Worth Revisiting: To Honor The Innocents

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“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”                         Matthew 2:16-18

 As Augustine noted these “infant martyr flowers”; they were the Church’s first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief”. In remembering them, I cannot help but also be reminded of the countless martyrs that have given their lives long after them.

This Christmas,Pope Francis spoke to the “brutal acts of terrorism, particularly the recent massacres which took place in Egyptian airspace, in Beirut, Paris, Bamako and Tunis. These are “our martyrs of today,” those brothers and sisters, he said, “who in many parts of the world are being persecuted for their faith…”

ABC News on Dec. 23, 2015 reports that Iraq’s Christian population has dropped from 1.3 million people in the 1997 census to about 650,000 now. Lebanon, who has taken on many of Syria’s refugees, is an area where according to the NY Times Christians in 1925 constituted 85% of the population now constitute less than a quarter. The recent bombings in Beruit and Paris, as well as the attacks in Mali, and Tunisia this November show little regard for unarmed or innocent citizens.

What can we do?

Pray and…work – with courage towards promoting change, real substantive change. This means having a goal that involves more than just eliminating Isis, for as history has proven, there are others that will merely step into their place. Looking at the underlying problems of poverty, unstable governments with recruitment of child soldiers, not to mention human and drug trafficking we see that there is fertile ground for violence. Are we ready not just to fight but to witness God kingdom in the world? Are we prepared to get to the work of education, justice and peace?  Then, there is also a true need for dialogue, and reconciliation.

My mom, a high school math teacher in a very poor area of the south, understood this well. Her classes consisted of students who others had already given up on, those who were absent due to fights, arrests, drugs or early pregnancies. An expected typical day or life for a student, or child was not typical for them. Many were living the only life they knew, in cycles of violence, dependence and poverty where few had ever taken an interest in their potential. That is, before my mom. Meeting with students before and after school to mentor, she also created homework and make up for long extended absences and most importantly…let them know she cared. Years later, on innumerable occasions she would be stopped by a former student, all grown up who would tell her the difference she truly had made in their life.

Though a seemingly small step, these are the actions that each of us can do in promoting peace, and justice in our communities, in living out our faith with courage. In serving as spiritual mothers and fathers we too can nurture the children we encounter and give voice to Holy Innocents whose lives ended too soon.

Peace,

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Revelation and Purpose: The Infancy Narratives

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“God, who has no History because He is eternal, desired to make History by walking alongside His people…He decided to become one of us, and as one of us, to walk with us through Jesus.”
Pope Francis (Sept. 24, 2013, Catholic News Agency)

In this quote, Pope Francis looks at the historicity of the gospels from the perspective of one’s personal “encounter with the living God”. Fr. Joseph  Fitzmyer also addresses historicity, in the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, not to argue for their exclusion but to look deeper into their meaning. While finding their basis for these narratives in tradition after Mark, both Matthew and Luke share agreement on twelve points. This, as Fitzmyer notes, “prevents one from writing off the infancy narratives as mere fabrications out of whole cloth”[1]. Extending this metaphor further, we look as to what can be learned from their weaving of this material that speaks to who Jesus is, how he is to be understood and what this also reveals about God.
If we turn to the genealogy of Jesus, for example, we notice that Matthew places his at the start of his gospel, beginning with Abraham and culminating in Jesus. Here Matthew is setting the stage for Jesus as the fulfillment of OT prophesy, a part of the history of Israel and yet the promise of God doing something new and wonderful in humanity [2]. Luke, places his genealogy not even in the infancy narrative (1:5-2:52), but just prior to the start of Jesus’ ministry following his baptism (3:23-38). This reveals that who Jesus is, particularly in Luke, is indelibly tied to the message and ministry that he has come to proclaim. Luke begins not with Abraham but with Jesus, going all the way back to Adam, illustrating that Jesus came not just for the Jewish people, but for “all humanity” [3].

By starting at creation, Luke also seems to highlight Jesus as God’s son, a new beginning for humanity to understand God’s profound love in a very intimate way.
This is reinforced in Luke’s parallelism of the proclamations of births, circumcisions, and growth of Jesus and John, with Jesus always being greater. [4] These accounts of John present in the Gospel of Luke are absent in Matthew’s Gospel. However, by adding Elizabeth’s miraculous ability to conceive along with Mary’s virgin conception, Luke provides another instance of God’s divine intervention [5]. For, God has reached into our history and made possible the impossible, in order that we come to know just who God is!

Yet, Fitzmyer is correct that looking at the absence of agreement between Matthew and Luke, puts the historicity of these narratives secondary to their “theological and Christological meaning” [6]. As L.T. Johnson notes in the volume on Luke, “from Jesus to David (where no biblical texts can guide either author), they only share five names” [7]. Still, each in their own way seeks to meaningfully engage the questions that arose of Jesus with significant understanding, and are not simply accepted as “historical accounts” [8] Thus, we behold that Luke’s orderly sequence and “historical perspective…is first of all salvation history”.[9]

Peace,

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[1] Fitzmyer S.J., Joseph. A Christological Catechism: New Testament Answers,  Paulist Press; Rev Exp Su edition. November 1, 1993., p.31.

[2] Brown, Raymond. An Introduction to the New Testament. The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. Yale University Press. October 13, 1997. p. 175.

[3] Brown, p. 236.

[4] Fitzmyer, p.29.

[5] Fitzmyer, p. 30.

[6] Fitzmyer, p. 31.

[7] Johnson, Luke Timothy. Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke.  Michael Glazier; August 1, 2006. p.71.

[8] Fitzmyer, p. 81.

[9] Catholic Study Bible, p. 1433.

An Expectant Mary

This fourth week of Advent bears thoughts of an expectant Mary, awaiting the arrival of her son, with hope and joy. May we too bear joy and anticipation of the birth of our Savior and carry forth his love in all that we do!

The Visitation of Mary & Elizabeth

Meeting of Elizabeth and the Theotokos - I LOVE this icon with Christ and John the Baptist in utero!:
(GK) Orthodox Woman

Today is the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which recalls Mary's visit with her cousin Elizabeth.  Reminder that ALL life is precious, even the baby in the womb of an unmarried woman. Or the baby in the womb of a woman thought to be past child bearing age.::

File:The Visitation. Mary and Elizabeth in the garden of a country house - Huth Hours (1485-1490), f.66v - BL Add MS 38126.jpg:
Huth Hours (1485-1490
File:The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Engraving. Wellcome V0034588.jpg:
Wellcome Library, London

Pregnant Mary

How beautiful is our Blessed Mother Mary!:

File:Virgen encinta, Colegiata de Sta Mª La Mayor, Toro.JPG:
Virgin Encinta, Colegiata de Sta Ma La Major, Toro.

This pregnant Mary is carrying a basket of bread, for the journey to Bethlehem, which is the "House of Bread," and of course she is the maternal house of Jesus, the Bread of Life, in the Eucharist.:

File:The pregnant Virgin Mary, with a dragon at her feet; represe Wellcome, London.1772:
Wellcome Library, London

Expectant Mary: Fresco from Santa Sabina:

BEAUTIFUL DETAILED SAND "NATIVITY" Flickr - Photo Sharing!:

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Shepherds’ Journey

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For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

Isaiah 41:13

Throughout the accounts of the nativity story we encounter God working the extraordinary amidst the ordinary. Today, I find myself accompanying the shepherds in their journey this advent, beside the sheep in solitude and silence.

“Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2: 8-14)

The life of a shepherd was simplistic, the daily tasks at hand were few and one day could easily flow into the next. Yet, a lack of attentiveness could put the whole flock at risk and without a shepherd the sheep easily lost their way. The needs of the flock were to always supersede one’s own, and this included the need for community that we have so become accustomed to. Due to a very transient lifestyle, company was but only occasionally found with fellow shepherds along with the animals they watched and cared for.  Moreover, as they could not consistently observe the ceremonial rituals of purity prescribed by Jewish law, shepherds were considered among the lowliest of professions. Gone were the early days of Israel, as with King David, where their responsibility was respected, now they were included among the marginalized in Jewish society.

Artgate Fondazione Cariplo - Mulier Pieter, Annuncio ai pastori.jpg:
Artgate Fondazione Cariplo-Mulier Pieter

Certainly not a life easily undertaken for those who crave conversation or comforts, it did offer its own unique recompense. Under a blanket of stars and away from the hubbub of the city life they had time for quiet moments and reflection. I’ve often wondered if they, while aware their social standing, also recognized the value and purpose in their life’s work.

Even if they had, they most definitely did not expect to have been called out to receive the most magnificent angelic proclamation of the birth of the Messiah. With not one but a host of angels, breaking through the stillness and the darkness, hope was born this night. As Luke truly stresses, God moved from heaven to earth- to the peripheries to reach all of humanity. Undoubtedly aghast at their divine invitation and despite any misgivings they may have had–their unexpected response was to make way for Bethlehem in haste. Oh, the trepidation the shepherds had to have initially felt from the sudden marching orders and the impending arrival to a city, given their unkempt appearance!

Surprisingly instead of a stately palace, or grand estate customary to a king or “Lord”, they were welcomed by the small stable surroundings. Who is this king, that he would choose this as a birthplace, as a seat of governing, a site of lowly stature? Could it be that He has come for us too…and what does this mean for our lives? The peace that the angels spoke of had to have meant more to the shepherds than an absence of physical conflict, but resonated an inner peace of finally resting in God’s grace.

Schwerin Dom - Fenster 5b Hirten.jpg:

Consider: Do I believe that Jesus was born for me? And, what does this mean in my life, particularly for those times I feel alone, persecuted, or marginalized?

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. Psalm 56:3

Peace,

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Joseph: Examen-ing Obedience

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o·be·di·ence noun

compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority compliance, acquiescence, tractability, amenability; 

Truthfully when we hear the word obedience it is not well received. In part because it requires another less desired virtue, that of humility. And yet when we take time to reflect on advent the models of obedience witnessed in Joseph and Mary cannot be overlooked.
Joseph concerned as to the potential disgrace that not only he faced but that Mary would have endured, had decided to quietly divorce. Still, before the will and persuasion of God  Joseph faithfully obeyed. For as Matthew accounts, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”(Matthew 1:24) Through Matthew’s gospel account we feel for Joseph in the circumstance and in the implications of the decision he would choose to make. Again in Matthew 2:13-15, an angel comes to Joseph in a dream saying,
 “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him…So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.”
In both of these momentous occasions , we notice that God did not leave this steadfast man of God unguided. And neither does God ever leave us alone, whether in the midst of difficult or everyday decisions.

Discovering  God’s presence

Father in heaven, I know that you are here with me. Not because of who I am, but because of who you are. You desire to walk with us, to lovingly guide and instruct us in your will. You ask only that we listen and follow. So it is with this I ask you to help my stubborn prideful nature to accept what it is you would want for me.

Scripture tells us that Joseph didn’t simply marry Mary and take in God’s only son, but resolutely took on the loving role as Mary’s husband and Jesus’ earthly father. Carrying out not only what had been prophesied for the world but assuming God’s vocation for his own life.

 

Looking back with gratitude become aware of the God moments in your day.

Oh what gladness and purpose that awaits with our obedient response to your will for our lives! While I had my own well intentioned way to spend my time, you asked and I followed, however begrudgingly.  Meeting me also with caring family and friends to support and encourage my steps forward. Thank you for always providing exactly what I need, when it is needed. 

God directed Joseph through both his obedience in prayer as well as in angelic proclamations. While not knowing fully what was to come, Joseph would humbly serve his family in he day to day ordinary events. Through Jesus, God drew intimately near to all mankind encountering each of us in our  own journey of faith.

Was there an specific instance today that you felt God draw near, or that your words or actions pulled you away?

Today, in my frustration you heard my complaints. You met my feeble excuses with better reasons for being obedient. You strengthened and helped me overcome my overwhelming desire for down time in order to accept your grace that awaited. All so that I could see that the way is made perfect through your love and my willingness to humbly follow.

 

Tomorrow awaits- How will we meet God?

Jesus’ birth promises a greater tomorrow with him one day, but also a hope that whatever may come he is there too.

Father, for all the ways that I have been less than loving, faithful or obedient today, I offer you my tomorrow. From the moment my eyes open to when my head rests on my pillow, I humbly ask you to speak to my heart. I so want to be obedient to your will, for you alone know the plans for my life. Please, take all of me.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Where Are We Headed This Advent?

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Advent is a time to prepare yet also to discern where we are being led towards. The journey that Joseph and Mary were to make from Nazareth to Bethlehem, by many accounts, was not a fairytale but fraught with much danger, miserable weather, and challenges. Even in the best of health, this undertaking would have been difficult for the ablest of travelers. And yet, as scripture reminds us this is how God was to become Incarnate in our world. Not in comfort, or amidst luxury but One who walks with us through the most difficult moments and trials that we might encounter in life.

Along the unpaved flatland trails of the Jordan these feet do embark,
A journey not lightly undertaken but an arduous engagement of heart,
Of readiness for unforgiving weather and unforeseen dangers ahead,
Of hopefulness, peace, and joy that yet expectantly lie in its stead.

In this heavily forested valley, lions bears and boars await,
To seize upon their prey without cause to hesitate,
The ups and downs of the hilly ground that I now find myself upon,
Are unrelenting and still provide a daily impetus to carry on.

The desired and seemingly undesirable invited to travel this road together,
Bringing the weight of our cares and the sum of our joy assuredly tethered,
To the birth of our Savior who was to be born on this promised day foretold,
These 90 miles in a stable laid bare- the eternal salvation of all to behold.


Elizabeth Reardon, Come To Bethlehem, 2015

Not a single solitary journey but a walk together, a walk of dependence and trust on God and profound hope of God’s providence. And beautifully too

“Through Jesus, God enters into the broken and sinful territory of the human condition in order to help men and women, lost in their earthly sojourn, find their way back home to God.” The incarnation is, “the great migration of human history: God’s movement in love to humanity makes possible humanity’s movement to God.”[1]

Not simply a stationary commitment to inactivity, our waiting this advent is instead an invitation to move towards the divine image that God intends for us to be, while drawing ever closer into community with one another.

Where are you headed this advent?

Peace,

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[1] Hans Urs von Balthazar, Love Alone: The Way of Revelation, 5th ed. (London:Sheed & Ward, 1992) 84.

Checklist..or Grace Missed?

This post begins with a confession of sorts. I am a checklist enthusiast. With each item and chore checked off, comes a corresponding feeling of accomplishment. Not to mention that should I neglect to make a list, I am prone to amble aimlessly as a boat without a rudder. Advent is a particular challenge in that my list is always a work in the making and there never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete each of these necessities. Yet are each of these items REALLY necessary?

One of the most common expressions heard in parish ministry when an innovative thought is floated or an old one reevaluated, is that “We have ALWAYS done it this way!” When in truth, we truly haven’t. This goes for our own individual or family traditions. Advent is a perfect time to consider the things we do that bring us closer to Christ and those that merely busy us. Some of the greatest gifts of grace I have received were those never planned or even conceived. Impromptu conversations that I begrudgingly entered,  car mishaps and vacation disasters, delayed or rescheduled appointments..all within God’s purview and grace. Easier perhaps in hindsight..but how do we see this in the moment?

If I  may, I offer this as a guide for a receptive heart and renewed perspective…

Time with our Father: Listening. Have we provided quiet time for God to speak to our hearts as we go about our day?

Time spent with the Word: It needn’t be an entire Gospel but simply a short passage that is a seed for later reflection and growth. Can we spare 5-10 minutes?

Meet Christ in your time spent with others: Do something unexpected for someone else, or say yes to an invitation to visit someone who is sick, lonely, or troubled. I can tell you of the blessings in doing so, but the surprise that awaits is far better!

Pray: Petition for help with all of the other things that you would like to complete each day. Ask for direction for those things that you can let go and are unneeded. Don’t be afraid to make a new tradition, or say no to something that has become unfruitful. Sometimes we have to say no to one thing in order to be free to say yes to another!

St. Ignatius describes the process of discernment as “motions of the soul”. In order to decide between competing ‘goods’ (good vs a greater good)  we must be prayerful, and attentive to the Spirit. Therefore discernment isn’t a choice between good or bad but a better choice that will bring us into a fuller more intimate relationship with Christ. And because of the persuading case that can usually be made for either choice, this decision may be a challenging and be met with resistance. Yet, again some of the hardest battles fought have brought great spiritual rewards.

With this, I have made a few changes to my own checklist. Items that might be expected but not essential will be left off , trusting that God will give me the courage to explain when needed. Other desired tasks that are preempted by more immediate concerns will indeed wait till another day. There is such peace that comes from putting down or relinquishing a “to do”as an obligation and instead choosing to pick up and carry each as a grace.  And never alone..for when we invite God into our busyness, he shares the load.

With Advent Grace,

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Reflect: What is on your checklist today? Are you willing to put aside your list to accept His?

 

Worth Revisiting: The Wit & Wisdom of Waiting

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Psalm 130:5-6 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

This Advent, I begin again by  asking myself a seemingly simple question.. What am I truly waiting for? And while expectantly awaiting the answer, there are, of course,  a myriad of other questions that the very posing of this question precipitates.

Where am I seeking God today and what is it that which fuels my desire in life?

 Am I doing all that is needed to prepare my heart and the place for that which I desire?

So, there is, I believe, an active component to waiting, filled with hope and promise. As well as, the invitation to respond by encountering the present moment-giving our fullest attention to our God who meets us in the midst of our everyday lives.

In the words of the saints and perhaps soon to be saints..

1. Advent is a time of waiting, of expectation, of silence. Waiting for our Lord to be born. A pregnant woman is so happy, so content. She lives in such a garment of silence, and it is as though she were listening to hear the stir of life within her. One always hears that stirring compared to the rustling of a bird in the hand. But the intentness which which one awaits such stirring is like nothing so much as a blanket of silence. – Dorothy Day

2. Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you.
St. Thomas Aquinas

3. Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for… Waiting for God is an active, alert — yes, joyful — waiting. -Fr. Henri Nouwen

4. Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in You.”  St. Augustine of Hippo

5. If we really want prayer, we’ll have to give it time. We must slow down to a human tempo and we’ll begin to have time to listen. And as soon as we listen to what’s going on, things will begin to take shape by themselves….The best way to pray is: Stop. Let prayer pray within you, whether you know it or not.” Thomas Merton

6. If you want God to hear your prayers, hear the voice of the poor. If you wish God to anticipate your wants, provide those of the needy without waiting for them to ask you. Especially anticipate the needs of those who are ashamed to beg. To make them ask for alms is to make them buy it. – St. Thomas of Villanova

—–God waiting for us-

7. When you approach the tabernacle remember that he has been waiting for you for twenty centuries.” – St. Josemaria Escriva

8. He loves, He hopes, He waits. If He came down on our altars on certain days only, some sinner, on being moved to repentance, might have to look for Him, and not finding Him, might have to wait. Our Lord prefers to wait Himself for the sinner for years rather than keep him waiting one instant. -St. Julian Peter Eymard

9. No one is more patient than God our Father, that no one is more understanding and willing to wait. He always invites us to take a step forward, but does not demand a full response if we are not yet ready. He simply asks that we sincerely look at our life and present ourselves honestly before him, and that we be willing to continue to grow, asking from him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve.”                                                 -Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis

10. The devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you. This is a danger for all of us, and so sad, because it is completely the opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you…he loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy.

-St. Teresa of Calcutta

Peace,

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This Advent: Sing with Me

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I have always loved to sing. Whether acapella or accompanied , in the shower, car or kitchen..music carries me through even the smallest of duties. Though my voice is nothing extraordinary, it has purpose and passion in every note and tune carried. It takes heart that when it is lifted in praise to its Creator that truly our prayerful petitions are amply doubled. In fact, it was in children’s choir at my church that I first discovered the diversity of gifts and the power of song to stir the soul and strengthen a community. Through tornado ravaged springs, to drought impacted fields, layoffs and closings, my small church community came together praying and singing of the hope in what was to come.

Yet, so often it seems to me that this sentiment is not shared universally by the average parishioner in the pew. For a variety of reasons given, we come to Mass but hold back in singing.

“No one wants to hear me sing” “I am here to pray, not sing”  “Too modern..too traditional” “There are others who can sing!”

Oh, how we miss the meaning when we do this! It isn’t about the quality or ability of the singer, nor is it about our personal preference of song. Rather, it is our participation and desire to pray, albeit in a different way, to our heavenly Father. It is adding our voice to the community in thanks, and petition for all that we have been given and are in need of. And in Advent, it is honoring the sacredness of God’s very gift of himself to enter into mankind out of his ultimate love for each one of us.

As a child I loved these weeks leading up to Christmas especially. My mom would pull out the Christmas songbook and together we would sing after school or church just the two of us. A few songs I steadily practiced and even clumsily learned to play on the piano, excited to offer some accompaniment. Were we looking for perfection in singing? No, but what we offered was always perfected in Him. We found community in one another, in waiting for what was to come. And to this day, it  remains one of my most cherished memories of Christmas and of her. Eleven years have passed since her death and I now sing with my own family, as well as with those in my new parish home. I can almost hear her ask me again, “Elizabeth Ann, it’s almost Christmas..would you sing with me?”

This Advent, when you gather with your own family, whether in your home parish or another, please take a moment to consider this prayerful invitation of song.

Peace,

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