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Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of Year Reflection

         It is New Year's Eve day and I am getting ready to meet a friend who is visiting from Australia. It is his first time to visit Boston as he completes his round-the-world trip touring Jesuit communities on his sabbatical year. I look forward to my time with him because he is such a lovely man. I have been waiting all week long to spend time reviewing my Christmas cards to honor and pray for each person in my life who holds a special place. (I even pray for those who send online greetings and for those for whom I did not get to send a card.) Now is the right time. Now is always the best time.
          I just finished directing an End-of-Year Christmas retreat with a good friend and we are pleased with the outcome. Most of the retreatants left Eastern Point with a wide smile on their faces and a jubilant jump in their steps. We tried to modify the traditional retreat by extending the Christmas graces with some festive activities and some relationship building while providing greater space for silence and freedom. While for some it was a deviation from what they knew and expected, most let us know of their deep-felt pleasure of ending their year this way.

          I tell God I am blessed every day to be able to work and live in Gloucester's retreat house. I enjoy it. I am changed by each retreat because I become a kinder, better man. I find this work makes me better able to reveal my care for others more openly. God helps me love more easily. While the beauty of the ocean is breath-taking and the landscape work grounds me and helps me search for natural beauty, it is the lives of others that inspires me to want to live each day to the fullest.

          I've had one of my best Christmases in years, if not the best. My soul is very light and happy and my heart beats with great fervor. I'm grateful for all the miraculous work God has done with me throughout the years. At times, my heart feels ready to burst open because of the great goodness I see in others and it hurts when I see someone in deep pain. Mostly, I'm grateful for the love I am given by many. I merely want to return that gift abundantly to them and to God.

          I am overjoyed at the goodwill I experienced with my family during the holidays. I am grateful for the desire I feel in wanting to spend time with them. I cherish the fraternal care I receive from brother Jesuits and our Ignatian companions, especially the pilgrims from our journey to Spain. I'm honored to receive great friendship and revelry with my new friends on Boston's North Shore, especially from the choruses, and of course, I am extremely enriched by those who share their stories of faith at the retreat house.

          My longstanding friends remain my longstanding friends because I like them and they are nice. To honor my 50th year of life, celebrated around Thanksgiving, I was in touch with many high school classmates and childhood friends. I even connected with my high school teachers because they did remarkable work preparing us for life and I am very appreciative of their skills in forming us and guiding us in those initial steps of life. Yes, it has been a good year and a good life; all I have to do is look around me and be amazed at the good people who are part of it. God has been more generous to me than I deserve, and I spent time in prayer telling God that my heart is so moved by the goodness I receive.

          As I review my Christmas cards, I am touched by the many stories told to me from friends and loved ones. I am honored by the friendships, some of which are difficult to maintain because of distance and time, but we persevere because our stories together are worth holding up to the Lord.

          Mind you that many of these stories are filled with heartache, loss and suffering, and they are filled with perseverance, bountiful grace, and hope. I find it a great grace to be able to hold these stories in silent respect. I want to hear more of these stories because it helps me grow in compassion and care. The key to my response is a loving presence - just being silent with one who is suffering and in pain.

          I find it quite extraordinary when someone honors my experience by letting me know they feel what I am feeling. Everyone's story needs to be told, heard and honored. Everyone needs to be seen. I gain greater insights and understanding when I allow others to feel - and feel what they are feeling so I can experience being in the place of another. It is risky. Compassion is risky because we risk being hurt in the process of showing solidarity, but it is the place in our hearts where we are moved to greater love for one another. For me, the risk is worth it.

          I am convinced that Christ's compassion can change our world. It has mine. If we can hold one another's story more reverently, it will create an environment in which less hurt and harm is created. It will create a world that is more sympathetic, understanding, and tolerant. It will help a person feel connected and become more whole. We live in hope that people can see themselves as more beautiful gifts to themselves and to others.

          We hold quite a gift in our hands. Christ has blessed us with the gift of compassion and he needs us to work with him to transform the world. We cannot put a stop to all the nonsense that creates more suffering and sorrow, but perhaps we can lessen the insanity when we hold one suffering person in front of us. We give them an incredible gift of solidarity and understanding and it eases pain. We live in hope that this goodness will be remembered and passed onto others and that life will be built up rather than destroyed. Love and compassion will reign. It will have the first and last word, and it is good for us to see it in the midst of ordinary life.

          I am content at this end of the year to spend time in silence at this beautiful retreat house to remember your life and to present you to God. Thank you for who and what you have been to me. May God bless you now and in the coming year with spiritual (and financial) prosperity, good health, and a great deal of hope.


  1. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you John!

    Thank you for sharing your reflections on the year, and especially for all that you offer to those you have shared yourself with.

  2. This is such a beautiful reflection.

    A friend of mine is headed your way January 5. This post suggests that she will be in good hands!

  3. Merry Christmas, Jacob. I hope 2012 is especially blessed for you. Pray for us as we begin another long retreat tomorrow, January 3rd. It is a privileged time to be with people.

  4. Robin, I look forward to meeting your friend. I hope she has a beautiful experience of God at Eastern Point. Thanks for the connection.