Dreams of Mary: Prepare the way to the Lord
As we begin a new liturgical year with the season of Advent, we are encouraged to: “Prepare the way of the Lord “ and to “Make one’s paths straight. ‘
Part of my role as a mission support and outreach agent has been to provide opportunities to prepare the way of the Lord in the lives of our young people across the diocese and to help young leaders to do so. the same. Although youth ministry may seem like a colossal task in these modern times, where many activities and events constantly compete for our attention, I have had the great privilege of walking with the youth of our diocese for over two years. and to witness how their faith has grown and flourished amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This time has been full of anxiety, uncertainty, and unforeseen challenges, but many have been able to stay cheerful in the midst of it all and look forward to uncertain times with hope.
Last week I participated in a mystagogical reflection with a group of young people from the pastoral placement program. It is a process they have become accustomed to, introduced by Sr. Louise Gannon. It was inspiring to witness how the word of God comes to life through this process and speaks directly to their hearts. Their reflections were a reminder of how the ancient word of God can speak the truth today, and how an authentic encounter with Christ can be facilitated by the Holy Spirit through their engagement with the scriptures. The scripture reflection was taken from Luke 3: 1-6
… ‘A voice cries out in the wilderness;
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make its paths straight.
Each valley will be filled,
let every mountain and hill be cast down,
the winding paths will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind will see God’s salvation. ‘
As we were brought to focus on the above quote (Luke 3: 4-6), the “desert” theme spoke of a “spiritual wilderness” that we had all experienced over the past two years. That of isolation, loneliness, setbacks and even despair. The passage then continues to ensure that “… All mankind will see God’s salvation. It was indeed a comfort to reflect on the shared experience that through moments of doubt and isolation, we had the objective of seeing hope in the presence of Christ, who walks with us, like the Lord. one of us. Staying connected to Christ, and to each other, was a real gift during times of confinement. The group was inspired to examine their lives, bring them to the light of Christ, and change what needed to be changed to experience the fullness of life in relation to and in imitation of Jesus.
As Christmas approaches, as we reflect on the nativity, we can draw a parallel with Mary and Joseph’s arduous journey to Bethlehem for the Roman census. The discomfort and fear that Mary and Joseph experienced as they approached the time to give birth to Jesus must have been very difficult. The flip side of being told there was “no room at the inn” and the mere offer of a stable for the birth of Jesus, the king of kings, could not have made sense. The holy family was not spared from a desert experience and yet nothing could prepare it for what was to follow: the birth of the Savior of the world.
Trusting when the odds are stacked against us, and hoping when you may not be able to see the way forward, is a gift. The gift is faith. The birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God instills hope and offers us all salvation at all times. It is also an invitation to invite others to this experience and this deep relationship for which we were created.
Our late Bishop Bill provided inspiring words of wisdom and encouragement when he led Sacred @ Seven around the same time last year (an hour of music, writing and worship; an initiative of the Diocesan Council for youth ministry, DCMYP). He challenged us as young people to be courageous and invited us to consider how we could be like John the Baptist and bear witness to people. He asked us how we could walk among the people outside the walls of the church…
The question I am asked the most in my role as a Mission Support and Outreach Officer is: where are the young people?
In truth, young people are everywhere! They are in our schools, universities, TAFE, workplaces, athletic fields, pubs, music festivals, virtual communities, volunteering with organizations that promote social justice and in our homes. One of the most wonderful aspects of working with the young people of our diocese is the arrival of new people in our community. Preparing the way for the Lord is sometimes as simple as an invitation. Make someone feel welcome to join us and allow God to do the rest.
The Catholic Society of Newcastle University needed a treasurer and Asher Jintoorkar bravely agreed, not realizing that his life was going to change forever. Asher responded to another invitation for a weekly mass on campus and felt comfortable enough to stay behind to chat with the students and chaplains. Asher was eventually asked if he would like to become a Catholic, and he began the preparation necessary to become a full member of the Church; the RCIA process. He chose Father Camille, the university chaplain to be his godfather and continues to grow in the faith. On Faith’s relevance today, Asher shares:
“Faith is relevant because so much in the world changes, but the Christian faith does not. There is a lack of serious conviction among people where people tend to go with the crowd… It is important in today’s world to have a conviction regarding the moral issue because it is our moral compass which we should try not to go against.
In March of this year, Morgan Owens responded to a social media post on Facebook to attend “Pints with a Purpose.” This event organized by DCMYP is a guest speaker conference that takes place in a pub. The idea is that many people would not feel comfortable going to a church to listen to a speaker, but could listen to the same speaker in a casual setting. Guest speaker Tinah Tohi explained how her faith has helped her cope with her son’s terminal illness. It was also a story of how the Catholic faith helped her son cope with his illness. At the time, Morgan was mourning the death of her eldest daughter, Eden, and needed something, she just wasn’t sure what it was. As a mother, she felt drawn to Mother Mary, which is why she responded to this conference. It was this encounter that made Morgan realize that it was God that she needed and she immediately began the path to becoming a Catholic. Following this event, Morgan attended the Women’s Ministry of the Full of Grace collective founded by pastoral care worker Natalee Bonomini, whom Morgan chose as sponsor. Here she was surrounded by young women full of faith who were able to walk with her as she grew in faith and fervor. She could see how Mary led her to Jesus by being with other young mothers who shared the faith and prayed the Rosary together. Father James Odoh was able to accompany Morgan through the RCIA process and she was able to celebrate several sacraments in one day, including her and her daughter’s baptism, confirmation, first communion, and validation of her marriage as a Catholic sacrament. She also celebrated Eden’s first birthday. There was not a dry eye in the Church that day and I felt privileged to attend.
These stories are just two of the many inspiring stories of hope that have occurred during this year. They show what can happen as we prepare the way for the Lord, even if it is as simple as an invitation to welcome. Asher and Morgan are now witnesses of Jesus and examples as we serve a God who continues to pursue us.
I challenge you, as Bishop Bill did, to be courageous and to be a living witness to Christ. We have something amazing to offer the world, and that is Jesus. In this Advent season, let us unite to joyfully await Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Jesus in our hearts and in our world.
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