Let the Baby Draw You In

We are entering into the week leading up to Christmas. It is, I suspect, the case that many people do not feel much like Christmas. There is a whole host of reasons for this, but it most likely revolves around one reality: COVID19. Many have lost their lives and that means there are those mourning and grieving who are left behind; many have lost their jobs; many people are stressed out; many people are anxious, and the list goes on. To be sure – there are also those who are looking forward to Christmas – hoping and praying that it will be that “ray of hope” that is so badly needed.

To the former group I want to – I hope to – write something to encourage you. I want to, right up front, acknowledge what you are experiencing. I also want to encourage you not to allow what you are going through due to COVID or anything else, to define you. This may sound easier said than done but this is not just a motivational talk or motivational writing. Rather this writing is more of a finger pointing in a certain direction or more accurately it is pointing to a certain person. That person is now in his mother’s womb and will be in “that crib” that is the focus of so much attention at this time of the year.

There are many reasons for anyone of us to “look in” — that is to kind of sink into ourselves and feel lost or isolated and lonely. We need to “look out” and look to the one who has always thought of us – he actually willed us into existence through our parents – who thinks of us and will always be with us, who always loves us and that is Jesus Christ, True God and True man.

This last week before the celebration of Christ’s birth there will be many things that draw us in. The malls will certainly not be as full as they were last year; so-called “Boxing Day” which is for us Catholics the Feast of the Martyrdom of Saint Stephen will be much quieter (and while I want businesses to succeed there is a ‘madness’ about the day after Christmas that is not good for people!).

We need a quieter Saint Stephen’s Day. It is a day to not only reflect on what we have just celebrated – to let it really sink in and enjoy it – but we need to remember that this “little baby” is here for a purpose and that purpose it not to live but to die. Sounds horrible doesn’t it? It is not if we get serious about our faith and really look at that child – let Him draw us in – and realize that the Shepherds are worshiping him; Mary and Joseph are worshipping him; Angels are announcing his arrival with the greatest of jubilation. This little child is here for war – yes, my brothers and sisters … this child is here for war!

CS Lewis said that “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” (Mere Christianity). Why disguise – because Satan would never attack God head on – he knows he cannot win that battle. But Satan would attack someone he saw as being human even though “holy and righteous” and so on. And so, the King came cloaked in the guise of human nature.

So this is Christmas – it is the beginning of a supernatural, cosmic D-Day and the number of the allies who are going to take on the enemy is One and that “One” lays in a crib looking helpless, needing food and swaddling cloths to keep warm and food to sustain his mortal nature. He looks so helpless — his disguise is so complete. The baby is here to fight for us, for you and for me. This baby loves us so much he is going to lure the enemy into a trap making him think that he is going to be victorious and thus will the victory be accomplished.

St Stephen was the first of his “red witnesses” (Martyrs by blood) showing us that the words of the child truly transform a human heart and give one the courage to what he will do “lay down your life for the Truth and those you love.”

Let us allow this baby – Jesus Christ – to draw us in; let us open our heart to Him so that we may have union with him, friendship wit him and thus be transformed by him. Let us be willing and wanting to be his “white martyrs” (Martyrs by daily witness)

Greater love no man has than to lay down his life for his friends. This child will not only speak these words but live these words. If we live them, we will experience the same victory that he did.

So – as many things compete for your attention and seek to “draw you in” – into yourself, into buying, into too much eating or drinking or screen time – listen to him, look at him and let him draw you in. Fall in love with him for his love is the only worthy love of our entire heart, mind, body and soul.

Let the child draw you in and if you do – no matter what you have or don’t have – you will have a blessed, holy and merry Christmas. You will know that you are loved and no one can take that away.

Fr Bruce-John Hamilton

3 Keys to Happiness

3rd Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday
Cycle B/2020
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Psalm: Luke 1:46-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

We have all heard of the recent extension of the COVID “lockdown” here in BC. This is affecting everyone … everyone in some way. This is something that – whether you agree or disagree with what has happened – we are going through together.

When it comes to Christmas (keeping it, sharing time with others) people are struggling with being down in the dumps, stressed, concerned perhaps even scarred (for a whole host of reasons). To make matters even more challenging we know that the lockdown is extended to January 8th of next year. So – how are we do deal with this? How are we to respond? There are – no doubt – many answers to this but as Joshua told his people in the Old Testament “I’m with the Lord” so I will convey to you that “I’m looking to Scripture (God’s word) to both guide and teach me how to respond to this whole situation.

I want to focus on St Paul’s 1st Letter to the Thessalonians. Now – this was just read a few minutes ago. If this section of St Paul’s Letter did not make you a little uneasy or have you scratching your head or wondering “how the heck can I do that” or “are you serious” then I would submit you were not paying attention OR you are paying the Apostle a kind of ‘lip service’ — giving a polite nod to what he is saying. I will focus in on these three verses: “…Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1st Thess 5: 16-18). This is our answer – all the way from God – as to how to deal with COVID. To further this teaching from the Apostle it applies to pre-COVID and Post-COVID times. Listen again:

  1. Rejoice always,
  2. pray constantly,
  3. give thanks in all circumstances;
  4. for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you

You should be asking “really!” or “how can you expect me to do take that seriously?” If St Paul was here he would repeat it back to you — “I meant every word that I said.” It should unsettle you and give you assurance at the same time. This is not Paul writing from some “ivory tower,” removed from the day to day living that people have to experience. Paul was in prison and was pretty sure he was going to be put to death. So – his circumstances are NOT ideal by any standards … except, except … by the standards of a Christian and child of God!

St Paul knows exactly what this world can throw at someone … because it threw its worst at him. Did he run? No! Did he ignore it? No! Did he become depressed? He might have been tempted to this but he did not give in to it. What did he do? He did what he has written to us – he followed these three steps to true and lasting happiness. Rejoicing is not a request – it is an imperative. Paul did not just teach this, he lived it on a day to day basis, even in the midst of severe persecution, ostracization and isolation. How did he do this? He trusted the power of the Holy Spirit in his life and in the lives of Christians who would trust that same Spirit. Paul knew that the Lord was near him and this had a real effect on him. It stabilized his day to day living.

He prayed constantly. If this doesn’t make you question (how this is possible) then again I say you are not listening to what Paul is challenging you to. It has challenged great saints as to how this is possible. St Augustine admits that it is impossible to pray unceasingly if we restrict ourselves to formalized prayers. But there is, Augustine claims, “another inward kind of prayer without ceasing, which is the desire of the heart.” If you long for God, you do not cease to pray, for “the continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.” To be sure this is not just some whimsical thinking about God but a deep longing for him that is nurtured by formal prayer.

The great St Thomas Aquinas gives his own answer to this question by drawing on the opinions of many who preceded him. He says that it is possible to pray without ceasing in three ways.

First, we do so by praying at the appointed times during the day.

Second, following Augustine, Thomas says that we pray when we desire God and God’s will.

Third, drawing on the biblical idea that gifts for the poor are gifts for God (e.g., Phil 4:18), Thomas teaches that almsgiving sets off a cascade of prayer that continues unceasingly, because “the one who receives your gift prays for you even while you are asleep.”

Last – give thanks in all circumstances. Not some, not those that are favorable, not when you have time but in ALL circumstances. If you are not centered in Christ then I would submit this is not possible nor does it even sound reasonable. If Jesus is the centre of your life then it is possible and what in fact makes THE difference in everything. I don’t pretend to have this 100% perfect in my life but I know that God sees all things – has seen all things – and has prepared all the grace I need to deal with whatever comes at me. It doesn’t mean I will always respond well but that is what repentance and contrition and restarting are for!

St Paul concludes – this is the will of God for you and me in Christ Jesus! It is God’s will and God knows everything – more than you or I could ever know. If you and I pray God will help us begin to “see” this with his eyes and heart and we will experience a reality that helps us deal with whatever the world and life throws at us. The outcome is that rather than dragging us down we will have strength and trust to rejoice — because the Lord is near and for you and me these are not just words but a reality that changes everything!

Clear Your Heart for God’s Landing

2nd Sunday in Advent
Cycle B/2020
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 84; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

Our concept of what we refer to as the “spiritual life” is all too often communicated by a “mountain that we need to climb.” This is not a bad image but as with all metaphors it can be easily misunderstood. It can all too easily give us the idea that God is somehow “out there” or “up there” waiting for us to ascend to him.  

This image while not wrong is really not the biblical view of our relationship with God (what is also called “the spiritual life”). The biblical view refers to the primacy of grace. Namely that God’s initiative is always first. In our overly independent society we tend to think we have to make ourselves appealing to God. This is completely wrong and upside down. The bible is clear that it is always God’s initiative; God is always the one who is approaching us. We do not and in fact cannot approach God on our own initiative; God is the one who approaches us!  

Listen to how Isaiah the prophet speaks to his people (and keep in mind this is God speaking to you and me in our day): In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…”  God is telling his people that he is coming to them … it is not they who are going to him. And so they must make a straight way for God to come to them. For the people of Isaiah’s day this was very real as the way between Babylon and Jerusalem was not a smooth journey. They had to clear things along the way. This is the image that God presents to us on this 2nd Sunday of Advent. We are now in the thick of Advent and those messages I spoke about last Sunday are turning up their volume: Fear all things COVID; Buy more than you need or even want because it makes you feel better; Watch and prepare for the “Coming One.”  

Think of God not as some one on the top of a mountain that we have to climb up to in order to get to him but rather think of God as a helicopter who wants to land in your area and rescue you from your enemy and He is unable to because there is so much debris that a landing isn’t possible. You and I need to clear the landing area, make it a place where it can land — a place where God can land and do what he wants to do —— come to you and rescue you and me. The work that the Reading’s remind us we need to do during this season of Advent come through clear with Isaiah and John the Baptist – “make straight the way of the Lord” which is the Bible’s way of telling us that we need to get rid of the obstacles preventing God from being with us. This is where what we call detachment comes in. This word is not understood by many and perhaps turns others off but it is not all that scary once we spend a little time thinking about it and unpacking it.  

The first thing to be said is that we do not initiate and in fact do really cannot – God initiates, God comes to us, God wants to be with us. We have to do our part but the real fruitfulness of it is “done by the Lord.”   

The second thing we need to focus on is what does it mean to “clearing the land” so that the helicopter (God) can land and rescue us? This is where it might get a little scary for some people but if you just persevere a little you realize how freeing it is.  

St Theresa of Avila gives some very wise advice about clearing the land – I will focus on just one of them. She says: we need to have detachment from all that the soul holds worthwhile, because unless we are willing do this our lives are going to ruled by fear, and fear is the chief activator of our faults. What are examples of this? What are ways that we can clear the ground so God can land and comes to us – being liked too much, being in charge, being praised, liking food or our own opinion too much. Think of how these things can clutter our heart, enslave us, keep us down and choke off freedom. If we are willing to really think about it (and this is where we can examine our conscience so we can really see what needs to be cleared away for the great landing of God) we will see how they prevent God’s grace from rushing into our lives and giving us the freedom that only God can give and wants to give us.  

The wise St Theresa is not about getting rid of things or people or distancing ourselves from them but rather of allowing the primacy of God’s grace to be present in our lives. This is the only way that Advent is going to be a spiritually fruitful time for us. And here’s the thing: the messages that I spoke about last week “Fear and Buy” – if we clear the ground then fear goes away and buy is put in check. We have more peace in our lives and a readiness for God. End result — is that we are MORE HUMAN and much happier. We want to make time for Mass (these days) in real time when it is streamed, for confession when we can go or private prayer we can enter into every day in our homes. We are looking for ways to help and assist others – we are intentional about it — again, The Door Is Open or Covenant House here in Vancouver or other worthy charities for the poor and street people.  

Advent – let us see where we can clear our landing area (our hearts) so that God can land and you just see … how much happier you and I will be!