Healing Our Decembers

6439494505_e600b288a4_b Tears flowed freely during the meeting with my spiritual director, Sandy, as I shared with her the pain I was feeling. “December is here,” I said. “I get such a wave of anxiety and grief at this time of year.”

Somehow, I have a hunch I’m not alone in experiencing December this way.

December is the month that “our lives blew apart with more violence than we ever dreamed possible,” I wrote in my book Miracle Man. The month that my late husband, Bernie, suffered a massive heart attack—leaving my children fatherless and me a widow after 87 excruciating days in the ICU. Eight years and a wonderful new marriage later, December still brings it all screeching back.

“Beg the Lord to heal the trauma of all your past Decembers,” Sandy wisely advised. “And ask him to fill you with the joy of his birth.”

For December is also the month when we celebrate our Savior’s presence penetrating Earth’s agonies, defying what human eyes behold as mere babe-flesh, disguising the God-man. This is the month that Hope is born, ushering in the time of fulfillment for the long-awaited healing of our crippled souls and lame lives. December is, indeed, the month of Advent hope.

The hope of Advent lies in experiencing the reality of human frailty—and in believing that Someone, though fragile in appearance, is coming to heal us soon. The hope of Advent consists in a hearty cry for deliverance from the weight of sin and death—and in trusting that God’s glory-weight will pierce right through all of this world’s darkness. For we have all known the sorrow of “Decembers” during life’s winter months, times of shadows and suffering where we cry out for the Light to come.

Every year I’m reminded that December is a fitting backdrop for Advent, as it is the month that throws off the least amount of light in the calendar year. The days grow short and winter begins. The darkness brings with it a certain sense of vulnerability and disorientation, along with the knowledge that we need more Light, so we can see.

Advent hope has everything to do with vision. Advent hope is inexorably connected with eternal perspective. That’s because hope—Christian hope—is so much more than plain old wishful thinking. It is the theological virtue by which we order our lives toward heaven; the virtue that establishes trust in us that there is a heaven, and gives us the conviction that we’ll live there with God some day. Hope reminds us that this earth is not paradise, strengthening and sustaining us as we travel toward the longed-for Promised Land. Hope gives us a new vision for our lives, enabling us to see that what may look like “disaster” to human senses is but a moment of time that God holds in his hands, shaping it for our good, while simultaneously, mysteriously, molding us into good.

“Can you see your Decembers as a time when God reaches into your life to work miracles, instead of as a time of sorrow?” Sandy gently asked. “You saw that once,” she continued. “You wrote a book about it.”

Yes, I saw it clearly then. But somehow I go blind every December.

And maybe that’s as it should be. Since it is December’s darkness that beckons me to encounter my desperate need for a Savior. Along with my need for a divine infusion of hope.

Thankfully, it is Advent. The season of so much blindness healed. The Church’s daily readings ring out promises of what the Messiah will bring, along with rich Gospel accounts of those promises being fulfilled:

On that day the deaf shall hear…and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.       Isaiah 29:18-19

And then we hear:

Two blind men followed him crying, “Son of David, have pity on us!” …Then he touched their eyes...And their eyes were opened.   Matthew 9:29-31

 Touch our eyes, Lord, and enable us to glimpse reality from heaven’s angle, through the lens of Advent hope. Heal all of our Decembers, and fill us anew with the joy of your birth.

Last week to order our Pre-Christmas Special: Get signed copies of both books, “Miracle Man” and “Mary’s Way,” for a bundle price of $25 right now at www.memorareministries.com. Free “Mary’s Way” Consecration Prayer Card included.

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How Advent Helps US: Seeing Our Limitations as an Opening for God’s Greatness

 

sfbnflevf0m-kimson-doanThose who see only limits feel lost in a senseless universe. They live a despondent life-style. Those who see limits as possibilities to go beyond live a hopeful life-style…True freedom is found in people who maintain what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur calls ‘the passion for the possible.’   Susan Muto, Blessings That Make Us Be, 4-5

As December dawns and propels us toward the celebration of Christ’s birth, we are bidden to be an Advent people, to experience this sacred time with a “passion for the possible.” In short, we are reminded to live in hope.

In the darkest time of year, we light candles to remember the Light who has come into the world. On the shortest of days, we stretch forward in both anticipation and acknowledgement of God with us. As winter begins to dawn and flowers wither and die, we carry fresh, live trees into our homes to be lighted and ornamented with dazzling color, reminding us that we carry hope precisely by affirming what is alive and beautiful in our midst.

To be an Advent people is to make Christ’s coming truly present among us, not as some far-off distant memory, but as a calling forth into the present moment the presence of the One who is real.  To be an Advent people is to choose not to ignore the pain and darkness in this world, but instead to embrace those realities with confidence and trust that Someone has come, is coming, and will come again to liberate us from the long night of sin.

Advent hope breaks right through the misery of sin to remind us of the mercy of God. It clears our vision of earthly concerns by inviting us to see light in the darkness. It blesses the human condition by remembering that a fully human God has redeemed our frail humanity. Advent is the hallowed time during which we gratefully acknowledge that our finite limits have already been met by eternal limitlessness.

Each and every day that we awaken, we are confronted anew with our limitations, be they tiredness from a sleepless night, fresh angst over troubled relationships, or the remembrance of failures and tribulations we must face again that day. But to arise resting assured that we are the fragile, fallible children of an all-powerful, infallible God makes us an Advent people: a people who see “limits as possibilities to go beyond,” who believe that the God-man has already gone beyond every human finitude.

For Bethlehem was indeed a place of finitude. Poverty, deprivation, cold and dark provided the “nursery” for the birth of the Savior—the hallowed space where the Transcendent One broke into, and through, those stark actualities with divine presence. There, in abject humility, God offered starlight to open blinded eyes, babe-flesh to woo hardened hearts, and the silence and solitude of the night to quiet the whole human race unto awakening. There, the waters of a virgin womb ushered in a new creation—bringing not just life, light, and hope, but the remedy for every human constraint, conquerable only through infinite power.

Advent “enables us to hope in (God’s) unpredictable generosity toward humanity,” (Muto, 5). Not just two thousand years ago, but today and every day.

Will we let Advent draw us in? Will we touch and feed upon the divinity that begs our remembrance of God’s unbounded potential to heal our human impotence? Will we awaken afresh to God’s presence, to light breaking through our darkness, and to the reality that every human weakness is an opening for a manifestation of God’s greatness?

Advent is meant to inspire in us a “passion for the possible,” which sees instead of “the darkness of sin, despair, inhumanity and persecution” the “how much more of God’s promise of redemption” (Muto, 5).

It is Advent. Anything is possible.

Author’s note: Thank you to Susan Muto, PhD, for her beautiful insights on the Beatitudes, which I have applied liberally to the theme of Advent.

This article was previously published at Aleteia.

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The Mercy Journal: Mercy Has A Name

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We need constantly to contemplate the face of mercy.  

Pope Francis, Miseracordiae Vultus

In the searing opening scene of the musical drama, Les Miserables, there is an unforgettable dialogue between the law-obsessed police inspector, Javert, and the soon-to-be-freed convict, Jean Valjean. Watching the film over the weekend in an intentional effort to “contemplate the mystery of mercy,” I was struck by Javert’s insistence, which continues throughout the film, in calling Valjean by his prison number: 24601. Even in the face of the paroled prisoner’s passionate response, “My name is Jean Valjean!,” Javert persists in identifying him only as “24601.”

Having just read a reflection by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) on God’s name, a profound insight of Ratzinger echoed in my mind:

The adversary of God, the “beast”…has no name, but a number…six hundred and sixty six. It is a number, and it makes men numbers. We who lived through the world of concentration camps know what that means. The terror of that world is rooted in the fact that it obliterates men’s faces. It obliterates their history. It makes man a number…But God has a name, and God calls us by our name.” (Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God, 23-24.)

We hear much quantifiable data expressing the reality of suffering souls around the world: eleven million people displaced in the Middle East, four million Syrian refugees on the run, 300,000 exiles attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year. But it was not until we saw a little Syrian child’s face half-buried in the sand and heard his name—Aylan—that the human story of so many millions of desperate people became real.

The year 2015 will be remembered as the year that the “worst refugee crisis since World War II” became headline news. It will also be remembered as the year the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy was inaugurated, the year when our Holy Father challenged us to delve deeply into the mystery of mercy, to receive mercy, to become mercy. Mercy, says Pope Francis, is “the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life.” (Misericordiae Vultus, par. 2.)

Why? Because when we look into the eyes of another human being, when we see their face, when we learn their name, their personal story begins; a story that invites us to relationship, to empathy, to compassion. When we look into the eyes of those who are gravely suffering, we are called to go out of ourselves to meet them in their need, and to do what we can to aid them. This, in fact, sums up the definition that St. Thomas Aquinas gives the virtue of mercy, which he defines as "the compassion in our hearts for another person's misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him." (Summa Theologiae (ST II-II.30.1))

While the debate rages on about whether or not to let Middle Eastern refugees into America, this much we can be sure of as followers of Christ: we are called to pray for the displaced, to help them, to offer aide, to act. When we do, we become the nickname of Mercy himself, "Jesus," whose name means, “I am the one who saves you.”

*There are many organizations through which we can offer assistance to those in need, including  Catholic Relief Services.

This piece appeared first at Aleteia as "The Mercy Journal."

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Cultivating Advent Hope: Healing Our Decembers

Tears flowed freely during the meeting with my spiritual director, Sandy, as I shared with her the pain I was feeling. “December is here,” I said. “I get such a wave of anxiety and grief at this time of year.” Somehow, I have a hunch I’m not alone in experiencing December this way.

December is the month that “our lives blew apart with more violence than we ever dreamed possible,” I wrote in my book Miracle Man. The month that my late husband, Bernie, suffered a massive heart attack—leaving my children fatherless and me a widow after 87 excruciating days in the ICU. Six years and a wonderful new marriage later, December still brings it all screeching back.

“Beg the Lord to heal the trauma of all your past Decembers,” Sandy wisely advised. “And ask Him to fill you with the joy of His birth.”

For December is also the month when we celebrate Our Savior’s presence penetrating Earth’s agonies, defying what human eyes behold as mere babe-flesh, disguising the God-man. This is the month that Hope is born, ushering in the time of fulfillment for the long-awaited healing of our crippled souls and lame lives. December is, indeed, the month of Advent hope.

6439494505_e600b288a4_b

The hope of Advent lies in experiencing the reality of human frailty—and in believing that Someone, though fragile in appearance, is coming to heal us soon. The hope of Advent consists in a hearty cry for deliverance from the weight of sin and death—and in trusting that God’s glory-weight will pierce right through all of this world’s darkness. For we have all known the sorrow of “Decembers” during life’s winter months, times of shadows and suffering where we cry out for the Light to come.

Every year I’m reminded that December is a fitting backdrop for Advent, as it is the month that throws off the least amount of light in the calendar year. The days grow short and winter begins. The darkness brings with it a certain sense of vulnerability and disorientation, along with the knowledge that we need more Light, so we can see.

Advent hope has everything to do with vision. Advent hope is inexorably connected with eternal perspective. That’s because hope—Christian hope—is so much more than plain old wishful thinking. It is the theological virtue by which we order our lives toward heaven; the virtue that establishes trust in us that there is a heaven, and gives us the conviction that we’ll live there with God some day. Hope reminds us that this earth is not paradise, strengthening and sustaining us as we travel toward the longed-for Promised Land. Hope gives us a new vision for our lives, enabling us to see that what may look like “disaster” to human senses is but a moment of time that God holds in His hands, shaping it for our good, while simultaneously, mysteriously molding us into Good.

“Can you see your Decembers as a time when God reaches into your life to work miracles, instead of as a time of sorrow?” Sandy gently asked. “You saw that once,” she continued. “You wrote a book about it.”

Yes, I saw it clearly then. But somehow I go blind every December.

And maybe that’s as it should be. Since it is December’s darkness that beckons me to encounter my desperate need for a Savior. Along with my need for a Divine infusion of hope.

Thankfully, it is Advent. The season of so much blindness healed. The Church’s daily readings ring out promises of what the Messiah will bring, along with rich Gospel accounts of those promises being fulfilled:

 On that day the deaf shall hear…and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.               (Isaiah 29:18-19)

 And then we hear:

Two blind men followed him crying, “Son of David, have pity on us!” …Then he touched their eyes...And their eyes were opened. (Mt. 9:29-31)

Touch our eyes, Lord, and enable us to glimpse reality from heaven’s angle, through the lens of Advent hope. Heal all of our Decembers, and fill us anew with the joy of Your birth.