Waiting in Line

This year it seems there are lines wherever I go. Waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. Waiting in line at the drive-through restaurant. Waiting in line outside of the DMV. Waiting in line for a Covid-19 test. Waiting in line. Patiently. Six feet apart.

Recently when I was grousing about all the ‘waiting-in-line’ my beautiful wife remembered that when she was a secretary at a parish in Wisconsin, Sister Dorothy with whom she worked, always told her, “The poor must wait in line.”

The poor must wait in line. Wait in line for healthcare at over-worked and under-staffed clinics; wait in line for food at pantries which are often depleted before they can be served; wait in line for shelter and a safe place to rest; wait in line for refuge and asylum from violence; wait in line for justice.

During Advent I wait. I wait for the coming of Christ in my heart. As Catholic Christians we are supposed to have a “preference for the poor”. I seldom think about what those words truly mean.  “As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental ‘option for the poor’—to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor”.

Perhaps this year is a good time to reflect on my own spiritual poverty. Maybe I can stand in line in solidarity with my poor sisters and brothers. Maybe I can do my small part to ease the suffering of so many. When I throw those few coins into the Salvation Army bucket I will pray for the poor person who may receive some part of my small gift. When I donate food to a pantry I will ask God to bring blessing to whomever may be nourished by that meal. When I give to charity this year I will try to put a face on the person who will benefit from my donation and pray that they are afforded dignity while being served. I will support candidates and causes that serve the under-served in our nation.

This has been a year of waiting-in-line. And if I stop complaining and quiet myself during my wait, I might just catch a glimpse of heaven this Advent season. I hope that you do as well.

Peace,

Denis

Be Watchful; Be Ready

During the four weeks of Advent we are supposed to be waiting for Jesus. And most years I am too busy to settle myself into contemplation of Christ’s coming. But this year is different. We are shopping on line. All the Christmas baking is done. The house is already decorated. We are not traveling. We are not entertaining.  There are few gifts to wrap because everything is being delivered by Amazon. And still I find little time for Jesus. So it seems all my “too busy” excuses of Christmases past were just rubbish.

This year I have plenty of time to quiet myself and listen for His voice. Instead I grumble about not having MY CHRISTMAS. The Christmas that I WANT with all our extended family; with Christmas cocktail parties; with Christmas concerts; with Christmas pageants; with Christmas shopping. After all isn’t that what Jesus wants, too? You know, normal Christmas with all the pomp and circumstance and just enough time to squeeze in a little “holiness” like Midnight Mass or a Novena to make it all seem sanctified.

But here I am in 2020, with plenty of time to pray and reflect on Christ’s coming: Christ coming into our world as a helpless infant; Christ coming into our world today as the love that surrounds us and sustains us; Christ coming at the end of time to save us and bring us home. I’ve complained about all the disruptions, pain and loss that Covid-19 has brought to our world. And I’ve readily used it as an excuse to not do some things I might have otherwise done. But I cannot use it as an excuse for not celebrating Advent and Christmas this year. I have the time!

I’m certain that the first Christmas wasn’t exactly what Mary and Joseph had planned but events beyond their control forced them to travel to Bethlehem. Mary’s joy was not diminished because she gave birth to Jesus amidst the most humble of circumstances. Neither should our joy be diminished by circumstances beyond our control. The corona virus and all it’s related heartache has had a profound effect on all of us this year but still our Savior comes. Perhaps I can use this time of uncertainty to remain watchful and ready.

Aristotle is credited with saying, “To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.” Maybe a cold, harsh winter is what I need. Maybe freezing my backside off will make me appreciate the warmth and beauty of my home and stop my complaining about what I have missed this year.

Mostly I pray that a long cold winter will help me embrace the coming spring and create room in my heart for His love.

Peace,

Denis

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5:7-8

Patience

Advent is counter-cultural. We’re encouraged to slow down and be patient. While advertising suggests that we must “hurry up while supplies last” our Church recommends that we take these weeks before Christmas to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus. In our waiting we are encouraged to be still.

Be still and wait! These attributes are not my strong suit. I’m usually loud and in a hurry. Quiet reflection often just annoys me. I hear the ringing in my ears. I become easily distracted. My mind jumps around to the various and assorted IMPORTANT THINGS that need to be done. You know, like when will I ever get those Christmas decorations up? Did we buy that other gift for our granddaughter that we had discussed? How much have we spent so far this year? Is it more than what my first new car cost? How much did that Pinto cost, anyway? What was that salesman’s name? I can remember his face. What am I supposed reflecting on? Something Jesus-y? Oh, Christ! I mean: Oh Christ, help me find patience. Some patience. Any patience. But please hurry!

I pray. In my clumsy, free-range sort of way. My prayers are more like fleeting thoughts – never fully formed or well-articulated. I believe that God listens to my prayers – poorly formed and selfish as they may be. I pray and God listens. I cry and God hears me. I try and God accepts my humble efforts.

So I may not be patient or even slightly non-manic but I try. And I will try again. I will slow down whenever possible. I will read and listen to music when afforded the opportunity. I will listen (really listen) to others, albeit my attention span is often that of a 3 year-old. I know my weaknesses but I am also aware of God’s strength.

I will prepare my heart for Christmas but I know it won’t be easy. I’ll let go of what I can. I’ll unplug whenever I can.

I will S L O W D O W N and trust that Christmas can be perfect even if I’m not.

And on Sunday I’ll light the pink Advent candle which symbolizes hope. And I hope to find patience.

Peace,

Denis

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent; the beginning of our preparation for the Christ-Child. Last night, my wife was playing ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ on the piano. That beautiful, haunting and hopeful hymn that has always been part of my life touched my heart again this year.

O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel; that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear

Lonely exile. These two words keep playing in head. I can’t help but think of the immigrants and asylum seekers that Deb served at our southern border earlier this year. I’m sure many of them felt lonely during their exile. The stories that she has shared of her experience are heart breaking and yet somehow still hopeful. Our hymn, though mournful, reminds us that God is coming to set us free. In our longing and waiting we have hope. These desperate souls, that were welcomed in McAllen, Texas had hope: Hope of a better life; hope of safety; home of a new home. What my wife and the other volunteers offered was kindness and dignity.

Make safe the way that leads on high; And close the path to misery.

I pray that these less fortunate souls have found their respite. I pray that they have continued to be welcomed by strangers and have found HOME. The people that my wife served didn’t want to leave their homelands but had no choice. The violence and persecution they endured was unimaginable. And still they endured. They needed an end to their misery. Hope was all many of them had left.

To us the path of knowledge show; And teach us in her ways to go

It’s easy for me to turn a blind eye to the suffering in our world. I cozy up to my comforts and toss a few coins in the Salvation Army can at my local grocery store. I pray for those less fortunate because I know that there is immense suffering in our world, our nation, our state, our community but I fail to take the time learn the systemic causes of this injustice. I make a few donations and I shed a tear for the atrocities I see on the television or read about in the news but that isn’t enough. During Advent I will recommit myself to knowledge. As someone living with privilege because of my race and gender I must recommit myself to social justice for all.

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all humankind; Bid thou our sad divisions cease, And be thyself our Prince of Peace.

The problems in our world can feel overwhelming at times, but the words of this hymn give me hope. During this busy holiday season, when I feel overwrought, I can slow down and listen and re-listen to ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. Our salvation is at hand. Rejoice! Rejoice! All humankind can be changed. All humankind can find peace. I’m going to begin with me. It may not be easy but most things worth having are not easily obtained. I must fight for justice, pray for wisdom, work for peace, and love beyond measure.

And cheer us by your drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night; And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

May you find love, joy, comfort, but mostly peace in this Advent season.

Peace,

Denis

Am I Ready For Christmas?

This time of year, I am often asked, “Are you ready for Christmas?” My polite answer is usually, “Gosh, I still have a few things to (do) (buy) (wrap), etc., etc.” What I’m often thinking is, “Hell no, I’m not ready, I need more (time) (patience) (quiet), etc., etc.!”

So in these final days before Christmas, I try to find the time, patience, and quiet that I desperately need to prepare myself for Christmas. I want to buy my loved ones the perfect gifts and wrap them beautifully. I want the house to be decorated with holiday charm. I want the food to be plentiful and delicious. I want to cue the music. I want to have lots of good cheer! I want my Christmas to be a Hallmark® Christmas with joyous celebrations and a happy ending.

Then I realize how wrong-headed I am. All I want, is what I want. I want the perfect gifts. I want the beautiful house. I want the food and drinks and cheer. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, except that I’ve put myself first. I want. I want. I want…

advent-candles-third-sunday-quizThe Advent Season is a blessing for me. It gives me the opportunity to set aside my needs and my wants, and to instead focus on the love of a God who sent his Son to be with us. It is a good time for me to reflect how loving (or unloving) I have been. It’s an opportunity for me to reach out to others; to become vulnerable; to stop worrying about perfection and to become perfected in Christ’s love.

Advent is counter-cultural. Turn-off. Tune out. Time to prepare my heart and my soul for the celebration of the coming of Christ. That will require some time and some patience and some quiet, too.

So when next person asks, “Are you ready for Christmas?”, I’ll simply smile and say, “I’m getting there!”

Peace,

Denis

 

Will I Know Him When He Comes?

“If Jesus visited me, what would I be able to give Him?” That was the question of the old shoemaker in Tolstoy’s story. The response came back to him from a voice not present, “Dear old shoemaker, tonight I am going to visit your village. Look for Me.”

Of course as the story goes on we learn that the shoemaker is visited by orphans and widows looking for shelter and food. The shoemaker gives to each who approach him. He even shares the soup he has prepared for Jesus. He goes even further by making shoes for children in the orphanage. But ultimately he is disappointed because Jesus does not come.

When he questions God, he is told “I visited you last night and you gave me warmth. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was hungry and you fed me, and I was in the orphanage and you came to visit me. Whatever you did for all these people, you also did for me.”

I wonder, do I serve others as would choose to serve my Lord? Do I have the same spirit of generosity and love for those whom I don’t know? Do I fail to recognize Christ in my fellow humans?

adventcandlesAdvent is a good time for me to stop and listen to what Jesus is asking of me. I try to quiet myself and listen to what is truly important. Mostly I fail. But sometimes Jesus shines through. Sometimes my heart is broken open enough to allow the love of God to fill my soul. The love is always there but often it takes a smile or a kind word or a song or a warm embrace to help me let down my defenses. Last weekend my granddaughter gently put her arm around me and told me (again) that she loved me. Christ came to me at that moment. I didn’t even ask for God’s love and there it was!

I have a dear friend who is volunteering at a Humanitarian Center serving immigrants from Central America as I write this. I can’t help but believe that he has been visited by Jesus countless times. And he has been Christ to those families who are in such desperate need of love and care. He is an inspiration to me.

O come, O come Emmanuel. This year when I hear this ancient and beautiful song, my heart is with those immigrant families mourning in lonely exile until the Son of God appears.

Peace,

Denis

 

Rejoice Always

Yesterday was the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Pink candle Sunday. We light the pink candle to remind ourselves to rejoice even in times of longing.

Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians to “rejoice always”. I think it’s important to note that while he is making converts in Thessalonica, he was also was being persecuted by their enemies so he decides to high-tail it to Athens. So much for rejoicing.

So how do I rejoice? At times my world seems bleak and there is not much to celebrate. Of course I don’t have anyone trying to chop my head off in Thessalonica, so I suppose I should rejoice about that. Still, often I have anxiety, disappointment, heartache, and sadness. “Rejoicing always” seems to be a tall order. Our government appears to be in shambles. Our president continues to ‘play footsie’ with Vladimir Putin. The number of disgraced politicians, entertainers, and other public figures grows each day. We seem to be on the brink of war with North Korea. There are ever-expanding political, cultural, and economic divisions in our nation. And everywhere I turn, folks seem to be at odds.

What to do? What to do?

The clue for me is in the rest of Paul’s message: “Pray without ceasing” and “In all circumstances give thanks.”

rejoice I’m not that prayerful. Not in the “get-down-on-your-knees-bow-your-head-and-pray” sense of the word. I’m more of a “Oh, God!” “Help me!” kind of guy.

I do thank God for tons of stuff: My beautiful wife, who never gives up on me; my kids, who never seem to grow tired of me; my grandchildren, who never cease to amaze me; my friends, who never have abandoned me.

Still, my prayers of supplication and thanksgiving are more like fleeting thoughts (never fully formed or well articulated). Perhaps I should celebrate that, too. God listens to my prayers – poorly formed and selfish as they may be. I pray and God listens. I cry and God hears me. I try and God accepts my humble efforts.

So on this week before Christmas I will rejoice for all that is good (and not so good). And I’ll continue to work on the ‘always’ part. I may need your help…

Peace,

Denis

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks. 1 Thes 5:16-18

Finding Peace in a Frenzied World

In these weeks of Advent we are encouraged to “prepare the way of the Lord”.

However, like most of us, I am in a fevered frenzy to ‘prepare the way of Christmas’. The gifts, the decorating, the planning, the gatherings, the family, etc., etc, etc. Oh, and just in case I wasn’t feeling pressured enough, let’s add the additional (burden/guilt?) of countless charities asking for some of my already-stretched-too-thin budget!

I’m sure somewhere in this mountain of shopping lists, Christmas cocktail recipes, gift wrap, garland, Christmas cards, tangled lights, cookie ingredients, and other ABSOLUTE CHRISTMAS NECESSITIES, Baby Jesus is buried under there somewhere. Surely that old Nativity Set is in one of these boxes. Maybe I’ll find Him tomorrow. But first I’ve got to get that tree decorated and put those lights up. Then I’ll clean the house, wrap some gifts, plan some meals and have one of those much-deserved Christmas cocktails. I’ll definitely look for Baby Jesus tomorrow. Surely He didn’t get tossed out with the trash last year. I’ll make a new list and add ‘look for Baby Jesus’.

On-The-Second-Sunday-In-Advent-The-Peace-Candles-Is-LitEach year my Advent is about the same. Frenzy followed by peace. Blissful peace. Some years it sneaks up on me (like when a grandchild crawls up on my lap and gives me an undeserved hug or when my cousin’s Christmas card arrives in the mail and I can relive all those joyful memories of Christmases long ago). Most years it kind of hits me right between the eyes (like reuniting with a friend with whom too much time has passed and realizing immediately that time hasn’t diminished the love we share). The thing is, I never find peace on my own. Someone always brings it to me.

So I needn’t spend anymore time searching for Baby Jesus in that box somewhere in the basement. Real Christmas is here in my soul. It’s in the hearts of those that I love. It’s in the laughter of children. It’s in the kindness of strangers. Without fail, it comes to me by way of a messenger each year.

I hope that you will open your door and your heart when your messenger arrives this Advent season.

Peace,

Denis

“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.” Mark 1:2

 

 

Be Watchful!

In Advent we’re reminded to be watchful. That’s more challenging for some of us than others.

I’ve heard it said that there are three kinds of people: Those that make things happen. Those that watch things happen. And those that say, “What happened?” I mostly fall into that third category. I’m not exactly what you’d call ‘watchful’. I often step into someone else’s way (accidentally of course). I’ve been known to step on someone’s toes (literally and figuratively). Or I stumble over things. Or I speak over someone (sorry – I thought you were done talking). I usually don’t listen to warnings. And I NEVER read instructions (until AFTER I can’t get some stupid thing to work right).

So how can I be watchful? Am I hopeless? Maybe not.

Capture

I can pay better attention to those around me. I can SLOW DOWN and listen (really listen) to someone who needs to be heard. I can stop putting myself first – give a little more; take a little less. I can open my eyes to the heartache, suffering, injustice and cruelty in my world, neighborhood, and family. Conversely, I can see the goodness in others; look for joy in simple things; cherish blessings of peace and love in my midst. I can make myself available to those in need. I can allow myself to be vulnerable and acknowledge that I am also needy.

Basically, I could just stop being such an asshole.

Of course I know that this is not a beautiful, sacred image of preparing myself for Jesus’ coming at Christmas. In Advent we look at the coming of Christ in three distinct ways: His coming as an infant; His coming in our lives today; His final coming. I need help with the coming in my life today part. I can’t really embrace Jesus if I can’t embrace my fellow humans. And I can’t exactly blame the folks who aren’t standing in line to embrace me. So being watchful this Advent Season will require that I look in the mirror a time or two. And that I thank God for the patience of others.

Peace,

Denis

May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'” Mark 13:36-37

Be Strong

Strength. That thing of mighty men and women. Muscle and endurance; toughness and resiliency; brute force and persistence; never-ending and never-failing.

And yet, without warning, we can lose all of our strength. It can be swept away in a heartbeat with a few words. A diagnosis. A tragedy. A lost opportunity. A lost job. A lost loved one.

In a moment’s notice our strength can be sapped. Our hope can be diminished. Our greatest fears can be realized. Our fight can seem lost. We become demoralized and frightened. We are suddenly as helpless as infants and we struggle to find our way. The “why?” keeps ringing in our ears.

be-strongSo we pray and we cry and we hold on to one another. And somehow we survive. Perhaps not in the way we had hoped. Maybe not as long as we would like. But we survive. Strength returns. Different strength. Renewed strength. And we are changed. Our misfortune gives us the wisdom to cherish what is good and right in our lives. Our suffering reminds us that our blessings always outweigh our pain. We are lifted by the love and prayers of others and as the Alleluias ring out at Christmas, we know that we are never alone. When we light the pink candle this Sunday on our Advent wreaths we are reminded that in our longing there is also hope.  O Come Emmanuel!

I often wonder why Christ came to Earth as a poor child. Why not as an Emperor/King? Or like a superhero? Why not as an Omnipotent God blazing in glory and power and might? And as I often do, I suppose I miss the point. As humans, we have an amazing capability of adapting to our environment and more importantly our circumstances. Jesus came to Earth as much a human as me. A baby who was feeble, week, helpless and frightened. My Savior walked my walk and gave His life for mine. Jesus knew how to be strong. My job is to make my life worthy of His love and sacrifice.

Wishing you strength and peace and love this Advent season,

Denis

Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!

Isaiah 35:3-4