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 7, 2015

Open to Life: Real Life

So, how does being open to life manifest itself in each of our own daily lives?

To start with, it means being open to the people we immediately come in contact with. When we greet one another with a smile, when we stop what we are doing to look someone in the eye and engage in conversation with them, we are being open to their life. We are affirming their human dignity and worth by encountering them, rather than brushing past them.

It means looking beyond our circle, our comfort zone. Consider visiting  a nursing home, even if you don’t know anyone there. Participate in a food drive and actually go to the food bank, rather than just dropping off a few cans in the bin. Serve a meal at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter and don’t just stay behind your ladle – actually engage with the people you are serving.

It means knowing that there are people out in our shared world who do not have the same values as you, do not have the same priorities as you and perhaps do not even see the purpose of your life. Yet, instead of giving into despair, thinking that humanity is lost, or seeking vengeance for suffering others have inflicted upon us,  we choose to hope, and despite it all, to love.

So we can’t allow ourselves to be stopped by the misfortunes of life or the suffering that we’re enduring, as if this had no meaning. Through them, we can discover that God is knocking on our door and wants to call us again to life, and open up to us the ways of life.

        Archbishop Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, France

November 18, 2015

How is God calling me to live a life that is more open and welcoming? 

Advent Reflections – December 6, 2015

Open to Life: In Church Tradition

A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying. – John Paul II

The Catholic Church has an actually very simple philosophy on life. Life is to be respected, valued and protected from conception until natural death. Each life, regardless of who that life is, where they live, what they do, is sacred. And yet, often the simplest things in life are also the most complicated and challenging.

It is easy to be open to the life that we desire. It is easy to be open to the planned child, the neighbor who offers to watch our dog while we are out of town, the parent who ages gracefully, the person who holds the door open at the grocery store. Openness to life on our terms is easy.

The Church, however, isn’t calling us to be open to only the easy life. Jesus did not say “Blessed are those who loved the lovely, the gentle, the kind and forgiving.” Instead, he challenged that only those who saw Him hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison and sick, and did something about it, those few will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 25:31-46).

The Church’s understanding of being open to life is an outward motion. It’s about hands extended, reaching out to those in need to offer comfort, warmth, acceptance and mercy, even when we find it difficult to do so.

Mother Teresa was famous for her “Five Finger Prayer.” Holding up each finger on one hand, slowly say the words “You did it for Me.” How does this prayer, coupled with your understanding of “openness to life” challenge you to be more open to those you encounter today?