Category Archives: Advent

Waking up and kneeling down

Advent is a time to wake up. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans (13:11), “it is the hour for you to rise from your sleep.”

But what do we need to wake up from?

In his famous epiphany moment on a street corner in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas Merton noted,

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.

It was for him like “waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world.”

For him it confirmed his common humanity with all who live, with all members of the human race. He was not someone special and being a member of the human race was not something to be despised. Even “God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race,” he noted.

We are in this together.

This morning as I welcomed almost fifty young people into the catechumenate in Dulce Nombre, I reminded them that they were no longer alone. They are part of the community of faith. They can wake up from the nightmare of isolation.

But that means that we also are called to wake from the nightmare of individualism and self-isolation.

When we do that, what happens?

Merton put it well:

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun…. There are no strangers! … If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other….

I reminded the catechumens that when they were signed with the cross by their sponsors during the rite, the sponsors got on their knees before them when they traced the cross on their feet.

Advent is a wake-up call – to fall down in reverence before all people who are shining like the sun, like the Sun of Justice, Jesus, who comes with healing on his wings. (Malachi 3:2)

Dorothy Day and Advent Love

May the Lord make you increase and abound
in love
for one another and for all.
1 Thessalonians 3:12

Dorothy Day died thirty five years ago today, November 29, 1980.

An ardent pacifist and advocate for the poor, she was an anomaly in her day – and even now. She combined a deep love of God and a profound piety with a life of commitment to the poor and to peace.

So it is astounding that Pope Francis noted her in his address to the US Congress a few month ago:

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

Her message of radical personal and social change was clear and rooted in her faith. In June 1946 she wrote:

What we would like to do is change the world—make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And to a certain extent, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of workers, of the poor, of the destitute—the rights of the worthy and unworthy poor, in other words—we can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world.
We repeat, there is nothing that we can do but love, and dear God —please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.

In the midst of the violence and the cries for war, in the midst of poverty throughout the world and the masses of refugees fleeing war and unrest, her message of Gospel love is so needed.

So this Advent is a time to open our hearts to love and to commit ourselves to see the face of Christ in all – friend and foe – and love them in deeds and in truth.

Do not quench the Spirit!

Advent has begun, in the midst of the darkness of winter in the northern hemisphere, in the midst of fears in the face of violence, in the midst of continuing war and poverty throughout the world.

As the sun set I sat and prayed evening prayer.


Sunset tonight

The first verse of the reading for Franciscan Morning and Evening Praise was 1 Thessalonians 5:19:

Do not quench the Spirit.

But so much around us tries to quench the Spirit.

But that has often happened, as Jeremiah noted. But the first reading from the lectionary is about the promise of God to raise up one “who will do justice and right in the land.

How much do we long for this.

But even more the Lord promises that the city of Jerusalem, that has been a place of injustice and idolatry, will be called “The Lord, our Justice.”

It seems too much.

To try to understand, I opened Dan Berrigan’s Jeremiah: The World, the Wound of God, pp. 146-7.

Fr. Dan calls us to constantly recall the promise.

“We too have been known to lose heart in evil times, under the soft savagery of the culture (and not so soft after all; consult the people subject to the bombs of our unsoft hands….
“And the declared enemies of the empire are by no means the only one assaulted. Against us also wars are declared, even though in a different form. This form: the dimming of vision.”

The dimming of vision, the loss of hope for the Lord, our Justice, is damning; it leads us to lose sight of God and of our very selves. We fall into fear and even despair.

We forget the promise. We forget our call. We quench the Spirit.

Reading an article in Goodness and Light, I came across this quote from Marianne Williamson, which is a call to revive the Spirit, to remember the call, to make the promise real.

You are a child of God. Your playing small for not serve the world… We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us…

Remembering this, we can reflect the Light of God in the darkness of our world.

This might be a good Advent practice, asking ourselves every day how I can reflect that light, that vision, that Spirit, which gives us the promise of “The Lord, our Justice.”


O Wisdom

Today the Church begins the use of the “O Antiphons” for the Canticle of Mary at Vespers. In the English-speaking world we are acquainted with them by the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Today Jesus is invoked as “The Wisdom of God”

The Gospel acclamation reads:

O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!

The Magnificat antiphons (from Benedictine Daily Prayer) reads:

O Wisdom, You came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from the beginning to the end, You ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence.

The verse in the Advent hymn reads:

O Come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orders all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach us in her ways to go.

How much our world needs this wisdom of God, with so many things disordered. We need the sweetness of a God who comes among us as a poor human child.

This morning I awoke with a song that I had heard in my dream: “You, O Lord, are wonderful, all the days of my life.”

We need to remember the wonderful works of God – and the Wisdom that we are offered to work with God to help restore the sweetness of creation.

This nativity scene from an exhibition in the cathedral of Ravenna makes me think of the Wisdom of our God, revealed in a tiny Babe.


O Come, O Wisdom of God

Comfort my people

Yesterday I received the news that a dear friend, whom I’ve known for about 30 years, has terminal cancer.

I last saw her in June when I went to Dubuque for the ordination of two men I knew when they were Iowa State students. I stayed with her and we got many chances to talk and share.

I called someone here in Honduras who is also a friend of Mary’s. As I told her the news tears came to my eyes and I got choked up.

Yesterday, I also finished spending two days with the Dulce Nombre parish assembly, which was actually a very hope-filled experience. We evaluated the year and made plans for next year. I’ll have a lot of work.

This morning, as I read the first reading from Isaiah (40: 1-5, 9-11), I felt sustained in the desert of my distress about Mary.

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…

Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom…

 The image of the Lord comforting us, carrying us in his arms, gives me hope – not for a miraculous cure, though I am praying to God for a cure (through the intercession of Archbishop Romero).

No, the reading from Isaiah gives me hope that God is there sustaining us, opening roads where there are none, making paths straight where they curve, providing us with light in the midst of darkness.

So this Advent will be different in one sense – the sadness at the illness of my friend makes the sadness of the world very personal for me.

But Advent will also be a time to reconnect with the sorrow and pain of those around me here in Honduras – especially when I move out to the countryside within two weeks.

In many ways we are always surrounded by the sorrows and the pain of the world and of our friends; but God provides us with signs of hope, signs that life conquers death and suffering – not in an easy way, but in the difficult ways of solidarity and conversion, which will let the light of God appear in our world.

Longing for the peaceable kingdom

Honduras is suffering – or, rather, the poor in Honduras are suffering.

Violence abounds in the big cities; a drought and a coffee fungus have wreaked havoc on the lives of the poor in the countryside.

The government fails to provide medicines for health clinics, while it provides funds for a militarized police force.

Those who seek peace and justice experience threats and death, as noted in an editorial from America magazine, found here.

Costs rise and so many flee the insecurity and the poverty.

In the midst of this, today’s first reading (Isaiah 11: 1-10) touched me deeply.

Here we long for “the shoot” that will not judge by appearances, who will let the elite transgress the laws with impunity.

We want someone who will judge the poor with justice and decide for the afflicted in the land.

But we also want to see the wolf and the lamb lie down together, where long-held grudges are replaced by real attempts at mutual understanding and reconciliation.

We want a little child – Jesus – to guide us.

But will we follow?

Waiting as we build

Advent is the time of waiting.

This year I’ve been waiting the completion of a house in the countryside, so that I can live in the center of the parish of Dulce Nombre where I am helping with the pastoral work. I hope to move in within three weeks.

But waiting is anything but passive – especially when you are building a house.

Waiting means being alert, attentive, watching.

So I’ve been stopping at the construction site at least three times each week – to check and see that things are going right and that there are enough supplies to continue the construction. I also stop to encourage the workers.

One day I found them building a wall where I wanted an open space. Another day I found them putting the plumbing for the toilet where the sink should have been.

But then there were the days when I found them doing something I didn’t expect – but which is really useful.

I even had to trust that the construction supervisor knew what he was doing when he designed the roof – so that, as he told me, that it wouldn’t blow off in the high winds.

Every once in a while I would bring the workers a three liter bottle of Coke, as a way of thanking them and encouraging them.

And one day I found that they had put my name in a floor with broken tiles.


Advent waiting might be like that.

We need to check to see that things are going right in our lives.

Have we constructed a wall where there should be an open space?

Have we checked to see that we have not put our priorities where they shouldn’t be?

We also need to be open to God’s actions in our lives.

Have we let ourselves be surprised by everyday events, realizing that all is not in our hands and sometimes someone else knows best?

Have we let the great builder – or the potter as Isaiah describes God in today’s lectionary reading (Isaiah 64: 7) – show us the design that we need and mold us according to that design?

Are we ready for the surprise of God’s presence in our lives and in our homes?

Are we aware that God calls us by our name?

And are we grateful for all the work that God puts into our lives, filling them with love?

Birth of John the Baptist

John the Baptist, Chartres Cathedral

John the Baptist, Chartres Cathedral

His name is John.

Today the Gospel relates the birth of John the Baptist.

The relatives want to give him the name of his father.

But, surprise!

Elizabeth and Zacharias insist on the name “John.”

In Hebrew, John means “God is gracious.”

Graciousness is, for me, one of the most important starting points for believing and living.

God is gracious – and gives us all, without cost.

And so we too are called to be gracious, to be giving – and above all to be forever “giving thanks.”

All is grace.





Raising up the lowly

He has cast down the mighty from the thrones
and raised up the lowly.
Luke 1: 52

 If today were not the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Gospel reading would be the Magnificat, the canticle of Mary in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1: 46-56).

Mary visiting Elizabeth sings a song of rejoicing in the hope of a Messiah. She acknowledges a God who looks on the lowly and takes their side.

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the killing of Chico Mendes, a rubber worker who organized other workers and sought to defend the Amazonian rain forest. Cattle ranchers and large land-owners would often burn the forest to have land for their cattle.

For his efforts, Chico was killed by a rancher and his son.

Mary’s son would also die and it appears that the mighty are not cast down from their thrones and the hungry are not filled with good things.

The world does not seem to work as Mary’s canticle proclaims.

But God calls us to have hope, to keep the vision of God’s love and justice in our hearts and in our sight – spurring us on to work for the Reign of God.

The Gospel which will be read in Catholic churches today is the vision of Joseph who is told that his wife’s child is God-with-us, the One who is to come to save God’s people.

As Father Gustavo Gutiérrez puts it:

Joseph is confused and this perplexity prepares him to understand God’s action. When we think that everything is occurring “normally,” we are not capable of perceiving what is new. The unexpected interrupts our plans.

Can we see God’s plan interrupting our lives – calling us to work with God in raising up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things?

In the midst of darkness, light shines. Will we reflect that light – or let ourselves be overwhelmed by the darkness?

After Chico Mendes died, his wife observed:

Chico had a lot of faith. When he died, I was filled with despair. But God comforted me and inspired me to work alongside others to carry on Chico’s work. They killed him, but they didn’t kill his ideals or crush the struggle.

Will we let God inspire us to continue the struggle that Christ may be born in our midst?

The solidarity of Mary and Elizabeth

Painting in the church of El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador

Painting in the church of El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador

Mary went in haste
to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
Luke 1: 

Mary, pregnant with the Word of God, goes to visit her aged cousin, Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist.

Did she go just to help her cousin or did she go seeking the help and advice of an older relative who was also experiencing pregnancy?

Did she go confident of what she had experienced when the angel appeared to her or did she go to share her misgivings with a cousin whose husband had also been visited by an angel?

We will probably never know.

But I think this is a case of real solidarity, real accompaniment. Both are sharing and caring for each other. Both have something to offer. Both experience the presence of the Lord in very physical ways – Mary with Jesus in her womb and Elizabeth with John jumping (kicking?) in hers.

When we realize that God is present, we can be more open to accompanying the other person, being there with them in joys and sorrows, in pain and in laughter.

May this season be a time to renew experiences of solidarity and accompaniment – so that we can remember that God is present.