Wishing you a Happy and Holy Christmas Season.  Here are two Henri Nouwen quotes for you to ponder in your heart.

Jesus came in the fullness of time. He will come again in the fullness of time. Wherever Jesus, the Christ is, the time is brought to its fullness.

We often experience our time as empty. We hope that tomorrow, next week, next month or next year the real things will happen. But sometimes we experience the fullness of time. That is when it seems that time stands still, that past, present, and future become one; that everything is present where we are; and that God, we, and all that is have come together in total unity. This is the experience of God’s time. “When the completion of the time came [that is: in the fullness of time], God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4), and in the fullness of time God will “bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). It is in the fullness of time that we meet God.    Henri Nouwen

Joy is based on the spiritual knowledge that, while the world in which we live is shrouded in darkness, God has overcome the world.   Henri Nouwen 

The peace and joy of knowing Jesus Christ, Our Saviour, born two thousand years ago, be with you and yours.  Gloria in Excelsis Deo.

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I learn so much from the people whom I serve in my work. I am working as a hospital chaplain, and each time I enter a room it feels a bit like entering a gospel story. The longing for healing and light in a dark time is palpable. Many are waiting for results from tests and biopsies. How are they getting through such times of uncertainty and anxiety, I wonder – and often ask.
Advent, too, is a time of waiting. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made …” says Jeremiah 33.14. The promise of “a righteous Branch to spring up”. The promise of new life, sturdy and redeeming.
One patient I encountered was waiting for test results he hoped would get at the root of a fever he had had for some time. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life, going on five decades, with an illness. But he was not ready to let go of life yet, he said.
He got through the waiting with the help of his family and by watching movies, mostly. No, he said, he didn’t read much. And he told me about a disability that affected his ability to read for many years until it was diagnosed when he was a young adult. He had experienced a lot of failure in school until someone finally uncovered the source of his struggle. He was proud to say that he eventually finished school near the top of his class.
What struck me was not that he had achieved success. What struck me was that his story was not focused on the dark times – though there was that – but on the light, on the compassionate care of a person who got to the heart of the matter for him and helped turned the night into day. I got the sense that his current hope drew strength and sturdiness from that enduring willingness to look for light.
It may be fruitful in this season of waiting to look back on our own lives in this way. In preparing to do the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, retreatants work through just such an exercise called the Personal Blessed History.
In this exercise, we are invited to consider our history in terms of the light-filled moments: parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, companionship, incidents in childhood, school, experiences of church, talents, health, assisting others, positions held, gifts. Look over your own life searching out those special times when you have experienced the Presence of God, when you have been called to gratitude and wonder. It might even be helpful to draw a timeline of your life, punctuating it with these events.
Light may not always be obvious or immediately perceived. Maybe there was a time when you did not feel very free but you were able to leave that lack of freedom behind. Or there may have been difficulties or challenges you met and through which you were sustained. Companions who helped you in times of doubt and confusion.
Pray to see it all with new eyes.

Happy Advent.

 

Greta DeLonghi works as a hospital chaplain and as a spiritual director in a residential treatment centre. She lives in Guelph, Ontario.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:1-7

 

A Very Happy Christmas to you all! In the quiet and cold darkness, a child is born, who is Jesus Christ, the Saviour. Come and Adore Him. He is God with you, always.

In this weekend’s reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul tells of that the knowledge which had been known only to the Jewish people – the people of the first Covenant – has now been made known and is available for all who would receive it through Christ.

“Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.”

Romans 16:25-27

I work as a chaplain in a hospital and encounter people every day who are waiting. Waiting to go for tests. Waiting for test results. Waiting to go home. Waiting to be transferred to a rehab hospital. Waiting for a boyfriend to visit. Waiting for a nurse to help them go to the bathroom. Waiting for a doctor to tell them what’s going on. Waiting to die. No wonder they are called patients. They live the kind of sufferance implicit in the word patience.
Advent is a season of waiting – waiting for the True Light to be born – and I find myself reflecting on some of my encounters with patients. I am awed by the openness I witness. In their nakedness and need, they wait in the way Jesus advised in the gospel of Mark: “keep alert … keep awake” (13.33-37). They are looking for even a crack of light in the midst of sometimes overwhelming darkness.
When I was training to be a chaplain, an instructor advised me to trust that God would lead me to the patients I needed to see. One day recently I noticed on my room list a patient with a form of metastatic cancer. Cancer that had spread. I thought, “That can’t be easy” and decided to go in and see if she needed some support. She had a faith tradition, but she told me in the course of our conversation that her pain had blocked out just about any thought of God. And it was lonely, she said, to be alone with such pain. She was waiting to die.
So I read her some psalms – balms, really – as some of them give eloquent voice to the lament of the psalmists. But they cry out their lament in trust and faith in God. Like Ps. 18: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” Or Ps. 42: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” Or more poignantly, Ps. 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The patient closed her eyes and savoured them.
I also read Ps. 23 to this particular patient, and she began to mouth the words as I said them: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want …” I think this psalm speaks to the only promise we have from God about suffering: that God will be with us. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear not evil; for you are with me …”
“I believe that,” the patient said, looking at me and reaching out her hand. “Where two or three are gathered …” She believed God led me to her.
I do not want to glamorize pain and unnecessary suffering here. I felt glad to see on my next visit that medical staff had found a way to manage this patient’s physical pain. She was still moved when I gave her a prayer shawl, knitted by volunteers who did not know her, to communicate God’s presence to her in a time when she was feeling humbled and stripped down by illness and approaching death. I think this experience and others like it have helped me to see that I am more likely to see the Light and Life of the world if I stand in humility – accepting my utter dependence on God – as a way to keep alert and awake as I wait.

This reflection was written for a Service of Remembrance at St Joseph Hospital Chapel, in Hamilton, Ontario in July 2017. Greta DeLonghi is a resident in spiritual care (chaplaincy) at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. She has an MA in Ministry and Spirituality and a diploma in spiritual direction from Regis College, University of Toronto. She lives in Guelph with her husband, two sons and their beloved dog. 

The poet Mary Oliver writes that death, when it comes, is “like an iceberg between the shoulder blades.” Imagine that for a moment. An iceberg between the shoulder blades. Death is a huge, sharp, cold mystery. It has such an immense impact. Even when we see it coming, it comes as a shock. And it hurts.
Our personal experience of such a loss is called grief, and the natural process that occurs afterward is called mourning. Such a beautiful poem by Denise Levertov that was read earlier. The poet compares grief to a homeless dog that comes to the back door. How might we treat that dog? With a crust or meatless bone? Or should we trust it? Coax it in, give it its own corner and a worn mat. Make it feel at home. Give it some space. Tonight we come together to give grief some space.
Grief has been compared to physical illness. The prophet Isaiah of Hebrew Scriptures enjoins us to help, to “bind up the broken-hearted”, as if they were hobbled or bleeding. One writer on grief says that we must see the process of mourning as similar to the process of healing. And it is a process, not a state. The tasks of mourning take effort. It’s no wonder they’re called “grief work.” Our hope is that this service will help to bind up your broken hearts.
Grief expert J. William Worden has identified four tasks of grieving. The first task is to accept the reality of the death. Even if it was expected, there’s always a sense that it hasn’t happened. We have to come to fully face the reality that reunion with our deceased loved one is not possible, at least not in this life. Rituals like funerals and this service tonight, we hope, can help.
The second task is to work through the pain of grief. Not everyone experiences that pain with the same intensity, but it’s impossible to lose someone you’ve been deeply attached to without experiencing pain. And our society gives us subtle messages like, “You don’t need to grieve” or “Aren’t you over it yet?” Some people try to not to feel that pain. They might avoid reminders of their dead loved one. They might idealize them. They might use drugs or alcohol. But sooner or later most of them will break down.
So find a way to talk about death and the full range of your feelings that come with it: sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, emancipation, relief, numbness, yearning. Give voice to your feelings. William Shakespeare said, though his character Macbeth: “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’erwrought heart and bids it break.”
The third task is to adjust to an environment in which your loved one is missing. It’s normal to feel lost for a while after a death because it takes a while to realize all the roles your loved one played in your life. A widow may have to come to terms with living alone; raising the children alone; facing an empty house or managing finances. Grief work involves learning new skills and that may take a while.
Finally, the fourth task is to find a new place emotionally for a loved one who has died and go on living. It’s a long-term process, for some it may just takes months, but usually it takes at least a year, and for others a few years or more, and there may well be bad days along the way. When the intensity of your yearning diminishes, when your sadness lacks that wrenching quality, when it becomes a different kind of sadness, it may be a sign that your mourning has come to an end. Be gentle with yourselves along the way.
Sigmund Freud wrote in a letter to a friend who had lost his son:
“We find a place for what we lose … No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else.”
So we’ll never really replace those people in our lives, but tonight let us take some time to remember them.

Ah, Grief, I should not treat you

like a homeless dog

who comes to the back door

for a crust, for a meatless bone.

I should trust you.

I should coax you

into the house and give you

your own corner,

a worn mat to lie on,

your own water dish.

You think I don’t know you’ve been living

under my porch.

You long for your real place to be readied

before winter comes. You need

your name,

your collar and tag. You need

the right to warn off intruders,

to consider

my house your own

and me your person

and yourself

my own dog.

by Denise Levertov

This reflection was written for a Service of Remembrance at St Joseph Hospital Chapel, in Hamilton, Ontario in April 2017. Greta DeLonghi is a resident in spiritual care (chaplaincy) at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. She has an MA in Ministry and Spirituality and a diploma in spiritual direction from Regis College, University of Toronto. She lives in Guelph with her husband, two sons and their beloved dog.

 

The poet Mary Oliver writes that death, when it comes, is “like an iceberg between the shoulder blades.” Imagine that for a moment. An iceberg between the shoulder blades.  It’s huge, that iceberg called death. A cold mystery, really. With such an immense impact. We might not have seen it coming. And even if we do, the shock of it. The Sharp. Pain. We feel stabbed in the back by death, right where we are vulnerable.

Our personal experience of such a loss is called grief, and the process that occurs afterward is called mourning. Grief has been compared to physical illness. The prophet Isaiah of Hebrew Scriptures enjoins us to help, to “bind up the broken-hearted”, as if they were hobbled or bleeding. One writer on grief says that we must see the process of mourning as similar to the process of healing. And it is a process, not a state. The tasks of mourning take effort. It’s no wonder they’re called “grief work.” Our hope is that this service will help to bind up your broken hearts.

And here are four main tasks identified by an expert on grief and mourning, J. William Worden. The first task is to accept the reality of the death. Even if it was expected, there’s always a sense that it hasn’t happened. We have to come to fully face the reality that reunion with our deceased loved one is not possible, at least not in this life. Rituals like funerals and this service tonight, we hope, can help.

The second task is to work through the pain of grief. Not everyone experiences that pain with the same intensity, but it’s impossible to lose someone you’ve been deeply attached to without experiencing pain. And our society gives us subtle messages like, “You don’t need to grieve” or “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.” Some people try to not to feel that pain. They might avoid reminders of their dead loved one. They might idealize them. They might use drugs or alcohol. But sooner or later most of them will break down.

So find a way to talk about death and the full range of your feelings that come with it: sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, emancipation, relief, numbness, yearning. Give voice to your feelings. William Shakespeare said, though his character Macbeth: “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’erwrought heart and bids it break.”

The third task is to adjust to an environment in which your loved one is missing. It’s normal to feel lost for a while after a death because it takes a while to realize all the roles your loved one played in your life. A widow may have to come to terms with living alone; raising the children on her own; facing an empty house or managing finances. Grief work means learning new skills and that may take a while.
Finally, the fourth task is to emotionally find a new place a loved one who has died and go on living. It’s a long-term process, for some it may just takes months, but usually it takes at least a year, and for others a few years or more, and there may well be bad days along the way. When the intensity of your yearning diminishes, when your sadness lacks that wrenching quality, when it becomes a different kind of sadness, it may be a sign that your mourning has come to an end. Be gentle with yourselves along the way.

Sigmund Freud wrote in a letter to a friend who had lost his son:
“We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else.”
We never lose memories of a significant person in our lives. And so we gather tonight to remember.

One morning this past week, when in prayer and meditation, I remembered that Mary and Joseph had a tremendously difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem fulfilling the will of God in their lives and the lives of all humankind, a journey imposed on all residents of Galilee and beyond, by the decree of a secular authority, not a Jewish one, so that God’s only Son Jesus, the long awaited Messiah,  would be born in the fullness of time. This journey might have seemed almost impossible  for Joseph and his wife Mary, for Mary’s first child’s birth would be imminent, and this journey would be taken on a donkey to a distant city to give birth to their first precious child among strangers in a very disagreeable lodging. And yet, there is such joy and wonder when I contemplate the Saviour’s birth, I hardly know how to contain it inside me. So must it have been with the Holy Family. The wonder of these events grew with each laborious step towards Bethlehem, each encounter with strangers, each terrifying birthing pain as the moment of delivery approached, each home that closed the door to them in their greatest need, each visit from amazed and curious Shepherds and their obedient flocks,  and from soul searching wise and rich men, all converging at the manger in a stable in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph did not have a “cosy, sit by the fire and drink egg nog type of Christmas”, as I sometimes think they deserved for the birth of their son, who is also the Son of God. (And I selfishly hope for comfortable Christmases too.)  And Mary’s response: she pondered all these events in her heart. What an example for us to follow in this young, humble, generous Jewish girl, who said “Yes” to her call from God the Father.
So, I know it is the same for you and your family this Christmas and New Year. I know that there is joy and peace and hope, that can hardly be contained, and you continue to share this joy with everyone around you.

Readings to reflect upon:

Numbers 6:22-27

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalms 67 and 72

Galatians 4:4-7

Ephesians 3:2-6

Luke 2:16-21

Matthew 2:1-12

Solemn Blessing:

May God, the source and origin of all blessing, grant you grace, pour out His blessing in abundance, and keep you safe from harm throughout the year. Amen.

May He give you integrity in the faith, endurance in hope, and perseverance in charity with holy patience to the end. Amen.

May He order your days and your deeds in His peace, grant your prayers in this  and in every place, and lead you happily to eternal life. Amen.

And may the blessing of almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, come down on you and remain with you forever.Amen.

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“Keep awake therefore,
for you do not know  on what day your Lord is coming.
But understand this:
if the owner of the house had known
in what part of the night the thief was
coming,
he would have stayed awake
and would not let the house be broken into.
Therefore you also must be ready.
for  the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Matthew 24: 42-44

“Ann, it’s not the news you want to hear: The diagnosis is positive – you have breast cancer.”  The doctor’s words resounded like a bomb going off in my head, gripping my whole being with terror.  They sounded like a death sentence and I wasn’t ready to die.  What followed in the subsequent weeks and months was a relentless plea to God to pull me through this, to save my mortal life.  The imminent meeting of my Lord and Saviour was not something I welcomed or expected so soon.
Contrast my response to that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who welcomed with joy the news of her impending death.   “Oh, how sweet this memory really is.  After remaining at the Tomb [The Altar of Reparation] until midnight, I returned to our cell but I had scarcely laid my head upon the pillow when I felt something like a bubbling stream mounting to my lips.  I didn’t know what it was, but I thought I was going to die and my soul was filled with joy.  However, as our lamp was extinguished, I told myself I would have to wait until the morning to be certain of my good fortune, for it seemed to me that it was blood that I had coughed up.  The morning was not long in coming; upon awakening, I thought immediately of the joyful thing that I had to learn, and so I went over to the window.  I was able to see that I was not mistaken.  Ah! my soul was filled with a great consolation; I was interiorly persuaded that Jesus, on the anniversary of His own death, wanted to have me hear His first call..  It was like a sweet and distant murmur that announced the Bridegroom’s arrival” (St. Thérèse 210).
As we journey through the season of Advent, it may seem odd that the liturgical readings do not focus on the celebration of the birth of  the newborn Child, Jesus, but rather on the saving mission of His life, death and resurrection and on His return in glory at the end of time. The birth of Jesus, God’s coming to earth as a human being, must necessarily be acknowledges and celebrated, but the fulfillment of His mission is at the end of His life at his death and resurrection. In the words of C. S. Lewis “God descends to ascend” and bring my flawed and ruined self into eternal joy with Him in heaven.
Waiting in joyful hope for the coming of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ is my focus this Advent; there is no room for fear.  Cards, gifts, lights, music and gatherings with friends and family captivate and allure, but more importantly I must be drawn to the ultimate gift that Jesus earned by His Cross and Resurrection for me and for all people.  Trusting in the certainty that all will be well, I must get to work, engage in the challenges of life and this Advent “walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2: 5)
Meditation
Think about experiences in which you have become aware of the preciousness of time and the fragility of life.
Jesus saves you.  Open your heart to contemplate this reality in joy and hope.  Give thanks to God.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you.
Commit to meeting your Messiah moment by moment in the joys and struggles of this day.
Prayer
Lord Jesus, come awaken in my heart the truth of your merciful love.  Deepen my longing for you, so that my waiting may be full of joy and hope.  Come Lord Jesus.