Sunday, December 7, 2008

Franciscans in Advent: Weeks 1 & 2

How is your Advent coming along? Are you taking time to take time? To slow down. To be still. To listen—patiently, expectantly—for the voice of God in your heart as you prepare for Christmas. Advent anticipates and articulates the deep longing and incipient joy of all Christians as we contemplate the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, as the “God made man among us” No wonder then, that Advent has a very special place in the hearts of Franciscans everywhere. The words of the liturgy express it so beautifully: “… we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus the Christ.”

Part of our job as friars is to minister— principally (and ideally) to anyone and everyone God places in our path. Usually, we tend to consider our ministry in terms of our institutional roles: as pastors in parishes; chaplains in hospitals and jails; as teachers and administrators of charitable organizations to help the powerless, the dispossessed, and the destitute. But we friars also need to minister to each other, at home, brother to brother, brothers among brothers. And to allow others to minister to us as well. This is a part of our life which so vital to our way of trying to live the Gospel of Jesus, but it is also one which is necessarily removed from public view Yet, in order to minister effectively in public, we must minister each other ‘at home.’ It’s something we work at and struggle with constantly; there is no single, perfect way to do it. So we are always trying different approaches to see what works best.

For example, this year our provincial JPIC (Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation) office circulated a little pamphlet with a series of Advent meditations written by friars for friars and others. Some brothers are using this material in their personal, individual prayer and meditation. But a group of us, representing three different houses in the San Francisco Bay Area, decided to get together and spend and entire ‘day of recollection’ to consider and discuss this material together. A dozen of us took off work, disconnected our cell phones and pagers, and gathered at San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville, California, to share and prepare for Advent together.

Friar Tommy King (above) is a missionary priest in the Peruvian Amazon. Friar Larry Goselin (below) currently lives and works at our parish—Ascension Catholic Church—in Portland, Oregon, and has worked for decades in Mexico and among Native Americans.
Don’t ask me how they did it, but somehow they managed to communicate and collaborate to produce this, the fruit of their own prayer and reflection, as a special gift to us, their brothers. We, in turn, offer it to you for your own Advent journey:

“We sometimes hear the command, “Hurry up and wait.” This paradoxical statement presents a hurried way that we can approach a time and place of “waiting”. Advent calls us to pause, listen, ponder, and to bring into ourselves a place that hungers to wait in a spirit of patience and joy. There are different attitudes that we can enter into as we are asked “to wait.” We can wait either with idle expectation or with an active attention. To be in an idle stance of expectation would be characterized by feelings of emptiness, discontentment, and restlessness, boredom, lacking desire or focus. In this attitude the one who waits is seen and felt as non-essential or unimportant. However, an active attitude in “waiting” could be characterized as an experienced that is filled with anticipation, calmness patience, listening, longing, excitement, and receptivity. In this place the one who “waits” is essential and important…

First Sunday of Advent : A Prayer
Lord, as the dawn waits for the morning light, we long for Your Life. Come, we pray send the light that will awaken hope and alertness in joy. A child is promised to us. May we be drawn at this beginning point, to the still point of creation, the One to be born in a manger, the promised heralded King. It is in His poverty that we have our strength, and it is His humility that we are lifted up. Free us from the darkness that hinders our vision, inspire us to watch with faith. (LG)

A Reflection
Joselito has been the parish boat driver for over twenty years. Navigating the Ucayali River is not easy and I admire the skill with which he controls our little aluminum craft and its thirty horsepower engine . We often make journeys together that are three hours or more to visit some of the distant villages of the parish and I completely trust in him. He is such a good driver, I am usually relaxed enough to read, pray, listen to my I-Pod or just doze a little. When the river rises in the winter, Joselito must constantly dodge pieces of trees that are floating all over. In the summer he has to constantly watch out for sand bars so as not to run aground. When we are hit with a hard tropical rain in our travels, Joselito skillfully revs up the engine and we speed through the raindrops that feel like bullets hitting your face so we can leave the storm behinds us a quick as possible. And all year around, Joselito seems to have X ray vision when he constantly avoids well- hidden fishing nets that could reek havoc on the propeller. As Joselito and I travel together, my mind often wonders but Joselito is constantly alert to make sure we arrive at our destination safely.

Joselito’s need to constantly be alert to fulfill his duty is a great metaphor for me to understand today’s Gospel. Jesus tells us, “Be watchful!” and “Be alert!”. He is not warning us to be on the lookout so we can avoid God’s wrath but guiding us on how be people who live deeply conscious of the Kingdom he is proclaiming. Because Joselito is watchful and alert when he navigates the Ucayali River, he is deeply aware of the reality all aspects nature around us and we travel peacefully. Likewise, when we seek One to be prayerfully alert to world that surrounds us, God offers us a vision of life so we can live in peace with other people and all of creation. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that God is always closer to us than we are to ourselves. The challenge for us is to be more and more alert and responsive to that loving presence through our personal prayer, community prayer and our relationships with our brothers and sisters in the human family and throughout all of creation as we seek to “navigate” our lives with the vision of God’s Kingdom . The Good News is that we are never alone because our “Heavenly Boat Driver” is always guiding us. (TK)

Second Sunday of Advent: A Prayer
The voice of the prophet sounds in the in the depths of life. The “cry of the poor” is heard in ancient voices throughout ages, today the voices are new. “Prepare the Way, a Highway for our God.” “Let the valleys be filled and the mountains lowered, smooth the rough ways. Comfort, give comfort and bring Good News to the poor. This is the cry of the prophet. May our voices be attuned to this voice of hope. May we be the hope that is Your promise to us, inspire us to listen with joy. (LG)

A Reflection
One of the most difficult aspects of my job is the pastoral care of people in the parish who constantly must deal with inadequate health care. In my political district, there is only one doctor for every ten thousand people, no X ray machine, very crude clinical labs and often a shortage of basic medicine. The painful reality is that this injustice not only exists throughout the Peruvian Amazon but it is a reality for our sisters and brothers all throughout the Third World. Ignacio Ellacuria, one of the Jesuits martyred in El Salvador in 1989, preferred to call the poor countries the “Crucified World” because Christ continues to suffer in the poor who must daily live under inhuman conditions. Sister Guadalupe, a Franciscan sister in the parish is a very compassionate nurse and is absolutely wonderful in caring for people of all ages and a great inspiration for me. She regularly visits the sick and the dying in their homes. Sister Guadalupe would not even have basic pain killers to offer injections to people who are dying. I am often confused and ask myself, “How do I offer comfort to people who must suffer so much injustice?”

Most certainly this type of injustice must constantly be denounced. Inspired by the example of John the Baptist and Jesus, we all are called to denounce injustice and proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom. We know that denouncing an injustice system and trying to change it to better serve the poor is a difficult and slow task. What do we do in the meantime not to lose hope? Isaiah invites us today to find comfort in God’s constant and faithful presence with us-“Here is your God!” Like a shepherd, God “carries us in his bosom.” It seems to me that, after doing all we can to change an injustice system, the only other thing we can do is comfort the poor and suffering with the assurance that God loves them and is deeply present to them. As pastoral ministers, our presence and care to them is to be “physical proof” of God’s loving compassion for them.
We see in today’s Gospel that John the Baptist “prepares the way of the Lord” by calling his listeners to conversion. For Ellacuria, central to our commitment to ongoing conversion means asking, “What shall I do to bring down the ‘crucified people’ from the cross?” As we try to respond to that call to conversion in our own lives, with the help of the Holy Spirit promised by the Baptist we renew our commitment to denounce injustice in the world and manifest God’s personal and loving presence by caring for the poor and suffering. (TK)

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