Christmas Greetings 2020

– Br. Michael, ofm


This is the day the Lord has made;

let us rejoice in it and be glad.

For to us is given the beloved child most holy,

born for us along the way

and placed in a manger

because there was no room for him at the inn.

– Psalm 15, Psalms of St. Francis


The Friars and Staff

at Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre

send greetings of peace and good to all.

May you find moments of peace and joy

during Christmas 2020

and may much goodness be yours in 2021!


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

The Peace of Bethlehem:

Through all the days of Christmas

and all the years to be,

may He Who came to Bethlehem

give peace to you and me.

– Brian O’Higgins






Advent IV: Love Propels Us Forward

– Br. Michael, ofm

A few years ago, a young friend of mine gave me a card during Advent. He had drawn it himself. On it were three mountains and bannering across the top in bold childhood writing was the word LOVE. That simple card triggered for me a reality check about how I was using the word love and how I was not. It also promoted me to make the word Love a more evident part of my prayers and reflections for the coming year. I had found that our culture uses love for everything from cars to pizza to sweaters to family and I was caught up in that. With our limitations on the word love we often fail to express ourselves well and this simple card awoke that in me.

That card crosses my mind again as we move into this final week of Advent and the coming feast of Christmas. The image of the mountains on that card remind me again that God’s love is present on our mountain peaks and also in our valley depths because no matter what we face or endure our hearts can “forever… sing of your steadfast love, O Lord” (Psalm 89). Love on our mountain peaks is easy to describe it is the family at table, the good news we are told and the celebrations of life. However, to sing and live out the steadfast love is not always easy yet our God is with us. When we endure a health crisis, live in a pandemic or stand at the edge of a grave it is hard to think of love bannering over us. When we flee a war-torn country, face the ugly reality of racism or defend the dignity of another it may be hard to think of love bannering over us. Yet it is in these dark valley moments that the banner drops and wraps itself around us with hope, courage and strength. Our hearts are softened as this love settles in and we again align with God’s love, which no matter the mountain top or valley depth is declaring goodness, offering comfort and encouraging us to live well.


Mary had to trust that love was in the message of the angel, she had to trust that love would win over Joseph’s worries, she had to trust that love would guide her as she freely declared “Here am I, the servant of the Lord” (Luke 1.38) This was trusting in the goodness, comfort, encouragement and strength of love. As we journey into these final days of Advent, amongst the chaos, uncertainties and this pandemic can we allow love to banner over us and be the road we walk to Bethlehem? Can we trust that love is the road of our heart leading to the crib of Christ? Can we with Mary trust that love is real and not some simple illusion or fix that commercials try and sell us? Can we with Mary say “here I am, I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord?”


Week Four of Advent is known as the Week of Love. May this final week of Advent awaken us to the truth of love. Where do you need to incorporate love into your daily living in these days ahead? Let that love be your guide to break through the demands of the week. The days are few, the weariness may seem overpowering but hope remains, peace breathes in us and joy lights the flame of our heart. May we walk boldly in love during these final days of Advent, in the coming season of Christmas and into 2021.


With an earnest heart

and childlike hope

be born in me I pray.

Be born in me I pray

your love made known

in my words and ways.

Seeking true light

kindled in me

be born in me I pray


Be born in me I pray

your very heart

made known each day.

Humility and openness

are the vessels I offer

be born in me I pray


Be born in me I pray

Christ Child you are welcome

each and every day.


Artwork: Claire Ziprick

Photo: Josiah Weiss



Advent Finale: O Antiphons

– Br. Michael, ofm

December 17-23 marks the Advent days of the O Antiphons. These Antiphons make up the verses of the Advent Carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” These Antiphons have been observed since the eighth century and are drawn from the ancient biblical images of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. They repeatedly use the invitation “come” as a way to address the longing of the coming Messiah. Each of the seven days offers a title for the Savior (the first line of each antiphon).

Reflecting on these titles and inviting Christ to come into our heart each day, we offer these short reflections for the remaining days of Advent. We invite you into some moments of quiet in the days ahead. There is a brief reflection and questions for each Antiphon (the first stanza is the antiphon proper), there is also original artwork for you to enter into some moments of Visio Divina. Visio Divina means “sacred seeing” where we allow our hearts and imaginations to enter into the holy image and then in silence see what God is saying to us or inviting us to see. The ancient Latin title has been included for each of the days.

December 17 – O Sapientia

O Wisdom of our God Most High,

guiding creation with power and love:

come to teach us knowledge!

Yes, O Creative Wisdom, you stir in me new life

guiding me in your love, I trust you are walking with me.

Who has been a guide for me during 2020?

Where has God’s wisdom stirred my heart this year?

How is Divine Love inviting me into 2021?

December 18 – O Adonai

O Leader of the House of Israel,

giver of the Law of Moses on Sinai,

come to rescue us with your mighty power!

Yes, O Mighty Power, you draw near to me

for your power is in the intimacy of relationship which is the law of love.

Where have I seen God’s power in my life this past year?

Who helps me to see the intimacy of God’s love?

What needs rescuing in my life?

December 19 – O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse’s stem,

sign of God’s love for all people:

come to save us without delay!

Yes, Lover of All,

you remind me I have a story and history which is woven into yours

and connects me to creation and humanity.

What specific story in my life and in the world has reminded me about the connections of humanity this past year?

How am I nurturing the roots and branches of my faith?

Who do I need to express gratitude to, with our delay, for their story woven into my own?

December 20 – O Clavis David

O Key of David,

opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:

come and free the prisoners of darkness!

Yes, O Great Gate Opener, you invite me into your kingdom

here and now as you encourage me to build with the gifts which are mine.

This past year has seen a lot of division, what do I need to do in my part of the world to help make all people one?

Who always offers me a warm invitation to be present and to share my gifts?

How will I open the gate to my heart in 2021?


O Radiant Dawn,

splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:

come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death!

Yes, O Light of Lights, you enlighten my heart and mind

with the depth of your life and love: born, died, and risen for me.

What darkness do I need to let go of as 2020 comes to an end?

Who offers me light for my daily living?

How do I shine God’s love into our broken world?

December 22 – O Rex Gentium

O King of all nations

and keystone of the Church:

come and save humanity,

whom you formed from the dust!

Yes, O Generous Creator,

you who form all in your generosity, transform me and raise me up

for I can not do this on my own.

What is my connection with creation and in being generative?

Who encourages me when I am lost in selfishness?

How do I feel about surrendering into God even more in 2021?

December 23 – O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel,

our King, and Giver of Law:

come to save us, Lord our God.

Yes, O God With Us, you are here and now,

you proudly call me one of your own

and guide me in your ways of love.

Who has shown God With Us to me this past year?

How does it feel to be aware of God’s love for me?

What am I being called to birth in the new year?

God O Life,

come to us

in these final days of Advent,

show us your light,

lead us in your ways

of hope, peace, joy and love,

so, as we enter into the

great feast of Christmas

we may carry these gifts

to our family, community and world

as you restore our awareness

that they always reside at our core.


O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!


Artwork: Claire Ziprick



Advent III: Even Now – Rejoicing

– Br. Michael, ofm

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” is the line from Philippians 4 which echoes in my ears over and over again. Rejoice always – even in all of this? Even in all that is going on? Even in restrictions and limitations forcing me not to enjoy some of the things I like best about this season? The answer “yes” is whispered in my ears; even in all of this and then some moments flood my heart.

A fresh snowfall and the beauty it offers. I rejoice in the gift of creation.

A request from a child for a snow angel to be made and I oblige. I rejoice in the gift of childhood delight.

A child’s prayer for our hearts to be softened for each other. I rejoice in the gift of prayer.

A birth of a healthy baby. I rejoice in the gift of life.

A brilliant prairie sunset filling the sky with warmth. I rejoice in the gift of the day.

A set of twinkling Christmas lights which I stop to enjoy. I rejoice in the gift of stillness.

I wonder if in these moments God is not offering reminders to be awakened again to simple joys, to rejoice in the many gifts all around and to evaluate the false joys which raid us of true rejoicing? A wise friend of mine recently declared: “Joy is an unexpected happening that brings me closer to health and wholeness. It is a gift.” How true, snowfall, snow angels, prayer, Christmas lights and so on are just some of the unexpected happenings which should stir our hearts. Where is joy touching our lives each day? Do we rejoice in these joys or do we simply brush them aside for later?

“Joy is the fruit of trust,” a retreat director shared. Trust requires a lot of courage and at the same time a surrendering. Trust allows us to see beyond our “if only” or “even in this” to the heart of life and the awareness of the “spirit of the Lord God” (Isaiah 61) upon us. We can see joy as this fruit in the lives of Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph. They did not “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5) rather took courage in this trust, surrendering their all and in turn joy filled their lives and sustained them even the moments of “all of this”, restrictions, and things being taken from them. The spirit of the Lord was indeed upon these Advent heroes and it is also upon us. Each day we are called to trust, we are called to surrender, we are called to wholeness and we are called to rejoice in the gifts given to us. In doing so we in turn help to bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty to captives and rejoice in the Lord’s favor (Isaiah 61); maybe even more so in all of this.

Can we trust enough so that the fruit of joy will penetrate our living in the days of this Week of Advent Joy? What is God awakening in you this week that is causing your heart to rejoice? Yes even in all of this.

Week Three of Advent is known as the Week of Joy. May this third week of Advent awaken us to true joy. Where do you need to incorporate joy into your daily living in these days ahead? Let that joy be your guide to break through the demands of the week.

O come, O come, Emmanuel

enter into my daily life,

walk with me; awakening me to you.

O come, O come, Emmanuel

help me see you in the now

guiding me and calling out to me.

O come, O come, Emmanuel

for you are my strength,

in peace you are my joy and hope.

O come, O come, Emmanuel

let the graces of your love settle in deep

extending to me the gift of you here.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Artwork: Claire Ziprick

Sunset Photo: Connie Baumgartner


Advent II: Breathing In Peace

– Br. Michael, ofm

Advent hues of purple, pink, magenta and blue fill the morning sky. As the moon set sends fading shimmers of brilliant light upon the land, these soft Advent colors emerge in the East as dawn begins to break. I pause. I breathe in, “Is this Advent peace?” I ask myself. I may be the only one noticing this moment in this way. My day ahead may be chaotic or not turn out as planned, but in this moment… right now… peace… fills me. Psalm 85 is the psalm for this Second Sunday of Advent and it seems to capture this moment of peace. The refrain declares “Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us salvation.” Then hidden in the verses this gentle line, “The Lord will speak peace to his people.” Yes, this brief moment of pausing in the dawning light is a reminder of God’s steadfast love which penetrates my very living and, in this love, I hear God’s peace spoken for me.

Advent peace is assurance of love in this demanding world. Advent peace is the gift of each breath; we simply need to pay attention. Advent peace is our heart and breath aligning with the promise of Emmanuel – God with us – always.

This season can easily rob us of peace with demands, false expectations, Hallmark perfection, binge distracting and this year with restrictions and social distancing. Yet, Advent peace is strong, it is resilient, it is braver than demands, binges or restrictions. It works its way through our cover ups and whispers to us: “look up, look beyond, look within.” When we listen to the whisper Advent peace offers a sunrise painted in gentle hues as we look up. Advent peace offers an invitation to let go, to forgive, to begin again as we look beyond. Advent peace offers us strength, resilience and bravery to face the daily challenges as we look within (God dwells this close).

Advent peace is a gift, breathe it in, now, in this very moment. Pause. Stop. Just be. Our days are full and our hours filled with noise. Pause. Turn it all off. Either in the morning hours or as the sunsets step outside – no cellphone, no cup of coffee in hand, just you (in a jacket and with mitts of course) and God (in all glory and goodness) … just be… breathe in peace. Pause. Say nothing. Do nothing. Just be, let God’s peace speak to your heart. As you inhale, breathe in the promise of Emmanuel – God with us. As you exhale, breathe out the peace of God which is filling you again and again. As we go forth into this Advent week, peace be in our breath, peace be in our bones, peace be in our doing and being.

Week Two of Advent is known as the Week of Peace. May this second week of Advent awaken us to peace. Where do you need to incorporate Peace into your daily living these days ahead? Let that peace be your guide breaking through the distractions of the week.




Welcome sustaining hope

you are always here

and yet in this season

you are again so near.


Welcome transforming peace

you gently encircle my aching heart

again, in this season

awakening me to do my part.


Welcome deep, profound joy

you stir my old ways to new life

in this season

loosening my bonds of strife.


Welcome everlasting love

you fill my day and comfort my night

may this season

see me embrace the gift of light.


Artwork: Claire Ziprick

Photo: Yannis Papanastasopoulos