Monthly Archives: December 2020

Celebrate the Christmas Season in a “Life-giving Manner”

Let’s not forget we are living through a pandemic– Covid 19 is affecting the whole world, Bishop Sithembele Anton Sipuka of Mthatha and President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference reminds us in an article from today’s Vatican News. 

“God is our life, God is our fulfilment, in Christ God comes to give us life and life to the full. Yet as we look forward to Christmas of 2020 we are not that hopeful because the coronavirus dragon is waiting to make use of our Christmas celebration to swallow-up that joy.

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc in the whole world leaving a trail of pain and suffering, completely disrupting our way of life, bringing about isolation and loneliness, making the situation of the poor and the destitute worse, and prematurely ending hundreds of thousands of lives. As it has made our lives miserable in the last nine months, it is waiting to make our joyful feast of Christmas an occasion of sorrow.

This coronavirus is symbolised by Herod who tried to change the joyful mood of the birth of Christ, expressed in the song of Angels and shepherds, by seeking to kill the child Jesus. Similarly, the coronavirus is bent on making this season of joy a sorrowful season by destroying lives and making it hard for people to earn a living.

Yet, as the God of life did not allow Herod to destroy Jesus, He will not allow covid-19 to snatch away our joy of Christmas. As he directed the wise men to elude Herod in his plan of killing Jesus, and in a dream instructed Joseph and Mary to escape to Egypt to save the child Jesus, God is guiding us and making provision for us to celebrate this Christmas in a life-giving manner.”

Canticle of the Angels in Light

“Glory to God in the highest”
From the Liturgy of the Hours, Christmas, Benedictus antiphon from Luke 2:14
©️2020 by Gloria M. Chang

Luke 2:8-14

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Retreat with St. Paul of the Cross- Day 39, December 31,1720


     On New Year’s Eve Paul Daneo wrote: “ Feast of St. Sylvester. I was dry and distracted, but with interior peace. I was molested by the thoughts referred to above. At holy Communion I was at peace, yes, but almost without feeling and unmoved in affection. Towards evening I was particularly recollected.”          

Berta’s entry: Dear Jesus, in thinking about Paul Daneo facing his future I am aware of my limitations in my relationship with You. For the last 39 days I have met with You in this diary (my prayer diary) through the influence of Paolo Daneo’s words. My entries revolved around him and my reactions to his words. Tomorrow this 40-day retreat with Paolo will be over and I will continue my relationship with you, my God.      I am not saying that I haven’t gotten closer to fortifying our relationship, my Jesus. What I am realizing is that there won’t be an intermediary between us. It will be You, Your Word, Your Holy Spirit, and me looking to reach the Father in a more intense way. I am looking forward to that again. Something I had lost before our retreat. Thank You for Orlando, Lord, he was the inspiration for this retreat. I know You used him to get me back on track to You! My way to You is more wide open. Please guide me to the right path! I love You, my Triune God! I can’t live without You!


     Orlando’s entry: Paolo is so near the end of his retreat! Only one day left. His worries about the future continue but his “interior peace” in God never leaves him. A new year is almost upon him, a new, unknown life with so many challenges. But God lives within him as a guiding, solid force.      For Berta and I the end of our retreat is almost here; so is the end of 2020, in so many ways a dreadful year. Our time together, as wife and husband, partners in Christ, followers of St. Paul of the Cross, has been truly essential to our peace of mind during these isolating, trying days in the history of our country and the world. A dear friend asked me recently, “So what did you get out of this retreat?” Our weeks of fasting, prayer, isolation at home, spiritual reading, meditation, writing, faith sharing, and prayer….. brought Berta and I closer than we ever thought we could be, and yet they made our respect for each other’s space, our personal relationships more important and fine. We have developed a habit of praying together (especially with the  Advent candles), reading Scripture, sharing what God tells us. We want to continue this practice for the rest of our lives. Our solitary prayer with God is more important than ever, even with its “roller-coaster” struggles at times. It gives us a hunger, a need to serve Him by serving others in love and sacrifice. Lord, guide us in finding ways to help the crucified of today!

The Adaptable Word:December 31

What Child is This?

We try to understand the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, in the Christmas season, but it’s beyond our understanding.  Yet the carols, the art, the scriptures, the liturgy, the customs of the season keep reflecting on it.

For example, we sing “What Child is this?” remembering the shepherds and the angels from Luke’s gospel, who greeted “with anthems sweet” the Child on Mary’s lap, sleeping. We sing of the “Silent Word”, pleading for us–John’s gospel. “So bring him incense, gold and myrrh.“ We join the magi from Matthew’s gospel, honoring him. 

Looking through some portrayals of the Nativity, I notice how some 15th century artists influenced by St. Bridget of Sweden’s visions have Mary and Joseph adoring the Child, not in a stable, but on the bare earth, which he has come to save.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We can read the opening of John’s gospel in our Mary Garden. Mary holds her Child up to creation, symbolized by the garden, the Silent Word blesses all.

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God’s love sent him, John writes in his 1st Letter, repeating the Prologue of his gospel: It was not a show of power, but a revelation of love. “In this way the love of God was revealed to us:

God sent his only-begotten Son into the world

so that we might have life through him.”

So hard to understand? Yet, St. Maximus the Confessor says that God comes among us according to our capacity to receive him. God adapts his coming to us, his love is an adaptable love:

“The Word of God, born once in the flesh (such is his kindness and his goodness), is always willing to be born spiritually in those who desire him. In them he is born as an infant as he fashions himself in them by means of their virtues. He reveals himself to the extent that he knows someone is capable of receiving him. He diminishes the revelation of his glory not out of selfishness but because he recognizes the capacity and resources of those who desire to see him. Yet, in the transcendence of mystery, he always remains invisible to all.

For this reason the apostle Paul, reflecting on the power of the mystery, said: Jesus Christ, yesterday and today: he remains the same for ever. For he understood the mystery as ever new, never growing old through our understanding of it.”

An adaptable, respectful love. That’s the way God loves us. That’s the way to love others.

Retreat with St. Paul of the Cross- Day 38, December 30,1720

 
     Paul Daneo writes: “I was at first recollected, and then at holy Communion particularly recollected and also moved to tears. Afterwards for the rest of the day I was plagued with distractions especially by thoughts of things in the future. The enemy represented to me that great tribulations would befall me especially with regard to my family. I was also very downcast. “


     Berta’s entry: Paolo now is worried about the future. What happens now with his mission? Will the Rule be approved? Will he be able to attract other men to join him? What about his family and the fact that he is the oldest male child in his family?  Doubt and fear always show their ugly heads at the end of something and the beginning of something else. What we forget is that we have You, my God, cheering us on, especially when it’s Your will that we are embarking on. All I ask You, my Jesus, is to guide me in my next step to You like You did Paolo. I am not afraid because You are with me. Help me to persevere and not lose sight of You ever again!


     Orlando’s entry: After 38 days our retreat is almost over! What now? Paul is besieged by such thoughts. How will he be able to convince the Church to accept his dreamed-of Congregation ? How will his family do without him? I find myself worrying about my future too: What will happen to my prayer life? What can I do for You, God? How will we face the many dangers that await us in 2021?      Looking through my old diary, a small card fell into my hands. A fellow Cursillo retreatant had handed it to me years ago and I had never really read it. Today it drove me to tears as the Spirit looked deep into my soul:     “Oh, Lord, make me aware of the sacrament [Your Loving Gift!] of the present moment. Keep me from worrying about the past or fearing the future. Just for today, help me to be sane, go slow, be silent, seek You in gratitude and stillness. Give me the serenity that comes from simplicity and acceptance. Give me a deep gentleness with myself and others. Keep me in gratitude for the revelations of each moment. Bestow upon me the great gift of detachment….. Help me to have a genuine cheerfulness, and if bad times come, help me to balance them with humor and understanding. Teach me when to let go and turn over the situation to You in true poverty of spirit. When people ask my forgiveness, help me to give it to them from my heart. Defend my mind from self-inflicted negative thinking. Teach me not to manipulate myself or others. I place my life in Your keeping. May Your Will be done in me today. Amen.!  

His Kindness Has Appeared

These are days to reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation. A decisive revelation of God, the Letter to the Hebrews says:

“At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is.(Hebrews 1, 1-2)”

What does Jesus Christ reveal about God? He is the Word of God who reveals God to us, St. Bernard says, and in him “the kindness and love of God has been revealed and  we receive abundant consolation in this pilgrimage, this exile, this distress.”

Before he appeared as human, God’s kindness lay concealed, Bernard says. “Of course it was already in existence, because the mercy of the Lord is from eternity, but how could we know it was so great? It was promised but not yet experienced: hence many did not believe in it. At various times and in various different ways, God spoke through the prophets, saying I know the plans I have in mind for you: plans for peace, not disaster…”

“What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself what needed mercy most? Where is there such perfect loving-kindness as in the fact that for our sake the Word of God became perishable like the grass? Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any heed?”

“See how much God cares for us. See what God thinks of us, what he feels about us. Don’t look at your own sufferings; look at God’s sufferings. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you; let his kindness be seen in his humanity.”

“ The lesser he has made himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages my love. The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared says St Paul. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness, and he who added humanity to the name of God gave great proof of this kindness.”

Retreat with St. Paul of the Cross- Day 37, December 29,1720


     Paul Daneo writes: “ In prayer by night I was at peace and also a little distracted. I had special recollection in offering His most holy Life, death and Passion, and also in my petitions, especially for heretics. I had a particular impulse to pray for the conversion of England, especially because I want the standard of the holy Faith to be erected so that there will be an increase of devotion and reverence, of homage and love, with frequent acts of adoration for the Blessed Sacrament, the ineffable mystery of God’s most holy Love, and so that His holy Name may be glorified in a very special way. The desire to die as a martyr, especially for the Blessed Sacrament, in some place where people do not believe, does not leave me.      “ At holy Communion I was almost without feeling and then distractions came on as well. Later in the evening I was recollected and felt moved to make reparation for irreverences , especially in the Church, feeling inspired to remedy these by admonitions as indeed by God’s grace I have been in the habit of doing. I felt inspired to say: ‘Ah, my dear Jesus, would that we could flee instantly from this church and that angels would carry away the Blessed Sacrament to a place where it would not be thus profaned by irreverences and grave misdeeds!’ I ask Him to give me the grace to shed tears of blood— something I greatly desire.”


     Berta’s entry: Dear Lord Jesus, please forgive them for they do not know what they do! This is what I pray for unbelievers. Then I continue by asking for Your grace, Lord Jesus, to heal their unbelief by helping them to see and hear. Thank You, my God, for Your patience and understanding, because as You know, I was one of those unbelievers!


     Orlando’s entry: On this day Paolo gives us an insight into his prayer of intercession and into the urgency of his life’s mission. It leads me to pray:     Dear Lord, in the same way that Paolo was disturbed by so much unbelief, by the fate of martyrs, I feel and pray for all those Christians throughout the world who worship You at great peril to their lives. I pray for fellow Christians who feel that the Host is just a mere symbol and are missing out on Your True Presence, Your True Kiss, in the Blessed Sacrament. I pray for our Church— Pope, Bishops, Priests, and Laity— that they all keep their eyes on YOU. Our churches are even emptier, due to the pandemic. Fellow Catholics see our Church as corrupt and perverse….. Lord, fill us with Your Spirit. Help us to renew our Church through Your power and love. 

An 84 Year Old Apostle: December 30

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St.. Luke begins his account of the infancy of Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem; where an angel announces the birth of John to Zechariah. He ends his account as  Mary and Joseph take the Child to the temple, “to present him to the Lord.”

Two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna, meet the Child. Simeon joyfully takes  the Child in his arms. “Now you can dismiss your servant in peace, Lord, because my eyes have seen your salvation.” No temple priests, no officials, no angels, just two old people meet the Child.

Anna, an 84 year temple regular and a widow after being married for only seven years,  also sees the Child. “Coming forward at the very time,” Luke says, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the salvation of Jerusalem.”

The Lord comes to the 84 year old woman, to Simeon, to Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds in the hills, the wise men from afar. He comes to all. John’s letter read also today says that too.

Anna gives thanks at the sight of the Child and speaks about him to everyone she meets. At 84, she becomes an apostle.

It ain’t over till it’s over.