Brotherhood: A primer on the mystery and meaning

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By Brother Luke Henkel SVD

On March 25, I had the privilege and joy of attending the inaugural Brothers Symposium at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. This day-long event brought together brothers from all across the country—almost 300 religious who represented more than 15 congregations.

It was an invigorating day of discussing what the brotherhood means in our various congregations, how we live it out, and how we address challenges, questions and concerns about the blessed ambiguity of our vocation. This phrase has been a buzzword since the Vatican’s December 2015 release of a document on brotherhood called “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church.”

Brother John Mark Falkenhain OSB, the keynote speaker, was by far the highlight of the day for me. From the beginning, he spoke the words I feel all brothers need to hear. Brother John Mark spent most of his speech dissecting what might be the most common

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Brother John Mark Falkenhain OSB

question a brother hears—a simple, easy question. “Oh, I see you’re in religious life. Are you a priest or just a brother?”  We all laughed because we caught the word he wanted to highlight: “just.” We’ve all heard it before.

Are you just a brother?

Just. The word might seem simple, even innocuous—and I doubt it’s meant harmfully. There’s much to be said about the cultural connotations and power of this word “just.” But that’s a topic for another day. There’s a lot of hidden meaning behind that word “just,” and it’s not necessarily as harmless as it seems.

For most of us, he said, there’s the temptation to respond to this question with some sort of justification, half a dozen different excuses or even anger at being compared to priests. After all, how often do people usually mean, “Why didn’t you become a priest?”  When this is the real underlying question, it is hurtful.

How should brothers respond to this question? We might say, I’m not just a brother. I’m a teacher, a theologian, a nurse/cook/student/you name it. The answer might be given in terms of our professional title, with a response about what we do or what we offer to our community or the people whom we serve. While this answer isn’t necessarily misleading, it’s not really the whole picture. Our job is not the whole picture we are to paint. We are more than our job. What we offer is not just professional service—anyone can do that.

The question then becomes: What do we offer?

To answer this, Brother John Mark showed a jar of Crofters Organic Fruit Spread. It is, as their motto states, “Just Fruit Spread.” There are no preservatives, no chemicals or additives. It’s simply fruit. There isn’t anything else. It’s just…fruit spread.

And so, he said, when we are faced with the assumption of being “just” brothers, the answer is YES! Brothers are simply brothers. Brothers are present, without additives or chemicals or weird preservatives that no one has ever heard of. Brothers, he emphasized, are natural, organic and simple. We are uncomplicated witnesses, and we walk as Jesus walked—simply, with no hidden intentions or confusing ideologies. This simplicity and singleness of purpose is an extraordinary reminder about what it means to really follow Jesus. It means being witnesses in a special way: unmediated, unbroken, wholly and solely for God. We can then journey on with unfettered zeal and heroism—with true passion because there’s nothing in the way. This, in turn, leaves every brother open to joy, totally free to be what he is called to be.

This is our offering, and this is our source of strength to continue on. Of course, whenever and wherever we look in our world, we can see that things are just so complicated. Nearly every issue and conversation is layered, complex and difficult. Naturally, the answer of simplicity is, well, complicated.

In reflecting on Brother John Mark’s words, I’m reminded of how the very first apostles left behind their professional identities in order to become Jesus’ companions and brothers. They threw down their nets on the shore and gave up their professional title of fishermen in order to follow Jesus.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them, and a lot of people misunderstood. Especially back in the day, in a rigid and structured society, this act of going off to simply follow Jesus must have been absurd. Imagine giving up the labels and titles that are easy for people to understand in order to embrace something much more challenging.  However, that’s true brotherhood. It’s complicated and it’s difficult only if we let it be.

I am reminded of Saint Teresa of Calcutta and her call for us to live in the joy that Christ gives us. We have Christ in the smile given, in the smile received, in the smile of the poor, in the smile of Christ our brother. That’s simple, and it’s our source of joy. It’s all we have in the end!

This joy is constant. It’s there all the time, and there’s no reason not to bask in it, glow from it, radiate it back outwards to everyone we meet. As brothers, we’re simply following Jesus. And if we do that—if we’re mindful of and faithful to our small yet heroic purpose of simplicity in this chaotic world—then what can get in the way of this joy?

Brothers are to be heroic in our brotherhood. We are to walk on, to proudly, courageously and solely witness to the passion God has for us!

Welcoming the unexpected

By Viet Quoc Hoang SVD

Paraguayans visit one another often, usually without calling or announcing a visit ahead of time. Tereré or maté are traditional drinks offered to unexpected visitors. While fulfilling my cross-culturing training program (CTP) in Paraguay, I learned how to share maté or tereré in a hospitable environment.

Maté is a caffeine-packed beverage that is always consumed hot and is one of the most popular drinks in the region. It is made from yerba mate—green, finely chopped leaves that infuse the tea water with an earthy and slightly bitter flavor like that of green tea. Some drinkers add sugar to cut the taste as they would with coffee. It is often served in a common guampa, a container made of wood, cattle horns or gourds, and sipped thorugh a bombilla, or metal straw. The preparing, drinking and sharing of maté are an integral part of daily life in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay.

Guampa and bombilla
Guampa and bombilla

Tereré is a traditional cold drink, made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. The Paraguayan cultural tradition is to carry these drinks in a thermos, usually wrapped in tooled and stitched leather that also holds an attached cup holder and a metal straw with a series of fine holes that serve as a filter.

When either maté or tereré is shared, the host passes it to one person, who drinks and returns the container to the host, who then  makes another portion for the next person.

The guampa (cup) is completely emptied by each participant before refilling it from the thermos and passing to the next person. Whenever, a participant in the circle of sharing is full or does not want to drink anymore, he or she will say, “Gracias.”

It is a signal to skip that particular person as the circle of sharing continues. People of all ages drink maté and tereré at home, with family or while spending a relaxed afternoon with friends. For many, maté and tereré are the beverages of choice for staying alert during the workday, as they sip on it at their desks. These teas have been part of the Paraguayan culture for hundreds of years.

CTP in Paraguay was indeed a special time for me. I had many excellent opportunities to integrate what I learned into missionary life. I have learned, struggled, affirmed and grown in faith. Although there were moments that I thought it was tough and frustrating, the experience affirmed the vocation to which God calls me, to witness the Good News.

My experience in Paraguay carries on a rich tradition. For more than 140 years, Divine Word Missionaries have been learning and adopting cultural rituals of the communities in which we serve.

All of us are called to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Appreciating the ways of others—such as the tea ceremony of the Paraguayan people—is a form of that love.

La Cultura Paraguaya: A reflection on the Paraguayan culture

By Viet Quoc Hoang SVD

The yearly evaluation at Divine Word Theologate is a time for me to reflect on my goals, my relationships with others and God, and my life in the community. This is also a time for me to be grateful for many blessings that I have received from the Lord throughout the year.

I still need to improve. With the help of each member of the community, I might be transformed, enlightened, awakened and reminded to be who I am meant to be as I move on in life as a Divine Word Missionary.

As I reflect on my enriching and challenging Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP) in Paraguay, I remember how much I learned during those two years, especially about the custom of blessing and sharing.

The first six months in Paraguay were full of teaching and learning moments. For example, I learned about the custom of the 15-year-old girls’ coming out party to celebrate becoming a señorita. I learned about how Paraguayans socialize, especially in how to receive and give a blessing.

Viet Hoang in Asuncion
Viet Quoc Hoang SVD in Asuncion, Paraguay

Spanish greetings, such as ¡Mucho gusto! (pleased to meet you), are often used with strangers or informal situations. Friends might use less formal Spanish, such as ¿Hola, cómo estás? (hi, how are you?), but more often they use Guaraní, the native language of the indigenous people of Paraguay when greeting friends and relatives.

The most common phrase is Mba´eixapa? which means “How are you?” The reply is almost always ¡lporã terei! (just fine or excellent), often accompanied by the thumbs-up gesture.

In the rural areas, it is normal to call out Adiós to a friend passing one’s house. For male religious and priests, people usually called us the Guarani word Pai. It is helpful to note that the word “Pai” is used to refer to both seminarians and priests. Also, when a woman or a man greets a female friend for the first time in a day, they usually kiss each other on each cheek.

Moreover, the custom of asking for a blessing is common among Paraguayans. They often greet respected elders, such as grandparents, parents, priests, religious, teachers and older adults, by presenting their hands in a prayer position, waiting to be blessed.

My first humbling experience of blessing occurred after a typical Sunday Mass. As I greeted people on their way out from Mass, one elderly woman walked toward me with her hands in the prayer position and asked “Una bendicion, Pai,” which means “a blessing, Father.” I was lost for words for a few seconds but then replied “Doña Carmen, que Dios te bendiga en nombre del Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo,” which means “Mrs. Carmen, may God bless you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

After the brief blessing, Doña Carmen walked away happily. I asked myself, “Who am I, at the age of 32, to bless an elder of 76?” Later that evening, I offered that particular experience in prayers and realized that it was God who gave the blessing and not me. I was only an instrument in that moment of blessing to show God’s love and mercy.

Social challenge: The gifts and tasks of learning a language

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By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD

What is language? Is there an ultimate language that could transform our world into a better place? I have listened to many speeches on social media from passionate individuals who invite, inspire, and challenge people around the world to make a difference.

Despite the great words, there are still people who are suffering from hunger, war, poverty, violence, discrimination, injustice and other social ills. This thought came to mind during a moment of exhaustion and exasperation during my Spanish-language studies.

When I came to Spain for my two-year cross-cultural training program, I was filled with inspiration, hope and excitement for living in a foreign land as a religious missionary.

Similar to my move to the United States years ago, I have carried with me an open mind and a willing heart. I looked forward to learning a new language and culture. However, I started feeling exasperated after a few months of language studies. I have difficulty learning the verbs and their conjugated forms and tenses. I also struggle with the proper use of masculine or feminine articles and determining whether a noun is singular or plural.

Despite the support of my community, the language barrier made me feel isolated. I even began to lose enthusiasm for attending daily Mass. I felt as though I was only physically present. I did not like reading the missalette and being unable to understand the text. I was stressed and disconnected from the spirit of the Eucharistic celebration. This experience led me to question my vocation as a religious missionary.

Several times, I asked myself, “Why am I learning another language?” I thought it would be fun and exciting, but I have come to realize the enormous difficulties and challenges entailed in learning a new language. I questioned God, “Why is learning Spanish so difficult?” When I become frustrated with all the mistakes I make while practicing Spanish, I go to our chapel and vent all my complaints and frustration in prayer.

It is worth waiting for God’s response. As time passes, I see God’s marvelous way of enlightening my mind, purifying my heart and directing my will toward my language study. I learned profound lessons.

Language gives us the power to free those who are oppressed in our society. I have met several migrants who have had difficulty conversing in Spanish because they did not have the means to learn the language in a formal school. Most of them are self-taught through their daily interactions in their jobs, and some of their employers take advantage of their limitations.

Language is dynamic and transformative. One of my difficulties with Spanish is knowing the right context to use certain verbs. An English verb can have multiple translations in Spanish, and each translation has a different meaning. Thus, it is important to know the right word, understand its right context, and use it appropriately.

I am aware that no words can sufficiently describe the suffering that refugees endure, but I want my mind and heart to be transformed by the words they utter.

I was intrigued to learn that in Spanish, verbs not only describe action, they also express feelings embedded in each word. My eagerness to learn Spanish verbs has led me to a greater desire to deeply understand the words I hear from suffering refugees.

Living in Europe has made me more aware of the refugee crisis. Many refugees were forced to flee their home countries because of persecution, war or violence. Now as they try to start a new life in Europe, they struggle with racial discrimination, religious persecution, political intimidation, harassment and death threats.

My discomfort with communicating in Spain is nothing compared to the hardships that refugees face, especially with their struggles to learn the language. I am aware that no words can sufficiently describe the suffering that refugees endure, but I want my mind and heart to be transformed by the words they utter.

Language is a channel for ethical, doctrinal and spiritual understanding that builds a better society. Learning the Spanish language has made me become more aware of the gap between the language of the elders and the language of the youth. Perhaps, the gap has become so wide that we have neglected each other.

It is hard not to feel sad and dismayed whenever I attend the Holy Mass every Sunday in Spain. The physical grandiosity of the church, with its intricate and marvelous designs, cannot hide the truth that it is an almost empty space.

The church is only full of people on two occasions: when there are groups of tourists and during funeral services. Most of the people who attend Sunday Mass are elderly. Just as I lost my enthusiasm for the Mass because I could not understand the language, maybe many youths nowadays do not understand the significance of words about religion and faith.

It is my hope that through the language we speak, we will be able to carry with us the teaching, moral norms and values embedded in the words. There is an invitation for all of us to revive the language of values that can greatly contribute to the transformation of our community.

What is the ultimate language that could transform our world into a better place? I honestly do not have an answer.

One might suggest that humility, kindness and charity are the language that will transform us. With perseverance, faith and hope, I am one among many people who are searching for that unifying language.

The word that urges me to continue my journey is “us.” Where two or more are gathered, there is the Divine Word that became flesh in our world. Let us transform our society into a better world by living the gifts and tasks of learning a language. And, let us begin with the word “us.”

For I was a stranger

By Jorge Zetino SVD

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“Refugees: LaSagrada Familia” by Kelly Latimore (kellylatimoreicons.com)

Over the past few weeks, I have been overwhelmed by the rhetoric regarding refugees seeking asylum in our country. Images of Middle Eastern men, women and children—stranded at U.S. airports due to the “travel ban” issued by the current administration—are everywhere on social media and in the news.

As a spectator following the news from the comfort and safety of my religious community’s house, I can’t help but be reminded of the story of another Middle Eastern family. Right after the birth to their firstborn son, the father was told to “rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt” (Mt 2:3).

And so as he was told, the father took the newborn child and his mother, in the middle of the night, and departed for another land where their family—especially their child—would be safe from the massacre of the infants that would take place back home. This Middle Eastern family, as the story goes, was told to stay in that foreign land until told otherwise.

It is precisely the story of that little and vulnerable Middle Eastern refugee child—and who he became—that inspired me to follow in his footsteps and to continue his mission. This little boy’s name was Jesus.

However, today I am reminded that before he was known as Jesus the Christ (through his death and resurrection), he was Jesus the Nazarene (See Mt 2:22). Even before he was known as the “Nazarene,” he was—at a young age—a refugee and an asylum-seeker in a neighboring land: Egypt.

So every time I turn on my television or scroll down my Facebook newsfeed, I am appalled by the rhetoric used, not only by our new administration but also by fellow Christians around the country regarding the “travel ban” of citizens from seven Middle Eastern countries who happen to be Muslims.

I acknowledge that we now live in a polarized society as witnessed during the last campaign season. The topic of refugees often becomes a subject for division in conversations with friends and family—yes, even among Catholic circles.

There is nothing wrong for fellow citizens to be concerned with the safety of our country and of our neighborhoods. After all, there is a precedent for such concern, one that is very much alive in the minds and hearts of many—a precedent that we remember every year and have pledged to #neverforget. As an American, I share the concern of fellow Americans. As a Catholic Christian, however, I am concerned by the way we—as a nation—seem to be going about security in our neighborhoods and on our streets. At what cost do we do it?

I think Angelina Jolie articulated it well in her recent New York Times op-ed by writing that “we can manage our security without writing off citizens of entire countries—even babies—as unsafe to visit our country by virtue of geography or religion.”

As a Christian nation, closing the door to those—like Jesus and his parents—who are forced to leave their homelands to seek refuge on more stable and safe grounds is not the compassionate way we are called to live, especially if we are “one nation under God.”

The image of an asylum-seeking Jesus continues to haunt me, especially in light of what is happening in our nation these days. Are we forgetting that Jesus Christ, the Son of God was a refugee? If we are, we only need to turn to the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). If we are indeed Christians, shouldn’t we be doing that? Aren’t we called to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger? Even in the midst of our own fears?

As a Catholic Christian, an immigrant, a Divine Word Missionary who is advocating for the welcoming of strangers—whether they are refugees from the Middle East or from Central America—I view this welcoming of strangers as the American thing to do and the right thing to do. It is also the Christian way.

As a Divine Word Missionary, I am dedicating my life not only to being a “man for others” but also to working every day, in spite of my own weaknesses and limitations, to continue Jesus’ mission on earth because “his mission is our mission.”

As Catholics, we now have a tremendous opportunity to partake in Jesus’ mission, to be “good Samaritans.” Who do we choose to be? Are we the priest walking down the streets of Jericho who—upon seeing the man who had been attacked by robbers—moved to the other side and continued on his way? Are we the Levite who also chose to ignore the man on the street, who passed by him and continued his journey?  Or can we be like the Samaritan who saw the man, “took pity on him” and bandaged the man’s wound, poured oil and wine on him, and even took him to an inn where he could be taken care of? (See Lk 10:29-37).

Yes, we live in a polarized society, but I believe that we also live in a society that has the capacity to be compassionate and merciful towards the stranger. We have done it before!

We have welcomed the stranger before. One needs only to look to our nation’s history. We have the opportunity, once again, to “love our neighbor,” to be “good Samaritans” towards those who may not look like us, may not speak our language, or may not have the same religion beliefs as ours. As a nation and as individual Christians, we have the opportunity to welcome Jesus Christ personified as a Middle Eastern refugee—yet once again!

God’s peculiar grace

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by Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD

As I lay in my bed late one night, I received an unexpected Facebook message from a good friend. When asked, he told me that he was “a bit tired, a bit perturbed, a bit sad.”

His message troubled me, so I stayed up to continue chatting with him. He shared with me how the upcoming Advent and Christmas seasons make him feel sad and angry. His mother’s only sibling, his aunt, died on Christmas Day four years ago.

Then two years later, his dear grandmother suffered a car accident. They thought she would survive to be with them for Christmas. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be and his family had to make the difficult decision to remove his grandmother’s ventilator on Dec. 24. She passed away on Christmas Eve.

At that moment, I wished I had a thousand words that would bridge the thousands of miles between us. I can’t imagine the amount of pain his family feels because of these two losses. I completely understand his saying bluntly that he was angry.

I wished at that moment that I could provide my physical presence. We were on different sides of the world. Whilst he was just beginning the day in the United States, I was ending mine in Spain. I looked out of my bedroom window and saw the shining stars in the night sky.

My friend is like one of the stars that sparkle in the dark sky. In spite of grappling with the emotions in his heart—emotions that make him want to give up—he strives to keep the light of hope. Many people struggle with their anger, resentment and loneliness. They desperately try to nurture a hopeful and joyful spirit and experience the meaning of Advent in their lives.

Social conflicts throughout our world are weakening the spirit of hope among us. Our desire for peace, unity, and love is robbed from us by terrible events everywhere.

In the news, we read about arrogance, hate, racism and discrimination. We see powerful nations tyrannize defenseless ones. We see national leaders who advocate the use of violence to solve their nations’ epidemic social ills.

Some nations are closing their borders to victims of injustice, survivors fleeing from wars. Many displaced people are taking risks to find new homes while political leaders debate how to deal with increasing arrivals of refugees and migrants.

Many immigrants died from starvation, sickness and drowning as they traveled the ocean. We see evil in our world. We cry out, asking ourselves how much we truly value human dignity. Chaos enslaves us. We are lost in darkness. We are getting tired of waiting, preparing and hoping for the coming of that day when all suffering will be over.

Yet, the Advent season can be a source of peculiar grace for which each of us longs. Like me, you probably have heard a friend’s painful story. The daily news we hear from around the world keeps us informed about the disturbing and heartbreaking anguish of our fellow human beings. The suffering we all experience in various ways connects us to each other.

It urges us to pause and reflect, making us realize that we should not obey the dictates of darkness in society. We all seek for a day when we are filled with faith, hope and love. We wait for that day. We prepare for that day. We hope for that day.

When we live out the spirit of waiting, preparing and hoping for that God-given desire, we recognize and receive the peculiar grace of the Advent season.

It is said that the stars are like beacons of hope for all the lost souls of the world. They enable us to be enlightened if we seek the spark of God’s infinite mercy and love.

When embraced in times of sufferings, the love of God keeps us whole. It preserves human dignity when the world tries to mangle it. The season of Advent makes us believe that in the midst of the world’s sinfulness—envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath—we can help to restore humanity if we allow the Spirit of the Lord to rest upon us.

When we accept the Lord, we realize that through the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, we are able to overcome the trials and hardships before us.

The same Holy Spirit that blessed Mary by calling her to be the bearer of the Savior of the world lets us all welcome God into our lives. By learning from God’s words, ways and instructions, we will be transformed. And when we are transformed, we transform our chaotic world into a dwelling place of hope, peace and love. Could all this be possible? Yes! For nothing is impossible for God.

Editor’s note: Divine Word seminarian Marlon Bobier Vargas writes from Spain, where he is fulfilling his overseas Cross-Cultural Training Program.

Trees planted by streams: Seeing God’s grace in the arbor

trees-in-spain_blog_for-webDivine Word seminarian Marlon Bobier Vargas is spending two years in Spain, fulfilling his overseas Cross-Cultural Training Program. As he acclimates to this new culture, he is surprised to see tree limbs being cut from trees to avoid leaves falling and having to be raked.

By Frater Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD

On a cold morning while waiting at the bus stop, I noticed something different about the trees that line the sidewalks. The columns of trees were like knights with swords raised, giving honor. The colorful leaves on the trees that I enjoyed were gone.

Then I recalled seeing three men on a truck. They cut the branches and removed the leaves from the trees a few days ago. I realized winter was coming. As part of preparation for the change of seasons, people in this part of western Spain cut tree branches.

Instead of letting the dry leaves fall to the ground by themselves, they cut the branches to avoid spending time and energy cleaning the fallen, dried leaves from the street.

I wondered if those trees have feelings. What would the trees be feeling with their bare branches and trunks, absent of their colorful and beautiful leaves? I wondered how they would feel knowing that, as the new season approaches, their branches would be cut to spare their owners the inconvenience of raking dried leaves. Would the trees feel that they were sacrificing their possessions for the sake of convenience?

The trees now are completely bare. They have lost their beauty. The rough surfaces and scars of their trunks are more visible—ugly in the eyes of many people. Perhaps they experience pain without the leaves that protect their trunks from the heat of the direct sunlight.

It is as if they are incomplete, imperfect, and weak, standing along the side streets. These feelings lingered inside of me as I passed the trees along the street.

trees-in-spain_blog_for-web_in-textOn another morning, I noticed something about the appearance of the bare trees that amused me. Each tree still had at least one branch that touched the branch of another tree. The columns of trees on each side of the street were connected to each other.

It looked like the trees were holding hands, standing and giving support to each other. This stirring image of the bare trees helped transform my feelings of incompleteness, imperfections, and weakness into joy, love, and hope. It gave me peace when I realized that in times when the trees were seemingly vulnerable in their stripped condition, they had each other. With their branches connected, they backed and supported each other.

We, too, experience nakedness and aloneness. There are moments in our lives when we realize our incompleteness, imperfections, and inner and hidden insecurities.

Those insecurities and uncertainties come in many forms. Some people are enslaved by their shamefulness of being part of a broken and dysfunctional family. There are a significant number of individuals who are afraid to admit and address their addictions to drugs, pornography, computer gaming, alcohol, etc. Some friends and co-workers fret about living as undocumented immigrants in our society.

We have abusive political authorities who exteriorly show a powerful stance but interiorly feel guilt for their unjust and oppressive leadership. In a multitude of ways, we hurt from the pain of racial and gender discrimination. Fear, judgment, criticism, condemnation, rejection, isolation, abandonment, and hopelessness—these strong and damaging realities can make people wicked, wounded, broken, weak, and impoverished as individuals and as a community.

Like the bare trees that appear ugly and unattractive, we are vulnerable. That vulnerability sometimes makes us uncomfortable, troubled, ashamed or afraid. Our vulnerabilities sometimes urge us to isolate ourselves from others.

Yet, facing our vulnerabilities is an opportunity to take the path of change—life transformation and conversion. As we gradually grow in relationship with God, we discover His revelation. We come to know His unconditional mercy that can only be experienced by having a deep and intimate relationship with Him. In the darkest and ugliest state of our nakedness, we see that sacred mercy and loving embrace of God. We realize that we are not alone. We feel that we do not have to face our vulnerabilities alone.

There is more to learn from those bare trees. Psalms 1:1-3 reads, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the Lord is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers.”

The bare trees, as one of God’s creations, depend on the grace of their Creator. So do we. It is only through our God’s mercy that we are rescued from the power of darkness and brought into a life of freedom. As we continue to witness the greatness of the seasonal change around us, let us bring into our prayers our desire to seek God’s mercy.