Advent is the liturgical season in the Church meant to help us prepare for the coming of Christ. The coming of Christ at Christmas is called the Incarnation – the Son of God assuming human nature and becoming a man in order to save us.
How we understand and live out this reality of faith is unique to each of us. It might depend on who God made us to be, on where we are in our faith journey, and other factors of our lives.
We hear from five of the faithful of the Diocese of Sioux Falls who offer their thoughts on what it means that God is with us.
Sr. Ramona Fallon, Servant Leader, Mother of God Monastery, Watertown
GOD IS WITH US!
There is no doubt in my mind that God is with us. I am a member of Mother of God Monastery – have been for 60 plus years. Mary and her Son are watching over us and guiding us in our lives.
I was raised on a farm in central South Dakota, belonged to St. Michael Parish of Burdette (mission of Wessington) and attended St. Mary’s School in Zell. Life circled around farm, church and school with frequent visits to Grandma Mary’s cafe in Rockham.
This all included a mixture of seasonal and liturgical feasts and times. There was no doubt in my mind that we were church and God was with us. Our farm buildings were blessed with palm crosses on Palm Sunday and our fields were blessed with Easter Water. During storms Mom lit our Baptismal and First Communion candles – so no more candles!
We were church – Uncle Jim took care of the furnace, Dad took up the collection and paid the bills (light and heat), Mom did the church wash, my brothers served Mass and I played the organ. We were church and God was with us.
St. Mary’s boarding school in Zell was staffed by the Benedictine Sisters from Yankton. We went on Monday morning and stayed at school until Friday afternoon. We usually had daily Mass with Fr. Durkin as celebrant; participated in three meals a day and with the usual curriculum we also experienced the arts, especially music and art appreciation. The sisters guided us through our growing years. Mom said we learned some things from the sisters that we should have learned at home. I reminded Mom we had all learned our prayers before entering school. No doubt in my mind – God was with us.
August, 1954 I entered Sacred Heart Convent and began life as a Benedictine Sister. Much of the life at Sacred Heart was similar to life at St. Mary’s in Zell. However, experiencing the teen years in the convent was not always easy. Again life revolved around convent life, school at Mount Marty High School and a variety of works. St. Benedict says, “When they live by the labor of their hands, as our fathers and the apostles did, they are really monks.”
For four years I was formed as a Benedictine which also included a year of college. Formation was living the life of a Benedictine, studying the Rule of Benedict, learning chant with times for work and meditation.
I thought having spent 8 years at St. Mary’s, Zell I knew all about being a Benedictine. I was wrong. Learning to be a Benedictine is a life-long process, sometimes remembering God is with me and sometimes getting so busy with the “works of the Lord” forgetting that God is present. Benedict calls us to a balanced life of prayer, work and leisure; “that in all things God may be glorified.”
After the years of formation and a year of college I started my ministry of education. This time included teaching, administration and parish work in schools and parishes in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. Working with children and families has always been a joy for me. Even though there were some tough times, I believe and know that God was present. As Ireneaus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Children are close to God and show that glory through their exuberance for life.
During these ministry years I was an active member of Mother of God Monastery; sometimes serving on the monastery council/board or in administration as prioress or assistant prioress. Our community started as a branch of Sacred Heart Monastery, Yankton in 1961. We began with 135 members and now have 47 members. We started in Pierre where we lived/ministered for six years; then moved to Watertown where we began a girl’s high school. We struggled through the beginning years but with our strong belief in God’s presence we put down our roots in Watertown and continued on with our ministries.
As I mentioned earlier, prayer is a vital part of Benedictine life. We follow the church calendar and include a monthly feast honoring Mary as well as several Benedictine feasts. We gather in chapel three times each day during which we pray the psalms and we celebrate Eucharist five times a week. Fr. Denis Meier serves as our chaplain.
St. Benedict says, “Listen readily to holy reading, and devote yourself often to prayer.” God is with us.
As we prepare for the feast of the Incarnation let us always remember that Christmas doesn’t come just once a year – GOD IS ALWAYS WITH US!
Fr. Ken Lulf, pastor at Holy Family, Mitchell
Everybody that knows me knows that I am a dog lover. I had the privilege to spend fourteen years with a black lab named Chloe. When Chloe was a young dog she had a mind of her own.
I was once asked, “is your dog deaf?” “No she is just spoiled!”
Chloe knew her name but she was selective as to when she would respond to it. This was the source of great frustration for me and potentially dangerous for her. Calling her name was the only way, short of restraining her freedom to roam, that I could protect her from harm.
I tried everything from positive reinforcement to negative. The positive would work as long as I had a treat in my hand and the negative reinforcement simply reinforced her fear of me. My only boundary was no corporal punishment.
The most frustrating aspect of our relationship was that she knew how important I was to her survival. For example, if she was ever scared she would look for me and run to be close to me. Not to mention the fact that I was the source of her food, water and housing comfort.
I know it sounds crazy but I thought my relationship as her master would eventually win out. You don’t know how many times I tried to explain to her how important it was to come to me when I called her name. The problem was that she was a dog and I wasn’t. She didn’t understand the words or feel the emotion.
One day I thought “If only I were a dog and could talk to her in ways she understands. Then she would know how loved she really is.”
As silly as it may seem this was an “ah ha” moment for me, the one with the rational soul. Suddenly the purpose and meaning of the Incarnation became clear.
God has always spoken in many and varied ways, but people were selective in their hearing. Even though they knew God’s importance in their life they took advantage of the freedom that God gave them. They enjoyed being their own master until they needed God’s protection.
Thankfully God was patient and merciful. In the fullness of time the Eternal Word took on flesh to become one like us so that God could talk to us in ways we understand. Not only do we hear the words but we experience the great love that is behind them.
Chloe is now gone after reaching old age. She got a little better at responding to her name as she got older. I am thankful for our time together but even more thankful that God was able to use her to talk to me in ways that I would understand.
May the Incarnate Word speak to your heart in ways that you can understand so that you too feel that great love.
Chris Uhler, campus minister, Roncalli High School, Aberdeen
When I think about what the Incarnation means, it is truly too much to even comprehend. God sent His Son, in the form of a child, to Earth. Then Jesus grew up, matured and experienced life just like you and me! Minus the sin and with a perfect Mother, of course. But that is just crazy!
He is God, and the humility to do what He did is amazing! God is with is, and in the season of Advent as we prepare for Him and during Christmas as we celebrate Him, I am reminded of how God is with me and has been with me through my life so far.
I was surrounded by faith early on in my life, be it that my parents instilled within me from birth. From there, they blessed me with 12 years of Catholic education at Cathedral Elementary School and St. Mary’s High School in Bismarck, North Dakota.
It was in my home, through my education, and through my parish that I came to find a deeper relationship with Christ. Of course, things were not always perfect, and I have had many times of darkness in my young life so far. It was in those moments that I often found myself asking, “Why am I here?” or “What am I supposed to do with my life?” These were the questions that often ate at me and caused me to seek out my purpose.
Through this, I decided to serve as a missionary with Hard as Nails Ministries for a year. I travelled throughout the country, spreading the Gospel, encouraging people, and growing as a man.
It was during that year that I realized a lot of the gifts that I had, and part of the question was answered. But I still felt restless. I came home and enrolled in the University of Mary as a History Education and Catholic Studies major, and that is where I found life.
It hit me profoundly my sophomore year of college that I am loved, and that God is and has always been with me.
That answered the other part of the question of my life, I am meant to be an instrument of Christ to all I meet. I am called to carry the good news of the Incarnation with me everywhere I go and to live like Christ.
In pairing this realization of my purpose as a Christian with my gifts, I found my heart to rest in helping others in their journey as a disciple of Christ and I am now a Campus Minister at Roncalli High School in Aberdeen.
Through the same realization, I discerned the vocation of marriage and exchanged vows with my wife Mariah this June. I find Christ in loving my students and helping them come to know Jesus, I find Christ in loving my wife and offering myself up for her, and I am experiencing the excitement of the incarnation as Mariah and I prepare to welcome a child into the world this April!
God is with us, and it is only through the Incarnation that our life makes sense. We are created out of love, for love, through His example.
Gaea Blue, retired healthcare leader, St. Joseph, Wessington Springs
The hectic rush of the Christmas season is upon us. Taking time to ponder the Incarnation – God is with us is sometimes pushed to the side. Reflection on what this means for me personally and on how my career as a health care administrator and nurse for 50 years have impacted my faith is significant. The main theme I identified when reflecting on God is with us is LOVE. How do I learn to love more? How do I accept the love of God in my life? How do I share the love of God with others?
My personal faith recognizes that God sent His Son as a baby to show us the “face of God” – the face of God’s love. Jesus experienced life as we do, complete with struggles and temptations but without sin. Jesus died for us so that we may enjoy the love of God eternally. God came down to earth for me. This is pretty mind boggling to contemplate. For me, two scripture passages that highlight this are: “God is Love” I John 4:16 and “There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love” I Corinthians 13:13.
In my work, I have certainly experienced the love of God and been able to share the love of God in so many ways. Two areas especially come to my mind, the beginning of life and the end of life. As a childbirth coach, I experienced working with laboring mothers and their significant other to coach the mom as she brought new life into the world. The miracle of birth and the love of God is overflowing as it must have been for Mary and Joseph at the birth of Jesus. Being able to experience such an intimate time with the family is such a privilege. Even when there is tragedy at birth, as sometimes happens, being able to share love with the mother and family is so important. It’s hard to comprehend that God would send His Son as a helpless, vulnerable, loveable baby. It further demonstrates God’s love for us.
At the other end of the life span, I have experienced working with hospice patients of all ages and their families as a director of a hospice program. Helping patients and families cope with death and dying as they transition into eternity is such an honor. This is again such an intimate time in the lives of people. I learned so much about living and dying from each patient and family. When the hospice team assists in that transition and demonstrates love, it helps in the process. For me personally, knowing that love is eternal gives me comfort and peace.
I was honored to be able to finish my career at Avera Weskota Memorial Hospital and Weskota Manor Avera where I was freely able to practice the values of my faith as well as have my faith enriched.
Preparing for the Incarnation – God is with Us requires that I reflect on the love God shows me and the love I show other people. May God grant me the grace to love more deeply, to show love more genuinely, and to accept the gift of love from God more completely.
Maria Braga-Henebry, St. Thomas More, Brookings and a sophomore at Thomas Aquinas College
GIVING & RECEIVING
At Christmas, we give gifts to one another as a way of showing our love and of celebrating God’s gift of His Son. We thank God for what He has given us, but what can we give to Him in return?
We receive all we have and are from God, and there is nothing we can give in return that is not already His by right. But He offers us so much, and He only asks that we receive it.
God’s greatest gift to humanity was the Incarnation. At the fall of Adam, a crime was committed for which the punishment was death. But God loved us and wanted us to live, so He gave up His only Son to pay the debt. Our God, the Creator of the Universe, lowered Himself and took on our human nature, so that He could raise our human nature to His level—to divinize us. For this reason, the Messiah, the Christ, is also Emmanuel: God is with us. Not only is God with us, He is also one of us. He is infinite and therefore incomprehensible, but He is also a relatable God, because He took on our nature and shared our weaknesses. He knew what it was to be human, so that we might know what it is to be divine. And not only is God with us and one of us; He is also with us for all ages in the Eucharist. He was not only present to us on earth at one point in time, but rather, gave us His Presence for all time. We have only to receive His gift and give Him ourselves.
One of my professors told us that one of the highest traits we have as human beings is receptivity. God made us in such a way that we can receive the Divine Being into ourselves—something even the angels can’t do.
Mary is the perfect example of receptivity: throughout her life, she was always open to receive God’s will, so much so that she received the human Person of God within her womb. And when she had finished this earthly life, God saw fit to receive her body and soul into Heaven, where she received an everlasting crown. In receiving, she gave herself to God—which is what we all must do. For we are rightly His. Jesus says to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” (Matt. 22:21). We belong to God; His image and inscription are on our coins (ourselves, made in His image). Thus, we render to Him what is His by right: our very selves. We receive our being from Him because of His mercy, and we offer it back to Him out of gratitude. This divine exchange is our salvation.
And so, we receive from God what He gives us, and render back to Him what is rightly His. He gave Himself to us in the Incarnation and continues to give Himself to us in the Eucharist, and the greatest thing we can do is receive Him and unite ourselves to Him. By doing this—receiving what He gives us—we are able to take on the role of the giver in a small way, and give ourselves completely to God. The more we receive, the more we have to give, and the more perfectly we receive God into ourselves, the more completely we are able to give ourselves back to Him. We “forget not all His benefits” (Ps. 103:2), for He deserves far more than we can give.