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La vie consacrée peut-elle contribuer à changer le monde?

The original text in French follows this one

Interview with Sister IsaBelle Couillard of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal (the Grey Nuns).

How did you hear the call to become a “Grey Nun”?

I remember one evening when I was 18. I was in the middle of a crisis of faith, sitting on my bed, talking to Him I no longer believed in. Because how could the God of love, whom I had been taught to pray to and to trust in, how could He allow millions of people to starve to death during the famine in Ethiopia? how could He leave my friend to suffer at the hands of her abusive father? And in the depths of my indignation, I heard God’s call: “Come, I need your hands and, above all, your heart to help change the world. I need everyone to hear within themselves my special call. And then my Kingdom will come.” And so the seeds of a vocation were sown!

What was it about your foundress’s charism that fascinated you?

St. Marguerite d’Youville never backed down, whether in front of civil or ecclesiastical authorities, from defending those who had been left behind. In her official letters, always written in a tone that was respectful yet firm, she refuted accusations and reminded the authorities of the commitments they had made to her respecting the vulnerable people she had welcomed into her home.

Today, with the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, we are called by Pope Francis not to shirk the responsibilities spelled out in the Gospel and not to turn a blind eye to inequality and systematic abuses committed against the weakest among us. He invites us to be women and men who really reach out, going where the ground is sometimes shifting, sometimes disheartening… To live through it, we turn to prayer “from heart to Heart,” upheld and supported by the fraternal support of our community.

Throughout your life as a consecrated person, how have you incorporated the charism of your foundress?

Over the years, I have accompanied citizens in finding social housing, in receiving alternative mental health treatment, in establishing spaces for discussing environmental issues.  I have worked to obtain freedom for a political refugee and to help reunite her with her family. In order to strike an emotional balance with these demanding activities, I am involved in the Ruche d’art Yéléma, an intergenerational, intercultural and inclusive organization promoting human encounters and the repurposing of used materials through creative activities. With regard to the Church, I lead a small Bible fellowship group, and I am involved in the renewal of Saint-Bonaventure parish in Montreal.

Presently, I am very active in CATHII, the Quebec-based action committee combating domestic and international human trafficking, which was founded by several religious communities in Montreal. Through our advocacy work, we urge the Quebec government to adopt a provincial action plan on behalf of victims and survivors and to support research on a worldwide scale to empower the survivors of human trafficking.

We could have been tempted, in the context of the current pandemic, to slacken our efforts, but that would be to abandon those who have been subject to trafficking and are deeply affected by COVID-19 and the impact on them of the many health measures that have been imposed to counter it. These people remain practically invisible – despite their presence right here in our city – in their capacity as domestic help and migrant agricultural workers, as victims of sexual exploitation, forced marriage, etc.

During an audience with the Network of European Nuns against Trafficking and Exploitation, Pope Francis said: “One of the most troubling of those open wounds is the trade in human beings, a modern form of slavery, which violates the God-given dignity of so many of our brothers and sisters and constitutes a true crime against humanity. While much has been accomplished in acknowledging its gravity and extent, much more needs to be done on the level of raising public consciousness and effecting a better coordination of efforts by governments, the judiciary, law enforcement officials and social workers”.[i]

Forty years later, following God’s initial call rooted in my “outrage” at injustice, here is my modest contribution – with God grace – to breaking down the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke and to set the oppressed free (Isaiah 58:5).

IsaBelle Couillard, SGM

Source : https://www.diocesemontreal.org/en/news-and-info/latest-news/can-consecrated-life-help-change-world

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La vie consacrée peut-elle contribuer à changer le monde?

Interview avec Sr IsaBelle Couillard, de la Congrégation des Sœurs de la Charité de Montréal (Sœurs grises).

Comment avez-vous entendu l’appel à devenir une « sœur grise? »

Je me rappelle un soir de mes 18 ans, en pleine crise de foi, assise sur mon lit, je parlais à Celui en qui je ne croyais plus. Effectivement comment le Dieu d’amour dont on m’avait enseigné à prier avec confiance, laissait des millions de personnes mourir de faim lors de la famine en Éthiopie, comment laissait-il mon amie souffrir avec son père qui l’abusait? Du fond de mon indignation, j’ai entendu l’appel de Dieu : « Viens, j’ai justement besoin de tes mains et surtout de ton cœur pour contribuer à changer le monde, j’ai besoin que chaque personne écoute en elle mon appel unique et ainsi mon Royaume arrivera ». Et voilà les graines d’une vocation semées !

Qu’est-ce qui vous a fasciné dans le charisme de votre fondatrice ?

Devant les autorités civiles et ecclésiales, sainte Marguerite d’Youville n’a jamais reculé afin de prendre la défense des laissés-pour-compte. Par des lettres officielles, faites d’un ton respectueux, mais décisif, elle réfuse des accusations et rappelle aux autorités leurs engagements pris, devant elle, envers les personnes vulnérables accueillies dans sa demeure.

Aujourd’hui avec l’encyclique Fratelli Tutti, le Pape François nous appelle à ne pas fuir les responsabilités de l’Évangile, ni détourner les yeux des inégalités et des abus systématiques envers les plus faibles. Il nous invite à être des femmes et des hommes de la rencontre vraie,  où le terrain peut être parfois mouvant et abject…  Pour le vivre, nous nous tournons vers la prière « du cœur à Cœur » et nous nous appuyons sur le soutien fraternel de notre communauté.

Comment, le long de votre vie de personne consacrée, avez-vous  incarné le charisme de votre fondatrice?

À travers les années,  j’ai accompagné des citoyens pour l’obtention du logement social, des alternatives en santé mentale, des lieux de partage au niveau de l’environnement…  J’ai travaillé à libérer une refugiée politique et la réunir avec sa famille. Pour balancer mes engagements prenant émotionnellement, je suis à la Ruche d’Art Yéléma : un réseau intergénérationnel, interculturel et inclusif qui favorise les rencontres humaines et la réutilisation de matériaux par le biais d’activités créatives. Au niveau de l’église, je facilite une petite fraternité biblique et  je suis impliquée dans le renouveau de ma paroisse St-Bonaventure à Montréal.

Présentement je suis très active au Comité d’action contre la traite humaine interne et internationale (CATHII) fondé par plusieurs communautés religieuses de Montréal. Nous travaillons sur un plaidoyer auprès du gouvernement du Québec afin qu’il mette en place un plan d’action provincial pour les victimes et les survivantes, ainsi que sur une recherche à retombée mondiale sur l’autonomisation des survivantes de la traite.

Dans Fratelli Tutti, le Pape François nous appelle nous aussi à contribuer à la transformation du monde par la fraternité, travaillant à la conversion de nos institutions vers une « charité sociale et politique ». Les religieuses et laïques de CATHII désirent faire leur petite part. Pour soutenir les victimes et survivantes de la traite, un nouveau concept est promu, celui de l’autonomisation (empowerment).  Peu documenté, le CATHII a donc pris l’initiative de commencer une recherche mondiale afin de mieux documenter les expériences terrain, les bonnes pratiques, les défis, afin de transmettre aux organismes qui reçoivent des victimes, des ressources répertoriées et analysées.

Lors d’une audience avec le Réseau des religieuses européennes contre la traite et l’exploitation, le pape François a qualifié la traite d’êtres humains de « crime contre l’humanité ». Il a affirmé : « alors que beaucoup a été fait pour connaître la gravité et l’ampleur du phénomène, il reste encore beaucoup à faire pour élever le niveau de sensibilisation du public et établir une meilleure coordination des efforts déployés par les gouvernements, les autorités judiciaires et législatives et les travailleurs sociaux ».

En temps de pandémie, il aurait été tentant de relâcher nos actions, mais pouvons-nous abandonner les personnes trafiquées grandement affectées par la Covid et les conséquences de certaines mesures sanitaires? Elles sont quasiment invisibles dans nos médias, alors qu’elles vivent ici même dans notre ville : aide domestique, travailleurs migrants agricoles, exploitation sexuelle, le mariage forcé, etc.

Quarante ans plus tard, suite à l’appel initial de Dieu enraciné dans mon « indignation » face à l’injustice, voici ma modeste contribution – avec l’aide de Dieu – pour faire tomber les chaînes injustes, délier les liens de la servitude et rendre la liberté aux opprimés (Isaïe 58:5).

IsaBelle Couillard, s.g.m.

Article paru : https://www.diocesemontreal.org/fr/actualites/nouvelles/vie-consacree-peut-elle-contribuer-changer-monde

What Brings Us Life As Religious Today?

Today is World Day of Consecrated Life. As younger and newer religious women and men across Canada, we have so much to be grateful to God for. We have heard and answered God’s call and we continue to respond daily to God’s gift of living water. We meet Around the Well as a community of communities asking Jesus to, “give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty” (John 4:15). By the gift of our lives, we love God deeply, listen attentively to where God is calling us to serve, and live simply.

In these unprecedented times, what brings us life as Religious today?

I am energized by my conversations and shared ministry experiences with other newer younger Religious who’ve also chosen this counter-cultural vowed life
– Kristine, CSJ

The opportunity to say ‘Yes’ each day to the invitation from God, sustained by prayer, joy and community
– Eileen, rsm

Being able to journey with people in times of grief and need gives me life as a religious, because I know that in that moment, I am the face of Christ for the people I am meeting
– Steven, CSB

The opportunity to pray, share, and discuss contemporary experiences of religious life with members of other religious congregations gives me a lot of life and hope!
– Sarah, IBVM

Simple but not so simple – JOY – I live in a community of women who love life – lives are not simple and there have been challenges but these sisters still live with joy and always with HOPE.
– Costanza, CSJ

The thought that I am not doing any of this alone… God brought me in, and the safety net are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
– Connie, SNJM

In this time, our religious life is difficult because of Covid 19. But now I change another way of doing Mission connecting with others online
– Nwe Ni, RNDM

Good communication when it comes to community life or ministry – the more we speak honestly and listen with intention, the more we bring about the Kingdom of God through religious life in the Church.
– Michael, C.Ss.R. 

Personal and communal prayer.
– Jacinta, RNDM  

Seeing the hope in our young people, who want and are striving to make a difference in their communities.
– Donna, CSJ

The love and support I experience in community life, reminding me that I never go through life’s challenges alone
– Toby, C.R.
 

Feeling connected to the sisters in my Congregation, and in other Congregations, being nourished by my Congregation’s and the Church’s spiritual resources and feeling that I can be of service to my brothers and sisters in general. – Céline, NDSC

Being present to another, listening to their story and honoring Christ in it!
– Michael, ofm

The happiness of being part of creating community no matter where God places me by networking people of different generations, orientations, cultures and spiritualities, and following the legacy of my founder Marguerite d’Youville.
– Isabelle, SGM

The hope that arises when others’ yes to God’s call, dare to dream and actualise a future together, committed to the Gospel in community, prayer and service.
– Michelle, SNJM

In solidarity, we reflect on the words of Pope Francis and pray with all the People of God;

Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank God for the gift of the consecrated life and ask of God a new way of looking, that knows how to see grace, how to look for one’s neighbour, how to hope” Vigil mass World Day of Consecrated Life, 2020

Thanks Be to God!

 

A Woman For Our Times

Mary Ward (1585-1645) was once described by the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot, as  doing more harm to the English Church than six Jesuits. In a time when spiritual service was  praiseworthy for men but quite unacceptable and unthinkable for women, Mary strove to embody her belief that she was called to something more than ordinary in the service of God.

My congregation, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters) and our sister congregation, the Congregation of Jesus, are celebrating the life and inspiration of Mary Ward this week. From January 23 (the anniversary of her birth) to January 30 (the anniversary of her death), we are taking time to pray with the life and works of our founder, to reflect on her enduring inspiration for us today, and to celebrate the mission and vitality of her Institute around the world.

During Mary Ward week, I am often drawn back to reflect on my experience at the 2019 Mary Ward Summer School, an intensive three-week study program for Sisters and those who collaborate in our mission. It was an incredible experience, learning together with companions from both congregations, and discovering our personal connections to our founder and to each other.

What I deeply appreciated from the experience was the gift of a new perspective of Mary as a complex human being and not ‘merely’ a sainted figure. Her childhood in Reformation England, where she witnessed incredible suffering and violent persecution of Catholics, but also the witness of the strength of her grandmother and other women in her family, provided the backdrop for her passion for mission in service of the Church. Her spiritual life was formed by the Jesuit priests who came to stay at her family homes, who instilled in her the idea of perfection in the spiritual life, which blossomed into a desire to become “wholly God’s”. Her profound relationship with God solidified her call: she knew that she was called to serve God through apostolic service in a manner similar to the Society of Jesus and she knew that the members of her Institute were called to be women of freedom, justice, integrity, and joy. Despite the challenges she endured, particularly the suppression of her Institute, she continued to believe that God’s Providence was always at work.

The example of her life, her strong spirit and rootedness in God, have given me strength, hope, and inspiration throughout the years of my formation and continue to nourish me. As a temporary professed Sister, trying to navigate an increasingly complex and challenging congregational life that is marked by diminishment, her life story gives me the courage to persevere and trust that God’s will will always be done, no matter the confusion or frustration. I choose to trust that God will show the way and shine the light in dark places.

An extraordinary gift of the Summer School was a visit to the Bar Convent archives for the opportunity to read and, even more, to touch, a letter Mary had written, as well as handwritten manuscripts of A Briefe Relation, the first biography of Mary Ward, written by her early companions It was a thrill, too, to read handwritten meditations from the Spiritual Exercises that they had compiled for their use.

Mary’s life story was suddenly not just a story, some fable or legend that we have passed down through generations of Sisters, but the reality of one woman’s vision, her commitment to her companions, and their efforts to live the manner of life they felt God had called them to.

She lived her spirituality, she lived her faith every day. Through her prayer life she strove for the disposition of indifference, to act with right intention, to develop interior peace and spiritual balance, to be humble, to be grateful and hopeful, and absolutely, at the foundation of her being was her love for Christ and her desire to serve him, follow him, and give her life totally to him. On her tombstone are written these words:

To love the poor,
persevere in the same,
live, die, and rise with them
was all the aim
of
Mary Ward

By God’s grace, her life will continue to inspire others to respond to the call of religious life.

As we honour the life and inspiration of Mary Ward this week, I invite my companions on the journey – my Around the Well friends – to join our celebration by participating in these events:

  • An online Mass in honour of Mary Ward, celebrated from Loretto Abbey chapel. You can view the Mass via YouTube.(Sunday, January 23)
  • An online liturgy featuring a reflection by Sr. Gill Goulding, CJ (Tuesday, January 25 @ 7:30pm)    Register here: https://bit.ly/3ngrxim
  • Annual Teresa Dease Lecture presented by Dr. Susan K. Wood, SCL (Regis College) on the topic “Beyond Spiritual Ecumenism: An Ecumenical Spirituality” (Thursday, January 27 @ 7pm)   Register here: https://bit.ly/3fgeLM1
  • More information: ibvm.ca

Blog post by Sarah Rudolph, ibvm
Photo of A Briefe Relation manuscript from Bar Convent, York
Painting of Mary Ward, Augsburg
Artwork by Susan Daily, ibvm

 

The Grace That Comes After the Calm

Just over 200 years ago, an Austrian Roman Catholic priest named Josef Mohr penned the words to what would become a Christmas classic.  A couple years later, a teacher and organist, Franz Gruber, would add music to the poem.  The result:  the German version of Silent Night, Holy Night.  I have cherished memories of being in various parishes over the years during the Christmas season, singing my heart out with hundreds of parishioners, straining to hit that high note (/sleep in heavenly pea-ce!/) and experiencing a sense of great reverence for what transpired that night when Christ was born into our world as a baby.

From the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to the Epiphany, the Christmas liturgical season is filled with many heartwarming images of the Holy Family.  In Christian art, we generally see an infant Jesus that is calm and unruffled whether it is in the first night of his life in a stable or on the flight to Egypt.  So, when Pope Francis invited Catholics to meditate on the image of baby Jesus during the Christmas Eve Mass from the Vatican this year, this is where my reflection began:  with a quietly cooing child, happily relaxing in his mother’s arms.

Of baby Jesus, Pope Francis said: “The One who embraces the universe needs to be held in another’s arms. The One who created the sun needs to be warmed. Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled. Infinite love has a miniscule heart that beats softly. The eternal Word is an “infant”, a speechless child. The Bread of life needs to be nourished. The Creator of the world has no home. Today, all is turned upside down: God comes into the world in littleness. [God’s] grandeur appears in littleness.”

Having recently spent some time with a friend and her five-month-old child, I found that the natural evolution of my musings progressed to the next bit:  the happenings after the “silent” parts of the “night,” when “speechless” babies loudly and insistently communicate their need for warmth or coddling or nourishment. Did the “holy night” become any less holy when Jesus’ cries pierced the “heavenly peace” that first Christmas?

For someone like me who has relatively limited experience with crying babies, they can be a bit terrifying.  When the quiet calm of a content and smiling baby turns on a dime into wailing and tears, when the sequence of soothing words and swaying movements that I use to re-establish peace fails, these panicked moments don’t feel very holy.  As we head towards the newness of New Year’s Day this year, though, I believe that there is value in staying with the image of the needy baby as we contemplate how God is calling us to growth.

The month of January is named for the Roman god of beginnings.  Cultures throughout the world have viewed this as a time for personal and collective rebirth.  As the pharisee Nicodemus asked an adult Jesus in the Gospel of John, we might also question how we can be reborn.

I wonder if a starting point doesn’t lie in recognizing and befriending the helpless babe that lies inside each of us.   At times, I can be like the quiet and calm infant, contentedly receiving love, kindness, and nourishment from those around me.  At other times, I am the (at least, inwardly) screaming, frustrated and red-faced child, vulnerable and unsettled, unable to articulate my needs to myself or to those around me.  In his homily, Pope Francis encouraged us to ask God for the grace “to love littleness,” and it is a grace, because it can be hard to love this needy, frustrated, “weak” part of ourselves.

Why ask for the grace to love littleness in this context? Because it is in those moments of recognizing my littleness and need where I am most open to meaningful change or “rebirth” in my life.  As the baby cries to be fed so that it can develop physically and emotionally, the instants where I see that my needs are beyond what I can handle by myself, these are the moments when I am most ready for God to take over and nourish me into new growth.

In 2020, Pope Francis was quoted as saying “It is a beautiful homily when a child cries in church, a beautiful homily.”  There is still room and need for the silent, holy nights in our lives.  We rejoice when they are upon us!  However, we remember, too, that holiness and grace don’t stop when our inner silence and calm is pierced by needs, desires and vulnerabilities as we live out our everyday lives.  Let us pray for the grace to love our littleness, the littleness that calls us to growth in God.

(With credit to the National Catholic Register for printing the full text of Pope Francis’ Christmas Eve homily- https://www.ncregister.com/cna/full-text-pope-francis-christmas-homily)

Blog post by Michelle Langlois, fcJ

Writing the Story of 2022

As the story of 2021 comes to a close and we look ahead to writing the chapters of 2022, let us consider how the story might be framed.

You are invited to set aside some time over the next few days during this Christmas time and create space for you and God to ponder together. Looking back on what was and looking ahead to the story which awaits. The following questions are offered as a guide for your sacred time.

What are you passionate about? How is God speaking to you though this passion? How is it awakening you to God at work in your life?

Who are your companions? What are your relationships like? How are these relationships sustained and nurtured?

Who are you inviting to help you write the chapters of 2022? Why? What do they contribute?

What is it about religious life that draws you in? What parts of the charism of your community align with your journey/passions/relationships/discernment?

The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are key parts of living life in a religious community. What is your take on these vows? How do you see them as life-giving or not? Where do they challenge you? How will they shape your living in 2022?

What is your prayer life like? How much time do you make for personal private prayer? What else does your prayer life involve? How much time do you spend with scripture?

How would you describe your relationship with the Author of Life? How are you inviting God to companion you and write the story of 2022 through you? Will it be filled with color and trust?

Our stories are woven into the Christ story and are life-giving, good news and filled with hope. Let us walk into 2022 with this hope remembering that God is with us in the details, in the big moments, in the changes, in the letting go, in the newness each day offers.

God of Life,
you are the author of all,
as we look ahead to the new year
we entrust it to you.
May we walk boldly
into the story of our life this year
and trust that you are
writing through us the
continuous story of
your Good News
enfleshed, living
and ever present.

Amen.

Blog Post – Br. Michael, ofm

Photo Credits: Sixteen Miles Out Photography and Isabela Kronemberger

Encountering Christmas

On the socks friends gifted me for Christmas is boldly printed “I am here” with the red marker seen in digital map apps. As soon as I saw them, I thought of Christmas. For with the birth of Christ, God is saying, “I Am here.” “I Am here,” God declares and then goes on to say, “I want to be here, I desire to be here and to be this close to you in your living, in your joys and sorrows, in your hurts and healing. I am here because I love you so much, no matter what the world tells you, I do. I am here and I see you, the true you that hides behind cover stories. I see your heart and your desires. I see your heart and the hope that it carries. I see your heart and the light which you illumine the world with, even if you feel it doesn’t shine bright enough.”

“I Am here” is the great gift of Christmas. Our God – Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9.6), Emmanuel – with us. Our God one of us. Our God here and now. Yes, this Feast marks a specific birth day and time in history but when we get past the wrappings, the demands and the false expectations which now come with it, what remains? That God poured forth love so great that we were given the greatest gift of “I Am here” in the person of Jesus. Jesus, our brother born in the humble stable, adored by shepherds and strangers from a far, cradled in a feed trough and gazed upon by creation. Our brother the fullness of God proving “I Am here” and continuing the covenant of love. Our brother who calls us to encounter and walk in the ways of honesty, love that is not movie made, and to be bearers of good news and light.

The good news and the light of the birth of Jesus is what we try and replicate in our greetings, decorations, feasting and traditions. These are means for us to enter into this great mystery. They must also call us to be witnesses of the good news and light for those who are hurting, alone, seeking, lost and abandoned. If we don’t bear Christ in the world this Christmas how will the “I am here” marker be seen in our world? Like the voice on the map app telling us to continue for 7.5 kilometers and then turn in 600 meters, are we as religious women and men a guiding voice to the Christ Child? Are we moving our marker or rerouting our ways to continually show others where our “I Am here” God is? Let us not forget that we are incorporated into the “I am here” message and this is indeed good news of great joy (Luke 2.10) and our life mission!

The mystic Caryll Houselander said: “Our rest in a world that is full of unrest is Christ’s trust in his Father; our peace in a world without peace is our surrender, complete as the surrender of the sleeping child to her mother, of the Christ in us, to God who is both Father and Mother.” The tiny child asleep in the manger, the tiny child asleep in his mother’s arms, the tiny child asleep in the ICU, the tiny child asleep in the makeshift tent, the tiny child asleep under a tree, the tiny child asleep in her bed does nothing else but proclaim: “I am here.” It is the invitation to trust, to surrender, to be, to know we are loved by Creator God. Will we be brave enough this Christmas to encounter the Christ Child and whisper back to God, “I am here”?

May the blessings of this season allow for you to sit with the great gift of the great “I AM” being here and always with us. May you find time to cradle the Child born for us. May you trust that his Spirit is stirring up in you more good news and light to share beyond this season into the days of 2022. May you know that the “I Am here” God of Life keeps this promise…always.

Christmas Blessings.

Blog post – Br. Michael Perras, ofm

Advent Hastening

As we move into these final days of Advent, we turn our attention to Elizabeth and Zechariah, to Mary and Joseph and to their stories. Each of them offers us an insight into our journey of faith and our relationships with others.

Elizabeth reminds us to be bearers of promise. Zechariah calls us to listen well. Mary calls us to ponder. Joseph reminds us to be courageous. All four remind us to trust and to not let fear over take us. As companions on the journey, they also invite us to live with the conviction of a life rooted in Emmanuel – our God with us. Our God who has come to us and dwells here among all people, restoring us (Psalm 80) and filling us with peace (Micah 5.5a).

“Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country…” (Luke 1.39). As she went, she must have pondered what had been told to her, for her and of her. She must have considered Elizabeth and Zechariah and how they were adjusting to unforeseen circumstances. She must have thought of Joseph and all that was going on in his heart and story. She must have contemplated her people and their desire for the long awaited Messiah. She must have pondered how the Messiah was close at hand, so close, hidden in plain sight.

These final days of Advent can often disappear and become a blur. Let us take a cue from Mary and ponder. Let us ponder the journey of the year that has been and reflect upon where we have hastened to and where we have avoided hastening. May this pondering awaken in us to where our steps need to hasten to this Christmas and in the coming year.

In a year which has seen the unsettling of our so-called collective past
where have we hastened to build bridges?

In a year which has seen even more environmental crises
how have we hastened to honor and protect Mother Earth?

In a year which has seen tensions rise between nations
how have we hastened to be a voice of peace?

In a year which has seen innocent people die because of ignorance
where have we hastened to be an advocate for justice?

In a year which has seen families and communities divided
where have we hastened to listen well and heal wounds?

In a year which has seen the need for truth and reconciliation to be honest
where have we hastened to rise up to this work?

In a year which has seen more fake news
where have we hastened to speak the truth?

In a year which has seen attacks on humanity from all walks of life
where have we hastened to be witnesses of human fraternity?

In a year which has seen… … …
where have we hastened to… … …?

In a year, in a month, in a day which has seen so much,
where have we hastened to Christ?

God of the Journey,
you are with us in our steps
no matter how quickly
or how slowly we hasten.

Remind us that you dwell here
in us and among us.
Stir up in us the hope and love
which is infused into our very core,
so that in turn we may hasten
to that one place which needs
your presence in this last Advent week,
this late December day, this very moment.

Amen.

Blog Post by: Br. Michael Perras, OFM

Photo Credits: Arūnas Naujokas and Priscilla Du Preez

Encountering Advent Light

Poet and scholar J. Philip Newell shares a story of a presentation he made in Ottawa years ago, where a Mohawk elder was invited to make comments and reflections after a presentation on spirituality. Newell recalls how the elder responded, “As I have been listening to these themes, I have been wondering where I would be tonight. I have been wondering where my people would be tonight. And I have been wondering where we would be as a Western world tonight if the mission that had come to us from Europe centuries ago had come expecting to find light in us.”*

“Expecting to find light in us,” is this not a powerful truth serum? Does that ring in your ears and pound in your heart? God created us with a piece of Divine light in each of us. Echoing the elder’s wonderings, “Where would we be as humanity if we expected to see light in each other?” This would be a world shift, a what Isaiah prophecies as the peaceable kingdom shift, a beatitude living shift, which would only increase the light that we each hold and the light in the world.

As we enter this Third Week of Advent the light of our wreath is growing brighter. The first letter to the Thessalonians states: “You are all children of the light and children of the day” (5.5). Is this not what we should expect to encounter in each other? The Light of the world illumines our darkness, brings light to our areas of living which are in need of radiance, and is beckoning us to look for light instead of differences in each other. This Advent week of rejoicing or joy; is often obscured by false rejoicing: Christmas parties to raise our spirits, more Christmas movies than the day has time for, sales on boxes of chocolates and so on. These quick fix, boredom-sorrow busters often leave us feeling empty and still seeking joy; still seeking light. The light we carry is only brightened when we encounter the light of another. As Edith Wharton said: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle, or to be the mirror which reflects it.” Countless gospel stories capture the light Jesus exuded: from the blind seeing; to the woman touching his cloak; to the calling of the apostles and so on. Like Jesus and like the Mohawk elder, we have to wonder why we don’t expect to meet an encounter with that light. Is it because we are afraid that it may reveal truths about our living? Is it because we may encounter a transformation? Is it because we may need to live forth rejoicing in a new way? Is it because we might see the light of Christ in someone we don’t want to or least expect it?

This season of Advent is growing short but the encounter with Light is only beginning to grow. It is an invitation to see beyond the countdown and allow the Light to penetrate our living beyond the season of giving. As Saint Clare of Assisi said, “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become.” We are children of God, we are loved and so we must let the light of God shape us as we encounter the light in each other.

Edith Wharton’s reflection on being light may have been inspired by the works of Saint Clare. Saint Clare wrote to her sisters saying, “For the Lord has not only placed us as an example and mirror for others, but also for our own sisters whom the Lord has called to our way of life, so that they in turn will be mirror and example to those living in the world.” As women and men religious this may be the most challenging part of being light-bearers. To be a mirror so our fellow community members may shine and see the gift of light they are, as they carry light into our small communities and to the larger world. We all know from lived experienced that it may be most difficult to hold up that mirror. Yet when we do so, the light grows brighter, the illusions disappear, the wonder of our charism bursts forth, we are renewed with our mission of living a gospel life and embracing our vows as sources of light. This is our invitation as we journey deeper into Advent and beyond. This is the ongoing work of embracing the vows and life of religious in the world today.

The reflection of the Mohawk elder shared above is also a message for us as December 12 marks the National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. This day has been recognized for many years in the Catholic Church, but now more than ever it must be about the light we see in our First Nations, Inuit and Métis sisters and brothers. As we continue to work for truth and reconciliation the only way it will become life giving is if we approach it with the wonder in discovering the light carried by our Indigenous sisters and brothers. When we can be a mirror for these communities, we will see the light reflected back on to us and we will be able to rise up together with greater respect, honoring the Divine light we all carry. What actions can we make to be light bearers this week? It is time for the shift to happen and for rejoicing to arise among all peoples.

God of Light,
you created all light
and in light we see light itself (Psalm 36.9).
As we journey forward
clear the blinders from our eyes
so that we may see the Divine Light
in all peoples.

May unexpected encounters
of light this week
cause us to rejoice
in your drawing near to us
and see how you still dwell
here among us in peoples
from all cultures, creeds and places.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

****

*[1] J. Philip Newell, The Rebirthing of God, 2015, Skylight Paths Publishing.

Blog post by Br. Michael Perras, OFM

Photo credits:
Ivaylo Valkov
Johannes Plenio

Advent Dreaming

John the Baptist is a dominant figure in Advent. His call to “prepare the way of the Lord” based on the prophets before him is the whole premise of the season. He awakens us to the work of this preparing: aligning our paths with God, smoothing out what is not right in our living and being aware of the abundant generosity of our God. These are great guides for our Advent days which are far too often consumed with a lot of noise, over indulging and empty commitments. If the work of Advent or these realities feel all too much, may I suggest dreaming. Scripture is full of dreams from Moses to Jacob to Daniel. Think of Isaiah and his dreams of a peaceful kingdom – the wolf with the lamb together, this is an awakening to Advent dreams.

We can also consider Jeremiah capturing God’s words as a promise of this season and also dreams of this season fulfilled: “I have plans for you, plans for your well being, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29.11). John the Baptist had to dream about what he was proclaiming and foretelling. Mary and Joseph had to dream about what would be next and how their lives would unfold? As a fellow Friar recently shared, “We can’t lose our capacity to dream. The word dream is a verb, it calls us into living.”

Now our dreams can lead us into fantasy and emptiness if we let them. However, this is not the dreaming of Advent. Advent dreaming is rooted in the promise of John the Baptist: forgiveness, filled valleys, smooth ways and salvation. These are dreams which are woven into the very heartbeat of God and God’s dreams for all of creation. The beautiful gift of these dreams is that we are invited into making them a reality. This means we can not stay in our comfort zones. Dreams call us beyond the current and offer us a new vision. As religious do we still know how to dream? Have we lost our capacity to dream in our instant world? Can we risk dreaming like our founders/foundresses did? Have our comfort zones become too much like the easy gift card we call the perfect gift? Do we allow new visions to inspire us and call us to smooth paths or is it easier to stay on the rough road because it feels more comfortable?

This Advent we must allow ourselves to dream and we must be brave enough to say to God: “I am listening to you, O God, and how I am part of your dream! You, O God, are welcome here in my dreaming!” Our generous God, who dreamt of being one with us and made it happen, continues to dream with us, inviting us to pay attention to what is being whispered in our dreams and proclaimed in the wilderness. Are we paying attention? That is what this season is about. What are we waiting for?

God of dreams,
you continue to give us messages
through prophets of long ago and prophets of today.
May we attune our ears, eyes and heart
to our dreams and how you speak in them.
Move us beyond our comfort zones
to the valleys which need to be raised
and the paths which need to be made smooth.
Fill our minds and hearts with your message
so, in turn we may share it with those on the journey.
Amen.

Br. Michael, ofm

Photo Credits: Sharon McCutcheon and Daiwei Lu

Encountering Advent

In a reflection given earlier this year to formators of religious communities, Jesuit Peter Bisson shared: “Religions’ openness to transcendence gives the joy that moves consecrated persons to seek to live communion, which is in turn helped by our vows as forms of relatedness. In building communion, within our religious communities and in the wider world, consecrated persons can be artisans of encounter.”[1] These images have stayed with me and I would like to offer them as launching points for this Advent.

The very fact that this season is marked each year to give us time to reflect on and remember that God transcended the heavenly realms and chose to be with the created world is in itself enough to sit with for the twenty-seven days of Advent. God desired the perfect love of the Trinitarian community to continue to expand. We are the privileged ones caught up in this overflowing gift. We receive this gift so freely and in so many ways and yet we resist it, give it parameters and make rules for it, trapping it, so that it feels caged and guarded, not soaring and joyful.

In the new movie “tick, tick… BOOM!” the life of musical theatre artist Jonathan Larson is captured in song. In the finale song he sings, “Cages or wings, which do you prefer? Ask the birds. Fear or love, baby? Don’t say the answer. Actions speak louder than words.” The invitation of Advent for all the people of God can be heard in this song. Are we going to remained caged and fear-filled with our guarded images of God or are we willing to find our wings and truly encounter God?  The gift of our vows is the breaking free if we allow our actions to show forth God’s love wasn’t just in a yes of a woman centuries ago, in a stable one night, in a message by a beatitude toting preacher or on a cross and empty tomb one weekend. God’s love transcends these specific Jesus moments for God is again and again made known in our daily living (no matter how ordinary). As consecrated persons we can, no, we must continue to break open the cages so all peoples can soar on wings and know the joy of healthy, restoring, reconciling relationships. Our vows demand this, our communal life is to express this.

Joy is relational and communal. Our actions this season and in each season of the year should attune us to this truth. Advent, however, is a good time to evaluate how we have done over the course of the past year. New year resolutions are useless if we don’t look to what we have done, failed to do and what we can still do. Advent, as the start of the liturgical year, is a great opportunity to reflect on our living. How has joy been a part of my life this past year? Have I been an artisan of joy? Have my actions built community? Where do I need to be a community building artisan? What parts of my relationship with God have I left caged and locked down? How can I soar to new heights with God on the wings of hope? Am I an artisan of prayer?

Advent will never grow old if we allow ourselves to be caught off guard by wonder, joy and community. We build community in little ways; with the kindnesses this season has come to know but beyond these kindnesses into the living of the hard parts of life. This past year has had its challenges and obstacles, we can’t deny this reality. We have seen the definition of community broaden and maybe even redefined. This may have left us reeling or finally allowed us to trust that we don’t need to be caged. God has never thought we were any ways.

As consecrated women and men, let’s dare to be artisans of encounter this Advent. Like those artisans before us such as Isaiah, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, the magi, the shepherds, angels, the founders of our religious communities, saints known only to us, people who blazed the trail or soared on wings for us and so on; let us be encounters of the Divine. With the wonder of this season, the story of God’s desire to be one with us, and with people from all walks of life willing to be community builders, how can we not lift up our heads and be artisans of joy and artisans of encounter this Advent? The choice is ours. How will we walk in Advent light?

God of Encounters,
You invite us into relationship,
desire for us to build community,
and encourage us to be artisans of joy and life.
During this Advent we accept these opportunities
as we “lift up our soul” (Psalm 25)
to you who are our Truth, Way and Life.
Our eyes and hearts are open to encounters with you
no matter where our Advent steps may lead.

Amen.

[1]Trailblazing Formation – Courage in Uncertain Times” The Southdown Institute Virtual Workshop, February 2021.

– Michael Perras, O.F.M.
Brother Michael ministers at Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre. He has been a Franciscan since 2015.

Photo credits: Robson Hatsukami Morgan and Ole Witt