Category Archives: Advent 2015

Advent Reflection – by Bill Thornton

AdventCandlesBokehAnd so Advent is over. Many would say that it is too soon. “I still have a lot to do before Christmas. Preparations to make, last minute gifts to buy, things to do, people to see. Advent can’t be over.” Others say “Finally! Advent is all about Christmas, and here is Christmas.”

We have experienced Advent, as we always do, at the same time as and in connection with “the holidays,” with all the parties and other festive events, Christmas shopping season, with the pressures of getting the right gifts and making sure they are properly wrapped, sent on their way, and received on time, family time with our need to connect and reconnect with those most dear to us in a special way. All these things are good, necessary even, but they are not Advent.

I experienced Advent as a seminarian for several years a long time ago in a semi-cloistered community of religious men without all of the other things that happen each year in December. I do not want to say that this was better or worse, but it was different, Continue reading

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Advent Reflection – by Kathleen Sacks

mariotto-albertinelli-the-visitation-of-st-elizabeth-to-the-virgin-mary(This reflection was offered on Tuesday at Evening Prayer by Kathleen Sacks.)

“Hi, I’m Mrs. Sacks and I teach FACS. FACS is Family and
Consumer Science….some of you might remember it as HOME
EC.”

That’s how I began class last week for our annual Generation Day as part
of the class “Lifespan Studies”. It is a HS elective class that teaches the
adolescent concepts of self-identity, attitude and communication and how these
help the teen to relate to different age groups in the Lifespan.
Our unit on Generations began with stereotypes. ….and how they exist
for and against us. We discussed the stereotypes that teens have towards the
elderly, their parents, and stereotypes that people have concerning teenagers.
After we studied the history, values and personality of different generations,
students were asked to invite a grandparent or parent to come to our class to
share stories.

As a result of this experience, students understood that they have
resources in their lives…..maybe ones that they didn’t realize were resources!
My students got to hear how their parents and grandparents days as teenagers
compared to theirs. After only an hour, the students learned how much more
they have in common rather than how different they are from the adult
generations.

What is it about sharing common life experiences with another that
touches our hearts? From joys to sorrows and everything in between, there is a
surge of solace and relief when someone else says to us, I know, I know. In
addition to their spoken words, we are touched by other comforting aspects of
our encounter with them including their facial expressions, body language,
laughter, stories and tears. All of this binds us together as a voice inside our
heart whispers: They know. They really do know. From this connection of trust
emerges new strength and resolve. (Susan Naatz, Creighton University’s Ministry
Department)

Later that same day, a former student dropped in to visit. She had just
graduated a few months before and came to talk. She told me how she had just
come from the doctor, “ I’m pregnant”.

Ugh, I groaned.

I laughed, you’re kidding, right? She pulled this on me last year as a joke!

No, I really am…..she smiled.

WHAT? I thought….didn’t you listen to one thing in all the classes you
took with me….

Well, what are you going to do? I asked.
I’m keeping my baby, Mrs. Sacks!!

So there it was…….this girl, student, friend of mine….underemployed,
technically homeless, no spouse….. just shared the news that she was joyously
carrying a new life within her and I greeted her like she had the plague!
We read in Luke’s gospel that when Mary finds out she is pregnant she
rushes to her older cousin Elizabeth who is also expecting her first child. Having
responded to God’s call, Mary likely hungers to see her cousin’s face and
experience Elizabeth’s love.

I can imagine that Mary predicted Elizabeth’s unconditional acceptance,
literally leaping joyfully, youthful exuberance, to visit her cousin and share the
news. Upon arrival she fell into the arms of her beloved cousin and dear friend,
awkwardly hugging around Elizabeth’s growing belly. I can picture how they
must have shared countless stories, gestures of love and understanding all the
while communicating to one another: I know. I know.

At Pope Francis’ celebration of the mass for the Third Sunday of Lent, he
said, “ Today, we are asked not to let our hands grow weak because of doubt,
impatience or suffering,” but to place our trust in the Lord. The coming of the
Lord must fill our hearts with joy he said, noting that God always protects his
people. As Pope Francis opened the doors of the Basilica, I pause to think what
doors….doors of mercy, Jesus is opening for me.

Soon we will celebrate the birth of our Savior……not just mine…ours!
There is hope! There is love! I am hopeful…..when I know I am loved. I can
share that love through the actions of my hands….my heart. Jesus, help me to
love as you have loved! Let me love without conditions….

There’s no such thing as an accidental child…only an accidental parent! I
know my friend has a rough road ahead of her. I know I will help. I know
parenting will be difficult for her. I know I could have been a little more joyful at
the news. I know, I know. I know too much of what lies ahead for her. I ask
you to pray for her…..and pray for all parents. Let us hope that each life is
joyfully accepted. Jesus, help us love…. love God…just love our neighbor ….be
there for our neighbor. I know. May the joy of Christmas, the joy of knowing
love, radiate from each of us in each of our lives.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us…..all of us

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Advent Reflection for December 21, 2015 by Doreen Salse

candles

“He must increase, I must decrease” – John 3:30

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice and we will see a welcome increase of light in our days after months of gradual decrease. Light is one of the most beautiful symbols of Advent as Christ, the Light of the World, comes to dispel darkness and death forever.

Since childhood I’ve been attracted to candles in church, especially in the winter. I watched them glow as I lit them with a prayer, early in the morning or in the dimming day. The flames made shadows on the wall promising – they are called votive candles for a reason – that the hope I attached to them would never be extinguished. During Advent the candles alongside the altar help count away the days until the arrival of the Light that shines eternally.

When I was thinking about what my Advent reflection for today would be, I thought about sharing a story about candles, love and light that happened at a dinner party I hosted a few years ago. Here it is:

During dinner my guests began telling stories about their childhoods. One of the guests, I’ll call him John, went to parochial school in the 1950’s. He was an altar boy, and as he told it, the position came with certain schoolboy “privileges”. In those days, he said, altar boys assisted at funerals. Mass was celebrated early in the morning, and if there was a procession in the cemetery, chances were that the boys would probably show up at school sometime after lunch. By the time the boys were back in the classroom, it was almost time to go home. John was one of the kids who, always ready for a short school day, raised his hand to volunteer when an altar boy was called for.

For the most part being very young, he didn’t know the people for whom the Masses were celebrated. On one sad occasion he did. The little brother of a friend of his died at the age of three or four. John served at his funeral Mass and walked in the procession at the cemetery.

It snowed quite a bit the day of the funeral and the altar boys wore boots to protect their feet, but no coats to cover their surplices and cassocks. John and the other server walked shivering on either side of the pallbearers, holding their candles and charged with not letting them be extinguished.

It was a windy day, the snow was deep and John concentrated on that candle, shielding it as best as he could. He was focusing very hard on his task when the unthinkable happened. One of the pallbearers either stumbled or slipped, causing the little coffin to fall to the ground, and the impact caused it to open and spill the beloved baby.

At this point in the story, I and the other guests were horrified. We asked, “How old were you? It must have been traumatic for a little boy to witness such a tragic thing. What went through your mind when all this was happening?”

John just nodded a little solemnly and said, “I thought, at least I didn’t let the candle go out.”

We changed the subject and a little soberly went back to eating our dinner and looked for a less disturbing childhood story to tell.

Later, when we were having dessert, John’s wife stepped away from the table for a few minutes. When she returned, she mumbled something incoherently and fell forward on to the floor, narrowly hitting her head on the dining table. She lay there very still for seconds that seemed more like an hour, and when she came to, we laid her on the sofa in the living room and called 911. She began talking normally and said she felt fine; she didn’t need medical attention and didn’t want us to make a fuss.

The paramedics came and John gently and lovingly convinced his wife that she must go to the hospital, even though she thought she was all right.   He promised his wife of over 40 years that he would be at her side, just like he had always been, and that he wouldn’t leave her until they could come home together.

While she was being loaded on to the ambulance, we helped John on with his hat and coat. He insisted on driving alone to the hospital even though the weather was turning bad, and the wind was blowing hard outside.

When he was going out the door someone asked, “Are you ok? How are you feeling?” He said he thought his wife would be fine. And he said that he was relieved. “I’m glad my candle didn’t go out.”

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Waiting still, willing or not

Emmanuel-god-with-us(REPOST: This is the text of a reflection that I had offered at St. Edward the Confessor on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 – during Evening Prayer.)
God is with us.

God is with us.

God is with us.

It doesn’t always feel like God-is-with-us, does it? Especially now. Typically we might find ourselves on December 18th, pretty deeply into the “are-we-there-yet?” stage. You know, that feeling where we find our “it’s-almost-Christmas” glee crisscrossing with high anxiety over all the things yet unaccomplished as we race towards December 25.

Anxiety or glee – neither one is especially rooted in our Advent journey of holy waiting, but both are very common things to feel. I don’t know about you, but I am in a state of mind and heart that says, “can-we-leave-now?” rather than “are-we-there-yet?” And the “God-is-with-us” matter might be harder than usual to grasp. This makes me wonder if perhaps “are-we-there-yet?” and “can-we-leave-now?” are the wrong questions to ask.

waitingWe might find ourselves wanting to ask the question… is God with us? Of course God is with us! And God is coming to be with us in the form of the newly born Jesus. If we ask about a specific location or a point in the journey – no, we are not there yet. I’m still considering bailing out. Despite feeling very attractive though, fleeing might not be the answer; it does seem less than advisable to leave at this stage, doesn’t it?

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, we hear about Joseph, the righteous man. We know this story; perhaps we even take it for granted. We are used to every sort of tale about hook-ups and break-ups, nothing seems to shock us, does it? Yeah, yeah, yeah – we know what Joseph does with Mary, blah blah. Can we move on? Is it Christmas yet? Are we there yet?

Not so fast!

This story is shocking, and it demands our attention. As usual, God calls to us from the places beyond what our “heads” can process. This is a story of the heart, and it is brilliantly shocking.

It is not shocking because Mary was with child before she and Joseph were married according to the law. The story is shocking because Mary said “yes” and was bearing the Son of God, the long-foretold Emmanuel – or God-is-with-us. Mary agreed to God’s request! This is the shock of mutually agreed upon intercourse between God and us! Ours is a God that does not want to push us around like tiny toys on a game board, but a God that deeply longs to be in relationship with us. A God that wants to be with us – and one of us!

Back to the “are-we-there-yet”… In the Gospel, Joseph seems ready for the “can-we-leave-now?” portion of the program. Joseph, like us – is not there yet, but he is about to be there. Can he stick with God? Can we stick with Joseph? And stick with God in the process?

Joseph knew that his relationship with Mary might face some challenges under the circumstances, problems simply too great to deal with. A lesser man might have speedily divorced Mary – basically dumping her. Such an act would have left her with zero social standing. In the case of first century Palestine, that would have meant complete rejection from every element of life as Mary knew it. She would have been an outcast – along with a child designated as an outcast too.

But God is indeed with us and God had – God HAS – other plans.

Joseph was going to take the high road. His plan, we are told, was to do what he had to do by law, quietly, as not to shame Mary and reduce her social standing. He was saying yes, in the only way that he knew how, by adhering to the law. Yet, he does so in such a gentle way. I love that the word used is that he was unwilling to expose her to shame.” Unwilling! In most matters of faith, it is our willingness that matters, but in this case, it was Joseph’s unwillingness that formed the foundation for his willingness! This is his fiat, or yes to God. What an interesting mirror to Mary’s yes! Joseph would not be hurtful, nor would he be self-protective. He would do what he had to, what he believed that God expected him to do, but do it in a way that was filled with goodness and grace. That is what made him righteous, and not self-righteous.

But the God-with-us-ness of what was to come was bigger than all of this. Joseph went to sleep, perhaps with the weight of the pending divorce on his mind. Did he fall asleep concerned or anxious? Afraid even? Angry? Perhaps he was sad, or even broken-hearted. We do not know, but what we do know is that he fell asleep and an even bigger yes was on its way.

Joseph fell asleep and had a dream- and what a dream he had! Using every means necessary, God – the God-with-us – uses this dream as the perfect way to communicate with his righteous servant Joseph, through the voice of the angel, Gabriel. Think of this as Joseph’s annunciation!

If you were here last week, you heard me refer to the artwork of Brother Mickey McGrath, and I’m about to do that again. Yesterday, when researching images for this post, I came across a video in which Brother Mickey was talking about Joseph and this dream, while showing a painting of Joseph asleep. In the image, the sleeping Joseph’s head is angled down in rest. Above his right ear we see an angel whispering, “It’s OK.”

In those two words we hear what God is trying to tell us – “it’s OK.”

Right now it is very easy to feel like nothing is OK. We have had significant tragedy here locally and we have seen tragedy in Newtown. The “are-we-there-yet?” we were feeling, might be replaced with “can-we-leave-now?” In fact, mentally, maybe we have left, we are just checked out.

Yet – God is with us! God is with us! God is with us!

The reality is that there is always tragedy somewhere, everywhere, even if not in our line of sight. This does not reduce what has happened here, or in Newtown. In places all over the globe, in our own homes and hearts, countless tragedies take place every day, in ways great and small.

Yet – hard as it may be to believe – God is with us. I mean – God is with us! God is with us! We may not always be aware of that angel hovering over our ear whispering, “it’s OK. But that is what is happening, all the time, because God is with us. What will we do with this when we “wake up?”

God asks us to live and believe the great “it’s-OK-ness” that God has promised to us, that God gives to us, this God-with–us, found in Jesus, our Emmanuel.

And it is in our own Joseph-inspired-unwilling-willingness, our own yes, however reluctantly uttered, that we do agree. During times like these, many of us may not be able to say that yes with ease – or to say it at all. But our God is with us, pursuing us, patient with us, and persistent in getting to our yes. And in that yes and the road to it, we are on our way, not quite there yet, but filled with the spirit and ready to meet our Emmanuel.

God is with us. God is with us. God is with us. It’s OK!
(Below you will find the video that I spoke of earlier.)

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Promise about to be fulfilled – An Advent Reflection by Bill Thornton

advent2015I like to look at the readings of the daily Mass for some sort of “word” for the day. When I checked out today’s gospel what I saw was a bunch of the dreaded “begats,” forty-two of them in all. [Actually, the New American Bible uses “became the father of …” but you get the idea.]

The point is that this is when, in the Advent season, that we stop thinking about the 4000 year wait of the Jewish people and turn to getting ready for the fulfillment of the promise that they were waiting for. The gospel for today is from is from the beginning of Matthew’s gospel setting forth the genealogy of Jesus on Joseph’s side, and tomorrow’s gospel continues reading the same chapter telling the story of the conception of Jesus from Joseph’s point of view. You remember – his reassurance from the angel.

[Luke’s gospel sets forth the genealogy from Continue reading

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Tuesday Evening Sung Prayer – Join us!

Make time for a little music, prayer, and peace this Lent, please join us for Evening Prayer on Tuesday at 7PM, all are welcome. We are located at 569 Clifton Park Center Road, Clifton Park.

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Third Sunday of Advent – A reflection by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

imagesAt a time that stood in the shadow of notorious papal scandal and other church corruption, a time of great distrust of the church, a saint came along to who would change some of this. This man had a great desire to counter these feelings of suspicion and a lack of trust, and replace them with a love of the Lord. If you were walking around Rome in the 16th century you might have spied him, perhaps standing in a piazza or on a street corner. He might stand out because he was frequently seen wearing absolutely ridiculous clothing and sometimes with half of his beard shaved off. What a sight! It was in this way that St. Philip Neri helped to change the course of church history, and bring many souls to know Christ.

While Neri is known for his extraordinary evangelizing, it was this offbeat approach that helped change lives. By joyfully using his extraordinary sense of humor, St. Philip left a huge imprint upon the church and the world. All this was accomplished by engaging others in conversation. These conversations might start with distrust or simply mere curiosity. Then they would eventually turn to laughter, which would become moments of conversion for many.

Introducing others to Christ came naturally to Neri, and in the most joyful way. In fact he once remarked that, A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.”

quote-a-joyful-heart-is-more-easily-made-perfect-than-a-downcast-one-philip-neri-72-67-49Joy is our theme today, the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. The word Gaudete comes from Latin and it means rejoice. It is in our rejoicing that our hearts are made more perfect as we prepare a place to welcome Jesus, our Emmanuel.

But wait, we are to prepare a place? What place? And we are to prepare a place with joy? What joy? In our culture, the broader call of these weeks is to prepare for Christmas. You know, by spinning ourselves dizzy with cards, cooking, baking, shopping, socializing and more. However, this day is a marker on the Advent path that directs us to the heart of our joy, reminding us to keep the focus on the Lord.

Each year I vow to practice a quieter and calmer Advent. Honestly, I like to think that I will do such a thing, but I rarely achieve it. This Advent has me busy, but I have attempted to trim some of my activities, resulting in the creation of a bit of needed space. This is a mirror of our liturgical season, so that a place for the newborn Lord might be prepared in my heart. That tiny space is like a manger in my heart. It’s not the best spot, but it will do.

If we can keep our preparation focused on our hearts, rather than on our tasks, and we can also be focused on joy, we might be able access new places. Now the birth of Christ might be anticipated with the silent, patient, hopeful waiting of this season. This is joy to be had now, not postponed. Joy that is only increased as the child is born. This is the joy that helps bring our hearts to perfection.

Yet, in the midst of this, I am aware that it is dangerously easy to make religious practice into a dry and somber act, one that is certainly not joyful. How can we prepare this barren place for new life with joy?

rejoiceJoyfulness is the core of the words of the prophet Zephaniah in the first reading, which tells us to shout for joy, sing joyfully. We hear the message to “be glad and exult.” We are also told not to be discouraged. We should not be discouraged because God is in our midst. God is in our midst, a mighty savior who wants to rejoice over us in gladness; God in our midst having removed all judgment against us. Suddenly I imagine St. Philip, with half a beard and funny clothes, telling people about the promise of Christ in their midst!

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul repeats the same message – rejoice! As if he understood that we might be skeptical, or outright disbelieving, and as if he knew that we would lack joy, he repeats himself, “I shall say it again: rejoice!”

What don’t we understand about this? The Lord is near, and the Lord offers of the peace that is beyond our understanding. This is what is available to us through Christ – a kind of joy not known before. “A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.” St. Philip reinterprets St. Paul who said it first, using different words.

6e8f4a10eca3c8570802ad461dbe4ed7Why then, is this so hard to integrate into our lives? I ask myself this question! Although I make my way, I stumble. I am trying to muster some joy and gratitude, some hope and some recognition of the God that is already in my midst. That God is healing, forgiving, loving, reconciling and is right here, right now.

I don’t know about you, but here we are, less than two weeks before Christmas, and despite all of my words, I’m not there yet. Just what do I find in my midst? I find anxiety over shopping, money, unfinished work on my desk, and not being good enough for God. Yet it is God who is in my midst, who is in our midst – bringing us that joy in great abundance. We are not asked to manufacture joy, we are asked to respond to it in kind.

So now what? That all sounds well and good, but what should I do? This is the question at the heart of Luke’s Gospel for today, “What then should we do?” John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord, is drawing attention to himself by baptizing and preaching. Unlike St. Philip who often used levity, John the Baptist is very serious. Make no mistake however; they have more than a few things in common.

People want something, but they do not know what to do, so they ask him. John minces no words. Give more. You have two tunics? Good, give one to someone else! If you have anything, share it. Even the despised tax collectors want to know what to do, and John is as clear with them; do not take more than you are supposed to take. Sounds easy enough, but that went against the standard of the time. Of course, we must stop to consider this; John is addressing us as well. Can we do this?

slideshow_advent_3-1And how is this joyful? It is if we stop confusing joy with happiness, and begin to understand the state of our hearts when they encounter Jesus. When we encounter and stay with Christ, we find the heart of joy. We come to discover that God is in our midst, and we are forgiven. This God in our midst, this God-with-us, has given deep peace. This God, our Emmanuel, has come to save us in the form of the Christ child. That is at the heart of our joy.

Perhaps then, out of that heart of joy, we can find the ability to both prepare a place for the Lord and also to give what we have away. We can do this because of one joyful fact; the more we come to know Christ and give everything away, the more He comes to live in our hearts. Now that is cause for rejoicing! And it is in that rejoicing in Christ that our hearts, perhaps not joyful at first, might be turned to Him.

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Hungry_and_you_fed_meThis was first published in 2012 as part of the Homilists for the Homeless project in the book, Hungry, And You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, by Clear Faith Publishing. To date, in excess of $100,000 has been donated to various charities as a result of the sales of these books. As an original contributor, and as someone actively involved with this project, I remain humbled to be a part of it all.

Please visit our website. In addition to that charitable project, we also offer other books and items, such as works by liturgical composer David Haas, and prolific author and priest, Fr. Bill Bausch, among others. Also featured are calendars, cards, and a book by Bro. Mickey McGrath OSFS. Proceeds from these books benefit the ministers and their various ministries. Please like and follow us on Facebook if you have not done so already. Local Albany people can also find the book at O’Connor’s Church Goods in Latham.

 

 

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