guess I am dating myself!  If anyone can sing these lyrics with me, you know what I mean!

Stars in a dark sky make us look up in wonder, invite us to see that we are so small in comparison, give us hope in the midst of the darkness, remind us that we are not alone.

Today we celebrate not just stars, but the star!  The star that led the magi (wise ones, sages, astronomers) from their homes far away to find a tiny baby, a king without an earthly kingdom, a star himself who would so influence the ages that we still celebrate his birth, his life, his words, his power to save- just everything about him!

We are called to be faith-filled like the magi, who trusted that the star would lead them somewhere special, to someone special. We are called to be courageous, overcoming every obstacle that might keep us from following Jesus. We are called to be generous, giving to others without counting the cost. We are called to be risk-takers, willing to change our plans when it is the right thing to do (like the magi who went home another way).

We are invited to remember that the story does not end here (see Mt. 2:13 ff).  After the magi departed, Joseph also had a dream, warning him.  Mary and Jesus were not going to have an easy time of it. They had to be off and running that night.  Immigrants without a home, Joseph takes them to Egypt: no job, new language, strange land, no friends or relatives, for an unknown time….we can only hope they found kind people to help them.

I recently received an email with the following message that really speaks to today’s celebration of Epiphany:

“Christmas leads to Epiphany, that light shining from Bethlehem upon the whole world. The beam of that light, experienced by seekers in ancient times, continues its glow until it reaches the seekers of every era, and particularly the seekers of today.

May we open our hearts to those who long for God, and may the doors of our churches be opened wide to embrace those who come to glimpse a newborn Child and grasp God’s vision of hope.”

May our New Year 2014 find us rich in all the priceless gifts that Jesus brings.  May we pray with gratitude for all those who have led us closer to Jesus even to this moment in time.

-Sister Marie Paul Grech, SND

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Sister Betty Mae speaking at the Notre Dame Learning Center Christmas program.

Sister Betty Mae speaking at the NDLC preschool Christmas program.

Instead of sending another box of candy or a stationery set, the Sisters of Notre Dame in Thousand Oaks have come up with a unique way to thank their health care providers during the holidays.

Several local dentists, dermatologists, podiatrists and other professionals offer discounted heath care to the sisters. For the past three years, the sisters have made donations to charitable organizations in the name of those doctors to thank them for their generous services. Two years ago they donated to the South Central Los Angeles Ministry Project (LAMP) which offers educational programs to empower women and families who are struggling; last year they gave to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST); and this year the sisters sent their gift to Uganda, Africa to help support their ministry there.

According to Sister Betty Mae Bienlein, finding alternative ways to give thanks reduces waste and makes a simple thank you go a long way. Find out more about LAMP and CAST below:

http://www.southcentrallamp.org/

http://www.castla.org/homepage

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In cooperation with Saint Paschal Baylon Catholic Church in Thousand Oaks, the sisters prepared gift boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has sent Christmas gifts to 100 million children world-wide. Volunteers pack and wrap shoeboxes full of goodies which are collected in mid-November. You can find instructions for packing your own shoebox gift here.

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A Christmas Reflection by Jane Leung, SND Postulant

This past Tuesday I joined Sisters Valerie Marie and Shawn Marie at South Central LAMP (Los Angeles Area Ministry Project), to volunteer for the Christmas party event for the children who are enrolled in the school’s enrichment programs. I had never volunteered there before, but the Sisters have a longstanding relationship with LAMP and currently Sister Cristina Marie sits on their board. It was raining while driving to Los Angeles but we were all in good spirits, looking forward to helping out and meeting the children and their parents. We also met up with our friends Ruby and her children Corina and Jacob. Ruby and Corina had volunteered for the Stretch Your Heart program this past July with Sister Val. We also brought along with us Monika, a young woman who was staying with us at Villa Regina for a Come and See experience.

Sister Cristina Marie organized the activity rooms so well. We set up various games for the children as well as the craft tables. Sister Shawn showed some of the volunteers how to make snowflakes and we hung them up before the children arrived. Sister Val and I helped to set up the game room. We weren’t sure how the heavy rains would affect the turnout for the party but we need not have feared. The rooms were soon filled with children and their parents who came to wait their turn to see Santa. We had so much fun playing games, and I must say that it’s been a long time since I played with children! One little girl took to me right away. Her name is Ruby, and she wore a pink bow in her hair. After she saw Santa, she came and showed me the brightly-wrapped package that she held in her hands, her eyes sparkling with joy and her smile so wide. I cannot tell you how much my heart felt for these children and their parents. It reminded me that Christmas is for children and for those who are children at heart.

The spirit of giving and of love was felt by all, from the Los Angeles SWAT team members who helped to collect the donated gifts for the children, to the generosity of the volunteers and staff. Wonder is something that we adults sometimes forget to have during the Christmas season when we are distracted by too much to do. The wonder that the little girl Ruby had that day will stay with me forever. I can imagine how Mary must have felt holding baby Jesus on the night he was born. I wish everyone a glorious and wonder-filled Christmas!

 

 

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