From the Deacon’s Desk: Prayer and Inspirational Thoughts
December 26 – Feast of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph
In the quiet of a manger, in a far off land, far from the center of the universe is born a little baby boy. He comes quietly under the cover of night to lift the darkness and reveal the light. His birth would change our lives forever. He is born into a family where he is nurtured and loved for thirty years in preparation for what he is to do – preparation for Him, but so much more so, preparation for us! For He is a member of the most perfect family of the Holy Trinity, completed the Holy Family as the shining example for all humanity, and resides each day in our families as our brother. As we celebrate Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Family, we are confronted by another great darkness in human history. But we can see the light as we celebrate the coming of our Lord. Just as He shepherded in new beginnings at that first Christmas, perhaps we can continue to find new beginnings and new hopes as we emerge from the darkness of the past two years. Each time we seem to move forward, a new variant or a new twist seems to emerge to confront us. New challenges – some related to the pandemic and some not – continue to sap our strength and hope. It is easy for us to lose our sense of purpose, our sense of hope, and our understanding as we try to lift each new cross. I am struck by three important lessons for us as Christians and as Vincentians.
First, Jesus comes as our Savior, to open the gates to heaven for each of us. There is but one Savior! Only one person climbed on the cross to carry the burden of all our sins that we might overcome them. That was Jesus himself. Not even Mary, the Blessed Mother, the Queen of Heaven, can remove our suffering. She suffers with us, as we are called to suffer with others. She stood at the foot of the cross in pain as Jesus saved us by His salvific action. There is but one Savior – Jesus Christ! It is not our role, nor our burden, to save others. We are to walk with them in love and compassion as our Mother walks with us. We may not always understand the suffering, but we take it into our hearts, we embrace it with the love AND hope of Christ, and we contemplate and accept God’s will for each of us with the deepest of humility and gratitude. In short, we are called – as Mary was – to be faithful, not successful. What a grace that we do not need to carry the burden of success – if we can but accept that grace in our hearts!
Second, we are reminded of the importance of family. St. Pope John Paul II said in 1986 “as the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” It was true then, it was true when Jesus came, and it is true now. It is in families that we build relationships, that we build trust, and that we support one another with unconditional love. As Vincentians we have all seen the devastating effect of broken families. We likely have all preached it. Jesus did too. He formed a family with his apostles. They always worked in teams – never alone – that they would always be there for one another. Even Jesus never worked alone – he had as his companion His Father guiding his every move – “Father, not my will but yours!” Relationship is the foundation of stress relief. “Take my yoke upon you and I will give you rest!” In sharing our burdens, particularly with Christ in prayer, we make our load manageable, for He does the heavy lifting. And we know that “wherever TWO or THREE are gathered, there He is in the midst of them!” We are called into relationship with Christ! We are called into relationship with one another as Vincentians. We go as two on our home visits to share the load. We must return to our home visits as quickly as we can. We come together as conference families to lift one another up in hope and embrace one another in love. We share our sorrows, our fears, and our joys with family. It is hard during these times of COVID, but it is more critical now than ever before that we find ways to strengthen our bonds of friendship and community, working together to support each other. If we do not care for our own Vincentian family, we will be of little help to others.
Third, when we do reach out to minister to others, we must remember that our role is not to save them, to fix them, or to remove their suffering. It is to walk with them, being faithful to them by bringing our presence and support to them as Jesus became present to us. Sometimes the most important ministry we can engage in is the ministry of presence – simply being present and available to someone to let them know you care. We can also learn about struggles from them and from our own COVID experience. As we take on additional ‘cases’ and are confronted with ever more stressful situations, we see the compound impact of the continual weight of constant suffering and uncertainty. This is nothing new for many of those we minister to though. They live every day trying to find light through constant darkness. The stress can become overwhelming for us – and for them. It is precisely at these times that prayer is so essential, for it is only the hope of the Lord and faith in His mercy and love that can help us keep the faith! We learn how deep our Trust in God truly is and how far we have to climb. Christmas reminds us that Jesus has come to climb with us, and to scale the most difficult hills if we but let him. We confront suffering with comfort and presence and compassion. We hold our neighbors and one another as long as it takes to get through – and we let ourselves be held in return.
As Vincentians, we are reminded this week and this year in new and wondrous ways of the saving power of Jesus and our role to walk humbly in His presence seeking and trusting in His will. We are reminded of our three essential elements – Spirituality / Friendship / and Service. Our Spirituality and Friendship are graced upon us by God himself through the birth, humanity and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. When nurtured by the virtues of St. Vincent – particularly Humility and Zeal – Service springs forth as the fulfillment of God’s love bestowed upon us and shining through us. How do we give ourselves over fully to Him in trust? How do we seek His presence in our lives through the presence of others so that we might more fully share his mercy broadly? How do we build our friendship and community with one another as Vincentians rooted in holiness, prayer and trust, that we might walk with our brothers and sisters in need as Christ calls us to?
Father, thank you for your Son! Thank you for hope! Thank you for faith! Thank you for love! Lord Jesus, give me the patience to stop, listen and hear. Give me the compassion to love and comfort. Give me the courage to simply sit and be present. Help me to embrace my Vincentian family, that I may grow in friendship, and extend it to my hurting brothers and sisters. Grace me with the reassurance of your presence in my life that I may make that presence evident to others that they may see hope. Help me to embrace your will for my life and the lives of those you bring before me that I may always do your will and that I might bring the reassurance others need to not be afraid! I pray all of this in your Son’s name. Amen