inviting Christ

First Sunday of Advent: Inviting Christ Into Our Lives

Sunday, December 3, 2017, marks the first Sunday of Advent, and the first Sunday of the new liturgical year. Advent is the time when we prepare for the coming of Christ. We remember the historical event of the birth of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, yet we also look forward to Christ’s return. The Gospel for this Sunday, from Matthew, reminds us to be alert to this event.

How exactly do we prepare for Christ? How do we invite Him in? Do we even really want to invite Him in? It’s all well and good to meet Jesus on Sundays – sort of like a weekly coffee date with a friend. But you don’t invite your friend to move in with you! No, it’s really far easier to just keep Jesus “contained,” in church, on Sundays.

In the book, With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life, priest-contemplative Henri Nouwen says that the moment of Eucharist is THE single most important decision of our lives: Are we going to allow Christ in? It is a decision to make Christ part of your life, every moment of every day, to remove the walls you have placed around Him.

Jesus is a very interesting person; his words are full of wisdom. His presence is heart-warming. His gentleness and kindness are deeply moving. His message is very challenging. But do we invite him into our home? Do we want him to come to know us behind the walls of our most intimate life? Do we want to introduce him to all the people we live with? Do we want him to see us in our everyday lives? Do we want him to touch us where we are most vulnerable? Do we want him to enter into the back rooms of our homes, rooms that we ourselves prefer to keep safely locked? Do we truly want him to stay with us when it is nearly evening and the day is almost over?

Christ, you see, is not meant to be contained. He is not meant to be a weekly visitor or a standing coffee date which one can easily cancel if something comes up. He is not even meant to be a boarder in our home; a person who rents a room but is seldom seen or heard.

There is a reason that we encounter Christ around the table, the altar. The act of gathering around a table to share a meal is an act of intimacy. Even strangers become friends when they gather together to not simply eat, but to enjoy the food, the company, the joy of elevating basic human nourishment to an occasion of joy.

Yet no hostess in the world would think of handing out coats to the guests just as the last mouthful has been consumed: “Oh! Out to you go! Been lovely to see you, but time to get!” We would be shocked – and rightly so. No, part of the invitation to the table is the chance to linger and further enjoy the company of those gathered. And if the weather has turned bad while the meal was being enjoyed, the host and hostess would find blankets and pillows and places for everyone to rest their heads.

So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. – Mt. 24:44

As we prepare for the holy season of Advent, let us begin by asking ourselves: Do I REALLY want Christ to be part of my entire life? Am I only giving Him a sliver of my time? Where do I deliberately keep Christ from entering? Why? Is Christ truly a guest in my home, my life?


Communion, Community, Mission: Our Easter Meditation

What strange and wonderful days these are, these days between the Resurrection of Christ and His Ascension! He lives, yet is clearly in a bodily form that is not instantly recognizable. He bears the wounds of His crucifixion, yet is able to walk and talk and eat with the Apostles.

There is a sense of urgency. From the moment Mary Magdalen rushed from the empty tomb to tell the Apostles that the Lord was not there, to the men on the road to Emmaus who hustled out to find the Apostles and tell them that they had seen the Lord, to Christ’s compelling promise that, as He left, He would send the Spirit to them. As writer and priest Henri Nouwen says, “Everything has changed.”

We can only imagine the wonder of the Apostles. They were lifted from the very depths of despair as their Master was tortured and killed, and they themselves hid in terror. Yet, now: everything has changed. There is hope and life and joy and awe.

There is something else. On the night before his death, Jesus broke bread and shared wine with the twelve, telling them this was the New Covenant and calling them to share this meal “in memory of me.” Christ was calling them (and us!) not just to a meal, but to a way of life – the Eucharistic life. Again, Henri Nouwen:

The Eucharistic celebration has summarized for us what our life of faith is all about, and we have to go home to live it as long and fully as we can. And this is very difficult, because everyone at home knows us so well: Our impatience, our jealousies, our resentments, and our many little games …

Yet, we forge on. Like the two men on the road to Emmaus who suddenly realized “This is the Christ!” we should be compelled to rush out and share the news with our friends, our family, our community. We should be, as Nouwen points out, on a mission.

The Eucharist is always a mission. The Eucharist that has freed us from our paralyzing sense of loss and revealed to us that the Spirit of Jesus lives within us empowers us to go out into the world and to bring good news to the poor …

For Nouwen, these strange and wonderful days from Resurrection to Ascension flow from communion – that shared meal of Christ’s Body and Blood – to community (as the earliest Christians learns what their roles are to be within this New Covenant) to mission. They come together, they pray, they eat and drink as the Lord directed, they go out and share.

As we continue to celebrate this Easter season, it is good to meditate upon these forty days. How is the Resurrected Christ present to us, to you, to me? Do we recognize Him in the Eucharist? When we are sent forth at the end of Mass, where do we go? What do we do? With whom do we share the Good News? The strange and wonderful days between Easter and Ascension deserve our prayerful attention.

[Quotes from Nouwen are from  his book, With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life.]


EH headshotElise Hilton is an author, blogger and speaker. Her role at Diocesan Publications is Editor & Writer with the Marketing Team. She has worked in parish faith formation and Catholic education for over 30 years. A passionate student of theology, Elise enjoys sharing her thoughts on parish communication, the role of social media in the Church, Franciscan spirituality and Catholic parenting. To enquire about booking her as a speaker, please contact her at

beauty brokenness

Finding Blessing In Brokenness

There is not one person among us who is not broken in some way. We carry with us the scar of original sin, which weakens us in every aspect of our lives. It is true that some of us carry heavier burdens than others, but we can not judge another’s trials  for brokenness can be deeply hidden. For some, our brokenness is right there for everyone to see: a woman in a wheelchair or a veteran struggling to walk with a prosthetic leg. But, for others, the woundedness is hidden; the girl standing next to us in the checkout line is reeling from her parents’ announcement of divorce or the dad standing handing out snacks at his son’s soccer game is dealing with a diagnosis of cancer. We can look at every single person that we brush by daily and acknowledge: we all share in this brokenness.

One of the hardest thing that Christians must do is to find blessing in our brokenness. No, our reaction to brokenness is blame: “This would have never happened if he’d only agreed to counseling!” We get angry – at others and at God. We may feel shame: “I don’t want anyone to know my family’s issues; I’m so embarrassed.” So quietly, with great care, we tip-toe through our day – unable or unwilling to not only acknowledge the blessing in the brokenness.

Fr. Henri Nouwen is well-known for pondering questions such as, “How can I possibly find blessing in this mess? In the diagnosis? In this tattered relationship? In this time of loss?”

The great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God is to pull their brokenness from the shadows of the curse, and put it under the light of the blessing … The powers of the darkness around us are strong, and our wold find is it easier to manipulate self-rejecting people than self-accepting people. But when we keep listening attentively to the vice calling us the Beloved, it becomes possible to live our brokenness, not as a confirmation of our fear that we are worthless, but as an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests  upon us … (Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World)

However devastating a situation we may be in, Christ walks with us. Our God is not a distant or far-off god, who  like a child bored with an old toy, has abandoned us. Our God is not a god who favors one person over another, Nor does God, like a beggar at a banquet, try to snatch a bit our happiness to keep for himself.

No: our God calls us Beloved: you. Me. That kid picking  his nose on the bus. The snooty waiter at the coffee shop. The mom struggling with a toddler and a grocery cart at the store. We are all Beloved. And it is this quality alone (this gift, this grace!) from God that allows us to drag our brokenness into light from darkness. We show it to everyone, and they allow us to see theirs. We acknowledge our sinfulness, the part we play in our brokenness and the brokenness of others. Then, our brokenness no longer frightens us or brings shame. Why? Because our brokenness – which has been known by God for all eternity – was carried on His back and nailed to that cross as He suffered and died or His Beloved. It was redeemed both in beauty and brokenness, and that redemption is ours by our heritage, by baptism and by living a life worthy of the Beloved Children of God.


From Brain Buzz To Peaceful Prayer

If this doesn’t happen to you, it likely happens to someone close to you: their brain buzzes. It won’t shut off. Maybe they skip from project to project, never quite getting anything done. Or you lay down at night to sleep, and suddenly every single thought you’ve had for the past three days starts firing off neurons like a pinball wizard. Our days are filled with information from computers and tablets and phones. We meet a friend for dinner and there are 17 TVs in the restaurant showing 12 different stations. Your feet hit the floor in the morning and you’re already planning for a 3 p.m. meeting.

Brain buzz.

Be still before the LORD; wait for him. (Ps. 37:7)

How can I be still?? I’ve got work, and soccer practice. I’m the snack mom for the game this week. My daughter has ballet.

My boss is breathing down my neck about this project. I’ve got men’s Bible study this week, and I’m the discussion leader. I haven’t even had a chance to crack open the book yet.

The car insurance is due. I’m having panic attacks over the election. My mom really needs my help with some things around her house. My girlfriend has been wanting to get together, and I keep putting it off – I’m so busy.

Be still before the Lord.

Yeah, but: my daughter needs help making centerpieces for her wedding in February. The dog needs to go the vet. I missed choir practice last week. I need a flu shot.

Be still.

Every time I walk in the house I remember that I have to call the contractor about that flooring for the laundry room. And don’t I still need to get a baby shower gift for ….


Yes. It is hard to switch into low gear. It’s hard to find quiet. We are so used to multi-tasking, we don’t even think of it as multi-tasking anymore; it’s just life.

But God wants us to be still. To seek out peace and calm and wait for Him. We have to push aside the brain buzz and be still. Fr. Henri Nouwen:

Sometimes we wish that we could stop thinking for a while; that would save us from so many worries, guilt feelings, and fears. Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuig dialogue with our God, who is the source of all love.

Let’s break out of our isolation and realize that Someone who dwells in the center of our being wants to listen with love to all the occupies and preoccupies our minds. (from Bread for the Journey)

Now, instead of brain buzz, try this:

Lord, I need to help my daughter with those wedding centerpieces. Please, Lord, bless the two of them. Give them a strong and deep love for you and each other.

Jesus, that project at work is overwhelming me. I know I need to do some delegating. Grant me wisdom so that we can finish this project well.

Heavenly Father, I’ve been putting off my girlfriend for too long. She is such a good friend and she deserves better from me. Thank you, God, for her friendship and guide us as we continue on this journey.

Maybe you won’t be able to do this all the time. Maybe brain buzz will creep back in. But, you’ve made a start. Be still for just a moment, and see what God’s presence does. Just be still, and wait for Him. He will join you wherever you are.

Find your delight in the LORD who will give you your heart’s desire. (Psalm 37:4)


Forgiveness: Restored In God’s Love And Mercy

Yesterday was Laetare Sunday. It marks the midpoint of Lent; the message of the liturgy is “rejoice!” (which is what laetare means.) We are so close to Easter. We are working hard to correct faults, to grow closer to God, to grow in faith, love, charity. We seek forgiveness for our sins; we yearn to know God’s love and mercy.

The Gospel for this past Sunday was one of the best known in all of Scripture: the parable of the Prodigal Son. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest, wrote a small book on this parable, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. Nouwen was absolutely captivated by Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son, where the painter captured the moment that the prodigal son flings himself at the feet of his father, seeking forgiveness.

Nouwen says this about “forgiveness,” a theme that is an integral part of the Prodigal Son story: “One of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life is to receive God’s forgiveness.”

How can this be? Aren’t we supposed to be able to go to God and be forgiven for anything? When we leave the confessional, aren’t we supposed to feel renewed? Don’t we leave all our sins behind?

It is supposed to work that way, but it doesn’t always. Sometimes the hurts and wounds we carry from our sins and the sins of others are so deep, so frightful, so damaging, we don’t feel forgiven, nor do we want to forgive someone else. Our mind tells us one thing (“Of course you’re forgiven! You just made a good confession”) and our heart tells us another (“I still hurt. This is so painful for me.”)

We see this in the parable. The eldest son, upon learning that his father is throwing a party for the younger son, gets angry. “I’ve been here all this time, doing the right thing. I’ve been working alongside my father. I’ve been good. Why is he getting a party?? I’ve never had a party.” The older son is jealous and mad and unforgiving. He’s hurt. He doesn’t see any room for forgiveness. He doesn’t understand how the father can forgive the hurts of the past so quickly, so effortlessly.

A bit later in his book, Nouwen states, “Receiving forgiveness requires a total willingness to let God be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing.” Are we totally willing to let God into our damaged relationships? Are we totally willing to allow God to restore us? Are we totally willing to set aside jealousy, hurt, pain, resentment, bitterness, grudges, annoyances in order to allow God to work in our lives?

Forgiveness is radical. It requires us to be “all in,” to get out of God’s way and allow His will to be done. We can be healed, restored, renewed. But we cannot do this ourselves. Only God can. Just like the Prodigal Son, we must be willing to throw ourselves at the feet of God, and tell him, “I cannot do this on my own. I hand everything over to you. Your will be done.” Only then will God’s love and mercy heal us.