This Advent I had the privilege of designing and leading a retreat day for one of our downtown parishes. The theme was “Living the Incarnation Today: the Union of the Human and the Divine.” The parishioners and others who joined us made me proud that I am a Catholic. Their diversity spoke to who we are as a church and as a country — men, women, gay, straight, single, married, religious, lay, young, old, black, white, professional, working class. Some were immigrants; others were recovering from addiction; many were retired; some were employed and others unemployed. A microcosm of the mystical body of Christ. A microcosm of our nation.
We shared how we understand Incarnation and the incredible mystery that divinity embraced humanity and that we have this divine energy, God, dwelling within us. We practiced contemplation as a significant way to deepen our interior journey so that we can know our authentic self, the self that rests in the divine embrace.
I felt so grateful for this day, for all who were gathered. This year was filled with so much sadness and so many tragedies in our church, in our nation and in our world that gratefulness seems in short supply.
And yet … I realized there is much to be grateful for, men and women who have lived the Incarnation in ways that give us hope and that have been transformational. Some of them greeted me at the center where we were meeting. The Solanus Casey Center in Detroit (the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph monastery) has a group of statues that welcome you when you come in; they represent persons who lived the Gospel. Some may be more familiar to you than others, but they all lived out of that authentic self; they all lived out of Christ consciousness; they all had “put on the mind of Christ.”
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Theirs is the reign of God. Dorothy Day — a Catholic with communist ideals; preached socialism and women’s rights; pacifist; journalist challenging church and government policies.
Blessed are the non-violent. They will possess the Earth. Takashi Nagai — exposed to radiation from the bomb that fell on Nagasaki; preached forgiveness and reconciliation until his death; amid the destruction he spoke only of the love of Christ; spoke of disarmament as moral obligation.
Blessed are those who mourn. They will be comforted. Jean Donovan — fun loving; loyal Republican; engaged to be married; Ursuline volunteer in El Salvador; murdered for distributing clothes and food to those most in need in that war-torn country.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. They will be satisfied. Msgr. Clement Kern — Catholic priest; conscience of Detroit; opened his church to alcoholics, illegal immigrants, gays, and social protesters; supported labor unions and lived Catholic social teaching.
Blessed are the merciful. They will receive mercy. Mother Teresa — fed, clothed, cleaned and comforted the sick and dying on the streets of Calcutta (Kolkata); founded a religious community dedicated to this same work.
Blessed are the peacemakers. They will be called children of God. Martin Luther King — rooted in faith, gave hope to oppressed people; saw achieving racial equality as a duty for each person; courage to stand undefended when attacked; jailed and beaten; advocated non-violent strategies in opposing injustices.
Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice’s sake. Theirs is the reign of heaven. Bishop Óscar Romero — priest of El Salvador; allowed himself to experience the suffering of his people and the indifference of the political leaders; spoke of a revolution of conscience, of love and justice; shot down while presiding at the Eucharist.
As this year draws to a close, let us be grateful for all those who live the Gospel. May the new year invite us to go ever deeper, encountering the divine within so that we have the courage to act out of our authentic selves. May your new year be filled with gratitude, love and outrageous acts of courage. Happy New Year!
[Nancy Sylvester is founder and director of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. She served in leadership of her own religious community, the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan, as well as in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Prior to that, she was National Coordinator of Network, the national Catholic social justice lobby.]