Advent Retreat: An Invitation to Intimacy with God

The School Sisters of Notre Dame North American Vocation Team invites you to explore the Advent texts with us, to ponder the mysteries of the Scriptures, to sit in contemplative silence and to dialogue with us during these weeks of Advent, allowing God to enter your life more deeply. We have included reflections for all four Sundays of Advent, as well as resources describing various ways of entering into prayer.

This online retreat is planned with an interactive dimension of meeting weekly by phone, skype or in-person with a sister spiritual companion to allow for the processing and deepening of your personal reflection and prayer. If you have found your way to these materials without having previously signed up for the retreat and would like to be paired with a sister for spiritual companionship, please contact Sister Stephanie Spandl, SSND, at sspandl@ssnd.org.

Advent Retreat: An Invitation to Intimacy with God

Advent and Christmas are soon upon us. As the commercial, capitalistic world so readily remind us and profits from the season, Christmas is framed with food and fellowship, friends and shopping, and songs and lights. These are good, but will never be enough.

Why not? Because we humans are hardwired in our DNA to connect with our Divine Designer; we are designed to connect with our Creator God. However successful we are at keeping ourselves busy eleven months of the year, and more so during December, within our busy schedules our mind bounces back to some basic, sometimes troubling questions to ponder: “How did we get here?” “Why are we here?” “Are we alone?” “What is next for me?” Whatever language we use to image or address The Source of all that exists, God, for the Christian, the Church cycle of Advent invites us to spend multiple weeks in preparation for one of the important events in salvation history – Christmas.

More importantly, the season includes the mystery of Jesus sent as Emmanuel, God with us, as Ambassador to help us not only to muddle through life’s ambiguities, but to convince us that we are here because we are loved. Jesus was sent to convince us; Jesus with clay, human feet like ours, wanted to be with us, to convince us that we are lovable.

Slowing down each day

Kindly, the “political party” of The Godhead chose not a power person. To avoid scaring us out of our skin, The Godhead sent Jesus, someone unassuming. Jesus looked much like us; he spoke in a language that was understood by people of his time. Those who walked in his footsteps, in his geographic area were engaged by him. He invited them in real time to “Come and see.” In spite of their love of fishing, with its fresh salty air and the lure of the risk factors, it was difficult for them to decline His offer.

The timing of slowing down for minutes each day may be flawed. Jesus’ time was not a perfect time to connect. A few were just getting the hang of the ropes of fishing. Heat and cold were part of the package of his time. The grit of unpaved streets was unavoidable. The sands of the seashore evidenced that his terrain had suffered an early climate change over the previous two thousand years. In spite of the prophet’s promises of milk and honey during the time of Moses, following Jesus would not guarantee that there would always be enough food to go around for everyone. At least one of the seas in his area was Dead, such that nothing living could swim in it, much less bathe in it. His clientele, unschooled fisherman, were questionably on his educational level. The population of Jesus’ time was mostly disgruntled about their current political leadership; they did not like the Romans and their greedy tax collector agents. They could have said, “Forget it. No one has time for you.” But they didn’t.

Exploring Advent texts

Aware that Jesus’ time was not the only time that tried men and women’s souls, the School Sisters of Notre Dame North American Vocation extends an invitation to you to explore the Advent texts with us, to ponder the mysteries of the Scriptures, to sit in contemplative silence and to dialogue with us during these weeks of Advent, allowing God to enter your life more deeply.

We have included reflections for all four Sundays of Advent to use as you will, even though this year the fourth week of Advent is only one day. There are also resources describing various ways of entering into prayer.

This online retreat is planned with an interactive dimension of meeting weekly by phone, skype or in-person with a sister spiritual companion to allow for the processing and deepening of your personal reflection and prayer. If you have found your way to these materials without having previously signed up for the retreat and would like to be paired with a sister for spiritual companionship, please contact Sister Stephanie, SSND, at sspandl@ssnd.org.

May this time of Advent be blessed for you!

Sister Carolyn Sur and the SSND North American Vocation Team

Click here to download a pdf version of the Advent introduction.

Advent – Week 1
December 3, 2017

Introductory Prayer – A Call to Intimacy with God

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) Proslogion
(adapted for inclusive language)

Come now, insignificant one, leave behind for a time your preoccupations; seclude yourself for a while from your disquieting thoughts. Turn aside now from heavy cares and disregard your wearisome tasks. Attend for a while to God and rest for a time in God.

Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all else except God and whatever is of aid to you in seeking God; after closing the chamber door, think upon your God. Speak now, my whole heart; speak now to God: I seek Your countenance; Your countenance, O Lord, do I seek. So come now, Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek You, where and how to find You.

If You are not here, Lord where shall I seek You in Your absence? But if You are everywhere, why do I not behold You in Your presence? Surely You dwell in light inaccessible. Yet, where is this inaccessible light? Or how shall I approach unto a light inaccessible? Or who will lead me to and into this light so that in it I may behold You?

Reflection

Christmas lures us because God is Absolute “Goodness and Light;” and, as the Christmas carolers sing to assure us, The Christ will come, will bring us a flash of insight into the God of our longing. At least momentarily during the season of Advent our life will make sense, our purpose will be satisfied. Our human limitations can perceive and absorb the goodness and light of the season only in flashes, with a glimpse here and there. Mostly, we are left with the option to allow our friends, family, and environment to drop petals along the path toward the age-old Promise where the Almighty Word, in poetic imagery, will meet us on that path because he “leapt down from heaven” to become one of us.

Since last Christmas, life has grown increasingly complicated. The first Advent reading, (Isaiah 63: 2-7) reminds us that it is we who have wandered from the path of the ancients. We have allowed earthly distractions to deflect our orientation toward God to the degree that, if we are to encounter the divine on the path, You, God, will need to “rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking.” (Isaiah 63:19, b)

 Reflection Questions:

  1. What are the mountains in my life that need to be shaken to help me find God in my place of prayer, in the room apart as Anselm of Canterbury recommends, with the door of daily distractions closed?
  2. Where are the places within myself that can be the gifts to my friends that they need, more than any material gift? What can the God-man, Jesus, love in me that I might, in turn, bring the God of Christmas to the broken world?
  3. Scripture says, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” What is God saying to me through The Word?

First Sunday of Advent

Lectionary: 2
Reading 1 Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7

You, LORD, are our father,
our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.

 No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him.
Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!

Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.

There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.

Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.

Click here to download a pdf version of Advent Week 1

– Reflection by Sister Carolyn Sur, SSND

Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Cor 1:3-9
Mk 13:33-37

Suggested Song: My Soul in Stillness Waits, by Marty Haugen


Advent – Week 2
December 10, 2017

Introductory Prayer – A Call To Intimacy With God

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) Proslogion
(adapted for inclusive language)

Come now, insignificant one, leave behind for a time your preoccupations; seclude yourself for a while from your disquieting thoughts. Turn aside now from heavy cares and disregard your wearisome tasks. Attend for a while to God and rest for a time in God.

Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all else except God and whatever is of aid to you in seeking God; after closing the chamber door, think upon your God. Speak now, my whole heart; speak now to God: I seek Your countenance; Your countenance, O Lord, do I seek. So come now, Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek You, where and how to find You.

If You are not here, Lord where shall I seek You in Your absence? But if You are everywhere, why do I not behold You in Your presence? Surely You dwell in light inaccessible. Yet, where is this inaccessible light? Or how shall I approach unto a light inaccessible? Or who will lead me to and into this light so that in it I may behold You?

Reflection

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Go up on to a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,

who rules by his strong arm;
here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

  1. The references to comfort in the Isaiah Reading 40 parallel Psalm 131: 2, which is the image of child perfectly content in the words, “Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within you.” Recall someone who brought you to this kind of contentment as: 1) a child, 2) a young person, 3) an adult. Stay with this gift in a stance of gratitude to God for that person.
  1. One weakness in Christian theology is to focus too much on individual sin and miss collective sin. List wrongs in society today done by people whose sins need expiation. Pray that God, society, and you can forgive them.
  1. What is the environment: a Christmas tree or crib scene? In which architecture do you best make contact with God? Realizing that Emanuel translates as, “God with us,” go to that place in your mind’s eye or in actuality and spend time with God-Emanuel.

Second Sunday of Advent

Lectionary: 5
Reading 1 IS 40:1-5, 9-11

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins. A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

Click here to download a pdf version of Advent Week 2

– Reflection by Sister Carolyn Sur, SSND

RESPONSORIAL PSALM PS 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14 READING 2 2 PT 3:8-14
GOSPEL MK 1:1-8

Suggested Song: Comfort, My People by Ian Callanan:


Advent – Week 3
December 17, 2017

Introductory Prayer – A Call To Intimacy With God

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) Proslogion
(adapted for inclusive language)

Come now, insignificant one, leave behind for a time your preoccupations; seclude yourself for a while from your disquieting thoughts. Turn aside now from heavy cares and disregard your wearisome tasks. Attend for a while to God and rest for a time in God.

Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all else except God and whatever is of aid to you in seeking God; after closing the chamber door, think upon your God. Speak now, my whole heart; speak now to God: I seek Your countenance; Your countenance, O Lord, do I seek. So come now, Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek You, where and how to find You.

If You are not here, Lord where shall I seek You in Your absence? But if You are everywhere, why do I not behold You in Your presence? Surely You dwell in light inaccessible. Yet, where is this inaccessible light? Or how shall I approach unto a light inaccessible? Or who will lead me to and into this light so that in it I may behold You?

Reflection

The readings for this week’s reflection are chosen to give us a wake-up call. They invite us, after two weeks of attempting a preparation for the Christ to make straight our lives, to enter into a deeper introspection. Why are we taking precious time to be quiet when activity and responsibilities rustle outside the closed door as suggested in the first week Proslogium reading? A short answer is, we are called daily, in the spirit of the Ignatian Examen, to review our lives. Do our activities correspond to our purpose? Do they have a common denominator with the events in the life of John the Baptist? … with the events in the life of Jesus who was sent as Envoy and Extension of the Godhead? Surely our times urge us to bring glad tidings to the brokenhearted; surely now, more than last year, we need to hear that a year of favor from the Lord is overdue and coming soon, perhaps next year.

Even the earth, as much as we have abused it and taken it for granted, fulfills its purpose, to bring forth plants that blossom into tomatoes and apples. Just a little help from the air, sun and water and vegetation fulfills its purpose. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin gives us the ultimate reason of our purpose, our existence, in his text, The Phenomenon of Man. “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God, the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

Advent and Christmas are about our calling to evaluate how we are harnessing for God, the energies of love.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

  1. As we emerge from the door of our meditation room, do we have a sensual longing for friendship, for communion with others who will call us to a larger vision?
  2. How has our spirituality and consciousness advanced within the past year? Can we, like John in his transparency and like Mary in her Magnificat, direct credit to another, to our Creator, our mentors, for gifts others see in us?
  1. Talk to God about a “Christmas list” of spiritual gifts that you would hope to acquire in the coming year that would also benefit others.

Third Sunday of Advent

Lectionary: 8
Reading 1 IS 61:1-2A, 10-11

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.

I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.

Click here to download a pdf version of Advent Week 3

– Reflection by Sister Carolyn Sur, SSND

Responsorial Psalm: LK 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54 Reading 2 1 THES 5:16-24
Gospel JN 1:6-8, 19-28

Suggested Song: Come Lord, Maranatha! by Ricky Manalo, CSP:


Advent – Week 4
December 24, 2017

Introductory Prayer – A Call To Intimacy With God

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) Proslogion
(adapted for inclusive language)

Come now, insignificant one, leave behind for a time your preoccupations; seclude yourself for a while from your disquieting thoughts. Turn aside now from heavy cares and disregard your wearisome tasks. Attend for a while to God and rest for a time in God.

Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all else except God and whatever is of aid to you in seeking God; after closing the chamber door, think upon your God. Speak now, my whole heart; speak now to God: I seek Your countenance; Your countenance, O Lord, do I seek. So come now, Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek You, where and how to find You.

If You are not here, Lord where shall I seek You in Your absence? But if You are everywhere, why do I not behold You in Your presence? Surely You dwell in light inaccessible. Yet, where is this inaccessible light? Or how shall I approach unto a light inaccessible? Or who will lead me to and into this light so that in it I may behold You?

Reflection

“I have been with you wherever you went …” and “Behold, you will conceive in your womb.” This week’s reflection will unpack these two passages, one from 2 Samuel and the second, from Luke, to remind us that it took a quantum leap for God to become human, to walk among us, to want to be with us. Our reflection will use several homespun stories, a few lines of poetry from James Weldon Johnson and concepts from science.

One story involves Mother Georgianne Segner, a revered Superior General from the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Besides her personal charisma, her intelligence demonstrated as a former college math professor, she had been the Postulant Director for many years. She was often quoted for saying, “Postulants, the door swings both ways.” She had earned her respect, if not a reverence akin to adulation, by upholding high expectations of her charges with forgiving, piercing eyes.

One young sister was honored to be asked to be her driver. The trip took them through Dallas, and Mother Georgianne asked the travelers to stop by her former home to visit her aging mother. After the visitors were seated, Mrs. Segner gave her daughter a fixed stare and said in a stern voice almost scolding tone, “Well Anne, for goodness sakes, get these girls something to drink.” The young SSND driver and her companion were somewhat taken aback to hear the Mother General of their order rebuffed on their behalf for forgetting the customs of southern hospitality, and no less so when their Mother General served them sweet tea. The disparity between a Mother General and a young sister under final vows pales to the disparity between the Divine and the human. Christ came in humility, expecting to serve.

In a similar vein, the chief executive from a large company joined the family gathering of several generations. He was slightly late from a day at the office and the cousins and siblings were already seated in a circle. The youngest was crawling around on the floor in the middle of the circle gathered. When the family patriarch entered, he went down to the floor on all fours in his pricey suit and began crawling around after the little one making playful sounds before scooping the child into his arms hoisting it high overhead, and talking nonsense. To connect with his grandchild, he set aside the dignity of his office decorum.

A final story comes from an elementary school catechism lesson following a playground dispute. The teacher was explaining to two children at odds with one another that the next morning when their estranged classmate came back from communion they should greet the Christ within their classmate. Host as Christ in the sacrament, becomes part of our flesh, or is released as a tri-part molecule to become our energy. To take literally the words of James Weldon Johnson, we find:

This great God,
like a mammy bending over her baby,
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image.

Our Creator God gives Mary upon her fiat, the role of changing a lump of clay, her own flesh, into part of the Triune Godhead. This is the mystery of Incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas. This is the God who will say to the shepherd David soon to be king, “I was with you wherever you went.” This is Emanuel, God with us.

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Lectionary: 11
Reading 1 2 SM 7:1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16 

When King David was settled in his palace,
and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side,
he said to Nathan the prophet,
“Here I am living in a house of cedar,
while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”
Nathan answered the king,
“Go, do whatever you have in mind,
for the LORD is with you.”
But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:
Should you build me a house to dwell in?’

“It was I who took you from the pasture
and from the care of the flock
to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went,
and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.
And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.
I will fix a place for my people Israel;
I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place
without further disturbance.
Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old,
since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel.
I will give you rest from all your enemies.
The LORD also reveals to you
that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.”

Gospel Lk 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

Click here to download a pdf version of Advent Week 4

– Reflection by Sister Carolyn Sur, SSND

Responsorial Psalm PS 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29

Reading 2 ROM 16:25-27 JN 1:6-8, 19-28

Suggested Song: The Promise, by Michael Card: