In the Northern hemisphere, today is the shortest day of the year, the day when we experience the least sunlight.
We’re still in the season of Advent, the season of longing and hope. Even if the preparations and Christmas celebrations of this season have had you feeling busy and stressed, you still have time to tune into God’s graces, to notice how God is working in your struggles and joys.
To help you lean toward the light, to trust in its coming, I now offer you the top five Advent reflections from Messy Jesus Business since this blog began over nine years ago.
Except, for you, this holiday season is anything but. Maybe you are moving through the annual traditions for the first time without a loved one because of death or divorce. Maybe a job loss or economic hardship means buying gifts or booking travel is financially out of reach. Maybe family dysfunction brought on by addiction or mental illness has strained relationships to the breaking point. Maybe you are spending your days enduring chemotherapy or healing from major surgery instead of trimming the tree and wrapping gifts. Maybe your experience of infant loss or miscarriage means that the mail filled with cheery photos of others’ kids sitting on Santa’s lap or posed beside the fireplace touches your own place of loss. Maybe this year, you and yours are among so many who have been touched by natural disasters or gun violence or deportation or mass incarceration. (Read more)
When truth is spoken it illuminates more than just the person. The light stretches its filamented fingers, lacing them through history and pointing toward what is to be. Mary, a young unwed woman, accepts the impossible announcement that she will carry not only a child, but the Christ-child. Affirmed by her cousin, Elizabeth, that this strange pregnancy is an act of God, Mary goes beyond the exultation of trusting that her own reputation will be restored and indicates another restoration: the “mighty are brought down from their thrones…the hungry filled with good things…the rich sent empty away.” She joyously reveals God’s plan for a transformed social order.
Was Mary aware of how closely her words echoed those of the prophet Isaiah? Or was this spontaneous outpouring of the spirit, of joy, simply an irrepressible desire to magnify the God who desires good for all even, perhaps especially, the oppressed. (Read more.)
Advent hasn’t even started yet, but Christmas’ crazed and over-weight relative Consumerism is already in town, on the news, and wasting your gasoline and money as he drives all around town shopping.
Meanwhile, I’m crowding with others in the cozy chapel, savoring peace and quiet and adoring God’s goodness while we pray for wisdom about how to revive radical Gospel living.
My Christmas ever day experiment is not about Santas, shopping, or catchy commercials. Yet, while these things become more prevalent, I am becoming afraid that any uttering of “Merry Christmas” that I make might be mistaken for an approval of the petty parts of the holiday happening prematurely. (Read More)
“Welcome!” My Capuchin Franciscan postulant friend greeted me as he opened the large wooden door, inviting me inside from the Midwestern early-winter chill. There was a handsome plate beside the door, announcing to visitors that this large old house was the St. Conrad Priory.
“Who is St. Conrad?” I asked, stepping inside.
“He was a porter,” my friend answered. “He opened the door and extended hospitality to visitors.”
As we made our way into the foyer he continued, gesturing to an icon on the wall “This is Solanus Casey, who is up for canonization. We have quite a few Franciscan porter saints.”
I was surprised – porter saints? Surely, it is easy to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary holiness of courageous missionaries, wise theologians, inspiring preachers, tireless pastoral workers and valiant martyrs. But porters? (Read More)
Lately a certain Gospel instruction is has been grinding challenge into my life, really giving my heart a doozy of a talking to.
Jesus says it a lot, in many different ways:
Do not be afraid.(Luke 1:30; Mark 5:36; Mark 6:50)
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? (Matthew 6:27)
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.(Matthew 6:34)
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.(Matthew 6:25)
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)
Jesus is, after all, a very encouraging savior, a source of strength. He needs us to be brave if we’re going to do the hard work of building up the kingdom of peace and justice in the here and now.
Plus, it makes sense that the Gospel would be packed with messages telling us to persevere in faith. By the time the Gospels were written down—a few decades after Jesus walked the earth—those early Christians were dealing with some pretty intense fear. Uprisings and persecutions were becoming common. The Roman Empire was increasing its control, getting more oppressive to anyone who wasn’t … well … Roman. With such heavy darkness, it must have felt like the world was falling apart. Sort of reminds me of the world we’re living in today. (Read more)
May the Light of Christ transform you all, and give you great peace! Happy Solstice!
Perhaps you’re worried about loved ones impacted by the fires in California — or you are one of the millions of people struggling to make it without clean air, electricity or safety. Maybe you’ve lost your home.
Or you may be the person dealing with internal trial: health problems, financial challenges or splintered relationships. Maybe someone you love has recently died and the grief has you frozen in sorrow.
It could be that your Gospel living — your faithful walk with Christ — has you meeting roadblock after roadblock. Each detour and struggle has you feeling like you aren’t getting anywhere or making any progress. You are losing hope and confidence that you’re on the right path, that God wants you to proceed. You don’t know if you have any steam left in you for loving others.
No matter which circumstances have you carrying a cross, here’s what I want to assure you today: you are not alone. Jesus is with you in all of it. The community of Christ cares for you.
To boost you up and impart consolation, I’m offering some inspiration in the mess. Here’s some goodness that keeps me going.
I’ve heard a lot of people proclaim that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” which is a cliché I dislike, because it suggests that we (individually) must handle the hard times, the painful parts of living. But such a sentiment doesn’t match what I have come to know: we are strengthened by God and community, we all are in need of help and support.
Here’s a verse that agrees: only if we rely on God, if we turn to Christ, will we be able to handle what’s tough:
“No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” — 1 Corinthians 10:13
Scripture reminds us that a paradox of the spiritual life (and discipleship, for that matter) is accepting hardships as part of the price we pay for growing closer to God; once we embrace our weakness, we’re able to know strength.
“Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” — 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Plus, Scripture assures us that God remains with us; God is the true source of our strength.
“I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go.” — Joshua 1:9
overwhelmed, I wonder/gazing out the window, I sigh …”
“As I gain awareness I usually become overwhelmed or angry. Fires burn in my belly and I am compelled to respond. The challenge is to respond with love.
On my way to work, I prayed prayers of lament. I begged God for mercy. I asked that all of the unjust systems that humanity has so sinfully created are reformed. As we are converted, may the ways of humanity be converted.
Soon after, I am with my students. I decide to be real with them. ‘I feel so angry about what’s wrong with the world today that I want to go scream in the streets …'”
“You may not do what you want,” Galatians 5:17 insists. For good reasons too. If I did whatever I wanted, I’d be a very selfish, greedy person who would probably not be so interested in serving the needs of others, in pleasing God. I am not saying I am scum, but I am, of course, a work in progress who struggles with being sinful as much as the next person.”
“I am not the messiah. It’s not my job to free people, to save them. I am called to love and let God do this rest. This is freeing, good Gospel news!
But to tell you the truth, companioning others, and not aiming to change them, is a struggle. That’s especially true when I encounter people who have views that are offensive to my own, who say things that make me cringe.”
“When we serve others we touch the wounds of Christ; we encounter the heartache and pain of our neighbors. When we read the news headlines right alongside the promises of Christ, it can be tempting to doubt that the Incarnation really changed things and made the world better. Our consciousness about global oppression and the weight of natural disasters can be crushing, discouraging.
One way that I keep my eyes open to the Light is to tune into songs that feed me with encouragement and strength. I want to have music in my head that keeps me singing with hopeful joy. I want to dance to beats that help me persevere and trust that God’s in charge, that the fullness of God’s goodness is on its way.”
Plus, much of the music by Liz Vice boosts my spirit. Here’s one gem for you:
THE BIBLE, AGAIN
Praying with the Gospel stories and the lives of the saints could also offer you a lot of inspiration and encouragement.
This lovely prayer video, made by my friend Susan Francois, Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, reminds us of the Gospel call to persist for peace and justice:
Lastly, this passage from Romans reminds us that much goodness is ahead:
Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.
Thanksgiving in the United States is often a time to come together with family, friends and whomever else we call community.
My favorite memories of Thanksgiving are around the table sharing food, memories full of warmth, comfort and a feeling of belonging.
But as I grew up, I also learned about the real history behind Thanksgiving; a terrible history, far removed from the supposed “reenactment” of a generous meal shared between settlers and indigenous people who I was taught to participate in as a kid in my Catholic elementary school.
And now that I know that Thanksgiving, in fact, recalls the meals that celebrated massacres of indigenous people, I cannot “un-know” that history — a settler society built the United States on genocide.
For us white folks only recently opening our eyes to the genocide, racism and oppression that founded the United States, it is only reasonable to ask, now what do I do?
One important response is to start focusing on accountability.
For the past five years I have facilitated a series of formation sessions dealing with issues of power and privilege for Franciscan Mission Service, a lay Catholic organization that prepares and supports lay missioners living and serving in solidarity in host countries outside of the United States.
And each year as I help prepare (mostly white) Franciscan missioners to live and serve in communities across cultural and racial differences, we talk about how vital it is for white folks to not only recognize and process our feelings of guilt when addressing the violence of racism and white supremacy, but also to move with that guilt into a focus on accountability
Accountability is a step beyond apologizing, a leap beyond feeling guilty.
It is pretty basic on a personal level: when someone hurts me I expect their apology, but that apology means nothing without accountability.
Accountability means that the person who hurt me not only apologizes for the harm caused but also makes a demonstrable commitment to change, to act and do differently from now on.
So for white Catholic folks who believe in Gospel values of social justice, inclusion and radical conversion, what if we treated this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to practice accountability?
Now that you know that the Thanksgiving holiday is not celebrating what you had been taught, how does your faith call you to respond? How might your conscience move you?
As white folks whose privilege and power was built on the genocide of indigenous peoples, what might practicing accountability mean for us on an individual, communal and even national level?
How might you move with your guilt into making concrete changes in what you do and how you act this upcoming holiday season? How might you choose to educate yourself further about this history? How might you share what you are learning and open conversations with other white folks about these challenging topics?
What might accountability mean at the level of the Catholic church?
While the Catholic church has in some circumstances recognized and publicly apologized for generations of sexual abuse in indigenous communities and Catholic boarding schools, what would it mean to move beyond apologies and focus more on accountability? What structural changes would need to be made? How might power dynamics necessarily change? What could you do to affect that change?
This holiday season is just a place to start. For white people, reflecting on accountability can become a part of a daily spiritual practice. We are invited to ask ourselves, how are we accountable to those most marginalized among us? How are we accountable to the immigrants, the refugees, the asylum seekers and the communities of color across our country surviving the terrors of police violence?
Now that we know, we cannot un-know our collective history. But, we can choose to humbly listen to marginalized experiences, actively educate ourselves to combat our ignorance, and courageously challenge our privilege and power in order to grow.
We can choose to confront the weak and problematic foundations of our communities and invest in radical change in order to rebuild on a stronger foundation of trust and accountability.
Annemarie grew up in the Midwest and now lives in Bolivia, South America. Her spiritual journey has been greatly influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement and the Franciscan charism of humble availability and deep solidarity. She has also been influenced and transformed by the unique experience of spending most of her life in Western, capitalist culture and now living for years in Andean culture that is much more communal and rooted in the wisdom of indigenous communities. Today, she lives and farms with her partner and also creates and sells her original art under the name AEB Art.
“Death comes for us all, Oroku Saki, but something much worse comes for you … for when you die, it will be without honor.”
~ Master Splinter, to the Shredder, in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie” (1990).
At the climax of one of my favorite films, the 1990 cinematic masterpiece “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the wizened and heroic Master Splinter squares off against the film’s main villain, the evil ninja leader Shredder. At the film’s climax, Shredder and Splinter go head-to-head at the top of a New York City skyscraper. Though Shredder vows to kill Splinter, Splinter seems unconcerned. Calm, collected and prepared, admitting that he does not fear death, he is ready for what comes next. Death is inevitable. What he fears is dishonor.
The fear of death seems to be lurking everywhere these days. And this fear is leading us to cloud our judgement and to behave dishonorably. Right now our borders and our airports are filled with the homeless, the hungry, the oppressed and the suffering; all desperately seeking safety and stability. Vast numbers of them are children who never committed any wrong except being born in a country that lacked our blessings. And we are turning them away because we are afraid admitting them will make us unsafe.
Let us ignore for the second that there is no basis in fact for that assertion. Let us set aside, for the moment, that there is no verifiable evidence that admitting these refugees has now or ever made us less safe. Though it’s not true, just for the sake of argument, let us assume that letting these people into our country will make us less safe—that bringing these suffering masses into our cities and our homes will risk destruction to our property and our persons. Assuming this, I turn to the Church and I ask: “So what?”.
So what? What of it? Does that change anything? No. The duty of virtue and honor, the obligation given us by Christ, remains. We Christians do not put our stock in the things of this world, and that includes comfort, safety, and ultimately our own lives. The Gospel is not filled with asterisks and addendums, telling us we don’t need to be faithful when it’s scary. Feed the hungry, help the stranger—always. If it’s hard, Christ says take up your cross. If it’s threatening, Christ says you should seek to lose your life so you might gain it. If it kills you, Christ says that there is no greater love than this; that you will be with him in paradise.
In his book “Follow Me to Freedom,” Shane Claiborne addresses this very topic: “Fear is powerful. At some point, especially as Christians, we say with Paul, ‘To live is Christ, to die is gain’ … if we die, so what? We believe in resurrection. We’ll dance on injustice till they kill us … then we’ll dance on streets of gold. Many Christians live in such fear that it is as if they don’t really, I mean really, believe in resurrection.”
You are going to die. Someday, somewhere, death will come for you. There is no way around it. In the meantime, how will you live? Will you live as Christ, living a life of sacrifice and service out of love? Or will you live as Judas, betraying Christ in his hour of need? Make no mistake, that is precisely the choice presented us at this moment—it is Christ who is waiting in our airports and at our borders, waiting in the disguise of the least of these his brethren. And we are betraying him; not for silver, but for security.
If this is a seemingly depressing note to end on, know that it need not be. It is only depressing if we turn away. These are the moments when saints come forward, when heroes are made. “Perhaps this is the moment for which You have been created?” (Esther 4:14).
Courage, Church! If our God is with us, then who can be against us? I do not know to what action specifically God calls you, but I know it is not a timid one. As Pope Francis told our Catholic youth, now is the time to ask Jesus what he wants from you, and then be brave.
Death comes for us all, dear reader. I do not ask God to spare us from it. But please, O Lord, save us from dishonor.
Steven Cottam serves as youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. He lives in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, with his lovely wife, his adorable daughter and his very strange dog. He is an active member of Common Change, a group which seeks to gather and distribute tithe money in a relational and collaborative way. He has been friends with Sister Julia ever since they were students, coworkers, and cooking club members together at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. His interests and passions include Aikido, gardening, coffee, and becoming a Jedi Master.
Lately, falling has been on my mind. The season for this is approaching, as leaf after leaf will soon let go and make its journey downwards, trusting the winds to take them where they need to go.
I have been thinking about the sensation of falling, but not for the reasons you might expect. It has little to do with the approach of the season of autumn, or my clumsy nature. (I’m no stranger to falls of the physical sort!) Rather, falling is on my mind because I am in transition. I recently moved into a whole new ministry and living situation, so I have been adjusting to and enjoying my new environment. During the first week here, I awoke in the dark of the night with the thought that …
As a mother, nothing brings me greater joy than witnessing my daughters’ love for one another.
Each time they giggle in mutual delight at a game they’ve invented, insist on “sister snuggles” to begin the day or tenderly care for one another’s “ouchies,” I feel as though they’ve just given me an extravagant gift. No sooner have I declared that I couldn’t possibly love them anymore than I already do, they demonstrate some new kindness to one another and I find myself doing just that. “Thanks be to God,” I whisper to myself, “that my daughters are the very best of friends!”
Except when they’re not.
Like all siblings, they have their share of spats. They ferociously elbow each other as they vie for the prime spot on my lap during bedtime. My 2-year-old runs away with a bag of fresh cherries in an attempt to hoard them all for herself. My 4-year-old yells at her sister for singing the same song over and over again as we drive to the museum.
I behold these actions with exasperation.
Haven’t we cuddled together enough times for them to know there is room on my lap for both of them? Can’t my younger daughter see there are plenty of cherries in the bag for everyone if only she’d stop clutching it to her chest? Has my older daughter already forgotten how she used to belt out “Let It Go” for the duration of every car ride?
Their 4- and 2-year-old minds simply don’t comprehend the big picture, and I wish I could just make them understand:
You never have to compete for my love; when divided, it grows. You are family, which means you have a responsibility to one another, whether or not it’s convenient. I have provided for you in abundance, but I expect you to share. While there is nothing, NOTHING you could do to make me love you less, there are infinite ways for us to love each other more deeply … And so very many of them involve how you treat each other. Be generous. Be patient. Be kind. Do these things and you will have given me a more precious gift than anything wrapped in a box. Do these things and I’ll know you truly love me.
From my perspective as a mother, it seems so straightforward: Trust in my love for you, and show your love for me by loving one another.
And yet isn’t this precisely what I myself fail to do on a daily basis? Isn’t this the same failure that leads to school bullying and the Orlando massacre and nuclear proliferation? Isn’t this what’s wrong with the world?
I can picture God—the eternally-patient chauffeur who drives Divine Providence ever forward (even as we kick and scream from the backseat), beholding our selfishness and fearfulness and foolishness (and all the needless misery that results)—sighing in exasperation as I do: I wish I could just make them understand.
About the Rabble Rouser:
Nicole Steele Wooldridgehas been a friend of Sister Julia’s since they were neighbors in Chicago several years ago. Her columns for Messy Jesus Business tend to focus on the intersection of faith and parenting, particularly as it relates to the radical call of Gospel living.
The light is dim and the air is frigid. With Advent’s arrival in this part of the world, we continue to feel the days shorten and the darkness increase.
Whether the light is dimming or not, though, another type of darkness is also apparent: the darkness of suffering. Far and near, people experience violence, injustice and pain.
Some of the suffering, like the death of a Sister in my community, is a natural part of the human condition. Other heavy human experiences of suffering, such as war, poverty and inequalities are conditions we have simply brought upon ourselves by our sins of selfishness and greed. I am feeling especially discouraged by the horrific plan to execute Scott Panetti in Texas later today. The reality that the death penalty still exists and compassion doesn’t seem to be universal hurts all humanity. We are all interconnected and because of our social sins we are suffering together in this darkness.
Advent reminds us of the power of Light in the darkness, the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. During this sacred season we are invited to have bold hope, generous love, and wild trust in God: such actions help Light burn brighter in our hurting hearts and world.
A friend of mine who I know through Giving Voice, created the following beautiful video meditation. While we ready our hearts and lives for the coming of Christ, let us light candles in the dark. Let us pray and hold vigils through the dark nights that help us remember the strength of our Love. Even one small candle can illumine darkness. Love and light shall guide us to greater awareness of Truth to the awesomeness of joy. God is so good and we all have lights to shine!
During this sacred week there are certain songs that, without fail, end up on repeat in my head. Perhaps you’re interested, as the music could enrich your Holy Week too.
“Hosana” from Jesus Christ Superstar
“Stay With Me” by the Taize community
“Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?” Sung by Johnny Cash
Actually, this day does not have a song.
It is a day of silence, listening, waiting, and hoping. For me, this can is only done well without an agenda and with a lot of openness and trust in God. This will actually be the main thing I’ll tune into during Triduum this year.
“Christ the Lord is Risen Today” Preformed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Hope you have a Blessed Holy Week & Happy Easter, Messy Jesus Business readers!
I can’t wait for the days of my future fame – when some high-strung reporter asks me “how did you do it? How did you know?” Because at this point in my life, I plan on being at least 60, not caring much for social graces anymore, and I will totally respond in some graceless method laced with mild profanity: “Pfft. I’ve no idea.”
I have dreams of grandeur still, despite my chosen professional track. And though my adult self completely realizes great money and fame will never be in my cards (and really, that’s okay), it seems my inner child still expects a ridiculous amount of awe.
Yet, it’s hard to feel worthy of praise when the “success” of work is completely not because of you. In fact, it’s even better when you’re clueless, in a way. I’m not advocating that every professional dumps their hard-earned knowledge or skills. I just happen to be in the very unique position of quasi-counseling.
I don’t medically counsel people; that would be dangerous for both concerned. My style is more to provide a simple, subtle, optional direction for life. No pressure or anything; just someone’s happiness at stake. And routinely, my answer to people who ask how I do what I do is a blank stare with a feeble “I’ve no idea.” Which terrifies them, I think, and a little me, too.
And then add to that mix your own poor, personal decisions blowing up in your face. Well, it just doesn’t add a whole lot of confidence, you know? “Here, let me guide you in major life choices as my own life currently disintegrates behind me because clearly… I know what I’m doing.”
(And then God’s like, “Get your ego out of this, I will take care of it!”)
And suddenly I realize that it’s not about me. In reality, people kind of like it when you screw up but yet retain some semblance of sanity and pull it back together. They need to know that you don’t know what’s best so they can figure it out on their own. And honestly, if I knew all the answers, if I knew how it was done, if I knew the master plan and what you were destined to be, well, that would just ruin God’s surprise, wouldn’t it?
Emily Dawson, a vocation director for the FSPA and a friend of Sister Julia, writes from La Crosse, Wis., where she and Sister Julia sometimes visit coffee establishments and movie theaters together. Enjoy more of her cheeky style: she writes over at http://mappingthemystery.wordpress.com.