Advent Meditation: You Are the Light of the World

The following is one of the meditations I shared at my Advent programs this year. The theme for the evenings was light. Let’s pray for one other during this holy season of Light!

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If you spend enough time with the Scriptures, you’ll notice a pattern emerging. The pattern goes something like this: God loves you. Now what are you going to do about it?

It’s along the same lines as that iconic advice of Spiderman’s uncle: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Or maybe it’s better said like this: God, who created the vast universe, created you in his own image, speaks to you with his own voice, knows how many hairs are on your head, knows when you sit and when you stand, holds you in the palm of his hand, hides you under the shadow of his wing, suffers for you, dies for you, rises from the dead for you, redeems and remakes you in his image, gives you a share in his life, treasures you above all things, speaks your name, calls you forth . . . will never leave you nor forsake you.

And you . . . what will you do about it? What will you do with all of this creation, redemption, calling forth, holding and dying and rising? What will you do with all of this . . . love?

The pattern is clear. Jesus himself employed it quite frequently. He said, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you! And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Those words “I chose you” feel so good. But “go and bear fruit”? That’s harder. St. Paul wrote, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. But don’t use this freedom for self-indulgence, but through love, become slaves to one another” (Gal 5:13). We like our freedom. But using our freedom to love others? That’s harder. St. James wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:17). Faith is abstract. Works, actions, are concrete. And as we know, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). But he also said, “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). We’re very comfortable with Jesus being the light. But us? That’s harder. It requires effort, work – bearing fruit, serving others, actions. It isn’t abstract. We either do it or we don’t. And we sometimes fail. We don’t like failing. So sometimes we’d just rather not be asked. We’d rather not be asked to be light.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).

Jesus, the Light of the World, dazzles us – as an infant in a manger, an itinerant preacher, a healer, a wonder-worker, a dying man, a Risen Lord, an ascended King, in heavenly bread, or returning to us in triumph – he dazzles us with his light. But we look at ourselves, and we may not be so dazzled. We look at each other, and we may not see the light.

Thomas Merton wrote about what he called a mystical experience. He said that one day he was standing on a street corner in Kentucky – it was in Louisville on the corner of Fourth and Walnut – and he writes: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine, and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…. Now I realize what we all are. If only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander).

My brothers and sisters, it is no different here among us, in this church tonight. I see all of you shining like the sun! We all give off a different light. Some of us kind of glow. Some of us are a little more laser-like. Some of us twinkle, and some of us strobe. It doesn’t matter. We all shine.

And we don’t have to worry so much about failing to shine, failing to act, failing to bear fruit – not as long as we always have God by the hand, not as long as we love Jesus and we let him love us. Let him count the hairs on your head (Matt 10:30), let him hide you under the shadow of his wing (Ps 17:8), let his heart be ravished by one glance of your eyes, one bead of your necklace, as the Song of Solomon says (4:9). Let his compassion toward you grow warm and tender as he promises in the book of Hosea (11:8). Let him set you free as he promises his Truth will do (John 8:32). Because if you let God do these things, then you will shine. Because your beauty comes not just from you – that would be unbearable pressure – but your beauty, your light, comes from Christ. It’s unique, it’s your own, but it’s the light of Christ shining in and through you. So you never shine alone.

And you don’t have to be perfect. Remember the line from the Leonard Cohen song: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” (Anthem). It’s also how the light gets out. I can see the light of Christ shining even through your imperfections. I hope you can do the same for me.

You are the light of the world. Don’t hide under a basket. Set yourself on a lampstand, give light to all in the house. And then, Jesus says, your light will shine before others and they will glorify not you, but your heavenly Father (Matt 5:16).

Advent is a time of self-examination. That self-examination is not meant to become self-loathing or navel-gazing. It’s meant to open us up, to let the light in. If there’s a crack in everything, including ourselves, then let’s let the light into every crack, every imperfection, every opening, every need. Christ is coming – and he will be born not only to us but in us! So let’s be ready to bear Christ our light into the darkness of this world. Our winter, our darkness, our waiting needs this light. It’s time to be what we are. It’s time to be the light of the world.

St. Ann Church, Milford, CT
St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Windsor Locks, CT
Advent 2018

Reflection: Light has a purpose. It doesn’t just shine. It shines on something. It doesn’t just warm. It warms something. Where does your light shine? Are you letting the light of Christ into the cracks in your life, so his light can shine through you?

After this meditation, in Milford the Saint Ann Choir sang  “Go Light Your World” by Chris Rice . And in Windsor Locks, Brian Rucci sang “ Beautiful City” from Godspell (Schwartz) . Inspiring!

After this meditation, in Milford the Saint Ann Choir sang “Go Light Your World” by Chris Rice. And in Windsor Locks, Brian Rucci sang “Beautiful City” from Godspell (Schwartz). Inspiring!

Two Advent Programs: Milford & Windsor Locks

Advent is around the corner!

I’ll be participating in two Advent Evenings of Music and Reflection at both ends of the Archdiocese — Milford and Windsor Locks. See below for details. Both events are free. No matter how dark the winter, no matter how short the days, the light of Christ shines brightly! Pray, sing, and be at peace as together we await the coming of Christ!

  • Sun., Dec. 2, 5:00 p.m. With Peter DeMarco and the St. Ann Choir. St. Ann Church, 501 Naugatuck Ave., Milford, CT.

  • Wed., Dec. 5. With Brian Rucci. Refreshments 6:00-6:30 p.m. Program follows 6:30-7:45 p.m. St. Robert Bellarmine Church, 52 S. Elm St., Windsor Locks, CT.

Also, my short Advent book, Advent, Season of Divine Encounter, is available here, here, and here. Explore three Scripture passages and what they mean for our Advent waiting and for our awareness of the ways God arrives in our everyday lives. Reflection questions and prayers are included.

Advent Book Image.jpg

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!



A Letter to My Youngest Son

Magnificat published this reflection I wrote for my son Eli in their September 2018 issue. I hope you enjoy it.

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Divine Camouflage: To My Youngest Son

Yesterday you came to me and said that “if something fell from Jupiter to Earth,” you were sure that Jesus would save us “because I can’t see Jesus, but he’s here. He’s just, well, he’s…camouflaged.” I looked down at your camouflage pants and back up at your four-year-old face. I was so pleased.

Yes, my son, Jesus is camouflaged. That is how we experience him now, through a kind of divine camouflage. It veils but it does not conceal. It is mysterious, but it is not impossible to decipher. It does not draw attention to itself, yet deep within its pattern and color—the patterns and colors of this world—he is fully and gloriously present.

You know how you like to curl up on the couch and throw a blanket over yourself so Daddy and I can’t see you? We won’t tell you this until you’re older, but we always know you are there. We can see the blanket moving as you breathe, we can hear the muted giggles, and your body makes a very large bump on the couch! Jesus’ presence is like this too. The breeze on your face, a beautiful sound, even bumps and lumps along the way—find him in all of these things. The thin veil that hangs between him and you can disappear for a time, if you look with the eyes of your heart.

Now go outside in your camouflage pants. Run and play. Seek and find. He is waiting for you.

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Magnificat, September 2018, “She Pondered These Things in Her Heart.”

People Last Forever

My friend Fr. Ivan Tou, CSP, is a very interesting person. One interesting thing he does is that he does not age. No one really knows how old Ivan is because he looks the same as he did twenty years ago.

Another interesting thing Ivan does is write wonderful, chatty Christmas letters that are part litany-of-people-and-places-he’s-visited-in-the-past-year (this is where you find out that he has about 28 godchildren), part analysis-of-movies-he’s-seen (which I skim over when he gets too sci-fi), and part wisdom-gained-in-the-past-year.

Several years ago, Ivan shared some Christmas letter wisdom that has stayed with me. He described how, in his parish work, he is keenly aware that so much of what he does is bound to be undone as soon as he leaves a parish. A statue he purchased may be removed. A garden he planted may be made into a parking lot. A new ministry he initiated may fizzle out. And so on.

This could become quite discouraging over time, to feel that one’s work doesn’t last. But Ivan said there is one thing that doesn’t change, one thing that can’t be taken away, one legacy far superior to improvements to property or even ministries—and that is people. Love between people—relationships, friendships. Ivan said that over the years, this is what he holds onto—the people he has met and loved, and those who have loved him.

Of course, people and friendships can change too. But what does not change is the impact they’ve had on us, the memories we make, the wisdom we’ve shared, the meals around a table that enriched us, the time and the effort and the goodness of people.

This is what the Church is made of, after all. People, relationships, love. This is what matters. This is what lasts.

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After I wrote this, I found Fr. Ivan’s Christmas letter from 2016. Here is the paragraph I remember!

One thing I’m constantly relearning is nothing lasts. All the great software I wrote for HP has been erased and the back-up drives probably live in some landfill. The great ideas I started at my previous parish are no doubt forgotten as the replacement pastor and new parish staff invent their own ideas. And the things I’m doing at Berkeley will probably fade away when I move on, though Fr. George, a pastor here in the 80’s, reminds me that the current red carpet and patio gates are his doing. What seems to matter is the journey and the relationships we make along the way. People last forever, everything else has their time and then fades away. So a meaningful life seems to be connected to touching people and touching them deeply, or as Jesus taught us, love God and love neighbor with your everything.

Thank you, Fr. Ivan Tou. Come see us in Connecticut!

Okay, maybe we’ve all changed just a little bit. Ivan, Amy, Ono. CUA 1999. People last forever.

Okay, maybe we’ve all changed just a little bit. Ivan, Amy, Ono. CUA 1999. People last forever.

Who Is the "Classic" You?

Eli turned six this summer. As a mom, I’ve always thought of sixth birthdays as a major turning point. Somehow five is special. Five means bright, happy little kid. But six? Six is growing up. No more “little kid.” Just “kid.”

When our oldest child, Reya, turned six, I was proud but sad. I remember she drew me a picture of herself the day before her birthday, so I could remember what she looked like when she was five. Of course I remember what she looked like when she was five. She was perfect.

Eli is the youngest of four, and I think even he has picked up on how letting go of “five” means letting go of an era for our family. I’ve seen him processing his own age change. My favorite episode was about a month after his sixth birthday when my mom was visiting. He said to her, “Nana, the five-year-old Eli was the classic Eli.”

This made all of us laugh because it was so cute. Then I stopped laughing because it was much more than cute. It was downright wise. Five-year-old Eli was classic Eli. Five-year-old Eli was the Eli who started reading and writing, whose love of numbers exploded, who started saying “no” to his big brother, who could articulate his thoughts, who charmed strangers with a glance of his eyes, who sat in silence to think, who laughed out loud at funny books, who cried about being the littlest, who wants to be a teacher, a daddy, an explorer and a dentist. Five-year-old Eli was just so “Eli.”

Of course as Eli grows, he will change, and he will discover his “Eli-ness” in new ways. But there will always be those five-year-old traits inside him – numbers, strength, curiosity, sensitivity, humor, beautiful eyes.

We’re always changing and growing, but at our very core there is the person God made us to be, the spark that makes each of us most ourselves. Sometimes the world threatens this person, tries to change it. Sometimes we forget this person, forget our true selves. Sometimes we’ve buried that person under a pile of unrealistic expectations, busy schedules, lame excuses, or mindless, meaningless, meandering pursuits. But he or she is still there, deep down, in our core. He or she is “classic,” the one God created us to be.

I’ve known a few people who have discovered who they are later in life. Not at five or twelve or even thirty – but in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies. In fact, I met a woman in her eighties at a retreat who was so excited to tell me, “I just realized today that I can be a saint!” She had just met her classic self.

And then there are people who never find – or at least never accept – their classic selves. They go on pretending, being someone else’s version of themselves. This is not who God made them to be. God keeps loving them, coaxing them, eagerly awaiting the moment he can run to meet them, put a ring on their finger, embrace them and invite them home to celebrate, passionately awaiting the moment he can put them on his shoulders and carry them back to the flock to be warm and safe, willingly and tirelessly searching for them in a field (Mt 13:44) or in the sea (Mt 13:47)  – or in a suburb, an office, a living room, or a pew.

Who is the “classic” you? Do you know? Are you looking, along with your Creator, searching for that treasure that is you, that pearl of great price for which God himself would give absolutely anything? Is it trite to say that God knows us better than we know ourselves? Then let us be trite and surrender to the God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Let us be found by him, embraced and thrown with joy upon his shoulders, to join the flock and the feast, to be classic, to be ourselves, forever and ever.

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 I have a reflection in Magnificat this month (September 2018). It’s called “Divine Camouflage: To My Youngest Son.” Yes, it’s about Eli. And his camouflage pants.

After 3 years of writing Gospel commentary for Catechist Magazine, I’ve moved over to a sister publication. I have a new column called “The Bible in 5” in Catholic Digest! Every month I cover a Bible-related topic in a snappy list of five. It’s fun to write, and I hope it will be fun and informative to read. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

I have a new book out with Little Rock Scripture Study/Liturgical Press. Advent, Season of Divine Encounter is a 3-session Bible study for Advent that can be used by individuals or groups. You can purchase the book on Amazon, Liturgical Press, or Little Rock Scripture Study. Bulk pricing is available from LP and LRSS.

Classic Eli.

Classic Eli.