Advent Reflections – December 23, 2015

Living in Harmony: Real Life

Living in harmony and unity grows out of the cultivation of a few habits. Really, living in harmony and unity, within ourselves, with others, and with God could be concluded to be our main goal in life. After all, Jesus’ final prayer, according to the Gospel of John, was

That they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us. John 17:21

Jesus’ final prayer is about our unity, both with God and with one another. You can be sure that if this is a desire of Jesus, it is a desire of Mary, our Mother, whose purpose is always to concretely bring us into greater unity with her Son. In a way, each of the themes we have reflected on this Advent season pave the way for unity.

  1. Open to Life – we cannot find harmony and unity with others if we are not open to experiencing their life, no matter how different it is from our own. No only must we be open to it, we must find a way to reach common ground when our differing experiences cause us to view one another in suspicious, concerning or even hostile lights.
  2. Able to Love without Requiring Love in Return – we cannot find harmony and unity with others if we are not willing to be the first to love, to be the first to extend a hand of friendship. Being willing to love without requiring or needing love in return means making ourselves vulnerable and humble. We love not because someone else acted toward us in kindness, generosity, respect, or love first, but because we have been created in the image and likeness of Love Itself. We love because God loved us first, unconditionally and completely (cf. 1 John 4:19).
  3. Willing to Sacrifice for Others – we cannot experience harmony and unity with others if we are not willing to give up something of ourselves for the sake of the other. The gift of perfect love, of perfect unity, is Jesus on the cross, giving His whole self for the sake of our broken, imperfect, yet beautiful selves. If we are to live out Jesus’ call for unity, we can expect nothing less to be demanded of us. The more we die to self, the more we allow God to move and shape our lives, the greater and more perfect unity we will experience.
  4. Capable of Forgiveness – we cannot experience harmony and unity with others if we are not willing to seek and extend forgiveness. We are no longer the perfect creatures from the garden. We are broken. We are sinful. We are in need of mercy. These are not sentiments. They are facts. If we wish to find true harmony with one another and with God, we must accept the fact that we will need to become the living embodiment of forgiveness – quick to forgive and quick to seek forgiveness.

The beauty of Jesus’ final prayer is that even before He prayed it, He had prepared for us a practical, living example of how to bring it to fruition. The example of Mary’s Motherhood shines forth for each person, illuminating key moments which, when gathered together, present a path for holiness, for peace, and for unity among all peoples and most importantly, unity with her Son, Jesus our Savior.


Advent Reflections – December 19, 2015

Capable of Great Forgiveness: Real Life

Forgiveness is tough! Asking for forgiveness means coming face to face with our own shortcomings, failures and mistakes. It means admitting that we behaved badly, that we willfully injured another person in some way. The other side of forgiveness can be just as painful. To forgive is to be merciful, to let go of the anger, frustration, hurt, disappointment or insult that resulted from the other person’s actions or inaction.

Traditionally, forgiveness works when both parties fulfill their obligatory roles. There is, I believe, a deeper understanding of forgiveness. My mom once told a story she heard from a co-worker. Her co-worker’s children were finishing up an argument and it was time for the forgiveness portion. The one at fault asked for forgiveness. The one injured refused. When the first complained to their mother about the situation, she said “You did your part, it’s between your sister and God whether or not she does hers. It’s not your concern.”

Giving Hands and a Red Pushpin by Artotem via Flickr (2009). CC

A bit of a startling response, isn’t it? You capacity to forgive and ask to be forgiven has nothing to do with the other person. It is about you, your attitude and your relationship with God. If someone has injured you in some way, do you wait for them to come forward, asking for your forgiveness? Or do you extend your hands to them, injured though they may be, offering mercy and compassion. When you realize you injured someone, how quickly do run to their side, humbly seeking their forgiveness and asking how you can rectify the relationship?

Is there a situation where you are waiting for the other person to make the first move? Be that person today.

Advent Reflections – December 18, 2015

Capable of Great Forgiveness: In Church Tradition

All of Christianity is grounded in forgiveness. When Adam and Eve first sinned in the garden, God did not abandon them. Yes, there were consequences for their actions, but God did not destroy them or say “to bad, so sad, looks like you’re all on your own now.” No, in God’s infinite wisdom and mercy, He forgave them and put in place His ultimate plan for the redemption of the world.

Throughout His preaching career, Jesus forgave those who came to Him. He healed not only bodies, but souls. Jesus’ final act upon the cross is one of forgiveness:

Then [the thief] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23: 42-43

The truth of the matter is, we all sin. We all mess up and need to be forgiven. We are forgiven by others, but that isn’t enough. When we sin, we injure not only our relationship with the other person, we also injure our relationship with God. St. John encourages us:

If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves,* and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he [Jesus] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. – 1 John 1:8-9

As we are in the Year of Mercy, forgiveness is a timely topic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood” (1442). Jesus created the path of forgiveness through His sacrifice on calvary. The Church strives each day, in every generation, to faithfully walk that path.

Consider receiving the sacrament of reconciliation as part of your Advent preparation.