A Poem for Advent Reflection

Use this poem by Sister Mary Virginia Micka as an Advent Reflection.

I asked and said:
what is to be said?
and I heard
      WATCH:                                               Click HERE to download the full poem.
and I said                                                    This is an excerpt.
what shall I see?
and I heard
        I am crafting the time
        (watch
         the day and the hour)
         am brooding over the night
and I said
how will I know you
by what sign?

Read it once during each of the four weeks of Advent.

Reflect on any of the questions in the tree at the end of the poem.

Works of Mercy: Feed the Hungry

The first of the six works of mercy named in the gospel for Christ the King (November 20, 2011) is feed the hungry.  The countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, are experiencing their worst drought in 60 years.  Deaths in southern Somalia have reached famine level.  According to Caritas International, the lack of water has left at least 10 million people in need of aid.  Pope Benedict XVI has asked for prayer and monetary donations to assist these people.Two Feet of Justice

Why do famines keep happening?
What can you do? 

  • Members of our Good Ground Press staff have participated at Feed My Starving Children in special packaging drives for the famine victims in the Horn of Africa.  To learn more about this organization, visit www.fmsc.org.
  • Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops/international relief and development agency, is accepting donations by phone at (800) 736-3467; online at www.crs.org; or by mail at Archdiocese of Chicago/CRS, 6525 S. Lake Park Ave., Chicago, IL  60653-1402.  Put East Africa in the memo line.  Learn more about the famine on the CRS website.
  • Caritas International is is accepting donations at www.caritas.org.
  • Jesuit Refugee Services is accepting donations by phone at (202)629-5948; online at www.jrusa.org; or by mail to JRS, 1016 16th St., NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036.
  • The Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States is accepting contributions to: Pontifical Mission Societies, East Africa Program, 70 W. 36th St., New York, NY  10018 or at www.onefamilyinmission.org.

If you support any other hunger-related charities, please list them in the comments!

Gospel Reflection for November 20, Feast of Christ the King

The just ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you were a stranger and welcome you or naked and give you clothing?  When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
“I assure you, whatever you did for one of these least, you did for me,” the king replies.

Matthew 25.40

Writer Matthew places this Sunday’s parable just before Jesus’ passion in the flow of the gospel narrative.  In his passion Jesus himself becomes the least among us, suffering the kind of execution aimed to shame and subdue rebellious slaves. Sunday’s parable invites us to recognize Jesus in all those who suffer.

Who in your area needs the active mercy of people in your parish or neighborhood?

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Vocation

A guest post by Claire Bischoff in reflection of this week’s Gospel Matthew 25:14-30

What do you think are the world’s great hungers?

What brings you deep gladness?

At my high school, one day each year was set aside for “Vocations Day,” when priests, nuns, and brothers came to talk to our religion classes about their lives. I always listened politely, but since I was confident that I wanted to be married and have children one day, I figured “vocation” was just not for me.

Then I read something that changed my attitude about vocation. Discussing vocation, Frederick Buechner writes, “Neither the hair shirt or the soft birth will do. The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”* Buechner’s definition of vocation means that it is not only the vowed religious who are called to fulfill their vocations. All of us have vocations, because each of us has deep gladness and the world always has needs that need to be met.

What I love about Buechner’s understanding of vocation is that it combines making a difference with being happy. In other words, it isn’t a true vocation if it does not address a true need in the world (thus, even if being a reality television star makes you happy, it is likely not your vocation). But it also is not a true vocation if you are miserable doing it (thus, even if you are making a huge difference in a community in Africa by helping build a school, if you do it without joy, it is likely not your true vocation).

The other thing I love about Buechner’s understanding of vocation is that it highlights how God calls everyone to some vocation—at any age, in any setting, with whatever abilities. My three-year-old son loves meeting new people and telling stories; his great grandmother lives in a nursing home where people have a great hunger to be treated as human beings worthy of personable interaction. Even at his young age, God is calling him to a vocation of visiting the elderly, which brightens both his day and the days of those with whom he interacts. If my three-year-old son has a vocation, then I am fairly certain we all have one.

And we do not need to look half way around the world to find it. We need to look at ourselves in order to discern what truly brings us deep gladness. And we need to look at the relationships and settings in which we find ourselves in order to discern what is really needed there. God could be calling you to address a need in your family, in your school, in your church, or in your neighborhood.

In this week’s Gospel (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus tells a parable about a man going on a journey who gives gold talents (coins) to his three servants. The servants who receive five and three talents, respectively, invest them and thus have a profit to give the master when he returns from his travels. The third servant, who believes his master is a harsh man, hides his one talent in the ground and thus has no profit to give the master when he returns.

The question at the heart of this parable is, “What does God ask of us?” If we listen to Frederick Buechner, we can be certain God is asking something of each of us. God is asking us to invest our talents, to use our skills, and to apply our personalities in order to meet the needs of those around us.

So what is your vocation?

*Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, page 95.

The Power of Lament

Guest post by Ellie Roscher

Meet Joe. Joe was a fifteen-year old who was randomly placed in my sophomore Hebrew Scripture class. He walked in disheveled, out of uniform and groggy every morning. He sat in the back, slouched, and never raised his hand. I have learned that instead of becoming offended by a kid like Joe, it helps to get curious. When I would ask Joe questions, he would not be rude or mean, he was just slow to light up or offer me much. He said, “Religion is not my thing.”

Toward the end of the term, we studied lament as prayer. I would read my students lament Psalms and play them songs that had lament lyrics. I find that most teenagers are afraid to call God out, to get angry or be sad or blame God. That fear often leads to distance, apathy and resentment. We talked about lament as possibly the last relevant form of prayer. In prayer we ask for things a lot, or sometimes give thanks, but we rarely offer anger. I assigned my students to write a lament to God. I told them to scream, cry, doubt, throw whatever they had at God. God can handle it. Anger is less offensive than apathy. It shows a step toward having an authentic relationship with God.

On days that big assignments are due, I have students share projects with the class. They only need to share what they feel comfortable sharing, but on lament day, Joe raised his hand for the first time. He began to read his lament, filled with raw, honest “Why” questions, aloud in front of his twenty-five classmates. We learned that his favorite aunt had died unexpectedly while she was pregnant at age thirty-five. One page in, his voice got high, his chin started to shake, and heads dropped in reverence as he began to sob. He started again, only to break down twice more. Determined to finish, he would rub his eyes on the sleeve of his black hooded sweatshirt and try his voice again. We gave him space to lament. When he finished, we sat in silence, but it did not feel awkward. The room felt full with God. I thanked him for sharing, for being brave enough to lament, for teaching the class better than I ever could.

When my prayer life starts to feel like a chore, I take a look at how I am praying.  Prayer does not always have to be on our knees with our heads down and our hands folded.  John Lewis said, “When you pray, move your feet,” meaning that true prayer leads to social action.  I have to remember that in order to pray, I must first learn how to listen.  Our whole life is a prayer, an answer to the grace God gave us in life.  When I remember that, my relationship with God gets a new spark again.

How do you pray?

Have you ever used lament as prayer?

When have you heard God unexpectedly in your day?

Gospel Reflection for November 13th, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus said, “To those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing; even what they have will be taken away.”
Matthew 25.29

The moral of this Sunday’s parable seems counter-intuitive to the Gospel messages to which we are most accustomed. What happened to “the last shall be first and the first shall be last?” What about, “Blessed are the meek?” Is Jesus moral compass acting like a yo-yo?

This parable urges us to see in the amount of money all that God entrusts to us in giving us life, unique gifts, and family and friends whose lives we share. Jesus calls us to multiply the gifts entrusted to us.

What is one of the most valuable ways you have invested your life energies?

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Violence and Human Dignity

How do you define violence? What violence are you exposed to in your community?

Guest Post from Claire Bishoff in reflection of Matthew 22:34-40
 

Until very recently, I did not think much about violence. I was confident that my only exposure to it came through the occasional act of violence I saw in a movie or television show.

Then in a girls’ discussion group I was leading, the topic of sexual harassment came up. The young women told stories about having crude things yelled at them by strangers when they were out for a jog; answering the phone, only to hear heavy breathing on the other end; avoiding the hallway at school where a few popular boys would sit and “grade” the girls’ looks as they walked by; and being touched inappropriately at school, church, and parties by boys they thought were their friends. As the stories gushed forth, the young women were amazed that they were not the only one who had faced harassment. Many had never talked about these incidents, afraid that people would not believe them or that they would be blamed for what had happened to them.

Then one young woman said something I will never forget: “I would rather have someone hit me than harass me like this. Bruises heal, but it is hard to feel good about yourself when someone treats you like an object, not a person. Plus, if there was a bruise, then people would believe I was being bothered and might even help me do something about it.”

These young women’s stories helped me realize that physical violence is not the only kind of violence. Anything that demeans another person, that denies their human dignity as made in the image of God, is violent. If this is the definition of violence, then all of us encounter a lot more violence that we might think. If this is the definition of violence, then it is harder to separate “violent” people from the rest of us. Let those among us who have never taken away the humanity of another person through rude comments, tasteless jokes, or simply staying silent while others behave this way, throw the first stone.

This is not to excuse violence because everyone acts this way at times. Rather, it is to sound a call for all of us to be more aware of our involvement in cycles of violence. Violence does not just happen in “bad neighborhoods” or countries half-way around the world. Violence happens everywhere, thus it is the job of everyone to think creatively about and to act courageously for promoting peace between people of different ages, races, nations, religions, sexualities, and political persuasions.

This is at the heart of our lives as Christians. In this week’s Gospel (Matthew 22:34-40), Jesus teaches us that the most basic laws are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, two forms of love that are integrally connected. The more we love God, the more we are able to see the humanity in others, even those who are radically different from, even those we do not like. The more we are able to love our neighbors, the more we know and love God, as we encounter God through them. This journey of love is truly a journey of a lifetime.

What is one thing you can do this week that demonstrates your:

love for God?
love for someone radically different from you?
love for yourself?


What one thing can you do this week to make sure that the human dignity of others is not compromised?

God speaks to me through television, movies, and music

God speaks to me through television, movies, and music. To put it that way makes it sound sort of creepy, as if I actually hear the voice of God coming through my laptop or iPod. What I mean is that, at times, I learn something about God, myself, and creation through these sources. Often this happens when I am least expecting it, or when I do not even know that I need help or am looking for answers.

Throughout the Harry Potter era, religious communities and authorities have warned young people against reading these books. Despite these warnings, many youth (and adults!) have read these books and have heard God speak through them. I include myself in this group. Readers of the Potter books have learned about the power of friendship, love, and sacrifice for the greater good. They have been reminded that young people can make a difference in the world. Many have even found connections between Harry Potter and Jesus, helping them better understand the Gospel narrative in terms that relate to their lives. Beyond being enjoyable reads, the Harry Potter books have invited readers to consider the big questions—theological questions—about good and evil, sacrifice, and the meaning of life. In this way, these books have been a place where Catholics young and old alike have met God.

There is a fancy theological term for seeing God in all parts of our world—sacramental imagination. In other words, many Catholics see the world through God-colored glasses, since we believe that the world and all of its events and people and things are somewhat like God. Because of this similarity between God and the world, all the events and people and things of world have the potential to be revelatory of God. We believe that God is involved in the world, not absent from it. We believe that God teaches us about God and ourselves continually, not only in Jesus Christ and the sacraments. Because of this, Catholics do not need to be afraid of reading books like Harry Potter or listening to popular music.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about tenants of a vineyard who are not being faithful renters. Jesus uses this parable to challenge the religious officials of his day to be faithful renters themselves, that is, people who serve God and those in need. Today this parable encourages us to ask what it means to be faithful renters in our world, to be tenants of the Earth. We live in a media culture; Twitter and Facebook along with television, movies, and music are an integral part of our lives. How can we be faithful renters in a media culture? Is there a middle ground we can walk between rejecting popular culture and embracing it wholeheartedly? How can we engage media culture faithfully and critically? How can we learn about God and ourselves and our world through media culture? How can we bring our faith to the everyday activities of reading, watching, and listening?

Has God even spoken to you through media culture? Share your story here.

How can you use the tools of media culture to build up the kingdom of God?

AIDS

Yesterday as its editor, I worked on the Sunday by Sunday issues for Advent, Christmas, and after. The Two Feet feature in the issue for the 1st Sunday of Advent recommends observing World AIDS Day, December 1, by visiting UNAIDS. The World Health Organization initiated this day to reduce the shame and spread of AIDS. The AIDS quilt project to remember those who died grew out of this awareness building. At UNAIDS I found current statistics. To date world wide, 60 million have died.

In 2000 the United Nations made halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS one of its eight Millennium Development Goals to achieve by 2015, a year drawing near. New infections are down. Anti-retrovirus drugs allow some 33 million people to live with HIV, five million more surviving than in 2005. About two million people still die each year. Sixteen million children have lost their parents.

A colleague emailed a professor friend finishing up her last two weeks on a Fulbright grant in Zambia. The numbers above are just statistics to most of us in the U.S. but in Zambia it’s daily life. The friend writes,

“The Fulbright evaluation asks what cultural events I attend. All I could reply was to note all the funerals I have attended or contributed money to. So many adults dying—AIDS is always alluded to but never acknowledged.”

How to Help the Hungry

Bread for the World calls attention to new hunger data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture released September 7. For the third year in a row a record high 14.5% of American households suffer food insecurity. What is worse, the USDA reports 25% of African-American and 26% of Hispanic households experience food insecurity compared with 10.8% of white households. That’s a lot of folks having trouble putting food on the table.

Sisters Joan and Therese with David BeckmanLast fall I interviewed David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, when he received the World Food Prize for his leadership of this Christian lobbying organization over the past for 20 years. He left a post as an economist at the World Bank to become an advocate for far less salary for the hungry. Beckmann combines three callings in one in his work. He is a Lutheran pastor, an economist who analyzes hunger needs and program effectiveness, and an advocate for the least among us.

In my time as a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph leadership team I got calls from folks that needed food. And, yes, we discovered a group that scammed us for baby formula. Like all who tend the backdoors of rectories or convent, we had to make up our minds about whose need was genuine. Today’s figures testify that unemployment is keeping need high for millions who are using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or other nutrition programs to get by.

Bread for the World offers us Christians help in protecting food programs for the least as Congress battles to cut the national deficit. Beckmann urges Christians who give to food pantries to also write to their representatives in Congress. According to Beckmann in his book Exodus from Hunger, all the faith-based feeding programs combined provide only 6% of the assistance needed in our nation. Government helps us do together what we can’t do for the hungry as individual families and parishes. Investigate joining in the work with this ecumenical, nonpartisan organization: Bread.org.

Click here for Bread for the World’s U.S. hunger facts.

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