Advent 2021

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            As we begin the second week of Advent, how are the preparations for Christmas going? Did anyone get a Christmas tree already? The possibility of not getting a tree in California moved my wife and me to buy one on November 30.

            Ordering gifts online or shopping in person this year? Getting those Christmas cards out early? Putting up decorations to create the traditional Christmas cheer early? Doing everything to avoid another Covid Christmas?

            It sounds reasonable and sane if you answered yes to all of the above. But how are we preparing for the arrival of the Prince of Peace on December 25th ?

            To focus on Christ this Christmas, I selected a theme for Advent: Peace on Earth and Good Will to All. Given the continuous stream of ugly, violent, and hateful behavior that seems to dominate media headlines, I thought I would focus my prayers on Peace.

            A specific prayer I say every day is the Prayer of St Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury,  pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy  

Oh Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
In pardoning that we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  

            The prayer identifies many obstacles to peace and offers the solution to overcoming that obstacle. Clearly, the first obstacle, hatred, needs to be reflected on.

            Hatred takes many forms. If we’re angry with someone and harbor that anger with no intention of release, we are filled with hatred for the object of our anger. The object may be a person, an organization, an ethnic group, a religious group, a political party, etc. If the anger is long term and involves avoiding the object of our disgust, it is actually hatred. Not all forms of hatred involve violence in word and/or deed.

            The challenge of love overcoming hatred is God’s greatest challenge to us. It is nearly impossible to love our enemies without the grace of God. Of course, if God is one of the objects of hate, there is no source of love available. The only way to tap into that divine source of love is to speak to God: Pray. And I don’t mean say a few prayers and then look to God and say: ”OK. I asked for the grace to love my enemies and I don’t feel anything yet. Why is this taking so long? This is why I don’t talk to God.”

            There is no instant gratification in prayer. A commitment to embracing God in dialogue is necessary. It is a two-way communication where God replies by helping us identify the real source of our anger. This dialogue is actually built on the grace God provides to open our hearts to trust Him. Patience is more than a virtue; it is the lifeblood of a metanoia from hate to love.  

            The extreme example of love in action is Jesus Christ on the cross. He didn’t curse his accusers or those disciples who abandoned Him. Jesus asked His Father to forgive them. By doing this, He made it clear that He forgave them. The most significant act in the metanoia to love is forgiveness. Remember, “to err is human, to forgive is divine”.

            Of course this leads directly to the next line in the prayer: “Where there is injury, pardon.” Another virtue essential to forgiving is humility. If I hurt someone because “I wanted to teach them a lesson” or because “I was just filled with my importance and insensitive to them”, I need the grace of God to soften my hardened heart. Pray for it and wait for it!

            The other obstacles of doubt, despair, darkness, and sadness can only be removed if we have begun to love. By sharing faith, hope, light, and joy we are actually loving our neighbor as ourself. Of course, unless we can forgive ourselves, we will not be open to accepting God’s forgiveness. Without accepting God’s forgiveness, we simply preserve our hardened hearts. The phrase “God forgives, I don’t” kills the possibility of love.

            Take some time from the busy Christmas social-prep schedule and reflect on this Prayer of St. Francis as a spiritual-prep for Christmas Day. Pray for Peace on Earth and Good Will to All, especially the family and friends with whom we share our life. Take a minute to share a blessing with everyone we meet during Advent.

            “Have a Blessed Christmas and A Joyful New Year.”

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