Advent 2008 reflections


We invite all to enter more deeply into the calls of Chapter during Advent.  Elizabeth Bookser Barkley’s reflection, Open Wide the Doors To Christ*, echoes this invitation.  She writes …

Doors send a mixed message:

dividing or joining, protecting or welcoming, withholding or revealing. Closed, bolted, locked, doors make a powerful statement about our need to separate ourselves—from strangers, annoying salespeople, anyone making demands on our dwindling time. Unlatched, flung open, doors suggest how far humans will go as they draw others into their private space, to listen, to hurt, laugh, cry and heal.

Doors suggest mystery. In corners of musty cellars, at the edge of an attic, in the labyrinths of pretend haunted houses, they tempt us to explore the unknown.

Doors invite hope. We sit expectantly, and often anxiously, in hospital lounges for word of new birth or successful surgery, the door to the operating room or emergency room the focus of our gaze and attention.

At the dawn of the millennium, Advent is a door to a new era.

Let us open our hearts to the call of the 2009 Chapter during these days of Advent by supporting each other in prayer.  Let us discuss what we perceive to be the significant challenges we are called to face.

We invite all to enter more deeply into the calls of Chapter 2008 during Advent.  In support of this invitation, an Advent Reflection will be posted on the RSCJ website for each week of Advent.  These reflections will be prepared by members of the province who have been asked to offer their own insights into Advent and the calls of the Chapter 2008.

The Steering Committee’s hope is that as we enter into the season of Advent, we will support each other through prayer.  May our conversations about the implications of Chapter 2008 awaken in us the possibilities of renewal and rebirth.   And may our hearts be filled with the courage and confidence of all who have gone before us and all who will follow us.


* Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, associate professor of English at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, is author of Loving the Everyday: Meditations for Moms and Woman to Woman: Seeing God in Daily Life (St. Anthony Messenger Press). She, her husband, Scott, and their three daughters are members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.


First Week of Advent

Stay awake. In Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, a character wonders, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?" "Saints and poets maybe" is the response. Christ comes daily in every single minute of our lives in unexpected ways. Be a saint today, by being fully awake and alert to the nuances of life that elude those who sleepwalk.

MONDAY (Is 2:1-5; Mt 8:5-11) Walk in the light. We humans keep missing the message: Swords, spears, heat-seeking missiles, scenes of mass annihilation continue from one millennium to the next. Have faith that Jesus’ message can cure the world. Make a little peace today.

TUESDAY (Is 11:1-10; Lk 10:21-24) See with a child’s eyes. In retrospect, the divine plan for saving the world seems a bit foolish. Why send a child to do a man’s job? Jesus’ appearance among us as an infant reinforces today’s readings that "a little child shall guide them." Only if we become as open and transparent as children will we be able to comprehend the utter simplicity of God’s plan: to love us for all eternity.

WEDNESDAY (Is 25:6-10; Mt 15:29-37) Share your gifts. One promise in Isaiah is that "God will wipe away the tears from all faces." We are realistic enough to know we can never eliminate illness, suffering or sadness, but we can pool our loaves and fishes to lessen the burden of others. Take time to be at the side of a friend walking in a personal valley of darkness. Your kindness may astonish others while testifying to the goodness of God.

THURSDAY (Is 26:1-6; Mt 7:21, 24-27) Reinforce your foundation. At times our lives may seem uncertain and out of control. As the holiday season lures us toward peripheral concerns, it’s good to make a spot check of our core values. What are the rocks upon which our lives are built? If our health and wealth were suddenly buffeted by ill winds, would we still hold fast to our faith? Pray today for the grace to build your life on a firmer foundation.

FRIDAY (Is 29:17-24; Mt 9:27-31) Share the miracles in your life. As the prophets predicted, Jesus performed incredible feats of healing on those whose faith was strong. After Jesus cured the faith-filled blind men, he admonished them not to tell anyone. But who can keep quiet about the wonderful workings of God? Tell someone you know how you have been touched by God’s love.

SATURDAY (Is 30:19-21, 23-26; Mt 9:35—10:1, 6-8) Be a loyal sheepdog. Like John the Baptist, we are companions to the shepherd, not the head shepherd. When Jesus’ heart went out to the crowds who were lying exhausted "like sheep without a shepherd," he knew he wouldn’t be around forever. So he commissioned us, his disciples, to carry on his work. Any skilled herding dog takes cues from the shepherd. We need to be loyal, alert and dedicated to the gospel as we care for the lost sheep in our midst. 


RSCJ Reflection: Week One

Marie Buonato, RSCJ offers a reflection Advent Reflection to help us enter more deeply into the calls of Chapter 2008.

Reflection for the First Sunday of Advent

For the universal church, Advent is a time to prepare our hearts, to live in hope, to deepen our faith. This year the quiet season of preparation carries a special challenge for us RSCJ. Just over the horizon of the new year, the process of preparation for the Provincial Assembly and the second year of experimentation of the Map of Living and Loving await us. Within the next weeks the final draft of the chapter documents will be available. A work of integration lies before us. How will we breathe life into the printed words and make them part of the fabric of our life and ministry?

In reflecting on this question, I turned to the Liturgy of the first Sunday of Advent Within it, the Opening Prayer captured my attention:

Father in heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ, our savior, and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth...

The "five doors" opened before us in the draft of the documents of Chapter 2008 are inviting each of us to revitalize our personal and communal religious life. To revitalize – to imbue with new life and vitality – happens in the depths of our being as we ponder lovingly in our hearts, as we spend this season of preparation “in dialogue with the Spirit” and nurture that “process . . . which gives birth to new life in simplicity and joy.”

The “warmth of God’s love and the light of God’s truth” will strengthen our resolve and bolster our courage “to launch out into the deep”, to be creative, to grow, to be full of hope for the future.

May Advent 2008 – this time of contemplation, of pondering the wonders of God’s work in our hearts – be for us a season of hope and expectation as we look with courage and confidence to the future. “May the dawn of his coming find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth.

May peace be with us all.

Marie Buonato, rscj


Second Week of Advent

Second Sunday of Advent (Elizabeth Bookser Barkley’s reflection, Open Wide the Doors To Christ*),
Open some doors for Christ. John the Baptist turned heads by his dress and his diet—but most of all by his message. He could have been the focus of attention, a prophet or messiah in his own right. But he pointed beyond himself, reminding the enthralled crowds, "You ain’t seen nothin’ yet," until they could catch a glimpse of the long-awaited savior whom John heralded. Live life so fruitfully that others will be moved to commit to a life as a follower of Jesus.

MONDAY (Is 35:1-10; Lk 5:17-26) Lead an incredible journey. Few of us have witnessed cures as miraculous as friends walking away from their sick mats, but each of us has seen and facilitated "incredible things" happening in our world. We can strengthen feeble hands. We can be a crutch for knees that are weak. We can say to the frightened, "Be strong, fear not." We can be instruments of God in the lives of others.

TUESDAY (Is 40:1-11; Mt 18:12-14) Be open to rescue. "What do you think of this?" Jesus asks his followers. Would a shepherd leave 99 sheep to rescue the lost one? Crazy, yes, but true. We are so loved that God will not let us slip through the cracks or wander away. Admit you are vulnerable and weak today, allowing yourself to be comforted by the gentle touch of God.

WEDNESDAY (Is 40:25-31; Mt 11:28-30) Take a refreshing break. How many more shopping days until Christmas, how many more gifts to buy and cookies to bake? Slow down today and take a prayer break, eliminating one nonessential task from your to-do list. Ask for a body and spirit lift from the God who invites us daily to "come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome" and who has promised to "give strength to the fainting."

THURSDAY (Is 41:13-20; Mt 11:11-15) Give a gift that grows. We sometimes believe that the more expensive gifts are, the more they’ll mean to the receiver. Today’s passage from Isaiah reminds us of the beauty of nature—in marshlands, springs, the cedar, the cypress and the pine. Think of alternative natural gifts as you head into the final days of this consumer season. Give gifts that will bloom or grow perennially, reminders of God’s hand in sustaining creation.

FRIDAY (Is 48:17-19; Mt 11:16-19) Be slow to judge others. "To be great is to be misunderstood," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Even the Messiah had a hard time pleasing everyone. When John the Baptist didn’t eat or drink, his critics called him mad. But then, Jesus didn’t measure up either, since he ate and drank enough to be labeled by his enemies as "a glutton and a drunkard." The Kingdom of God has plenty of room for diversity. If Jesus withheld judgment, so must we.

SATURDAY (Sir 48:1-4, 9-11; Mt 17:10-13) Keep your chin up. Each of us has causes we’d be willing to fight for. But when others don’t see their value, or when they criticize us for our words and works, it’s hard not to feel downhearted. Don’t give in to defeat. Remember that you’re in good company. Elijah, "whose words were as a flaming furnace," and Jesus, the Word Incarnate, also suffered greatly at the hands of critics.

RSCJ Reflection: Week Two



Mary Hotz, RSCJ continues our Advent prayer and reflection
Reflection for the Second Week of Advent Still and Still Moving
Reflections on the General Chapter 2008 and the Second Week of Advent

Marie Buonato’s reflections on Week I of Advent invite us so poignantly to breathe life into the Chapter documents, to revitalize our vocations by facing God’s warmth and seeing God’s life.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent and into the week bespeak a dual movement of action and contemplation: In T. S. Eliot’s words, “the still and still moving into another intensity/For a further union, a deeper communion” (Four Quartets, East Coker, V). Isaiah promises a new world inhabited by the one who “shall feed his flock like a shepherd.” Psalm 85 marries mercy and truth, claiming righteousness and peace have kissed. Paul, in his second letter to Peter, asks a probing question in: “What manner of persons ought to be in holy conversation as we seek a new heaven and a new earth?” Finally, John the Baptist, after all of his intense, arduous work, humbly admits: “There cometh one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.”

In my reflections upon the chapter documents, I noticed this tension between the “still and still moving.” At first blush, I admit to some worry that perhaps the emphasis on spirituality was somehow a retreat from the exigencies of a very complicated world, a world longing for large doses of loving action; that the claim for community as both mission and for mission would have us tilt toward fruitless self-consciousness; that the five priorities, represented as doors, would open, not to the outside, beyond ourselves, but to the basement, like trap doors, whereby the Society would only have to hunker down and pray.

But the readings during the Second Week of Advent and a closer reading of the documents reveal precisely how Christ works: from both the outside and from the center, from “the still and still moving.” In the traditional Advent readings, immediately following the gospel about John the Baptist, on Monday, Jesus cures the paralytic. On Tuesday, he goes in search of stray sheep. On Wednesday, contemplation—rest: “Come to me all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. . . . I am gentle and humble of heart.” On Thursday we are reminded again of John’s work as messenger. Friday, a key question is posed for us who love young people: “What description can I find for this generation?” Saturday epitomizes dual desires to stay and to go, to pray and to act, as Jesus instructs his disciples—just after the transfiguration—to keep quiet and realize that Elijah has come. Jesus cautions against parking on the mountaintop, perhaps not unlike retreat directors who tell us, after long leisurely hours of prayer, that we must go now. We cannot stay forever, much as we would like. In fact, mission frames the readings from Matthew 11: “When Jesus had finished instructing the 12 apostles, he moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.”

Mary and Elizabeth, too, as Clare reminds us in her opening of the chapter, embody a similar movement as Mary embarks upon an arduous journey to meet Elizabeth and then stays for three months. The chapter documents value the dynamic of movement and stillness. We are asked to search, to move, to lean into the Spirit, to step into the world, to be transformed and to transform, to be impelled, to walk, to flow. Kathy, in her closing conference, asks the delegates “to remember in [their bodies] this movement, leading, following, moving awkwardly at first, then creating a rhythm together”—for the sake of the world. We are also invited to stay--  don’t go--to choose silence, to stop, to pray; and in the words of the poet Marie Howe, to swim in the light of annunciation: “only able to endure it by being no one and so/specifically myself I thought I’d die/from being loved like that.” Even Clare’s and the Central Team’s final letter to us testifies to the still and still moving: the time of contemplation at Lake Albano and the time of advocacy for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Advent readings and the chapter documents suggest that the real world is both evident and invisible; it is matter and Spirit, love and action, in motion together—all at once.

Mary Hotz, rscj

Third Week of Advent

Third Sunday of Advent
Lighten up.
As we move into a new millennium, we rejoice in this thought: The Messiah is already among us. This presence is confirmed through our good works—as we help the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap high, the voiceless speak. When we share from our riches or our poverty, when we lead a just life, we confirm the Incarnation.

MONDAY (Nm 24:2-7, 15-17; Mt 21:23-27) Accept life’s ambiguities. Life is not clear-cut, neither are the answers we seek in prayer. Jesus responded to his challengers’ question with another question, one that made them think more deeply. Often it is in the questions of life that we are pushed to find truth and direction.

TUESDAY (Zep 3:1-2, 9-13; Mt 21:28-32) Clothe yourself with humility. Though we have reason to rejoice that our days of intense Advent are nearing the end, we have no reason for smugness. The "proud braggarts" will be knocked down, while the remnant of "humble and lowly" will enter the Kingdom. Status in life does not guarantee salvation, as Jesus pointedly reminds his listeners. How shocked they must have been to hear that the despised tax collectors and prostitutes would be first among the redeemed.

WEDNESDAY (Is 45:6-8, 18, 21-25; Lk 7:18-23) Speak good news to the poor. Doomsday prophecies intermingle disaster with outrageous feats of glory. But Jesus sets us straight. The Kingdom will be recognized in this age not through royal trappings and wondrous displays, but through the daily work of believers who know the truest mark of the arrival of the Messiah: that "the poor have the good news preached to them."

THURSDAY (Is 54:1-10; Lk 7:24-30) Hold firm to your beliefs. John the Baptist knew little of luxury. The only certainty in his life was his unwavering belief in his mission: to baptize and to pave the way for one greater than himself. In our culture with its chameleon values, it’s easy to be a "reed swayed by the wind." In these last days of Advent, we need to take stock of our beliefs about Christmas.

FRIDAY (Is 56:1-3, 6-8; Jn 5:33-36) Be a light in the darkness. During these long days, we might feel that the daylight hours are too short, especially as we cram in parties, shopping and gift-wrapping. Move inward today to find a spark of love. Be a modern-day John the Baptist—a "lamp, set aflame and burning bright"—as you interact with family and friends.

RSCJ Reflection: Week Three



Diane Roche, RSCJ continues our Advent prayer and reflection
Reflections on coming Home to Advent

One of the things I noticed coming back to my own country after four years oversees was the pleasure I found in the familiar sights, smells and sounds of each season:  the grackles whose song always heralded the end of summer and the return to school; the taste of a concord grape; the smell of wet wool when you come in out of the snow.  There is a resonance that enhances the most ordinary of things when they are held up and celebrated year after year.

When it comes to the Church’s liturgical calendar, this is not something that the young understand at first, although they quickly catch on when it has to do with holiday traditions that involve cookies, trees and presents.  But as an adult committed to a spiritual path, the older I get the more I love to hear the same readings from Isaiah about bringing good tidings to the poor and setting the captives free.   The idea that, despite all the bad news we hear every day, salvation is still unfolding in human history gives me hope and a sense of personal mission.   I think of the kids I knew in the housing projects of Washington DC and the young adults of Haiti, all of them hungry for some good news; full of hope despite the evidence of human failure surrounding them.   If they are still capable of believing things can get better, then I am also still capable of working for the social change that is needed for their dreams to be realized.  

For me, this is the mystery of the incarnation in concrete terms.  Our Chapter calls, such as  solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, the building of healing communities, faithfulness to a contemplative practice, are not new to any of us.  Those in our schools have been living and teaching these things through the Goals and Criteria.  RSCJ have been trying to live them from the earliest articulation of our charism right up through the Act of Hope and beyond.  What prevents us from becoming jaded by the evidence of our human inability to perfectly live them in any given moment is the hope  we feel as we look back together on our history and see the evidence of grace at work.  A particular student we taught who went on to become a thoughtful, well-motivated political leader;  the ghetto kid who remembers his childhood as magical because of the camping trips and social programs we helped create;  the parent in Haiti who admits that he thought we were crazy to suggest discipline was possible without beatings but who has found out it can work.

Thoughts matter and good, inspiring thoughts like those in the advent readings of this week and the latest chapter documents can change the world if only we can be faithful to continually lifting them up, giving them new voice and celebrating their enduring resonance.

May peace be with us all.

Diane Roche, rscj


Fourth Week of Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Trust in God and in yourself. Joseph, Elizabeth and Mary received messages that were hard to accept: The Son of God would be brought into the world with Mary as the sacred vessel. What fear, what incredulity must have filled them as they adjusted to their role in making this miracle of the Word enfleshed a reality. Miracles can happen in our lives too if we take to heart the angel's words: "Nothing is impossible with God."

DECEMBER 17 (Gn 49:2, 8-10; Mt 1:1-17) Celebrate family ties. Though it can be tiresome to listen to so many names unfamiliar to us, today's list of Jesus' ancestors provides reflective time to meditate on our own family heritage. As the names of the men and women in today's Gospel flow out, allow the rhythm of the words to sweep you back into memories of your own family. Look for the positive things from your family that give you identity.

DECEMBER 18 (Jer 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-24) Thank a father today. Today's is Joseph's Gospel, one of the few where this unassuming man takes center stage. Of course, being central to the story is all about moving out of the limelight. A just, humble man, Joseph has descendants in all the holy fathers around us. Today, do something special for your father, your husband or a man who epitomizes Christian fatherhood.

DECEMBER 19 (Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25; Lk 1:5-25) Be open to surprises. Two barren women, Samson's mother and Elizabeth, no doubt had given up on motherhood. Their own and their husbands' stance of openness conditioned them to hearing, and believing, the incredible news from an angel-"terrible indeed." Be hopeful, stay open to surprising visitations and good news in your life.

DECEMBER 20 (Is 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38) Be an agent for good. Mary's "Let it be done to me as you say" could imply a passive attitude toward the inevitable in life. Troubled by the messenger's announcement, Mary questioned, then cooperated with the plan for salvation. Not passivity but contemplation allowed her to declare herself a free agent of the Lord. Like Mary, we are called to hear and reflect on the word of God, then to act on it.

DECEMBER 21 (Sng 2:8-14; Lk 1:39-45) Be present to a loved one. Class reunions and family reunions for those who hardly know each other can be tedious, but reunions between those who deeply love one another and have been apart bring only joy. Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth caused baby John to leap for joy inside her. Take time today to surprise a distant loved one with a pre-Christmas call, card or e-mail.

DECEMBER 22 (1 Sm 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56) Sing a hymn of praise. Mary's canticle acknowledges the wonderful things that God did in her life. Though not as historic as the "great things" done in Mary, each of us has received special graces this season. Take time to enumerate these visitations from God and to give thanks.

DECEMBER 23 (Mal 3:1-4, 4:5-6; Lk 1:57-66) Spread your joy around. How happy Elizabeth's friends and relatives were when John was born. Their joy culminated in a gathering for his naming on the eighth day. These days before Christmas should be filled with joy and anticipation, but too often we and our frazzled friends get crabby and short-tempered. Be an instrument of good cheer today.

CHRISTMAS EVE (2 Sm 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Lk 1:67-79) Walk in peace. Our Advent journey is ended. Like Zechariah, if we reflect on what God has done for us, we will spill out songs of praise. A faithful God will never forsake us, for we have entered into a covenant that demands faithfulness on our part and on God's. Dark days notwithstanding, God promises to be a Dayspring to us. One door has closed but another bursts open as we move confidently in the way of peace.

Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, associate professor of English at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, is author of Loving the Everyday: Meditations for Moms and Woman to Woman: Seeing God in Daily Life (St. Anthony Messenger Press). She, her husband, Scott, and their three daughters are members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.

RSCJ Reflection: Week Four


Photo by Kevin Tuck

As we enter the final week of Advent, the Steering Committee wishes to thank Marie, Mary and Diane for their thoughtful Advent Reflections. Sunday's Gospel reminds all of us that the quality of our relationships is the means through which the Holy Spirit continues to communicate God's profound love. Elizabeth's and Mary's mutual support of one another point to the importance of our supporting each other for it is in and through our ministries and our relationships that we continue the work of the Incarnation. May these special days give us time to continue our reflection on the 2008 Chapter Documents. Perhaps in our comings and goings we will have the chance to continue to explore with one another and our collaborators the challenges offered by the Chapter.

In a recent homily on the Fourth Sunday of Advent it was said that "wisdom is a perfection of the whole human being. Wisdom, my brothers and sisters, is not the same thing as intelligence or education. Wisdom is an openness to the spirit of God. Mary shows us what it looks like to be wise. Wisdom is a matter of the heart and the head. In fact, wisdom functions on the level of the soul which is deeper than emotions or thoughts. Wisdom unites thinking, feeling and the flesh. Intelligence is a perfection of the intellect. Wisdom is a perfection of the whole human being: head, heart and flesh. The Beatles were quoting Luke: "Let it be, Let it be. Whisper words of wisdom, Let it Be." Let it be done to us even as the angels say."

May we listen to one another's insights about the Chapter with openness of God's Spirit. And in Paula's words, may "we allow God to do great things for us, in our hearts and in our daily "lives given in love." May the incarnation of God's love, given birth on the first Christmas, become ever more a reality through us for the world."

Let us continue our prayer for one another we celebrate a joyful Christmas. We look forward to sharing our plans for the next steps in the New Year.

The Steering Committee