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Fr. Bauer's Blog
At daily Mass a few weeks ago, the Gospel focused on John the Baptist. After reading the gospel, I told the story of a priest in our diocese many years ago who loved to talk. I had only been ordained a year or so when I first experienced this priest. At any and every opportunity he never missed the chance to share his thoughts and ideas concerning just about anything. He liked to think of himself as akin to John the Baptist—a prophetic voice for his time. It didn’t take me very long to realize, though, that he really wasn’t much of a prophet. Rather he was just an irascible man who, I think, enjoyed irritating people. I never learned the backstory of this priest. I suspect, as with all of us, there was a reason for his behavior. I did learn, though, never to sit anywhere near him whenever there was a gathering (large or small) of priests.
I do believe that prophetic voices still exist in our midst. These voices call to us in each of our lives. In helping to distinguish these voices, I’d like to suggest that there are at least three things that are common to these prophetic voices. The first is that their call comes from God. To be a prophetic voice it isn’t enough that an individual has something to say. Rather the impetus to say something comes from outside themselves. It comes from God. And if the prophets from the Old Testament are any indication, most often the person who receives a call to be a prophet is, at least initially, reluctant to respond to that call.
The second thing that is common to prophets is that while their message may irritate or upset people, there is a sense that there is something “right” about what they are saying. For myself, there have been numerous times in my life when I have not much liked what someone has told me, yet in the depth of my heart, I knew what they were saying had a truth for me and that, much as I disliked it, I needed to hear it.
The third thing about prophets is that they call people to see things in a new/different way, or to see a bigger reality. It is very easy for us to get so locked into a particular perspective or view of things/people. Prophets, though, call us to set aside our beliefs and presumptions, and to see things differently. They invite us to reformate our way of thinking/living and see things from a new perspective.
Now I mention the above, because as we begin a new year, I would like to suggest that it would be a good resolution for all of us to try to be open to those prophetic voices that speak and call to us in each of our lives. These are the voices that come to us from God. They call us to go beyond our comfort zones, to see things differently and to make some changes in our lives. And as noted above, we don’t have to like those prophetic voices that God sends into our lives. I do believe, though, that we will be better people if we hear and respond to them.
Last month the Bishops of the United States approved a document on the Eucharist entitled: “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.” The document is divided into two sections: “Christ’s gift of Himself in the Eucharist and our response to that gift.” The debate over the document was not without controversy, particularly around the issue of who is eligible to receive communion. In the end, however, the bishops decided (wisely) not to wade into those waters.
I very much liked the title of the document. In my initial reading of it, I was struck in particular by two sentences: “Having been sanctified by the gift of the Eucharist and filled with faith, hope, and charity, the faithful are called to respond to this gift. Indeed, it is only natural that we give thanks to the Lord for all that He has given to us.” I think the recognition of the Eucharist as a gift is not just significant, but of ultimate importance.
As Catholics, we believe that Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist. Not present just in memory, not present just symbolically, and not present just spiritually, but really and truly present. How this can be we don’t know. That it can be is our abiding belief. It is an act of faith. And faith as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews is: “Confident assurance of what we hope for; conviction about things we do not see.” (Hebrews 11.1) In the Eucharist we receive the Body of Christ so that we might be and bring the Body of Christ to the world.
The Eucharist is truly Christ’s gift of Himself to us. And as we all know - or should know - we don’t earn gifts; we don’t merit them. We can only accept them graciously and with gratitude. Perhaps most importantly, though, we should never judge another person’s worthiness to receive a gift. Specifically regarding the Eucharist we need to remember that Christ is the host of the table. We are all guests. At best, priests are just part of the wait staff, and as John Whitney, a Jesuit priest in Seattle, wrote back in June: “The wait staff doesn’t get to exclude those who want to come.”
Now, I want to be clear. I am not suggesting that priests should invite anyone and everyone to receive communion. I am suggesting that priests (and others) should not make judgements about the worthiness of those who present themselves for communion. As a wise priest told me many years ago: “You don’t know what has happened in someone’s life in the past five minutes. It is not up to you to judge someone’s worthiness to receive communion.”
A few weeks ago a friend sent me a copy of an essay from The New York Times written by Michael O’Loughlin, a correspondent for a Catholic news organization and a gay man. Two sentences in the essay were very important for me: “With the U.S. bishops meeting in Baltimore this week, following months of debate about the worthiness of some Catholics to receive Communion, I’ve realized that personally, I stay in the church mostly for the Eucharist, that ritual during Mass when I believe the divine transcends our ordinary lives and God is present. I haven’t found that elsewhere.”
While there are many things I disagree with about our Church, the Eucharist holds me bound. I can’t imagine my life without it. I can’t find it anywhere else. And so on the great Feast of Christmas, let us be mindful of the gift of the Eucharist. And let us pray that we might accept this gift with great humility and deep gratitude that Christ has chosen to share Himself with us in this wonderful sacrament.
From the Pastor
With this column I would like to update you in regard to several areas of our parish’s life.
1. Archdiocesan Synod: A few weeks ago I received a report on how the Synod small group process was going at The Basilica. Below is a synopsis of that report.
The Basilica hosted three Synod session opportunities this fall. Each met for six two hour sessions—two on Zoom (Wednesday morning and Thursday evening) and one on campus on Sunday mornings following the 9:30am liturgy. We also had two groups which were ministry specific: a book club and a young adult Bible study. Approximately 35-45 people attended the sessions, down from a registration and early attendance number of about 65. A number of staff attended as well. The age range for the groups was 20s-80s. The sessions followed the Archdiocesan provided path, using prayer, teaching and individual sharing and discussion, followed by participant feedback which was sent to the Archdiocese. As you might expect, reactions to the process were varied. Some people were pleased with the Synod process and content, and others were disappointed. Concerns were expressed that the “listening” promised by the Archdiocese failed to materialize.
The above was in contrast to the Archdiocesan listening sessions in 2019 which were well attended. Those sessions were vibrant and crowded, and surfaced many important issues for our local church. Those attending the Synod small groups felt that what was said at the earlier listening sessions was not included in the Synod’s main themes, and thus not discussed in the small groups. Additionally, there was almost no opportunity to submit original ideas or responses. Many of those who signed up for the Synod small groups did so because of their concerns for our Church. And one of their major concerns was that bishops need to listen to all the people, not just the people they want to hear from.
People from The Basilica who attended the Synod small groups did so because they love our church and they have true and serious concerns for our Archdiocese and the global church. Whether the Synod will deliver on the promise many felt was possible remains to be seen. I am grateful for the efforts of those who participated in the listening sessions, or a Synod small group, as well the overall Synod process.
2. The Basilica Fund: During the months of October and November we ask all parishioners to make a pledge of financial support for our parish. While I am very much aware of the many requests for financial support we all receive, I am hopeful that The Basilica will be near the top of your list in terms of your financial support. It is your ongoing, consistent financial support that makes it possible for us to offer the many programs, services and ministries that are at the heart of our Basilica parish.
The Basilica has been, and will continue to be, a place that welcomes all those who come through our doors, a place that reaches out to those in need, a place that helps us grow in our understanding of and relationship with God, and a place where we recognize and celebrate the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in each other.
I want to thank to all those who have made a commitment of financial support to our parish community during our financial stewardship campaign this fall. Please know your commitment of financial support to our parish community is greatly appreciated.
In regard to our parish finances, as I write this column we are behind in our anticipated income at this point in our fiscal year. Our Finance Committee monitors our income and expenses closely, so if it becomes necessary, we can make the appropriate decisions about balancing our parish budget. I am hopeful that with our collections at Christmas and with year-end giving we will be back on track with our projected income. Thank you to all of those who support our Basilica community financially. Please know of my great gratitude for your ongoing financial support.
3. Staff Changes: On a sad note, a few weeks ago we said goodbye to Travis Salisbury, our Coordinator of Liturgical Celebrations for almost 20 years. During this time Travis as been an integral and crucial part of our Liturgy Team and our parish. To say he will be missed would be a gross understatement. While we are indeed sad to see Travis leave The Basilica, we are excited for him as he moves on to the next stage of his life and career. We wish him well and pray that God will bless him abundantly.
On a happier note, I am pleased to report that Ramónd Mitchell has accepted the position of Coordinator of Liturgical Celebrations. Ramónd is a native of the Bahamas. He studied at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN. While there he interned at The Basilica during his two last summers. He spent a year studying and working in Rome. Currently he is Director of Liturgy at a church in London. Ramónd loves the liturgy, and he has a great passion for working with volunteer ministers.
4. Maintenance at The Basilica: This summer and fall we have been busy with a variety of maintenance projects at The Basilica. Some of the smaller projects have included adding more needlepoint bipolar ionization units in the Church, The Basilica School and in other rooms on our campus. These units clean and sanitize the air of Covid-19 allergens and other molds and allergens. We have also installed a permanent desk in The Basilica for our livestreaming equipment. Additionally, we are adding more exterior security cameras with upgraded technology. We have also added livestream capabilities to our chapel and have made some tech upgrades in some of our other meeting rooms. Going forward, we want to offer high quality virtual and hybrid ministry experiences. These upgrades are in progress in four rooms around the campus. Unfortunately, some of the equipment that has been ordered won’t arrive until later this year due to the computer chip shortage.
In addition to these smaller maintenance projects, we also have two significant projects. The first is re-grading and installing drain tiles around the exterior of our school building. We have had water infiltration issues for years in the lower level of our school building. By changing the grade and adding drain tiles, we hope to resolve this problem. While we had hoped to have this project completed by the Block Party, it now looks like this work should be completed by the time you read this.
Another major maintenance project is continuing to tuck point the western exterior walls of The Basilica. The 100-year mortar between the exterior stone blocks continues to deteriorate, so our tuck pointing will need to continue for the foreseeable future. This work will ensure that The Basilica will remain a beacon of hope on the Minneapolis skyline for many years to come.
Finally, as I write this, we are looking at a way to remove the insulation that was sprayed on the side walls above the ceiling of The Basilica in the 1970s. While much of it has been removed, some of it landed in the groins above the windows. And unfortunately, because this insulation retains moisture, it has prevented the plaster above the windows from drying out. Removing this insulation will be an important step in preparing for the eventual restoration of the interior of The Basilica. We are grateful that these projects will be funded by The Basilica Landmark.
5. EDI: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: As I mentioned in a previous bulletin, for the past few years The Basilica has recognized a need to address and respond to the issue of racism in our lives, our parish, and our community. After meetings with Sarah Bellamy, an equity consultant, in the spring of 2019, and with the establishment of an EDI Leadership Team, a Position Statement was created to guide our efforts as we seek to respond to the sin of racism. We were challenged to do this particularly by the words of Pope Francis in reflecting on the death of George Floyd: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of human life.”
Responding to racism is a process not an event. And it is a process in which we all must be involved. Our EDI Team continues to invite people to engage with the EDI Position statement and to lay out the goals we have identified to work on as a parish community. To find out more about the important work of EDI visit mary.org/edi.
6. Revisit, Renew, Reconnect and Revision: As I mentioned in an earlier bulletin, these four words describe what our staff has been doing the past several months in regard to our ministries at The Basilica and the volunteer efforts that make them possible. When the pandemic put everything on hold, one of the things this allowed us to do was to revisit our various ministries and look at how to renew and/or revision them post-pandemic. Most recently, we have been working to reconnect with our volunteers to see if they want to continue in a specific ministry.
In regard to the above, I am happy to report that after many months of doing ministry virtually, at the beginning of November our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry resumed in-person ministry on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. While our rental assistance program will remain virtual on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, we will help people with bus cards for new jobs, gas cards, I.D. vouchers, and clothing and household items vouchers. I am excited that we are able to resume this ministry and I am hopeful that it will be a blessing both for those it serves and for the volunteers.
We have also resumed hospitality after the 9:30 and 11:30am masses on Sunday. While we won’t be serving doughnuts just yet, we will serve coffee and lemonade. We hope this will once again offer people the opportunity to visit with their “church buddies” in a safe environment.
Our Learning Ministry is also back with our youth religious education and sacramental preparation programs, and our Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Our Liturgical Ministers and Choirs are back and continue to grow. Also returning this year will be our Children’s Advent Musical: Light of the World on Sunday, December 19. Check our website for details. Finally, Taize prayer, with the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, will be celebrated in the lower level of The Basilica on Tuesday, December 14.
While we have a ways to go yet in regard to getting all of our ministries back to full strength, I am pleased with the progress we have made thus far. While there are many aspects of our “new” normal that will be familiar, it is not clear what our “new” normal ultimately will be. One of the things that has not and will not change, however, is our need for volunteers to staff our many ministries, services and programs that are at the heart of our Basilica community. If you volunteered at The Basilica prior to the pandemic, I would encourage you to reengage in your volunteer activity. If you are looking for ways to volunteer, we have opportunities galore.
As pastor of The Basilica, I would encourage you to prayerfully consider in what way you can volunteer to help our Basilica community as we emerge from the pandemic into a future full of hope.
7. Special Collections: While no one is fond of special collections, it is heartening for me to report that the people of The Basilica have been very generous to the last few special collections here at The Basilica.
- On the weekend of June 12 and 13, $830 was contributed to help defray the cost of air conditioning The Basilica during the hot summer months.
- On the weekend of July 31 and August 1, $9,227 was contributed to help fund our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry.
- On the weekend of August 28 and 29, $4,623 was contributed to help fund earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.
The contributions to these collections testify to the generosity of the people of The Basilica. Please know of my gratitude for your generous response to these collections.
8. An Invitation To Come Home for Christmas: It goes without saying that the pandemic has had an impact on all of our lives and on almost every aspect of our lives. We have had to forgo favorite activities and/or learn to do them in new ways. This has been particularly true in regard to church and worship. During the height of the pandemic when The Basilica was empty for our masses, I missed babies crying in church. (I always tell people that if you never hear a baby crying in church, your congregation is probably dying.) I missed being able to check-in with people to see how they were doing. I missed gathering with people to sing God’s praises, and to be and bring the peace of Christ to each other. Most importantly though, I missed celebrating and sharing the Eucharist with people like me—sinful and weak and in need of God’s grace.
In the past few months while we have seen more and more people returning to worship, we are still not at pre-pandemic attendance levels. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this. As my mother used to say though, sometimes people just need a personal invitation to do something. So for anyone who needs a personal invitation, please know that I extend that to you. Come home—come to The Basilica for Christmas. Come and celebrate the birth of our savior with your fellow parishioners. We miss you and want you to be part of our community again.
Rev. John M. Bauer
Pastor, The Basilica of Saint Mary
Bulletin December 2021/January 2022
One of my favorite movies is a 1983 film entitled Tender Mercies. The movie stars Robert Duvall as Mac Sledge, an alcoholic country music singer/songwriter who, after going on a bender, finds himself in a small town in rural Texas. There he slowly turns his life around as he develops a relationship with a young widow and her son.
I like the movie for several reasons. One reason in particular, though, is that it reminds me that sometimes “redemption” is a process. Now, let me be absolutely clear about this. We believe that Jesus, suffered died and rose again to redeem us, once for all. Our redemption has already been accomplished. It is certain and sure. There is absolutely no question about that. Sometimes, though, it takes us a while to realize and accept the redemption that has been won for us, and that is freely offered to us.
In the film Mac does not change his ways immediately. It takes him a while to accept that he has been saved. His understanding is a gradual process and takes place over a period of time, as he fluctuates back and forth between his old life and drinking days, and the new life he was beginning to live. It takes him a while to let his new way of living become his new life.
And so I think it is with us sometimes.
Sometimes we find it difficult to accept truths that are simple, real and at the same time, profound. For many people I suspect the redemption Jesus won for us is one of those truths. We are so used to making our own way—to working hard to earn or merit the things we have accomplished. It is hard for us to realize that there are some things we can’t earn, we don’t merit, and we can’t work to accomplish. Very specifically I believe our redemption is one of those things we don’t earn, merit or work to accomplish. Our redemption by Jesus Christ is a freely offered gift. And as we all know, we don’t earn gifts, we simply accept them.
For us, as humans, understanding that our redemption is a gift and then accepting that gift, is often a process. We don’t have to worry, though; it is not a process for God. Christ has redeemed once for all. Sometimes it just takes a while for that message to get through to us.
Several years ago a friend of mine went through an unplanned job and resultant life transition. We kept in communication during his transition period via phone calls and emails. In one of our conversations he said: “John, I’ve been praying and trying to discern God’s plan for my life, but I’m not getting any clarity.” In response I told him that I wasn’t convinced that God had a specific plan for each of our lives, as that would negate our free will. And our free will is one of God’s great gifts to us—and more than occasionally—something that gets us (or at least me) into trouble.
If God had a specific plan for each of our lives, if we didn’t have our free will, we would be nothing more than automatons. Now in saying this, there is a need for great clarity, while I don’t believe God has a specific plan for each of us, I do believe that God has a “general” plan for all of us. The old Baltimore Catechism stated this well when it indicated that: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” Our free will allows us to make the choice for God in our each of our lives. Unfortunately, our free will also allows us to choose things other than God. Without free will, we would have no choice, but to love God in all God’s magnificence and glory. Free will is a great gift, but it also comes with great responsibility. Because of it even small decisions can have significant consequences.
Now the above having been said, I also believe that there are times when God does call us to a specific service. Cardinal John Henry Newman stated this well back in 1848: “God knows me and calls me by my name….God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.” These words of Cardinal Newman remind us that we are not created without a purpose.
I do believe we are called to some specific service—even though we may never know what that purpose or service is. Perhaps the service God is calling someone to be good husband/wife, father/mother, son/daughter, friend, neighbor, or co-worker. Perhaps it is simply to invite others to come to know Jesus by the witness of our lives. This service can be accomplished in a variety of ways. And at different times, this service may take a variety of forms. Being called to a specific service or purpose by God, though, is not the same as God having a specific plan for our lives. A specific service is not the same as a specific plan.
Like Cardinal Newman, we may never know the service God has committed to us in our individual lives. But with prayer and our free will—and even though we might not know it—we will accomplish that service.
In the days and weeks after Christmas there always seems to be a lot of sales, as companies try to unload some of their excess inventory. Often the ads for these sales are accompanied by the phrases, “limited number in stock” or “this won’t last long.” As I listened to one of these ads a few days ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if many people are feeling that “hope” is one of those things that is in limited supply these days. I say this, because as I write this, our U.S. Capital has just been attacked and ransacked by an angry mob. And while vaccinations have begun, we are still in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, there are still no signs that we will be returning to normal—whatever that normal might be—any time soon.
In regard to “hope” I think it is I important to distinguish hope from optimism. Optimism is often based on feelings or possibilities—what one can see or intuit. Unlike optimism, however, hope is not based on our view of or interpretation of current events. Rather, hope is a theological virtue in which we trust in the promises of God, as we make our way through the world, and seek to be open to God’s grace. Where optimism is based on human events and/or our interpretation of those events, hope is based on God’s love for us—revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus Christ.
In his letter to the Romans St. Paul wrote: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Rom. 8:24-25) I think these words speak very specifically to our current situation. They remind us that we dare to hope because of God’s love for us. Because of this love, we are not to give ourselves over to worry or anxiety. Rather in whatever situation we might find ourselves, we have reason to hope because of God’s abiding love for us revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
It should not be surprising that in our Christian tradition, the anchor is a symbol for hope and steadfastness. The source for this symbol is found in Hebrews 6:18b-19 "We who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to hold fast to the hope that lies before us. This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure, and firm.” Our experience of God’s love, and our hope in God’s promise are the anchors that hold us firm amidst the changing tides and circumstances of our lives.
Many years ago in grade school we had to memorize the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Love. I confess I had to look up the Act of Hope, but as soon as I read it the words came rushing back to me. “O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.” Given all that is going on in our world today, I think it would be good for all of us to remember and cling fast to our hope in God. And it wouldn’t hurt to pray the Act of Hope on a regular basis.
As I write this column, we are coming to the end of 2020. I suspect all of us are exhausted, but at the same time excited that this year has come to an end. We have had to deal with many changes and in some cases accept unanticipated losses. There also have been a seemingly never ending number of adaptations and adjustments we have had to make, often with little or no notice. Tempers are on a short fuse, and the ability to deal with differences and disagreements is almost non-existent. And yet, every now and again, a cause for hope emerges.
Most recently for me a cause for hope occurred in the form of a note from a friend in her Christmas card. After acknowledging that the year had not gone as planned, my friend said: “And yet, there have been several blessings.” My friend went on to say that she had learned to slow down and enjoy some of the small pleasures that came her way. She had learned to listen better, to enjoy quiet, and to communicate in new/different ways. Additionally she had learned to enjoy and appreciate times with family and friends virtually, or when wearing a facemask. She also mentioned that her prayer life had improved. She found that she wasn’t squeezing prayer in amongst other activities, but rather giving prayer its own time and place in her day.
I have to admit that my friend’s note was exactly what I needed. Prior to receiving her Christmas card, I had been lamenting everything that had gone wrong the past year. Her note, though, caused me to realize that in the midst of all the difficult and bad things that had happened, there was cause for hope. God is still with us, and is always and everywhere offering us God’s good grace. To be honest, though, recognizing and being open to God’s grace is not always easy.
Often without choosing or intending it, I can get caught feeling sorry for myself. I take on a “woe is me” attitude and in its worst expression throw myself a little “pity party.” (The upside is that I serve my favorite foods at my pity parties.) When I recognize these times in my life, I have learned that I need to take things to prayer. Prayer doesn’t change the situation, but it does change me and my attitude. And even in difficult situations, I am reminded that there is cause for hope.
Our God is a God of second chances and new beginnings. Our God is constantly inviting us to new life in those situations where we feel helpless and where things seem hopeless. The thing is, though, that God never forces God’s way into these situations. Rather God waits patiently for us to invite God in and to open ourselves to God’s grace. As we begin this New Year, let us pray that we might to open to the grace that God is offering us that even in the midst of this pandemic that we might see and choose anew, a future full of hope.
Being the second oldest of seven children, when I was growing up I spent a lot of time chauffeuring my younger brothers and sisters to various places for various activities. Since one of my grandmothers also did not drive, I often would have to drive her to various events and activities as well. Now I wish I could tell you my motives for being the family chauffeur were completely altruistic. The reality was, though, that it was simply the price I had to pay if I wanted to use the family car on weekends.
Now to be quite honest, chauffeuring my brothers and sisters around was no picnic. They were almost never ready to leave when they were supposed to be. There were often unplanned stops and/or detours on the way to our destination, and they were seldom ready and waiting when I arrived to pick them up. Worse, though, was that their gratitude was almost non-existent. Occasionally, I’d get a quick thank you, but those times were rare.
My grandmother, on the other hand, was different. She never failed to be ready when I stopped to pick her up and, in fact, was almost always waiting for me. This same thing was true when I returned to take her home from wherever she had been. Even in cold weather she would be standing either outside or close by the door waiting and watching for me so that I wouldn’t be kept waiting. And she never failed to express her gratitude to me.
My grandmother was truly an Advent kind of person. She knew how to be prepared and how to wait expectantly. Even when her timetable had to be adjusted, she never complained. I think she realized, perhaps better than most, that time spent waiting does not have to be wasted time. It can be used for quiet reflection or interior preparation. Waiting can be a time when anticipation grows and expectations develop. Or, as in my grandmother’s case, it could also be used for a decade or two of the rosary for some of her errant grandchildren.
Now I mention this today because in these waning days of the season of Advent, while the world around us seems to speed up and become busier than ever, this season calls us to slow down and wait—to wait in joyful hope and faith filled expectation. And even though we know what it is we are waiting and preparing for, there is (or should be) a sense of newness and excitement about it. For the great miracle of the Incarnation did not happen once long ago only to exist now as a pleasant memory. Rather, it is an ongoing event. God continues to touch the world with God’s grace and God’s love. At times, though, we can become so busy that this most basic fact of our existence can recede into the background, or worse, be forgotten altogether.
As modern day believers, we need to be reminded on a regular basis that the Incarnation—the Word becoming flesh—is a wondrous and ongoing miracle. My prayer during these last days of Advent is that we might use these days as a time of remembering, a time of quiet preparation, a time of waiting in joyful expectation, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, that we might welcome him with love and be open to his grace.
A few weeks ago someone contacted me to arrange a time to meet with them. I suggested that we meet via Zoom. They thought this would be great and we agreed on a time and a date. They said they would send a link to the Zoom meeting. Now, since the pandemic began, I have somewhat reluctantly become very familiar with Zoom, so I automatically set up a Zoom meeting on my own. When the time for our meeting came, I dutifully started the Zoom meeting I had set up. After about 10 minutes, I received an email from the person informing me that they were at the meeting waiting for me. I immediately remembered they had said they would set up the meeting, and so I joined them at the Zoom meeting they had set up. I apologized for my tardiness and explained that I had mistakenly set up my own Zoom meeting and had been waiting for them. Fortunately they were able to see the humor in my gaffe and we had a good laugh over it.
As I reflected on this experience, it occurred to me it was a good analogy for what sometimes happens in my prayer life. More times than I care to admit when I go to prayer, I am in one place waiting for God, and God is in another place waiting for me. Most often we eventually sync up, but other times we are like ships passing in the night.
Of course, while I’d like God to shoulder some of the responsibility for the above, the reality is that it is entirely my fault. God does not operate on my schedule and God definitely isn’t at my beck and call. Having acknowledged this, however, it is also very important to note that God is always present and available to us, but it is on God’s terms, not ours.
Given the above, the obvious question is: how do we become aware of God’s presence and availability to us? I believe the answer is found in two words: Openness and Attentiveness. God is always and everywhere present. We need to be open to that presence, whenever and however it occurs in our lives. One of the ways we can do this is by putting aside our expectations of how and where God should be present, and simply be open to the many and surprising ways God comes into our lives. Attentiveness helps us do that. Attentiveness is nothing more, but also nothing less, than simply putting aside our agenda, our preconceived ideas, and our sense of how things should be, and just resting and trusting in God’s presence, and opening ourselves to God’s grace.
Being open to God’s presence and availability is not easy. It requires patience and practice. And sometimes we end up in one place waiting for God and God is somewhere else waiting for us. When we get it right, though, we will find peace and hope in the tender embrace of our God’s love.