What’s In A Letter?

Receiving more than a Christmas card but a detailed Christmas letter, recapping the past year’s events, is a widespread experience now. Last week, a parishioner read a lengthy Christmas letter from a friend filled with only bad news, a recurring need for the family to quarantine, a period of unemployment, a broken leg, dental issues, car breakdowns, household plumbing problems and even two dead goldfish, among other challenges, were reported. Compassionate by nature, our kindly parishioner wanted to offer an immediate supportive and encouraging response. Rather than write a letter and wait for the Postal Service, she decided to text. With misty eyes and a prayer in her heart she texted, “Got your letter – L. O. L.” She was shocked when she received this stinging response, “There was nothing funny about 2021 for me or for my family!” Telephoning her daughter to diagnose the shocked situation she learned that although she texted L. O. L, meaning in her mind Lots Of Love, L.O.L, in text language, means Laughing Out Loud!

Ooooops! We are certainly sympathetic with the feelings of our kind parishioner who only wished to share her love and concern. Her test was misinterpreted because of a misunderstanding of the language of text. Language has a powerful influence on how we see and experience our world. For example, during the Christmas season we hear and see the word JOY written on cards and in greetings. Here at St. Ann or have a lovely lighted display of the word JOY reminding all who see it that Christ is the source of our JOY this Christmas season and always. JOY is word that we do not use frequently in our everyday vocabulary outside of the Christmas season. We choose most often to use the word happiness. Happiness is not the same thing as Christian JOY. We can be terribly unhappy and still be filled with JOY. JOY is deeper than happiness because we can be joyful in very unhappy situations. For example, there can be JOY in a hospital room, when a loved one is nearing death – no one is happy about the experience they are sharing – but there can be JOY, in experiencing together the gathering in love and for love at a very painful yet beautiful time. JOY is knowing before God that we are in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, even if we are hurting. We may not be laughing out loud, but we can offer lots of love with JOY. God desires for us to be people filled with JOY. The only way that we can gain a joyful perspective in suffering is through prayer. God is the only one that can whisper into our hearts joy even when we are suffering.

As we take the collection for the Retired Religious this weekend is fitting to remember the Religious Teachers Sister Filippini who taught, “If you want to experience J.O.Y learn how to spell the word and arrange the letters in their proper place. In order of importance and priorities: J – Jesus, O – others, Y – yourself.” Prayer is the only way that we can keep order and find JOY, no matter what’s happening around us.

Reflection On Prayer

God desires to be in a close and personal relationship with us to help us to gain perspective on our challenges.  Prayer unwraps God who is always with us. Prayer directs our attention to God who can be found in all things, even the difficult things. The Spirit of God dwells within us; prayer is the inner journey to discover the gift of God within.  St. Paul challenges us to rejoice in God’s presence in all circumstances, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” (1Thessalonians 5:16). William S. Barry S. J. in his book Praying the Truth (2012) gives a simple definition of prayer:

“By prayer I mean what occurs when I am conscious in some way of God’s presence. Ignatius of Loyola is known for wanting to find God in all things – that is, to be able to do all things while, at the same time, being conscious of God’s presence. In other words, he wanted to be prayerful at all times. A tall order, you might say, but Ignatius believes that a person could come close to this with the help of God and by the regular practice of paying attention to what happens in daily life. He could hope for such a state because of his Christian belief that God, the Creator of the universe, is never absent from any part of this universe. Hence, whether we are aware of it or not, we are always in God’s presence no matter what we are doing. All that is required (for prayer) is that I am conscious of God’s presence and whatever activity I engage.”

Our Advent Program, Your Gift is Wrapped in Prayer is an opportunity for us to encounter God in our daily lives by discovering joy in our prayer for one another.

Reflection Questions and Prayerful Activity

  • When have I felt closest to God?
  • What does God’s desire to be in a personal relationship with me mean? What does this invite me to do?
  • What people, places or things awaken my awareness of God?
  • What is my experience of the difference between happiness and JOY?
  • When have I felt JOY even when I have been unhappy?
  • How might I be a source of joy for another this week?
  • What action will I take?