Papal Patience and Holy Waiting in Advent

4.2.7Tonight I will host a viewing of “I Would Be Called John,” a one man play about Pope John XXIII, starring Charles Durning. Written by Eugene Kennedy and shot in 1986, the show aired on PBS during September of 1987.

It was interesting to watch the film a few times in preparation, and to hear some of Bl. John XXIII’s ideas, hopes, dreams, and prayers for our Church. His life was certainly interesting, growing up as the son of a tenant farmer, then his life in the Church. He was a humble man and that humility came with him to the Vatican. Pope John XXIII’s focus was very much on how to make a faith real for people.

One thing that struck me is that he wanted hearts and minds that were fully engaged with faith and with the world – and that meant not only transforming the Church for those of us who are members of the Body of Christ, but also for the Curia and those in the Vatican. He had an almost mischievous intensity about what the Holy Spirit urged him to do, something that had been brewing in him for a lifetime of service.

So what?

This also came to mind…  I am constantly amazed by the over-the-top praise (OK, I have done it myself…) and over-the-top criticism of Pope Francis. As I watched the movie and saw what Pope John XXIII was up to, I saw a connection to what Pope Francis is up to. I also saw connections to what the four popes in between were up to, as well. It is all God’s work in the world, through Christ and by the Holy Spirit. Each moment is but a moment, just like we are all members of the Body of Christ.

We are in this season of Advent waiting, the Holy Waiting that we are called to by God. If we think that all of this is happening on our timetable and in our lives, think again. We sit in the shade of trees that were tiny seeds entering the earth a long time ago. So it is with faith, our lives are the seeds of future growth.

This year I am experiencing a rare form of patience, one typically unknown to me. How grateful I am to have been asked to facilitate this movie night, because it led me to see Pope John XXIII in a deeper light – and Advent too. I think of him, that he must have known that the seeds he scattered back then, would take a long time to grow. What hope, what waiting, what patience! From saplings to the ancient woodland forest, God’s work is everywhere. Like Advent, seeds spread long ago, still germinating, still growing, still taking root to this day.  May we all find the peace of Advent in that long arc of grace, God forever at work in this world.

(The DVD “I Would Be Called John” will be shown at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday, December 11, 2013, at 10 AM, hosted by Deacon Michael Melanson, and again at 7 PM, hosted by me. Viewings will take place in the Flicker Room, at the Parish Center. There is no admission, but donations are always gratefully accepted. All are welcome!)


Waiting in Hope

elsalvador“The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave… Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.” – Jean Donovan

On this day in 1980, those known as the Four Church Women of El Salvador were martyred. Ursuline Sister, Dorothy Kazel, Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, and lay missioner, Jean Donovan ministered to the poor in El Salvador, during a most treacherous time in that land. For their efforts, uniting with the very least of God’s people, who were apparently a threat to those in power. For this they were summarily executed.

The opening quotation, from Jean Donovan, sums up a powerful theme of Advent. Patience and hope in the face of the worst times. We tend to associate this kind of thing more with Lent, but make no mistake, this what Advent calls us to.

Following Christ is often the most unreasonable thing we can do, yet we are called to follow him. Perhaps you will reflect on the words that Donovan left for us, reminding us to look at our conscience before we turn away from the challenging, the uncomfortable, and other difficult moments we face.

Today, let our Advent prayers root us in prayerful hope, patience, and witness, a time of Holy Waiting in the darkness, knowing that the Light will come.


Holy Waiting and Holy Waking

Advent1Holy Waiting – that is how I have been walking and praying with Advent thus far. As a writer, like it or not, I don’t always get to live in the “present moment.” My thoughts, due to published works such as these books, or this prayer guide (coming in May 2014), not to mention the blogs, are often on liturgical seasons and days that we are not living – in just yet. So, I have had Advent on my mind for some time now.

This year I feel Advent, with a different depth than in the past, as Holy Waiting. It is a time that we keep watch for the dawn, like sentinels! And what happens when we are on overnight watch duty? We get sleepy… very, very sleepy. We are called to wait, and we are called to be awake. Holy Waiting and Holy Waking! As someone who can fall asleep just about anywhere, at any time, this is a real challenge for me.

10100258077472562Today is a bridge of sorts, as we cross out of the territory of Thanksgiving, and into the days of Advent. We are in a liminal space, a passage. I remember when I walked from Israel into Jordan. There is a buffered border between the countries, with a fence on either side of a pathway. You are neither here nor there as you cross, having left one place before you arrive at the next. It is an odd feeling, as you glance back to where you were, and you look ahead to where you will be.

That is where we are today, this liminal space, of neither here nor there. Yes, we are still in Ordinary time, true enough, but somehow it feels different already. I think that I am in need of some Holy Patience today, until the sun begins to set and Advent is upon us.

My prayer is that we all journey well, and that we find ourselves waiting and waking up. For now, we simply make our way, fellow pilgrims on the journey.