For The Young

For The Young

LONELY

06

If there are over 7 billion people on earth, then why do I feel so alone?

If there is someone for everyone, then why does it feel like it’s just me?

If I have friends, then how come I can end up feeling so friendless?

If I have family, then why do I sometimes feel like a family of one?

These are the questions that I have had to ask myself at times. But I have never seemed to get an answer…”

David Lean was a film director, screenwriter and editor.

In a discussion on the movie Summer Madness (1955), he said: “I think loneliness is in all of us; it is a more common emotion than love, but we speak less about it. We are ashamed of it. We think perhaps that it shows a deficiency in ourselves.” He had married 6 times and divorced 5.

Loneliness or Solitude

When a person experiences a depressing feeling of being alone she is said to be lonely. This can happen even if you are surrounded by people, in a marriage or in a community.

Solitude, on the other hand, is the state or situation of being physically alone, secluded or isolated. It may stem from bad relationships, loss of loved ones, deliberate choice, infectious disease, mental disorders, etc

While solitude can lead to loneliness it can also bring benefits like time for introspection, freedom, creativity and increased spirituality

Negative Effects of Loneliness

Researches show that loneliness can impact stress, heart health, and immunity.

In adults, loneliness is a major trigger for depression and alcoholism. It also increasingly appears to be the cause of a range of medical problems

Psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago while tracking the effects of loneliness found that it can seriously compromise health.

Here are some of his findings:

  • Living alone increases the risk of suicide for young and old alike.
  • Lonely individuals show higher levels of perceived stress even when exposed to the same stressors as non-lonely people, and even when they are relaxing.
  • Lonely people’s social interaction are not as positive as those of other people, hence the relationships they have do not shield them from stress as relationships normally do.
  • Loneliness raises levels of circulating stress hormones and levels of blood pressure.
  • Loneliness destroys the quality and efficiency of sleep, so that it is less restorative, both physically and psychologically.

Other researches identify loneliness as a very frequent cause of addiction. The experience of feeling isolated or depressed is often at the root of substance abuse. Turning to drugs or alcohol appears as one of the easiest (though most damaging) fix one can turn to in an effort to take away that emotional pain.

Facing Loneliness

Feelings of loneliness may not always require a ‘plan of action’. It may just be a passing mood. But when it becomes a chronic state of mind, steps need to be taken to prevent it from causing damages to our lives. Here are a few strategies to start feeling better. If you’re feeling lonely and want to move out of the feeling, any small step you take — even striking up a casual, friendly conversation with someone you meet often — is a good move., “Just do it.”

  • Making a point to meet people who have similar interests like volunteering or exploring a hobby as ways to meet kindred spirits.
  • Exploring your faith. Louise Hawkley, PhD, a research associate in the psychology department at the University of Chicago says that: “People who have a personal relationship with their God or a higher power tend to do well. There are a lot of factors at work here, one of them being that faith communities provide many opportunities for positive social encounters. In addition, faith can help you accept the things in life you can’t control”.
  • Thinking beyond yourself. Depression can make you feel very self-focused, meaning that everything is all about you. That is trying to see things from others’ perspective.
  • Reaching out to a lonely person. Whether you’re feeling lonely now or just know how it feels, you may get an emotional boost from befriending someone else who’s lonely.
  • Talking to a trusted friend or relative. Get some feedback and ideas, as well as a sympathetic ear, from a family member or friend with whom you trust your thoughts and feelings.
  • “Mindfulness teaches us that we are more than who we think we are,” says Jeffrey Greeson, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center..
  • Exploring therapy. That is if you just can’t shake profound feelings of loneliness

Let me end with the words of Deepak Chopra: “Solitude is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it.” 

May you and me be wise enough to learn from it. May we face our loneliness with enough grit to take the required steps and patience to bear its inescapable pain.


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For The Young

Attraction: A Gift & a Challenge

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In Ashley Anderson and Jacob Mann’s animated short film, Extinguished, attraction is literally represented as a flame right where a person’s heart beats in his or her chest. A young man’s fire goes off when his feelings for a girl he likes are not reciprocated. Later on a pretty new neighbour moves in. Looking at her, he again feels the flame burning inside his chest.

The characters help us identify with the guy, who can’t seem to avoid every imaginable embarrassment every time he interacts with his crush.

Thinking of the way attraction sometimes messes with our ‘rational self’ reminds me that often “the greatest mistake we human make in our relationships is that: we listen half; understand quarter; think zero and react double.”

Are there, then, some ‘concrete’ ways that help us have more control over our life when we feel strongly pulled towards another person, even sexually?

Can celibates or those whose commitment requires some form of abstinence experience attraction in a way that is fulfilling and yet coherent with their respective obligations?

The following ‘5 Dos’ can help us to at least ‘keep calm’ and possibly grow through the fire of attraction.

  1. Know It’s Normal

The first thing we need to realize is that it is completely natural for human beings to be emotionally or physically attracted to each other. Just because we are in a marriage, or in a commitment that requires celibacy, does not turn off our hormones!

  1. Be Aware of What’s Happening

Fr Andrew (name changed) had come to visit. I liked him but had never given it a thought. After he left, another Sister told me: ‘Hey, what’s going on with you?’ I said: ‘Nothing. Why?’ ‘When he was here, you were laughing loudly, looking very happy…’ I felt annoyed with her. What was she talking about? Later on, reflecting, I had to admit that yes, I liked Fr Andrew more than others.

At fist realizing that we like someone feels scary! Where will this take me? What will happen to me, my life and my commitments? What will the person or others think about me?

Acknowledging attraction is one of the hardest do’s. However, thinking or pretending that we are above it is more likely to lead us to ‘fall’ than the attraction itself. The good news is that acknowledging and taking responsibility for our feelings is in fact liberating. It helps us become aware that we can actually do something about it.

  1. Make a List of “What’s at Stake…”

If I were to act on my feelings, what could be the consequences? Am I truly ready for what might result?

Another way is to imagine this happening to someone else. For example, I can ask myself: How would I feel if I found out that someone I love and respect had a serious crush on someone besides their spouse and acted on their feelings? How hurt would I be? How hurt would their spouse be? How would it impact their family?

  1. Starve the Feeling

This means to keep my mind busy with something else.  How? By occupying my mind with something I am passionate about; dedicating myself to whatever is entrusted to me; caring for the people I meet and work with; being physically active.

  1. Talk It Over

Talking about our feelings with someone trustworthy and wise is another way of acknowledging the problem and getting clarity of mind. And supposing we do not have such a person, writing what goes on within has a similar effect, but we will not get useful feedback.

Conclusion

We cannot expect to remain undisturbed by attraction. It is and will remain an unsettling experience. However, the turmoil it brings need not end in a tragedy. On the contrary!

May we learn to see the beauty of feeling alive through it. May the desire to be close to another person teach us to share ourselves and learn from another.

If this experience, by making us experience our vulnerability, teach us to understand others, how can it not be a blessing? Don’t you think so?


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For The Young

UNDERSTANDING ATTRACTION

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Denis, a young man doing his theological studies, has asked to speak with me: “Sister, I was disappointed with what you previously wrote about attraction! It really sounded cold. Are we merely some kind of puppets played by the chemicals of our body? What about love? What about the songs, poems and paintings inspired by love and attraction? How practically can I handle my sexual feelings?”

Ok, Denis, let’s see your questions one by one.

In his famous bestseller, Holy Longing, Ronald Rolheiser says: “Spirituality concerns what we do with desire.” Scott Peck defines love as: “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Both writers imply that we do have the capacity to decide how to deal with our feelings, attraction included!

So, while attraction is not love it can lead to it. Various studies on the response of the brain to desire and love conclude that there are three stages of desire: lust, romantic love and attachment.

The three sides of attraction

Lust: Lust or sexual desire is what makes us search for a sexual partner. Lust refers to the physical and emotional response a person feels for another. We can experience sexual attraction even towards someone whom we hardly know, or do not love. If lust dominates, we may treat persons as objects, just to satisfy our physical urges. This can lead sexual violence and deep exploitation.

Romantic Love: Romantic love is much more personal and focussed. When reciprocated, it makes people feel ecstatic. It is the theme of most movies and novels. It is the muse of the poets, song writers and artists. It cuts deeper and makes people stay together. This is necessary for them in order to have children and bring them up. It brings along a tremendous energy and focus, a reaction similar to addictive drugs.   A person “in love” can think of the other person for hours on end. There is deep longing to be together. Being with the loved one feels like a bit of heaven—the best experience of life.

Attachment: Attachment is the ability that human beings have developed to stay together beyond the time necessary for childrearing. One result of attachment is mutual fidelity, as in marriage. However,  only relationships based on genuine love can stand the test of time. Those based on lust can’t. My maternal grandparents were evidently in love as long as they lived. Both died in their 90s. After Grandpa’s death, my aunts found Grandma turning the house upside-down. When they asked grandma what she was looking for, she answered: “maybe your father left me a last letter…” They had been writing loving notes to each other till then.

Dealing with desire and romantic love

Anything natural is God-given, and meant to serve a good purpose. This is true of hunger and thirst. It is true of our sexual longings. But, unlike animals, we need to learn to integrate our longings in the context of our life. Just as we do not grab someone else’s food when we are hungry, we do not just follow where instinct leads us.

We neither deny our feelings, nor consider them bad or abnormal. No, they are a part of who we are as human beings.

But they are not everything. Nor are they the most important element in human life. Even in marriage, what makes a couple happy is not the intensity of sexual feelings, but the union of hearts—the experience of an inner closeness, which gives a person a warm sense of security. Even when physically apart, a couple can feel “one” if there are sure of each other’s love and care. Thus we see touching proofs of mutual love when a spouse is sick or far away.

No one becomes mature all on a sudden. We are in the process of maturing. A healthy integration of sexual feelings with the rest of our personality and life takes time and wise choices. How do we achieve it? We shall see in the next article.


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For The Young

UNDERSTANDING ATTRACTION

For the Young

“Sister, can I have a word with you?”

Rani seems anxious, even embarrassed.

“Sure what’s the matter?” I think she isn’t well or has had misunderstanding with someone.

“Sister, …. I love one boy…. He loves me too…. I can’t think of anything else. I can’t study, I can’t eat or sleep. I have even lost interest in my friends. Nothing appeals to me besides spending time with him… I want to be always with him. If he calls, I am happy for the rest of the day. When he doesn’t, I become anxious, afraid to lose his love. I also feel suffocated because I can’t speak about it with my parents. To meet him or to attend his calls I often have to invent stories…”

People would say that Rani is in love. However, what she experiences has more to do with attraction and its ‘side-effects.’

Is it bad? Is it wrong? Is she bad? Is she wrong? The only answer to this question is: Her response to the feeling of attraction corresponds to the way every human being has been programmed.

We need to understand why we experience this powerful pull towards another human being. We also need to see why attraction and desire alter us so powerfully and why the feeling can be so addictive.

Such attraction is not just a mental or emotional reality. It is influenced by three powerful chemicals which affect us very strongly. They are: dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin. We can see the three of them at work in Rani’s experience.

When we undergo the pull of attraction, there is a rise of dopamine and adrenaline in our blood. Dopamine makes us feel good in a way similar to the drug cocaine. And, like cocaine, dopamine is also known to produce higher level of energy, suppressed hunger, higher ability to focus and less need for sleep. Adrenaline on the other side is responsible for the increased heart beat and sweaty palm. It is the ‘fight or flight ‘hormone. It tells us to be alert because something serious is taking place that can affect our lives.

‘Falling in love’ also brings the serotonin level of our body down. Serotonin is a chemical in our body that is involved in sleep, depression, and memory. Some of the consequences of the lower level of serotonin are anxiety and nervousness.

Why do we experience attraction? And why with a particular person and not with another one?

Psychology, biology and other sciences have come to the following conclusions:

  1. Attraction takes place because of our ‘programming.’ Its ‘purpose’ is to ensure that we seek and identify the one most genetically suited for transmitting our combined genes to an offspring. It is a biological imperative for the survival of any species.
  2. It involves all our senses in an imperceptible way that has less to do with how “sweet” the person is and more with how our senses perceive him or her.
  3. It starts with puberty and ends… well, some say one hour after we die!
  4. Attraction isn’t something we decide to experience. It has no switch-on or off button. It has a time limit but can however be reignited.
  5. Though desire isn’t love, it can lead to love or to commitment.

Let’s have a look at the first two points.

Attraction takes place because of our programming to ensure the continuity of the species.

Ever wondered why someone who is appealing to you isn’t attractive to another person?

Science tells us that we are ‘wired’ to identify the person who is most suitable to us genetically. In genetics, suitability is based on diversity. In other words, the more a person has a genetic set up dissimilar to ours, the more he or she becomes alluring to our senses. How is it so? When two persons of very different DNA have children there is more chance for their children to be stronger and healthier. On the other side, the more similar the parents’ DNA are, the weaker and the more prone to sickness and malformation their children are likely to be.

It involves all our senses

Our brains are programmed to pick up the necessary sensorial clues from the others. Our body structure, the symmetry of our face, our personal smell and the sound of our voice convey something of our genetic and ‘reproductive qualities’.

Experiments in this regard have found that:

Sight

Men are most sensible to physically attractive women. We know that already, but that is not all:

Men and women find symmetrical faces more appealing.

Both men’s and women’s eyes pick up and are attracted by the other gender’s physical characteristics: broad shoulder and narrow waist for the male and curvaceous forms for the female.

Smell

Unbeknown to women, their nose perceives genetic messages that make them like or dislike another man’s body odour. During experiments women preferred the smell of t-shirts worn by men most genetically dissimilar to them. Likewise the smell they disliked the most was from t-shirts worn by their own brothers.

Men, on the other hand, unconsciously perceive and are more attracted by the smell of women in their period of ovulation, regardless of their physical appearance.

Sound

Similar to the shape of the body, the voices with stronger feminine or masculine character are most attractive to the other gender. Men prefer women with higher pitch voices and women prefer men with lower pitched voices.

All this sounds cold, doesn’t t it? Quite alien from the burning sensation or glowing warmth that attraction produces… If we thought that we had a say in what makes a person attractive to us, these scientific facts bring quite a disillusion. Our brain plays funny tricks on us! It influences our likes and dislikes in a profound, unconscious and powerful way.

If we think about it, could it not be that the science of attraction reveals something special about God? It helps us see a creative passionate God who made us drawn to others in thousand intricate ways.

That’s why I’d like to conclude with the words of the psalm 139, 14-15:

‘For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.’

There is more to human attraction than chemicals and unconscious factors, of course. More about this in the next article.


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For The Young

Feeling Respected—or Put Down?

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Caroline is in her third year of married life. In the three last years, she became a wife, a daughter-in-law and a mother. She also started working outside at the end of her maternity leave. She says: “My in-laws expect lot from me. I feel that they always see me as incompetent. My cooking is just average, the house isn’t as tidy as it should be. It seems that I don’t even care for my baby properly… My husband never seems to understand how hard it is for me to handle the home and the job. I just wish he could help me more, take a stand for me now and then, and appreciate what I do a little more.”

Fr. Paul was ordained six months ago, and sent to help in a big parish. He is full of energy, has plenty of ideas and is eager to reach out to people.  The parish priest, Fr Henry, is kind and takes care of him. However, after the first month, he tells Fr Paul: “Our parishioners are attached to tradition. Please don’t try new things in the liturgy. And listen more during the Parish councils.” Fr. Paul feels disillusioned. He says: “I tried to gather young people, to organize a choir, but Fr Henry doesn’t seem to care much… He even seems unhappy when parishioners approach me.”

Caroline and Fr. Paul’s stories summarize some of the challenges young people have faced and shared with me regarding their family life or relationships at work.

Let’s pick up the main areas of struggle:

  • others’ expectations
  • feeling incompetent
  • longing for appreciation
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • resistance to change or to try new ways
  • feeling silenced, voiceless
  • lack of support
  • resentment or jealousy of seniors/others when we accomplish something noteworthy or good

What could possibly help us grow to be ourselves in our home or religious community? What we first need to work at is building our self-respect. Here are steps that help us build self-respect.

Seven Tips

  1. Hold yourself well, with dignity. Dressing neatly and having good hygiene sends across the message that we respect ourselves and thus deserve respect.
  2. Strive to be courteous, keeping a dignified language. Filthy or abusive language tarnishes first of all the image of the speaker.
  3. Make your own choices and decisions. Determine what your core values are and stick to them. Being always a ‘follower’ does not inspire much respect.
  4. Don’t procrastinate. When you set your mind on doing something, don’t wait forever. People respect action.
  5. Develop your mind. Notice events happening around you and in the world. Learn new things. Read.
  6. Be optimistic and behave with confidence. A simple tip: Keep your chin slightly upward. Psychologists say that it sends across the message of self-confidence and commands respect or attention.
  7. Admit your mistakes and apologize when you hurt people.

A Big Eighth Help

Ummm, I can hear you say: “Yea, Sister, these tips are nice on paper, but you don’t know what kind of superior/ parish priest/in-laws/spouse/boss I have!”

That’s true! So, here’s my last tip.

When some people seem determined to keep you down: Look into God’s eyes. Learn your self-worth from Him. The Bible—which is God’s own powerful Word—has strong and tender passages that build us up. “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for the wonder of my being.” (Psalm 139: 13-15). Or: I know the plans I have for you—plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29: 11). When you tend to fill your head with worry, this is what God tells you: Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God…Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12: 6-7).

If God has such wonderful plans for you, and carries you in His heart, don’t you think you (and everyone else) are precious and well-made?


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For The Young

How to Make Good Decisions

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You are reading this article now, because you took a decision to do it. You could be doing many other things right now. But you chose to read.

Decisions are something we cannot avoid. From the time we get up until we go to bed, we take many decisions. How do we learn to make GOOD decisions—decisions that increase our happiness and well-being, and do not do us or others harm?

Here are five tips that I have found useful.

1. Seek God’s guidance.

Jason, a married man with three grown-up children, was preparing for his eldest son’s wedding. He told me that every morning, before meeting friends or taking major decisions, he would go the church, kneel and talk to God. While being brilliant and well-educated, he was convinced  that “God has a thousand solutions where I see only one. God’s plans are much better than mine.”

This is wise.

God knows me better than I do, and God’s plans for me are much wiser than mine. He is close to me, and cares about my well-being far more than I do. So, before taking any important step, it is a very smart thing to seek God’s guidance.

How do we do it?

Simply by saying a prayer in our heart, calling on God by any of your favourite names for Him, “Help me to take the right decision, according to your plans for me. May my decisions do much good, and never harm anyone.”

Or, you can ask yourself: What would Jesus do in this situation?

Those who seek God’s will and guidance regularly, and try to live by it, develop a wisdom that comes from God. Their decisions tend to be enlightened.

2. Consult a wise person:

Do this especially if the issue is important, e.g., a vocation choice or deciding on higher studies, or seeking serious medical treatment. In such crucial matters, it would be foolish to go by our limited knowledge alone. None of us knows our strengths and weaknesses fully, nor the possibilities open to us.

When Patrick was a novice, he had thoughts of joining a contemplative order. He did not realize that he was idealizing contemplative life, and not looking at himself realistically. A senior priest, known for leading a good life, and guiding others, told him, “Patrick, from what I know of you, you are better suited to an active religious order.”

Patrick would later say that this guidance proved to be wise.

If the issue is minor (what to eat for breakfast, or which TV show to watch), we need not waste others’ time by consulting them, of course! But serious decisions affect our happiness and the well-being of others. Talking to a wise person clarifies matters, helps us to see options we had not thought of, and leads us to discover gifts we did not even know we had. A good parent or formator or counsellor gives us loving attention, and frees us from undue anxiety, and help us to take decisions with greater clarity and confidence.

3. Check how you would advise someone else:

If someone else were to come to me with this problem, how would I advise him/her? That may be the advice I need to give to myself.

4. Write down the pros and cons:

If you are confused about the choices before you, writing can clarify matters. Write down three things: OPTIONS, OUTCOMES, FEELINGS. That is: What are the options available to me? At times we say silly things like, “Oh, there are a hundred and one things to think of!” No, there aren’t. Write down your real options. They will probably come down to two or three. Next, write down the possible outcome for each option. An example would be: If I leave the convent, I will have to find a job and look after myself. Thirdly, how am I likely to feel in each option? Where do I think I feel happiest and most at peace? Where do I think I will be more troubled or restless? Our feelings are (often, not always) good indicators of what is good for us.

There are no perfect choices in life. We will not like everything about any option, but writing helps to clarify our possibilities.

5. Do not decide when moved by intense emotion:

When we are moved by intense anger, or deep sadness, or bitter jealousy or strong sexual attraction, our judgement is clouded. We tend to make stupid decisions that we later repent of. Thus, for instance, a jealous person may go around pulling down the person s/he is jealous of; the speaker is only cutting one’s own throat, winning the contempt of people. Or, if I am intensely angry, I will get into fights, abusive language and physical violence, and make enemies unnecessarily. Or, if I feel depressed, I may want to run away from my present setting, or get drunk or even think of suicide. Or if a boy is strongly attracted to a girl, he may imagine her to be more perfect than she really is, and decide to run away with her, without thinking of the consequences. Marriages based mostly on strong sexual attraction are on the rocks very soon.

When we are under the sway of strong (especially “negative”) emotions, that is the time to wait, say a silent prayer, and talk things over with someone we trust. It is probably the worst time for  taking decisions.

To conclude:

In minor matters, spontaneity is fine.

In major decisions: pray, reflect, consult, write down options.

Strong emotions (especially anger, jealousy, depression and lust) blind us and can misguide us. Pause, pray, confide in someone.

May you learn to make wise decisions—choices that lead to your happiness and integral well-being.


– Dr Jeff T. Manning 

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For The Young

To ‘Gift’ or not to ‘Gift’?

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Here is a true story that touched my heart.

While researching about people who spent Christmas differently, I chanced upon Jenn Miller’s blog. In 2008, she and her husband sold their house, most of their belongings and, along with their four kids started living a nomadic life all around the world. In ‘The Edventure Project’ she writes: ‘Christmas isn’t about the gifts, and those who focus on reducing or eliminating those, or with what to do “instead” really make it more about the stuff in some way… Instead for us Christmas is just a time to do even more of what we try to live out every day of the year… It’s a time to give not just gifts but – Acts of service – Time – Meals – Friendship – A hug – A listening ear – Patience – Grace – Forgiveness.”

To check how it made sense in my life, I made a list of my ‘favourite Christmases’. I realized that I remembered almost no concrete ‘thing’ received. However, relationships, sharing with others, meaningful liturgical celebrations and time spent with dear ones had made some days unforgettable:

  •  One Christmas meal, my Mom invited us to say how each of the family members was a gift for the others. I don’t remember what was said, but what still remains with me is realizing how precious it was to have each other.
  • Atmy 7th Christmas, an uncle took me to the classical ballet ‘the Nutcracker’… I still recall how it made me feel important.
  • At my first Christmas as sister, our junior mistress organized a treasure hunting game to find our gifts. The gift I got was only a night gown but I still remember the excitement, the laughter and how being together as sisters warmed my heart.
  • A few years ago, one of our choir members took us to a retirement home for the destitute to sing carols. To witness the joy of the elderly ladies was as much if not more a gift to us than our little program to them.
  • Last year I was part of the Christmas cooking team. We were tired, had slept very few hours, but somehow the joy of being family, of preparing something special for others gave us a joyful energy.

Why not ask Jesus, the Giver and the Gift, to teach us to give what He gives and give it the way He gives? ‘Present’ means both gift and now. Could it not be that Jesus, the God-With-Us that we celebrate, invites us to be here, now, for others; to give ourselves and our time to others?

And what about the lesson of the shepherds: the ability to see beyond the appearance of the gift—God in a babe born of a poor woman and lying in a manger?

 Though we may not be able to leave out completely certain ‘worldly elements’ of Christmas, we can still take steps to keep the ‘Birthday Boy’ at the centre of our celebrations and gifts. What will you do? How will you do it? What kind of gifts are you going to give? How are you going to give them? Will you write more than your signature in the greetings? (We can add a loving personal note to each one write to.) Finally, how are you going to receive whatever comes to you? I wish you a graceful season. In whatever person/way/gifts Jesus comes to you, may you hear ‘his silent steps.’


– Sr. Marie Gabrielle Riople SCSM

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