Today I invited both Sr Julia Mary and Jeannette de Beauvoir for a conversation about Lent… Lent in a pandemic, doing penance when we feel like we’ve been doing penance all year, should we make resolutions for Lenten practice or is there something better, what are some secrets for a fruitful and grace-filled Lent. I hope you join us!
God is love. God cannot be nor do anything except love. The whole universe is full of his mighty deeds. He manifests the splendor of his majesty by reaching out and saving what he has made. The Father transfigures and transforms us into images of his Son so that we too might participate in his glory for all eternity.
But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
your name endures to all generations.
You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to favor it;
the appointed time has come. . . .
The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all the kings of the earth your glory.
For the Lord will build up Zion;
he will appear in his glory.
He will regard the prayer of the destitute,
and will not despise their prayer.
Ps 102:12–13, 15–17
The years of midlife. Transitions. Endings. Wanderings. Grieving.
But also new beginnings. Surprises. Unexpected redirection. Unsuspected rewrites to your accepted narrative for the “you” that you’ve grown comfortable with.
This is the first in a series on the middle years in which we are looking at our midlife transitions, our ultimate yesses to our vocations in the light of the women and men who at midlife responded to God’s gift and call. Today we’re talking about Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.
It is surprising how many decisions we make in a day. Some are very small and inconsequential. Others are much more difficult. The situations may be complex. The information, not entirely clear. The possible consequences are more grave. And at times, with all the good will in the world, we just don’t know the right thing to do.
As we face this next stage of the pandemic that we as a world are trying to navigate together, there are principles that we can apply in making the numerous necessary decisions: Do I wear a mask? Do I travel? Do I visit relatives? Do I get a vaccination? These are just a few that come readily to mind.
To emerge from this crisis a better world than we had before 2020, we need to really reflect on the word together and the word love. We must come through this crisis together. Create a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all.
Here are three main principles of Catholic teaching that you can use in making these important decisions:
First Principle: The dignity of the human person
A Christian response to the pandemic is rooted in charity. We’ve all heard the stories of individuals buying their way to the front of the line for the vaccine or companies and politicians seeking to profit from the pandemic.
Christian love is an embodiment in the here-and-now of God’s divine way of loving, of his willingness to send his Son to become man for the sake of those he loved with an unconditional and tender care. Christ loved us while we were sinners. The pandemic challenges us to switch from arranging things to get what is best for ourselves to giving what is needed to benefit others, even before ourselves, even at our personal cost.
“Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” (Benedict XVI, Homily for the beginning of the Petrine ministry, 24 April 2005). When we see each person with the gaze of faith, we see each one as a brother or sister, as a gift given us from the Father. This attentiveness leads to wonder, respect, and care that is offered freely and willingly in such a way that those who are the weakest are prioritized.
“There is an enormous range of needs and duties that we must catch a glimpse of, that we must place before our eyes, if we wish to be ‘in solidarity with Christ.’ Because, when all is said and done, that is just what it amounts to: ‘As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Mt 25::40). Christ is on man’s side; and he is on the side of both parties; on the side of the one who is waiting for solicitude, service and charity; and on the side of the one who renders service, bears solicitude, shows love” (John Paul II, homily on November 26,1978).
Second Principle: The common good
The choice to take the vaccine is a choice each of us needs to make for ourselves, but we can’t make it for our own sake alone. We don’t live within a vacuum. The wounds inflicted by the coronavirus crisis will only be healed if we put the common good first.
“Practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary. In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good”(Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, no. 5).
The coronavirus is showing us that each person’s true good is a common good, not only individual. Similarly, the common good is a true good for the person (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1905-1906). “Health, in addition to being an individual good, is also a public good. A healthy society is one that takes care of everyone’s health” (Pope Francis, September 9, 2020).
God has created us out of love as people capable of loving as he has loved us. We have the unique dignity of living in communion with him and in communion with our brothers and sisters.
The saints who at the cost of their own lives ministered to the sick and the dying during plagues and pandemics in previous centuries are rightly admired. The light they emanate has made a mark on entire periods of the world’s history.
No less impressive are those who in these past months gave up their opportunity for a ventilator so that it could be given to another.
The heroic doctors and nurses and other first responders who even today still remain at their post to save lives and serve the rest of us are modern-day icons of divine Charity.
Though the choice about vaccination may seem small in relation to these giants of the human community, it is no less heroic. Whatever decision we make regarding vaccination needs to include how we will keep others safe. It is a choice of holiness.
“In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed. Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.” (ibid.)
Third Principle The preferential option for the poor
The pandemic has exposed the plight of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world. Pope Francis has called this social injustice an even greater “virus” than Covid-19.
In situations of desperation, in times of uncertainty and fear, individuals and nations may be tempted to make sure they provide for themselves first. Frightened hearts seek to create conditions for their own security. It is the fallen condition. The Christian call to love like God, however, calls us to a preferential option for the poor.
Pope Francis said, “It would be sad if, for the vaccine for Covid-19, priority were to be given to the richest! It would be sad if this vaccine were to become the property of this nation or another, rather than universal and for all. And what a scandal it would be if all the economic assistance we are observing—most of it with public money—were to focus on rescuing those industries that do not contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, the promotion of the least, the common good or the care of creation (LS 158)” (August 19, 2020).
The world itself needs profound physical, social and spiritual healing in order for governments and organizations, businesses and groups, to reverse their priorities in who and what they see as most important. So much conversion is needed before it will become second nature for whole societies to come together to share what they have with those who are most in need.
As Christians acting from love, however, we can creatively enact change. We can act with power upon the culture, through our individual actions to live in love and put before us in line, so to speak, the poor and the most in need of care.
So with our gaze fixed on Jesus (cf. Heb 12:2) and with the certainty that his love is operative through the community of his disciples, let us act all together, in order to create a new and better world where love is the foundation and the hope of all.
Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP
Resolution time. New Year. New you. New …
The making of New Year’s resolutions is about 4,000 years old. The ancient Babylonians were the first to hold recorded celebrations for the new year (which for them was in mid-March when the crops were planted). Besides the twelve-day religious festival, they crowned a new king at the beginning of the new year or reaffirmed loyalty to their reigning king, and made promises to their gods to pay their debts and return anything they had borrowed from others. The Babylonians believed if they kept their word they would be favored by the gods. Julius Caesar established January 1 as the beginning of the new year circa 46 B.C. The calendar month January was named for Janus, a two-faced god who looked backwards into the past year and forwards into the future. The Romans offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of good conduct the year to come.
Our popular New Year’s resolutions aren’t far removed from these ancient practices. I don’t know about you, but the practice of New Year’s resolutions is not that helpful for me, and judging by the abundant blog posts that come out at this time of year, it doesn’t seem that constructive a practice for a lot of people.
So this year I turned to the three kings who followed a star to the crib of the King of kings for advice on how to step into the new year 2021. The magi are identified as Melchior who hailed from Persia, Gaspar (also called “Caspar” or “Jaspar”) from India, and Balthazar from Arabia. The three kings were religious scholars, revered Babylonian astronomers and astrologists. They studied the stars and planets, interpreting the meaning behind cosmic events. The appearance of the “star”—or the alignment of the planets in the heavens as we experienced on December 21— must have been rare and visually spectacular, and it would have been a clear message for the Magi. These things could certainly lead our magus to conclude that a Jewish king had been born. So off they went to speak with Herod.
We could say that these “wise men from the east,” entered into a new chapter of their lives when they observed the astronomical event in the heavens that has been called the Christmas star.
As they watched the heavenly bodies align in so striking a manner, they knew that they were called not just to observe the heavens, but be aroused to action, to follow, to be changed by what would be their part in salvation’s story centered around the newborn King of kings.
These three wise men had to “resolve” to pay attention to this new sign in the heavens.
They had to decide to take a long journey which meant leaving behind comfort, control, their plans, their companions and servants, their work, life as they knew it.
They had to choose to de-center their life from themselves in order to re-center it on this newborn King who was seeking them. (We popularly speak of them seeking the Christ Child, and in some ways they were, but the presence of the Christmas star was indication that the Christ wanted them to be there at his birth. He was seeking them first.)
They had to acknowledge they didn’t entirely know the meaning of this star and where they would find this newborn King, and they stopped in at Herod’s palace for help finding the way. How careful must we be whom we ask for help in understanding and responding to God’s invitations in our life.
This journey without directions and clear destination seems to be the way God works. In the Bible (and in my own life), God seems to relish sending people on journeys without saying exactly where they were going or how to get there or what they would find when they arrived or what they should be doing when they reached their destination or what would happen after the journey. Think Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul…
When I think “star in the heavens,” I picture one of those Hollywood biblical extravaganzas. After all this was a great astrological event that had been foretold in the Scriptures…. But the Star led to something, Someone very small. It led to a tiny family who didn’t even have a decent place to stay. A group of shepherds showed up for the event of this birth. “In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. They shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers.” Hardly did it match the prophecy of the Messiah’s birth:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’
This year, as I think about the days and months to come, as I think about the next stage of my life’s journey I don’t want it to be my journey, a journey that emerges from the center that is “me, myself, and I.” O Lord, decenter me I pray.
Here are five things I am taking from the story of the Magi from the East as I make my “resolutions” for the New Year.
First, don’t make resolutions. The three kings from the east didn’t decide that they were tired of their life and it might be a great idea to seek for God in some new way by following a star. No. They were sought out by the Star, invited to submit to God’s plan for them.
Second, keep your eyes open. The Star, the messenger of how God is seeking you, is already on the horizon. Like the three kings, you need to be watching the heavens for signs of the Star that will take you anew, on your knees, to bow before the Infant King.
Third, welcome obscurity, chaos, darkness, confusion, uncertainty, not knowing. It sounds like the pandemic all over again. However, these are elements of the spiritual life that we can’t get away from. In our younger years we take control and establish ourselves in careers, dreams, families, spiritual goals. We know. And all this is right for that age. In our middle years, however, God gently undoes all of this to draw us away from what we’ve built up in order to find him in the small village of Bethlehem. Then we learn that we do not know. And how blessed is this not knowing.
Fourth, believe that the star will lead you to God. No matter what we think we find at the end of our journey, God leads us to himself. The three kings brought with them gold, frankincense and myrrh, costly gifts for someone who was King, God, and Priest. At the end of their journey they found a baby in a poor village. And yet they worshipped. We too will see with our eyes things and people and events that are poor, not-good-enough, broken, vulnerable. Disguises of the Almighty, of Infinite Love. It is precisely here that God makes himself known. Allow yourself to be led deeper into Mystery. Into the Sacred.
Fifth, expect clues for your new life to be given you along the way. The wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod but to go home by another route. Once our hearts have been re-centered on God, our lives will be lived from another divine Source. This shift is more important than the flexing of our moral muscles in resolutions to become a better person. The end of our journey of sanctification is to become like God through grace, what some ancients have called “deification.” How much more rewarding.
I would like to close with the second verse of one of my favorite Christmas carols: Sleep on, Little King. It is an English translation of an Italian carol with the tune Ninna, Nanna. Since we are a congregation with Italian roots, the song was probably translated by our sisters many years ago, so you most likely haven’t heard this carol. So here is the second verse:
Wonder of wonders,
Myst’ry of mysteries,
Upon the heart of the young Virgin Mother
Rests the Maker of all the world.
God’s eternal Word
Reunites man with the Father;
His love is revealed—
The hills rejoice, all nature sing,
The angels’ “glory” rings forth.
Shepherds called to the side of the manger
Kneel in adoration and wonder.
Kingly gifts by the nations are brought;
The world surround His throne—
O come let us adore.
You have come to love and to save,
Come to lead us all in Your way.
Sleep on, my Jesus, sleep on, my Lord.
Matthias Stom: Konungarnas tillbedjan. NM 1792; public domain
One of my favorite Christmas movies from my childhood is the 25-minute animated version of The Little Drummer Boy.
My sister and brother and I wept at the beginning of the movie as his family was taken from him when bandits burned down his house and again at the end of the movie when at last he stood before the King of Kings with his lamb which had been run over by a Roman chariot. I’m thinking that this isn’t too different from our Christmas experience this year….
In both cases, Aaron, the little drummer boy, had to step out and risk. He had to walk into the desert vastness with only the music of his little drum and his three animal friends. And he had to take the leap of faith to trust a baby with one of his most cherished friends, his lamb Baba.
We’re kind of in the same situation this year. We have to walk into the desert’s uncertainty as we turn the calendar year, and we have to trust a Baby to mend what’s now broken in our lives.
Go to him. Look upon the newborn King. These were the words of one of the Magi who figures in the story. He is not able to heal Baba. Only Jesus.
Only Jesus can truly bind our wounds, wipe away our tears, and encourage our hearts.
It has struck me in these days that every person in the Bible who looked to God for refuge had to step out in faith. Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem on the eve of Baby’s birth. They had to trust that the little outside stable would be sufficient for the King of Kings. They had to get up and leave to save their lives and the life of the Child. Prophets and kings and ordinary people who were called by God to somehow point to, protect, or proclaim Jesus the Messiah had to step out in faith in the midst of danger. Think of Moses, Jeremiah, King David, Zechariah, Peter, John, Paul….
So as we contemplate vaccines and masks and quarantines and loss and grief in 2021, it is true that Jesus will save us, but he will call us to step out in faith…
- to believe in the life he has won for us
- to believe he will walk on water to find us when we are in a storm
- to believe that our citizenship is in heaven
- to believe that we carry within us the Light that can illuminate the way forward
- to believe that if we go to Jesus, as did so many in the pages of the Gospel, we will find the Shepherd of our soul who will lead us home and the Master who loves us forever.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
I hope you enjoy this beautiful meditation on the Little Drummer Boy:
In this Christmas season, enter into the Mystery of the Incarnation in this Eucharistic Hour of Adoration.
I recently have come across this beautiful music created by siblings. In Harpa Dei’s music videos we hear the quiet but true message of Christmas. In this Advent refrain, sung in different languages we treasure with the early Christians this prayer in the New Year: Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus come!
Finally, this is a Christmas concert by the group Harpa Dei. As you listen to each of the carols sung in a different language, you may feel the urgency of the Spirit that all may be united, that all may be one, that all may flourish together, that we all may be in 2021 sisters and brothers. Let the Spirit pray in and through you as you enjoy their concert.
The readings of Advent are filled with hope. Today, the liturgy of the Church invites us to ponder the word of the Lord through His prophet Isaiah:
“Thus says the Lord, your redeemer …
[I] teach you what is for your good,
and lead you on the way you should go.
If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea …” (Is 48:17-18)
God wants our good. Every word He speaks invites us to taste His goodness and unite our wills to His, so that we might become who we are: children of a Father who is Goodness Himself.
We need to hear this word daily. We need our Father to teach us, not through weekly or even daily “classes” but as only God can teach: from within. The Holy Spirit, alive in us, rejoices at the presence of the Word of God, just as St. John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit, leapt for joy at the presence of Christ in Elizabeth’s womb. The more we place ourselves in contact with God’s living Word—in Scripture, in the Church, and in the circumstances of our daily life—the more the Holy Spirit will convict us of “the way we should go” in response to this Word.
As long as God is our teacher and His Spirit is directing our steps, there is so much to hope for! We are on a journey toward heaven, our eternal “good.” As we continue our Advent pilgrimage and look ahead to Christmas and the new year, let us resolve to keep placing ourselves in the school of the Word of God, perhaps with a book of daily reflections or a liturgical reading guide to help us. Let us renew our trust in God who “directs all things according to our good,” which is nothing less than union with Himself.
Guest Post by Sr Amanda Detry, FSP
This is probably a more difficult Advent than most, a time when we long for the joys of Christmas, even for our own emotional equilibrium. Today we talk about how God stoops to us in our weakness with an amazing love that changes everything.
Come, they told me: a newborn king to see
Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the king
So to honor him when we come.
I have a confession to make.
I love Christmas music, and could play Christmas music all year long. And sometimes—when no one is listening—I’ll play it in my office… even in June or July or August!
Christmas carols, somehow, have this magical way of instantaneously reminding me of the story of God’s incredible love for me, for us, which is what we really celebrate at Christmas.
And Christmas carols, even secular ones, make me feel happy. They remind me of home. I still remember some verses of a song about elves who discovered “it’s better to give than receive.” The song was on a record we played at Christmas time every year in our home. That’s the one Christmas carol I associate with my childhood, with going home… I still will look for that record if I’m at home for Christmas.
And how about you? What’s your favorite Christmas carol? What song fills you with good memories of your childhood?
On to another confession.
Jeannette and I were wondering what to do for an Advent-Christmas mini-retreat this year to offer you, our loyal friends. We actually were thinking and praying about this for you in July!
We knew this Advent-Christmas might not be filled with happy family reunions for everyone. Some of us will be grieving friends and family members, having had nothing but a “Zoom wake” to mourn and remember them. Some of us will still be putting our lives on the line in hospitals and city streets and classrooms for the sake of others. Some of us will feel afraid. We’ll all be uncertain of the future. And that uncertainty makes us even more anxious…
Even a Christmas carol can’t wipe all that away. We can’t sweep all our emotions and concerns and grief under the rug to pull out the stops for a gala celebration of Christmas in our own living rooms, isolated perhaps still from other family members. Maybe it will be different; after all, it’s only November… But maybe it won’t.
And Jesus wouldn’t want us to wash away our own very real struggles in order to throw him a party, either.
Jesus came so we can find our story in the midst of his story... a story that is beautiful and sad and charming and full of promise and tragedy and hope and confusion and strength in the darkness and the triumph of light and love.
That is what Christmas is all about, really.
So after praying together about this, we decided that on Tuesdays from now until the end of the year, we’ll offer you a mini-Advent retreat based on the song The Little Drummer Boy and on the story that was adapted from it. I’m 57, so I grew up watching the animated version of The Little Drummer Boy every Christmas while my parents struggled with putting the lights on the Christmas tree. With my sister and brother, I cried every year through the story of Aaron who lost his family in a fire set by desert brigands and who then wandered the desert as an orphan with his magical drum and three animal friends who danced to its beat. But we cried even harder at the end as Aaron played for Jesus in Bethlehem and at last found love.
Perhaps you watched it also.
This animated version of The Little Drummer Boy is based on the original song written in 1941 by Katherine Kennicott Davis. It’s a story in which we can find our own stories this year—every year, in fact. It’s the story of the power of Christmas, and this year, like Aaron, we so need to experience the coming of Christ and what he can do in our lives in a powerful way.
So we invite you to join us in this mini-retreat every Tuesday until Christmas. The commercial Christmas season begins after Veterans Day, so that’s where we’re beginning, also, today, and we’ll continue our mini-retreat through Advent and to the end of the year.
Welcome to The Little Drummer Boy!
Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, FSP
I hope you’ll keep in touch by joining my letter that I send out a couple times a month here.
Little Drummer Boy (c) 1968 Rankin/Bass Animated Entertainment / Universal Pictures DreamWorks Classics
Hi. I’m Sr Kathryn Hermes, author of the Best-seller Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach. I’ve been struggling through these months of pandemic as well as everything else that has been affecting our hearts in these days.
So if you feel like crying right now, I understand.
If you feel like giving up right now, it’s okay.
If you can’t seem to think straight, feel deeply, and make sense of what is happening to you, I get it.
Who would have expected we’d still be worrying about COVID-19 and lockdown measures this fall? The difference is that now we have a better sense of the scope of the crisis and no clear end in sight. The world is experiencing trauma as all that we once knew has been swept away and we feel powerless before the uncertainty of what will come in the future. On top of all this, there are the fires in the Pacific Northwest, the unrest on our cities’ streets, and the ugly way racial injustice is playing out before us.
We’re facing so many emotions—uncertainty, grief, worry, anxiety, fear, depression. While anxiety and depression may seem overwhelming, I’d like to offer you a spiritual path to a calm heart. On this page you’ll find a video with some ideas you can put into practice to build a spiritual practice that works for you starting today. After that you’ll find a guided meditation, such a powerful way to feel that God, to know that you are not alone. And finally, there is a short video introducing St Joseph, my favorite saint whom I rely on always in moments of panic and overwhelm.
So let’s get started.
Hi. I’m Jeannette de Beauvoir. It’s time to take some time for yourself. In doing these meditations that Sr. Kathryn is so brilliant at leading, we take time. It’s not time out from the worry and the anxiety, but it’s not giving them power, either. It’s acknowledging them and then giving them to God. Not telling him how to fix things. Just giving them up.
And then coming back to them in different ways. Imagining Jesus telling me he’s heard my fears. Listening to a story from Scripture with the reminder that people’s lives then were not so different in their essence from what we experience now. There’s that context! And feeling instead of worrying. Feeling God’s love in ways that my hasty verbal prayers weren’t allowing.
And I have to say, when I went through this exercise, I felt… lighter. I breathed more deeply. I didn’t feel like I was handling the world’s problems all by myself. I felt God.
Fortunately, we are not alone. When the fear and sadness over our losses and our future become overwhelming, there is one person we know has lived through this, and more, and can give us a steadying hand. There’s a father we can turn to who has had more than his share of worries and concerns and fears, and he can guide us through this, too.
So he can be a role model for us. But even more than that, he can be a comforter. He knows fear and distress and anxiety, and he can help us through it all. He can be our guide, our comforter, and our strength when we feel we don’t have enough.
If you’re ready to find a way forward in healing your anxiety, I invite you to learn more about St Joseph’s Way to a Calm Heart: A Spiritual Path for the Anxious.
What does this course include?
- seven video meditations on companioning with St. Joseph
- six podcasts on understanding anxiety today
- four audio presentations of practices for when you’re anxious
- readings to find peace of heart
- a four-part spiritual conference series on St. Joseph and living the spiritual life when you suffer from anxiety
- six guided prayers and meditations to calm anxiety
- two videos on coping with anxiety and the affirming power of kintsugi