path of knowledge

Advent: The Path of Knowledge


At first glance, today’s readings may leave us wanting something else to reflect on.  I know that was my first thought when I read them.  But then I remembered when I studied the Old Testament and how God works through the most unlikely people sometimes.  God works through the second born, not the first, through those who manipulate and scheme as well as those that walk the straight and narrow.  I began to wonder if that is not some of the wisdom available to us when we reflect on the genealogy of Jesus.  His family, like our own, has it’s characters and yet God found a way, actually chose, to be incarnated in spite of humanity’s imperfection.

As I continued to reflect on whether this was too much of a reach, I noticed the Gospel Acclamation and realized that we are beginning the time of reflection on the O Antiphons, the last seven days of Advent.  Today “O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!”  It struck me that the path of knowledge paired with power and love becomes not just a head knowledge of facts or dogmas but the heart knowledge of deep experiential, relational knowing.  I hear and feel the longing and anticipation in this antiphon, the longing and anticipation of this season of Advent.

As I held both of these ideas, the imperfect family being the place God chose to become a part of and my own desire and waiting for deeper knowing, I felt invited to recognize my own imperfections, wounds and darkness.  At the same time, I heard God say to me, “It’s ok, I can work with that.”

So as we enter this last week of waiting and longing and anticipation, I am reminded that we are all called to carry Christ.  We are all invited into a deeper path of knowledge guided by power and love.  And, if we are feeling a little worried or concerned that we are unworthy, remember Jesus’ family tree and hear God say “It’s ok, I can work with that.”  Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

[Throughout the 2016 Advent season, we will be bringing you posts from a variety of writers. Our hope is that each of these will be a meaningful way for you to slow down, pray well, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Today’s blogger is . She teaches writing at Grand Valley State University. Today’s blogger is Amy Hoover, Director of Creighton University Retreat Center. The reflection here is based on the readings for Saturday, December 17, 2016.]

keeping sabbath

Advent: Keeping the Sabbath


Here we are in the third week of Advent.  I like the focus of the Isaiah reading on “keep the Sabbath free from profanation” – what does that mean in 2016?  I recall growing up at a time when the civil “encouragement” of respecting Sunday as the Lord’s Day was the norm rather than the exception.  So-called blue laws (which found their inception in colonial and earlier times) prevented commercial activity on Sundays, regardless of the merchant’s faith tradition (or absence thereof).  I think I might have been 8 – 10 years old before we could regularly buy groceries on Sundays, or cars, or even clothing.

What I also remember from those years was a strong sense of family-ness on Sundays.  We would always go to 9:00 a.m. morning mass, almost always have a large early afternoon roast beef meal, and then visit grandparents (and aunts and uncles and cousins) on the other side of town.  When we returned home we ate leftover hot roast beef sandwiches and watched Walt Disney or Bonanza on television.  As society changed and those blue laws were repealed, as the Church created the option to “anticipate” our Sunday mass time, as we aged, much of the weekly family time on Sundays and its “specialness” diminished.  But I do miss my hot roast beef sandwiches and the warmth and safety of those times!

A good friend of mine is a very conservative Jewish man who scrupulously keeps kosher and observes the Sabbath.  Ed’s preparations amaze me.  He travels internationally a great deal for his job and on vacations, and has children and grandchildren living in Israel that he frequently visits.  He seems to effortlessly meet his Sabbath and kosher obligations regardless of the other demands on his life.  I know that he will not be available for a phone conversation, or an email response, from sundown to sundown on Friday/Saturday.  I know that if we share a meal he will have a more difficult time than I in selecting food choices.  Ed patiently explains some of the kosher and Sabbath restrictions as we discuss his faithfulness, and I am always impressed by his quiet commitments.  He clearly is someone who “keeps the Sabbath free from profanation.”

What is the difference between how Ed observes the Sabbath and our Sunday sabbaths from my youth in the fifties?  I think when Ed keeps kosher and observes the Sabbath, he is connecting the actions of his sacrifices with his core faith and spirituality.  His choices make sense to him because they are consistent with what he believes.  He “holds to the covenant” by how he lives his daily life.  His Sabbath is a special day, not just one of relaxing for its own sake, but one that is not like the other days of the week, one where he can relax in and with the Lord.  He is not merely fulfilling an obligation, but is acting on his commitment.

And what of us?  Do our sabbaths, however we characterize them, connect to our core beliefs?  Do we follow the spirit of “Sabbath” by retreating for a brief period from the distractions of the world to be restfully quiet in God’s presence?  Do we consciously deny ourselves of some legitimate good so we can feel more clearly detachment from worldly concerns and connection to the divine within us?

Keeping the Sabbath free from profanation, and keeping the covenant of the Lord, is hard, intentional work.  There is preparation, and action, and reflection, and then changes in how we act in the future.  It is a way of life, not merely a weekend day.  It is a sacred manifestation of gratitude to the Lord from whom all comes to us.

And so my prayer today is for the grace to keep and nourish the gift of the Sabbath and the covenant of the Lord.

[Throughout the 2016 Advent season, we will be bringing you posts from a variety of writers. Our hope is that each of these will be a meaningful way for you to slow down, pray well, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Today’s blogger is . She teaches writing at Grand Valley State University. Today’s blogger is Tom Purcell, professor of accounting at Creighton University. Purcell has taught at Creighton since 1967, and says the school’s Jesuit history has had a deep influence on his own faith. Today’s reflection is based on the readings for Friday, December 16, 2016.]

st. joseph

Advent: Kissing St. Joseph


When my mother’s cousin, Mary, was twelve, she and her friend went to church every day after school during Lent to pray for the souls in Purgatory in front of the statue of St. Joseph. One day, in an excess of zeal, Mary decided that a kiss would encourage the saint to intercede more effectively. She had to stand on tiptoe to reach his lips, but she kissed him. As she let go, however, St. Joseph began to lean precipitously toward her. She called to her friend, but the church was empty. In a panic, she gently lowered the statue to the ground, and running to the rectory next door, rang for the housekeeper. “St. Joseph is on the ground,” she reported earnestly, ”and he needs help.”

Nearly every Catholic church in the world has an image of Joseph, son of Heli, somewhere near the altar. The beloved saint, a sincere and prudent man, who was the protector of Christ and Mary, belongs there because he was chosen by God to be the foster-father of Jesus, and because he is a model of genuine authority.

We know that Joseph exerted familial influence in ways that discharged legal, personal, and religious responsibility: he accompanied Mary to Bethlehem to register for the census as required by law (Matt. 2:4); he oversaw Christ’s birth (Luke 2:7), named him (Matt. 1:25), took Mary and the child to Egypt (Matt. 2:14), and brought them back to Israel (Matt. 2:21); he presented the child to be circumsized (Luke 2:22), and, when Jesus was twelve, brought his family on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the religious feast of Passover (Luke 2:42). His fatherly care was shared by Mary, who said, “Your father and I have been looking for you,” and recognized by Jesus, who “lived under their authority” (Luke 2: 48-51). And it is certain, we are reminded by Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Custos, that his professional direction as a master carpenter was honored in the house at Nazareth.

Joseph’s authority finds its prototype in the Trinity. God the Father holds authority for the three persons. We know this because Jesus refers to the Father on several occasions where we see him submitting his will: discovered in the temple, he says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49); in the garden of Gethsemane, he prays, “‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it’” (Matt. 26:39); and appearing to the disciples in Galilee, he explains, “All authority in heaven and on the earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). The authority that the Father shared with the Son is mirrored in the Holy Family and in the Church.

Like Joseph, head of the family, Peter was the head of the Church, an analogic reality recognized by Dante in Paradiso XXXII, when he placed al maggior padre di famiglia (136), “the greatest father of a family,” contr’ a Pietro (133), “opposite Peter.” Neither Joseph nor Peter ever affected grinding dominance, because authentic authority is not oppressive: it is open, loving, creative, and sacrificial, and like cousin Mary, knows that it “needs help.”

[Throughout the 2016 Advent season, we will be bringing you posts from a variety of writers. Our hope is that each of these will be a meaningful way for you to slow down, pray well, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Today’s blogger is Sister Lucia Treanor, FSE, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist. She teaches writing at Grand Valley State University. She is the author of Symmetrical Patterning in Franciscan Writing of the Late Middle Ages (Mellen Press, 2011) and the editor of Broken Mary: A Journey of Hope (Beacon Press, 2016).]

Are you the one

Advent: ‘Are You The One Who Is To Come?’


[Throughout the 2016 Advent season, we will be bringing you posts from a variety of writers. Our hope is that each of these will be a meaningful way for you to slow down, pray well, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Today’s blogger is Fr. Michael Denk. He was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer. His reflection today is based on the readings for the Third Sunday of Lent.]

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Advent: ‘How Can This Be?’


Today is especially joyful. We are celebrating the Third Week of Advent, which begins with Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. We celebrate that we are drawing closer and closer to the momentous celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church is especially joyful today, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In today’s Gospel, we recall the Annunciation: the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that God has found favor with her, and asks that she bear a son, Jesus. Her response is very human: “How can this be?!” She is a virgin. How can she possibly be pregnant, let alone with the Son of God, the Messiah?

In 1531, Mary appeared to a poor Aztec Indian, Juan Diego. Her message to him? That she wished for a church to be built on the hill where she appeared. Certainly, St. Juan Diego must have thought, “How can this be? How is it that my Mother appears to me? How can I, a poor man, build a church?”

When Juan Diego, ever obedient, went to the bishop and described what he had seen and what Mary asked, the bishop’s reaction was, “How can this be? How can the Mother of God appear to such a one as this?”

All three had legitimate questions. Mary was willing to accept what the angel told her – even though it was beyond human understanding. Over 1500 years later, Mary received the same question from Juan Diego. His obedience reflected hers however; Juan Diego believed his Heavenly Mother, despite the unbelievable task she set before him. And while we might scoff at the bishop for not believing Juan Diego, no bishop can lead his people astray by giving credence to what could possibly be the delusions or imaginings of a person, no matter how pious that person may seem to be. He truly needed his question answered.

In this season of Advent, we do well to reflect on the question, “How can this be?” How can it be that God – the Alpha and Omega, He Who was, Who is and is yet to come, the Creator of the Universe – can come to us in the beautiful but quite ordinary form of a baby? How can it be that this infant, as an adult,  could give us His very body and blood as food for our spiritual journey? We can even ask ourselves, how can it be that God has brought me to this spot, this place of belief, this place of darkness and light, this Advent?

How can this be?

How can a young unwed Jewish girl bring forth from her womb the Son of God? How can a poor Aztec man, who owned little more than the tilma on his back, see the Blessed Mother and obediently do as she asks? How can a learned bishop be brought to his knees by the mysterious image of the Blessed Mother on this poor man’s tilma? How can this be? These things can only be with faith, hope and love.

It is faith that allowed Mary to assent to the unbelievable request of God. It is faith that spurred Juan Diego to relay the Blessed Mother’s request to the bishop. And it was faith that brought the bishop to his knees. Mary’s hope was that God – regardless of the circumstances – was going to lead her. The Lady that appeared to Juan Diego and called him “dear son” filled him with hope that he could indeed deliver this Heavenly message. And it was hope that moved the bishop to preserve the tilma, with its image of the Blessed Mother, and begin the task of building the church she asked for. It was love that allowed Mary to say, “Be it done unto me according to Your will,” for she knew that God loved her first. Love of his Mother gave Juan Diego courage to return to the bishop’s residence again and again with his task. And love it was that allowed the bishop, with the evidence of Juan Diego’s message in front of him, to embrace His Mother, the same Mother as Juan Diego’s, and to follow her request.

How can this be? That is the question of the season of Advent, a season of anticipation and wonder, of questioning and of delight. How can this be? It all can be, because God gives us faith, stirs up in us hope, and loves us beyond all measure.

[Throughout the 2016 Advent season, we will be bringing you posts from a variety of writers. Our hope is that each of these will be a meaningful way for you to slow down, pray well, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Today’s blogger is Elise Hilton, who regularly writes the“Living the Good News” blog for Diocesan Trinity Publications. Hilton is a writer, speaker and former educator, who now serves in the Marketing & Communications Department for Diocesan Trinity Publications. She is also an avid reader, wife, mom of five and passionate about music.]


Advent: On Fire For God


Today’s readings begin with fire: the prophet Elijah appears in a swirl of flames, and his very words are fire. Typically, we think of fire as being destructive: the recent fires that damaged or destroyed over 1700 buildings in Gatlinburg, TN are a shocking example of fire’s ability to destroy. Yet the fire surrounding Elijah seems not to be destructive. It allows Elijah the power to open and close the gates of Heaven! It is a whirlwind of fire that carries the prophet from sight, into the Heavens.

There is another time when fire appears in Scripture in a similar way: when the Holy Spirit descends upon Mary and the Apostles in the Upper Room. Tongues of fire settle upon them, allowing them to speak in languages they did not know, in order to preach the truth of Jesus Christ boldly and convincingly to the Jews gathered for Pentecost.

Yes, fire is destructive. It frightens us, and it should. Even now, with technology, state-of-the-art equipment and trained professionals, fire can wipe out both the natural and man-made with terrifying speed. But fire can also be used to create: photographer Rich Reid marvels at how fire has restored a forest:

After months of planning and executing this assignment, ecstatic is the only way to describe seeing a lush green forest on the last images on each card. This couldn’t be the same forest I left a few months ago? Not only was I amused with the prolific regrowth but also amazed my cameras survived this adventure …

Special thanks to Chuck Martin and Erick Brown from The Nature Conservancy and their fire crew for keeping me safe and providing this incredible opportunity to document fire in a positive way.

Fire can be positive. How? Because God makes it so. Elijah is able to use fire “to shut up the heavens” because of God’s power, not his own. Elijah ascends to Heaven in a chariot of fire because God allows it.

Just as our own words can be destructive (think of gossip or slander), our words can also bring forth life. When we speak life, when we speak of Christ, of God’s tender mercy in our lives, our words (just like Elijah’s) become a means of growth and grace. When we are on fire for God, our words can help sculpt lush new growth. We cannot play with fire, but when we pray with fire, God allows great things to happen.

Today’s blogger is Elise Hilton, who regularly writes the“Living the Good News” blog for Diocesan Trinity Publications. Hilton is a writer, speaker and former educator, who now serves in the Marketing & Communications Department for Diocesan Trinity Publications. She is also an avid reader, mom of five and passionate about music.


Advent: God Transcends Human Opinions


A couple years ago, I joined many of my friends in attending the episcopal ordination of a wonderful priest.  As we were waiting for the procession, many complaints were made regarding the appearance of the cathedral.  Finally, one of my priest friends asked me: “What do you think?”  My response was: “Read the bulletin and see how people are nourished from the altar of this cathedral!”

Jesus said to the crowds that when John the Baptist “came neither eating nor drinking, they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’” And when “the Son of Man came eating and drinking they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Lk 11: 18-19).

People during the time of Jesus and my friends in front to that local cathedral have one thing in common: opinion has been formed and expectation has been set.  They expected the works of God to be within their frame of mind.

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “Thus says the LORD, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I, the LORD, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go” (Is. 48: 17).  Our Lord and our Redeemer will teach and lead us and not vice versa.  We should open our eyes to see the wonderful works of our Redeemer.  These works of God transcend our opinions and frame of mind.  They require our opening to God’s infinite power.

Indeed, we are preparing to celebrate a wonderful work our God, a marvelous exchange: God becomes man so that human beings can partake in the divine life.  Certainly, this act of God is beyond our human expectation. Amen.

Fr. Lam Le is today’s guest blogger, reflecting on the day’s Mass readings. A native of Vietnam, Fr. Lam is now pastor of St. John Paul II Parish and St. Mary Queen of Apostles in the Diocese of Grand Rapids.


Advent: Mary’s Song of Trust And Acceptance



A little history of this dogma and liturgical Feast Day in the Christian tradition might be in order. Pope Pious IX, in agreement with the Catholic Church’s first Ecumenical Council, made official a long-held belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived in her mother’s womb without the effects of, or in any way presence of, sin or stain of sin. This belief had an up-and-down history of acceptance and rejection throughout its history. Some monasteries and dioceses chose to celebrate this devotion while others actually forbade it. There are writings in the early centuries of the Church which attempt to explain this mystery from various aspects. Is it based in Scripture? In our First Reading for today’s Eucharistic liturgy there are the familiar verses about God’s promise that there would be a blockage between a “woman” and the serpent or symbol of evil. The first woman, Eve, tasted sin, the second woman would not.

The Gospel for today is known as the Annunciation, and Mary, a woman, is greeted as “full of grace”. This phrase has been used also as a scriptural proof. I wonder if Gabriel had said, “Hail Sinless One from the moment of your soul’s entering your-bodily substance”, would it have made this mystery any easier for acceptance. Would Mary have understood any more clearly? We are dealing with biblical and not biographical history. We love sound-bite clarity which leads us to certainty and agreement. We are left with the same verbal response as Mary gave to Gabriel, “How can this be?” My question is “Why can this not be?”

There have to be doubts and questions and mysteries and fears in order to have faith, trust and love. It’s just the way of things. Virginal births, bodily assumption into heaven, being Mother of God, are strange and impossible according to our categories.

I was listening recently to a man who told me that he once was Catholic, but left that community, because of “Man-made beliefs.” I asked him which ones bothered him the most. He replied that the one about not eating hamburgers on Friday and the one about adoring Mary. He said he basically didn’t like dogmas of any kind. I knew that was going to be a short conversation; no sound-bites availing.

I am writing this the day before the national election here in the United States. There have been all kinds of dogmatic statements by all kinds of candidates which are taken as truth by those who want to take them so. Those who reject them as false do so with their facts and counter-statements. I am wondering how many voters change their choices because of stated facts or challenges. There must be ambiguity for the possibility of choice. Mary did not have a choice to be born or conceived without sin. She did not have a vote about being enrolled in the “first census” nor giving birth in a stable. She did not have an option about standing at the foot of the cross. She did have an opportunity to say “yes” to the mystery of her life. Her obedience, her listening, her eating of the angelic apple of invitation began the final project of God’s completing creation. The old Adam-and-Eve partnership is represented and refigured in the new Mary-and-Jesus duet. Adam hid himself in shame, because he knew himself to be naked. Jesus clothed Himself in shameless flesh which he had received from the shameless body and soul of His mother, Mary. Both sang the song of trust and grateful acceptance to the invitations to their facing the fears, doubts, and questions in their lives of immaculate receptions.

Today’s reflection was written by Fr. Larry Gillick, SJ, the director of Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Creighton University. Gillick says, “I enjoy sharing thoughts on the Daily Reflections.  It is a chance to share with a wide variety of people in the Christian community experiences of prayer and life which have been given to me.  It is a bit like being in more places than just here.  We actually get out there without having to pay airlines to do it.  The word of God is alive and well.”

yoke that is easy

Advent: A Yoke That Is Easy And Light


St. Ambrose (c. 340-397) was not meek.  He was an accomplished poet and orator, and a highly successful advocate and Roman Governor of two Italian provinces before the age of 40.  He was baptized Catholic and consecrated Bishop of Milan within a week.  He intervened in matters of high politics––perhaps the first bishop to do so––and confronted emperors until they unwillingly backed down.  Ambrose was not timid.

However, Ambrose did not seek his authority in possessions nor in his keen intellect nor in his considerable successes. To the contrary, he gave away most of his wealth and was well aware of his own inadequacies as a cleric and theologian.

Ambrose found his authority and strength in God.  In the One who does not grow weary.  In the One whose knowledge is beyond scrutiny.  In the One who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.  Ambrose, like all saints, became more and more like the God he came to know and to believe in.

That is the yoke that Jesus asks us to carry.  A yoke that is easy and light because both Jesus and we are tethered to it.  We share the load.  And because of this close bond, we come to know Jesus more intimately.  We come to love what he loves, to respect what he respects, and to reverence what he reverences.  We become more and more like Jesus, the One we have come to believe in.  In this sense, we give birth to the Messiah in this time and place and there is no better present that we can give or receive this Christmas.

Fr. Philip Shangraw, D. Min., is a priest of the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

spiritual journey

Advent: Long lay the world, in sin and error pining

Today’s Advent reflection for the 2nd Tuesday of Advent, 2016

Like the deer that longs for running streams, so my soul longs for God.—Psalm 42:1

Jesus’ first interaction with mankind in the Gospel of John is kind of awkward. He noticed two men following him and stopped, looked straight at them, and said, “What are you looking for?” I think he wanted them to stop and ask themselves that question before taking another step. He wants us to ask it of ourselves, too—because that question is the start of the spiritual journey.

Our longing for “something more” than this world can give us is part of who we are. It’s a longing that St. Thomas Aquinas used as evidence for God. A stomach’s growling would make no sense if there were no such thing as food. What about that “growling” in the depths of our hearts for something no amount of worldly “stuff” can satisfy? That growling has led man to think of God since the dawn of time.

If we’re losing touch with God today it’s probably because we’ve lost touch with ourselves. We tend to forget our deepest longings and highest ideals when they’re drowned out by the “noise” of passing news and countless to-dos. Or worse, we tend to suppress our highest hopes when life leaves us hurt and disappointed.

I want you to give yourself permission to ask the dangerous questions: “What do I want out of life? What am I looking for? Really?”

Beneath every answer from “a happy marriage” to “a big fat paycheck” to “fame and fortune” (all of which you may or may not get) is a deeper longing. We want more. We want happiness. We want joy. We want peace. We want LOVE. And we don’t want a little of those things. We want an infinite supply—more of it than this whole world could possibly give! We want GLORY!

. . . Let yourself feel that longing . . .

That would be cruel advice if that longing had no answer! Thankfully it does have an answer. The one who asked the question “What are you looking for?” is the answer. He just wants you to find that out for yourself. That’s what the spiritual journey is all about.

Chris Stefanick - Guest Author


Chris Stefanick  is an internationally acclaimed author and speaker, who has devoted his life to inspiring people to live a bold, contagious faith. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap calls Chris, “one of the most engaging young defenders of the Christian faith on the scene today.”  Chris is also the founder of Real Life Catholic, a Denver-based non-profit which operates as the headquarters for Chris’s various initiatives. Above all, Chris is proud to be the husband to his wife Natalie and father to their six children. To learn more about Chris’s work, please visit:


Advent: Get On The Holy Way Highway

Today’s Advent reflection for the 2nd Monday of Advent, 2016

Doesn’t it seem like that one time you really need to get someplace (say, a job interview or a hospital), traffic is completely jammed up? Bumper-to-bumper. Taillights as far as you can see. Your heart is pounding and your thoughts are racing.

Today’s readings are for just this occasion. (Not that you should pull this up on your smartphone while you’re stuck in traffic.) In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah stands in a dry and parched desert. There might not be a traffic jam here, but there is no water either; this place is dead. But Isaiah sees with the eyes of faith: The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. “Fear not!” Isaiah proclaims: God will make a way for you in the desert: A highway will be there, called the holy way.”

In the Gospel today, a group of men have a problem. Their friend is ill; paralyzed in fact. They know that Jesus is in their village and they know He has the power to cure. But these men cannot get anywhere near Jesus; the crowd is too large. They are stuck, essentially, in a traffic jam.  But these guys were not going to give up. They hauled their friend, who was on a stretcher, up onto the roof of the house where Jesus was, tore a hole in the roof, and lowered their friend down. Jesus forgave the man’s sins, and then cured him. Clearly, these men knew about the Holy Way Highway.

In our spiritual lives, we often get stuck. We are in a dry, deserted place. God feels a long way from us. We cry out, “Help! God: where are You? I need you!” Or, like the men in the Gospel today, there are such huge obstacles in front of us it seems as if it would be easier to just turn around and go back home. We don’t see a way to get to where we need to go.

We need to get on the Holy Way Highway. It’s there – it’s always a choice. However, God will not force us onto it; we have to get on ourselves. And there are a few “tolls” that have to be paid:

No one unclean may pass over it,
nor fools go astray on it.
No lion will be there,
nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it.
It is for those with a journey to make,
and on it the redeemed will walk. 

We have to be prepared to do the work that God asks. We have to acknowledge our sinfulness and ask for forgiveness. We have to seek out wisdom and counsel. If we are striving to be closer and closer to God, then the highway is open to us.

This Advent, if you’re in a dry and deserted place, if you do not see a way to get closer to God, read the Mass readings for today. Pray over them. Ask God to help you see what you need to do during this holy season to prepare for the Coming of the Lord. Ask God to lead you onto the Holy Way Highway.

[Throughout the 2016 Advent season, we will be bringing you posts from a variety of writers. Our hope is that each of these will be a meaningful way for you to slow down, pray well, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Today’s blogger is Elise Hilton, who regularly writes the“Living the Good News” blog for Diocesan Trinity Publications. Hilton is a writer, speaker and former educator, who now serves in the Marketing & Communications Department for Diocesan Trinity Publications. She is also an avid reader, mom of five and passionate about music. Today’s Mass readings may be found here.]

courage hope

Advent: Seeking The Lord With Courage And Hope

Today’s Advent reflection for the 1st Friday of Advent, 2016

We enter Advent hopeful and anticipatory!  Like children waiting for Christmas?  Or is there something else much more meaningful that we can be doing during Advent?  For how much more can we hope?  Isaiah tells us that all good things are possible!  There is a gift here for everyone in this passage.  Those of us who are concerned about the environment may read that the earth will be restored.  Those of us in need of physical healing might read that we will be healed.  If we are in confusion or sadness, we will anticipate being lifted out of gloom and darkness.  The lowly and poor hear hope that those who tyrannize them or who are too lofty to care about them will disappear from their lives.  And what a relief to hear that evil will be cut off and the just will be vindicated!

In this passage Isaiah conveys a powerful message that the Lord God wants us to know that the Lord is in our midst!  There will be no mistaking that we will see the work of his hands.  The people of God will be so impressed they will reverence the God of Israel and keep his name holy.  The weak and wayward in spirit will acquire understanding and those who find fault will get redirected.  Wow!  That about includes everything on my Christmas list!

So what is our response to this amazing news?  Do we see Advent as the time to sit back and wait for all these good things to happen to and for us?  Like children wait for Santa Claus?  No, it can be more than that!  The Psalm for today says we can ask for even more than Isaiah says is coming.  We can ask for entry into the house of the Lord where we may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate the beauty of his temple all the days of our lives.  There we shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living.  But there is a catch.  The Psalmist says we have to wait… seems that one of the tensions with our faith is centered in all that God promises to us is already, but not yet.  There is a lot of waiting going on…..but it is a special kind of waiting, I think.

During Advent, this waiting is something like preparing for Christmas.  It is an active waiting in which we can reflect on what is it that we really need and want beyond that Christmas list.  Children prepare for Christmas by hoping and anticipating, but adults engage in the season by working to make it happen.  In many ways that is the difference between adults and children in terms of our faith as well.  Children aren’t good at waiting.  Becoming an adult means we learn to wait…..while actively engaging in life.   I like to practice Christmas the way I practice Advent, which is to anticipate and celebrate all of the events that lead up to it more than just the events on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  I like the busyness of the holiday season.  Christmas is the coming together of families and friends, the sharing of the blessings of hospitality and good food, and the thoughtfulness of considering how we might provide good cheer and good will through gift giving to those we love and those in need.  In those ways, many of us celebrate Christmas all year long.  It keeps us busy!

So then, what is so special about Advent?  I think it is a special time of lifting up our hope to a higher level of consciousness in our faith.  It is a time to wait for the fullness of the Lord with renewed courage.  It is a time to experience more deeply the light and salvation of the Lord in our lives.  That’s why we light all those candles!  And Advent is a time to really grapple with the darkness of our fears and our unbelief.  It is a time to be stouthearted, for what have we to fear?  Jesus tells us in Matthew that he can do anything for us according to our faith….if we just believe.  Like children who believe in Santa Claus?  No, like the adult people of God who will acquire even more understanding of the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living that is here, already.  It is the belief in the hope that the Lord can do anything.  No matter what our circumstances, all things are yet possible.  But to see and understand that, we must have courage in our refuge, in our light, and in our salvation.  So I pray with all of you, that Advent will be for each of us a time of lifting up our hope to a higher level.  I pray that Advent is for each of us a time of courageous hope and anticipation for a better world in which we will share all the gifts we have been given of faith, love, peace, joy, mercy, acceptance, hospitality, self-less giving, and a genuine sense of brotherhood with all of humanity.  If we believe in Jesus, we can do this with him, for him and in him.

[Throughout the 2016 Advent season, we will be bringing you guest posts from a variety of writers. Our hope is that each of these will be a meaningful way for you to slow down, pray well, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Today’s guest blogger is Barbara Dilly of Creighton University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, reflecting on the Mass readings for Friday, December 2.]