Worth Revisiting: The Present

The following guest post comes from an Advent Taize service led by my close friend and colleague from Loyola Chicago, Paula Kowalkowski.
Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
                    Luke 1:26-38

The idea for this reflection came to me right after the 4th of July – lots of hot and
humid days – highs in the 90’s. Just a bit different from what we are experiencing
now…..
When an idea comes – grab it, I think.
The word PRESENT came to me as I walked along the residential streets of my
Chicago neighborhood on that summer morning.
The word PRESENT comes from the Latin praesentia – being at hand/being
present. In more modern words, being mindful, being attentive to what is.
It’s an invitation to be present to what is. And what is? We are together in this
season of Advent standing – and sitting – in the presence of our Creator God. We
are in this space at St. Thomas Becket Parish – giving praise, giving thanks, asking
our God to be with us in all things. Things we understand and things we may be
questioning. This is what is. This is being present.

In our Gospel reading, we heard that on that day – so long ago – in Mary’s life, she
was present. If Mary had not been attentive to what was happening – she may
have missed the Angel – she may have missed the message. Mary heard and
listened and responded. Mary did not understand fully what she was being
called to – yet she trusted and we are called to do the same.
— Mary and Martha – Jesus said that Mary chose the greater part/portion.

The word present – means gift, as well.
And oh, what a gift God has given to us – as we wait for this gift once again in this
holy season. This great present of God – as human being, the gift of Jesus – who
was and is and forever more will be – our greatest example of what it is to be a
fully alive human being.

Jesus, the Christ – who is given to us every time we receive him in the Eucharist –
HIS REAL PRESENCE.

God’s ongoing gift of Godself to us and to the world. This
Jesus – this great gift given to us – is life – is truth – is the way and is hope!
The writer of Deuteronomy reminds us that God has put before us life and death
– blessings and curses. And what are we called to do? Choose life! The
abundant life which God provides for us – as we follow and trust God’s
commands and will for us in God’s time, not ours.

I wish you a blessed Advent and joy-filled, abundant Christmas.

Paula

Paula Kowalkowski
Music Director at St. Thomas Becket in Chicago, Illinois ; MA Loyola Chicago

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His Promise

What does God’s promise fulfilled look like to you?

In this season of Advent we travel with Mary to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth. There is both the infinitely salvific promise begun within Mary, a mere 14,  but also the one now visible with Elizabeth believed to be well in her 70s. Like Mary, Elizabeth received her news with an angelic proclamation, and in circumstances when natural conception seemed inconceivable. In contrast, however, Elizabeth had spent a lifetime wrestling faithfully with her desire to be a mother and undoubtedly questioning the working out of God’s will for her life. Yet, here they were together two women promised the seemingly impossible joyfully awaiting its fulfillment.

I remember so clearly the joy my cousin and I shared in discovering that we were both expecting our first child at the same time. Having grown up much like sisters, we had experienced both the wonder and angst of childhood together. Hopes longed for, and prayers lifted became real when confided with one another.  This sororal bond and spiritual friendship serve as the backdrop to the scene that I have long imagined when Mary and Elizabeth meet. And here, Elizabeth was not only a first witness to God’s promise in Mary but also a confirmation of a promise to Mary.

Still this is just the beginning of the working out of God’s promise. Each as mother, one to a prophet and forerunner and the other to the messiah would need to be patient and continuously surrender to God’s will. However, this internal wrestling with just how God’s promise is accomplished should not to be confused with a lack of faith. For, it is difficult to guide someone content to not entreat assistance or who is not willing to participate in the unfolding of their lives. Rather, it is the seeking and discerning heart that is most inclined to growth and transformation.

Perhaps there is a question in your life today that you grapple with, ‘pondering’ as it were just how God will choose to answer. Or even whether or not He chooses to answer it. Do not loose faith but instead you may find consolation in the fact that you are in very good company. For while His promise may be humbly proclaimed in the silence of our hearts and like Elizabeth take a lifetime to be revealed, it is only in the seeking and wrestling that we can give our own fiat to God.

May you find joy in the quest this Advent!

Peace, Signature

 

Worth Revisiting: Be a Witness!

Those close to me know the great joy I receive from helping others. And yet time and time again, God has repeatedly shown immense blessings that could only be found through humility and from the depths of my own need. The following modern story is one such instance, that came to mind in reflecting on Mary’s witness in her own advent journey with the birth of Jesus.

In 1999, in expectation of my second child, both loyalty and confidence in our physician required traveling the distance to our family OBGYN even after we had moved away. Normally, I would have taken the highway back, which made for a much shorter trip. Yet, that day, I felt I was being led to take the longer way which could be upwards of an hour’s drive. God alone knew what was to occur and why it would be so imperative that we be on that road that day.

With a healthy third trimester visit “under my belt”, I headed home exhausted but joyful of what was to come. That is until the sudden jolt and drop of my SUV and the petrifying sound of a complete tire blowout.  Riding it forward to stabilize, then finding the shoulder I had avoided a almost certain collision had I been on the highway. Having witnessed the incident, two other drivers would offer assistance. One of which, seeing my condition walked with us to a nearby home set back a ways from the main road. If she had been in a hurry that day, her calm, kind disposition did not indicate.

Just imagine, if you can, the sight of a very expectant mother knocking on your door with a toddler in hand. Would you welcome their unplanned visit? To my surprise not only did this family offer the use of their phone, but opened their home and hearts as well. With hot cocoa and cookies in hand, we took a seat at the family table and conversed at length while awaiting my husband’s hurried arrival.  We spoke, however, not as strangers but as if we were family and had known each other our whole lives.

Some years ago, my dear friend Barbara who had answered my need that day with a warm smile went home to Jesus. In offering a generous heart to all, she lived her life as a witness to the self-sacrificing love and joy of Christ. Because of her, our families have together celebrated numerous weddings, births and deaths. Through it all, we always loved a tremendous sharing of life and the delight in conversation.

As an interesting footnote, Barbara’s daughter Jeanne was to be the maternity nurse on duty for both of the birth of my younger sons. God knew the blessing that we would each receive, and it was certainly not by chance that we met. As I grow older I realize that sometimes it is in our greatest weakness and need that God is able to bless us the most. This Christmas, may you all truly be a witness, as Barbara was, and welcome in the passerby.

“Witness” by  (my grandpa) Carl Ferrell

He placed his hand upon the head
of a heartbroken child;
The hungry they shared part of his bread-
He cheered them with a smile.

Those who were caught in Satan’s snare,
This man did not disdain,
But lifted them from their despair,
And set them right again.

We serve our God by things we do,
Not by things we say,
His was a life of service , true-
He witnessed every day.

Peace,

Signature

Worth Revisiting: Cleaning House This Advent

You may have heard the expression that “cleanliness is next to Godliness” and without a doubt this would not be a beloved mantra by most. Yesterday just so happened to be my opportunity to catch up on all the neglected household chores of the week. From the kitchen to the bathrooms, floors and counter tops, laundry and mealtime preparation it all lay before me demanding my diligent attention. Were there other things that I would have preferred to be doing on my day off? Most certainly, and make no mistake many of these diversions occupied space in my thoughts as I moved from room to room.

Yet, despite these thoughts, God was also calling me to see his presence both in the work at hand and introspectively in making ready for the season. Thus, advent, it seems to me, is a time of preparation of heart and home for the celebration that is to come. For, in a mere matter of weeks we are to rejoice in the birth of our savior and more than an calendar observation it requires our active participation.

If we are to make a home, a resting place for the Christ child, and a welcome for the visitors who come to see Christ within us what do we need to do this advent?

First, we need to prioritize. Recognizing, that as conflicts arise that we need to put God first. While Christmas shopping, parties, concerts and plays are all enjoyable albeit unavoidable excursions, we cannot forget to make time and space in our days for God. If necessary, put this appointment with God on your calendar. For many, if it is on the calendar it is more likely to be a reality. Then research the availability of local churches for adoration time, healing Masses, and reconciliation that will work the best.

  • “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” Prov 24:27
  • Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me” Heb 10:5

Consider the interior work that needs to be done this Advent season:

  • “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Luke 14:28
  • “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15

Create an Advent action plan:

  • Be determined and serious: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13
  • Spend time with scripture: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Ps 119:105
  • Examine the idols, or misplaced priorities in your life:

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” Prov 3:6

“If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and… direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only.” 1 Sam 7:3-4

  • Seek to be Sanctified and Holy: Are there sins in my life that need to be removed in order for my heart to be a home?  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” 2 Tim 2:20-21
  • Bring others with you on the journey: so that when the Christ child comes we will be a people ready for celebration and joy!  “And he will go before him in the spirit…to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Luke 1:17

Reflect:

What spiritual housekeeping have I been neglecting lately? Have I made time to clean the corners of my heart and prepare a place for Christ this Advent?

Peace,

Signature

The Grace of Vulnerability

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me..
for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Cor. 12:9-10

What does it mean to be vulnerable? From its Latin root, this word has come to symbolize both a state of openness to physical and emotion wounding. We even often refer to the vulnerable as those that are in an undesired place with little to no defenses and in constant need to protection and assistance. So, the idea of grace as a potential gift or, better still, placing ourselves in a position of vulnerability may seem undesired and inconceivable. And yet, time and time again God asks us to do just that, albeit perhaps to a lesser extent. 

What does it mean to be vulnerable? From its Latin root, this word has come to symbolize both a state of openness to physical and emotion wounding. We even often refer to the vulnerable as those that are in an undesired place with little to no defenses and in constant need to protection and assistance. So, the idea of grace as a potential gift or, better still, placing ourselves in a position of vulnerability may seem undesired and inconceivable. And yet, time and time again God asks us to do just that, albeit perhaps to a lesser extent. 

 In seeking to minister to or care for others,  our willingness to become vulnerable can also be of tremendous value. For, listening with our hearts requires a letting go of pride and a seeking to meet one another eye to eye. Knowing that each of us is but one or two steps shy of finding ourselves in a similar circumstance. In this way, we begin to glimpse our commonality and walk with others in the challenges that this journey of life can bring. 

Recently, I sat down with a beautiful family who had just lost a loved one to suicide. As they spoke I heard and experienced the ache and yearning of their questioning souls to probe the reason why. Confusion, regret and intense longing to turn back time had consumed their thoughts and added a profound layer to their grief. This path I knew very well having lost my own brother to suicide 20 years ago. Should I become vulnerable and share, or merely listen and help them through the funeral planning process?

Sensing the Holy Spirit’s urging and guidance I realized that this was indeed a moment for vulnerability. And as I did, visibly their tension eased a bit, each leaned in and God’s grace filled the room. Rather than speaking in overwhelming detail, I touched on our sudden and shared experience of tragic loss. A rip in the fabric of family, suicide is a death considered socially and religiously unacceptable making the grieving all the more difficult. They needed to know, that day, that they were not alone.

Just how vulnerable should I be? 

While vulnerability can be an asset, there often is also a need for a few appropriate boundaries. Far from perfect, we know all too well what revealing our faults, fears, and difficulties can bring. Oversharing can be detrimental both to you and to those you feel led to help. Remember this isn’t about your need to share, as it is their potential need to be helped by what is being said. 

“I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power”

1 Cor. 2:4

And here, though an inner prayerful conversation, is where the Spirit should be given the lead. Though you may still initially wonder if the invitation to vulnerability was well spent, God’s promise is that you will know it by its fruits.  In God’s hands our weakness becomes strength and “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”  are often most fully revealed.  

Peace