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Sunday, 29 December 2013

Blog Updates: What's Coming Up

I hope you are all having a blessed and joyous Christmas season, and I hope you enjoyed our Advent reflections series. As the new year approaches, I thought I would give a brief overview of some of our plans for the next few months (planning for the next year is a tad ambitious!).

First, I plan of going through the current directory and updating it. While searching for a specific community I found a few dead links so want to check and update the whole directory. This will be long work, and if you happen to notice any dead links please do let us know.

Secondly, we've got a few more Guides coming up to deal with some common issues faced by discerners. In conjunction with this, we're working on an FAQ page to deal with some questions that don't warrant a full Guide.

Last but not least, while we have been running a survey of The Vocation Operation itself (please go to the sidebar and complete it, it's very short!) I also plan on running a survey of those discerning religious vocations in general to see what resources are currently missing, needed or wanted.

So that is what is coming up on The Vocation Operation! A few other ideas are being toyed with, but those are under wraps for now.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent (Christmas Eve)

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent (Christmas Eve) - 24th December

Responsorial Psalm
Psalms 89:2-5, 27, 29

For you have said: love is built to last for ever, you have fixed your constancy firm in the heavens.
'I have made a covenant with my Chosen One, sworn an oath to my servant David:
I have made your dynasty firm for ever, built your throne stable age after age.'Pause
The heavens praise your wonders, the Lord, your constancy in the gathering of your faithful.

So I shall make him my first-born, the highest of earthly kings.

I have established his dynasty for ever, his throne to be as lasting as the heavens.

Our time of waiting and preparation comes to an end today!

Today I want to share part the Midnight Mass homily by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI last year. You can read the full homily here.

“There is another verse from the Christmas story on which I should like to reflect with you – the angels’ hymn of praise, which they sing out following the announcement of the new-born Saviour: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.” God is glorious. God is pure light, the radiance of truth and love. He is good. He is true goodness, goodness par excellence. The angels surrounding him begin by simply proclaiming the joy of seeing God’s glory. Their song radiates the joy that fills them. In their words, it is as if we were hearing the sounds of heaven. There is no question of attempting to understand the meaning of it all, but simply the overflowing happiness of seeing the pure splendour of God’s truth and love. We want to let this joy reach out and touch us: truth exists, pure goodness exists, pure light exists. God is good, and he is the supreme power above all powers. All this should simply make us joyful tonight, together with the angels and the shepherds.”

Advent Advantage: Rejoice, Christ is born!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent - 23rd December

First Reading
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24

Look, I shall send my messenger to clear a way before me. And suddenly the Lord whom you seek will come to his Temple; yes, the angel of the covenant, for whom you long, is on his way, says the Lord.
Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire, like fullers' alkali.
He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they can make the offering to the Lord with uprightness.
The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will then be acceptable to the Lord as in former days, as in the years of old.

Look, I shall send you the prophet Elijah before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.
He will reconcile parents to their children and children to their parents, to forestall my putting the country under the curse of destruction.

Today I want to share with you these extracts from Lumen Fidei. Do read the whole thing if you can, but these sections are ones which really speak to me.

“The light of Faith: this is how the Church’s tradition speaks of the great gift brought by Jesus. In John’s Gospel, Christ says of himself: "I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (Jn 12:46). Saint Paul uses the same image: "God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts" (2 Cor 4:6).”

“There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfilment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion. We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness. Dante, in the Divine Comedy, after professing his faith to Saint Peter, describes that light as a "spark, which then becomes a burning flame and like a heavenly star within me glimmers". It is this light of faith that I would now like to consider, so that it can grow and enlighten the present, becoming a star to brighten the horizon of our journey at a time when mankind is particularly in need of light.”

Advent Advantage: Reflect on these passages and on the light of Christ as we approach the Christmas season.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent - 22nd December

Responsorial Psalm
Psalms 24:1-6

To the Lord belong the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live there;
it is he who laid its foundations on the seas, on the flowing waters fixed it firm.
Who shall go up to the mountain of the Lord? Who shall take a stand in his holy place?
The clean of hands and pure of heart, whose heart is not set on vanities, who does not swear an oath in order to deceive.
Such a one will receive blessing from the Lord, saving justice from the God of his salvation.
Such is the people that seeks him, that seeks your presence, God of Jacob.

Our lives as Catholics are oriented towards seeking the Lord, and this is true in whatever state in life we are called to. We seek to know Him better, to serve Him better and to be in His presence. CCC 1 tells us that “[God] calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.” God is not an abstract concept but a true, real presence in our lives. We seek to be in His embrace always, in the hope of one day rejoicing in His kingdom.

When we discern our vocation in life, we are seeking the will of God. In seeking to do the will of God, it is sometimes forgotten that to seek His will we must first seek Him. We must gain that closeness, that intimacy, that presence of God in our lives so that our will is only to do His will.

Advent Advantage: Spend time today in close prayer with the Lord.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent - 21st December

Luke 1:39-45

Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah.
She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth.
Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
She gave a loud cry and said, 'Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?
Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.
Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.'

These last few Gospel passages have reminded me very wonderfully of the Hail Mary. We have already heard of the Annunciation, the greeting given to the Blessed Mother by the angel: Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. At the Visitation, the greeting of Mary by Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit: Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God. It is a prayer so deeply rooted in Scripture, we evoke words spoken centuries ago but they hold as much meaning today as they did then. Finally, we have the petition we make to her: pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. The Blessed Mother is with her son for eternity, Queen of Heaven, interceding for us.

Advent Advantage: Meditate on the Hail Mary, and offer a rosary today for the souls of those who have died.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

Friday of the Third Week of Advent - 20th December

First Reading
Isaiah 7:10-14

The Lord spoke to Ahaz again and said:
Ask the Lord your God for a sign, either in the depths of Sheol or in the heights above.
But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask. I will not put the Lord to the test.'
He then said: Listen now, House of David: are you not satisfied with trying human patience that you should try my God's patience too?
The Lord will give you a sign in any case: It is this: the young woman is with child and will give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.

Here I want to pick up on the idea of signs. Often when we discern our vocation we seek a concrete sign, something definitive to tell us what our vocation is. We look for something absolute. Discernment is by its very nature a process, and we cannot be truly sure of our vocation until we make a final step - whether that be vows in marriage or in religious life.

I talk about trust so much but only because it is so important. However much we seek signs and assuredness, we can only be sure of one thing - that God will lead us to His will if we abandon ourselves to Him.

Advent Advantage: Pray for increased trust in God, and focus today on abandoning your will to His.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent - 19th December

Luke 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron.
Both were upright in the sight of God and impeccably carried out all the commandments and observances of the Lord.
But they were childless: Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years.

Now it happened that it was the turn of his section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God
when it fell to him by lot, as the priestly custom was, to enter the Lord's sanctuary and burn incense there.
And at the hour of incense all the people were outside, praying.
Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense.
The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear.

But the angel said to him, 'Zechariah, do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you shall name him John.
He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink; even from his mother's womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
and he will bring back many of the Israelites to the Lord their God.
With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to reconcile fathers to their children and the disobedient to the good sense of the upright, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.'

Zechariah said to the angel, 'How can I know this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.'
The angel replied, 'I am Gabriel, who stand in God's presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news.
Look! Since you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.'
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he stayed in the sanctuary so long.
When he came out he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. But he could only make signs to them and remained dumb.

When his time of service came to an end he returned home.

Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived and for five months she kept to herself, saying,
'The Lord has done this for me, now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered in public.'

What seems impossible to us in not impossible to God. For Zechariah, the thought that he and his wife could conceive was unthinkable. Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright people (the same word used in yesterday’s Gospel to describe Joseph) but unlike Joseph, Zechariah was overcome with fear. Fear is a natural response to things that are unknown, to things that seem impossible or difficult. The things God asks of us are often things that make us fearful because they seem impossible to us. I can’t, how could that be?

1 John 4:18-19 tells us “In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear implies punishment and no one who is afraid has come to perfection in love. Let us love, then, because he first loved us.” It is in our love of God and in His perfect love for us that we cast our our fears.

Advent Advantage: We all have things we avoid doing because they scare us. Is there something God has been asking of you that you are afraid of? Work today on overcoming your fear with love.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent - 18th December

Matthew 1:18-25

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
Her husband Joseph, being an upright man and wanting to spare her disgrace, decided to divorce her informally.
He had made up his mind to do this when suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.
She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.'
Now all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:
Look! the virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call Immanuel, a name which means 'God-is-with-us'.
When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home;
he had not had intercourse with her when she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.

Joseph is, I feel, sometimes the forgotten character of the Advent and Christmas narrative. While Mary was given the highest honour of being the mother of Christ, Joseph was also given the honour of being His guardian. Joseph loved and cared for Jesus as if He were his own son. His courage in accepting God’s will is truly amazing. St. Joseph accepted a truly unique call and was given a great honour

Accepting the will of God can be terrifying. You have to put your total and complete trust in someone else. It makes you vulnerable, but it also gives you strength. When we look to our vocation, acceptance of God’s will and the grace to follow it are such important things. It takes true courage to submit to the will of God, but He gives us the strength we need.

Advent Advantage: Pray for the intercession of Saint Joseph.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent - 17th December

Matthew 1:1-17

Roll of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:
Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers,
Judah fathered Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram,
Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon,
Salmon fathered Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz fathered Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed fathered Jesse;
and Jesse fathered King David. David fathered Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife,
Solomon fathered Rehoboam, Rehoboam fathered Abijah, Abijah fathered Asa,
Asa fathered Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat fathered Joram, Joram fathered Uzziah,
Uzziah fathered Jotham, Jotham fathered Ahaz, Ahaz fathered Hezekiah,
Hezekiah fathered Manasseh, Manasseh fathered Amon, Amon fathered Josiah;
and Josiah fathered Jechoniah and his brothers. Then the deportation to Babylon took place.
After the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah fathered Shealtiel, Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel fathered Abiud, Abiud fathered Eliakim, Eliakim fathered Azor,
Azor fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Achim, Achim fathered Eliud,
Eliud fathered Eleazar, Eleazar fathered Matthan, Matthan fathered Jacob;
and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary; of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.
The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.

I admit, I used to find the genealogies of the Bible terribly dull. When I read the Old Testament, I skipped many parts of it that were genealogies. I wondered how could these sleep-inducing lists have any meaning to me. This was until a lesson in Old Testament I had in the convent. Many Christians today focus so much on the New Testament and neglect the Old. The Old Testament is mostly ignored, with nice stories picked out to tell in Sunday School. In the convent, Sister reminded me of the truth of the Old Testament and in that it’s meaning to us. The Old Testament is, in a way, much like the season of Advent; leading up to, awaiting, preparing for the coming of Christ.

Matthew’s gospel starting with this is passage is beautifully evocative of that. We see those names we know from the Old Testament, Abraham and Issac and Jacob and Tamar and Ruth and David. It reminds us that God did not abandon us, He delivered His plan for our salvation. Christ comes to redeem us.

Advent Advantage: Say a Christmas anticipation prayer. Remember today the prayerful spirit of Advent that we discussed on the first day of Advent and bring it even more into your preparations for Christmas.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

Monday of the Third Week of Advent - 16th December

Matthew 21:23-27

He had gone into the Temple and was teaching, when the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and said, 'What authority have you for acting like this? And who gave you this authority?'
In reply Jesus said to them, 'And I will ask you a question, just one; if you tell me the answer to it, then I will tell you my authority for acting like this.
John's baptism: what was its origin, heavenly or human?' And they argued this way among themselves, 'If we say heavenly, he will retort to us, "Then why did you refuse to believe him?";
but if we say human, we have the people to fear, for they all hold that John was a prophet.'
So their reply to Jesus was, 'We do not know.' And he retorted to them, 'Nor will I tell you my authority for acting like this.'

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires. We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.”

Faith is not about picking and choosing aspects that seem nice or appealing or comfortable and dismissing those that are more difficult. True faith, true belief requires us to accept an authority greater than us. Submission to the authority of God and of the Church is not an act of weakness or an act of cowardice. It is an act of bravery and humility to admit that you need something greater than yourself. The authority of the Church is from heaven, from God Himself.

Advent Advantage: Reflect on the teachings of the Church and in particular any teachings you struggle with and find difficult. Pray for God’s guidance and seek to enrich your knowledge of faith in these areas.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)

Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) - 15th December

Second Reading
James 5:7-10

Now be patient, brothers, until the Lord's coming. Think of a farmer: how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains!
You too must be patient; do not lose heart, because the Lord's coming will be soon.
Do not make complaints against one another, brothers, so as not to be brought to judgement yourselves; the Judge is already to be seen waiting at the gates.
For your example, brothers, in patiently putting up with persecution, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord's name.

Gaudete means rejoice. The Lord’s coming will be soon! On the First Sunday of Advent we talked about Advent as a season of expectant delight, and of the preparations we are undertaking for the coming season of joy. As our preparations continue, as the awaited time comes closer our joy increases, we thirst with longing for His coming! St. Josemaria Escriva put it much more beautifully than I can, “Advent is here. What a marvellous time in which to renew your desire, your nostalgia, your real longing for Christ to come — for him to come every day to your soul in the Eucharist. The Church encourages us: Ecce veniet! — He is about to arrive!”

Advent Advantage: Rejoice, the Lord’s coming will be soon! Receive Him in the Eucharist, or make an Act of Spiritual Communion if you are unable.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Memorial of St. John of the Cross

Memorial of St. John of the Cross - 14th December

Matthew 17:10-13

And the disciples put this question to him, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?'
He replied, 'Elijah is indeed coming, and he will set everything right again;
however, I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of man will suffer similarly at their hands.'
Then the disciples understood that he was speaking of John the Baptist.

St. John of the Cross said “My sole occupation is love. All my occupation now is the practice of the love of God, all the powers of soul and body, memory, understanding, and will, interior and exterior senses, the desires of spirit and of sense, all work in and by love. All I do is done in love; all I suffer, I suffer in the sweetness of love.” The love of God is what brings us through the darkness, His love for us. In our universal call to holiness is a call to love, to love God.

The most well-known work of St. John of the Cross is probably his Dark Night of the Soul. Many saints experienced such darkness (St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Gemma Galgani, St. Paul of the Cross, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, to name a few). The thing about darkness though is that it can be conquered. The Dark Night of the Soul ends in the triumph of light over the darkness. It is when it is hardest to do so that we must cling to Jesus even more, because He is our light. He can deliver us from the darkness.

Advent Advantage: Meditate on times you have faced spiritual darkness and how you felt God’s love and light in your life again. Pray the Litany of the Love of God.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Memorial of St. Lucy

Memorial of St. Lucy - 13th December

Responsorial Psalm
Psalms 1:1-4, 6

How blessed is anyone who rejects the advice of the wicked and does not take a stand in the path that sinners tread, nor a seat in company with cynics,
but who delights in the law of the Lord and murmurs his law day and night.
Such a one is like a tree planted near streams; it bears fruit in season and its leaves never wither, and every project succeeds.
How different the wicked, how different! Just like chaff blown around by the wind.
For the Lord watches over the path of the upright, but the path of the wicked is doomed.

For today’s reflection, I will share a homily by Bl. Pope John Paul II, which you can read here.

I apologise for not writing anything myself, but I have been ill. We will be back to our own reflections tomorrow.

Advent Advantage: Meditate on today’s reflection.