Fourth Saturday of Advent
2 SM 7:1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16
PS 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 AND 29
As Advent draws to a close and we are on the cusp of the beginning of the Christmas season, Campus Ministry would like to thank you for journeying with us through these four weeks. We are grateful to our friends across the university community who have shared their reflections on the meaning of this season in their lives and as we are all drawn together into the mystery of the coming of the Kingdom of God in the Incarnation. We hope these reflections have helped you in your own preparation and conversion of heart and life. All of us in Campus Ministry wish a very merry and sacred Christmas to you, to your loved ones, and to the entire Saint Louis University community.
In today's first reading, David speaks in dismay that God only has a tent while David has a house of cedar, and we can understand that impulse: we want to give God the best to demonstrate our devotion and to signify where our priorities are. Just look at Catholic church art and architecture and see that impulse at work - God is exalted and majestic, so we want to build exalted and majestic edifices to give God the glory more clearly. While David did not end up building a more elaborate dwelling for God, his son Solomon did, and it became one of the architectural marvels of the ancient world (except that he imposed massive taxes and conscripted labor on his people to get it built). Hard to disagree with that impulse to honor God the way we honor our great leaders (palaces, thrones, gold, and so on), except that God inverts this image of the "glory of God" in the coming of Jesus, who looks like what God is actually about (see Colossians 1:15) - Jesus' God is not only the God OF the marginalized and poor, but a God who IS marginalized and poor. Thomas Merton, the great American Trappist monk, wrote about the poor Christ in a reflection on Christmas titled "The Time of the End is the Time of No Room," an allusion to the "no room at the inn" of Luke's nativity story:
"Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and He must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst. For them, there is no escape even in imagination. They cannot identify with the power structure of a crowded humanity which seeks to project itself outward, anywhere, in a centrifugal flight into the void, to get out there where there is no God, no man, no name, no identity, no weight, no self, nothing but the bright, self-directed, perfectly obedient and infinitely expensive machine."
This passage feels (admittedly biased by my love of Merton's writings) at least as relevant today as it was when he wrote it 50 years ago - our news feeds are jammed full of reports of the obliteration of lives in so many places around the world; the rise of violent crimes based on racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, homophobia and transphobia; environmental degradation at home and abroad, particularly afflicting the poor and people of color; and so many other relentless manifestations of assaults on human dignity. The Christ whom we celebrate came as a person of color in a marginalized corner of the Roman empire -quickly to become a refugee in Egypt, poor and threatened by state-sponsored violence. He came not to simply be a better king than Herod or Caesar, but one who overturns the very notion that power is best or only understood from on high. So when God through Nathan rhetorically asks David, "Should you build me a house to live in?" this is not only because God is beyond the need for a palace, but because a palace misrepresents God - it makes God into the king, the emperor, the god that so easily legitimates the self-aggrandizement of earthly kings and powers in the first place. Rather, it is in that tent, in that manger, in that flight to Egypt, that Christ enters and dwells with those who are under threat, just like Him.
Patrick Cousins is the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Friday, December 23, 2016
Fourth Friday of Advent
They rejoiced with her. (Luke 1:58)
Who are the “Elizabeths” in your life? Who do you know that is hurting right now? Or feeling lonely or forgotten? There are so many in the world. It could even be a member of your family or an old friend.
In today’s Gospel, we hear about a hard-won, jubilant moment in Elizabeth’s life: the birth of her son, John. She and Zechariah had been looking forward to this momentous event for years. Elizabeth, advanced in age, had been barren, which many people back then took as a sign of God’s displeasure.
Try to imagine the anticipation that spread in Elizabeth’s village once the news of her pregnancy broke—coupled with Zechariah’s story of an angelic messenger and his mysterious muteness. Then imagine how great the celebration must have been when she had a safe delivery. Finally, God had shown “great mercy” toward her and her husband (Luke 1:58)!
We are two days away from Christmas, and as joyful as this is, there are surely people around you in difficult situations, “Elizabeths” who are still waiting for God’s mercy. Maybe there’s someone whom the Lord would like you to “watch and wait” with—or, as Pope Francis would say, “accompany.”
Does someone come to mind? A friend? A family member? A neighbor? Or how about the homeless man you pass on your daily commute or the co-worker who suddenly seems withdrawn? Then there are the millions of refugees who will be away from their families and homes this Christmas, the victims of war and famine, even the people in your own town who are living without adequate food, clothing, or shelter.
Take a few minutes, and make a list of these “Elizabeths.” Watch and wait with them. If you can’t be physically present to them, accompany them by asking God to show them his mercy. Then, when you see their prayers being answered, celebrate—just as Zechariah and Elizabeth’s neighbors did.
“Holy Spirit, show me who could use a little extra prayer and attention. Come and pour your mercy on every ‘Elizabeth’ this Christmas!”
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Fourth Thursday of Advent
Today, we read the words of Mary’s Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his lowly servant, from this day all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:46-48) From yesterday’s readings, we know that Elizabeth and John the Baptist also react with exultation and joy to the presence of God, joining Mary in praise.
A first reading of these words makes me feel inadequate, not exultant. December 22 is one of the very shortest days of the year, when light is thin and cold seeps into the corners. I feel the end of the year closing in, with too many tasks undone and others unappreciated. In that frame of mind, it is hard for me to respond like Elizabeth did, with exultation and joy at meeting the Lord. I feel overwhelmed and not particularly ready to welcome God, let alone sing him a new song.
How can I capture Mary and Elizabeth’s sense of wonder, joy, and blessing?
For me, some inspiration appeared in the figure of Hannah, center of both the first reading and the responsorial psalm. Hannah, who was barren for years, made an annual trek to Shiloh, where she prayed fervently to the Lord for the blessing of a son. When the Lord ended her infertility, she promised to give her much-wanted son back to God after weaning him. In the first reading, Hannah leaves the child that she had begged for in the temple in Shiloh. Even as she does so, she exults, ““The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength.” (1 Sam 2:4),” much as Mary herself said “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Lk 1:53)
Hannah’s praise of God doesn’t come from a place of strength; like Mary, she tells us that she is one of the tottering and weary. Even as this mother gives her beloved Samuel – the answer to her prayers – back to God, she says that the broken are made strong through God. God is great because “he has remembered his promise of mercy” (Lk 1:54).
In the build-up to Christmas, these readings remind me that God’s gifts are not the ones we put under the tree, nor are our accomplishments where our value is to be found. Instead, we can, like Hannah and Mary, praise God not because we are mighty or strong or even joyful, but because his gift is to take us, humble and broken, and use us as we are.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Fourth Week of Advent
In the Gospel readings for today, Mary journeys to visit Elizabeth in Judah. As I read this particular passage, I saw Elizabeth as an example of authentic welcoming, even when there was an unannounced visitor at her door who would share unplanned and surprising news. Elizabeth asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me,” as if she truly recognizes the gift of those moments.
During my undergraduate years at Loyola University Chicago, I spent just over a week in Kingston, Jamaica on a service immersion. Towards the end of the experience, our group visited residents at a nursing home, and I had the opportunity to spend time with a woman who was relaxing in a rocking chair. Not long after sitting down with her, she grabbed my hand and began crying as she tried to communicate her desire to return home. My initial internal response was panic. I felt as if I was not qualified to receive this woman’s concerns in any meaningful way. I didn’t have any of the right answers, and for several minutes, I was preoccupied with that fear of not having the answers.
But I quickly realized that I didn’t need to have the right answers. I could not fix anything or save anyone, and I did not want to. I just wanted to sit with her as she cried silent tears and to hold her hand. I needed to see Christ in the unplanned encounter with this person who invited me into her brokenness. After letting go of my own plan for this interaction, I found God alive and at work in this woman’s sacred and very human story.
For me, Advent is a time to cultivate a renewed awareness that Christ is found in the unexpected surprises, in the moments that we miss if we are too preoccupied with our own plans. Elizabeth did not miss the profound significance of Mary’s sudden appearance at her door. Elizabeth did not fail to welcome Mary in and to recognize Christ. Advent calls us to to do the same, to recognize Christ in friends and strangers alike and to welcome them into our lives, knowing that God is in the simple gift of surprise.
Questions to guide reflection and prayer:
1. When in our lives have we failed to see Christ in someone or something unexpected?
2. When have we let our plans obscure the view of God’s endless and unplanned grace?
3. How are we called this Advent to welcome Christ in the everyday surprises and unpredictable joys like Elizabeth?
Emily Cybulla is a first year medical student at SLU. She graduated in 2015 from Loyola University Chicago and served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Syracuse, NY at L’Arche, an intentional community of folks with and without disabilities, before starting at SLU.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Fourth Tuesday of Advent
“May it be done to me according to your word.”
Perhaps one of the most well-known phrases in the Bible, Mary’s fiat is an example for all of us in our daily lives. How often do we get the chance to experience some of our own “fiat moments”?
Although Mary was able to have a conversation with God through the angel Gabriel, many of us are not lucky enough to have this explicit of a connection with God. Instead, God speaks to us a bit more cryptically.
Even though God won’t ask us to be the mother of Jesus, He does allow us to achieve our own fiats every single day by simply giving us opportunities to say “yes” to Him. These opportunities may come when we have the chance to talk with someone experiencing homelessness as opposed to walking by, going to Mass when we still have a lot of schoolwork to get done, or even staying up late at night when a friend needs to talk and we’re just really too tired.
These opportunities to say “yes” to God seem to never come at a convenient time. Think about it. It’s almost always easier to say “not now”, “one second”, or “I’ll get to it later”, especially when God is asking for our time or attention. When looking at today’s Gospel, however, we see that Mary used none of these excuses. She accepted the confusion and pressure of the task she was asked to do, and simply told God to do with her what was needed for His plan. Looking at the great feat that was accomplished through Mary, how can we not be amazed by what can happen if we give in to God’s plan? It is impossible to fathom the outcome of our actions if we always allow ourselves to be led by God. In our efforts to do this, we can look to Mary as the perfect example of living with God’s plan, and then we can follow her lead to live our own fiats to God by simply saying “yes.”
Ryan Kowalski is a Sophomore studying Communication at SLU from Lake Zurich, IL.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Fourth Monday of Advent
Todays reading recount the story of Elizabeth, Zechariah, and the angel, Gabriel. Gabriel appears to Zechariah when he is in the sanctuary to tell him that Elizabeth will bear a son, who “will be great in the sight of the Lord.” Gabriel gives instructions for this child, John, and then when Zechariah questions him, reminds him of God’s jurisdiction.
As we enter even closer to Christmas day, we may feel pulled in multiple directions. As the angle speaks to Zechariah in the reading from Judges today, he reminds him that God has heard his prayers, declaring “Do not be afraid.” We hear a similar voice as this Advent season comes to a close. We are constantly reminded to not be fearful for our salvation is days away, and our prayers will be answered.
However, simultaneously, as we wait for our salvation, it is hard to not wonder if our individual prayers have been heard. We constantly catch ourselves questioning authority over our lives. Even though Zechariah is confronted with an angel, a direct vision of God, he questions, “How shall I know this?” How will I know that this will actually happen? When in our lives have we failed to remember to trust God, to trust that he hears us.
Let’s remember as our time of preparation comes to an end, to have faith in the One who has ultimate faith in us.