Photo credit: Mary Ann Flannery, SC
Reflecting on kindness and ‘the advent person’ in our last two blogs, I am led to contemplate on where I might be in the whole scene of Christ’s birth. Am I kind? Am I an advent person?
In Ignatian spirituality, we assume the presence and, if possible, the identity of a person in any biblical scene. This makes the story or passage real and easy to understand. For instance, you might choose to be one of the persons who sat in the crowd of 5,000 wondering what Jesus was going to teach. And suddenly you are witness to a miracle of the loaves and fishes. What are you thinking? How are you moved? Most important what will you do now: follow him or not?
Where am I in the scene of the Nativity? Am I a shepherd? A foreign king? An Angel? Who are you this holy night? I read somewhere, it may have been from the writings of Ignatius himself, that a young woman accompanied Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Apparently, she was a midwife. The writer claimed this would have been a standard practice for the culture of the time; a pregnant woman and her spouse would have had to request someone to aid them in their time of need. Yes, this was speculation, but it seems very probable as the couple would have been vulnerable if Mary had started delivering before they settled somewhere. How did this young woman perceive Mary and Joseph? Did she grow in faith during this journey? I believe she was an advent person. I think that everyone integral to the Nativity was an advent person.
Over the years, I have witnessed certain Christmases when I distinctly felt the presence of an advent person, a true believer in the meaning of Christmas. I’ll share one with you today. It was in the 1970’s, I don’t remember the exact year, but one of our sisters spoke up at a pre-Christmas house meeting and asked if we could invite people to our Motherhouse who have no place to celebrate the holiday. She reasoned that the house is beautifully, painstakingly decorated and we all go to our families for Christmas Day since as a community we celebrated on Christmas Eve. No one would be here to enjoy this beauty on Christmas Day. It seemed a waste. Around the room hands went up to volunteer to help. We called charitable organizations and made arrangements to pick up people. Some groups preferred to arrive by vans. We invited the homeless from various agencies and even folks from detention institutions. Social activist priests helped us organize. Sisters volunteered to cook and set tables and get nearby neighbors to help serve the meal.
I can still vividly recall a single mother in tears as she guided her son through the food line. We offered a short prayer service and everyone dug into their meal and then visited the Nativity scene and sang carols around our tree. All had to be home by 7 in their places of residence or incarceration. I was asked to drive four young men back to their detention center not far from our home. On the way back, a slow conversation mounted among them with comments on how good the food was and the singing, too! I commended them for being invited by their chaplain to join the party and they laughed, knowing that they had earned points for good behavior just to get a good meal. But I told them they had celebrated a special day and made it even more special for the hosts.
This was the beginning of several ministries of outreach which our sisters developed, and it created relationships between our neighbors and the sisters. All because one sister, an advent person, dared to speak up and make a suggestion that some thought was quite wild at first but glorious in the end.
In the few days remaining in Advent, we still have time to give personal, special attention to someone or several in need. Is there a friend or family member whose relationship with you has grown sour? Stiffen up and make the move. You will not be sorry if your effort is not accepted, and you will be ecstatic if it is. Are you embarrassed to attend a faith service because you’ve been away too long? God doesn’t think so. Open the door and walk in. You know that the greatest gift is yourself so volunteer somewhere: tutor in a school, work in the church food pantry, visit someone in a nursing home, watch the grandkids for their parents. In all of this you are an advent person all year round.
While in Bethlehem this past September, I had the privilege of sitting in Shepherd’s Cave, one of the caves where we can assume the shepherds gathered at night to avoid the cold and to ward off predators during the time of Christ. I’m including a picture of Fr. Bob Cole’s preparation for Mass there. The moments in that cave were inspiring and I will recall it this Christmas. Join me in doing so:
Take your Bible and read Luke’s Gospel (Lk 2:1-21) and reflect quietly and deeply on the meaning of Christmas in an advent person’s life.
To each of you, my dear readers, and all my Anonymous Angels, I wish a most beautiful, meaningful Christmas abounding in a personal joy of the heart.
What a beautiful description of Bethlehem. I too remember the Cave as I read daily about The Birth of Jesus. May God continue to bless you Sr. MaryAnn.
I am so pleased to share the memories with. you Isabella. They are holy memories of our sacred journey. S. MAF
excellent as always! You are a Blessing to me and so many!
Hi Trudy: Blessed Christmas and New Year wishes. Blessed may you be as I’m sure you are now. S. MAF
Thank you for this blog and your Christmas letter, always terrific and thought provoking! take care, Margi
Thanks Marge: I’m thinking you can’t travel to Cleveland. This weather is a challenge but a superb way to settle with the prayer of being. S. MAF
I hope to be there tomorrow, today’s flight got delayed and then cancelled. I rebooked.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Marge. I’m thinking you are stuck in NY. You may have to stay in the quiet this year–a good beginning to a new year. Blessings, MAF
I am a new subscriber to your blogs, as you know, but I must tell you how much I am enjoying them! Very thought provoking! I pray you have a most blessed, happy and healthy Christmas and Christmas season!
so enjoying your blogs!!!
Thank you Gail…I hope this Christmas season floods you with blessings and a promise of a fruitful new year. I’ll see you at the JRC! S. MAF
I just wanted to wish you a very Merry Christmas.
Betty Ann (Spencer) Preston
Well, thank you Betty. and a Happy New Year to you. We always have hope for the new year! S. MAF