A short message from Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, PrioressContinue Reading
It is appropriate in the season of Advent that we consider the role of Mary in God’s plan of salvation. Mary’s faith enabled her to recognize the work of God in her people’s history and in her own life. Her openness to God allowed God to work through her so that salvation might come to everyone. Because of this, Mary is a model and symbol of the Church.
The story on the fourth Sunday of Advent is about two pregnant women, the first one 6 months along is already experiencing the movement of the child in her womb. The baby leaps when her cousin calls out to her. This is a story of utter delight of a meeting of mothers and infants. The babies, John and Jesus – both of whom got their names directly from angels of God. They were to be friends and fellow prophets, recognized each other when they were still in the womb.
First, we hear about Mary and her journey. When left her Mary eagerly goes dancing over the hills (well, maybe not quite “dancing” after all the distance she traveled was close to 50 miles). Did she tell anyone on her way about the angel, the message or why she was hastening to her cousin? I’m guessing she might have shared her experience and her concerns with her mom, Anne.
Rushing to share her secret with her cousin, Mary found another surprise: old Elizabeth was expecting a child of her own! God was up to something big here! Elizabeth greets Mary with full recognition of the roles that they and their unborn children will play in God’s plan for salvation. If we were to continue to read the verses that follow in Luke’s Gospel, we would hear Mary respond to Elizabeth’s greeting with her song of praise, the Magnificat. Both women recall and echo God’s history of showing favor upon the people of Israel.
To me, in this part of the Nativity story, Elizabeth is the star of the show and we do well not to overlook the significance of Elizabeth’s role in our salvation history. She is the “amazed saint.” She is exemplary in her response to her baby’s movement in her womb. She is so in tune with her own body, she appreciates that something new and wonderful is going on here. Elizabeth then broke out in joyful exclamation! “Why am I so favored?” Hers is humble amazement at being able to participate directly in God’s plan. How muted Zechariah must have wished he, too, could sing with his wife over Mary’s news! We who have a role in God’s plan should share this wonder.
Some of you may recall Fr. Simeon sharing a one-minute nugget of a Fourth Sunday of Advent homily in which you’ll find these lines:
Two women, cousins.
Girls giggling gladness, dancing delirious dream,
Marveling mystery, barely hearing –
He ended with this question: “Can God enter earth if there are no women?”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
First Reading Micah 5:1-4 Second Reading Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel Reading Luke 1:39-45 Intention Christmas Novena
Two phrases in particular stand out to me in this Gospel: What should we do? And, “Exhorting them in many ways, he preached the GOOD NEWS to the people.” Good news, Luke says??? What we’ve been hearing for the past two weeks isn’t quite what I’d term “good” news. We’ve been hearing predictions of occurrences of unimaginable proportions … taking down mountains, flattening hills, wiping out valleys; hearing voices crying in the desert, watching for signs in the sun, the moon and the stars; dismay, perplexity, roaring sounds and people dying of fright. This is GOOD news?
Well, here we are at the traditional half-way point in Advent and the theme of joy abruptly appears – you can sense it – the rose colored liturgical appointments – the vestments, the altar and advent wreath candles – they all symbolize “relax” – be joyful! In the days when it was popular to use the Introit of the Mass, we sang: “Guadete! Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!” The storms we had this weekend give voice to the petition of the Introit – the opening verse – asking for a gentle rain on the earth. “Drop down dew from above, and let the clouds rain down Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior.”
John’s message today is simple. He doesn’t ask the tax collectors to stop collecting, nor does he encourage the soldiers to go AWOL. He says: Share what you have, be honest, do not oppress people. What he preaches is at the same time easy and difficult; simple and challenging: How can I bring the divine into my daily ordinary actions to make my faith a living thing? So my walk echoes my talk?
It is John’s austerity and integrity that drew people’s respect and trust. He speaks to the people in words they can easily relate to. But, first he utters a direct assault to any who in any way ignores or fails to have an orientation towards others. He opens his homily with a broadside slap in the face: You brood of vipers! He goes on asking who they think they are.
One thing is certain: his audience knew where they stood with him. And, he knew clearly his place in God’s story. “I am baptizing you with water; but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Another translation says: “untie the laces of his sandals.” Why, I wonder, did he say “loosen, untie” which would leave the wearer’s shoes flapping on his feet or sliding off his feet so he is barefoot? Is this an allusion to the spirit of hospitality expected of all Christians? It brings to mind Benedict’s admonition of the ages old practice of first washing the guest’s feet for which the shoes would have been untied and removed. And look at Jesus on the cross with his bare feet exposed to the elements and on-lookers’ abuse.
And, there’s that question Luke’s text raises: “What should we do?” John’s answer is unique in Luke’s account; he responds by offering specific actions:
If you have more than you need, whether in terms of food or clothing, you must share.
Stop stealing from your neighbors.
And stop using your power to take advantage of simple citizens.
In other words, no more hoarding, no skimming, no extortion.
The question, then, to us in flashing neon lights is: “What should we do?” How shall we respond to the Advent of our Emmanuel that our prayers, our hymns and our intercessions are talking about? How can we meet the promise of the season, with real, meaningful expectation? Everywhere around us the world seems to be caught up in merrymaking. The streets and stores have been festooned with Christmas decorations since way before Thanksgiving Day. Neighbors vie with each other to have the most twinkling Christmas lights, the tallest tree and the most presents under the tree and the biggest inflatable lawn decorations. Social calendars are crammed with holiday party dates. Our attitude is quickly deteriorating into an Ebenezer Scrooge “Bah, humbug.”
Perhaps faithful John has a gift for us today, even if it is wrapped in the rough brown paper of his preaching. He jolts us out of our pessimism, our moodiness, our sour attitudes to an awareness of the sparkle in the eyes of children, the welcome look on an elder’s face, the grateful tears on the faces of the recipients of our good deeds. We see evidence of a warming heart as life-giving words fall gently on world-weary ears. And, we know our answer to the question: WHAT SHALL WE DO?
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
First Reading Zephaniah 3:14-18a Second Reading Philippians 4:4-7
Gospel Luke 3:10-18Continue Reading
I consider it a safe bet to say that I am not the only one in this group who at the announcement of Luke’s quote from Isaiah hear it set to a melody from Handel’s Messiah. I imagine there may even be people in other kinds of groups that think that Handel said it first – “Every winding road shall be straightened; every valley shall be filled in; every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rough ways made smooth.”
Exciting words! Well, yes, until you conger up an image of what travel is like through road construction zones. Bumper to bumper traffic, blinking red taillights, flashing caution lights reminding drivers of speed-zone warnings of “road work ahead – fines doubled.” And, oh, the noise! Blaring car horns, beeping “back up” signals, and occasionally the wailing siren of an emergency vehicle, or fire truck or police car. At night, overly bright lights, practically blinding drivers – so work can continue from dusk to dawn. And, watch out for the earth movers tearing up the old surface to make way for the new. And, there’s talk of re-rerouting the road bed for a safer, more efficient path to the major cities. You are surrounded by bulldozers, tall cranes, backhoes, churning cement trucks, tractors and forklifts – and workers – God keep them safe – dangerously dodging between cars. All in the name of progress!
This is what Luke tells us should be happening within each of us as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel. “Make ready the way, the way of the Lord.” Make for him an arrow-straight path to your heart – an inroad into your everyday life. A bridge from a thought to an action; from an idea to a donation, from an impulse to a ready smile.
We know the challenge of being earth-movers, rerouting our living space, and wearing noise-deafening soul-muffs to keep our sacred space for lectio and prayer.
But, what kind of forklift do we need to raise the weariness of preoccupation with “things” to a conscientious attention to those with whom we live? What kind of backhoe does it take to crack the ridged set in our ways? How many hosing-downs will be needed to quiet a hot temper or a sharp tongue? How tall a crane do we need for us to see the bigger picture? What kind of work goggles do we need to protect our eyes from worldliness? What kind of binoculars will it take to pinpoint and zero in on the evils we want to eradicate? Are we keeping the traffic strips on the edges of our souls bright enough to protect us from running off the road to goodness? How tough are the rumble strips that we put down to remind us of “danger ahead”? Is our prayer life strong enough and sincere enough to be the barricades we need to protect us from on-coming temptations?
When our life’s valley is filled in and the road made straight, will we be ready to “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud”? As we approach the off-ramp of life – will we be so attuned to the divine whisper that we hear clearly the voice of the One crying out – Look! The “salvation of our God” is at hand!
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
Try no to get overwhelmed by Christmas busyness…
2018 Second Sunday in Advent
First Reading Baruch 5:1-9 Second Reading Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
Gospel Luke 3:1-6
We hear it everywhere: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Ah, but for us the lavender candles and clothes and the tone of the prayers remind us it’s not Christmas yet … tis Advent we’re experiencing. How many Advent seasons have you experienced? Advent is one of the times that comes unbidden each year, whether we are ready or not…. Like your birthday. Advent is that unchangeable season when the same concepts, the same words rise over and over again in our liturgies, year after year, challenging our hearts, plaguing our minds, pricking our consciences. For each of us, the theme of each year’s Advent can vary depending on our outlook, our mood, our health, the state of our finances; whether we get into the flow of the liturgy of the season or are hounded by commercialism; whether we’re around children or persons nearing the Great Advent of their lives.
One overriding theme of Advent is “waiting.” And who hasn’t waited? When we are little children, we waited for Santa Claus. When we were novices, we waited for the mail from family and friends that had accumulated in Mother’s office during the days of Advent. Advent comes, year after year, relentlessly and throughout life, with its message of hope and faith, joy and love; prophecy, promise, fulfilment and faith; prophets, shepherds the Virgin Mary, and the Magi… Stirring our hearts with the hope of promise one more time. One author poetically puts it this way: “Hope is hearing the melody of the future; faith is dancing to it today.” The gift of Advent is the time to “hum hope as we move into sync with the rhythm set for us by the Lord of the Dance.”
Here in the monastery we pay special attention to the vigil services that take place each Saturday evening during Advent. “Vigil” means to keep awake, to be watchful. The monastic liturgy prays: “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Do you really believe that? We spend our days, our lives, as individuals, community and as a nation waiting to be saved by the overshadowing power of the Most High – the power of goodness that each one of us can spread, or dampen, in our environment.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel for this first Sunday of Advent 2018 to “Be vigilant at all times; do not grow drowsy from the anxieties of your life.” The evangelist Luke knew that when events don’t happen as quickly as expected, people tend to forget and stop doing the things they ought to do.
The Church in the liturgy reminds us of the alertness and preparation needed for the four-fold coming of Jesus. His coming into our lives not only at the celebration of His incarnation at Christmas but also in His active presence in our lives at all times, at the moment of our death, and in his final coming at the end of the world. So, do you get the message: Seize the opportunities of the present moment, prepare for Christmas, prepare for death. We do not like to think about it but we know that we are travelers on a one-way trip to eternity. Jesus reminds us of this, not to teach us a lesson on sneakiness, but to remind us to “Be vigilant… so you are not caught by surprise. Pray that you have strength to stand before the Son of Man.” We need to be prepared for the kingdom of God whenever and wherever it breaks through the barriers of our everyday challenging us, embracing us.
So, if we really are on a one-way trip to eternity, what are we doing to prepare? We can’t act like every day is a lazy Thanksgiving, turkey-filled afternoon. No, we have to be alert! Move around – take in the scene – notice who is coming and going – who needs help, who needs a shoulder to cry on or a little hand-holding, who needs a meal, who is waiting in a nursing home for a chatty visit, who needs a smile or a prayer.
Act like you are heading to a foreign country for an extended stay. Wouldn’t you bone up on the culture, the customs, the currency, the climate? So what of your soul? We need Advent to prepare us, we need Advent to ready our hearts. We need to be ready at all times for a promised eternity in the company of the Most High.
Most of us growing up played “Hide and Seek.” The point of the game was to hide oneself so well that the leader could not find you. The secret of the game was when “it” was counting down to 1, we scrambled to the best place we could find to avoid being discovered and caught. With excitement we heard the words, “Ready or not — here I come!” That’s what Jesus is saying to us and to the world, “Ready or not — here I come.” As in the game, but this is not a game, there is “counting” and an “accounting” going on right now. It is a countdown before God’s appearance to each of us and in His second coming.
There are no magic Advent practices to prepare for Christmas other than the classic Christian exercises: works of charity, prayer, self-sacrifice, and penance. The Mass readings this week focused on the end time. If they did not shake you up enough, the Advent gospels will perk up your ears and attention: “Be vigilant! Stay awake! Don’t grow careless and don’t give up!
In chapter 67 of his Rule Benedict reminds us of the mutuality of prayers for our journey: the travelers will ask for a blessing and the home community will always remember those on a journey in daily prayer. Advent is a journey we take every year from the warning to “be vigilant” to the glorious memorial celebration of Jesus’ birth. Let’s heed the words of Benedict and be prayerfully conscious of each other on our individual and our communal Advent journey. We know this: God is in charge and God can be trusted. Just “Be vigilant – and Watch!
May I suggest an Advent project to help keep us keep vigilant? Every morning when you awaken, pray, “Lord, show me someone today with whom I may share your love, mercy and forgiveness. And each night when you go to bed, ask yourself, “Where have I found Christ today?” The answer will be God’s Advent gift to you that day. By being alert and watchful we will receive an extra gift: Christ himself. I am reminded of a saying attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas: “Without God, I can’t. Without me, God! won’t.”