Advent: The Call to Love

Faith Connections and the Ministry for Social Justice, Peace and Care of Earth hosted an Advent retreat on December 6, 2014 for young adults entitled "The Call to Love" — here we share reflections presented at the retreat facilitated by Sr. Sue Mosteller CSJ and Leah Watkiss.

Knowing Myself as Loved by God

— a reflection for the second week of Advent by Sr. Sue Mosteller, CSJ

Jesus, at his baptism, heard a voice announcing his deepest identity: “Beloved Son of God.”

The voice he heard, penetrated very deeply into his psyche, profoundly influencing his future and how he perceived himself.

By following some of his footsteps in the Gospels, you and I witness the way that Jesus accepted His Belovedness by quietly living out his mission: boldly but humbly, showing strength and weakness. When highly praised and seeing people wanting to make him king, he hid and went away. When, because of hatred and fear, he was judged unjustly and sentenced to die, He asked forgiveness of those who had done him wrong. His spent quality time both in solitude with the One Who loved him unconditionally, and with those he invited to follow him and share his mission. Although the apostles were far from perfect, denying and abandoning Him in his darkest hour, he chose to love them unconditionally, mainly because he knew that he was loved.

Finally, before he died and at the last supper, he announced to the apostles and to us, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I also love you.” (John 15:9). Our task this week is to hear as deeply as we can, that amazing truth about our lives.

Our teachers for the week are John the Baptist and Jean Vanier.

They will encourage us to hear the voice announcing our true identity. They will walk with us as we stretch to accept as fully as possible that regardless of what we have heard or accepted about who we are, the truth is the truth. You and I are the Beloved Daughters and Sons of God.

“A man came, sent by God. His name was John. He came as a witness to bear witness to the light… He was not the light. He was to bear witness to the light.” (John 1:6-8)

Within himself, John the Baptist knew he was loved, so he didn’t need ‘a following.’ He didn’t spend time questioning if he was OK, or why others were better than he was. Rather he was conscious of those who were suffering and lost on their human journey. John pointed. He pointed people to Jesus, the teacher, healer, and lover, now walking among them. For living this way, and for challenging Herod’s lifestyle with his brother’s wife, John the Baptist was imprisoned and finally beheaded.

John is an unlikely teacher because his lifestyle was far from normal. He chose to live apart in the desert, wear unusual and unstylish clothing, and eat locusts and wild honey! But John claimed the truth of his life and knew who he was, how he was invited by God to live and to speak, and that was enough for him. He didn’t ask people to come to him, follow him, or listen to him, but when they did, he pointed to Jesus. “This is the one of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me, existed before me.’” And when asked, “Who are you?” by the leaders, “he did not deny but declared, ‘I am not the Christ.’” He also said, “…standing among you – unknown to you – is the one who is coming after me, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandal.” John knew himself loved by God. He didn’t need to be other than who he was.

Jean Vanier lives in our time and in many ways, like John the Baptist, is did not ‘follow the crowd.’ As a 13 year old, he experienced the absolute ‘trust’ of his father, and that gave him a sense of being deeply loved. He went on to join the British navy and later commanded thousands of seamen on his battleship. But when they called into port and all were free to enjoy the pleasures of the port city, Jean felt called to spend some time in solitude, reading, praying, and listening to the One Who loved him. He knew and he felt a bit ‘different’ by following these deep intuitions. In time he realized that he was being called to make peace and not war, so he resigned his commission.

After more solitude and inner listening as well as consultation with wise friends, he took a drastic step that he knew, for him, was irreversible. He bought a small house and invited two gentlemen with intellectual disabilities who lived with 2000 others in a large institution, to join him and make home together with him. He sought to live quietly with them in a small French village for the rest of his life. But people came to help and he was able to buy another house and another, and soon his vision began to grow. Today, 50 years later, Jean still lives and eats among those needing support, respect, and a loving home. And today thousands have found hope and transformation in the 146 communities of L’Arche found on all five continents.

You and I may or may not have ‘heard a voice,’ announcing to us the truth, the absolute truth, that we are and have been unconditionally loved since before we were born. Often, it may have been demonstrated in actions or spoken, but we weren’t ‘tuned’ to hear it. Whatever the case, the words of Jesus are there for us to receive or not. “As the Father loved Me, I also love you.” Beloved Daughter. Beloved Son. In small ways and gentle increments, we can gradually look at ourselves in the mirror and truthfully announce, “As I am today, I am enough and I can trust myself, my inner voice and the deepest desires of my heart.”

  1. What struck you about this reflection?
  2. Jean Vanier’s choice to live more in accordance with his values allowed him to see true value in the marginalized. Am I being true to myself and my values? How have I been lacking in this? How have I been successful?
  3. Can I say “I trust myself and the inner voice of my heart”? Am I aware that I am the child of the most high… Do I remember the dignity that was mine from birth?

Loving Encounters in Daily Life

— a reflection for the third week of Advent by Sr. Sue Mosteller, CSJ

“My Father and I….we will come to you and make our home in you.” (John 14:23, adapted).

So, in a privileged place in our hearts, the architect of the universe choses to live, and offers each one unique and unconditional love. We hear the still, small, voice of Love when we take a few moments to ‘tune in and listen’ to the deep aspirations of our hearts. God speaks, not so much in words as in inner thoughts and movements; of trust, of determination, of compassion and acceptance towards those who are different from us. God whispers secrets; how much we are loved, and how love is creative and generous. Father, Son, and Spirit within provide courage to support our efforts to step through our pain with deep compassion, offering affirmation, instead of anger, judgment, or criticism.

Love is patient; love is kind;
Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
It is not irritable or resentful
It does not rejoice in wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
Hopes all things, endures all things.
LOVE NEVER ENDS.
(1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

Our teachers this week are Elizabeth and Zecchariah as brought to us in St. Lukes Gospel, and Allen and Ellen, cherished brother and sister of the L’Arche community that welcomed them.

Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, were a faithful Jewish couple, but unfortunately they were childless. Elizabeth loved children, so that witnessing the fruitfulness of her friends and family, she probably experienced deep disappointment and even resentment and jealousy. Heartbroken and ashamed in a culture that expected couples to bear offspring, she and Zechariah endured being repeatedly asked, “When are you going to start a family?” They must have been tempted to react out of the bitterness they felt and the feelings of disillusionment that made them secretly question, “Why is this happening to us?” But they chose another way. By faith they knew they were loved unconditionally. Thus, they trusted the Lord who loved them, and they refused to allow their personal tragedy to colour the way they related to friends and relatives. Supported by those who knew their pain, they chose to live with compassion and care for others. Zechariah served faithfully as a priest in the temple, while Elizabeth supported her neighbours and gradually embraced her barrenness. It was not something either of them expected or wanted, but they chose to live with courage and grace.

But then, in their old age, beyond their childbearing year came another curve ball, another challenge. Despite their age and condition, Elizabeth became pregnant. Wonderful news, but not without its challenges. Elizabeth and Zechariah were old and set in their ways, having long ago accepted their reality. They were surprised, excited, but not naïve. A child is a lot of work. Where would they get the energy? How would an infant ‘fit’ into their quiet, peaceful home? How would they manage this strange phenomenon in front of their inquiring neighbours? Once again, they chose the way forward with trust in the One Who loved them. Thankfully, they rose to the occasion and gave the world, our wonderful teacher and mentor from last week, John the Baptist.

Having served as Rabbi in his synagogue for many years, Allen and his wife Ellen, debated long and hard before proposing to visit and become integrated into a Christian L’Arche community during their sabbatical year. While they looked forward to discovering more about themselves and others by this profound cultural shift, they experienced fear and trepidation.

The welcoming community had their own initial questions. What are these people expecting from us? Surely they are not looking to be converted to Christianity. And surely they aren’t coming to invite us to embrace Judaism? Should we invite them to participate in our all-Christian worship? Will they be comfortable with our Christian prayer around the table each evening? How will they relate to the visiting clergy that come regularly to celebrate and preach in our very Christian chapel? Should we risk the upset, because who of us would have the time to listen to all their questions and possible complaints? Should we take the time to try to organize this, or should we make up an excuse to say we can’t receive them at this time?

In the end, they came and they were welcomed. They were surprisingly open, asking for nothing except to become integrated, to get to know people, to work side by side with each one, and to experience a new reality for them. They were present for meals, worship, meetings, celebrations, and conversations, about our separate but precious traditions. They learned and grew and the community learned and grew in the mutuality of relationships. Deep friendships enriched both Jewish and Christian lives. Irreplaceable and irreversible gifts of life and friendship were exchanged.

You are I are good people too. By circumstance or by choice, each of us knows about painful challenges in relationships. None of us have received everything we wanted or needed to prepare us for the curve balls that surprise and risk to greatly upset us with feelings of anger, fear, and hostility. So we know something about the feelings, the questions, and the fears of Elizabeth, Zechariah, Allen and Shirley.

Our teachers are pointing directions for us. When faced with relational differences, upset feelings, questions, and fears, we have choices to make. “I am unconditionally loved, and I can choose to step beyond my pain to maintain links of friendship, without causing more wounds.” Or, “I always knew I was not good, so I better protect myself, get away as fast as possible, or scare them with my false bravery, my strong criticisms, my hurtful remarks — all arising from my fear.”

You are I, like our teachers, are graced with the gift, the power, and the love needed to live and grow as faithful men and women, and grateful lovers of those given to us in our lives.

  1. What struck you about this reflection?
  2. Remember a time that you were welcomed. What does it mean to welcome others?
  3. Sister Sue says that I’m a good person. What does that mean to me?

Loving the World and All My Brothers and Sisters In It

— a reflection for the fourth week of Advent by Sr. Sue Mosteller, CSJ

“Go therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” (Matthew: 28, 16-20)

The God who loves you and me with unconditional love hopes and expects us to continue the mission of Jesus; announcing Good News to all peoples. We accomplish our mission by accepting God’s love and living like Jesus. He came to show us the way, and he walked gently, loved passionately, was present to each encounter, listened with attention, and healed by his look and his word. His speech, far from wounding or violent or blaming, affirmed others, called them forth, gave confidence, and was forgiving. Mindful of how difficult life is for so many people, his prayer for the world was fervent and heartfelt.

You and I know that we live in a world riddled with violence, abuse, terror, and destruction, and this ‘way of life’ impacts millions and millions of our brothers and sisters in impossibly painful ways. Sixty million refugees, millions trafficked for work, sex, and organs, millions dying of hunger, and so many thousands of children, men, and women homeless or locked away in prisons and institutions, describes the world we occupy today.

What is God asking of you and of myself? How would Jesus be present in our 21st century? How is your and my inner voice of love inviting us to live today, in our present circumstances, with our present relationships in our homes, our work or our study? Are you and I taking time to listen? Will our lives make a difference? How can you and I love the people who suffer beyond our city and country? Let’s be creative and remember that Jesus promises to be with us till the end of the world.

Our teachers this week are Mary and Joseph, and Ste. Therese of Lisieux.

Nine months pregnant and ready to give birth, Mary and Joseph, on the order of the emperor, had to leave their home and travel to Bethlehem. Although this town had been the place of their ancestors, they were poor, knew no one, and possibly had a taste of what it means to suddenly become a refugee at the mercy of ‘foreigners’ to help them in dire need. Needless to say, exhausted from their journey and not feeling 100%, they did not feel welcome when they were told, “There’s no room in the inn for you.” Joseph must have been furious, knowing that the innkeepers saw their imminent predicament and callously refused to help. When all other options had been abandoned, and feeling miserable, angry, and tired, Joseph labored to make the stable a hospitable environment for the birth of their child. Jesus, from the moment of his birth, was identified with the most suffering of our world.

Known as the Little Flower, Ste. Therese of Lisieux, (1873–1897) was born into a pious family in France. From her youth she was a lover of Jesus. At age 15 she joined the Carmelite Sisterhood, living there only nine years until her death from TB at age twenty-four. Her life was completely hidden from the world and yet she was declared one of the greatest missionaries of the Church. In fragile health, her life consisted in the simple and prayerful daily living. She delighted in acts of kindness and affirmation for those sisters she liked the least. She also prayed fervently each day for her suffering world. Here is what she says of her call in life.

“I understood that the Church had a heart and this heart was burning with love……. I understood that love comprised all vocations, that love was everything, that it embraced all times and places……in a word, that it was eternal! Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out, ‘O Jesus my love…my vocation, at last I have found it….My vocation is love!’” (Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, p. 194).

Therese uncovers for us one of the deepest secrets of love. Our love has no bounds, and can be given for those whose names we will never know. Love is of the Spirit, not bound by time or space. Love is the centre of the world, and makes barren lives fruitful for others.

Jesus chose a motley crew to become disciples. They were far from perfect and quite slow to understand who he was, and that gis mission was simple, loving, and close to others. They wanted to be close to him so as to be famous. But ge kept leading them back to a life of announcing Good News by lives of loving service and care for the needy. We can identify with the disciples. As we stand in front of the magnitude of the violence, terror, and suffering in our world, we are tempted to be paralyzed. In our disillusionment, we can easily fall into callous living for ourselves alone, and building walls to protect ourselves from the cry of the poor.

Jesus may not be calling us to heroic action. He IS, however challenging us to believe that we are lovable and loved unconditionally. His desire is for us to spread that love to others near, far and wide. He calls us to walk in love, encounter those in front of us with affirmation and care, and be mindful in our hearts and prayers of the brothers and sisters we see on the news each day, especially the poorest and the weakest.

  1. What struck you about this reflection?
  2. In her “Little Way” Ste. Therese found her calling to be love. What does this mean? What is my calling and how do I fullfil it?
  3. Do I really believe I’m a good person? How is it I can say that?

Download the full retreat booklet

We invite you to download the PDF version of our Advent retreat booklet at the link below.
It includes another section, Communicating With Love: How to Know Love in Conflict, a workshop by Leah Watkiss:

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Advent Retreat 2014 Booklet.pdf2.22 MB