POPE FRANCIS' CHRISTMAS MESSAGE

"Christmas is usually a noisy party: we could use a bit of silence, to hear the voice of Love."

Christmas is you, when you decide to be born again each day and let God into your soul. The Christmas pine is you, when you resist vigorous winds and difficulties of life. The Christmas decorations are you, when your virtues are colors that adorn your life. The Christmas bell is you, when you call, gather and seek to unite. You are also a Christmas light, when you illuminate with your life the path of others with kindness, patience, joy and generosity. The Christmas angels are you, when you sing to the world a message of peace, justice and love. The Christmas star is you, when you lead someone to meet the Lord. You are also the wise men, when you give the best you have no matter who. Christmas music is you when you conquer the harmony within you. The Christmas gift is you, when you are truly friend and brother of every human being. The Christmas card is you, when kindness is written in your hands. The Christmas greeting is you, when you forgive and reestablish peace, even when you suffer. The Christmas dinner is you, when you sated bread and hope to the poor man who is by your side. You are, yes, Christmas night, when humble and conscious, you receive in the silence of the night the Savior of the world without noise or great celebrations; you are a smile of trust and tenderness, in the inner peace of a perennial Christmas that establishes the Kingdom within you. A very Merry Christmas for all those who look like Christmas.

-- Pope Francis

CHRISTMAS SEASON

By John Tauler, a 14th-century German Dominican mystic

It is certain that if God is to be born in the soul
It must turn back to eternity
It must turn in toward itself with all its might,
Must recall itself,
And consecrate all its faculties within itself,
The lowest as well as the highest,
All its dissipated powers must be gathered up into one,
Because unity is strength.

Next the soul must go out.
It must travel away from itself, above itself.
There must be nothing left in us
but a pure intention towards God;
no will to be or become or obtain anything for ourselves.
We must exit only to make place for him,
The highest inmost place,
Where he may do his work;
There, when we are no longer putting ourselves in his way,
He can be born in us.

If one would prepare an empty place
In the depths of the soul
There can be no doubt that God must fill it at once.
If there were void on earth
The heavens would fall to fill it.
So you must be silent.

Then God will be born in you,
Utter his word in you
And you shall hear it;
But be very sure that if you speak
The word will have to be silent.
If you go out, he will most surely come in;
As much as you go out for him
He will come to you;
No more, no less.

When shall we find and know
This birth of God within us?
Only when we concentrate
all our faculties within us
and direct them all towards God.
Then he will be born in us
And make himself our very own.
He will give himself to us as our own,
more completely ours
than anything we ever called our own.

The text says: ‘A child is born to us and a son is
given to us.’
He is ours
He is all our own,
More truly than anything else we own,
and constantly, ceaselessly, he is born in us.

-- Taken from CO e-News, Dec 2017

OF GRIEF, LOVE AND ADVENT

By Conchitina S. Bernardo

Today I saw grief up close. It was not dark. Instead it glistened from the tears of a beloved daughter in law who had just lost her father. I felt her pain, as she mourned that she was now totally without a parent. Barely 11 years old when her mother had died, her father was her bedrock of support and unconditional love.

Watching her I realized that grief is the true expression of love. How else can you grieve so intensely without having first known love and being loved in return? You lament deeply the loss of that love . It is a constant emptiness that will not go away.

I sat down late at night and struggled to connect the events of life with my parish bulletin deadline on “Advent and Love.” I closed my eyes and whispered a prayer word ... “Help!” Then I did my Centering Prayer.

It became clear that it all started with love. “God so loved the world,” we have been told this many times, “that he sent His only Son to ransom us.” So the season of Advent brings us to the beginning of the story...a stable and the birth of a child, just like one of us. In God’s boundless love, Jesus became what we are, so that we could be what He is.

In the silence of contemplative prayer, in the quiet of the night I realized that this was God’s true gift of love - His own Son. Why not surrounded by gold, glitter and luxury befitting a prince? The message is clear - without poverty of spirit, there cannot be an abundance of God.

The spiritual journey with its books, quotations, and prayers brings you to moments like this when you stumble on a prayer, hear a phrase or a single word that speaks to you. Sharing in the pain of a daughter in law awakens your soul. That night there was a prayer on Centering Prayer that resonated with me.

“God of the Silence, calm and quiet my soul at the fount of your loving presence. In your silence, replenish me with the force of love. When there is nowhere else to go, inspire me to drop into my heart and find your life giving grace there, weaving the fabric of human reality into a tapestry of love. Amen.” (Peter Traben)

Seeing God in daily events is a natural outcome of fidelity to the practice of Centering Prayer. He is everywhere “in the fabric of human reality,” in people who grieve, in the joys of a Christmas party, in the wide eyes of a child asking Santa for a magic pony. He is there faithfully and definitely. The best way to know, is to daily practice moments of silence. To “drop into your heart” and relish the quiet.

"Once we begin the spiritual journey, there is no longer merely private prayer. Our prayer becomes a participation in the groanings of the Spirit for all the intentions and needs of the human family. ... During the periods of Centering Prayer we enter into a sense of oneness with everyone else who is experiencing grace, and with the whole human family. ... This bonding is the heart of the Christian community. ... Every little drop of that experience is of almost inconceivable value and vastly transcends the assembled community itself. In other words, the divine energy that is accessed by each one's participation ... becomes a kind of universal prayer for the needs of the whole human family. It has a radiation that is truly apostolic in the sense of transmitting the grace of Christ into this world. ...Through contemplative prayer, we are moving into a realm of reality that influences the past and the future perhaps more than anything else we could do."

-- Thomas Keating, “Intimacy with God”

MUSINGS IN MY JOURNEY THRU CENTERING PRAYER

“Without centering prayer to start my day, my work in “Arko”, would be just another job – devoid of meaning and purpose.”
-- Betty F.
(Editor’ note: Betty is Chairman of “Arko”, Philippine affiliate of L’Arche, an international community taking care of the severely handicapped, founded by Jean Vanier)

“CP is the glue that holds me together.” -- Billie T.

“Self- knowledge is often daunting... Knowing one's foibles and weaknesses could be demoralizing. But, again this is where humility and acceptance of one's human condition come in with a challenge to go beyond the human condition.” -- Carmel D.

“I think that self- knowledge is one of the greatest gifts l got from doing CP, and loving myself "in spite of myself" can make me love others too and accept others as they are, not trying to “change them” but accepting their human condition too and loving them "in spite of themselves". -- Anna Marie L.

“The difference between CONSENT vs. ACCEPT is that the former is more positive while the latter is negative. Why so? Because to consent is a free choice we make to be in alignment with the will of God for us. To accept denotes we have no choice in the matter. The former is proactive and the latter is after the fact.” -- Ping O.

“It is in the everyday-ness of my life that CP really shines. It brings me to a constant awareness of God’s presence in everything – within me, around me, in all the circumstances and experiences that I go thru, even in the silence. I don’t know what I’d do without CP.” -- Terly C.

“Although we did not choose our birth, our parents, our family, our environment and many circumstances of our life, what we do with our free will which is God’s gift to us, is completely our choice. We exercise this gift by our decision to do good or not every day of our lives. Because of our human condition we face many challenges in our intention to follow the ways of the Lord. Thanks to Centering Prayer that helps us deepen our relationship with God and keeps us grounded in what truly matters in our journey thru life. -- Esther P.

I met a man once who’d had a near-death experience; he almost drowned. He was very happy going down the tunnel of light into the great embrace of love that he perceived to be drawing him. Presumably he was thrashing around in the water physically trying to survive, but actually, in the depths of his consciousness, he was having a great time. Anyway, he got the message that it wasn’t his time so he came back. He came back first of all without a fear of death, and that changed his life, but also with a conviction that he had a work to do, he had something to complete. And he was a bit anxious about what he should do with his life now. I think he was thinking primarily in terms of what kind of job he should do or where he should live, various external aspects of the work he should do, but I think what he needed to find was the interior meaning of that work. What he needed, what we all need, is to find ourselves. That is the essential work of life.

-- Fr. Laurence Freeman

WAKING UP AND GROWING UP

By Leslee Terpay

Fr. Thomas has asked the Centering Prayer community to spend the next year going back to basics. For much of the past 12 years I have been revisiting Thomas’ teachings on Centering Prayer and the Christian spiritual journey by serving at least one long Centering Prayer intensive retreat a year in which I prepare by reading both Open Mind, Open Heart and Invitation to Love. This may seem a little over board in terms of preparation but I find each yearly reading brings me closer to absorbing the materials with my heart rather than my head.

Contemplative Outreach is preparing a new, yearlong online journey* into Thomas’ Spiritual Journey series. Some of you may think, "I’ve already seen those videos—they are so old!" Or, that you are evolved beyond the teachings. Maybe you think that you have mastered Centering Prayer. Or even that it’s all about the prayer—"I don’t need to look at my falsity as God has this covered." Thomas teaches that there is both the prayer—our consent to God’s presence and action within and remembering who we are in God -- which is balanced by our looking within at our unrecognized needs for security, power/control, affection/esteem and our unconscious identification and conforming to our group. Although he began these teachings decades ago, they are still timely and inform our journeys now. Please open your hearts and minds to discern if this is the time to explore Thomas’ teachings with new eyes, new ears and a new heart.*

I would like to share how Thomas’ teachings have informed and formed our Colorado Springs Centering Prayer community over the past six years. Our story may help in your discernment process.

Most Thursday mornings, I drive 55 miles south to a church that for the last five years has invited us to share Fr. Thomas’ teachings on Centering Prayer, other contemplative practices, and the Christian contemplative journey, especially the human condition.

Each January a new group gathers from Centering Prayer communities in Denver south to Pueblo – over 100 miles from north to south – to pray together, learn together, and grow together in an atmosphere of ecumenical dialogue. We are mainline Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals, and interspiritual people who are drawn back to Christianity by this prayer.

Our sharing at first is measured, each open to hear each other, but trying to understand each other’s nuanced Christian language for the same experiences. It takes about six weeks for us to become a community bonded in God’s love and grace -- one where we are connected by our hearts, and where our membership is in the human family rather than our individual denominations.

Our reading and video viewing begins with Thomas’ teaching on Centering Prayer. We take the time to hear for the first, or the second, or third, or 20th time, the method of the prayer of consent. For those of us who do not have a practice, this beginning helps us to establish our prayer time. For those of us who do have a practice, it helps us recommit to our daily prayer time. We read and ponder how Thomas’ book Open Mind, Open Heart informs our lives at this point in our journeys. This commitment to our prayer time is sometimes referred to as our waking up – becoming more aware and remembering our relationship with God and our basic core of goodness. It reminds us of the greatest commandment to love God with all of ourselves and to love others and ourselves as well.

Next, we dive into Thomas’ teaching of Centering Prayer’s sister prayer: Lectio Divina. Many of the people in our community have studied or heard the Bible every day of their lives. Learning to pray the Scriptures is very powerful and leads to resting in God’s embrace in the word. Many are comforted by how Lectio Divina informs the Centering Prayer method.

Just before our summer break, we begin to explore Thomas’ teaching on the human condition. Here we learn about the energy centers. We grapple with our addictions -- small and large -- those hidden and those we are just a little aware of. This inward look or growing up is balanced by our renewed confidence in our relationship with God.

In the fall sessions, we explore our human condition, our false self, and try to remember our true self – who God sent us into the world to be. We ponder Thomas’ teaching on the beatitudes, the spiritual senses and the fruits and gifts of the Spirit. Again, the remembrance and celebration of who we are in God and how we interact with the people, the creatures and God’s creation around us. The Welcoming Prayer becomes a practice to consent to God in the active moments of our lives.
Our formation ends with a call to service. Our contemplation leads to action expressed in as many different ways as there are folks in the group. We celebrate and are sent off to join Centering Prayer groups in our area.

But something funny happens: a few of us return again the following year to revisit the same teachings. Contemplative learning is hearing or praying the same thing over and over but hearing and exploring it with our hearts and minds at the new place we are in the journey. Our books are highlighted in many different colors as the words touch us in different ways. Recently, I got to our session and told one of the other facilitators that the video of the day was my favorite video of the year. Yet at the end of the day, I shared that it felt like I had never seen this video before! I didn’t forget the teachings, but was ready to hear them in a new way, with new eyes and new ears and a new heart and even a new brain.

This invitation to travel together that Fr. Thomas and the Contemplative Outreach team is putting before us is a call back to basics, so we can wake up more, and grow up more, and remember more who we are in God, who we are as words of God sent into the world to serve, and who we are in relation to those around us and to the entire cosmos. Come and see*.

RE-LIGHTENMENT FROM A CHERISHED PAST

By Chuchi De Guzman-Daroy

I was able to get a book by Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ - 'Shafts of Light.' More than just being full of inspiration for the present times, it is also very much a look back to when he 'led' our group of high school students on the spiritual/social/ political and personal path to real democratic freedom for all Filipinos in the early 70s.

Then was a time of building resistance to local political pressures as well as global aggression in the commodification of each person and the earth. I started reading it cautiously with a prayer that this journey past and present will fulfill for us the true life of freedom and Presence in God.

When I finally finished Fr. Guido's book I can tell that the lyricism is light and simple, yet really full of marrow of the real Filipino faith. There is the angst of living the Spirit we cannot grasp and keep, although we keep reaching out for it in our search for the authentic Filipino identity.

But through the years we are at the edge of a transgenerational revolution in a higher consciousness as a Christ-people. Look at our spontaneous response to disaster, calamity and sickness -- we easily reach out and try to help in small and big ways.

Mercy and compassion is the faith of little people magnified in humble and quiet efforts. This communion leaves marks on our time in this earth, on which future generations can build upon, and live from. Beauty and celebration is at the heart of the Filipino's expression of this great Love. May our prayer in silence and our clinging to the Word nourish and feed our Soul for life in eternity.

HOW TO "MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF GOD"

By Joan Chittister

It was not what I expected to have happen at a White House Conference in Washington, D.C. on the relationship of the faith community to race relations in the United States. But because of that meeting I began to realize what Christmas is really all about. We were black, white, and brown, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Bahai and Native Americans called together to discuss the relationship of religion to race. Ironically enough, it was the Indian chief who taught me the meaning of Isaiah.

Into the midst of the theological meanderings of those of us who wanted to write another paper, have another meeting, take another workshop to combat racism, the Chief brought the message of Isaiah again. He stood up slowly, folded his hands quietly in front of him, looked out over our heads and said softly, “I have spent my life teaching our children to say ‘thank you’: Thank you for the grass. Thank you for the rain. Thank you for the stranger. Thank you for all the people of the world. I think that if we learn to say ‘thank you’ for everything, we will come to realize its value, to respect it, to see it as sacred.”

It was a simple speech but it had a kind of cataclysmic effect on my soul. It gave me pause. It made me think. It raised the specter of Isaiah in me all over again. It made me think newly about what the scriptures are really talking about when they tell us to “make straight the way of God.” I suddenly realized that Christmas is time to shout, “thank you.”

Christmas is the commitment to life made incarnate. It is the call to see God everywhere and especially in those places we would not expect to find glory and grace. It is the call to exult in life.

Christmas is the obligation to see that everything leads us directly to God, to realize that there is no one, nothing on earth that is not the way to God for me. I knew instantly that the moment we begin to really celebrate Christmas, to look at everyone and everything as a revelation of God, to say “thank you” for them, that racism would be over, war would be no more, world hunger would disappear, everything would be gift, everyone would be sacred.

Indeed, it is simple but oh, so clear: All we have to do to “make straight the way of God” is to say “thank you,” to learn to live intensely, to have a zeal for life, to develop a passion for life.

HOW CENTERING PRAYER HAS ENRICHED MY SPIRITUAL LIFE

By Germelina Lising Salumbides

The very core of Centering Prayer is relationship with the Lord. Centering Prayer has brought me to a new level of such a relationship.

In the past, my prayer life was dictated by my own limited conceptualizations of who God is, what He wants from me, what I want from Him, etc. Centering Prayer has freed me from all that, opening and expanding my mind and my heart, thus bringing me to levels beyond my human limitations and beyond all my imaginings.

"Be Still and Know that I am God."

(Psalm 46) "Silence is God's first language; everything else is a poor translation . In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and rest in God." (Father Thomas Keating)

"Silence of the heart is necessary so you can hear God everywhere." (Mother Teresa)

In the silence and in stillness, I rest in God’s palm beyond concepts, listening to the murmurings of His heart as He listens to mine - beyond words, beyond concepts, beyond feelings,

On Mondays, I practice Centering Prayer with a group at Santuario de San Antonio parish center. Here I am acutely aware of the intent of each person. In deep silence, we are all mutually seeking that relationship with the Lord, one that is growing and deepening. Now and then His presence becomes more palpable, affirming us in our spiritual journey.

After centering prayer, we do Lectio Divina . This time, sharing His word in community where we verbalize that mutual consent, seeking Him through and with one another. We listen to His words, and we listen to each other's conversation with Him. And we grow in relationship with Him and with one another. Spiritual friendship that is beautiful and deeply bonding.

I leave the centering prayer meeting in peace. Peace beyond words, beyond understanding, beyond all imagining.

May His peace be with us all.

FRUITS OF CENTERING PRAYER

The following are some reflections and personal sharings by some members of Contemplative Outreach Phil. (COP) regarding their experience, growth and relationship with God thru Centering Prayer. It is a journey of hope, joy and transformation

“Centering prayer has made me aware of the importance of silence in my life, which in turn helps me in my prayer life leading to a deeper relationship with God. Thru centering prayer I have grown in self-knowledge allowing me to be more calm and tolerant of the people I work with. I also notice that I am less anxious over situations and circumstances that are beyond my control, trusting in God Who loves me unconditionally.”

Diva Abad Santos, Don Bosco, Makati Centering Prayer Group

Centering Prayer, the prayer of silence, has helped me retain my serenity and peacefulness in the midst of turmoil and chaos in the world around me. My sacred word, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy”, automatically rises up in me even when I am not consciously praying.

Thru centering prayer, I have come to realize that the two greatest commandments, love of God and love of neighbor, are not just mere words to remember but to be lived concretely in daily life. It is only when ones walks in the shoes of another, so to speak, that one can better understand what it is to suffer what my neighbor suffers. After experiencing God’s infinite mercy, I can be more understanding, patient and compassionate towards everybody - family, friends, community, society, all of humanity.

I continue to struggle and fall in my life’s journey but feel undaunted, knowing that God is on my side helping me to be the person that He created me to be, a beautiful person in His own image and likeness. It is my desire to be His faithful servant.

Violet de Borja, Our Lady of the Rosary Centering Prayer Group

“I work with poor, hungry children and the most marginalized families in our society thru an NGO I started in 2001. The task requires long hours, tireless energy and faithful dedication to the programs of health/feeding, scholarship, livelihood, food sustainability, agriculture and fisheries nationwide. The number of underprivileged children and families get bigger as l, in my very senior years, grow older. How do l find the perseverance to continue doing my work which began 16 years ago? Only thru God’s grace!

To my mind, Centering prayer is the “conduit” of this grace that filters down into my whole being moment to moment, day after day as I go about my ministry to the poor thru the NGO, Kabisig ng Kalahi. Even so, I've stopped analyzing the how’s and why’s of centering prayer in my life’s journey. I just know it is what it is. Thank you Lord always and forever.

Vicky Wieneke, St. Benedict Centering Prayer Group

I thank God for giving me the gift of centering prayer! I have been practicing it since the 1980’s when I first heard the audio tapes of Fr. Thomas Keating and the late Fr. Basil Pennington, two Trappist monks who I was also blessed to meet in person, during centering prayer workshops and retreats. My spiritual journey has also been enriched by the wisdom and friendship of Lita Salinas, who started and nurtured Contemplative Outreach Phil, in my parish, Santuario de San Antonio, 27 years ago.

Through all these years I have grown more and more in love with Jesus Christ. He has become the “Ikaw” (“Thou”) of my life. He is my most intimate companion. Through Centering Prayer I have learned to embrace people from all walks of life and have chosen to help them by serving in the different ministries of the Social Services ministry of SSA parish.

Through Centering Prayer I feel an overwhelming sense of God’s love and presence in my life. Everyday I look forward to a new encounter with Jesus!

Marrot Moreno, Galilee Centering Prayer Group

Work is Prayer in Action

I am now approaching my retirement from a job I have come to love and grow with. I was hired as a scientist (fulfillment of a childhood dream) at the same time that I began Centering Prayer and the journey to contemplative living. Thus, my job became a major part of my spiritual life with its moorings in contemplative prayer and lectio divina, unfolding in self-knowledge and wisdom, and the many lessons in humility, patience, and forgiveness. Yes, in the workplace and among my colleagues, staff and superiors, growth in learning the Presence of God in each moment fostered meaningful relationships that extended beyond the bounds of job descriptions, pecking order, rules and duties. I came to know my workmates as true children of God with their aspirations and hopes, graces and flaws, their ups and downs. I learned from them to be humble instead of ambitious, to be charitable instead of frustrated, to be obedient and not resentful, and to be open and accepting to the cross of disappointments, imperfect relationships, and the superficial lack of insight that pervades our daily grind.

Centering Prayer enabled me to look mindfully at the many opportunities to let God answer my prayers for healing, for mercy, for guidance and providence, and even for miracles.

As I prepare to move into a new phase in my life in the coming months, I will remember with much love how a life of prayer and faithful listening to God’s Word made my work a place of purpose, meaning, deep friendship and fruitful transformation

Chuchi Daroy, Bethany Centering Prayer Group

Jesus is my life, my all at each and every moment! His Presence is a present, a gift of life, a gift of love, peace and abundance. Thru my spiritual practices especially Centering Prayer, my relationship with my God is one that permeates every aspect of my life, every cell of my being more than I can ever fathom! His inscrutable ways of loving and caring amidst all that is the opposite of a life in God are beyond imagining!

Nena Tantoco, Contemplative Outreach, Phil.

ALWAYS FAITHFUL

By Len Hizon

Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10). I came across this verse when I first encountered Centering Prayer in 1997. My reaction was WHAT! Quiet, stillness? What about the rosary and litanies I was taught by the nuns to pray? Centering Prayer assures me all this has its place in my prayer life. But so does silence, stillness, and meditation.

The silence as a way to “hang out” with my Father and Savior who also happens to be my Friend. As my Friend, He listens to my constant chatter pleading, demanding, negotiating for this, that, and everything in between. And always, He holds me in that space of love, mercy, and compassion. As I persevered in the practice of Centering Prayer, however, I began to understand I needed to stop talking and start listening. In Centering Prayer I found that quiet space to listen to my Friend with the ear of my heart.

As an introvert, surface quiet is easy. But surface quiet does not equate to inner quiet. An introvert’s inner life can be loud, messy, and mostly self-entertaining. In the face of inner noise and the busy-ness of life, it takes commitment and faithfulness to the practice of Centering Prayer to reach a certain level of deep silence. Enough silence to help me listen to the movement of the Spirit rather than the dictates of my ego, to relish the present moment instead of always anxiously anticipating what comes next, and to savor peace in the midst of chaos.

It takes faithfulness to get to this space of silence because without it, I may miss hearing my Friend’s whisper or His laughter, the feel of His arms around me, or know in my heart that we love because He first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).

Visit us at www.cophil.org

Len Hizon is a member of the CONTEMPLATIVE OUTREACH PHILIPPINES (COP) and the Santuario de San Antonio Support group.


 

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