Light of peace shines in Oshkosh

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By Jean Peerenboom | For The Compass | December 28, 2022

Jesuit Retreat House hosts Peace Light of Bethlehem until Jan. 8

OSHKOSH — The Jesuit Retreat House has issued a call for peace this year with the help of the Peace Light of Bethlehem. The flame, with its 1,000-year history, is making an appearance at the retreat center and can be viewed until Jan. 8.

Fr. Mark Carr, executive director of the Jesuit Retreat House, initiated the effort to bring the flame to Oshkosh after learning about its existence some years ago from friends.

Today, the flame is housed in two spots: one is outside the main chapel by the Nativity and the other is at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, which is a separate building that is accessible to the public while allowing the retreat center to maintain peace and silence for retreatants who are on the campus during the Christmas season.

We intend to be a year-round keeper of the light,” Fr. Carr said.

“We are using those two spots right now because they are so accessible to people, both retreatants and the public.” The Shrine of the Sacred Heart is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Jesuit Retreat House has also lit some candles in the sanctuary from the lantern’s flame.

Referencing the Peace Light North America website, peacelightnorthamerica.org, Fr. Carr explained the origin of the flame and its significance, especially today when “peace, harmony and reconciliation” are so needed. The Peace Light campaign was organized in 1986 as part of a charitable relief mission called “Light into Darkness” started by the Austrian Broadcasting Company for children and people in need, according to the website.

In 1989, Scouts and other groups spread it throughout Europe and, eventually, into the United States. Each year, a child from Austria travels to Bethlehem and ignites a lamp with the flame from the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born. The light is then flown to Austria and distributed to other delegates, who take the light back to their own countries, along with a message of peace. Canadian Scouts first brought the flame to the United States in 2001 at Ground Zero in New York City after 9/11.

The 2022 Peace Light is dedicated to peace in Ukraine.

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated new and innovative ways of sharing the Peace Light and its message. The 2020 Austrian Peace Light was delivered virtually. A small gathering was held in Salzburg. During the ceremony a candle was lit from the Peace Light for every nation taking part. The 2021 Austrian ceremony was held in the same manner. The 2020 Peace Light could not be transferred to the United States.

Fr. Carr, who had been involved in high school ministry for many years before coming to the Jesuit Retreat House, got to know people involved in scouting and the Peace Light. “With my assignment here at the retreat center, it seemed like a good place to host (the Peace Light),” he said.

While browsing the Peace Light North America website, he recognized the name of a friend and reached out to him. That led to a trip to Holy Cross Catholic Church in Batavia, Ill., which has been a keeper of the light since 2019. Fr. Carr went down and brought it back to Oshkosh.

“A big part of the (Peace) Light tradition is that it is a symbol of sharing with other people — sharing the peace that Jesus preached,” Fr. Carr explained.

“We’re happy to share the Peace Light’s fl same with other people if they would like,” the priest said, “though this year, we don’t have a special organized event for doing that. Our main goal was to get the light here this year. Next year, we may plan a sharing ceremony.”

“This is really a neat thing,” Fr. Carr added. “You are aware that there are people all around the world doing the same thing. It involves other denominations as well. Its goal is to promote peace, harmony and reconciliation, and the world can use more of that.”

Fr. Carr said that the Peace Light complements the retreat center’s Peace Pole, put up on the grounds in 2007. “It bears the message ‘May peace prevail on Earth’ to remind and encourage people to work for peace,” he said. “Both fit in well with our own faith and represent two powerful images of Jesus in the Bible: as Prince of Peace in Isaiah and Jesus as the Light of the World in John’s Gospel.”

After the feast of the Epiphany, the Peace Light will find a permanent home in the Chapel of the Annunciation on the Jesuit Retreat House grounds.

“Each Advent and Christmas, we will display it with the Nativity scene and in the Shrine of the Sacred Heart,” Fr. Carr said.

More information on the hours and location of the Peace Light can be found at http://www.jesuitretreathouse.org.

Be like those in the desert

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By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass | December 1, 2022

During our Advent observance, various characters appear in order to point our way to the coming of the Lord. Of all these characters, perhaps John the Baptist is the most intriguing. He emerges as, “A voice of one crying out in the desert. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths’” (Mt 3:3). John takes his basic job to announce the arrival of the Messiah. His proclamation includes the need to reform our lives and to look forward to a new way of existence.

John can be a quite forbidding character. He lives in the desert. He wears camel hair clothing with a leather belt. His diet is locusts and honey. He has no use for hypocrisy. For the people who come with genuine repentance, he comforts and baptizes them with water from the Jordan. For the scribes and Pharisees who come only out of curiosity or malice, he has only scorn. These people are a brood of vipers. The scribes and Pharisees live lives of hypocrisy, that is, lies posing as truth. John’s lifestyle and preaching against falsehood can be quite terrifying.

We cannot forget, however, that there is another side to John. He was attracting crowds of common people who found him encouraging and hope-filled. He showed them that the coming Messiah would bring them a new way of living. Even Herod, who ultimately executed him, was attracted to John’s way of speaking about the future. There must have been a gentle side to John that instilled confidence, hope and trust. The message about the coming Messiah showed fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. They longed for one who was about to arrive.

John’s preaching is an excellent backdrop for our own Advent preparations. The church thinks of this season as penitential in the sense that we take this opportunity to recall and repent of our sins. We are invited to be like those crowds that went out into the desert to see, hear and be baptized. In our own context, Advent helps us to step back from the materialism of our culture, to realize that Jesus came in poverty. We also pray for an end to strife in the world.

During this season, we are also cautioned to abandon any hypocrisy in our lives and grow in truthfulness. When we do this, we act like those multitudes baptized by John. We fulfill those words of Paul, “. . . in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6).

For those who repent, then, John’s message is not of terror and fear, but rather of hope and confidence. In the words of Isaiah, “. . . the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea” (Isa 11:9). John announces the coming of the Messiah; we receive that message each year as we celebrate Advent.

Allow Mary to show you how to ponder

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass | December 26, 2022

In the Gospel according to Luke we find three separate descriptions of Mary’s prayer life. At the Annunciation, when the angel appeared and told her that she will be the mother of the Savior, Luke says that she was greatly troubled by the appearance and then “pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk 1:29). Then, after the shepherds leave while she is in Bethlehem, she “kept all these things in her heart, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2: 19). Finally, she reacted to the words of her son who had stayed behind in the temple when she kept all these things in her heart. (Lk 2:51) What does it mean when Mary “ponders,” “reflects,” or “keeps things in her heart?”

Mary’s experiences of three major events in her life cause her to ponder the announcement that she will be the mother of the savior, the birth of the savior and finding the child in the temple. She certainly realizes that she has become part of events outside of her day-to-day life as a Jewish wife and mother. As a reflective person she searches for the meaning of these events and tries to understand her place in the larger scheme of things. Her reflections come as a result of her prayer and dedication to fulfilling the revelations that have been given to her in each of the three occurrences. These incidents force her to new depths of understanding with respect to her relationship to God and her son.

Mary gives us an example for how we are to proceed when major experiences happen in our own lives. Perhaps there is a new child in the family. There may be times of celebration such as baptisms, birthdays, weddings, or sickness, or death of a loved one. We can take important episodes as something that barely cause a ripple, or we can, like Mary, ponder what important happenings really mean in God’s great plan for all of us.

It is particularly difficult to develop a habit of pondering given our culture. We live at a time when experiences, especially from our computers, are measured in nanoseconds. Such rapidity discourages anything related to pondering. We live on the surface and never stop to wonder at the world around us or at the events of our lives. Surface living not only hinders pondering, but it also actively discourages any attempt to find interior meaning.

Mary’s pondering can become a model for us as we attempt to find meaning in our own lives. First, to ponder genuinely means we have achieved a state of quiet that transcends the noise of our culture and surroundings. Second, we begin to understand the meaning of significant events in our lives. Third, we will inevitably discover that God is present to us even when we did not originally realize it. As we start the new year, let us invite Mary to show us how to ponder.

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.