In Your Midst

Encountering Christ

Dec. 2010

During this Advent season, Cathedral parishioners reflect
on where they meet Christ in their lives
 

As I read through the following contributions of some fellow parishioners on the subject of “encountering Christ,” I found myself thinking about two favorite poems.  The first, the so-called Breastplate of St. Patrick, might more properly be called a prayer.  The second, by the great 19th century poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, is poetry at its highest and best.
          First, the Breastplate:

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Then, a few lines from Hopkins’ poem, “As kingfishers catch fire”:

…For Christ plays in ten thousand place,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t escape Christ!

At Christmas we celebrate the Christ who became one of us, “pitched his tent” among us, to use the vivid language of John’s Gospel.  Thanks to Christmas, the distant God is no longer distant but in our midst.  And not only in our midst: in our very flesh and blood.  Both St. Patrick’s Breastplate and Hopkins' poem say this in striking ways.  And so do these parishioners who share with us personal encounters with Christ that are both striking and memorable.
We celebrate Christmas on one day each year but the truth is that Christmas is every day.

Father Michael G. Ryan

Virgin & Child by Neri di Bicci; photo by Craig HarroldCrawling into bed on a dark Advent night, I glimpsed Christmas lights twinkling from the house next door.  Lights shining in the darkness, symbols of Christ’s light soon to come into the world.  I prayed for Christ’s light to come soon to drive out the dark depression that had long engulfed my 22-year-old son.
          At 4 o’clock the next morning, Patrick, my 19-year old, knocked at my bedroom door.  “Sorry to wake you, but something has happened to Chris.”  Patrick had received a voicemail from the Seattle police asking him to retrieve his brother’s car from a parking lot at Greenlake, but they had provided no other information.  “And I found a suicide note on his bed,” Patrick added.  During the next few hours of frantic phone calls, we finally learned that Chris was at Harborview in the psych ward.  My husband and I rushed to the hospital to find Chris in a small room, wrists bandaged, sobering up.
          Sometime in the night Chris’s demons had seized him.  He wrote a demanding letter to God, begging for relief, for proof of His existence, for a reason to live.  The letter devolved into a suicide note.  Chris swiped several of our kitchen knives and drove to a MiniMart where he was a regular customer, stole half a case of beer, and went to the banks of Greenlake to consume the beer and slice his wrists.
          By the time he was drunk and ranting, two young men came strolling by.  Recognizing that Chris was in trouble, they called the police.  They stayed with Chris until the police arrived, trying to talk sense to a troubled soul.
Chris spent the next week in a psychiatric facility.  When I went to the MiniMart to talk with the storekeeper and pay him for the stolen beer, he smiled and said,  “Chris’s younger brother came already and paid for the beer. Please, how is Chris? I am praying for him.”  I explained what had happened, surprised that the Somalian storekeeper’s chief interest was my son’s well being, not his theft.  “I am so sorry,” he whispered.  “I pray. I pray.”   This man’s compassion lit a candle of hope in my heart.
          As Chris began to recover, he had to admit, begrudgingly, that maybe God was not absent in his darkness after all. The light of Christ protected him when God sent the rescuers, anointed him when the storekeeper prayed for him, and supported him when his brother paid his debt.
Six years have passed since that Advent experience.  Through the loving light of family, friends, and the medical community, my son Chris is recovering from substance abuse and depression.  Now, during Advent, I contemplate our world’s desperate need for the coming of Christ’s light, and I am hopeful when I light my four Advent candles:  one to bless the Greenlake rescuers, one to bless the storekeeper, one to bless my just son Patrick, and one to give thanks for Chris’ healing.
          “…[T]he light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:5

D.W.

Advent is a season of:
     Beginning—of the new Church year and a time to renew and deepen my faith,
     Anticipation—of the coming of Christ at Christmas, and Christ’s second coming,
Penitential reflection—on why Christ came to die, and my need for confession and repentance,
Hope—in the promise Christ brings to His Church.
          We live in the “between” time—between Christ’s first coming at Christmas, and Christ’s second coming. Christ is, however, among us now, in the Holy Eucharist, and He also is present in others in his body, the Church.
          Like the prophet Isaiah who lived with the hope of the future Messiah, but not the fulfillment, I wait. “The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us” (Isaiah 7:14). “All the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:10). I try to wait both eagerly and patiently trusting in God’s promises. I sing and reflect on the great Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
          During the penitential season of Advent the message of John the Baptist guides me, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Matthew 3:2, 3). I also seek to become more Christ like. “He [Jesus] must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).
          Like the Blessed Virgin Mary—“May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)—I strive to live and follow God’s living word.
          The ideals I have described seem unattainable. I may not succeed, but in the season of Advent there is always the hope of a new beginning, and anticipation of the time when God’s promises will be fulfilled. Fortunately the Church gives strength and comfort in the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation. I know that I am not alone, and gain support from others in the parish. We are all on a pilgrimage and faith journey together. We pray for, support and encourage one another. As one more candle is lit on the Advent wreath each Sunday, I am reminded that we move toward perpetual light where “night will be no more… for the Lord God shall give them light” (Revelation 22:5).

Jerry Wiesner

When I was 8 months pregnant with our third child, August, I developed appendicitis and had an emergency appendectomy. I had to remain hospitalized for a time because of the resulting pre-term contractions so I could successfully carry August to term. During that week of trauma, intense pain, worry and isolation, I received a phone call from my mother-in-law to encourage me and commiserate. At the end of the call she said, “Let’s pray,” so we did. Just as I was replacing the receiver, I saw from beneath the privacy curtain a pair of black shiny shoes approaching. I inwardly prepared to receive a visitor, rather humiliated to be in such a wretched state, but there before me stood a priest, ready to give me the Body and Blood of Christ. I was astounded. There in the midst of my suffering and emptiness came Christ Himself, borne by one of His priests, to bring me peace and healing in answer to my prayer.
          From that experience I understood that no earthly obstacles can keep Christ from us – He is capable of finding us no matter where we are. What a comfort that was during my long recovery and during subsequent times of suffering and duress. I am aware of Christ coming to me in other ways, some just as powerfully and some very quietly, but just as intimately. Sometimes it’s through the actions of others, always through Scripture. Sometimes He comes in prayer, always through the Eucharist.
          As Christ comes to me, I feel a quiet, insistent pull to go to Christ. I simply want to be in His Presence, whether at Mass, Eucharistic Adoration or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. All of this would not be possible without our priests. I am tremendously grateful for the sacrificial gift of their lives to bring Christ to us. Without them we could not experience Christ on earth as profoundly as we do.

Michelle Bruno

Although I feel Christ a lot during my life I probably feel Him the most during communion at Mass. When I was little Mass really didn’t mean anything to me. It was around when I had my First Communion that I truly felt Christ. I still remember sitting in the pew waiting to go up and receive my first Holy Communion. But it wasn’t just bread and wine I was receiving but Christ.
          During Advent I also feel Christ’s presence; he’s always with me. While praying around the Advent wreath it feels as if He’s among us. I feel closer to Him during Advent than any other time of year.  When I prepared to receive my First Reconciliation I felt a bit nervous, but when I went into the room and saw Father Ryan sitting there I felt a little more confident. Afterwards I felt so enlightened as if God was with me! Then on Sundays when we pray the rosary He’s still there with me.
          And when I’m sad or frustrated He’s still with me. I love going to Mass on Sundays and whenever we’re not able to I feel all empty and don’t feel like doing anything.
          The Easter Mass is definitely THE Mass I feel him the most. To quote Father Ryan in his homily on November 7: “Do you think I should attempt some humor?” Seriously I don’t know how Atheists live!

August Bruno, age 11

Usually when I think of seeing Christ in other people two things come to mind.  First, respecting others, that is looking closely at another person.  Respect means seeing the divine creation that is another person, and treating that person accordingly no matter what their situation or appearance.  For instance, we see Christ when we stop ourselves from seeing an enemy as merely an object of hatred, or we look at a homeless person as worthy of our love.  Second, we see Christ when we witness others acting in a Christ-like manner, with mercy or love.  Nevertheless, I often find it hard to act as Jesus did, or to always see the Christ in others.
          Recently however, I found Christ in my life in a third way.  In today’s society it often seems like people are disconnected.  We don’t necessarily have to interact with our neighbors or those we meet on the street.  This is why I found it so amazing how many people offered to help me upon the birth of our second child.  It was not necessarily the individual efforts that impressed me as much as the collective effect.  Even if as individuals we might not always be perfect models of Christ, sometimes our feeble human efforts combine for something greater. 
          As I reflect on Christ in my life while pacing the floor with a newborn at three in the morning, it strikes me that perhaps I was experiencing the mystical body of Christ.  Of course, not everyone that was helping me was a member of the Church, and yet, I could see how the collective, imperfect efforts within a unit, such as the Church, become instruments of the divine.  A summation of parts helps individuals experience Hope, Love and Mercy—to experience Grace.
          Perhaps one cannot completely save or help those in need; perhaps we can’t all be heroes.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t act with Christ.  As members of the body of Christ, we can be Christ’s instruments in His mission in this world often without being completely aware of it.  The worldly members unit and execute the Divine action, even if it’s only offering to make soup for someone.
          Thanks for all the soup God, I’m going back to sleep…

Marina Alvarez

When asked to write about where I meet Christ, my thoughts kept returning to Taizé prayer.  On Friday nights, the Cathedral becomes a quiet, intimate place where people gather to pray together in the manner of the monks at Taizé.  Often a classical guitarist provides peaceful music before the prayer service begins.  The music helps center me.  I’m able calm my harried thoughts, and put the cares of the day away, into Christ’s hands.
          The Cathedral is darkened.  Votive candles provide soft, flickering light which leads one’s eyes up the steps of the altar to the large crucifix icon.  The atmosphere is peaceful, and there is Christ on the cross, welcoming us, drawing us in.
          During Taizé I find I’m able to keep my mind focused on Christ, in a way that is different from Mass: in listening to the lovely sound of our voices blending in chant, and prayer, and during the silences.  Sacred Scripture is read and draws my thoughts ever nearer to Christ.
          While we’re chanting, the cross is brought down from the altar and placed on cushions on the floor to be accessible for us to gather around.  We’re given time to go to the cross to pray.  It’s comforting to be kneeling around the cross with others in the congregation as I offer up my wounded self to Christ, and thank Him for the His healing presence in my life.
          Taizé prayer is offered every Friday night at the Cathedral, and at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center up in the mountains at the north end of Lake Chelan.  I was at there with our dance group a few months after I’d lost my mother.   As I was kneeling by the cross at Holden a fellow dancer came over, knelt beside me, and placed his hand on my shoulder.  At that moment I knew that Christ was there right beside me and I felt His physical presence. What a gift that was!  That moment reminds me, every time I attend Taizé prayer, of how near Christ is to me, in the flesh, in the others who are praying by my side.

Vicki Nelson

Advent is no ordinary time!  While there is something of a pun in this first sentence, it is true for me as I find a time to refresh my spiritual life, a time to contemplate the coming of Christ, and a shelter from the commercialization of Christmas.
          Because Advent is the start of a new liturgical year, I look at it as a way to focus on Christ. When Advent begins, I sense a fresh start, come out of routine and contemplate my faith.  The Sunday reading and hymns of Advent have become my favorites.  I go to Mass anticipating the beautiful hymns such as “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying.”
          The coming of Christ is emphasized during Advent.  I look to the coming of Christ as a child born in Bethlehem and in his glory at a second coming.  As we are reading about John the Baptist preparing the way for Christ’s ministry during Advent, I am praying to have my heart and mind in the right place for the coming of Christ.  The anticipation and excitement of the Christ’s coming are manifest on Christmas Day but it is Advent that has prepared me spiritually.
Since I separate the time of Advent from Christmas, a tradition for Advent has developed in our household.  The day before Advent begins, I will be pulling out a box in my closet to find an Advent wreath to place on our dining room table and I will choose an Advent calendar or two that I have saved from previous years.  Each night we will light the number of candles that correspond to the week number of Advent (for example: one candle on the first week, two candles on the second week, etc.).  After dinner we will take time to use the Advent Calendar. One of our favorite calendars contains small booklets to read starting on December 1.  It gives background of the Bible’s account of the circumstances of Christ’s birth.  Of course, I use some of Advent to get ready for precious family gatherings on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but I do not allow Christmas to come until December 25.  And I like to remember that Christmas is twelve days long.  Our culture seems to start Christmas prior to Halloween and end it on December 26.  But that’s when Christmas is just starting for me!

Jo Ann Wiesner

I am blessed to have been born Catholic because I have known God my whole life.  I am even more blessed to have been raised at St. James and to go to school at St. Francis of Assisi so I am always surrounded by God.  I see God everywhere.  I look in nature and see Him.  When it’s raining He blesses me and I feel Him covering me with an umbrella.  When the sun shines He warms my skin and it’s like He is hugging me.  When I’m at the beach I feel the water and the sand and I know God is washing my sins away.
          God is in the faces of my family, friends, and even in my dogs.  I try to be kind to everyone because I know if I hurt anyone I am hurting God and that’s not what he wants for us.  God has helped me learn to make good choices by following his rules for us, like the Golden Rule.  I try to treat everyone they way I want to be treated because that’s how we should treat God.
          I know that God is always with me and protecting me, He helps me when I am hurting or sad, like when my Basset Hound, Heloise (the best dog ever) died.  Even if I miss the people in my life who have died I know they are in Heaven with God so I am happy too.  I am very excited about receiving the Body and Blood of Christ at my First Communion this year because God will be with me in an a more special way and I will really be a Child of God!

Eavan Siobhan Macquarrie, 2nd Grader

Christmas is the easiest season of my faith year for me to recognize and welcome Christ.  The image of a tiny, vulnerable baby is so appealing, and the idea of the young mother seeking a place to give birth to her child has such charm, that I can imagine opening my house and my heart to them.  As I light the candle on Christmas Eve, inviting the Christ child to be born in our home, I can believe I would really do it, actually open my door in the dark of night and usher in those strangers who need help.
          In other seasons, when the magical feeling of Christmas has passed, this is not so simple.  It’s challenging to see the face of Christ in a panhandler “flying a sign” at a street corner, in the driver who cuts me off at an intersection, or in the none-too-clean person who sits next to me at Mass and mumbles all the way through the Eucharistic prayer.  It can be tempting to turn off the television so I don’t have to watch a Haitian suffering from cholera, or see the distorted face of a heartbroken Indonesian weeping for her lost family.  The Gospel tells us to see Christ in these people, but it’s not easy.   I remember a stranger who asked me for a ride, who I turned down—because we’re trained to do that—and  left standing on the sidewalk in bad weather.  What if that were Christ asking me for help?  Would I know Him?  Would I welcome Him into my busy day?  Into my life?
          I’ve never forgotten a tableau I witnessed one busy Easter weekend.  Father Ryan must have had a thousand people clamoring for his attention, but despite all the activity swirling around him in the Cathedral courtyard, he stood with a homeless young man, head bent, listening as intently as if there were nothing else in the world that mattered.  Fr. Ryan, I feel certain, saw Christ in that young man, at that moment, and welcomed him.
          I wonder if I would recognize Christ if He stood before me?  I can only hope that I would.  I pray that the eagerness I feel in welcoming the infant Christ at Christmas will extend beyond the season of crêches and colored lights and candles, and sustain my faith through all the seasons of the year.

Louise Marley

What if Jesus lived to be 90 or so?  What would he look like?  Like his eternal Father, only with a somewhat shorter white beard? Or would he look like my Dad before he passed on? Or my Mother who is currently 89?
I am sometimes challenged to see how Christ reveals himself in my current environment.  What opportunities do I have that are similar to the apostles, who saw “the real thing”?  Wouldn’t it be easier to follow a flesh-and-blood person who glows with compassion, tenderness, grace and unconditional love for everyone?  Wouldn’t it be easier than searching the faces that present themselves to me, trying to find the Christ in the encounter?
          What I cannot escape is the century in time I was born into.  But if I had seen the actual face of Christ, would I react any differently than I do today?  There are the faces of my parents, siblings, husband, co-workers, the homeless, the neighborhood unfortunates without food or opportunity.  They are “flesh and blood.”  With a slip of the imagination, their faces can show me what Christ looked like and, suddenly here—now, is the face of Christ I desire to encounter.
          And then I ask myself, how do I appear to them?  Am I a person easily recognized by others as the face of Christ? Do I present to them a face of  compassion, non-judgment, commonality, no matter how different we may seem?
          After 60 years of hearing the Gospels, I’ve had a new introduction to Christology in Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth.   Getting quiet with a Pope’s thoughts and instruction has surprised me. Learning about Jesus as a person, who was like me in every way, except failing, feeds the space between the gray matter and the skull.  In his baptism and temptation, I meet Christ as a sacramental participant; but I also hold His hand in angst when He was offered gifts and gains of no value.
          There is one other opportunity to meet Christ  and celebrate the gift of his coming this Advent: the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  During Mass the bread is transformed into the spiritual food I receive to keep nourished in this life.  His blood is the life force that joins my blood.  He becomes one with me as I live the covenant of my baptismal promises to love and serve.

Jeanie Widden

When I began to ponder the question, “How does Christ comes into my life?” I realized that Christ is always present; it is I who fail to notice His presence.  For me, it can be easy to recognize God the Father, the creator.  I can easily see the beauty of the created world.  I marvel daily at my family, especially our precious children.  I can also see the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the multitude of unmerited graces in my life.  It is the suffering Christ that can be more difficult to recognize.
          As a Catholic, I cherish the fact that Christ in always present in the tabernacle. There is an adoration chapel near my home that is always open.  Imagine the presence of Christ, always accessible.   An unbelievable gift!
I am Catholic because of the Eucharist.  What an incredible privilege to receive Christ into my body and to enter into His presence during Mass.  It is an awesome, intimate moment for me.  Together, as a community, we become walking tabernacles.
          As walking tabernacles, can we see Christ in each other?  Can we see Christ in the poor, the marginalized, those who are different from ourselves by race, religion or sexual orientation?  Can we see Christ in our own families?  In joyful moments, that can be easy, but all families experience difficulties.  Do we honor Christ within the other or do succumb to our fallen human nature?  We can all remember a time when a loved one has held onto anger or a grievance.  When we ourselves have judged others.  When we chose not to respond with patience and love when that was what the situation needed, and what was required of us by Christ.
          Finally, can we recognize the suffering Christ within ourselves?  The times when we experience a great loss or disappointment, when we feel discouraged and maybe even hopeless?  Do we succumb to despair or do we follow in the footsteps of Christ and surrender ourselves to God?  Will we enter into the mystery of suffering or will we turn away?  By embracing our suffering, we can experience the magnitude of Christ’s love and know the depths He was willing to suffer for us.  That we, each and every one of us, share in His dignity. We can begin to know that we are, at every moment, sustained by God’s grace and enfolded in His love.

Laura Manns Arcuino

God has painted the world so many colors
The brilliance of the golden sun 
The silver clouds,
When God truly comes the color will be indescribable
A color that will bring all colors together
There will be no color left out
And any one who may have doubted will know God is here
The happiness and joy spread by this color will be infectious,
The doors of opportunity will open,
And our meaning of life will become clear.
People will understand the unity of humanity,
And how we all deserve equality.
The hatred and sadness will be swept away
Forgiveness will overcome those in need.
Then God will have come again,
And God will have shown us his full power.
His full love for us,
And we will have nothing to say
But he will know our thanks

Mairead Corrigan

Although I have gazed at the oculus of St. James Cathedral many times since I began coming to Mass nearly five years ago, the true meaning of the words of Jesus inscribed high above the altar, “I am in your midst as one who serves”, had not penetrated my heart until a dear friend called my attention to them a couple of years ago. As I reflected upon these words that I had so often looked upon without understanding, I realized the beauty and simplicity of Christ’s example, and understood in a deeper way their imprint upon my life.
          As a teacher and a coach at Bishop Blanchet High School here in Seattle, my days are filled with numerous tasks and situations that many sane adults would find terribly stressful, if not downright nightmarish. Entering a classroom of nearly thirty adolescents every morning and being charged with capturing their attention while simultaneously attempting to impart information would strike many as a futile endeavor. To make the task even more daunting, I teach religion, a subject that the prevailing culture tells us is of diminishing interest to adolescents and increasingly irrelevant to the American public as a whole. Add in long hours and little sleep and you have the recipe for a profession that offers little in contemporary American social currency.
          In such circumstances, where do I find God? Through God’s grace and the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit, I count myself blessed to encounter Christ on a daily basis. On those days when I awake anxious and burdened by the afflictions of the modern human condition, I have come to know that when I get to school and encounter my students, I will be graced with a profound sacrament. It is in the presence and community of those I serve, as I seek in my humble and flawed way to live out Christ’s love that I realize I am the one who is being taught and shaped through a personal encounter with Christ. My students remind me regularly of the Church’s faith in the resurrected Christ, as they expectantly cling to the hope for redemption in a broken world. So, I thank God for placing me in the midst of high school students, as in my serving and loving them, I am reminded of the mystery of the Gospels in which the servant is the served and God’s grace is revealed.

Jason Odem

Advent this year feels something like the time I wait in my studio for a sunrise or wait in front of a work in progress, a blank canvas, page or computer screen, something like the shepherds waited, gazing up at the stars.
Whenever I pick up my pen or brush, make marks, or begin to type, I’m beginning a journey, like the wise men, following a star to an unknown destination, yet I also want to be as open as the shepherds waiting motionless under the night sky.
          This year, Advent’s gift to me is the insight that my work, whatever it is, is about waiting and going towards a destination that I can share with my fellow Christians. All I have to do in return is remind myself of what my real work is and believe we all converge at the place where God became human.
          During Advent I make a confession, something like cleaning the clogged up brushes I didn’t take the time to clean. I have to recall the ways in which I’ve forgotten how awesome and mind-boggling the thought of God choosing to become human is, how easy it is to forget this and how difficult it is to comprehend. Really comprehend.  If that’s possible.
          I have to lay out my paints, purple, rose pink and sap green, and a white canvas, literally and metaphorically, to be ready for the Arrival.
          Making an Advent wreath this year, I understand with my heart for the first time since my conversion that I am creating a shrine in my home.  I’ll keep the circle of green foliage, the reminder of the promise of eternal life, fresh. The colors of the candles speak eloquently to me now about their essential Christian meaning. The three purple candles will illuminate the meaning death has during Advent, the state of being ‘in waiting’ for Christ’s never-failing return.  The tender rose-colored candle’s flame will remind me not to let go of hope. 
          When I light the candles this year, I’m ‘lighting up’ their meaning in my interior life and inviting Christ to make his appearance again, in spite of.... 

Elizabeth Winder


 


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