Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2022
Let us pray the river of justice may overflow its banks so to wash away our fears. May we bathe in God’s desire for our common good. May our pains be eased and cleansed.
We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to feel the warm breath of John the Baptist speaking out for those who live in silent desperation. May his words warm our cold declarations of hatred, illusions, and desolations.
We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to listen to the stories our poor try to tell us. May our ears listen attentively to the lives of people who have lost their employment, their warm homes, and their mental stability.
We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to stand firmly on earthly peace. May we not stumble as we ache for stable peace in Ukraine. May the sounds of gunfire in our nation challenge us to act for the benefit of our children.
We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to cut through our apathy with a prophet’s sword. May the weak find home with the strong, the illiterate turn pages of hope with the learned, and our children know the wisdom of our elderly.
We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to depend on love to heal our flimsy falsehoods. May we depend on the prophet’s presence to live with integrity. May Advent point us toward forgiveness and heavenly balm.
We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray our nightmares of self-hatred be transformed by God’s love. May we know God’s desire for us even when fear blankets us in the night.
We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray for our loved ones who have crossed the deserts of life. May the dead reach the eternal shore of God’s kingdom.
We pray to the Lord.
From the September, 2015 issue of Ministry and Liturgy Magazine, my monthly column, “Bridge Work”
Advent: unplanned presence
I have moved ten times in over thirty-two years as a priest, crisscrossing the country from place to place. Each transition brings me great grief about leaving behind significant relationships and opportunities for ministry. After letting go of one ministry in a certain geographical area, I usually wake up one day in the next place and realize the people and situations that eluded my focus in the past few years. I regret not paying more attention in the moment, in the place of ministry and among the people with whom I pray and work.
With every new assignment, I learn to carry fewer possessions. Even though my relationships continuously change and I want to cling to my “stuff”, I let go of what weighs me down. I focus more clearly on what I possess within my own heart, my own relationship with God. I learn to trust more in times of transition even though my first reaction is usually fear.
I usually do not put all the pieces of opportunities and friendships together until I have actually left a ministry setting. Hindsight teaches me real love for people when I finally pull up stakes. Transitions are never easy.
However, starting again always brings unplanned grace. Unpacking my bags and opening my heart in a new parish takes time, patience and my full attention. I usually spend the first few months living in fear and wondering whether or not my gifts and talents will be wanted or accepted among the next group of people. My planned fears have always melted away into moments of unplanned grace in each encounter and relationship in ministry.
I reflect again on these transitions as we begin our new liturgical year in Advent. As I ponder the first birth of Christ, I realize that Mary’s pregnancy was unplanned. Mary’s unexpected pregnancy brought great fear and even threatened the future of Mary and Joseph’ plans for marriage. The presence of Christ even in the womb threatened people, caused them to adjust to a new way of thinking, and ultimately called everyone involved to trust more deeply into the call God had for each one of them. This unplanned presence of Christ was made flesh when Jesus was born on the margins of a village in a animals’ shelter in the nighttime.
From these Advent gospels, we are now called to prepare ourselves for the unexpected second coming of Christ. In this ultimate transition, people will die of fright in the anticipation of what is coming into the world. The powers of heaven will be shaken. We are to wake up and not let our hearts become drowsy from the anxieties of earthly life and in our daily routines. This unexpected presence of Christ will catch us in our complacency and uproot us from our most intimate relationships, our most valued of all possessions.
John the Baptist cries out in full trust in behalf of the Kingdom of God. He shreds our notions that we are to cling to anything on earth. He yanks us out of our daily illusions and shakes us from our notions that we are to rely only on ourselves. John challenges us to live our lives ready for the ultimate transition of Christ’s second coming.
In these Advent days, we are challenged as ministers to cultivate a new desire for God within our assemblies. This challenge becomes more countercultural during these months when we naturally turn to our human families in love. We often believe that these relationships are all that we need. We also cling tightly to our possessions for ultimate satisfaction.
However, this is the time of year that we must articulate even more the presence of Christ in people who fear their families of origin, or people who have not been accepted by them, or even abused by those they love. We are to wake people up to those who wait at our country’s border for housing, employment, and safety. We are to open people’s eyes to our own children who walk the streets at night searching for drugs, waiting for acceptance as they sell their bodies. We are to wait with people who sit at the bedsides of their family members who are ill and afraid of the nighttime.
We are to crouch down and care for our neighbors who sleep on our sidewalks or in the doorways of our churches. We are to befriend and listen to our teenagers with blue hair and with their new piercings. We desperately need to wake people up, to remind them that we are always in transition. We need let go of our beliefs that life should always be secure and lived according to our own plans. We need to call people back to an ultimate trust in God and to loosen their grasp on their own riches and their stockpiled reliance on human ways.
Advent challenges us to always live in transition. However, these transitions help us open our eyes to the ways Christ is revealing hope, love and salvation among us. These transitions also help us to really see people who are different from ourselves. We celebrate Advent by reflecting on our ultimate transition from our earthly cares into our reliance on Christ’s real presence leading us into the Kingdom of God.
Let us pray to wake up to the throbbing pulse of violence in our world. May peace replace gunfire, may hope shield us from despair, and love become a breastplate to protect us from darkness. We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to stay awake in the bitter cold of apathy. May we learn to care for people surviving without insurance, healthcare, and protective shelter. May we wake from our sleep to work diligently for people’s survival. We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to confront our unfaithful hearts. May we tend our hearts to birth gentleness once again within all our relationships. May we yearn only for God this Advent. We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to cut the ties of panic that bind us in the dark. May fear and discouragement loosen in us to reveal the face of Jesus this Advent. We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to wake up to offer gratitude for our families and those we love. May we view our sleeping families with joy in our protective households. May gratitude be born this Advent. We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to remember our journey to Bethlehem and to Calvary in this new liturgical year. May faith become a flare we carry for those surviving dark wars and hatred. May we live the power of Christ’s presence on earth. We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray to cuddle tenderness and not hate. May we embrace justice for people living behind iron bars, may we provide soup for immigrants, and offer coats for people shoved in cold corners of poverty. We pray to the Lord.
Let us pray for our beloved dead. May they not wait to see the glory of Jesus’ face. May home for them be eternal and filled with joy. We pray to the Lord.
Colorado Springs November 2022: Violence and Response: “Would you at least listen to me?”
I just moved from Colorado Springs, Colorado this past summer. I ministered among people for nine years at Sacred Heart Parish, from 2013-2022. I listened to people’s pain. I sat among folks who were estranged from family, friends, and from the Church. I celebrated and grieved. I listened and consoled. I worked as any pastor does, in the unexpected and chaotic moments of people’s lives. I was honored to be present to people in Colorado.
I also lived and served there in 1984-87. At that time, AIDS was beginning in Colorado. I found myself confronted by a young man who came to my office. He stood in the threshold of my office door. I invited him into my office. He said to me, “I have asked three other priests to listen to me. They would not listen.” Then he asked me, “Would you at least listen to me?”
I acknowledged his question and he came into my office and we talked for three hours. He died of AIDS a few short months after our conversation. That question became the core of my priesthood. I hold it in my heart. I have prayed with that question for nearly forty years. It has become an instrument for Jesus’ presence in my life.
That question also led me to becoming a founding board member of the Southern Colorado AIDS Project during my time there. I used this man’s insistence to listen to other people’s stories, to hear with newness the pain that they experienced. I remember the mothers of the men who died. The mothers wanted me to listen to them with the same awareness and compassion. The mothers, most especially, needed the presence of the church. They leaned on me to console them and to walk with them to the gravesites of their sons.
The question posed by a man dying of AIDS also led me to other cities and ministries among people surviving AIDS. I ministered across the country among families grieving much loss for the first twenty years of my priesthood. The question has not died. The question is a birth place into God’s deep compassion for people.
Colorado Springs is facing another tragedy. A man walked in a gay bar wielding a rifle on Saturday night. Many people were killed or wounded. He faces murder and hate crimes of five people. Somehow, we need to listen. We need to listen about our freedoms to carry guns from the families who have lost loved ones. We need to listen to the grieving families, especially the mothers, who have lost a gay child. We need to listen without our preconceived notions about who we think people are in this world. We need to listen because our world depends on us believing in the power of God’s love for all people. In death, divisions among us should cease. Love must bind us in grief and loss.
We need to listen to people who educate us about mental illness that causes a man to kill people without mercy. We need to listen to people who just want a space to live freely. We need to listen, period. I noticed that many of the wounded were brought to Catholic hospitals. The Church is there as it is for anyone. Yet, we need to listen even more deeply to the wounded and help them survive the tortures they face.
I ask everyone to listen from these events in Colorado Springs. Perhaps we can join our hearts in prayer and our lives in works of justice so that the fruit of our listening may be known throughout our neighborhoods.
God, give our beloved dead, peace.
God’s messengers are often just as surprising as the words they bear.
Advent always opens me up. Just when I think I am in control of my life and ministry, I am confronted by the challenges of a new liturgical year. The prophets get under my skin. The gospels splash my soul to surprise and awaken me.
Never has Advent shaken my priorities as the year Bonnie camped out in front of the red doors at our urban parish. Our small chapel in Old Town, Portland, Oregon serves our low-income neighbors, our homeless friends, and people just getting on their feet after prison. Just before Thanksgiving Bonnie wheeled a shopping cart to the front door filled with her stolen treasures: picture frames and toys, extra sweaters and fake flowers.
Bonnie signed up for our hospitality center on her first morning in search of new clothing and a warm breakfast. Her boundless energy disturbed everyone’s routine in the small basement room. Suddenly our entire staff, volunteers, and the room full of guests awakened to her forceful presence. We panicked as she stuffed food into her pockets, paperback novels under her jacket, and rolls of toilet paper in her plastic bag.
Bonnie’s kleptomania unnerved the staff, her penetrating voice disturbed many of our shy guests, and her wiry presence evoked fear in me. Bonnie began her Advent journey by disturbing our entire operation.
She prayed during Mass on her first day with a voice that could stop a train, screaming out every liturgical response at the right time but with a dozen extra words. She threw off the rhythm of our common prayer so completely that the entire congregation stopped speaking. People erupted with complaints and tried to quiet her. Bonnie persisted with her prayer.
Many of us were left confused and bewildered in those first few days with Bonnie. She stirred up resentment among our neighbors, angered many parishioners, and even blocked people from entering our front door.
But I also began to notice something shift inside me. Slowly I opened my eyes to see her differently. I began to hear the message of Jesus in Mark’s gospel: “Be watchful! Be alert!” Bonnie shook me out of my own sleepiness toward people who suffer beyond my imagining. I started to interpret her disturbing actions and screeching voice as our Advent wake-up call, a real prophet in our midst.
She challenged our professional ideals regarding how we deal with crisis and how we try to keep order as we serve the poor. As the voice crying out in the desert, she echoed the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist to get our acts together and let go of our control. Bonnie was not going to let us get too comfortable thinking we were in charge of our lives or even of the parish. Once we all began to see her as a gift to us, she started to change our experience both of her and of the Advent season.
One day during Mass I heard Bonnie screaming outside the chapel. She was trying to stop people from stealing her things. When Bonnie started screaming, I saw one of our parishioners leap out of the pew to go outside. There was something about her scream that day that was raw and primal.
I felt deep sadness rise up in me. Bonnie was communicating to us that many things in our society are not right. Her haunting scream reminded me of all the ancient prophets who tried to get the attention of people to reform their lives and society. I heard in her scream the challenge to wake up and realize that addicts need shelter and sobriety, people need adequate housing, and the mentally ill need affordable medications. I felt in her scream the poverty of the world.
Bonnie also changed my perceptions of her loud responses at Mass. In the very predictable patterns of common prayer, I understood by her piercing voice that those who are marginalized by poverty or mental illness need to be heard. Mass could no longer be prayed on autopilot. We had to think about what, how, and why we were praying the liturgy. She made us think about our responses to the Word that was proclaimed. She halted us in the middle of blindly reciting the Creed. Like the biblical prophets before her, she was teaching us how to pray and live with new awareness and intention.
Bonnie still reminds me that most of the suffering around us remains hidden and secret. She helps me realize we all must take on the prophet’s role when disease, poverty, loneliness, and financial instability grab hold of our communities. People who suffer silently need the voices of the rest of us to speak up for the abandoned and neglected. The Advent season calls for courage and conviction to make faith real, inviting, truthful. Advent is a time to go deeper into our human condition, beyond the surface of relating to one another from our financial status or educational backgrounds or the styles of clothing we wear.
One day Bonnie approached a woman named Sally, who was born with one arm shorter than the other. Bonnie walked up to Sally and said, “Don’t worry about that arm, honey. When Jesus comes back, he will fix that right up for you!” Bonnie really believes in Emmanuel, God-with-us. She even voiced God’s consolation and joy announced in the prophet Isaiah: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.”
I thank God for our prophet Bonnie. Even though she washed her glazed donuts in our baptismal font, collected our hymnals in her shopping cart, and took hundreds of our plastic rosaries to wear around her neck, we all recognized that she carried Christ into our midst. She unstuck my notion that Advent is about the purple polyester fabric in the sanctuary or the flattened, artificial greens with faded, purple ribbons posing as the circle of life. She helped me break open the lie that Christmas is for the rich and well-deserving. God desires to be in relationship with all of God’s beloved.
Before Bonnie left our parish, she knelt down in front of the crèche on Christmas Eve. Several parishioners feared her kleptomania as she approached the newborn king. Instead, poised in prayer, she placed a clean, meticulously folded purple blanket in the small stable. It was her cleanest blanket, her source of warmth on the cold Portland streets.
I never realized I would find the birth of Jesus in the center of mental illness, homelessness, and my own insecurity. God gave us the gift of hope years ago in a small stable and continues to grace us with real human beings who teach us that faith is about relationship. I wait patiently for Advent this year to see if our prophetic sister returns. I wait for love again to awaken me.
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe
Luke 23: 35-43: Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. “He replied to him, “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
On Friday, waiting to be seated at a restaurant, an enthusiastic grandmother introduced me to a vibrant boy who had been adopted earlier that morning. An adorable, red-haired lad, sporting red glasses and an incredible smile was jumping for joy. His two younger siblings were also adopted.
His face still opens my heart. He waited for family. He waited to belong. His grandmother believed Jesus had drawn the three children to their family. I believe Jesus remembered him. Jesus wanted the best for him. Jesus understood that he had suffered enough.
The conclusion of the liturgical year brings us to Christ the King. In the end, the repentant thief received Jesus’ forgiveness just before his death. In the end we all find what we need. We are adopted by the Savior. We belong to Him. He knows each of us. He wants us all to find such a grin and warm hugs on our adopted day; the day of baptism. No matter our sin, our heartache, our fear, Jesus reaches out to us, no matter what.
Christ the King lives in us. We are all different. Yet, we get what we long for. In the end, all will be well. In the end, we shall discover that only God unites us to others and ultimately to Himself. Jesus remembers us. He will provide what we need, to be adopted in Paradise even here on earth.