Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph

 

Called by God into the Fraternity of Francis, we live in Simplicity, Servanthood, and Joy, renewing the spirit of Mother Colette Hilbert, "In all things Charity."

Monthly Reflection

Thoughts for your journey through life….

For much of 2020 with all the turmoil, political and social unrest, most especially the Covid crisis, to many it may feel like we have been walking through a year of darkness with no end in sight. With the season of Advent upon us and Christmas just a few weeks away, reflecting on this season of hope may help bring some light to the darkness of this seemingly endless night.

ADVENT

Advent marks the beginning of the Liturgical Year in the Christian Church. Just as we have a calendar to mark important days, weeks, months and seasons of the year, so, too, the Church has a calendar to mark the cycle of the important days and seasons  we observe in our Catholic tradition. Beginning in Advent, the Liturgical Calendar Year commemorates the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus and the saints who exemplified His virtues in their lives.

The word “advent” is taken from the Latin word “adventus” which means “coming”. In the early church Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in prayer, penance and fasting to prepare for baptism. There was little connection between Advent and Christmas. Through the centuries, the meaning of Advent had evolved into preparation for the second coming of Christ. By the Middle Ages it was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas and has remained so to this day.

ADVENT WREATH

The Advent Calendar and Jesse Tree are two activities that can help to enrich the Advent season. The more traditional ritual is the Advent Wreath. Throughout the season of Advent, Christians include a variety of forms of an Advent wreath in their Church to mark the weeks of this season we celebrate. Many families create their own Advent wreath ritual in the home.

The Wreath

The wreath itself is made up of various evergreens, a symbol of everlasting life.  Some types used have additional more specific meanings: laurel represents the crown of victory and eternal life; cedar symbolizes strength and healing. Sometimes the wreath is decorated with pinecones or seedpods, symbols of resurrection and new life. Throughout the bitter cold and darkest of nights, the evergreen remains continuously green – a sign of hope that life goes on even in the dead of winter.  Even in the midst of a pandemic life does go on in ways we have never known nor expected.

The circular shape of the wreath has no beginning or end. It symbolizes the eternity of God, the soul’s immortality and everlasting life through Christ.   It reminds us of God’s everlasting and unconditional love.

The Candles

Since the early days of Christianity the lighted candle has represented Jesus Christ, the “light of the world”. Thus, the light of the Advent candles reminds us that Jesus comes to us as a Light in our dark world. The four candles on the wreath represent the four weeks of Avent. Three of the candles are purple reminding us that Advent is traditionally a time of prayer and sacrifice to prepare for the second coming of Christ. The Pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent to announce a Sunday of rejoicing – Christmas is near!

HOPE

The first candle, the “Prophet’s candle”,  represents  HOPE.  This candle reminds us of the prophets in the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, who foretold the coming of the Messiah.  It represents the hope of the prophets and a people waiting in the darkness for thousands of years for the coming of the Messiah, the Promised One of God.

In our present day, wait in hope for the day when the darkness of this pandemic will be under control if not over. We wait in the light of hope that a vaccine will soon be approved, that our health care workers will prevail over exhaustion, that we will be able to persevere and endure the challenges that come our way, that some sense of normalcy will return to our lives and our land. May the soft light of this first Avent candle be for us a glimmer of hope that breaks through the darkness of these challenging times. May it remind us to have hope in our God who will come and light our path to healing and wholeness through our patient endurance.

 FAITH

The second candle, called the “Bethlehem Candle”, represents the FAITH of Mary and Joseph and their experience in Bethlehem.  Both Mary and Joseph took a “leap of faith” in saying yes to God’s will. They set their faith in God to get them through not only the difficult journey to Bethlehem but the many hardships they endured to protect and keep the Infant Jesus safe from harm. This candle is also known as the candle of LOVE as manifested in the lives of Joseph, Mary and Jesus – the Holy Family.

The darkness is just a little brighter when we light two candles. We could use the courage of Mary and Joseph to help us take that leap of faith these days. They faced many hardships on their journey to Bethlehem and beyond with dauntless faith. Though sorely tested, they never lost their faith in God to see them through the difficult times. Their love for each other and the Child Jesus entrusted to their care grew deeper each step of the way.

Though the hardships we endure today may be different than those of the Holy Family, they are no less real, no less demanding.  May the light of this Bethlehem candle remind us to “keep the faith”, even take a leap of faith when we need to in these daunting times, trusting that God is with us. May our love grow deeper for  family, friends and all those who lighten our path when the darkness becomes too heavy for us to bear. May we in turn be a light on the path for others.

JOY

As we draw closer to Christmas we add to our light the “Shepherd’s Candle” – the pink candle of JOY!  In this third week of Advent we pause from our penance and sacrifices to rejoice as the shepherds did in the good news that a Savior was born even for humble and unimportant people as themselves, not to mention that Christmas is almost here!

In this time of pandemic it may be difficult to rejoice in anything. Yet even in these times, God still gives us reasons, great and small, to find joy – an unexpected call from a friend, an ice cream sundae, a good book,  a surprise birthday gift, an anniversary, a graduation, the birth of a child, loving family and friends, recovery from illness,  life itself – and chocolate!                                                                             May the light of this candle give us pause, even in these difficult times, to be grateful for the many blessings that come our way, to rejoice and be glad for even the smallest of blessings that bring the light of joy into our lives. In turn, may we “pay it forward” and strive to bring the light of joy into the lives of others.

PEACE

Peace is the theme of the fourth week of Advent. This advent candle reminds us of the song of the angels that first Christmas morn: “Peace on earth to people of goodwill!”  In times like these it is difficult to imagine peace anywhere, including in our own mind and heart when we feel so overwhelmed, helpless and even afraid. Sometimes it is even challenging to be a person of goodwill! Sitting quietly in the glow of this candle of peace, we come before the “Prince of Peace”  to still our hearts and seek peace. Jesus himself gently reminds us of the promise of peace heralded by the angels that first Christmas morn as He says to His apostles and us: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.” [Jn.14:27] Not just a fleeting, temporary peace. As St. Paul tells us, the peace of Jesus is a “peace that transcends all understanding”[Ph.4:7] If we embrace the peace he so freely gives, we need not fear anything for He assures us, “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid.” [Jn.14:27]   It is the first greeting of the Risen Lord to His disciples: “Peace be with you!” From His humble birth in a manger to His victory over the darkness of sin and death, Jesus, the “Prince of Peace” desires to comfort us in His peace. May the light of this candle cause us to be still, to hear the Christmas song of the angels and bring the light of true peace to our hearts.

Emmanuel

On Christmas Eve a single white candle is often placed in the center of the Advent Wreath. The light of this Christ Candle reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. In writing of Jesus as the Word of God become flesh, St. John in his Gospel describes Jesus as a light in the darkness, a light that“shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.[1:5] This time of pandemic will not last forever. Until then, we wait in hope, trusting that the darkness and uncertainty will not overcome our hope and faith, our love and joy, and our peace if we but place our trust in Jesus, our Light in the darkness.

During Advent we call upon our Emmanuel – which means “God-with-us” – to come and dwell among us. In these challenging times, more than ever, we need to feel the light of God’s presence among us. May the light of the Advent Wreath candles – or the glow of a simple candle – be a gentle reminder that Jesus is the light for our journey. The last promise of the Risen Jesus to His disciples before He ascended  to heaven is, “Surely I am with you to the very end of time.” [MT.28:20]

Emmanuel!  God is with us now!

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