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.

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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.

Looking for a quiet space for prayer, reflection, rejuvenation? Consider the St.Bernard’s Retreat Space.  The video on our homepage explains the purpose of the space and the physical lay out. It is available for 2-4 nights, breakfast included. Cost per night and arrival and departure times are available upon request. Please note that we will try to accommodate your request, but may not, due to availability.

Other meals (lunch and supper) can be purchased at local restaurants, or you may use the kitchen facilities in the retreat space to make your own meals and snacks.  This is what James, a regular guest at the retreat space has to say:

“Finding an economical escape to the country that is quiet, calming and private can be a challenge. The apartment is quiet – except for the wind in the trees. It’s calming – because it is simply and tastefully appointed. And it is private – while it is attached to the main house, it is fully self-contained with its own entrance.  The result is a space where you can relax and feel at home.”

Ann Campanelli is a new Bezek Foundation board member. She is a gifted writer, speaker, co-ordinator, and servant of Our Lord which she does on a volunteer basis at her parish in Hamilton, Ontario.  She is married to Lorenzo, and has two wonderful sons, Giovanni and Ezra.

CALLED BY NAME
Sunday
 
As a young girl growing up on the outskirts of a small town in Ireland, I loved playing with my five siblings and many friends.  On occasion, the kitchen window would suddenly open and my mother’s voice could be heard calling:  “Yoohoo!  Ann!”  Immediately, I would go running to her.  When Mammy called, her children always responded.  “Please run up to Creegan’s (one of the local grocery shops) and get a loaf of bread and a pound of butter for this evening’s tea.” Without further ado, and with a few shillings in hand, I obeyed.  Besides the “urgent ” need for bread and butter, the foundation of my response to my mother’s call was love: I knew I loved Mammy and that Mammy loved me.
Although the word “call” can be a noun, I like to think of it as a verb, something one does, or more fundamentally, what God does.  God, first and foremost is calling us into relationship with Him.  This relationship is not based on fear, but on God’s eternal, committed and personal love for each of us.  God says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1b)…..”Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4a).  How awesome is the truth of God’s relationship to us.  Immersing ourselves in this reality is the only context from which God calls us to respond.
There is an interesting encounter between Jesus and Peter at the end of the Gospel of John (John 21:15-17).  It is after the resurrection.  One morning following breakfast with several disciples, Jesus pulls Peter aside and they go for a walk together.  Jesus quickly gets down to urgent business with Peter.  However, Peter, being weighed down with sin after having denied Jesus three times, is uneasy.  But Jesus allows Peter to undo his triple failure with a triple affirmation of love.  Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16a) After responding affirmatively, Peter is called to “tend” and “feed” the flock. Jesus’ call to Peter is not founded on leadership skills but on love of the Lord.  Listen to Jesus Who asks you the same question.  Don’t overlook the human dynamic at work when Jesus asks Peter the same question a third time.  Peter feels “hurt”, but finally acknowledges that Jesus knows “everything”- his failure and his love. Is Jesus not reminding you that knowledge of our own sinfulness does not hinder the call to a sincere love of Him Who is ever merciful?  Peter listened and responded to Jesus’ call.  Can you hear and respond like Peter?  
Finally, the name Jesus uses when addressing Peter is noteworthy:  “Simon, Son of John”.  Why not just Simon?  This is deliberate.  Jesus is being very specific to whom he is speaking.  He is also very specific when he addresses and calls you.  In prayer, listen to Jesus who names you and calls you.  
Three Questions upon which to reflect:
(Your name), do you know that you are precious in my sight and that I love you?  
(Your name), are you aware that I know everything about you?  
(Your name), do you love me?
 
Final Prayer:  Jesus, you know everything about me and love me as your precious child.  Help me to know this in the depths of my being and to respond lovingly and confidently each day to your call.