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Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of Sr. Francis Xavier, who has been called the greatest missionary in history.  Near to the heart of all of us who claim an Ignatian spirituality, Francis was a friend and companion to Ignatius of Loyola and and co-founder of the Society of Jesus, and was one of the first Jesuits to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises had an enormous influence on Francis; he made the Exercises under the direction of Ignatius himself, and it was Francis’ experience of the Exercises that so filled him with his zeal and missionary spirit.  His life reflects an embrace of the recognition that loving God means being men and women for others, being “contemplatives in action.”

Francis understood that loving God means uniting oneself with God by joining God’s active labor to heal and save the world.  For him, a commitment to putting God first meant going where he was called, without regard to what his plans had been. He did that not out of compulsion, but out of love.  One of his companions once said of him “Anything he is asked to do, Francis does willingly, simply because he loves everyone.”

On this feast day of Francis Xavier, a day on which many of us will be participating in Memorial Masses for Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, who passed away a week ago, let us pray for Francis’ zeal and commitment to God’s plan.

       

On this day thirty-seven years ago, Salvadoran National Guardsmen abducted, raped, and murdered four American churchwomen: lay missionary Jean Donovan, Maryknoll sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, and Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel.

A few months before they were killed, Ita Ford wrote a letter to her niece and goddaughter.  It contained these lines:

I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you…something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for…something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be — that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search.

Ford, along with Donovan, Clarke and Kazel, found something worth dying for.  They knew they could be killed; they must have woken up each day knowing that day could be their last.  In another letter, Ford wrote, “I don’t know if it is in spite of, or because of the horror, terror, evil, confusion, lawlessness – but I do know that it is right to be here.”

What gives your life deep meaning?  What is worth living for – and dying for?

Today I gave a Mid-Day Advent Reflection on the Minneapolis campus of the University of St. Thomas on the theme: What is the Point of Advent?

Why is it important that we celebrate Advent each year?  During my talk I suggested several related themes I think we are meant to reflect on during the Advent period: God’s love; the invitation to humans to participate in God’s plan; the inevitability of the fulfillment of God’s promise; hope; and trust.

You can access a recording of the session here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 28:44 and ends at the point at which I opened the session up to sharing by participants.)

You can find a copy of the prayer materials we distributed to participants here.

And Advent Begins!

Today is the First Sunday in Advent.  Let me repeat that: the First Sunday in Advent.  That’s right, I said: Advent.

I feel the need to repeat that because most people want to jump directly from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  Yet Christmas actually beings – well – on Christmas Day.  (That is when we start celebrating “the twelve days of Christmas.”)  The period before that – the period we begin today is Advent.

And Advent matters.  It is an important period of preparation for the coming of Christ as Christmas. A  time of reflection, of penitence, and of preparation.

Instead of rushing right into Christmas, how about spending some time asking ourselves: What will I do during this Advent to give reality to the rule of Immanuel? How will I commit myself – in Advent and every day – to my part in making manifest God’s Kingdom.

I offer to you this Advent Prayer by  Henri Nouwen:

Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

P.S.  Instead of walking around singing Christmas carols, how about a few rousing verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”?

Ours, not Mine

Some six or seven years ago Walter Brueggemann wrote

The great crisis among us is the crisis of “the common good,” the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny—haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor. We face a crisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments, and offers human solidarity.

Promotion of the common good is a foundational principle of Catholic Social Thought; it has been termed one of the “permanent principles of the Church’s social doctrine.”

From the perspective of the Church’s teachings, the common good involves recognition and advancement of the universal dignity of the human person. Guadium et Spes defines the common good as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” This common good–the protection and promotion of the dignity of the human person–must be the primary orientation of society.

Because of the primacy of promoting the common good, Catholic Social Thought demands that it must be the aim of every human institution to promote human dignity, to promote the fundamental rights of persons to life, bodily integrity, and “the means that are suitable for the proper development of life.”

I believe Breuggemann was and is correct that we face a crisis about the common good, that “there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny.”  Those forces are not the result of any single political party or of any one person or groups of persons.  (There is plenty of blame to go around here, and my purpose is not to make judgments about fault.)

We need a re-commitment to the common good.  We must look beyond private interests and work to promote the dignity of all human persons.  This is a mission that is not just for the benefit of some, but for all of us.

Happy Thanksgiving!  On this day – as we ought every day (every moment of every day) – we give thanks to our God for all of the many gifts he has bestowed upon us.

And on this day, let us remember that all we are, all we have, is gift from our loving God.

Here is All is Gift, a poem by Kathy Sherman, CSJ.  You might spend some time with the text and then listen to a recording of it.

The colors of a sunrise,
a morning surprise,
the love you find in another’s eyes.
The hand that helps you up, when you’ve fallen down;
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.

The changing of the seasons, life is born anew.
Laughter and smiles and birds that sing;
that hope that we cling to when the darkness comes;
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.

Memories of a yesterday, tears that flow,
broken dreams, broken hearts we learn to grow.
A God who will let us know we’re not alone,
we’re not alone.
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.

Hearts that unite, a friendship born,
in sacred earth seeds are sown and we are fed.
Hands unafraid to reach and souls that touch;
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.

Stay Home on Friday!

There is a popular Thanksgiving meme that I have seen widely shared at about this time last year and this one.  It says:

Because only in America do we wait in line and trample others for sale items one day after giving thanks for what we already have.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  We will spend the day celebrating with our loved ones, giving thanks for all of our many blessings.

Why go from that to the insanity of Black Friday shopping?  There is still a month before Christmas!  There is nothing you need so badly that you need to make yourself crazy battling crowds in a shopping mall.

Why not let the celebration of that day spill over to the next day and abandon Black Friday in exchnage for Fun Friday?

Friday for us will be Christmas cookie baking day with Elena, her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s family.  We will spend the day baking many dozens of many types of cookies.  In between the cookie baking there will doubtless be stories about origins of recipes or special moments from prior cookie baking days.  We will nibble on leftovers from the Thanskgiving feast (because, after all, how much real food can one eat when you are sampling cookies all day?), and perhaps play a few games.  Not a one of us will step foot in a store, unless we discover we are out of butter or sugar or flour.

So whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow with family or with friends, let the celebration continue the next day.  Why “wait in line and trample others for sales items one day after giving thanks for what we already have”?

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