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Don Justo, RIP

On this first Sunday of Advent, Don Justo Gallego Martinez passed away.

Don Justo was the man (96 years old when he died) who was, almost single-handedly, building a “cathedral” in a community outside of Madrid, using whatever materials he could find. We visited the site in 2019 – it was lunchtime, so we were not able to go inside, unfortunately. But my post on it is here, and here are some photos.

It was astonishing – far bigger than I’d expected. I also thought it would be out in a field somewhere, but no, it’s right there in the middle of the town. It wasn’t open when we went, but we were able to see enough, including inside, to get a good sense of it, be impressed and be humbled.

It is somehow fitting that Don Justo passed away on the first Sunday of Advent, the season in which we’re called to wake up to the present moment and the presence of our savior right in this present moment – not in a future which we decide is more appropriate, but now.

What will we build in this life, and of this life, equipped by what the Lord offers right now?

Coincidentally, just a few days ago, I read this article in Lonely Planet about the future of the structure, since Don Justo was in failing health. Short version: the Archdiocese of Madrid wanted nothing to do with it – shocked face, I know – but another Catholic group has taken the lead, and it seems will fulfill the vision, and then some.

Before becoming bedridden, Gallego tried to bequeath the cathedral to the Catholic Church, but his donation was refused. He then passed the cathedral on to López, who was at a loss about how to deal with the authorities. López gifted the rather cumbersome inheritance to Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace), a Catholic NGO that works with Madrid’s unhoused population. When things were made official this summer, the organization wasted little time commissioning a survey from Calter, an engineering firm that has worked on high-profile projects, such as Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium.

The news that the firm had declared the building structurally sound was announced in the Spanish press on November 9. Though Gallego was unavailable to comment, those close to him affirm that he is delighted with the news that, barring four cupolas that were demolished the week before last, Calter looks ready to sign off on the building….

….Father Ángel García Rodríguez, founder and president of the Mensajeros de la Paz, is confident that Calter together with the town council will officially sign off on the building by Christmas, when he hopes to put on a concert to celebrate…

….

One thing for certain is that officials from the Catholic Church will not be attending any event in the cathedral, with the Archdiocese of Madrid still refusing to visit despite repeated invitations.

“They pretty much ignore us,” López said. “Well, now I have Mensajeros de la Paz.” …

….

Putting a positive spin on matters, Father Ángel has decided to make Gallego’s cathedral an inclusive space: “It’s not going to be a normal cathedral. Instead, it’ll be a place for men and women to gather. Those who believe and those who don’t will be able to come in. As it’s not a normal cathedral, the bishop won’t be involved.”

Famous for opening the doors of his church to those in need and for running a restaurant offering the unhoused a dignified dining experience, Father Ángel is a well-known figure in Spain. With his media savvy, many think he is exactly the sort of person the cathedral needs as a champion and, in general, locals are delighted that Father Ángel’s group has saved the building.

The Advent of a Plan

The Scriptures and prayers we hear and say during the season of Advent are not, of course, just cobbled together. It’s not a random mix of Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist and, late in the game, some Mary.

In the days of the older lectionary, there was not a three-year cycle, but one. People argue about the relative merits of each, but the ancient way, it seems to me, benefits from simplicity, clarity and focus. Yes, the three-year cycle exposes us to a broader range of Scripture, but loses some of that grounding and paradoxically, can lose some richness.

(At the bottom of this post are some scans of an older Mass book I have, for comparison. More details below)

Anyway, one of the few older Catholic websites that’s still a) operating and b) useful and c) not filled with dead links is Fr. Felix Just SJ’s lectionary site. It’s very old-school in presentation, and very easy to navigate as a result. Here’s his Advent page, which is a concise source of information, including his summary of the themes of each of the Sundays of Advent.

  • First Sunday of Advent – The readings look forward to the “End Times” and the coming of the “Day of the Lord” or the “Messianic Age”; the Gospel is an excerpt from the Apocalyptic Discourse of Jesus in one of the Synoptic Gospels.
  • Second Sunday of Advent – The Gospel readings focus on the preaching and ministry of John the Baptist as the precursor or forerunner of Jesus, the one who came to “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” by calling the people to turn back to God.
  • Third Sunday of Advent – The Gospel readings continue to focus on John the Baptist, who talks about the one who is to come after him, while the first and second readings convey the joy that Christians feel at the world’s salvation through the incarnation of thje Savior.
  • Fourth Sunday of Advent – The Gospels tell of the events that preceded and prepared for the birth of Jesus, including the dreams of Joseph (Year A), the Annunciation (Year B), and the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Year C).

More from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, including part of the table of contents. I keep bringing this to your attention because I think it’s so important to teach children to read Scriptures with the heart of the Church, and, conversely, to experience the liturgical year through the Scriptures. That’s how the book is organized.

First page of the entry
Last page

You can get a good preview of the book here.

(And Signs and Symbols at the same site, here)

Below are scans of some pages from Parish Mass Book and Hymnal, which was a missal for the new Mass, celebrated beginning the first Sunday of Advent, 1965. However, the revised lectionary was not promulgated until 1969, so the Scripture readings are traditional. As I said, I have a copy, and it’s a nice, compact little volume, but you can peruse the whole thing via archive.org here.

Wake up!

It’s Advent!

I’ve posted about Advent over the past few days. Some of it’s new, most of it’s been old. I reposted the old stuff before Advent actually began in order to force myself to, well, awaken, and not be so lazy.

I’ve actually been thinking about Advent rather intensively over the past week because the current writing project that’s due (gulp) in mid-January involves some Advent, as well as other things. But yes, Advent. So I’ve been reading and contemplating and trying to figure out how to bring the great stuff I’ve been reading down to a simpler level. It’s in my head. Soon to be released and replaced with…another liturgical season. Hopefully this week, or else I’m in trouble.

Anyway, what has been hitting me is the extreme present-ness of Advent. We begin a new liturgical year, and so another walk with Christ through his life and ministry, and so, well, here we are. Well more to the point….

Over the next year, you’ll be journeying with Christ, being taught and formed by him. Well, here he is. Right now.

It begins with an acknowledgment of need. For this first Sunday of Advent, in every cycle, is a cry. Where are you? Are you absent or am I not present?

All that I busy myself with? All that surrounds me? It offers hints, but that’s all. And sometimes it’s even an obstacle. To be awake, as Jesus warns, means to at once recognize the signs, but not be fooled by them. What a complicated tapestry. The Lord incarnate, present, merciful, and present in the midst of life. We are surrounded by signs of this presence, but before we know it, the signs can become idols and even distract us. Finding God in all things can so easily become Make gods of all things. If we’re not careful.

Advent seems, on its face, to be a simple season. “Prepare for Christmas.” It’s not, of course. Not only about “preparing for Christmas” and not simple. One of my favorite bloggers, the Clerk of Oxford, wrote about the layers of Advent a few years ago, reflecting on the image of Christ as a “golden blossom” or jewel:

...from the beginning,
from the origin of the world, foreknowing men
with their wise wits, prophets of the Lord,
holy ones sage in spirit, spoke to men
often, not once only, of that noble child:
how the precious stone should
come into the world as refuge and comfort
to all the race of men, the ruler of glory,
beginner of bliss, through the noble woman.

The idea of Christ as a jewel is a rich and resonant one, even before you add in all the extra connotations Tolkien bestowed on the word arkenstone. But the image of a ‘golden blossom’ resonates too, in an Advent context: think of all those medieval texts in which Christ is described as the flower growing from the root of Jesse, which blooms in the depth of winter, when earthly leaves are withered and dying. And since this homily also describes the heavens being burst open (heofonas tohlidon) at Christ’s coming, we might think particularly of the passage from Isaiah used in Advent: ‘Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bud forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together.’

However you choose to understand goldbloma, both translations produce interpretations full of meaning. The ancient understanding of Advent was as a season rich with interpretative possibilities: the season for reading ‘the signs of the times’, interpreting the natural world as if it were a book in which God had written a revelation of his purpose, and for reading Christian meaning into the prophecies and poetry of the Old Testament. Advent gives us images which are both/and, not either/or: all the many names given to Christ in this season (king, daystar, root of Jesse, key of David) are to be understood as facets of the truth, not its entirety. For a medieval reader, Advent could be knotty and paradoxical, speaking simultaneously of the beginning and the end of time, of an all-powerful but helpless baby, of the verbum infans, the speechless Word.

Today there’s a lot of cultural pressure to give up on the more complex aspects of Advent, to focus on the easy bits of the Christmas story, on the principle that it’s ‘what people want’. I always half feel as if I ought to apologise for posting medieval texts about Advent during Advent, rather than just tweeting pretty Nativity scenes every day. That’s what people want, apparently – and then they say they’re tired of Christmas before the Black Friday sales have even finished. That’s not surprising, if we go along with the idea that there’s nothing more to Christmas than the sweet simplicity of ‘Away in a Manger’. But after a year in which everyone has been anxiously and insistently reading the signs of the times, trying to decide if 2016 is ‘the worst year in history’ and anticipating imminent apocalypse, this seems like a particularly good moment to remember that people have asked these questions before. People have been thinking and writing about the end times for thousands of years, and over the last two thousand years they have done so particularly in December, while preparing to commemorate the coming of Christ. They have looked at the world around them, and seen so much suffering and injustice that they believed it could only be remedied by the heavens being burst open, pierced by the power of perfect love, justice, and mercy. That story has been told so many times that its details have become over-familiar, but an image like this anonymous homilist’s ‘golden blossom’ has the ability to make it strange and new again.

My post on a similar theme.

…our solemn valleys..

Charm with your stainlessness these nights in Advent, holy spheres,
While minds, as meek as beasts,
Stay close at home in the sweet hay;
And intellects are quieter than the flocks that feed by starlight.

“Advent” by Thomas Merton

I’ve been posting on Advent today, and why? Because it’s coming, and as the wisdom of Catholic tradition teaches us, we don’t just prepare for the feast – we prepare for the preparation.

Praying with the Church over the past weeks, we’ve seen and heard that, as the Scriptures and prayers of the liturgy nudge us towards considering those Last Things, what awaits us personally and cosmically.

It will end.

So what do we do now?

Advent has a number of dimensions and layers. But amid all of them, shuffling through the layers of past, present and future, we keep being brought around to that center, which is, indeed, right at the center: now.

The now of you and your life, the now of this world’s careening, spinning existence.

Amid the general dis-ease, uneasiness, division and frustration that seems to mark so many of our lives now, it seems to me there’s a singular constant: the suspicion, if not outright conviction, that we’re enveloped by narratives, most of them false and many maliciously so, by tales we’re being told from all sides, and that it’s all coming so relentlessly, we don’t have the time or the expertise to tease out fact from fiction, to fight through the narratives to figure out, and most importantly, live in what’s just…real.

Can Advent help?

Thomas Merton wrote a lot of poetry. A stanza from his poem “Advent” is at the top of this post. You can read the entire poem here. Perhaps sit with it for a minute – even just the verse up at the top there. What the necessary stance for an Advent that’s more than just “preparation?”

minds, as meek as beasts…

….close at home….

intellects…quieter than the flocks…

Instead of pride, meekness. Instead of endless activity of the spirit, staying still, at home. Instead of noisy striving, quiet.

And perhaps in that quiet, away from the narratives, we can hear the truth. Not a truth of later, or someday or the end of time, but the truth of now.

As I mentioned a bit ago, Merton collected some of his liturgical writing in Seasons of Celebration. One chapter is called “Advent: Hope or Delusion?”

In it, Merton emphasizes the present part of the Advent equation:

The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.

It is important to remember the deep, in some ways anguished seriousness of Advent, when the mendacious celebrations of our marketing culture so easily harmonize with our tendencey to regard Christmas, consciously or otherwise, as a return to our own innocence and our own infancy. Advent should remind us that the “King Who is to Come” is more than a charming infant smiling (or if you prefer a dolorous spirituality, weeping) in the straw. There is certainly nothing wrong with the traditional family jours of Christmas, nor need we be ashamed to find ourselves still able to anticipate them without too much ambivalence. After all, that in itself is no mean feat.

But the Church in preparing us for the birth of a “great prophet,” a Savior and a King of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The Advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, of history, of man, of the world and of our own being. In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies. Our Advent faith is not an escape from the world to a misty realm of slogans and comforts which declare our problems to be unreal, our tragedies inexistent…

…St. Gregory the Great said that all Christians should continue the prophetic mission of John (the Baptist) and point out the presence of Christ in the world. This may mean many different things. John was able to point out Christ at the Jordan, in a moment of fulfillment, which gave meaning to his whole life.  But John also had to witness to Christ in prison, in the face of death, in failure, when even the meaning of his other glorious moment seemed to have been cancelled out.

So, too, we may at times be able to show the world Christ in moments when all can clearly discern in history, some confirmation of the Christian message. But the fact remains that our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope. What is uncertain is not the ‘coming’ of Christ but our own reception of him, our own readiness and capacity to ‘go forth to meet him.’ We must be willing to see Him and acclaim Him, as John did, even at the very moment when our whole life’s work and meaning seem to collapse. Indeed, more formidable still, the Church herself may perhaps be called upon some day to point out the Victorious Redeemer and King of Ages amid the collapse of all that has been laboriously built up by the devotion of centuries and cultures that sincerely intended to be Christian.

…The secret of the Advent mystery is then the awareness that I begin where I end because Christ begins where I end.

How much of our lives do we spend convinced that the Real Me can only be born in different circumstances, in a change, in progress, in something – anything – that is just not now or the way things are?

How much of our lives are defined and shaped by narratives, created and imposed by any number of forces, not one of them God?

Advent is, once again, that gift of a moment in time to settle in with the People of God, journeying in the wilderness, in shadows, in servitude, in suffering, spirits quiet, minds meek, humble and open, patient and wakeful, listening in our “solemn valleys,” not for yet one more narrative to confirm our fears and suspicions, but for the sound – which can be heard whereever we are in this moment – of the real, beating heart of Love.

Oh pour your darkness and your brightness over all our solemn valleys,
You skies: and travel like the gentle Virgin,
Toward the planets’ stately setting,
Oh white full moon as quiet as Bethlehem!

Advent Resources (2)

As we all know, Advent begins next Sunday, November 28/ Below are some of the Advent resources I’ve written over the years.

First, remember that my Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is organized according to the liturgical year. The stories retold for Advent include “Prophets Say That a Messiah is Coming,” “Prophets Describe the Messiah,” “Zechariah Meets the Angel Gabriel” and so on.

The first reading on the First Sunday of Advent refers to the “just shoot” God will raise from the House of David.  In The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols, I cover the Jesse Tree – the traditional artistic rendering of this concept.

Note how it’s organized – and this the organization of the entire book. On the left side for every entry is a short, simple explanation for younger children. On the right is a more in-depth entry for older students.

Moving on…

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(BTW – I don’t make any $$ from the sales of these booklets. The way it works is that these kinds of materials are, for the most part, written as works-for-hire. You write it, you get paid a flat fee, and that’s it. No subsequent royalties. I just …think what I’ve written is not terrible and hope my words might be helpful to someone out there…so I continue to spread the word!)

First, is the family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish.

The entries are not dated – they are “First Sunday of Advent” – “Monday, first week of Advent” – and so on, so it is still useable.

There’s a digital version available here.  So if you’d like it for your own use in that format – go for it! 

Wonders Of His Love
amy-welborn

More samples – pdf 

Several years ago, I wrote another Advent family devotional. It’s no longer available in a print version, but the digital version can still be had here.  Only .99!

In 2016, Liguori published daily devotions I wrote for both Lent and Easter. They publish new booklets by different authors every year, but mine are still available, both through Liguori and Amazon.

Liguori – English

(pdf sample)

Liguori  – Spanish

(pdf sample)

A daily Advent meditation book I pulled together from reflections my late husband had posted on his blog:

Unfortunately, the booklet I wrote on St. Nicholas for Creative Communications is now officially out of print. You can still access the pdf of the sample – about half of the text – here. If you’re interested. 

Nicholas-Of-Myra

For more about St. Nicholas, visit the invaluable St. Nicholas Center.

Years ago, I wrote a few pamphlets for OSV, among them these two:

How to Celebrate Advent. Also available in Spanish. 

PDF review copy of English version here.

PDF review copy of Spanish version here. 

How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic. 

PDF available for review here. 

PDF of the Spanish version available for review here.

And then….Bambinelli Sunday!

Dorothy Day on Advent

Nativity scenes from the three most well-known Catholic Worker artists. More at this link.

Here are passages from some of Dorothy Day’s writings on Advent:

Advent is a time of waiting – from On Pilgrimage, 1948

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 with which one awaits such stirring is like nothing so much as a blanket of silence.

Be still. Did I hear something?

……

Many people think an examination of conscience is a morbid affair. Péguy has some verses which Donald Gallagher read to me once in the St. Louis House of Hospitality. (He and Cy Echele opened the house there.) They were about examination of conscience. There is a place for it, he said, at the beginning of the Mass. “I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” But after you get done with it, don’t go on brooding about it; don’t keep thinking of it. You wipe your feet at the door of the church as you go in, and you do not keep contemplating your dirty feet.

Here is my examination at the beginning of Advent, at the beginning of a new year. Lack of charity, criticism of superiors, of neighbors, of friends and enemies. Idle talk, impatience, lack of self-control and mortification towards self, and of love towards others. Pride and presumption. (It is good to have visitors – one’s faults stand out in the company of others.) Self-will, desire not to be corrected, to have one’s own way. The desire in turn to correct others, impatience in thought and speech.

The remedy is recollection and silence. Meanness about giving time to others and wasting it myself. Constant desire for comfort. First impulse is always to make myself comfortable. If cold, to put on warmth; if hot, to become cool; if hungry, to eat; and what one likes – always the first thought is of one’s own comfort. It is hard for a woman to be indifferent about little material things. She is a homemaker, a cook; she likes to do material things. So let her do them for others, always. Woman’s job is to love. Enlarge Thou my heart, Lord, that Thou mayest enter in.

The first column in an Advent series from 1966, which focuses on Mary:

And now even the prayer, the Hail Mary, has been left out of the listing of Catholic prayers from the new Dutch catechism, so we are told in our diocesan paper.

After reading this I changed my mind about writing about the counsels for this first of an Advent series and decided to write about the Blessed Mother instead. She is, of course, a controversial figure, the last thing in the world she would want to be.

It is fitting to write about her in Advent, and I would like to tell in simple fashion about Mary in my life.

WHEN I was a very little child, perhaps not more than six, I used to have recurrent nightmares of a great God, King of heaven and earth which encompassed all, stretched out over all of us in a most impersonal way, and

Dorothy Day – Auckland Theology & Religious Studies

with this nightmare came also a great noise like that made by a galloping horseman which increased in volume until the sound filled all the earth. It was a terrifying dream and when I called out, my mother used to come and sit by the bedside and hold my hand and talk to me until I fell asleep. That passed, and then a few years later I met a little girl by the name of Mary Harrington who told me about the Blessed Mother and a heaven peopled with saints, and this also was a great comfort to me.

Years passed and I attended high school and college and then went to work for the Socialist and Communist movements in the early 20’s. Nevertheless, I often dropped into churches. One winter when I was working in New Orleans and living across the street from the cathedral there I found great joy in attending Benediction. That Christmas a Communist friend gave me a rosary. “You were always dropping into the cathedral,” she explained.

I did not know how to say the prayers but I kept it by me. I did not know any Catholics and would have been afraid to approach a priest or nun, for fear of their reading into such an approach some expectation which was not there.

……Every day at the Catholic Worker Farm when we gather for meals we say the Angelus before asking God’s blessing on us and the food we eat. And it rejoices me to hear all the men, who are in the majority, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy Word,” and repeating together that marvelous and yet terrible prayer…

More.

Expectans Expectavi

As the calendar year draws to a close and Advent begins, it seems a proper moment for stock-taking and pondering. What do all of these disruptions, changes and challenges we’re constantly experiencing mean? What is this new world and how do we live in it?

Well, when you take time to sit with the Scriptures of Advent, you might be struck, most of all by the old news, once again, that all this supposedly unprecedented disruption, change and challenge is not new at all.

For most of human history, most people, even the wealthy, have lived on the edge of earthly existence, with very little sense of control. Life was precarious. High maternal mortality, high childhood mortality, high mortality, period. Populations subject to the vagaries of climate and natural disaster, without benefit of satellite or radar to know what’s coming. Famine, floods and pestilence always on the horizon of possibility, which meant, not that you’d have to put off a trip to the store and consider a week or month-long disruption of the supply chain, but that you, your children and maybe your whole village would  starve.  Brutal rulers, punishments and restrictions, pogroms and genocide.

And you don’t even have to reach back to the Middle Ages to find it.

In such a context, it is not difficult to remember that you yourself are not God, or even a god, that you don’t create your own destiny. With that understanding, it’s not so much of a challenge to live in the knowledge that any joy or contentment you can grab from life on earth will not – and cannot – be tied to material prosperity and peak physical health, for neither of those things will probably ever come to you at all.

For most of human history, it hasn’t been the full, satisfied college degree holder looking to scratch a vague itch of existential despair who’s been hearing the Good News. It’s been the peasant nursing constantly aching teeth, squinting to see through weakened eyes, middle-aged at thirty, working hard from dawn to dusk, remember dead children, hearing rumors of war, studying the skies, waiting and praying for rain, subject to the whims of human authorities.

If they could see us, reeling from our present-day troubles, they might well ask us, “Well…what did you expect?”

Consider one of the traditional Advent Scriptures: Isaiah 63-64. It’s an astonishing outcry of a people in exile, a wild mix of all that every person feels in time of loss and crisis: What did we do to do deserve this? Why are we suffering so? Have we done wrong? Are we suffering consequences of that wrong? God is so harsh with us! God seems to be silent, hidden and absent? But….you know what? He’s our Father. We trust him. He’s like a potter, we’re clay. Go ahead, Shape us.

The voices come to us from 2700 years ago – 2700 years – questioning, railing and ultimately trusting – and it’s as if they could be speaking today

Well, they are.

Same human race, same struggle, same veil we yearn to lift, same ache in our hearts for peace, wholeness, life and love.

Same cry for a savior.


I’ve attached this poem to another Advent post in the past, but it seemed fitting here. Written at the end of World War II, the poet says of it:

This poem, ‘Expectans Expectavi’, which is the title of a psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord”, is about waiting, written at the end of the last war when the whole world, really, seemed to be holding its breath for the return of ordinary life, and all the soldiers from overseas, and I thought of it in the wintertime, at Christmas, with the carols and the children’s faces, recalling the refugees of the time. The poem happened to be chosen to be posted up on the underground, so although I never saw it myself, several of my friends have been surprised by it in the middle of a crowd of people standing up in the tube train.

Expectans Expectavi

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children’s faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.

And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit’s exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

Advent is a reset, yes, but if we listen carefully to God’s Word and the lives of others beyond our own bubble of time and space, it can be a reset that anchors us more deeply in communion with the reality of the ebb, flow and crashing and burning of human experience, an experience that our privileged houses of sand manage to hide from us – those houses of sand Jesus warned us about for just that reason: they trick us, the rich man of the Gospel, into thinking we don’t need God.

That we don’t need a savior.

And so we listen to the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass and in the Church’s prayer, we listen to the saints whose words are given to us during this season, and we’re reminded that none of this is about hoping and dreaming that someday life will get “back to normal” or that this particular type of suffering and difficulty will end and then peace on earth will reign right now, in its fullness.

It’s about acknowledging the mess – the mess that’s now and the mess that came before the present mess – and lifting up that mess to God, trusting that he will take it and somehow make good come out of it, a type of rescue, if you will. It doesn’t diminish a bit of our current suffering. It simply situates it and puts us into communion with others who have suffered – which is everyone.

And then, as the weeks of Advent pass, we listen to the cries and questions asked and answered over centuries past in the context of Word, prayer, song and art – it becomes clearer and clearer: Yesterday and today, the human family speaks from the same broken, suffering heart – and yes, He hears us. And look right here in the mess, just look: here he is.

Others have found him. Keep looking. So can you.

How do we wait?

Expectation or waiting is a dimension that flows through our whole personal, family and social existence. Expectation is present in thousands of situations, from the smallest and most banal to the most important that involve us completely and in our depths. Among these, let us think of waiting for a child, on the part of a husband and wife; of waiting for a relative or friend who is coming from far away to visit us; let us think, for a young person, of waiting to know his results in a crucially important examination or of the outcome of a job interview; in emotional relationships, of waiting to meet the beloved, of waiting for the answer to a letter, or for the acceptance of forgiveness…. One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.           -B16, 2010

Repost from previous years, but Newman is always worth revisiting. 

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There is no lack of resources for keeping ourselves spiritually grounded during this season, even if we are having to battle all sorts of distractions, ranging from early-onset-Christmas settling in all around us to  the temptation to obsessively follow the news, which seems to never stop, never leave us alone.

Begin with the Church. Begin and end with the Church, if you like. Starting and ending your day with what Catholics around the world are praying during this season: the Scripture readings from Mass, and whatever aspects of daily prayer you can manage – that’s the best place to begin and is sufficient.

I found this wonderful, even moving homily from Newman, centered on worship as preparation for the Advent of God. The spiritual and concrete landscape that is his setting is particular to England in the early winter and might not resonate with those of us living, say, in the Sun Belt or in Australia, but nonetheless, perhaps the end-of-the-year weariness he describes might seem familiar, even if the dreary weather does not.

Especially in this seemingly endless period of disruption, disappointment, adjustment and challenges – it will ring true.

I’ll quote from it copiously here, but it deserves a slow, meditative read. 

I’ve broken up the paragraphs differently than the original, just to avoid a massive wall o’ text.

YEAR after year, as it passes, brings us the same warnings again and again, and none perhaps more impressive than those with which it comes to us at this season.

The very frost and cold, rain and gloom, which now befall us, forebode the last dreary days of the world, and in religious hearts raise the thought of them. The year is worn out: spring, summer, autumn, each in turn, have brought their gifts and done their utmost; but they are over, and the end is come. All is past and gone, all has failed, all has sated; we are tired of the past; we would not have the seasons longer; and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable. Such is the frame of mind which befits the end of the year; and such the frame of mind which comes alike on good and bad at the end of life.

The days have come in which they have no pleasure; yet they would hardly be young again, could they be so by wishing it. Life is well enough in its way; but it does not satisfy. Thus the soul is cast forward upon the future, and in proportion as its conscience is clear and its perception keen and true, does it rejoice solemnly that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand,” that there are “new heavens and a new earth” to come, though the former are failing; nay, rather that, because they are failing, it will “soon see the King in His beauty,” and “behold the land which is very far off.” These are feelings for holy men in winter and in age, waiting, in some dejection perhaps, but with comfort on the whole, and calmly though earnestly, for the Advent of Christ.

And such, too, are the feelings with which we now come before Him in prayer day by day. The season is chill and dark, and the breath of the morning is damp, and worshippers are few, but all this befits those who are by profession penitents and mourners, watchers and pilgrims. More dear to them that loneliness, more cheerful that severity, and more bright that gloom, than all those aids and appliances of luxury by which men nowadays attempt to make prayer less disagreeable to them. True faith does not covet comforts. It only complains when it is forbidden to kneel, when it reclines upon cushions, is protected by curtains, and encompassed by warmth. Its only hardship is to be hindered, or to be ridiculed, when it would place itself as a sinner before its Judge. They who realize that awful Day when they shall see Him face to face, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, will as little bargain to pray pleasantly now, as they will think of doing so then….

….Men sometimes ask, Why need they profess religion? Why need they go to church? Why need they observe certain rites and ceremonies? Why need they watch, pray, fast, and meditate? Why is it not enough to be just, honest, sober, benevolent, and otherwise virtuous? Is not this the true and real worship of God? Is not activity in mind and conduct the most acceptable way of approaching Him? How can they please Him by submitting to certain religious forms, and taking part in certain religious acts? Or if they must do so, why may they not choose their own?

Why must they come to church for them? Why must they be partakers in what the Church calls Sacraments? I answer, they must do so, first of all and especially, because God tells them so to do. But besides this, I observe that we see this plain reason why, that they are one day to change their state of being. They are not to be here for ever. Direct intercourse with God on their part now, prayer and the like, may be necessary to their meeting Him suitably hereafter: and direct intercourse on His part with them, or what we call sacramental communion, may be necessary in some incomprehensible way, even for preparing their very nature to bear the sight of Him.

Let us then take this view of religious service; it is “going out to meet the Bridegroom,” who, if not seen “in His beauty,” will appear in consuming fire. Besides its other momentous reasons, it is a preparation for an awful event, which shall one day be. What it would be to meet Christ at once without preparation, we may learn from what happened even to the Apostles when His glory was suddenly manifested to them. St. Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And St. John, “when he saw Him, fell at His feet as dead.” [Luke v. 8. Rev. i. 17.]….

…. It is my desire and hope one day to take possession of my inheritance: and I come to make myself ready for it, and I would not see heaven yet, for I could not bear to see it. I am allowed to be in it without seeing it, that I may learn to see it. And by psalm and sacred song, by confession and by praise, I learn my part.

And what is true of the ordinary services of religion, public and private, holds in a still higher or rather in a special way, as regards the sacramental ordinances of the Church. In these is manifested in greater or less degree, according to the measure of each, that Incarnate Saviour, who is one day to be our Judge, and who is enabling us to bear His presence then, by imparting it to us in measure now.

A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next. We mortal men range up and down it, to and fro, and see nothing. There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed; it remains, but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter see face to face. We approach, and in spite of the darkness, our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it spake of Calvary. Or we recollect a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled His who with a touch gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Or we have been eating and drinking; and it was not a dream surely, that One fed us from His wounded side, and renewed our nature by the heavenly meat He gave. Thus in many ways He, who is Judge to us, prepares us to be judged,—He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready….

…And what I have said concerning Ordinances, applies still more fully to Holy Seasons, which include in them the celebration of many Ordinances. They are times when we may humbly expect a larger grace, because they invite us especially to the means of grace. This in particular is a time for purification of every kind. When Almighty God was to descend upon Mount Sinai, Moses was told to “sanctify the people,” and bid them “wash their clothes,” and to “set bounds to them round about:” much more is this a season for “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;” [Exod. xix. 10-12. 2 Cor. xii. 1.] a season for chastened hearts and religious eyes; for severe thoughts, and austere resolves, and charitable deeds; a season for remembering what we are and what we shall be. Let us go out to meet Him with contrite and expectant hearts; and though He delays His coming, let us watch for Him in the cold and dreariness which must one day have an end. Attend His summons we must, at any rate, when He strips us of the body; let us anticipate, by a voluntary act, what will one day come on us of necessity. Let us wait for Him solemnly, fearfully, hopefully, patiently, obediently; let us be resigned to His will, while active in good works. Let us pray Him ever, to “remember us when He cometh in His kingdom;” to remember all our friends; to remember our enemies; and to visit us according to His mercy here, that He may reward us according to His righteousness hereafter.


Thanksgiving

I’m in Living Faith today. You can read the devotional here.

The reference is to my 2008 trip to Rome, solo, to visit Son #2 who was at the time teaching English there.

The posts about that trip are here. The photo links have changed, and I’m too lazy to go through and edit. Sorry. But here are a few.

I think this is one of my favorites, of all the photos I’ve ever taken.

While I was gone, Mike took the little boys to visit his family in Florida. Everyone had a great time. Memorable times. A few weeks later, he died of a heart attack.

Eventually, Thanksgiving rolled around again, and of course it was hard to face. What I didn’t want to face, most of all, were holiday gatherings with all eyes on a metaphorical empty chair. Just couldn’t do it. So, of course, we went to Legoland instead.

At the time, the only Legoland in the US was in California.

No apologies, no regrets. He would have done something just like it, except it would have involved football games. You do what you have to do to stay whole and live, not in the past, but to stay present in the present moment, and every step of the way, you give thanks.

What a complicated thing gratitude is. We’re grateful for where we are and grateful for where we have been, even if none of it is perfect. In communion with those around the earth and in heaven, we offer thanks—eucharistia—most of all, for what our tears of yearning gratitude are about—the loving God who put us here, wherever we are, and will, eventually, bring us home to him, giving thanks forevermore.

Blessed Titus Brandsma to be canonized:

Pope Francis has recognized a miracle attributed to Titus Brandsma, an outspoken opponent of Nazism martyred at Dachau concentration camp in 1942.

The pope authorized Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, to issue a decree on Nov. 25 approving the miracle.

The decision paves the way for the Dutch Carmelite friar’s canonization.

Titus Brandsma, a priest, professor, and journalist, was born Anno Sjoerd Brandsma in Oegeklooster, in the province of Friesland, on Feb. 23, 1881. He entered the Carmelite novitiate in 1898, taking the religious name Titus. He was ordained a priest in 1905.

Following Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, Brandsma defended the freedom of Catholic education and of the Catholic press against Nazi pressures.

After he firmly opposed mandatory Nazi propaganda in Catholic newspapers, he was arrested in January 1942.

He was transferred to Dachau, once described as “the largest priest cemetery in the world,” on June 19 that year. He died on July 26, following a lethal injection.

He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Nov. 3, 1985, as a martyr for the faith.

I included Blessed Titus in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are People Who Tell the Truth.”

"amy welborn"

A couple of pages are online available for viewing, here. Well, and here:

Brandsma came to the United States in 1935, where he lectured at Catholic University.  These writings on Carmelite spirituality were based on those talks.

You can read his last few letters here.

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