Dear Sayed: 1st Sunday of Advent (2016)

The Church has now moved into the Season of Advent. It is a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus, often a time in which we prepare our homes for the receiving of guests, as a tradition of Christmas hospitality. Spiritually, we prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus into our hearts.

It was a great privilege to begin this advent season in the way we did today. My daughter and I attended a card-making workshop, hosted by our dear friend, Fiona, whose contacts will send them on to various places, including the MITA in Parkville, Vic. It was a treasured time of creativity, friendship and for me, personal prayer. Here is the day, in my daughter’s words:

Today Mum, Fiona and I made Christmas cards for people in detention centres. We made about 20 handmade cards with all sorts of Christmassy decorations. There were cards with Christmas trees, candles, stars, buttons and many other things. There were many people we wrote to, but I wrote to Sayed, a young 6-year-old and Azizullah, a 13-year-old. It’s quite upsetting to hear that many people, especially young children, are put into detention centres. Around Christmas time, in the detention centres, they don’t even get a mention about Christmas. In the cards we put our names, what city we live in, and that we are thinking about them. I hope that you too can take the time this Advent and Christmas, to pray for the people who are in detention centres around Christmas. –Pia, 11 years

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With our handmade cards for our asylum seeker friends in detention.

Children never cease to amaze me. I am so grateful that I get to witness this daily. On the car ride home, Pia and I were talking about what we did in the afternoon. The conversation went on to the plight of these people who are locked up and given no presents, no decoration and no joy. It was then that she exclaimed, “How can a 6-year-old cope!”, fighting back tears, her voice breaking with emotion. A little while later, she said to me in a voice still shaken, “This music explains the situation.” The song that was playing was “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?” from the soundtrack to Disney’s Frozen (a highly recommended film, if you haven’t seen it!), sung by the optimistic and bubbly Anna, wherein she tries to connect with her estranged sister Elsa, who has a tendency to isolate herself. The song starts out incredibly playful and carefree, but the point at which my daughter commented, is an instrumental interlude to mark the tragic death of the characters’ parents, at sea.

I listened some more, to my daughter, and to the music. Then I heard these lyrics:

Please, I know you’re in there,
People are asking where you’ve been
They say “have courage”, and I’m trying to
I’m right out here for you, just let me in
We only have each other
It’s just you and me
What are we gonna do?

Dear Sayed, dear little one. Dear Azizullah. Dear Adam, dear Leila, dear Ali, and to all of you whose names we do not know. Please, I know you’re in there. People are asking where you’ve been. They say “have courage”, and I’m trying to, I’m right out here for you… we are right out here for you. And praying with and for you. We send you love and open hearts, especially in this advent time.
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This Advent, how will you open your hearts? How will you prepare a home and make space for Jesus and his family? May this time be a mindful journey of contemplation and compassion. It will be busy, but here we are at the beginning of it: how will you stop for a moment, to listen to the Spirit of God?

 

21 September 2016: Celebrate Being Alive

 

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Pilgrims – celebrating friendship – in the footsteps of Marie Madeleine. 2014.

“A birthday,” said my daughter, “is to celebrate how long you’ve been alive.”

 

We worked out how old Marie Madeleine would be if she were still with us today: two hundred and thirty-five.

Though the years are numbered, one can say that her spirit lives on with each story told, each memory shared and every time we pause to reflect on her life. To celebrate Marie Madeleine’s birth and life, we need not ceremony or lavish feasts, but hearts that are open to meeting her, and in turn, God’s gifts to the Church.* We can read about her, as my daughter has done so tonight in curiosity and interest, or we can hold near to us, what knowledge or insight we’ve gained over the period we’ve known her. We can reflect on the physiological aspects of her life: her birthplace, the family to which she was born, the time period in France, and ponder their significance or effect; or we can look at her legacy in the lives of her direct descendants, or the order of nuns she founded, and in the lives of many whom she continues to inspire.

Today is also the International Day of Peace, and I draw from the words of the newly-canonised St Teresa of Calcutta: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” Celebrate being alive, with those nearest to you, may they be your family, your community or whomever lives in your heart.

 

*We remember that Marie Madeleine has been declared Venerable by the Catholic Church, formally recognising her saintly virtues. Here is a Prayer for Healing, which you might like to say:

 

More details about the Cause for the Canonization of Marie Madeleine can be found on the Society’s web site.

 

 

Video: Myriam’s Song

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At ten years of age, Myriam finds herself living in a refugee camp. However despite her circumstances, her faith and wisdom beyond, and nothing short of a manifestation of God’s grace.

We can learn so much from Myriam: about love, friendship, forgiveness and being faithful in a very human and at-times, very broken world.

Reflection: We are Everyday-Teachers Met with Hope

I do not consider myself to be a teacher or leader or spokesperson with authority but this morning, it occurred to me that part of Christian-living means that we are everyday-teachers met with hope. To be Christian is to be hopeful and by our example in choosing God, we become as models and teachers to one another.

Parenthood is a domain in which I find myself living this out. What looks like clutter and a mess of children’s things became for me, an actual encounter with hope. At school, they’ve been learning about Advent. At the shops, they ask for advent calendars with chocolate inside. A few weeks ago I found a neglected plush advent wreath I had bought years ago and decided it was time to mend the broken pieces and make a replacement for the one candle that went walkabout. And today I found rather unassumingly among the mess, a deliberately placed solitary purple candle, with the other three tucked away.

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Someone’s little hands had removed the four candles I had put in place so that they would not go astray and rightfully let one stand.

I am continually humbled by the presence of children, for their wisdom and simplicity. But today, it is hope that stands out for me. Children do soak things up, they do listen to what we say and watch very closely what we do. But when we can see the connection that has been made, for me at least, it is a sign of God’s hope in the world, the kind of hope we hear echoed in the words of St Paul to the Corinthians:

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way…
God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:4-5a, 9)

With St Paul and like St Paul, I give thanks to my God for the graces given to each one of us, especially through children. The FCJ Sisters began from this lived experience of caring for children and always through instruction, formation and education. To be Christian is to be hopeful: not only because we await the presence of God-with-us through Jesus Christ, Emmanuel at Christmastime, but also because of God’s first faithfulness and love for us found in everyday moments.

Now God creates all things but does not stop creating. God forever creates and forever begins to create and creatures are always being created and in the process of beginning to be created. | Meister Eckhart

As we begin this new liturgical year, as we make way to commemorate the beginning of the Jesus story, let us be mindful that wherever we are on life’s journey – young or old, new to the faith or seasoned – by our actions, example and beings, we are teachers to one another, co-creators of life and sharers of good news.

Insight: The Faith of Children

A few weeks ago, my son had brought home to me, a curious little egg-carton with some soil inside.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“They’re my carrot seeds,” he replied. “I need to water it every day and put it on the window sill.”

Not having a green thumb or much exposure to gardening of any sort, I figured this kid would know best since he plays with dirt at school.  I followed his every instruction and added that we ought to have a container to catch any water that might drip from the papier maché carton.

So we waited.

He checked it daily, and watered it. I even heard him tell his ‘plant’ a little story so that it would grow. We all thought it was very cute that he had something to look after, to be responsible for and to tend to. I admit that I didn’t think much of it, save the fact that it was a nice project my son was taking interest in. I honestly didn’t think anything else would eventuate when, today while I was buzzing around from one thing to another in the school-morning rush, my daughter checked on her brother’s plant and exclaimed, “It’s sprouting! It’s sprouting!”

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What I’ve taken from this is the marvel of a child’s faith. Jesus taught this: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3-4)

In our own faith journey, and especially in our lives as people of God, we often doubt the possibilities of the unknown or neglect to nurture the seed with which we’ve been entrusted. We think we know better in our maturity since we’ve experienced life and its share of disappointment at the times the seed has not germinated. But thanks to God, through the lives of my children, I was reminded again that I ought to be more humble, to love with tender devotion and to embrace the simple joys in daily life.

Take, O Take

Time after time I came to Your gate with raised hands, asking for more and yet more.

You gave and gave, now in slow measure, now in sudden excess.

I took some, and some things I let drop; some lay heavy on my hands; some I made into playthings and broke them when I was tired, till the wrecks and the hoards of Your gifts grew immense, hiding You, and the ceaseless expectation wore my heart out.

“Take, O take” has now become my cry.

Hold my hands; raise me from the still-gathering heap of Your gifts into the bare infinity of Your uncrowded presence.

Take, O Take, Rabindranath Tagore

In memory of Mr Jim Hayes, father of Sr Margaret Claver Hayes FCJ, and also for the father of Mr David Leslie, principal of Benalla FCJ College.

Insight: The Pope’s Tweet on Teaching Children to Pray & A Young Mum’s Response

Many people find great comfort in prayer, especially those who seek to deepen their spiritual life. Pope Francis in a recent tweet, exhorted all parents to teach their children to pray, which I, as a mother, took to heart.

Keeping-Company.com |@Pontifex Pope Francis Twitter

Immediately I thought of my own parenting and how my children have been exposed to the faith tradition and to prayer itself. I thought of the prayers my children say and of how they behave during Mass. I thought of their eagerness to help out where they can, as welcomers, collection ‘taker-uppers’, ministers of the Word, offertory processors and altar servers. I thought about their openness to prayer, and how my husband and I, in our own ways, foster this environment. And I gave thanks.

But I am all too aware how rare this is in families, especially in the young families of today’s more secular age. It can be a challenge for parents to teach their children to pray, period. (What’s this pope guy talking about?) But if I may offer something from my own reflection on what Pope Francis means in his tweet, perhaps the task of praying with our children might not be as daunting or dare I say it, boring.

As a matter of practicality, simple tradition and ritual aid this task, as many childhood prayers involve the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, beginning most fastidiously with the Sign of the Cross and ending with a dragged out “Aaaaahhh-men”. Encouraging communal prayer out loud at routine times is also helpful, such as before meals or before bed. That seems to take care of the first bit: “Teach your children to pray.” Yet Pope Francis goes further by encouraging parents to do as they say, namely, to actively pray with their children. Simple right? Easy peasy…

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Just your everyday to-do list…

Yes, and no.

Enter stage right, slight reluctance to attempt the pope’s latest challenge, because the adult can’t remember the last time they prayed. Add in a list of obstacles and maybe some guilt too, with thoughts like, “I’m not good enough, who am I to teach them to pray?” The adults are not kids anymore and the day is too busy to stop and pause before lunch (often in public) to give thanks for food. They know that asking Jesus to give them sweet dreams before bed won’t stop the nightmares. They even missed Mass, twice in a row already. Yikes.

So to my fellow parents who’ve found themselves in a similar situation, how then, does one get around this?

On deeper thinking, I looked more closely at the pope’s words. I offer here, my version:

Keeping Company | Pope Francis on Prayer, Children

Dear parents – teachers, leaders, carers, guardians and every member of the faithful – teach your children or friends, students, neighbours and those in your care how to pray. Pray with them.

In other words, we can teach each other not only to pray, but also how to pray. By talking about experiences of prayer, be they graces or doubts, and opening up the topic for conversation is a good place to start. But it is also as much as in the doing that our lessons are passed on. In our daily actions and attitudes of kindness, compassion and peacemaking, by speaking politely to one another and by cursing less and blessing more, we can also be teachers of prayer by example.

And in our roles as parents, teachers, faith leaders, mentors and caregivers, we give our children the priceless gift of living prayer. By ourselves being open to God and open to encounters with God, we inevitably give by example, accompaniment in faith and support to the faithful. As has been said before, “when you pray, you are never alone.”

Let us all, regardless of whether we have children or work with children, teach one another to pray (by being open to prayer), how to pray (by our living example) and in doing so, be companions to one another in our praying with.

Advent at Twilight: The Coming of the Lord is at Hand (3rd Week of Advent)

Coming of the Lord is at Hand | Keeping-Company.com3rd Sunday of Advent: The Coming of the Lord is at Hand

Written by Geralyn Tan for Keeping Company. 2013.

We’ve been on the journey for some time now. We began our Advent journey by walking in the light of the Lord. We looked at what that means in restoring right relationship in the example from Isaiah, yet the readings from the Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday – remind us that although our journey is well underway (and we cannot turn back), there is much more to come in the promises of joy and light! This is the dynamic of light and shade, of in-between time, where we live in hope for what is to come.

Listen to David Arkenstone’s rendition of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring:

Time has been an underlying theme. The coming of the Lord is at hand, but we are not passive players. The waiting that we do involves that we wait patiently, as in the exhortation of the Second Reading:

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

We are given some indication of how to wait patiently and productively by reflecting on the ways in which God deals with his people. In both the psalm and the gospel passages, we hear that God is merciful, just and compassionate. The God of the Old Testament and the coming Christ we read about in the Matthew’s gospel is one and the same, whose presence in our lives is not impartial. In other words, the action of God is very much at work in our lives.

And so too are we are called to care for one another.

We ought to remember that Mary and Joseph, for all their holiness, were also like us in their waiting. It’s not as though the baby was fully formed inside of Mary and she waited till she got to Bethlehem to give birth. Jesus, fully human as we are, but divine, would have gone through the same process of development all humans go through. And this period of gestation has particular elements of selfless giving and relating, one to another.

Before Jesus is born, a hidden world of interactions takes place inside his mother’s body. Whatever she eats, he takes in. Whatever she hears, he will also hear. And whatever she experiences, he is able to respond, in a kick or stretch here and there. Imagine the role of Mary as nourisher, protector and carer of the unborn child.

Note again, what the scripture says about God looking after us. His people are uplifted, the hungry are fed and justice is secured for the oppressed. And so too are we called to do for others in their favour, to look after them.

Mary and Joseph are also messengers of God. Inside her body, Mary carries the Word Incarnate.

How are we messengers for God? And in what ways do we carry this good news, this message in our lives?

On Halloween

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My daughter came home from school exclaiming, “Mum, we can’t have the Halloween party because we’re a Catholic school and Halloween is the devil’s birthday!”

She and her brother had been invited to a Halloween party on Sunday, where they would dress up in costume and I presume, run around talking like wart-covered witches or ghosts. Dressing up in costume is as Halloweeny as we get. Many of us Aussies haven’t quite got into the rustic, earthen, orange feel that characterises the holiday. This might be because we’re too busy preparing (I mean, bracing ourselves!) for the topsy-turvy Christmas at the end of the year, complete with bells jingling, and sleighs swishing. And do not forget, that after we’ve filled ourselves with hot roasts and brandy-drenched puddings, we sweat it through a summer that stretches right into the next year.

Halloween in Australia? Not as huge a festival as north of the equator, but admittedly growing commercially as plastic pumpkins sprout in supermarket aisles.

“Halloween is not the devil’s birthday,” I stated. “It’s actually the eve – the evening – the …e’en of All Saints’ Day.”

“Oh,” said my daughter. And off she went, relieved that we could still go to the party guilt-free.

To cut a long story short, here’s a picture I came across on Twitter.

On Halloween

Image credit: xt3.com