Advent Reflections Archive
I originally set out to write this reflection about Mary. She was a woman whose everyday faith nevertheless demonstrated immense courage, who carried the weight of the world, of God’s commitment to his people, in her womb. As such, she became at once a testament to humility and the mother of our faith, one who took the ultimate step to help build “peace, love, justice and truth” on earth. I cannot move forward without acknowledging her and expressing my gratitude to and for her. » Click here to read more
I became president of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Boston in September 2007. That first November, while I was at one of our centers helping prepare for the annual Thanksgiving turkey distribution, one of the senior staff told me, “I think there’s someone upstairs you need to see.” She took me upstairs, sat me down in the cold vestibule between two front doors on a metal chair next to a woman with grocery bags, and introduced us. » Click here to read more
What are we? Who are we? If we really understood how much God loves us, would we answer that question the same way?
I don’t think I’m capable of understanding how much God loves me. I can’t get my mind around it. In truth, I’m not sure I even understand the nature of my own love for others. For example, with my husband and kids, I love them unconditionally, but I know I don’t love them selflessly. I haven’t reached the point where I can set myself, my ego, my needs aside to become a pure source of love to and for them. But I know God loves me completely, beyond the concept of ego or self-concern. In fact, I know God loves everyone that way, making me at once infinitely special and in no way unique. » Click here to read more
John the Baptist was so committed to his message, and that message was so fringe compared to the common beliefs and practices of his time, that at the height of his preaching he was living in the desert, wearing the equivalent of a burlap sack, and subsisting on locusts and wild honey in order to speak his truth. Sometimes, it feels nearly impossible to grasp how radical he and his message were. He was the embodiment of being a “courageous witness to Christ in the places where you live and work.” » Click here to read more
As Pope Francis says, Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ, the manifestation in human form of God’s infinite love for us. The world around us feels so angry and fearful—so full of negative energy—that it can be incredibly hard to return our hearts to the childlike innocence that would allow us fully to experience the miracle of God’s love. That child still lives in us, however, and a thoughtful change in focus can help us rediscover it. » Click here to read more
During the past General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Father Jim Martin, editor at large of America, The National Catholic Review, conducted a short interview with Father Alonso Nicolas, the former General of the Society of Jesus, in which he asked him: "What would you say to someone who is just starting out in the life of prayer? What kind of advice would you give that person?" Fr. Nicolas responded: "Try to enjoy silence." » Click here to read more
One of the most transcendental days of my life was when my son was diagnosed with autism. A new world, with unfamiliar concepts, procedures, paperwork, and sentiments opened in front of my eyes—a world that I was not prepared for, a world that I could nevertheless not avoid. In some sense, this Sunday’s readings remind me of that moment: loss of hope, petition of a sign, the promise of a child, an unplanned pregnancy, the threat of public disgrace, the loss of patience, the disappointment of Joseph, his decision to dismiss Mary quietly…definitely many points in common and certainly some differences. My wife and I very much planned that pregnancy and I never thought of dismissing her. » Click here to read more
Since early times, Western societies have emphasized seriousness as one of the most important social traits of a human life, and disavowed laughter as a sign of emotional, and even political, instability. Thus, Plato in the Republic recommends that in the ideal state comedy should be tightly controlled and the Guardians should avoid laughter, “for ordinarily when one abandons himself to violent laughter, his condition provokes a violent reaction (388e).” Later in the Laws he advises that “no composer of comedy, iambic or lyric verse shall be permitted to hold any citizen up to laughter, by word or gesture, with passion or otherwise (7: 816e; 11: 935e).” Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics (3, 4) praises the “serious man” (“aner spoudaios”) for his courage and self-control, and warns ordinary people not to “enjoy amusement and jesting more than they should … (since) a jest is a kind of mockery, and lawgivers forbid some kinds of mockery—perhaps they ought to have forbidden some kinds of jesting (4, 8).” » Click here to read more
Two aspects in this Sunday's readings caught my attention: The element of tension conveyed (the tension between old and new, past and future, heaven and earth, the charismatic and the institutional, the prophetic and the traditional, the spirit and the flesh) and the hope that arises precisely from those dialectically opposed elements.
We live in times full of tension. We have learned that the hard way. All you have to do is listen to the news, read the paper, or monitor social media. Throughout history, we have experienced similar moments of conflict and turmoil. However, today we seem to be in the midst of a particularly strong tempest that is causing fear, division, judgment, and even violence. » Click here to read more
This Sunday’s readings are about vigilance: “Be alert,” “get ready,” “keep awake.” And that is thrilling—on paper!
The reality, the day-by-day experience of being vigilant, is different. Our lives oscillate from monotonous, to hectic, to tedious, to stressful, to dreadful, to great. It is hard being vigilant in those circumstances and, when someone manages to be so, that experience takes the risk of becoming boring. If you don’t believe me, ask security guards, private investigators, and vigilantes—even they eventually get bored. » Click here to read more
The four candles are lit for us to see and hear the Lord, and the Lord to see and hear us. In J.S. Bach’s Advent Cantata, No. 61, we hear sung “Open wide, my heart, thy portals; Jesus enters in to thee…” If we’re noisy and not listening, we won’t hear him entering our hearts and the hearts of all creation. » Click here to read more
We are strengthened even to pray for our enemies and to love all people with the love of Christ. All that being said, we know that there is plenty of darkness, the most recent darkness being the murders in San Bernadino, California on the heels of so many other massacres this past year. The first question that came out of my mouth was “Why?” » Click here to read more
Every year I am amazed at how close to reality the words of scripture are. We hear of signs 'in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay'. (Lk. 21:25) Our news media has been filled with the stories of nations in dismay: Paris, France; Beirut, Lebanon; Bamaka, Mali; Syria, Turkey, Israel, Latin America, the United States. » Click here to read more
The Advent wreath is in full flame now as we light the last candle for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. In today’s Gospel reading, the story of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive and bear the son of God (Lk 1:26-38). » Click here to read more
As we begin the third week of Advent, we are fully engaged in active waiting. Here in the Northern Hemisphere the amount of natural daylight diminishes at a rapid rate. But now the encroaching darkness is somewhat offset by the growing number of Christmas lights sparkling on and within houses and businesses. » Click here to read more
The Gospel readings for the Second and Third Sundays of Advent (Mark 1:1-8 and John 1:6-8, 19-28) both focus on John the Baptist, a rather eccentric figure living in the desert, clear about who he was and who he was not: John was not the Messiah, but one preparing the way with "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." » Click here to read more
The Catholic tradition calls us to another way of celebrating. In our liturgical calendar, Christmas is an octave (eight days) that begins Christmas Eve and ends on January 1. There is the familiar tradition of the twelve days of Christmas, which begin on Christmas Eve and end on Epiphany, traditionally celebrated on January 6. And the Church’s Season of Christmas starts on December 24 and ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which we will celebrate on January 12, 2014. As we come to the end of these on-line reflections here at Boston College, I urge you to savor the extended days of Christmas during the weeks following December 25.
In the year 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi began a practice by which Christians have engaged in a creative imagining of the circumstances of Christ’s birth. For centuries, this season has been marked by a representation variously called the crèche, the manger, or the nativity scene. Nativity scenes reflect the rich array of cultures in which Christians live; some nativity scenes are large and elaborate, and others are beautiful in their simplicity.
During Advent, “We celebrate the coming of God into our world and into our lives,” Fr. Joseph O’Keefe tells us. Based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Fr. O’Keefe offers a step-by-step guide to praying the Examen so that we may “reflect on the coming of God into our lives here and now.” » Click here to read more
Reflections by Randy Sachs, S.J., ’69, MA’73
Randy Sachs, S.J., is an associate professor of systematic theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Fr. Sachs theological interests include creation, eschatology, theological anthropology, the doctrine of God, and the theology of Karl Rahner. He is also involved in spiritual direction and retreat work.
The season of Advent is upon us again. It sneaks up, doesn’t it? At least that’s the way I feel. The fall semester here at the School of Theology and Ministry where I teach is just about over (how did that happen?!) and that means a lot of student papers to read. Which makes me wonder when I will actually be able to get to those Christmas cards I picked up at the Museum of Fine Arts last week. I always tell myself that as long as I mail them before the twelve days of Christmas are up, I’m fine. Oh, almost forgot about Christmas presents for my family. Please, Lord, please help me come up with something better for my nieces and nephews than iTunes card gifts! All in all, Advent may well be the liturgical season that is hardest to get into. I say that because everything around us is trying to make these precious weeks into a kind of non-stop, get-ready-for-Christmas marathon. » Click here to read more
The opening lines of the first reading for Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent (Isaiah 40:25-31) caught my eye because they speak of the stars, and I like to look at the stars, especially at this time of year. "To whom can you liken me as an equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these things: he leads out their army and numbers them, calling them all by name. By his great might and the strength of his power not one of them is missing!" (Isaiah 40:25-26) » Click here to read more
Advent is a season of joy, and the third Sunday of Advent highlights this. Its traditional Latin name, “Gaudete” Sunday, means “Rejoice!” Last Sunday, the readings were full of the joyful news of deliverance and salvation. In the Gospel, Luke presented John the Baptist as the voice crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (3:4-6). Prepare for the Lord’s coming and for the wideness of his mercy! (I can think of no better way to stay with these words prayerfully in Advent than to listen to the first part of Handel’s Messiah). » Click here to read more
As I am writing this reflection, I am still stunned, as we all are, by the incomprehensible tragedy of the killing of so many small children and their teachers in Newtown, CT. To enter into the rejoicing of Gaudete Sunday seems impossible now, as I see the newspaper photos of grief-stricken parents, and the terrified faces of the children who escaped unharmed. At the same time, I find myself begging Christ to open his heart, his ears, and his arms to all the people who are suffering such devastating loss. Be near to them, Lord. Show them that your heart is breaking, too. Hear their sobbing grief. Give them the strength and courage to trust that they, too, like the loved ones they have lost, will find themselves in your loving embrace. Let us all pray together for them, whose Advent longing for the coming of the Lord in their darkness now has such a specific sharpness. » Click here to read more
When I was a boy, "midnight Mass" was still celebrated at midnight. I can still remember what it felt like to walk in the darkness and into the many different parish churches of my childhood. They were all filled with the warm light of so many candles and bursting with the bright color of what seemed like hundreds of red and white poinsettias. I was usually in the choir and before Mass started, there would always be a half an hour of Christmas carols. Back then, the darkness outside and the warm light, color, and carols inside didn't seem like such a contrast. They seemed to go together. The darkness and quiet of the late hour evoked in a special way the expectation of the joyful celebration in which we would be singing "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night." » Click here to read more
Reflections by Sr. Maryanne Confoy, MEd’78, PhD’81
Sr. Maryanne Confoy is a Sister of Charity and a lecturer in Practical Theology and Spirituality at the Jesuit Theological College in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Publications include articles on spirituality and ministry; a biography of Morris West; books on spirituality and the contemplative life, the priesthood, religious life, and Christian ministry. She is a well-loved and respected Visiting Professor at the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College.
While our Churches greet Advent with the penitential color of purple and solemn liturgical music and readings, our shopping malls are resplendent with diverse seasonal greetings, muzak and multiple enticements to gift-buying—two very different and even contradictory approaches to the important celebration of Christmas. Advent’s significance can be lost in the cacophony of advertising and its diversions. In many ways it is a more gentle season than Lent which opens with Ash Wednesday confronting us with reminders of suffering, death and the finiteness of life. In contrast, Advent opens us to the hope of a new liturgical year and prepares us for the celebration of Christ’s birth. » Click here to read more
Why did it take the early Church around four hundred years to begin to celebrate Christmas and what is it that we as church today are preparing for? It is important to remember that the northern Advent period is characterized by long hours of winter darkness. The struggle between dark and light is dramatically experienced in the winter months, and often, no less in our own lives. In this second week of Advent we are invited to reflect on God’s promise of mercy and faithfulness for all people and for our world even in times of darkness, doubt and isolation. » Click here to read more
There is neither ambiguity nor naïveté in regard to the call to mission and ministry in the readings of this Third Week of Advent. We are ‘to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the hearts that are broken.’ (Isaiah 61:2) We are directed ‘to be happy at all times’ and to ‘give thanks’ and ‘pray constantly,’ because this is what God expects of us ‘in Christ Jesus.’ (Thess. 5:16) The gospel presents a model of wholehearted commitment to mission and ministry in John the Baptist who described himself as sent to ‘witness to speak for the light…a voice that cries in the wilderness’ to ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’ (John 1:7, 23) » Click here to read more
How quickly for most of us have these weeks flown! As Christmas comes closer we hear people talking about what gifts they might be buying or hoping for. Festivities abound, and many of us find we have little time to really think beyond the immediate demands of each day. The closing of the year and our commitments to catch up with family and friends can take up every spare moment. It is not easy to give ourselves the most precious gift of time to think, to attend to what we hope for - the desires of our heart - this season, and subsequently for the coming year. » Click here to read more
Christmas is here! What does this mean for us, not in terms of gift-giving, but in relation to the deepest desires of our hearts? This time of Advent has been a call to us to revive, to bring to life again what it means to live our Baptismal witness in today's world. Yet it is so hard to keep this awareness in balance with all the other activities, commitments, and images from all aspects of our ever-demanding lives, no matter how well we started our Advent preparations. What difference does Christmas really make? Many non-Christians also ask why the coming of Christ into the world should be celebrated when, two thousand years later, there is still massive poverty, violence, and breakdown in trust throughout the world. We may even be asking these same questions ourselves. » Click here to read more