Music and the Gospel: “Love Wins,” Carrie Underwood, 2nd Sunday of Advent

In 2006, a small, one-room schoolhouse was the center of a major tragedy. A lone gunman entered the school and killed five students, injured five more, and forever changed the lives of many others. Tragedies such as this happen too often. What is sometimes surprising are the number of voices that call out for compassion, empathy, and even forgiveness towards those who have hurt us, our family, and our community. Carrie Underwood’s song “Love Wins” is not just about reaching out to our friends, family, neighbors, but also those who are different from us and even those who have hurt us. We don’t know what another person is going through, but only by approaching each other in the spirit of love and forgiveness can we begin to heal our hearts and community.

Key Lyrics: I, I believe you and me are sisters and brothers / And I, I believe we’re made to be here for each other / And we’ll never fall if we walk hand in hand / Put a world that seems broken together again / Yeah I, I believe in the end love wins

Questions: What have you found difficult to forgive? Were you able to let go of the hurt or grudge? How? Are some actions unforgivable? What examples of forgiveness do you see around you? How have you been forgiven? 

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Music and the Gospel: “Rebel Heart,” The Shelters, 4th Sunday Advent

When The Shelters’ sing out about rebel hearts, they are describing the theme of this week’s Spirit. This theme is about caring for others, being a caregiver and showing compassion for those around you. Whether you care for an elderly person, a child, or someone with a disability, People have remarkable ways of living that can inspire us. Someone’s capacity for strength and resilience can teach us how to approach each day with optimism and laughter.

Key Lines: A star lights up the sky / Her heart is where her fire lies / You see it in her painted eyes / She’s got a rebel heart, on that she’s gonna find / She’s got a rebel heart, she’s up against them all

Questions: When have you had to act as a caregiver to someone else? What did you learn from the person? How can you spread acts of compassion this holiday season?

Music and the Gospel: “Friends,” Francis and the Lights, ft. Bon Iver & Kanye West, 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

This Sunday’s gospel talks about Jesus’ encounter with ten lepers. They call to Jesus, ask him for compassion, and Jesus grants it. There is often more to a person than meets the eye. Sometimes a person doesn’t look or act “normal” by our standards, and we allow that to blind us to the beauty and potential that exist in that person. It is often by showing compassion that we get to know people, understand them, and rise above our own judgment to become better people.

Key Lyrics: We could be friends / Just put your head on my shoulders / I will straighten out, for you / Don’t wanna know if you made mistakes / I’m still waiting on your sunshine

Questions: What were your initial thoughts when you first meet someone who looks or acts different from you? How do you approach him or her? What did you learn from someone different from you? What makes people fit in or not fit in your school?

Music and the Gospel: “Mountain At My Gates,” Foals

Not everyone has two (or even one) loving parents, access to a better education, or a comfortable home. It’s important to see other people with eyes of compassion. it’s important to be a message of hope and encouragement even when people face very rough times. We’re all climbing our own personal mountains. It never hurts to hold out a hand to help someone facing a steeper climb than ours.

Key Lyrics: Dark clouds gather ’round / Will I run or stand my ground? / Oh, when I come to climb / Show me the mountain so far behind

Questions: What mountains are you attempting to climb? What can you do to provide hope to someone who needs it? Who can you at least greet and show you know them? What community projects can you get involved in or start to help encourage those who need a helping hand?

 

Music and the Gospel: “The Sun is Rising,” Britt Nicole; 1st Sunday of Advent

Sometimes in order to understand a situation or a person, we have to walk a mile in their shoes. In the case of the St. Paul high schoolers, they walk 26 miles every year to raise money for a local soup kitchen. Not only does this prove to be a physical journey but it also becomes a spiritual one. It changes their perspective as they walk through different neighborhoods and meet new people. They gain a little understanding of what it means to be homeless, how exhausting it can be. Their walk is worth the pain as they raise money to feed those who have no means. When we walk with those less fortunate, we are also walking with God.

Key Lyrics: Every high and every low you’re gonna go through / You don’t have to be afraid I am with you / In the moments you’re so weak you feel like stopping / Let the hope you have light the road you’re walking

Questions: Who like the Syrian refugees are on a journey in our world? How might you learn about them and help? What difficult journey have you taken that made all the sacrifice worth it? Who can you help this Advent that you see around you? How can you help them?

Showing Compassion

Multiple Choice Question: Your friend comes up to you in the hall and says, “I’m so bummed. I didn’t make the team/get a part in the play/get into My Favorite University.” You reply,

A. “Hey, when does that new Superman movie come out? We should go see it.” (Changing the subject means you won’t have to talk about your friend’s disappointment.)

B. “Okay, this is how we are going to fix this problem. You are going to practice more/audition next year/egg the admission director’s house…” (If someone is sad, the best thing to do is to find a way to fix the problem that made them sad in the first place.)

C. This would never happen. You and your friends do not really talk about this kind of stuff. (And by this kind of stuff you mean feelings.)

D. “I am so sorry” and give the friend a hug.

If I am being honest with myself, A is my go to response when someone in my life is sad, depressed, grieving, or blue. If I know someone is unhappy, I might decide to ignore a text or pretend that I did not get a voicemail. I might avoid them for a few days until the worst of the unhappiness passes. If I somehow find myself in the same room with this gloomy person, I may let them say their piece before quickly changing the subject to something light and airy, like the weather or celebrity gossip. Why do I avoid misery like the plague? First, because I never know what to say or how to respond, and second, because it makes me sad, too, and I really do not want to be brought down by others’ dejection. Life is hard enough.

Sorrow from larskflem

Sorrow from Flickr user larskflem

I have also enacted my fair share of answer B in the face of sorrow, always with the best of intentions. When you see someone you care about feeling woeful, a natural response is to want to make it better right now, using the awesome ideas that only you can come up with. But I have to say that when I have been on the receiving end of B, I usually get annoyed. Most of the awesome ideas my friends and family come up with are ideas I already have or would have come up with on my own in time. When I am really despondent, I need a minute (or a week or a few months) just to be sad before moving on to the work of making things better. Really, what I need is D, someone to show some compassion and give me a hug.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus demonstrates what answer D looks like in the face of great sorrow. He has entered the city of Nain and encounters a crowd carrying out a man who has died, the only son of a woman who has also been widowed. We are told, “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ ” Then Jesus raises her son from the dead. I find it crucial that before Jesus works to fix the woman’s problem, he has compassion for her. In its Latin origin, compassion means “co-suffering.” Jesus first meets the woman in her grief, and only then does he work on finding a way to alleviate her suffering.

So if we are to follow Jesus’ example, the correct answer to our multiple choice question would be to start with D, with a healthy dose of compassion. After we have acknowledged the person’s unhappiness, after we have felt it with them, then and only then is it time to move on to working with them to help them come out of their suffering.

And what about answer C? The woman in this story does not hide her grief. We know that she is part of a public funeral procession and that she must be crying since Jesus tells her not to weep. Had she kept her misery inside, Jesus may simply have stood aside to let the funeral procession pass and then entered Nain to get on with his business. From this widow we glimpse another important truth about compassion: if hide our pain, then others will not know to meet us with compassion. Part of being human is taking the risk of showing our vulnerability to others, so that the important others in our lives can be with us in our pain and sorrow.

When people in your life are sad, how do you normally respond?

When you are sad, do you like to keep it to yourself or do you try to share it with others? When you are sad, how do you like to be treated by others?

When have you been able to meet another person’s sorrow with compassion?