Christmas: Being Found by Joy

In my community and in my family I have noticed that we can all be stubborn about our need to be in control and independent.  That’s why I find it interesting that God chose to reveal the Messiah laying in a manger.  For me, this revelation can be quite difficult to accept because I didn’t think of it and I certainly would never have thought to be saved through such poverty.  I simply don’t understand.
This past summer I caught my nieces and nephews in a moment of pure joy.  They were all well-fed, playful and reconciled with each other.  It was a beautiful moment! I could see God’s presence in each of their faces.  Perhaps the birth of Jesus simply says that God wants to draw near to us all.  To help us to smile and experience pure joy.  Wanting us to be more and more humble and loving.  Wanting us to be more trusting of a God who made an eternal covenant of love the moment we were baptized. Wanting us to stop trying to manufacture joy and simply be found by it.
In a way, the birth of Jesus can seem like the opposite of joy.  In some ways Christ’s birth marks for Jesus, Mary, Joseph (and many others) the beginnings of  tumultuous times of insecurity wrought with pain and suffering.  But they all eventually found by joy.  Like them we can discover through a baby lying in a manger that God will always find us.  And that there is no place in existence where we cannot be found so long as we are willing to God’s plan usurp our own.  May Christ’s presence in our communities and families this Christmas continue to lay waste to what keeps us from becoming one family.  And may his joy, forgiving heart, and eternal desire to reconcile all things find us wherever we go in 2019!
On behalf of the editors of may you have a blessed Christmas and a happy, and holy new year!
Toby Collins, CR
Pastor of St. Mary’s Parish
Kitchener, Ontario
(below: a picture of my nieces and nephews in ‘perfect joy’)

Advent: A Call for Conversion

“A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

Visiting the Nativity Church in Bethlehem- the star marks the place of Jesus’ birth

Each year Advent has a different tone for me. This year from the very beginning of the Advent season, the word ‘Conversion of Heart’ has been present. Initially I was a bit confused as to why there was a call to conversion in my prayer and reflections- turning back to God and repentance of sin seems to be more fitting for the Lenten season. 

Nevertheless, as I ponder on the celebration of Christ’s birth and the invitation to prepare a way for the Lord, I perceive the winding roads and rough ways that are present in my heart. 

Here in Brazil (the Southern Hemisphere) where the closing of the academic year aligns with the end of the civil year, I need to make a heroic effort to not be swept away by the frenzy of yearend activities, closing projects, last minute meetings and endless Christmas parties. 

Truly, the voice crying in the desert needs to be heard in my prayer, each day. Am I making God’s entrance into my life easier, smoother, clearer? How can I raise up and rise above the deep valleys of frustration, impatience and activism?

The voice in the desert draws me towards the empty manger, inviting me to silence and conversion of heart. I want to be ready to welcome the Salvation that is to come and, at the same time, is present among us.

Pictures and Article by: Kate O’Connor.  She is a member of the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, a Society of Apostolic Life. Originally from Stratford, Ontario, she currently carries out pastoral ministry with adults in the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Keeping God in Plain Sight

Last year at a Vocations event in Calgary, a habited Religious Sister I know shared an anecdote about a morning which saw her engaging in the routine task of taking out the garbage.  A man happened to be walking by.  He saw her and stopped, staring at her for some moments.  He then approached her to say “I hadn’t thought of God today until I saw you.”  I was deeply touched by this story.  Imagine inspiring another to contemplate God by the simple act of dressing for the day and putting the garbage out!

I’m often moved by these moments that we, as Religious, are so fortunate to witness to just by the gift of being Religious.  I ‘gave testimony’ at a Charismatic event in June, and was approached afterwards by a man who had listened to me speak, in part, about the Ignatian Examen.  He had with him a creased and well-worn book of Ignatian Examens that he used frequently himself.  It struck me that he should have been the one speaking to the group about the value of this particular style of prayer, as he seemed more devoted to it than anyone I’d ever met.  I was touched by his faithfulness to it and by the sense that he wanted to share his love for this particular style of worship with me, who as a Religious Sister in an Ignatian Congregation, he knew would uniquely understand.

When we read in the Gospel of Luke about Mary treasuring the events of the Christmas story and pondering them in her heart, I think that this is an integral part of what we are called to do as Religious:  to see God at work in the ordinary unfolding of our day and to make time to inwardly sit with these moments, letting their joy permeate our very being.  I think it is part of our gift as Religious that we can uniquely witness these moments, for we are called to live the Gospel in a more public, corporate way than others.  People perceive that we will appreciate these ‘God-moments’ in ways that many others may not.  Many recognize us as a safe-haven with whom they can share these precious gems.

I am a teacher/chaplain in a junior high school and was recently walking behind a group of students in the hallway.  I saw one of the students briefly turn his head to catch sight of me in his peripheral vision.  Then, in a strong voice, he said to his friend walking with him, “Don’t you just love God?  I just love God!”  With a mischievous glint in his eyes, he suddenly turned around to greet me with pretend surprise and a big grin:  “Oh, hey Sister Michelle!”  

For me, this was a moment to cherish, not unlike that of the story of the Sister taking out the garbage.  Here was a young person who had thought of God at the sight of me that day, albeit probably in a less reverent way than the anecdote above.  Nevertheless, what a place of privilege to witness these small, ordinary God-moments that unfold before us!  Let us try to make time to ponder them as we travel this Advent journey together.

Article and pictures by:  Sr. Michelle Langlois, fcJ 

Sr. Michelle has now professed 2 years of temporary vows with the Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus (fcJ).  She lives in Edmonton, AB and was born in Winnipeg, MB.