Amy Welborn is a contributor - five devotions per issue - to the Living Faith daily devotional quarterly.
Tonight’s liturgy is dramatic, long and rich. It’s memorable. It’s unlike any other liturgy we’ll experience all year. We begin in darkness that’s a reminder of whatever darkness haunts us, we hear God’s Word, assuring us of his presence with us in that darkness and then—it’s light. It’s light bursting forth that we can’t deny that drives darkness away. The drama confronts every human weakness and limitation, and this ritual engages every human sense around the moment of the triumph of God’s love. Unforgettable, you might say.
But what is “triumph?” Winning? Obvious domination right here and right now, in this time and place? That can be very challenging to figure out, and it’s going to look different in every struggle. We may not even see it in this life. But during Lent, we’ve been working on a deepening dependence on the Lord, and in that dependence, that’s where “triumph” begins.
I am generally pretty negative about the impact of social media on our culture—and on me, personally—but there are times I am forced to grudgingly admit its value. So, the other day, just because I ran across her social media account, I learned of a young single woman in my town who fosters teen girls. Her account is a helpful and illuminating series of posts explaining why she does this, the way she tries to help the girls feel at home, the struggles and the great rewards.
These blessings are a concrete way of linking our lives out here in the world to the Body of Christ. It’s also a reminder that what Jesus gives us—the peace, the grace, the joy and, yes, the light—isn’t given to us to keep to ourselves. It’s given to us, as Simeon prayed, to take out into the world so that all can see the light and know that peace as well.
The apparent irony of it can never fail to strike us, I think—the memory of this terrible day, the slaughter of innocents—following almost immediately after the joyous celebration of the Nativity.
It’s a reminder of many truths: that the life of the Christian is a journey to the Cross, of the depth and gravity of the sin that Jesus came to save the world from. All of these can be unpacked theologically at great length.
I wear contact lenses, so when I wake up in the morning, everything beyond my hand in front of my face is a blur. But as that new day begins, I’m blind in another way too, even after I pop my contacts in. I have no idea what’s coming. I may have a sense and I may even have a plan. But really, I don’t know. I’m in the dark.
And so, Jesus meets me as I awaken and asks this same question. What do I want him to do for me as I begin my day’s journey in the dark?
Sitting in our large stone, echo-prone cathedral during Mass, I heard a phone. It wasn’t a full-out ring, but that pulsing, vibrating sound of an almost “silenced” phone. It sounded as if it were coming from across the church. I waited, smirking, for the owner to turn it off. It kept going.
Today is the feast of the great French servant of the poor, St. Vincent de Paul.
There is no lack of charities serving those in need in the world, but Jesus makes clear here the Christian difference: to not see “the poor” as a group “below” those who serve them from on high. No, we’re all one body in Christ, and we’re called to understand ourselves as “the least” simply serving each other, brothers and sisters, out of mutual love and responsibility.
This is one of the most telling, revealing moments in the gospel—not about Jesus, but about us.
For how many times has Jesus visited me where I live? In the sacraments, in moments of prayer, in the love and presence of other people—he’s come to me. He’s healed, taught and revealed the way to real happiness and peace. I know this! I know all about it! And I say I believe it.
My son was happy to get his first credit card. He’s financially responsible to the point of miserliness, so I wasn’t concerned about him misusing it. But after a few months, he observed, reflecting on that magic period that falls between spending on the card and actually paying the bill, “I don’t like credit cards. They make me think I have more money than I really do.”
His words prompted me to consider in what parts of my own life I might be allowing delusion and pretense to rule.
Before everything shut down last year, I was in New York City to see Hadestown, a musical loosely based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The play is framed, beginning and end, with Hermes singing: “It’s an old song, it’s a tragedy…but we’re gonna sing it again and again.”
Sitting with theatergoers, listening to an affirmation of the power of retelling a tale over and over, reminded me of the importance of liturgy, especially Holy Week. What we tell this week is more than a story.
December 29 (written a year ago, before the Covid pandemic)
Another calendar year is drawing to an end. When I look back, what do I see? What emotions do the events of this year’s journey around the sun bring? Perhaps the year has been dominated by sadness or discord, and we won’t be sorry at all to see it go.
Advent approaches, and as we draw near to that season, the Scripture readings are all about the last things: death, judgment and eternity. These can be frightening to contemplate, subjects we might rather avoid. But we can’t. Here they are, presented to us in God’s Word. And, if we are honest, here they are in the ebb and flow of our lives.
In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One.
- Ephesians 6:16
On our last day in South Florida, we headed out to Biscayne National Park, hoping to see the Miami skyline and, if we were lucky, some manatees. We were surprised by a different sight: loads of well-dressed people waiting in line and then gathering under a large tent. We had happened upon a citizenship ceremony. It was quite moving. What struck me was that these people had such intentional pursuit and acceptance of rights and responsibilities with which I'd been born, things that I had hardly ever thought about.
What to do? I called a neighbor and asked him to come help me change the tire. I called a friend and asked her to bring my son to where I was. I wasn't crazy about bothering folks at that time of night, but if I'd been called on the same kind of mission, I wouldn't have minded helping. We're all in this together. We need help, we give help. Paul didn't travel the known world inviting people to solitary relationships with God. He called them into community: into the body of Christ, called by him, there for each other.
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
What profit has man from all the labor
which he toils at under the sun?
One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
- Ecclesiastes 1:2-4
For a week, Copan Ruinas, Honduras, was home. We walked everywhere. And on our daily route, we passed her. Ancient and tiny, neatly dressed, she sat motionless in the doorway of the ice cream shop. If we caught her eye, she would smile slightly and return her gaze to the ground. Hundreds of years ago, kings and priests looked down at their subjects here from the heights of Mayan palaces, sure of their importance, confident in their legacy. Now, children scramble over the crumbling stones.
My wallet was old and bulkier than I needed. It was also patterned in a hideous pinkish paisley. But it had been a gift from my son, who, as he proudly told me on that Christmas morning years ago, had picked it out all by himself.
So, not wanting to hurt his feelings, I kept it. I recently mentioned the situation in passing and that same son said, "Well, why don't you just get a new one?"
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
- Psalm 18:2-3
My youngest son and I recently headed to the Badlands of South Dakota. I had seen photographs of the layered, varicolored, almost lunar landscape, but the reality of what I encountered surprised me. I had assumed the formations we'd be walking among were solid rock--but they're not! They're sediment. Essentially huge piles of crumbly, dried mud. No wonder I'd not been able to find any rock-climbing activities for my son. You'd tumble right down if you tried. And no wonder this park, unlike any other national park, permits open, off-trail hiking. It's all going to erode anyway, and fairly soon in geological time.
March 12 -
Last year, we spent a couple of weeks in Seville, Spain. Around the corner from our apartment was a church with a forecourt. In the rear of this courtyard stood a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus. Any time I walked past, day or evening, I saw the same sight: a steady stream of people coming in from the street--passing by on the sidewalk bearing briefcases, shopping bags and backpacks, young and old--stopping in to light a candle, offer flowers (there was always a bank of bouquets in front of the statue) and stand for a moment and pray.
For example, today - February 9.
We live, it seems, in a time in which political talk never, ever ends. And about this time in the four-year election cycle in the U.S., it's reaching a peak. Sometimes the intense emotions and judgments that characterize these conversations lead me to wonder if people are looking for a competent government leader or something more profound in a spiritually barren time.
Place Uriah up front, where the fighting is fierce. Then pull back and leave him to be struck down dead.
- 2 Samuel 11:15
What a terrible, wretched incident this is: David, the Lord's anointed and King of Israel, has an innocent man killed so he can have his wife to himself.
In the midst of one of these situations, of course I was moved to pray. First, for a resolution to the situation that involved no loss, either of material goods or my pride. "Please fix it," I asked God. "Thanks." But then a different prayer came to me, a simpler one: "Help me bring good out of this."
I would have just driven on by. But my son, always alert to the mysteries that nature holds, had been paying attention, so he was able to see. And so Magi, wise and observant of God's ways in the world, were led by the light to his son.
During Advent, in these days leading to Christmas, my days and evenings are marked by familiar rituals of all kinds.
I pray at Mass, of course. And in the Scriptures, prayers and music, I am eased into the journey of waiting and hope. Candles glimmer from my mother's Advent wreath. We hang the wooden "O Antiphon" crafts my sons made years ago. The lights, the recipes, the scents of these days create a place that I know.
Last Thanksgiving, a local restaurant offered a free meal. If you could pay, fine, and any money would go to a shelter. If you were unable to pay, that didn't matter. The doors were open, the table was set, and you were welcome to the feast.
I am surrounded by people just trying to do the right thing. Sometimes we make the right decisions, sometimes the wrong ones. We correct our mistakes, try to do better and bear it all patiently, never forgetting our own limitations and our own missed calls.
He was called Il Poverello--the little poor one--and we very strongly and rightly associate St. Francis of Assisi with poverty. We love him because in him we see that it is, indeed, possible to live the call of Jesus, to follow in a radical way, with nowhere to rest our head, trusting in God alone on the journey.
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