All the candles of the Advent wreath are lit.  The house is decked out, the trees are trimmed.  The cookies are baked.

Are you ready for the coming of the Bridegroom?

No, that wasn't a typo.  "But, sister, doesn't Jesus come to us as a little baby at Christmas?"

Then why do we sing Advent songs such as "Wake, O Wake, and Sleep No Longer"?

Wake, O wake, and sleep no longer,
For he who calls you is no stranger;
Awake, God's own Jerusalem!
Hear, the midnight bells are chiming
The signal for his royal coming:
Let voice to voice announce his name!
We feel his footsteps near,
The Bridegroom at the door--
Alleluia! The lamps will shine
With light divine
As Christ the savior comes to reign.

Zion hears the sound of singing;
Our hearts are thrilled with sudden longing;
She stirs, and wakes, and stands prepared.
Christ, her friend, and lord, and lover,
Her star and sun and strong redeemer--
At last his mighty voice is heard.
The Son of God has come
To make with us his home:
Sing Hosanna! The fight is won,
The feast begun;
We fix our eyes on Christ alone.

Jesus comes as a Jewish bridegroom!  In ancient Jewish tradition, after a couple was betrothed they were separated for about a year until the wedding.  The man went to his father's house to build a place for him and his bride to live.  The woman spent the time preparing by learning how to be a wife and mother.  When the groom's father gave his stamp of approval, it was time to get the bride.  At midnight, on a day unknown to the woman, she would be woken by the sound of a shofar(a horn) and a shout: "The Bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him!"  Having her wedding garments on hand, the woman could get ready at a moment's notice.  When she went out to meet her fiancee they would be crowned, for they were considered king and queen during the celebration of their wedding.  Jesus comes, not only as a Bridegroom, but as a King.

Advent is all about preparing.  Yes, we remember the first coming of Christ, but more importantly, we are reminded to be prepared for this second coming.  Christ also speaks as the bridegroom before he ascended into heaven:

"In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be." (Jn 14:2-3)
 "...stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour." (Mt 25:13)

Baby, Bridegroom, King - any way you look at it Jesus came to take us to himself, to reunite us, the Bride, with himself, the Bridegroom.  

In one of his poems, St. John of the Cross imagines the conversation between the Father and the Son before the incarnation: "In perfect love this law holds: that the lover become like the one he loves; for the greater their likeness the greater their delight. Surely your bride's delight would greatly increase were she to see you like her, in her own flesh".

And so, the divine bridegroom came as a lovable, irresistible baby, starting out in the same way we all did, so that He could win our love and trust.
The Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, is immediately followed by Christmas when the Light of the World comes and shines into the darkness of our lives.

During Advent, we sing quite frequently, "Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha!" But what does this really mean to us in our lives? I find in my darkest times in life- times when I am ashamed or afraid or anxious or doubtful- those are the times I need most the saving and loving Light of Christ. Unfortunately, like our fist parents Adam and Eve, when these occasions of sin arise instead of running into the loving arms of Our Lord, I often run away, afraid the Lord will see my own imperfections and sinfulness. Isn't this the world though our Lord willingly came in to save? This world of imperfection and brokenness and darkness. And what is even better! He comes as a little baby so easy to hold and love. "Be not afraid!" How many times do we hear this in the Scriptures? Just as much as we desire for Christ to come to us, He desires us to come to Him.

So, be not afraid! Christ is the light that is never dimmed. He is the Savior who made Himself weak, poor and broken. When we find ourselves in darkness may we always have the courage to say, "Come Lord Jesus! Come into my heart and life of brokenness and darkness. Come be my light! Come make me whole! Maranatha!"

"Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me Lord, a correct faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity, sense and knowledge, so that I may carry out your holy and true command."  -St. Francis of Assisi

                                                                                                                 -Sr. Chiara Joan, novice
I've had the opportunity to visit many, many churches during my first semester serving Franciscan University in Gaming, Austria. Every time I walked in, my goal was to find the tabernacle and pay a visit to Jesus, if only for a moment. But on one visit, instead of a tabernacle, I found a stripped-down, empty room. Nothing but walls and windows, ceilings and floors. It was now just a museum for those interested in 13th-century architecture. It was one of the saddest moments of my semester.

Even when I was in magnificently-decorated Baroque cathedrals, they would have felt absolutely empty without the presence of Jesus. Today, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, it got me to thinking. Mary was the perfect tabernacle for the presence of the Lord, prepared at her conception for Jesus to come and dwell within.

Each of us, flesh and bone that we are, was also made for this purpose. And we are nothing without Him.

These walls will stretch 'till you abide
Vast, vaulted ceilings higher climb
Beams and bricks without you there
Beams and bricks without you living there

This dust was made with you in mind
These stones are but a waiting bride
Empty if not filled with you
Empty if not filled with all of you

Who am I, that my Lord should come to me?
Who am I, that my Lord should dwell inside of me?
Take my body, take my blood
Take these sticks and all this mud
And build a shelter where your heart can come to rest

Basilicas and sanctuaries
Cathedrals, shrines, are just so many
Empty shells without your presence, Lord
Marble, gold I don't possess,
But, Lord, it is my happiness
If you would make this humble heart Your home
Make me your home

So find a candle, strike a flame
And leave it here to light your name
Jesus walks along these halls
Jesus lives and loves between these walls

-Sr. Mary Gemma, T.O.R.

Today marks the ending of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. This year has been a very significant one in my life. This was the year that I came to understand the Lord's mercy as restoration and not condescension. This was the year that the Lord restored my sight to see who I truly am in the eyes of the Lord: a loved sinner, and a precious reflection of the image of God. This was the year that I became Sr. Josephine!

In my personal prayer last summer, as I prepared to enter novitiate, I experienced the Lord asking me to become an icon of His mercy. This was a very significant moment for me. I chose to take on a new name, a new identity, that reflects mercy. I chose the name Josephine in honor of St. Joseph, who is the only Saint who represents God the Father! He was the image of the Father's love for Jesus while He was a child growing up in Nazareth.

Before my retreat prior to entering novitiate, a sister passed along a quote to me from St. Gertrude, in which the saint spoke of the moment when she took the veil. She recalled the scripture passage from Isaiah 61:10:
"For He has clothed me with a robe of salvation,  
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,  
like a bride bedecked with her jewels. "
 As I prayed with this quote, I felt the very strong sense that the bridal veil that I was going to receive in a few days time was the Father's robe, his mantle of justice- a symbol of His mercy! It is the same robe that the Merciful Father extends to the prodigal son upon his return home (Luke 15:22).

That, my friends, is just what our habit is - a symbol of His mercy!

 St. Francis wanted his followers, above all, to be recognized as penitents. A group of his first followers asked him, "What should we say to people when they ask what we are?" Francis' response was, "Tell them you are penitents from Assisi."

In the middle ages, the Church asked many people who had committed serious sins, such as murder and adultery, to do penance in a public way before they could be fully received into the sacramental life of the Church again. These men and women, known as penitents, donned a gray tunic and lived simple and austere lives of chastity and poverty in reparation for their sins. Their penances would last several months or sometimes years.

In time, people who had not committed serious sins joined the penitential movement because they felt called to offer their lives and do penance in reparation for their own sins and for those of others. These new penitents dressed the same way and lived the same life as those who had committed more serious sins, and there were no distinctions between the two groups. St. Francis was one of these penitents, and his followers followed him in choosing to embrace a life of ongoing penance and conversion.

As a Franciscan Sister, I am choosing to live the life of a penitent. I am choosing to wear the veil and the gray jumper, not because I am holy but because I am a sinner. I am a sinner who knows that she is loved, and I want others to know the merciful love of God. I am choosing to be an icon of mercy for the Church and for the world.

Sr. Josephine,  Novice

What is the message of Divine Mercy - what was this Year of Mercy all about?  In one word: trust.  The phrase "Jesus I trust in You", sums it all up.

Going forward, how do we live concretely this trust in Jesus, how do we live out trust in his mercy every day?  Fr. Michael Gaitley tells a story in a couple of his books that gives the answer to this question.  Fr. Gaitley was just coming to realize that consoling the heart of Jesus is all about trust.  Fr. Seraphim Michalenko asked him how one lives out trust.  When Fr. Gaitley couldn't answer him, Fr. Seraphim wisely said, "The way you live trust is by praise and thanksgiving, to praise and thank God in all things.  That's what the Lord said to St. Faustina."

St. Faustina is just one of countless Saints who have learned this lesson.  And it seems that each one of us must discover the path to trust in our own unique way.  I just finished reading an incredible book called One Thousand Gifts, in which Ann Voskamp writes about her journey to trust through a life of Thanksgiving.

"Trust is everything" - this sounds like a line from St. Faustina's Diary but it's actually from Voskamp's book.  She writes about her profound discovery that trust is fundamental to salvation. "Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism."  When we live under the illusion that we are in control, we allow worry and anxiety to control us.  A lack of trust shows a lack of belief in God's goodness.

Recently a volunteer at Samaritan House lamented:  "The Year of Mercy is almost over and I haven't done anything!"

Perhaps many of you are feeling like this.  If so the sister's response is for you too: "It's not about doing anything, it's about receiving."

When we consciously practice gratitude and praise we are receiving God's gifts and acknowledging that everything is a gift from Him.  Gratitude helps us to see and remember all that God has done, the ways He has taken care of us.  By doing this, we see that He can be counted on, that we can trust in Him.  "Thanks is what builds trust."  And this, this is precisely why Jesus left us Himself in the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving.  This is why He told us: "Do this in remembrance of me."  The cross is the ultimate sign that we can trust in God - of His love for us that knows no limits.  Because, if He "did not spare his own Son - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32)

"What if I opened the clenched hands wide to receive all that is?  A life that receives all of God in this moment?"  What would that look like?

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (Jn 10:10)

Trust that God is Good.

-Sr. Magdala Marie, TOR
“Our dead are among the invisible, not among the absent.” ~Saint Pope John Paul II

Today we celebrate All Saints and tomorrow we celebrate All Souls. The whole month of November is dedicated specifically to remember, honor and pray for our beloved deceased. Lord, for your faithful people life is changed not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven (Preface 1 for Masses for the Dead).

We know our dead are not absent because of the love we felt for them when they were alive, and the love still in our hearts after they are gone – the tears, and grief we experience is because of the love that is still alive in our hearts. Though we cannot see them, we believe that they are with us. (CCC 962)

I remember the first time this communion of saints was realized for me personally. There were times I would sit in Church and look at all the empty seats (especially the one next to me where my late husband used to sit) and I would think "if only these seats were filled". Soon after that I was told a story about those “empty seats”. A priest once said at a funeral that those seats aren't truly empty for when we gather, we gather in communion with the angels and the saints. In our presence are the angels and the saints filling in the "empty seats", praying with us. “Our dead are among the invisible, not among the absent” (Saint Pope John Paul II). You never know who you might have sitting next to you in church! 

Their love and prayers are more perfect than they ever were on earth – purified of all selfishness and only desiring the will of God.  "Those in heaven have been purged of all selfishness, and their love has become the love of God Himself. They watch over us with eager care and pray that we shall come to a good end" (Bishop Patrick Ahern,
Maurice & Therese).

As the Saints can pray and intercede for us so can the poor souls, but can we pray for them? Yes! What prayers can we offer for the Holy Souls, those souls who are in need of further purification?  The greatest prayer is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. “Let the love and compassion for your neighbor lead you to the holy table; for nothing is so well calculated to obtain eternal rest for the holy souls” (St. Bonaventure). 

We can pray the Rosary for the poor souls, and for those who are in the dying process consider praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Jesus said to St. Faustina "My daughter, encourage souls to say the chaplet which I have given to you. It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet. ... Write that when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior” (Diary, 1541). 

No prayers will be wasted; there are many souls who are forgotten, lost, or who have no one to pray for them.

May we all be renewed in our devotion to prayer for our beloved deceased, not only during this month of November, but every day. May we pray for those who loved us when we knew them here on earth and to those who still love us in heaven – even more perfectly.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

I walk in and find myself immediately flooded with many tasks to do.

While people come over to say hello and give hugs, I'm given instructions for the day. Before I can start any of these tasks, I have an unhappy customer complaining about this or that and two people waiting to receive food and clothing assistance. This might seem like a mad house, but it's really just another day at Samaritan House, a thrift store and emergency food bank our sisters assist at in Downtown Steubenville.

After meeting with a client in need of food and clothing, I soon find out they can't find much of what they are looking for in the way of clothes. I make up a list of their needs and decide to run downstairs where we have a bit of an "overflow" supply. As soon as I step our of the door, another client is awaiting clothing assistance. Asking him to please wait, I ask one of our volunteers to fill out the food order for the first client while I run downstairs to find clothing. It's been a few years since she's done an order, so we decide to do it together. When I come back upstairs, there are more people asking for food and clothing assistance and people wanting to know if we help with this, that or the other. The other sister I'm working with comes to the rescue and helps some of the people needing assistance. I hear glass shatter behind me. The first client says none of the clothes I brought up would work and they will come back another day. I desperately seek out the shattered glass being told by 3 people they heard it shatter from 3 different spots. As I was searching for the glass, I realized the clothing I brought up needed to go back downstairs. Once finding the glass nestled between some boxes on the floor, I begin to do clean up. As soon as I begin, I receive a phone call. When 3:00 hit (the time we usually pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet), I found myself in the middle of a clothing order, needing to take clients downstairs for their needs, finding no rest even at that time. I was starting to wonder -- is this what a mother of many young children feels like?

With so many tasks to be done and not enough time to do it. Never have I wanted to receive the gift of bilocation so badly. Being overwhelmed on days like this is an understatement.

The rest of my day continued in a similar fashion with many people needing assistance and only two of us to meet the many demands of the day. Before I knew it, my 2 1/2 hour shift was over and it was time to clean up and go home. Our usual clean-up crew however went home early, leaving Sr. Maria Clare and me to fend for ourselves, taking us twice as long as normal.

On days like this I can't help but wonder, "Lord, did I really make a difference today? Did I really build up Your kingdom today, feeling very overwhelmed and running around like a mad woman attempting to give everyone the love and attention they need while still getting my work done? Is sweeping up shattered glass and sorting through clothes really sanctifying myself and others?" 

The Lord gave me a very beautiful word for the beginning of this year -- that faithfulness to the little things we do in life is our path to sanctification.

When we change diapers, hold our tongue with the co-worker who rubs us the wrong way, love our spouse and children in the midst of a hectic day, study for an exam, or do dishes for our parents, we are showing the love of Christ.

I realized on this day that being with the clients who come in won't solve their problems. They will still be poor, still be hungry, still be sick. Mopping the floor isn't exactly bringing about world peace, but little acts done with great love does build up the body of  Christ in a mystical fashion we will never fully grasp on this side of Heaven. The smile from the high-schooler who had been living in a bad situation for months; the relief of a mother to have food for a few weeks for her children; the love and attention received when answering a question for someone; the grandmother whose eyes fill with tears because she knows her granddaughter will have adequate clothing; none of these are earth shattering! They are all the product of simple acts done with love.

At the end of this very hard and trying day, I read a letter from one of the clients at Samaritan House ensuring us of her love for us and calling us "angels sent from God". I don't know about being angelic, but we can all be saints when we live a life of faithfulness to our vocation. No matter how monotonous, trying or difficult our daily tasks may be, we are all called to sainthood. We are all called to love.

"Jesus said love one another. He didn't say love the whole world. If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one... Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person... Intense love does not measure; it just gives. If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  -St. Teresa of Calcutta

                                                                                                                       -Sr. Chiara Joan, novice

Powered by Blogger.