Reflection for Sunday, December 6, 2022: 2nd Week of Advent.

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Burke-Sullivan, Eileen
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|My husband and I were very fond of dogs.  Even before I married Michael, I had enjoyed having dogs share my home.  You will wonder, perhaps why I would begin reflection on St. Nicholas talking about my affection for dogs, but today's Gospel brought to mind an experience we had some twelve years ago when we adopted a very loveable "bagle" – beagle/basset mix - from a dog farm in central, Iowa.|When we arrived, I was astounded to see hundreds of kennels of puppies, and I was more astounded by the indifference and seeming neglect with which, these beautiful dogs were treated.  We rescued our little guy – and it was a rescue because they were planning to put him down since he had not sold as a basset "pure blood."  All the way home I was wrestling in my heart with the seeming heartlessness with the big business of raising dogs for sale.  What came to mind, however, was the fact that my family had raised sheep, and my husband came from a farm that raised cattle as well, so we talked about the business of a dog farm being like a cattle or sheep ranch.|When I began meditating on the readings for today's memorial, a memory of that experience popped into my prayer.  I could not get the memory and the questions it caused out of my head.  How do I look at groups of animals or groups of people even?  Do I treat a class of students as a class or as individuals struggling to learn?  Does a doctor treat a roomful (or a day full) of patients or does s/he deal with each person as a person?  Do bosses look at employees as a bunch, or a crowd, or as a huge problem to solve? Does a Pastor look at an Assembly and see only the "herd"?|St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the Constitutions of the Jesuits wrote about the importance of "Cura Personalis," that is the care of each person, not as one of a crowd (the 100 sheep) but as someone who deserves to be respected and cared about as unique.  How does a sheep rancher care about the one, if he has a herd of hundreds?  For Ignatius, the model for behavior is Jesus, and Jesus, according to today's readings treats each lamb not as a meal on the hoof, or a warm winter coat, or as money to be made, or as power to be achieved – but as a gift and beloved relationship.|With my one dog companion it is easy to see her temperament, her mind set, her desire for attention and her attention for me – but if I had hundreds of dogs, it would not be so simple. Each bishop and pastor is expected to practice care for each person, but I worked in a parish so large that the pastor really knew 10% of the community to know what people did much less who each one was.|Advent is a good time to consider how we habitually come to look at things, and how God comes (according to Isaiah in today's first reading) with power that rules with a strong arm;  A strong arm that gathers the lambs to his breast and tends the ewes with care.  We are known personally and intimately by God who has all power but exercises it as tender care.  When I allow God to gather me up and cuddle me close to the Divine heart, I begin to understand how He sees me.  From there I can assume how he sees others – I can even watch him caring for others. |If my ultimate life's work is done in unity with God, then I too learn to look at persons as persons and creation as full of unique gifts.  I will never be able to know every person intimately in this life, but I can refuse to look at persons as objects to be lured, used, or dominated.  I can follow the wisdom of Pope Francis and Saint Ignatius as they counsel us to gaze into the faces of each person – not to allow ourselves to fall into the trap of lamenting over the plight of the "horde" of "poor".  They and the Gospel writer treat each person's presence as a special gift to be tended according to that person's needs or desires (the real meaning of equity).  Thus does Advent invite us to follow the wisdom of St. Nicholas, who has become an icon of power expended for the joy of each child, each animal, each other.  He is an example of a "good shepherd" as his Lord called him to be.|"The Lord is King; He governs the people with equity" - Psalm 96
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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