The Prodigal Son–the rest of story: reflections by Father Steven LaBaire

father-steven-labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

This Sunday’s gospel is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). Most folks are familiar will this parable about a Father and his two sons.

OZinOH Prodigal Son IMG_0599, Flickr Creative Commons
OZinOH Prodigal Son IMG_0599, Flickr Creative Commons

The younger son asks for his inheritance and then wastes the money to the point of starvation. The Father compassionately welcomes him back. The “dutiful” stay-at-home elder son protests the welcome given to the younger son. At the end of the story, one wonders whether the older brother will be reconciled with the merciful Father.

Jesus addressed this parable to religious people who disliked Jesus’ table fellowship with “sinners.”

Here are some details about the story
that might help to hear it with ‘new ears”
this coming Sunday. *

  • In Jesus’ time, fathers were discouraged from distributing inheritance during their lifetime. But if he did , a father was still entitled to live off the proceeds while he lived. The younger son acts shamefully, effectively wishing the father were dead. That the father did not explode and discipline on the spot testifies to the depth of his love. The elder son is no better. Instead of protesting the inappropriate property division and refusing his share, he accepts it (v. 12). And he makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as culture demanded he should. His behavior is equally shameful.
  • pastorfergus.wordpress.com
    pastorfergus.wordpress.com

    The younger brother sinks deeper into shame. Losing his money to non-Judeans through wasteful spending makes things worse. He begins to starve. He tries to leech on to a wealthy patron who assigns him a repulsive job of feeding pigs. (Remember, pigs are considered unclean animals in the Jewish tradition.)

  • Still he starves. The carob pods fed to the pigs were the wild variety with bitter berries, nauseating and insufficiently nourishing to humans.
  • Coming to his senses, the younger son resolves return home to become a “hired servant” of his father.  He is willing to accept the shameful fact that the village will disown, reject and physically abuse him for taking his dad’s inheritance and before his death and then losing it to Gentiles. Nonetheless, the younger son judges this a small price to pay for life and food.
  • Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Return of the Prodigal Son
    Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Return of the Prodigal Son, Flickr Creative Commons

    The father acts in a way that is shocking for the culture of the time. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the gauntlet the village has prepared for the returning wayward son. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him on the cheeks, and heals the broken relationship between them. The best robe is certainly the Father’s. It will guarantee the son’s acceptance by the community at the banquet. The signet ring indicates enormous trust. The sandals are a sign of being a free man in the house, not a servant. (Servants and slaves did not wear sandals.) Killing the calf means the entire village will be invited and prodded toward forgiveness. This size animal can feed over 100 people.

  • Instead of honoring his father by accepting his  brother and playing his appropriate role as chief host at the meal, the elder son publicly insults and humiliates his father (vv. 28-30). The insults are jarring: he addresses his father without a respectful title; he speaks of himself as a “slave” and not a son (v29); he accuses the father of favoritism (him a calf, me not even a goat!); he refuses to acknowledge his brother (“this son of yours”; he invents the claim that his brother lived with prostitutes.
  • In effect, this elder son’s heart has always been elsewhere. He too wishes his Father were already dead.
  • Once again the father replies to the wayward son with love and acts of self-humiliation. He returns insult with an endearing “my child…” He assures him that his inheritance remains intact, and he invites the elder son to join the festivities.

Here the parable ends rather abruptly. What will the elder son do? That is the question the Pharisees and scribes and the modern believer must answer. This is really the story of two lost sons. One was lost, but found. The other… well, we just don’t know…

So, what would you do?

*Much of the background for the remarks in this reflection was found in The Cultural World of Jesus by John J. Pilch and in the Jerome Biblical Commentary.

Liturgical notes for Sunday:

This Sunday is called LAETARE SUNDAY. It is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we reach the mid-point of the Lenten season. The Mass vestments this Sunday are rose colored, rather than the usual Lenten purple.

catholichotdish.com
catholichotdish.com

The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when the Pope carried a single rose in his right hand when returning from Mass on this Sunday. At the time, the rose was a symbol of Christ due to both its being beautiful and yet being covered with thorns. The Pope’s carrying a rose was a visual reminder that the celebration of Christ’s Passion is not far off. Soon we will experience the beauty and the suffering (thorns) of Christ’s love for us.

While the Pope’s custom was abandoned, the symbolism continues through the rose colored vestments worn at Mass.

Holy Week and Easter are not far off. But it isn’t too late to make this Lenten season a time of personal renewal. Remember, the word “Lent” comes from the old English word for” springtime.” During this season, the liturgy invites us to experience a “springtime” from within, a new beginning within our souls. How will your spirit be renewed to embrace the joys and challenges of 2016?

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos, plus a stay-at-home mini retreat.

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Prayerful resources for your Lenten reflection

Lent is already well underway but perhaps you are still in need of ideas for your reflection. Click on any of the images below for blog posts, songs, videos podcast presentations and Flow Lesson exercises to enhance your Lenten experience:

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Do you have a particular spiritual practice that helps you draw closer to God? Please feel free to leave a comment and share–we can all use new suggestions!

And please–feel free to share on your social media:

twitter-graphic-transTweet: Here’s some great ideas for Lent–songs, videos, podcasts, prayerful exercises http://ctt.ec/2MP5O+

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May you have a blessed Lent and a Happy Easter!

 

Learning from temptation–Gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

I am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the story of the tempting (or testing) of Christ in the desert wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).
We’re told that after his baptism in the Jordan River but before undertaking his public ministry, that Jesus fasted for 40 days.
After his fast, he was tempted.

Luke describes three temptations:

  • To give into thinking that the needs of the body are all that matter;
  • To worship something or someone other than God (idolatry);
  • To try to manipulate or to control God.
http://www.bibleimages.ca

Bodily needs

The three temptations can be stated in another way: We can be tempted into believing that our bodily or physical needs are all always the most important, or the only ones. (And yet, we know that the world is full of well-fed, full-bellied, in-shape people who experience life as meaningless and without purpose. The soul matters.).

Forms of idolatry

We can be tempted into making our work, our popularity, or money, our possessions, or a whole host of other things, the center and goal of our lives. (But this is simply a form of idolatry. God calls us to a more abundant path of love. But God sets the priorities along the path. We neither invent nor determine them.).

Trying to control God

Finally, we can be tempted into trying to manipulate God into serving our purposes. (“I’m a good person, I go to church, I give to the poor. But I smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day. I’m sure God will take care of my health and protect me from any illnesses. “I know my son drinks excessively and drives. But I put a Miraculous medal on the dashboard. I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Oh really?)

In the wilderness, (and at other times in his ministry) Jesus was tempted in ways similar to these.

All are tested

What we can forget is that this story is the story of every Christian. In the wilderness of the world, each of us has and will be tested. Sometimes we resist, sometimes we fail.

treat-depression.com

And, what’s more: In every age, the Church has been tempted in these ways. And in every generation, the Church resists and the Church succumbs to the temptations. That’s because the Church is made up of imperfect, sometimes weak people, like us.

Temptations are part of our journey through life. The Gospel on Sunday tells us that there would be more ahead for Jesus. (That’s the last line of the Gospel!) Doing what is right is sometimes a struggle; even like an inner battle of sorts. Temptations can teach us a lot about ourselves too.

But God’s Spirit leads us, as it did Jesus.

Pray to resist evil

We pray that this same Spirit would impart the grace to resist what is evil. When we fail, may the Spirit lift us and give us what we need to mend what we have broken or injured.

Above all else, may that Spirit give us vision to see beyond the wilderness of this imperfect, broken world.

Eyes to see that eternal, undying Easter, where God’s love has triumphed over our every test.

Amen.

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As we begin Lent – entering into the wilderness in word and song

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about Lent:

The word “Lent” is derived from the old English word for “springtime.”

The word gives us a clue as to what Lent is all about.

Lent is about a “springtime” and rebirth of new life.

It is not so much a season in the external world but a season of renewal and new life within individuals, relationships and communities. Lent is about Christ calling you to springtime (new life) within yourself! Lent is the Church’s springtime.

Jen Gallardo In Bloom, Flickr Creative Commons
Jen Gallardo In Bloom, Flickr Creative Commons
On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the foreheads of Christians.

Ashes evoke death and mortality. But ashes are also used as a cleansing agent and as fertilizer for gardens. We begin our journey of Lent by reminding ourselves of the fragility of life and of own mortality. As the old proverb goes: “No one really starts to live until he or she squarely faces death.”

en.wikipedia.org
en.wikipedia.org
Lent lasts 40 days.

The number 40 calls to mind the 40 days of rain during Noah’s flood, when evil was drowned and earth was washed clean. It calls to mind the 40 years the Hebrew people journeyed in the wilderness to the promised land. Also, Moses, Elijah and Jesus are said to have fasted 40 days to prepare them for their mission. The days of Lent are often compared to a journey. That means that at the end of Lent we should expect to find ourselves somewhere different from where we started.

Lent is not just about “trying harder” or “giving up.”

Lent is about re-awakening the presence of God in our lives. It invites us to “spring clean” our lives: throw out the rubbish and reclaim the spirit within that appreciates being alive;  letting go of the “junk” that gets in the way of loving in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Here is a song of mine you can pray with as you enter into Lent called “Lead Me to the Wilderness.”

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Some ways we can observe Lent:

Fast from TV and computer.

Television and electronic devices now absorb 40% of our free time. Take some of that time back and use it with your family or be with your friends. Go to a meeting or group where your voice needs to be heard on behalf of children, the mentally ill, the rights of the unborn, poor families, or those dealing with addictions. Volunteer where you are needed.

Fast from eating on the run.

Make eating together a priority during Lent. When we eat together, more than food passes between us. We share our lives, difficulties and delights. We create bonds and strengthen relationships. Commit to eating with others at least twice a week. Invite people who might otherwise eat alone to share lunch or dinner with you.

Fast on Fridays.

Catholics are enjoined to abstain from meat on Fridays. The point is not to simply substitute jumbo shrimp or Maine Lobster for steak!  (What sacrifice is there in that?  C’mon now!)  The point is to eat a simple meal by subtracting the meat part. Then take the monies saved and give to an organization that helps fight hunger or one that feeds the hungry like the St. John’s Food Pantry. Vegetarians can join in by eating more simply and donating what is saved to a relief agency.

Simplify your Life.

Do you have more clothes than you need? Is your attic or basement full of unused stuff? Are your children’s closets brimming with unused toys and games? Consider cleaning out part of your home and donating the unused stuff to a local charity as a Lenten project for your family. The Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Worcester accepts used clothing. The Urban Missionaries of the Poor in Worcester will use unwanted furniture to assist needy families. (Think of this: there is a scientific connection between “clutter” in your home and your stress level. De-cluttering can be a first step in de-stressing your life. There is peace in simplifying. What a wonderful way to observe Lent.)

simplify-your-real-estate-life-at-maximum-one-realtors
from maximumonerealty.wordpress.com
Reach Out.

Make life more welcoming to others . Visit a shut-in or are an elderly relative or neighbor. Offer some time to helping a family or an individual dealing with a personal loss. Run some errands for someone who can’t get out of the house. Drive someone to their doctor’s appointment. Walk the Stations of the Cross in church. While walking, think about a person who is carrying a heavy cross in life. Let that person know you are praying for them.

Examine your Consciousness.

At some point each day sit still. Turn off the devices. Tune out the noise. Breathe in, and breathe out. Allow yourself to be still for a while. Savor the quietness. Ask yourself how God may have been teaching you something this day. What have I learned today? Do any regrets surface that I could act upon? Am I holding on to any negativity? What am I grateful for? What could I change within myself to face tomorrow with more energy and hope? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you with this.

Listen Attentively.

Give to a spouse, a child or a friend 15-30 minutes of undivided attention. No cell phone interruptions. No texting. Make no comments, positive or negative; give no advice. Just give the gift of listening. Ask questions to clarify only. Attentive listening can help a person sort out a problem or recognize a desire or a direction by simply hearing it aloud. Pray regularly for the grace to be a good listener.

Reflect and learn.

my life with the saintsjesus a pilgrimageTake the time to reflect on the scriptures proclaimed at Mass. Participate in a Bible Study. Or,  go to www.sacredspace.ie for a daily reflection on the scripture from your computer. Or, read a bestselling book like My Life With the Saints or Jesus: A Pilgrimage both by James Martin. Or, take some of the Lenten materials available in the vestibule of the church and use them daily. Participate in our Jewish Passover Seder Meal on March 6th and learn about the Jesus’ faith and the Jewish roots of our Catholic Mass and understand the Mass more deeply

Contemplate Beauty.

The media bombards us daily with images of violence and corruption. Entertainment is often focused on what is most “shocking” in order to attract attention. Have you neglected to incorporate “beauty” into your daily regimen? Go to a lecture, hear a concert, see a play, visit a museum.  Gaze upon the beauty of human creativity. Go outside. Take weekly or daily walks and look around..really look around. Take in the beauty of creation. Be grateful for being able to take it in. Sit quietly in church. Look at the beauty of the artwork. Think about all the people that have prayed there before you.  Open the hymnal before Mass. Prayerfully read the lyrics of the hymns for Mass. They are inspired poetry. What might they be saying to us? Go to Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer and listen to calming chant of the monks there.

These are but a few ideas on what you might incorporate into your Lenten practice this year.

Everyone is in a different place in life. So the practice will be different for each person.

What matters is that we dare to do something that will open us more deeply to the presence of God and the gift of life so that we may grow more deeply in faith, hope and love.

If we have grown, even a little, to live in the Spirit of Jesus our  Lenten ‘springtime” will not have been in vain.

May Lent lead you to an Easter of new life. Amen.

Visit the Lenten Resources Page

Be sure and check out the Lenten Resources page with videos, podcasts and songs for your meditation. I will be posting material periodically throughout Lent – keep the page bookmarked for your convenience.

Be sure and check out the Flow Lessons; they are also wonderful exercises for your Lenten reflection.

May you have a blessed and fruitful Lent!

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Honoring our roots as Christians–Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-2; gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

The gospel this coming weekend tells us that Jesus while in Nazareth went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. At the appointed time, he was handed a scroll from which he read the appointed reading for the day.

Jesus was a Jew. Sometimes Christians forget this: Jesus was a Jew.

Jesus was raised in a Jewish home. Like all Jewish males, he was circumcised. When he was 13, he had a Bar Mitzvah. He celebrated Hanukkah and Passover. He learned the Hebrew scriptures. He prayed the psalms. He made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. And today, we’re told that he was in the habit of going to the Synagogue on the Sabbath.

Last Sunday, Pope Francis visited the Synagogue of Rome. He reminded those present that there is an inseparable bond between Christians and Jews. He spoke of how Christians and Jews are called to work together to overcome all forms of violence and terror.

But he added a rather interesting observation:

“In order to understand themselves, Christians must understand their Jewish roots.” In other words, if you want to understand what it means to be a Christian, you have to seek to understand the faith out of which the Church was born. And the Church was born within a Jewish matrix.”

Javier Jewish praying
Javier Jewish praying, Flickr Creative Commons

Think about these simple facts:

  • One reason why we sing or say the responsorial Psalm at every Mass is because the psalms are the prayers that Jesus grew up with. When you pray the psalms you are praying what Jesus actually prayed.
  • When the deacon or priest carries the Gospel book to the lectern at Mass, he is imitating the rabbi carrying the Torah scroll to the reading desk.
  • The unleavened bread we use during Mass, evokes the unleavened matzo bread of the Jewish Passover, reminding us that we are all called to leave behind “Egypt” –whatever places or relationships that imprison, enslave or oppress. “Exodus” is a on-going part of life.

As a Jew, Jesus understood that God had intervened in human history; that the human story was not arbitrary or meaningless. We Christians see the human drama, despite its tragedies, as headed toward an ultimate fulfillment and destiny. That’s why hope is characteristic of a Christian.

And there’s so much more…

  • How could someone tell the story of your life without understanding what means to be a 21st century American?
  • So, how can we claim to understand Jesus and his message without understanding his Jewish faith?
  • How could we say that we really know someone, without striving to understand from what and where they come?

Let’s pray for a Church that honors her roots;

  • for an openness to understanding more about our connection with the Jewish faith;
  • for a future where we find strength for living from the wisdom our past;
  • and for overcoming the amnesia that would keep us from understanding who we are.

Amen.

A personal note

st. joseph rectory
from The Catholic Free Press

I would like to extend to Father Steven and his parishioners a hearty congratulations for the reopening of the fully renovated rectory at Holy Family! Three of the four suites in the home will be used to house retired priests. This is the first time that I can recall a parish literally being brought back from the dead (Holy Family is housed at St. Joseph’s Church on Hamilton Street, once slated for closing in the 1990’s, and saved by the parishioners). This is indeed a happy occasion! You can read more about this amazing story at the Catholic Free Press website.

Heaven on earth: What is the Ad Orientem mass? What is it like to experience it?

Today I am attending mass at Father Steven LaBaire’s parish, Holy Family in Worcester. Father Steven sent out his weekly newsletter which announced that today’s mass would be celebrated “Ad Orientum.”

Just what is “Ad Orientum?” I will let Father Steven explain.

altar

  • Ad Orientem is the practice of the priest turned toward the altar and the crucifix at Mass whenever the priest is addressing God. Whenever, the priest addresses the people, he turns toward the people. This is the way that our liturgy was celebrated for over 1800 years. It is still the normal way of celebrating Mass in Eastern Catholic churches. Pope Benedict revived the practice. Pope Francis occasionally continues it. Bishop McManus has also celebrated Mass Ad Orientem recently at Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The practice is continued in numerous church and cathedrals all over the world.

preparing altar+ Does this mean the priest is celebrating the Mass with his back to us? Not really. He could only “have his back to us” if we were the center of his attention at Mass. But we aren’t. God is. So the priest simply faces the altar as the leader and representative before God and we are all united in the same direction and posture. Together we gaze upon the altar and cross—the symbols of Christ. Appropriately, when the priest addresses the people he faces the congregation.

+But this means I won’t see the priest’s face at some point during the Mass? That’s correct. But let’s remember that facing the same direction helps us focus our attention on God rather than on the priest.  Praying the Mass ad orientem makes the mass less about the personality of the priest and more about the mystery that he stands in the person of Christ the High Priest, with us and for us. The man who is the priest disappears within the vestments (that’s part of their purpose)and when we do not see his face, we are more free to concentrate on God before us.  Worship is about focusing on God.

Think of it this way: if someone points out a beautiful flower or a star in the night sky to you, do you look at him or what he’s pointing to? Just so with Ad orientem worship. The priest is pointing us to God. Look where he’s pointing, and less at the one pointing.

+Didn’t Vatican II change all this? This is a common point of confusion. While celebrating the entire Mass with the priest facing the people has become the primary way of celebrating Mass  since the Council, ad orientem remains an accepted and time honored way of celebrating the liturgy. Each practice highlights different theological values. The way we celebrate most commonly today highlights the altar and Christ at the center. Ad Orientem highlights our being pilgrims with the priest leading and  pointing toward Christ. Both practices attest to the richness of the liturgy.

consecrating the host and wine

  • Why are we celebrating Ad Orientem on this Sunday? The phrase Ad Orientem means ‘toward the east.” Christians for centuries prayed facing in a common direction toward the east. East signified Jerusalem and the breaking light of dawn. Of course, Christ is the light of the world. So, together, we look east to be reminded of the light of Christ. Churches were often constructed so that everyone faced east. When this was impossible, at very least everyone faced the altar and the cross, together. So on the final days of Advent, we will turn together toward Christ as we prepare to celebrate his coming.
Prescott Pym Kioloa Bay Sunrise, Flickr Creative Commons
Prescott Pym Kioloa Bay Sunrise, Flickr Creative Commons

Impressions

The mass was beautiful. It gave me a sense of transcending this world and capturing a glimpse of heaven. There were times when I could not sing the hymns because I was crying.

It was a wonderful way to bring the Advent season to a close and welcome the birth of our Lord on Christmas morning. In his homily, Father Steven mentioned that December 25 is the day that the sun is just a bit brighter and the day, a tad longer than the night. How appropriate as we meditate on the light of the world in Jesus Christ, here on earth, present in our hearts.

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Healed of Christmases Past–the cure is in plain view

Here is my December column for the Catholic Free Press.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It’s here. The Christmas season. How does this make you feel?

Is it excitement as in days of old when you were a child?

Or, is it long to-do lists that never end? Shopping till we drop? Noise and chaos and endless obligations that make us tired and cranky while all the while we are told to be “merry?”

Is it dread, trying to stretch limited financial resources to fulfill gift obligations? Is it regret, frustration and guilt that we cannot buy what we wish for our loved ones?

Is it loneliness? Are we missing someone, loved ones who have died or moved away? Do we feel empty, sad or bitter?

Miguel Fraga, Flickr Creative Commons
Miguel Fraga, Flickr Creative Commons

The Christmas season evokes powerful memories and emotions, magnifying every joy as well as all the hurt, disappointment and loss we have experienced in our lives. Our reaction to any unattended and festering wounds will be visited upon everyone around us, especially those we love.

Tucked away in the midst of all this is a liturgical season often overlooked: Advent. It is the antithesis of a chaotic, noisy commercial Christmas; a soothing and sanguine contrast to a season clouded by wounds and losses. Advent does not look mournfully to the past; it draws our attention to a hopeful future while being firmly rooted in the here and now.

Jorbasa Fotografie 4. Advent 2011, Flickr Creative Commons
Jorbasa Fotografie 4. Advent 2011, Flickr Creative Commons

Advent features the key players of our faith: Mary, Joseph and of course, Jesus Christ. It features some of the most moving and poetic passages from the Bible–prophesies of old heralding the coming of the Messiah as the shoot of Jesse, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and of strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (from Isaiah 11).

Barta IV Jesus Joseph Mary, Flickr Creative Commons
Barta IV Jesus Joseph Mary, Flickr Creative Commons

It documents the greatest act of obedience in history when a young virgin accepts the invitation from God to bear his Son. That obedience is not an onerous “do not” but a joyful “I do!” as evidenced by Mary’s rushing to the side of her kinswoman Elizabeth (thought barren yet pregnant) and spontaneously praising God with her and the babes in their wombs in the exquisite prayer of the Magnificat.

It illustrates sublime acts of trust, surrender, generosity and courage in Joseph who fully embraces the responsibility of taking Mary to be his wife despite the fact that she is carrying a child not his own. Going against the grain of longstanding tradition and enduring the naysayers, he knows there is a bigger picture to consider: Mary’s child is God’s Son. And he makes room for them.

So how does all of this help to sooth frazzled nerves, heal the wounds of Christmases past and fill empty and grieving hearts?

I can’t say how specifically. I only know that each year as I focus on Advent and turn away from a commercial Christmas, I have felt that soothing, that healing. My empty heart is filled.

I still grieve for loved ones. I still struggle with squeezing out the last dollar. I still battle with a heart that is small (although it is growing). I only know that the other day when I went to the Christmas Tree shop to finish off a gift basket for church, I felt serene, even enjoying the experience. To me, the Christmas Tree shop is the quintessential representation of a frazzled, noisy, chaotic commercial Christmas. And yet I felt deep contentment.

It’s the fruit of Advents past, reflecting on the readings, listening to the music, and looking to Mary and Joseph as the examples. Philippians 4:8 sums it up perfectly: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (NIV)

Immersion into the refuge of Advent has healed my Christmas.

Be a Light: Living Christmas through Advent by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

The Advent wreath, located on the right side of the sanctuary is a centuries-old Christian tradition.

Christine McIntosh Advent wreath completed, Flickr Creative Commons
Christine McIntosh Advent wreath completed, Flickr Creative Commons

The wreath itself is rich in symbolism: Evergreens signify undying life; life even amidst the barrenness of winter.

The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning and no end, symbolizes the eternity of God, and everlasting life found in Christ.

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent.

Three candles are violet and one is rose. The violet candles represent the color of the sky before sunrise; a sign of hope and a new beginning.

The rose candle lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, signifies the joy that hope and a new beginning bring.

The progressive lighting of the candles expresses light overcoming darkness; the light of Christ conquering whatever is contrary to love, mercy and compassion.

Of course, the wreath is meant to signify what Christ calls us to do: Bring light to wherever there is darkness.

Darkness is not confined to San Bernadino, California or Paris, or to the hearts of those who would wish us or anyone harm.

All kinds of shadows and shades of darkness can be found around us:

  • In the home where a child is beaten by hands or by hurtful words;
  • In the office where injustices and dishonesty are overlooked in the name of profit;
  • In the loveless marriage where partners are deaf to the needs of the one they promised to love and cherish;
  • In the residence where the elderly waste away, abandoned by their families;
  • On the playing field sidelines where the push to win the game at all costs, crushes a child’s feelings;
  •  Among friends when an addiction is never addressed;
  •  In our mouths when we speak criticism without being willing to help in the solution;
  • In cyberspace when a 14 year feels as if her reputation has been destroyed;
  • In popular culture, when prayer is mocked and faith is labeled as a “weakness of the intellect.”
  • In that family, where the gay son has been disowned and told that he does not belong;
  • Or, in a parish, when numbers of people and the almighty dollar are more important than fidelity to what Christ taught.
martinak15 83/365 Light in the Darkness, Flickr Creative Commons
martinak15 83/365 Light in the Darkness, Flickr Creative Commons

None of us are strangers to shadows. We pass through them every day.

Advent beckons us to bring light to wherever there is darkness, whatever be the shade.

How are you being called to bring  “light” to someone, somewhere?

Pray for an increase of light. Pray for the nerve (and for the energy) to be that light.

Amen.
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Hope in the midst of darkness – Isaiah 29: 17-24

Thus says the Lord GOD:
But a very little while,
and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard,
and the orchard be regarded as a forest!
On that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book;
And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.
The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD,
and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

auntjojo Surely..., Flickr Creative Commons
auntjojo Surely…, Flickr Creative Commons

For the tyrant will be no more
and the arrogant will have gone;
All who are alert to do evil will be cut off,
those whose mere word condemns a man,
Who ensnare his defender at the gate,
and leave the just man with an empty claim.
Therefore thus says the LORD,
the God of the house of Jacob,
who redeemed Abraham:
Now Jacob shall have nothing to be ashamed of,
nor shall his face grow pale.
When his children see
the work of my hands in his midst,
They shall keep my name holy;
they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob,
and be in awe of the God of Israel.
Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding,
and those who find fault shall receive instruction.

from http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120415.cfm, Friday of the First Week of Advent

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Join Susan on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 4pm at The Barrow Bookstore in Concord. MA
for book signing/launch of Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

Book #2 is here! Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message book signing this Sunday in Concord, MA

barrow bookstore with books

Louisa May Alcott:Illuminated by The Message is here!

Book Signing/Launch this Sunday, Dec. 6, 4 pm (I will also be signing copies of River of Grace – bring yours!)
Short presentation followed by conversation and signing.
The Barrow Bookstore, 79 Main Street, Concord, MA (rear of the building, behind Fritz & Giggi)

introduction graphic

Part of the Literary Portals to Prayer series by ACTA Publications.
Other classic authors in the series include Elizabeth McGaskell, William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

You can purchase your copy of Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message online: Regular edition and Large Print available. Makes a great gift!

See you on Sunday!

00 twitter profile 400x400both books river first-640Join my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
to subscribe to this blog.
Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.