What only a child could believe

In the liturgy on this third day of the Advent-Christmas season, the Church expands our hearts to take in the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love in Christ. We are immediately reminded, as we pull out our nativities and advent wreaths and Christmas decorations, as we make our lists for Christmas gift-giving and party-throwing, that the birth of Christ brings eternity into time such that time now has meaning only in light of the Kingdom of Love that will last forever and ever. It is the Last Day of the Old Creation and the First Day of the New Creation. It is about the Day that we await with ardent hearts and fervent longing: the return of Christ.

On that day…
the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.

We will see this gentle image on the Christmas cards we receive and send, but how much more do we long in our hearts for this Peace that we have not yet experienced. There is too much “harm and ruin” in the world, shattering our hearts and hopes and security and trust.

But there it is. Isaiah has foretold it. It shall be. On that day there shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountains; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.

In today’s world, who can believe this? Who can believe that a tiny Child, the Son of God, who lived but thirty-three years two thousand years ago in a small and poor countryside could be about such a Kingdom, could bring about such a Peace.

Only a child.

We cannot stand with our hands at our sides waiting for this consummation beyond time of Isaiah’s joyful prophecy to be bestowed upon us. We have no reason to throw up our hands and cry out that things are getting worse and that the birth of God on earth has not brought about the kingdom of love that he preached.

The Gospel passage today follows immediately upon the return of the seventy disciples who had been sent out two by two to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand. Notice. They were not to proclaim that if people changed their lives and listened to them that the kingdom would come. They weren’t announcing that the kingdom would arrive as the result of a perfectly executed evangelization plan. No. It was a simple message. The kingdom is at hand. It is here. It is now.

So powerful was this message that Jesus told them that as a result of their preaching this message he had seen Satan fall like lightning from the sky.

At that moment, Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said,
“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.” 

It is only the childlike who can continue to announce the arrival of the kingdom of love in a world filled with insecurity, violence, and even hate. With even greater mystery than his sending the seventy-two disciples out to preach the kingdom, Christ continues in the Catholic Church to send out the “seventy-two” to preach the kingdom. He continues today to live and love and speak just as truly as when two thousand years ago he called to himself twelve apostles, preached throughout Galilee, and healed and reconciled and prayed and loved. Christ makes use of the Church so that the work he began in his lifetime might endure until the Second Coming. It is we today who are sent to announce that the kingdom is at hand.

Who can believe this?

Only a child.

If we try to make sense of it, we will not be able to. If we try to explain the existence of evil in the world in relation to Isaiah’s prophecy, it will not be possible. 

God has hidden these things from the wise and the learned. If we want to believe we must receive the revelation that the Father wishes to give to us. To receive it, we must be childlike.

Saint John Paul II helps us see that being childlike is not being naïve. It is believing that the Word of God has the last word in history. He stated on the World Day of Prayer for Peace in 1978: “We find, in Christ, a hope. Setbacks cannot render vain the work of peace, even if the immediate results prove to be fragile, even if we are persecuted for our witness in favor of peace. Christ the Savior associates with his destiny all those who work with love for peace…. Do not be afraid to take a chance on peace, to teach peace. The aspiration for peace will not be disappointed for ever. Work for peace, inspired by charity which does not pass away, will produce its fruits. Peace will be the last word of History.”

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay 

The Motherhood of Mary – Entering into Gospel Contemplation (Horizons of the Heart 10)

Entering Prayer

Offer your prayer to God, desiring that in every way it will give him glory. I pour myself out in worship. You could use a few lines from the following Psalms if this helps you enter into prayer:

Psalm 100:1-5
Psalm 34:1-9
Psalm 111:1-5
Psalm 95:1-7
Psalm 92:1-8
Psalm 7:17

Ask of God what you think you need. (It could be later that God will show what you truly need and what should be asking for, but begin now where you are.)

Imagining Yourself Present

Over several periods of prayer, linger imaginatively over the events of the annunciation, the visitation to Elizabeth, the trip of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and the birth of Jesus. Offer yourself to Mary and Jesus, imagining yourself present to these events of our salvation. Put yourself at the service of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus reflecting on what Mary is going through and how each of them is experiencing these events. Be present to them with “the whole affective power of your mind, with loving care, with lingering delight, thus laying aside all other worries and cares.”

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The Annunciation: Luke 1:26-38
The Visitation: Luk1: 39-45
The Trip to Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus: Luke 2:1-20

Note regarding praying with your imagination: Everyone can imaginatively be present somehow to a past event through memory in various ways. Imagining doesn’t necessary mean making images, that is, creating a little movie about the events we are contemplating. Some people imagine through their feelings, simply having a sense of what is happening, others visually through picturing, others through hearing. Entering imaginatively into these mysteries of our salvation will gradually give one an experiential and deeply felt understanding, rather than a notional knowledge.

Why is this important? This deep-felt knowledge implies an intimate caring, an attentive closeness that is aware of even the inner movements of thought and emotion in oneself and the other. We follow Jesus here and now through the work of the Spirit who weaves together our own history with salvation history. This happens through symbol and imagination. When we become part of the gospel story we allow our whole life to be affected by the Spirit. 

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Imagining the Gospel events in the present

Re-read in the scriptures these events or simply reflect on them as though they were happening now. Bring them up to your mind’s eye with “lingering delight” as though they were occurring right in your neighborhood so to speak. Notice which aspects of these mysteries begin to involve you a little more deeply.

Notice: In Gospel Contemplation, Ignatius takes advantage of the way in which spiritual growth, like so many other aspects of maturing that we experience, takes place primarily when our affectivity is engaged. It is the shift in one’s deeper emotions and feelings that leads to a change in one’s behavior. We reach these deeper levels through metaphor, image, and symbol—the work of the imagination.

In Gospel contemplation you attempt to grasp something of Jesus’ human existence and as you do this, the Spirit begins to grasp you in your existence. This prayer gives us contact with Jesus, the risen Lord, who is present now, influencing my life now. The historical events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, his healing and his preaching, transcend time and place. The THEN of Jesus’ life becomes NOW. It is important to allow oneself to become part of the story-event.

Observing attractions and resistance

Observe the actions, words, emotions, sensitivities, attitudes of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and to which of them you feel more attracted. Which of them arouse more negative feelings or resistance? Return to aspects of these meditations that seem more personally meaningful.

Notice: How are you entering the story? Are you your present age or another age? How are you taking part in the mystery? What are you noticing about your emotions as you interact with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus? What happens when you interact with the persons in the story? Are you just thinking about them or are you speaking with them? Are you watching or are you a participant? Are you allowing yourself to be moved, surprised, touched, even angered by what happens or are you keeping everything under control?

Entering the Mystery of the story

As you begin to enter the mystery of the story more deeply, you will begin to see or hear or touch. You will enter into the event and interact more deeply. Little by little you will become more present to the mystery and the mystery will be present to you.

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Moving through deepening levels of stillness

As your contemplative prayer deepens, you will be open to being affected deeply by Jesus’ Spirit at both conscious and less-than-conscious levels of your being.

It may move you gradually through deepening levels to stillness. You may find yourself just there, totally involved—seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting. It is almost as if the experience has gone into slow motion, and time passes as one is present to the Beloved and the Beloved to oneself. One is there; Jesus is there. The mystery is there. No words are necessary and no great thoughts need to surface. This is the experience of “O taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”

Desiring to follow Jesus

As I become more and more involved in the event of Jesus’ mystery that I am contemplating, my life and my choices are affected. I find myself changing and desiring to change. I begin to follow Jesus in a particular way.

As you contemplate more deeply, as you soak in these mysteries of Mary’s motherhood, where do you observe emotions or reactions like fear, guilt, resistance? Do any memories become more present to your awareness? How do you feel drawn toward something new? Speak to Mary, Joseph and Jesus about what you observe and experience. What do you begin to learn about your following of Jesus?

You may wish to journal about this.

Image: Cathopic

Conversing as with a friend

Continue in quiet—or even silent—intimate conversation with Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Ask them what is the grace that you should be praying for. Beg this grace of the Father. Then beg this grace of the Son, your Savior and Shepherd. Finally, beg for this grace from the Holy Spirit who is the source of all holiness.

If you wholly lived this grace that you are begging for, what would your life look like? Your relationships? Your prayer? The way you work? The way you love? The way you serve? What about you would make you the most happy?

Ask Mary, Joseph and Jesus to show you one specific gift they wish to give you. Receive it and remain in stillness and quietly relaxed presence under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Reviewing the graces of prayer

When you finish praying, write down the main gifts and discoveries from this time of intimate contemplation. What is one concrete thing you can do to solidify these gifts in your life.

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The people were hanging on Jesus’ every word

“Every day he was teaching…all the people were hanging on his words” (Luke 19: 47-48).

Jesus, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, is our Teacher and Master.  Every day we need to hear the Lord speaking. Every day we need the direction only Jesus can give. Every day society needs to be reorganized and renewed according to the words of life from the Lord of Life. Every. Day.

“Every day he was teaching…all the people were hanging on his words.”

Some days might seem to us to be too busy, too crazy, to take time to read God’s Word found in the Bible. But every day that Jesus was on this earth he taught us. God himself learned to speak in our faltering language about our very creaturely struggles, addressing our profound weakness and glaring needs for healing. He whom the angels praise with song and glory humbled himself to become a man in order to teach us, to save us, to reconcile us with the Father that we might live forever in heaven.

When Jesus ascended into heaven 2000 years ago, did his teaching end? Were we to hear his voice no more? That beloved voice that spoke to us the truth, that comforted and challenged, that proclaimed words of healing and forgiveness and courage? That voice that touched individual lives in ever so profound ways. Where can we encounter Jesus today in order to hear his voice as he speaks to us personally?

Pope Francis, in his document Desiderio Desideravi, wrote that every word, every gesture, every glance, every feeling of Jesus reaches us through the Eucharist, through the celebration of all the sacraments. It is in the Eucharist and the sacraments that we encounter Jesus. It is there that we hear him. It is there that we experience how he sees us, what he thinks about us, what he feels toward us (cf. n. 11).

It is when we receive Jesus in Communion that the events narrated in the Gospel become present to us today. When we have received Jesus in the Eucharist, when we are before him in adoration, Pope Francis helps us understand how Jesus and his teaching become present. There in prayer in the real presence of Jesus, we can each say: “I am Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man possessed by demons at Capernaum, the paralytic in the house of Peter, the sinful woman pardoned, the woman afflicted by hemorrhages, the daughter of Jairus, the blind man of Jericho, Zacchaeus, Lazarus, the thief and Peter both pardoned. The Lord Jesus who dies no more, who lives forever with the signs of his Passion continues to pardon us, to heal us, to save us with the power of the sacraments. It is the concrete way, by means of his incarnation, that he loves us” (n. 11).

St Ephrem helps us reflect more deeply on this when he says: “O Lord, we cannot go to the pool of Siloam to which you sent the blind man. But we have the chalice of your Precious Blood, filled with life and light. The purer we are, the more we receive.”

“Every day he was teaching…all the people were hanging on his words.”

A friend once told me about her young nephew asking her why the people in the Church were processing to the altar. What was it all about? he wanted to know. She explained that they were receiving Jesus himself in the Eucharist. He thought about that for a few moments and then he asked her, “If that is really true, then why doesn’t everyone look happy?”

These words come back to me often. As a Daughter of St. Paul I have received holy Communion and made an hour of Eucharistic adoration every day for the past 49 years. There are times when I’m distracted, tired, preoccupied, or just “not present.” It is at these times that we can recall that the people of Judea were hanging on Jesus’ every word! And I, we, have the immense privilege to be able to receive the gift Jesus gave us at the Last Supper: himself. He wanted to stay with us always: to teach us every day, to love and forgive us, heal and transform us. The Eucharist is real, it is really the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. In receiving the Eucharist we receive from Jesus healing and health. He teaches us and heals our sins and our ills and feeds our body and our soul. The Eucharist is life. The Eucharist brings us eternal life.

Let us, therefore, hang on Jesus’ every word. Let us approach the altar with joy and thanksgiving. Let us reserve our hearts for him through a gentle asceticism which makes room for his glory in our lives. Let us keep Jesus company in the Eucharist whenever we are able. Even if we can’t pray in a Eucharistic chapel, in spirit we can always prostrate ourselves before Jesus in the Tabernacles of the world in adoration and thanksgiving, ready to hear what he desires to say to us.

Let us hang on Jesus’ every word.

Image Credit: Érica Viana via Cathopic