Arriving at this first weekend of the new year, we often are encouraged to make at least one or two resolutions to begin this new calendar, to take advantage that life is really a series of new beginnings. In our past we think of the first time we started school, perhaps it was kindergarten or first grade. We left the shelter of home, parents and siblings and now were thrown into a new setting with many children we had never met. Later it was transferring into high school with all its challenges and pitfalls. Then perhaps we began at a community college or a major university to see just what career we would pursue and get academically prepared to achieve it.
All of these new beginnings and adjustments have hopefully been worthwhile and beneficial, but we also have learned that we have negotiated these transitions not just by ourselves but usually with the help and assistance of a number of mentors or guides along the way. In this regard, I am reminded of the message Cardinal Cupich gave to the graduates of Boston College several years ago when he was invited to give their commencement address. He spoke of “the givenness of life” and what that means to each person.
“Children,” he remarked, “instinctively grasp life’s givenness. They sense that more is always coming, and the ‘more,’ because it is beyond their making, is inexhaustible, leaving them unafraid of their God-given thirsts.” He continued, “Others who surround a person often stand as reminders of life’s givenness. These are the folks who have been grace for you in their steady and supportive presence, by the example of fidelity to their own relationships to one another, in their commitments to work and family on your behalf and in the many second chances they gave you.”
The Cardinal concluded, “The world needs the hope of those who know the givenness of life. Keeping fresh that sense of givenness will have an impact not only on you, but on our world. Keeping fresh a sense that grace is ever breaking into our existence is the pathway to living a truly free, authentic and rewarding life. Trusting that God is always rushing in with more will sustain you in moments of doubt about your future.”
Can those who support and encourage our appreciation for life’s givenness be regarded as spiritual guides of a sort? There are different kinds of spiritual guides, but what is essential is that they recognize meaning below life’s surface, believe that human existence is undergirded by divine presence and accept that God’s grace is never exhausted. Spiritual guides in a formal sense may be priests, including confessors who enter into conversations in the context of the sacrament of penance, who are supportive. These are conversations inspired by a hope that someone’s sense of having reached a dead end in life can be overcome by another sense, namely that God never ceases to offer second chances intended to impact life here and now—third, fourth and fifth chances too.
Spiritual guides in the formal sense also include pastoral counselors on parish staffs, in retreat centers, monasteries and convents, in the campus ministry centers of colleges and universities and in other settings. Spiritual guides in a less formal sense may be found among one’s relatives, friends or others in the faith community who stand out for their balanced appreciation of life’s givenness.
Way back in the sixth century, St. Benedict indicated in his Rule for monasteries that those guiding monks need to be able to “point out to them all that is good and holy more by example than by words.” And speaking of the abbots who head monasteries, St. Benedict insisted that if they teach “that something is not to be done, then neither must they do it.” An abbot, moreover, must not neglect or treat lightly “the welfare of those entrusted to him.”
In all this, St. Benedict offers a bit of advice regarding spiritual guides in our times. If so, our formal and less formal spiritual guides should be people of integrity who do not take our lives lightly, whose counsel assumes the form of words, yes, but more so of example, and whose presence to us is not self-centered, but is an expression of authentic love.
People often seek a spiritual guide because they are confused or feeling at a loss over a stressful turn of events in their lives. It may also be that a spiritual guide’s counsel is sought because a fear of some type is exerting excessive control over a person’s life. Then, again, this need may arise because someone who is part of one’s life is becoming difficult to understand and a big challenge to handle alone.
Most simply, a conversation with someone able to listen attentively and whose presence is genuinely nourishing, as well as honest and caring, may be sought because an individual, a couple and even an entire family needs support and understanding. Possibly what they need is refreshment for their roles in life. They may need to believe in themselves again, and to reawaken their appreciation for life’s givenness.
Few of us, if any, really want to go through life entirely alone. Anyway, why should we? People benefit in this complex world from the insights and companionship of others who care. Maybe now at this beginning of a new year is the time to give this serious consideration.
SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY
The prophet Isaiah contrasts a picture of the world living in darkness with “the glory of the Lord” shining on Jerusalem. The nations of the world are drawn toward this light. Isaiah proclaims a profound truth: God’s love and salvation, first offered to Israel, is meant to be shared with all nations. This message calls for joy: “your heart shall throb and overflow.”
In today’s Second Reading, Paul stresses the theme that God’s salvation is intended for all people. This mystery, hidden beforehand, has now been revealed to Paul through the inspiration of the Spirit: all human beings are called to become “coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Our Gospel narrative expresses this same mystery. On the day of Christ’s birth, the first to receive the Good News were Jewish shepherds in the fields. Now, at the Epiphany, pagan astrologers, wise men from the East, the Magi, come searching for the “newborn King of the Jews” by following the light of a star. This event fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy announced in the First Reading. The contrast of King Herod to the Magi is remarkable: the leader of the Jewish people refuses to accept the news of the Jewish king’s birth and plans to kill him, while three pagan Magi have travelled far searching for this king and prostrate themselves in worship before him. Their gifts symbolize their belief: gold, the most precious of metals, is a suitable gift for a king. Frankincense, used in worship, symbolizes the child’s divinity. Myrrh, used in preparing a body for burial, symbolizes Jesus’ humanity. We recall how after Jesus’ death his body was anointed with “myrrh and aloes” (Jn 19:38-42).
Our readings remind us of the powerful truth that God’s love is for everyone. Like the Magi, we are called to open our hearts to accept that love.
Through Paul and the other Apostles, the early Church spread the news of the revelation that had been given to them. The Church continues to show the light of Christ to the world. Lumen gentium explains; “Christ is the light of nations and consequently this holy synod, gathered together in the Holy Spirit, ardently desires to bring to all humanity that light of Christ by proclaiming his Gospel to every creature. The Church, in Christ, is a sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (#1).
St. Paul says in the reading from Ephesians that we are “copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” As copartners, we are to reflect Christ to the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus, the Church shows forth the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies” (#2105).
The white garment symbolizes that the person baptized has “put on Christ, has risen with Christ. The candle, lit from the Easter candle, signifies that Christ has enlightened the neophyte. In him the baptized are ‘the light of the world’” (#1243).
The celebration of the Epiphany marks the manifestation of Christ to the world. In the magi, we see people from different cultures and ethnicities coming to worship the Lord. His reign is for all. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The magi’s coming to Jerusalem shows that they seek in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations” (#528).
For Your Reflection: When have you let the light of Christ guide you? What does it mean to you to be a copartner in the promise in Christ Jesus? How do you manifest the light of Christ to the world?
SAINT ANDRE BESSETTE
Monday, January 6, 2020
Brother Andre expressed a saint’s faith by a lifelong devotion to St. Joseph. Sickness and weakness dogged Andre from birth. He was the eighth of 12 children born to a French Canadian couple near Montreal. Adopted at 12, when both parents had died, he became a farmhand. Various trades followed: shoemaker, baker, blacksmith—all failures. He was a factory worker in the United States during boom times of the Civil War.
At 25, Andre applied for entrance into the Congregation of the Holy Cross. After a year’s novitiate, he was not admitted because of his weak health. But with an extension and the urging of Bishop Bourget, he was finally received. He was given the humble job of doorkeeper at Notre Dame College in Montreal, with additional duties as sacristan, laundry worker and messenger. “When I joined this community, the superiors showed me the door, and I remained 40 years,” he said.
In his little room near the door, he spent much of the night on his knees. On his windowsill, facing Mount Royal, was a small statue of St. Joseph, to whom he had been devoted since childhood. When asked about it, he said, “Some day, Saint Joseph is going to be honored in a very special way on Mount Royal!”
When he heard someone was ill, he visited to bring cheer and to pray with the sick person. He would rub the sick person lightly with oil taken from a lamp burning in the college chapel. Word of healing powers began to spread.
When an epidemic broke out in a nearby college, Andre volunteered to nurse. Not one person died. The trickle of sick people to his door became a flood. His superiors were uneasy; diocesan authorities were suspicious; doctors called him a quack. “I do not cure,” he said again and again. “Saint Joseph cures.” In the end he needed four secretaries to handle the 80,000 letters he received each year.
For many years the Holy Cross authorities had tried to buy land on Mount Royal. Brother Andre and others climbed the steep hill and planted medals of Saint Joseph. Suddenly, owners yielded. And Andre collected $200 to build a small chapel and began receiving visitors there—smiling through long hours of listening, applying Saint Joseph’s oil. Some were cured, some not. The pile of crutches, canes and braces grew. The chapel also grew. By 1931, there were gleaming walls, but money ran out. “Put a statue of Saint Joseph in the middle. If he wants a roof over his head, he’ll get it.”
The magnificent Oratory on Mount Royal took 50 years to build. The sickly boy who could not hold a job died at 92. He is buried at the Oratory. He was beatified in 1982 and canonized in 2010. At his canonization in October 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said that Saint Andre “lived the beatitude of the pure of heart.”
Because of the holiday schedule requested by our bulletin publishers, I am writing this note shortly before Christmas Eve. Therefore I do not know what the situation will be as far as the impeachment trial of President Trump is concerned when you actually receive this bulletin. What I hope is that the trial will be honest and fair, that it will last long enough for the senators who must vote and the American people who will listen will be able to hear all the facts pertaining to this unfortunate crisis for our republic. A trial requires that testimony from a variety of individuals and perspectives are offered, sufficient time be allocated for this to happen, openness of all parties to what has been presented, and then a vote taken after this has occurred. President Trump and all of us have the right to a complete process that will help everyone move forward in the best interests of our country. Let us all pray for the President, for the senators, and for
all participants during these important days ahead that we grow as a nation and in sensitivity and civility toward one another.
A CHUCKLE FOR THE NEW YEAR
My dinner party was headed for disaster. One man, an insurance salesman, was monopolizing the conversation with a lengthy account of recent litigation involving himself. Since two other guests were lawyers, I was becoming increasingly uneasy.
“In the end,” the salesman concluded, “you know who got the money.”
“The lawyers!” he shouted.
There was embarrassed silence at the table. My heart was pounding until the wife of one of the lawyers said, “Oh, I love a story with a happy ending.”