1st Sunday of Advent Reflection

1st Sunday of Advent – Reflection



Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12 – 4:2; Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36



It’s here: the rush between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There’s presents to buy, cards to write, food to cook, family to invite, travel arrangements to make, and all on top of our already full schedules!  Now we have to deal with phone bills plus a Christmas pageant, work plus big family dinners, household chores and holiday decorations.  Stress levels run high this time of year; anxieties multiply.  These anxieties can numb our hearts.  Jesus warns us: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from…the anxieties of daily life.”

Perhaps we already long for the end of the holiday season like Jeremiah longs for a new king of Israel.  If we scratch the surface of both longings we might discover our real longing: our hearts really and truly long for God.  We are made for God and our hearts won’t rest until they rest in the Mystery of God.  That’s what we really want.  The church recognizes this yearning and explores it in the season of Advent, the season we begin today.  This hunger for God is what Advent is all about.  It is about setting our hearts on their true desire: God.

Advent is about opening to Divine Light, the Light of the world revealed in and as Jesus Christ.  Jesus calls us to share in this Godly light by realizing each and every one of us is one with God no matter what we have done and despite our past history or anything else we could come up with as an excuse for thinking God is far away from us.  You see, the heart of the Gospel is mysticism: realizing oneness with God, knowing God as Jesus knows God, sharing in Jesus’ oneness with God.  The great news is that we already have this oneness and intimacy with God but we do not know it or enjoy it.  We have to open to this oneness and become enlightened.  The first step is getting in touch with what we deeply desire.

But so much in our lives can muddy the waters of desire, so much daily and holiday anxiety can make our hearts sleepy and scattered; we can get so preoccupied with all the things we have to do before Christmas.  Furthermore, we can be overly comfortable with a business as usual approach to the Christmas season: just chugging along with little awareness of the moment or other people or even our own desires.

In all this anxiety and holiday rush, Jesus speaks: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  Our worlds will end.  I do not think this passage is about THE end of the world so much as it is about the end of our private little worlds.  Jesus is saying that we should not depend on those worlds.  He is saying that when everything seems to be going to hell, “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand,” which we might paraphrase as “trust in God who is with you and one with you amidst tragedy and chaos and difficulties.”
Jesus uses powerful symbols of destruction to wake up our sleepy hearts.  He knows we can go through life on cruise control and forget what really matters.  He calls us to lift up our hearts to God, which means our hearts have to wake up!  So, Jesus speaks this way to disrupt the status quo of our sleepy hearts.  Business as usual – the normal anxieties of everyday life as much as the holiday anxieties that pile up on top of the rest – can put our hearts to sleep and keep us from enjoying God in this very moment.  And, enjoying God in this very moment is what “prayer” means.

Jesus shakes us out of our all-too-comfortable and overly-preoccupied little worlds and tells us to pray.  Pray because these little worlds will come to an end.  They aren’t forever and we shouldn’t invest our time or energy or life in them because if we do we will fall apart along with these little worlds.  We pray to find the one true center of life.  In finding this divine center we will know some stability during difficult times.

One of the twentieth century’s greatest theologians, the German Jesuit priest Karl Rahner once said, “Many have entered the Kingdom of God without the sacraments.  None have entered without prayer.”  No one enters God’s kingdom without prayer because prayer is our relationship with God.  Rahner echoes Jesus’ teaching in this Gospel to be vigilant and pray always.  Prayer, living our relationship with God, includes a wide variety of practices and styles: saying prayers, using our imaginations, conversing with God, resting in God in a silence deeper than our thinking, and many others.  Still, all prayer is delightful and prayer is easy.

Prayer is delightful.  Prayer focuses on God alone, who is our real happiness.  Our hearts get what they really and truly desire.  To pray is to enter into infinite joy, because God is our joy.  God is Joy itself.  We are simply delighting in our God.  Thomas Aquinas said it well: loving God means enjoying God for God’s sake.  Prayer is a joy, because it focuses us on THE joy of our lives: God.  “My happiness lies in you alone, O God,” say the Psalms.

Prayer is easy.  You don’t need anything or any place in particular to do it because God is always with you – within you, one with you!  Prayer is as easy as breathing, as being right here and right now.  The only rule is: pray as you can and not as you can’t.  Do what works for you.  Just practice what today’s Psalm says, “To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.”  Lift up your soul to God in whatever way you can.  It need not mean concentration.  Talk and listen.  Just be, just nothing.  Prayer can be saying nothing, thinking nothing, being nothing.  About prayer the German mystic Meister Eckhart has said: “sink down out of something into nothing,” meaning let go of all self-preoccupation and sink into the nothingness of God.

Of course, we make prayer complicated.  We think of prayer, often, as one more thing to do.  We think it is for the saints.  We make it something beyond us.  Prayer becomes an item on our to-do lists.  We want to pray more but feel depressed when our desire falls short of reality.  Or, we just don’t want to do it at all.  We’d rather watch the game or a movie, or just go to sleep.  It may feel like a waste of time.  We don’t want our comfortable little worlds to end; we hold onto our private habits, our me time.  So, we suffer the consequences: boredom, listlessness, burnt out, and an unfulfilled feeling.  Our hearts get drowsy.  Our lives settle on cruise control.

So, Jesus has to wake us up and tell us to “be vigilant at all times and pray.”  It will change our lives!  But, don’t take my word for it.  Pray and see how it is delightful and easy.  Do it right now.  Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and allow your mind to become quiet.  Whenever some thought grabs your attention, just breathe and return to this interior silence in faith.  Take a few moments to be in God in silence right now.  This is what Jesus means by being vigilant and praying always.  It is to be in God’s Presence through interior silence.  Here we have the heart of the Gospel: to simply love God as God within your very soul, and to let that interior silence spill over into daily life as you go shopping, enjoy Christmas parties, pay bills, spend time with family, and check off things on your to-do list.  Let God be God in all of these and all other areas of your life, but starting within.

The message today is simple: pray; connect to God, your heart’s true desire.  Pray and the anxieties of this holiday season won’t overwhelm you.  When you get anxious, pray.  When you get bored, pray.  When you get confused, uncertain, grateful, excited, pray.  Pray and you will be able to handle and even thrive in chaos, disorder, and the end of your private world.  Pray and know the freedom that comes from being in relationship with God, a freedom from the grip of worry, busy-ness, selfish comfort, and the boredom of the status quo.  Pray and you will be happy, for you will be giving your heart what it really wants, who it really wants, God.


Divine Mercy

How often do we speak of mercy? How often do we seek it? Perhaps we do not realize how much we need it? Mercy, divine mercy, is central to our faith and yet we all act as though we do not need it. Why? At least one reason is that our contemporary society’s obsession with technology promises instantaneous control. The underlying principle of our use of technology seems to be: I can do what I want when I want. When I am in control I have no need for anything else. I am getting by just fine. Now, this attitude has been around as long as humans have existed, but, it seems 21st century technology highlights the issue. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy technology on a daily basis. I can get on my iPhone anytime I want and have access to a perfectly designed world of images, text, and communication. Perhaps it is this “perfect world” on our smart phones’ screens that we need to pay attention to? Mercy has to do with being carried away into love despite our imperfections. Indeed, God’s mercy has to do with the full acceptance of each one of us as we are – with all our weaknesses, imperfections, and sins. When we inhabit mercy, we are not in control. When we dwell in mercy – through prayer, Mass and the sacraments, reading scripture, being present to another person, being present to God in the silence of faith – we come face-to-face with our failings and discover that God loves us precisely there! Being plugged into a perfect world may blind us to an great liberation that can happen anywhere and anytime without the need for WiFi access! This liberation is the acceptance of and surrender to divine mercy, a liberation that frees us to be ourselves, to be more at home in ourselves, and to be God’s mercy for others.


Happiness as Mystical Nothingness

Happiness is the state of no-mind, interior nowhere-ness, nothingness.  Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit (those who are in the state of interior nothingness), for theirs is the kingdom (the realization of the ultimate happiness of oneness with God) (Mt.5:3).  All forms of prayer eventually lead to silence, interior nothingness and no-where-ness.  It is a state of detachment and freedom in which you identify with nothing.  Joy springs up naturally because joy is within you.  And joy is within you because God is within you.  In the nothingness of prayer God emerges from deep within.  So, pray.  Pray deeply.  Pray beyond the mind in the silence of nothingness.  Happiness is the state of interior nothingness.  It is a state we receive through deep prayer and that opens us to inner freedom and joy.  In prayer God naturally leads us here.  Now, recall what Jesus says about violence and the Christian response in the Sermon on the Mount: offer no resistance to one who is evil.  When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. (Mt.5:38)  The two teachings are intimately related.  The one who is nothing, “poor in spirit,” is able to live nonviolently because that person is realizing oneness with God.  And, to be one with God is to be one with all people, all creation.  It is to act as God acts: nonviolently and with compassion.  Dwelling in mystical nothingness we can absorb aggression instead of reacting to it.  Interior nothingness allows us to absorb another’s aggression without the knee-jerk reaction of violence in return, because we are free from the emotions and thoughts that force us into the pattern of violent behavior.  This is a tall order when faced with the kind of violence we are encountering at an alarmingly high rate: random shootings.  As Christians I believe Jesus is calling us to this state of nothingness or poverty of spirit, to experience our oneness with God so we can respond with compassion and not with more violence.  All-too-often that is how we want to respond to violence: with more violence.  This, however, will only create more violence.  Jesus is calling us to break the cycle by “turning the other cheek,” that is not reacting to violence with more violence but responding with gratuitous mercy – overcoming evil with good.  But, I think we can do this only from a place of inner freedom and joy, which is the experience of being one with God who IS gratuitous mercy.  I pray we can let God in to our lives by entering into a state of inner nothingness so we can act with gratuitous mercy at this time of rising violence in our country and around the world.  It is the only way beyond violence.  It is God’s way.


The last shall be first

In weakness, failure, losing, confusion, poverty, stupidity, and oppression we are predisposed to opening to God in Christ through the Spirit because all these experiences are a share in the crucifixion.  This is the reversal Jesus proclaims in his parables of God’s reign.  The last shall be first.  The first are those whose lives are so together they do not see the need for God.  They do not realize where ultimate happiness lies.  They are under illusion and the only way to break them of this illusion is to actually break them open through participation in Christ’s passion and death on the cross.  But, the last are those already crushed, marginalized, and oppressed.  These last ones can be the poor of the third world, all who experience the evils of racism, women suffering from the evils of sexism, the depressed, the socially awkward, the disabled, prisoners, the elderly—the list goes on and on.  They are crucified—all of them.

As Richard Rohr says, We don’t go to God by doing it right; we go to God by doing it wrong.  It is only in experiences of losing and failure that we realize how utterly dependent, fragile, and weak we are.  It is those moments that are a potential sharing in the crucifixion of Christ.  Jesus tells us to rejoice in those moments because it is another opportunity for transformation.  And we don’t need to seek them out because life throws these curve balls at us all the time.  Suffocating boredom, intense loneliness, those moments when life simply falls apart—rejoice in these moments because it is in them that God frees us.  It is in these moments that we learn to fall into the mystery of God.  God is found in the most painful, sinful, uncomfortable, and negative experiences of life—that’s what the cross says!  And, we would never expect to find God there.  True life comes through death journeys wherein we realize who God is for us—the God of liberating, gratuitous, mysterious love.  And we die with Christ—we die with, through, and in God.

Imagine that all you hold dear in your life is taken from you.  What if you lost your home?  Your job?  Your plans for the future?  These are the circumstances of your life—they are NOT your life.  And sometimes it takes an experience of loss to help us realize that.  God calls us to fall through our life situation—our circumstances—into our LIFE: the ever-present mystery of God.  Jean Pierre de Caussade says, “rejoice every time you discover an imperfection because then you have to fall into the hands of the living God.


Purity of Heart

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.  Purity means singleness.  It may be better translated as “Blessed are those whose heart is undivided.”  This beatitude is about oneness and surrendering to realize oneness.

            The heart is the biblical symbol for the inner person: our innermost consciousness.  To be single in consciousness is to be attentive first, foremost, and ultimately to the Divine Presence.  We must ask ourselves to what or to whom do we give our most precious gift, our presence?  In other words, what occupies our attention?   We are to shift our attentiveness to the present moment because God is always right here, right now.  The call of purity of heart is to be one with God in the here and now.  If we are centered on God we will perceive God in all.  From our presence to God we are able to be present to others, and this is compassion.


Getting out of our heads

We cannot think our way into an intimate relationship with God.  Because God is mystery, God escapes our thinking.  Thinking can be a portal into God, but it often becomes the only way we approach God.  When we think about God, we end up experiencing God as some “thing” out there – in the far-off heavens above or just plain out-of-this-world.  Thoughts about God make God appear, as St. Theophan the Recluse says, “outside you.” Intimacy with God means knowing God within you as well as beyond you.  Theophan is but one of a horde of holy people who testify that thinking about God is a difficulty if you want to be one with God.  He and others suggest unknowing: communing with God beyond the thinking mind in a loving state of interior silence.