Pieces of Peace

These days it feels as if there’s so much to say, but words continue to fail us. The emotional toll of this year seems to drive everything, or so it feels. We cautiously approach the end of 2020 hoping that by the stroke of midnight on December 31 all will come to a close (or at least we’ll wake up from this nightmare). But we should always be vigilant not to let anxiety overwhelm us for God’s peace goes beyond our everyday experiences. St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The fourth Sunday of Advent is symbolized by peace, having celebrated hope, love, and joy. Peace itself is often misunderstood as an idyllic tranquility that comes over humanity like a cool breeze; after all, it’s the refrain of pacifists and war critics. But that ignores the personal, more inward thrust of what true peace holds for us as individuals. We talk about coming to peace with a loved one or watching a friend pass away peacefully, as if to remind ourselves that it is found in smaller moments of grace in our lives. Peace does not present itself as an overwhelming wave but rather as a droplet in the ocean. The Prayer of St. Francis so many of us are familiar with echoes this sentiment:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy.”

When we encounter shadows in our life, we are called to bring light. And this can only happen when we act to better the lives of those around us. Peace reminds us that “and then…” always follows each experience of pain or suffering. Imagine the despair of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in a hopeless situation, only to bring the Christ child into the world (“and then…”); recall the passion and death of Jesus, only to be outdone by the glory of his resurrection (“and then…”); remember when you yourself suffered and felt there would be no redemption, only to…. (“and then…”). The fragmented nature of our lives means that even peace presents itself in pieces. Fragments still unite to make things whole and complete while allowing the true light of our lives to shine through. Fragmented memories still allow us to reflect on the blessings and grace that continue to envelope us. And as the culminating virtue in life uniting hope, love, and joy in the Advent season, peace is a reminder that it–not injury, doubt, despair, darkness, or sadness–has the final word in our lives.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

An Empty Manger

Ten years ago, my parents recorded an audio book of “The Night Before Christmas” as a gift for (at the time) our only son Gabriel. At the end of the story, they say his name wishing him a Merry Christmas. When we listened to the book the other night with both boys (Daniel was born in ’14), Daniel turned to me incredulously and said, “Well, that was dark,” noting the absence of any reference to him in my parents’ remarks. I then had to awkwardly explain to him that there was a time when he was not yet here and it gave me pause to think about what it means for someone to simply not be. During the season of Advent, my thoughts were drawn to the manger and its empty space.

Nativity scenes decorate our homes, places of worship, and work spaces. Until Christmas morning, our focus is on an empty manger; a common, less than regal, bed for a savior. It’s anything but special and yet it is in that space that we wait patiently for a great event to happen, for someone to become. We embrace the time that he is not yet here. But even in that space of hope, of new beginnings, we know how the story ends. Our faith calls us to realize that the birth of Christ must lead to the Cross. The Cross of the Resurrection is what transforms this world into new life through the Kingdom of God: “already, but not yet” built in our lifetime. The building of of the Kingdom calls us to continue the waiting, the work, the struggle. In short, the empty manger allows us to realize the fullness of new life in the Easter miracle!

As we meditate on the birth of Jesus, let’s remember that through his life God entered our world in an otherwise forgettable setting. A king, born in a stable surrounded by livestock, changed our world and how we come to see our place in it. May we always remember what it means to empty ourselves into the lives of one another and to realize that the Christmas miracle continues to reveal itself in every moment of every day.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!

Waiting

Traffic. Delays. Lines. We experience waiting on a daily basis. It is usually met with frustration and an elevated emotional response toward those people or circumstances that seem to create or aggravate our waiting. In short, we don’t like it or look forward to it.

A few years back during the holiday season I was flying back to California to visit family when a storm canceled my flight. While I was in line waiting to reschedule, a man yelled to the airline employee, “Well I have to be somewhere!” I thought to myself, “So do I. We all do; it’s an airport.” After all, who goes to an airport to visit the airport? But his indignation has stayed with me for sometime because I think in a perverse way he captures the angst most of us experience during the holiday season: arriving somewhere.

The joy of the Advent season calls us to recall the joy in the mundane, the anticipation, the journey. The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday or a time to rejoice in preparation for the birth of Jesus. [Liturgical footnote: it’s also only one of two Sundays where the priest wears rose color vestments; the 4th Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday, is the other]. As a child I remember seeing the rose candle in the Advent wreath and thinking, “We’re almost there!” This December, let’s all remember to enjoy this element of moving closer to something, however slowly it may feel.

It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!