In spite of our situation

What is joy? How is it different from happiness? Happiness is what we feel when everything is going well and smooth. Happiness is more dependent on our outward situations – our health, fortune, work, etc. But joy is being at peace with whatever situation we may face, whether it is a happy or sad situation. It is that assurance that though everything does not always go right, life still makes sense. It is not dependent on outward circumstances, but rather on our own relationship with God. Another way we might put it is that we have happiness BECAUSE of our situation; we have joy IN SPITE OF our situation. A person suffering from a chronic illness may understandably not feel happy, but they can still remain joyful because of the love and care of those people around them or because of their faith and trust in God. The well-known theologian Teilhard de Chardin defined joy as the most profound manifestation of the presence of God.

Advent should be a period of spiritual reflection on how the birth of Christ has impacted on our own lives today. We may have been celebrating Advent for many years, but if the true spirit of Advent does not transform us to be better persons – does not make husbands love their wives all the more and vice versa, and does not make children value what their parents have sacrificed for them, and if it does not bring us forgiveness and healing to our hurts and pains or even consider forgiveness as an option to improve our relationships – then there is no point to rejoice this Sunday, because if it is still business as usual for us. The liturgical seasons can become nothing but empty cycles without any meaning.

When horrible things happen in our lives or when unexpected and unexplainable things happen without any reason like sudden death, illness or tragic accidents, people can understandably question where God’s love fits in all of these. When I question God if he is indeed for real or not, I always find an answer in the wonderful and great things that he has done in my life in the midst of my weaknesses and sinfulness. And this is where we find the reason to rejoice in God always: that in the midst of our brokenness and sometimes feeling unworthy, God does not abandon us – in fact, he raises us up in order for us to redeem our identity and transform us anew. And because God is our Emmanuel (God is in Our Midst), we always have the best reason to rejoice! Happy Gaudete Sunday!

Edited from a reflection by Fr Cary Reniva Parish Priest St Cecilia’s, nr Portland, OR www.stceciliachurch.org

With Jesus in the womb

Let us contemplate Jesus in the womb of Mary, enter into the silence, the slow growth, the precious reality of our Lord and Saviour’s taking on life as a human being.

If we begin by imagining Jesus’ foot in the womb, we picture Mary washing this little foot, after giving birth to him and laying him in the manger. This tiny foot became the one which walked our earth, the foot which left home to walk Galilee and Judea. The sinful woman off the street taught us about gratitude for his mercy by kissing and crying on this foot. This foot stumbled along the way to his Crucifixion, where it was nailed to a cross – all for us.

We can imagine his hands growing in the womb, slowly becoming the hands which first touched Mary’s face and Joseph’s beard. This hand developed into the hand of a carpenter, and with it he embraced children and offered his tender touch to the sick and sinners. These would become the hands with which he washed his disciples’ feet and took the bread and the wine and, giving thanks to God, gave it to his disciples, saying “This is my body. This is my blood.” And, the next day, outstretched, this hand was nailed to a cross – all for us.

And the developing face of Jesus would already be taking on his mother’s features. This face would give joy to the shepherds and the Magi. He must have cried and felt hunger, and laughed and smiled a lot. The face of a child at Nazareth with his friends developed slowly and inevitably, to become the face seen by so many who had that privilege in his lifetime. This is the same face which was spat upon and was covered with blood, all for us.

Finally, we pause for a moment to reflect upon his heart – the very image of his self-sacrificing love. This little heart became one big enough to love sinners, the sick, the marginal, on fire with compassion and mercy. The heart of Jesus, which began beating in the womb of Mary, was eventually the sacred heart pierced with a lance on the cross. Into that wound in his side, the Risen Lord invited Thomas to put his hand and to believe.

Edited from Creighton University’s Online Ministries

Holding hands with God

The readings of Isaiah are so moving during Advent, calling us to consider our relationship with God in new ways. Isaiah invites us to consider a relationship with God on a very deep and personal level, to feel comforted, loved and protected. Isaiah offers us a God who rejoices in us and celebrates us with banquets of rich wines and choice food. There is a constant exhortation not to be afraid. “Fear not, I will help you.” (Isaiah 41: 13).

I have read these words every Advent for years, and focused on the words, “Fear not.” But one morning as I looked at this passage, I noticed the beginning of it: “I am the Lord, your God who grasp your right hand.” It was fairly specific. Not that I was reaching out to God, but that God was reaching out to me – and grasping me by my right hand. How wonderful. I relaxed into that image and tried to picture that. What would it be like to have God hold my right hand? Terrible! I couldn’t do anything! I am right-handed and if God is holding onto it, how would I get all of my things done? I am a busy, busy person (sometimes so busy that I am coming and going at the same time). With my right hand un-usable, I couldn’t drive, use the computer or grab my mobile phone. If I really ponder the image of the Lord grasping my right hand, it takes me several minutes to get beyond, “I can’t get anything done!”

Then I pause in my mental distress and hold this dilemma up to God as an offering: “What now, God?” I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand… I will help you.” I can see that the passage means that I can’t do it all alone. I am strong, busy, independent and apparently somewhat arrogant. I want to do it all myself. How do I share my life and work with a God who at the moment seems to be hampering my progress?

That’s where the Isaiah reading adds, “It is I who say to you, ’Fear not, I will help you.” I really, really don’t have to do it alone. I can step off my self-imposed pedestal and join the rest of the human race in asking for help. I can ask God every morning to open my heart in new ways for the freedom to accept what God wants for me – not what I want for me. I can realize that God stands ready, cherishing me every moment, holding my hand and offering me a banquet.

I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand;

It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.”

Maureen M Waldren, Online Ministries of Creighton University USA