Sisters share their Advent reflections...

Third Sunday of Advent

A Reading with Reflection
from the Gospel of Luke
by: Sister Michelle Farabaugh
> Click here to read the reflection

Second Sunday of Advent

A Reading with Reflection
from the Gospel of St. Luke
> Click here to read the reflection

First Sunday of Advent

by: Karen R. Brink, OSB, Prioress
> Click here to read the reflection




Third Sunday of Advent — From the Gospel of Luke
by: Sister Michelle Farabaugh

“The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?”  He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.”  Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”  He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.:  Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?”  He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”

.You all know me – when I see a political headline I will get right in the middle of it – try to understand what it is about and possibly, find out the back story.  That is why when I read the Gospel for this Sunday, I was amazed.  It shot right out at me -- I couldn’t help imagining that I was at a rally – not unlike some that we have seen around the country during the recent election cycle.  People all gathered around eager to hear the word.  Only this time Luke tells us the crowd was shouting out to John the Baptist “What should we do?”,  “What should we do?”   “How should we act in this time of waiting  for the Messiah?’ John did not hesitate in proclaiming to the crowd – “Share what you have with the poor, even if it means giving the coat off your back”, “Give food to the hungry”, “Don’t tax the poor beyond their means to provide a living for their families”, “Welcome the stranger”, and “Do whatever is necessary to make people feel respected and valued.”  This is what you should do.

The difference between the two messages – that of the current political climate and that proclaimed by John, the precurser of Jesus, is stunning.  It is actually almost the exact opposite.  Let us look at it a minute.

Instead of crying, “We take care of ourselves first” we say – provide shoes and backpacks to children who are beginning a new school year, so that they can feel that they have all they need to be successful.  Instead of shouting, “We will keep our food to ourselves because we aren’t getting paid enough when we try to distribute it”, we say ”Go to the Lighthouse each week and serve people with a hot breakfast which they probably can’t get at home”.

We say “Go to the Convention Center and help thousands of others fill food packages to distribute to children in schools and elderly whose food budgets are exhausted for the month”.  Instead of aggressively shutting  people in detention centers and separating children from their parents when they are seeking asylum from violence and drugs in their home country and desperately trying to move their families to a safer place, we say, “Let us try to find shelter and work for you when you are homeless so that you may enjoy a fruitful life with your family”.  Instead of shooting up a gathering of people worshiping their God because they are -believe, or act, or look different from me”, we graciously extend hospitality to a New Year’s Eve Vigil where we can all pray for peace and harmony in our world.  We lovingly embrace those who are different or vulnerable and extend a hand of caring and assistance when they are in wheelchairs or cannot think clearly for themselves.  All of these actions in which we as a community are currently involved are ways of responding to the question the people shouted to John:  “What should we do?”  Yes, we see the people placing their hope in John, eager for him to lead them to the Messiah.  They are filled with hope and expectation, they gather at the feet of John – waiting for the Good News.  We hear John’s response and it touches the depths of our hearts.

But there is another side to this story which is not so “feel good”.  The reality of our world is often filled with pain and suffering.  This we experience as we witness the tragedies, the violence, the lack of sensitivity to others, the greed and selfishness that shuts out others from the good. We all know many people are affected by this suffering and we cannot help but ache for the pain of others.

Truly, many are not able to celebrate, countless people do not find this a joy-filled time because they experience concretely the inequality and injustice that is so much a part of our society.  And we suffer with them, we know the anguish they experience in their day-to-day struggles, and we cannot but be saddened and even angered at times.

But then the prophet Zephaniah rises up to proclaim for us all to hear: “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!  The Lord God is in your midst, a mighty savior.  He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.  He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.”

The greatest hope we have is this promise of the prophet --  We are not in this alone.  We do not have to struggle by ourselves.  No – The Lord God Is In Your midst.  (Not will be – but Is). The Lord God IS in Your midst.  During this Advent as we wait, during every day that is a true Advent of waiting for the coming, we know and have confidence that the Lord God is truly in our midst. That God is guiding us and will always be there to show us the way.  True, we can’t change everything, we can’t make all the suffering and injustice disappear by simply wishing for it.  But we can truly make a difference and we DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

We can BECOME THE GOOD NEWS as we live and serve each day in the spirit of Jesus.


Second Sunday of Advent

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, 
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, 
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis, 
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, 
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

And John was in the wilderness, a vast and howling wasteland, a desert a place where he encountered and struggled with his personal demons, and waited, and waited! John was in the wilderness, a vast and howling wasteland of political and religious rulers where he was barraged with intrigue, dissention and corruption.

With a long arm and tight fist, Tiberius Caesar, emperor of Rome, controlled every move of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea.  In turn, under the watchful, suspicious gaze of Pontius, Herod, Philip and Lysanias vied for prestige, power and wealth.  In this culture of one-upmanship and cruelty, the common people were grievously oppressed.  They received no help from their religious leaders Annas and Caiaphas who held their lucrative positions of power only by submitting to the will of political rulers who had appointed them.

The Word of God came to John in this desert. The Word of God came into the midst of this messy world defined and divided by both secular and religious powers, the Word of God came into this world very much like the world of our own day!  And in this very top down world, the Word of God came to John, a man without power at the very bottom, one of the anawim, one of those longing for the promised Messiah.

The Word of God came with Spirit, power and the energy of love. John’s heart was filled to overflowing, the Spirit drove him to go and share the word that had been so powerfully entrusted.  Like Moses and the other prophets, John challenges God’s people, of all times and places, to seethe wilderness of their lives and their times not as a place of desolation, but as a place of hope. God calls them and us to leave all that holds us in bondage and head home through the wilderness. God calls them and us to join an exodus out of slavery into God’s promised fresh start. John preaches that the first step on this journey toward freedom is in a baptism of repentance. Luke says

So, John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, 
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

As news of this ardent messenger with his fiery call to baptism of repentance spread, can’t you imagine, Annas and Caiaphas; Lysanius. Philip and Herod snickering and sneering and telling Pilate, “Don’t worry, we’ve got this under control:  it’s only fake news!  What is a baptism of repentance anyway”? 

John’s baptism of repentance was a recognition of one’s sinfulness, a desire for forgiveness, a desire for conversion, a deep desire to turn one’s mind and heart to God.  His call to repentance and conversion, resonated with the poor and oppressed of his day and many of the lowly ones followed him.  But what does a baptism of repentance mean for us in our day?  As Benedictines, I think John’s baptism of repentance is akin to our vow of “conversio morum” or fidelity to the monastic way of life. Recently, in Call to Life, we heard:

The purpose of the vow of conversion to the monastic way of life is single-hearted seeking of God. Singleheartedness in living calls the monastic to turn away from all self-centeredness in order to live Gospel values more fully and within this way of life, to hold all her goods in common with her sisters. (CN20)

Baptism of repentance, conversion, the rallying cry of Advent is integral to our Benedictine way of life.  On-going conversion is the stuff of our daily life, our daily examination of conscience.  It is our way of faithful listening to:

A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.

Benedict would say:  Prefer nothing to Christ. Run the way of God’s commandments.  Be faithful.  John reminds us that by the work of Advent conversion…

Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Every mountainof arrogance, our need to control, to protect our space, to be right, to have the last word, must be laid low in order that our hearts may be free  to love more deeply and to serve more generously.  Every hill of fear, fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of rejection, fear of sickness and death, every fear that holds us in bondage and hinders us from freely loving ourselves, others and God must be torn down.  This is not easy work because often we do not even recognize that arrogance and fear are roadblocks, stumbling blocks in our lives.   So we need to be more attentive, we need to listen with the ear of the heart to God, to self, to others that our false self may be converted and set free

As we loosen the grip of arrogance and fear, truth and humility, prayer and love flow more freely, filling the valleys in our lives, making the winding roads straight for the coming of the Lord who is meek and humble of heart. Since the twelve steps of humility are at the core of Benedictine life and spirituality, this Advent may be a good time to pray and work with Chapter 7 and make wisdom and truth more completely our own. In embracing a life rooted in wisdom and humility, we embrace the one who said, I am the way, the truth, and the life.  If we live this Advent with the deep desire to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord, then we shall see the salvation of God.  I am confident that the one who began a good work in us by calling us to repentance, to conversion to the monastic way of life, will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Have a blessed and humble Advent.

First Sunday of Advent

What are we waiting for?

In October when I attended the RCRI conference, the keynote speaker, the Cardinal delegate from the Vatican….who was not able to be there in person because of a five hour flight delay, spoke to us via his iPhone from his office in Washington, DC, about the need for personal and pastoral conversion.  My ears perked up when, despite the thick accent with which the presentation was delivered, he spoke  of Pope Francis’ homily on “the tenderness of God.”  And to tell the truth, that phrase has been rolling around in my mind all month and I knew it spoke to me of Advent…but I wasn’t sure how…or why…

Walk with me for a while as I find God’s tenderness as we open the door to our Advent season.
“The days are coming,” Jeremiah tells us  in the first reading, “when I will fulfill the promise I made…”   Imagine waiting for God to fulfill a promise…a faithful God…who keeps promises made…even over a long period of waiting.  God’s tenderness will fulfill the divine promise. 

Our ancestors in the faith had no idea how the promise would be fulfilled…or perhaps they had their own ideas,  just like we do when we WAIT for God to answer our prayer.  While they waited for a powerful, wealthy, strong leader, and we wait for God to come with the “right” response to our prayer…as we know it, God is set down in the midst of the people…many times for us, too, God is set in our midst…in unexpected ways, perhaps as the unexpected “tenderness of God” as Pope Francis reminds us.  Advent is a time for way-finding…a glimpse of our destination…a longing to see the face of God…is that what Benedict had in mind when his Rule calls us, already as novices, to “truly seek God.” 

Longing to see God’s face, to seek God, is perhaps the Advent theme for the ages. What were the Israelites waiting for?  For them it was centuries, until the promise was fulfilled as God had promised.  Our own waiting time is much shorter, and perhaps more complex, because we think we know for what we are waiting…and then hardly recognize “it” when it comes…much like the Jews of Jesus’ time…What…a baby born in a manger?  What…a Messiah from Nazareth?  What… a prophet who eats with tax collectors and other sinners?  What kind of a fulfillment of a promise is that?

For us our waiting may be over before we even know it because the promise has already been fulfilled. 

What…a doctor’s recommendation to cease treatment?  What…my best friend moving to another city? 

What… I didn’t get exactly what I wanted…?

…or did they?…or did we?…or did I?

Advent is a time for way-finding…through the “signs in the moon and the stars, and the roaring seas” as Jesus reminds us in the gospel…but wait…because “your redemption is at hand.”  As Pope Francis notes, “the beauty of feeling loved by God”…isn’t that redemption? 

He goes on to say, “We feel called to pour onto the world the love received by the Lord, to offer it in the Church, in the family, (in our community), in society, to join it in serving and in giving ourselves”…and because we are created in the divine image we are capable of tenderness, too.

So while we wait in faith, and with the psalmist say “I wait for you, O God.  I lift up my soul to my God,” we manage our lives with sincere and practical holiness,  and wait with joyful hope.  Our task is prayer and vigilance as we await the coming of heaven to earth…of welcoming the God who comes into our hearts. 
It's worth the wait!  

We are accustomed to the phrase, “We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song”.  Perhaps we are also called to be an Advent people as we sing “O Come, O come Emmanuel.”

Happy waiting…Happy Advent.
Karen R. Brink, OSB, Prioress


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