Pastor’s Pen – January 19, 2024

We didn’t have any snow at Christmas this year, but we’re sure getting it now.  In harmony with that late flow of the snow, I want to take this late opportunity to reflect on the communal “listening” we undertook in Advent prior to Christmas, even though the liturgical season of Christmas ended last week. It is timely as this coming Sunday has been declared “Sunday of the Word of God” by Pope Francis.

But before I begin, I want to call your attention to two opportunities coming up.  On next Monday, January 22, an exciting new program will be offered on “Parenting Through the Lens of Ignatian Spirituality.” I hope our younger parents will take advantage of this novel online effort.  Then on Saturday, January 27, all are invited to participate in an online program with Fr. Chris Kellerman, SJ, author of the groundbreaking new book, “All Oppression Shall Cease: A History of Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Catholic Church.” Find details about both of these programs elsewhere in this eNews.

Light in the Darkness
To say that our faith gives us light in the darkness of our world remains a pious abstraction unless each of us is able to recognize how we are personally given the gift of spiritual light. To that end, during Advent I invited everyone to listen more deeply during the Sunday liturgy to identify how the Lord was speaking to you personally, how you were being touched by the Spirit. I also invited you to put your thoughts in writing on cards that were later posted in the church hallway on an Advent display. I have now read all of those cards and would like to reflect back to you what I hear you all saying – to name how the Spirit of Jesus was moving our congregation as a whole.

The most notable observation is the extreme variety in the messages on the cards! While there are some common themes expressed, most of the messages are unique; each one of us hears the Word in the liturgy in a different way. Each one of us is unique – and God speaks to us in a way that address us in our uniqueness.

Many of the cards had just one word on them, making it difficult to see thematic patterns.  (I had been imagining each card would hold a sentence!) But certainly the most common thoughts expressed were appeals to trust more, to trust that God will provide, to trust by “letting go” and letting God guide us. Another theme: grace is all around; the beginning of prayer is to become aware of what is happening in the world around us, and how God is present there, as well as being aware of how we are being moved interiorly and spiritually.  This awareness puts us in touch with the “darkness” – the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, as well as our own – but we are on a healing journey, through the pain and darkness to the light of Jesus. “Watching in darkness is a radical act of hope.”  One person captured it beautifully: “To be holy is to love and be loved. To be holy is to heal and be healed.”

The cards also revealed what people noticed in the liturgy beyond its spoken words. Some said that they were most moved by the music and singing.  Phrases from the hymns were common, especially “Lead us to your Light, Lead us out of Darkness.” “The Question” poem (Is This the Path of Love?) also touched many.  Some were moved by the tender interactions of parents and children.

I will end by responding to one card that held an important question that I imagine we can all identify with from time to time. “I remember how central God and faith were to my identity [at an earlier time in my life]. Can I return to that?” This is a question to which the spirituality tradition gives a clear answer:  NO! In the spiritual life we can never “go back.” If we have not become lax in our life of faith, those feelings of emptiness, of something lost or missing, are always an invitation to move forward to a new and deeper awareness of God’s presence and love.  God is with us and guiding us and loving us where we are right now – but it often takes a development in our awareness, perspective, or consciousness to see that and thereby enter into a new stage in our intimacy and relationship with God.  We can never go back – but we can always go forward into a new awareness of our divine Lover.