Jesus was not born in a cozy place


“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”
Luke 2:1-5

Jesus wasn’t born into a cosy, stable home environment. Mary was unexpectedly pregnant and not yet married to Joseph, and Jesus was born on the move and far from home. The family couldn’t even settle down following the birth, fleeing instead to Egypt to escape Herod. Jesus was born into confusion and turmoil.

Today, more than 50 million people around the world are internally displaced or living as refugees or asylum seekers. That’s 50 million people far from home this Christmas, many having fled from conflict, danger or abject poverty.


Your house used to be a home, but now it’s just a shelter. No comfort, no warmth. Although the memories remain. It’s nearly dark and there are no street lights. You can hear gunfire and bombs going off. Sometimes near, sometimes far. The ground shakes and the plaster crumbles from your ceilings.

How do you feel?

Things grow worse and the army arrives. They go through the streets, shouting at people to get out and get moving. You don’t want to go, but you don’t want to die either.

How do you feel?

You’re walking. Your mother is old, her arm is through yours to keep her from stumbling. There are people all around, all walking, on and on. You walk for days. There is hardly anything to eat. You’re so thin you hardly recognise yourself, and your body is so, so tired. You run out of land – there is water ahead, war behind.

How do you feel?

Everyone is clambering for a place on the boat. You don’t want to go, but you don’t want to die either…

For you, this was a fleeting and imaginary experience. For many, this is real life.

Rafi, aged seven, saw his little brother die in Syria. His mother told Tearfund: “He hasn’t been happy with himself since.  He has nightmares and tells me that he is scared during the day.”

Rafi and his family now live in Lebanon, one of the countries where Tearfund is helping refugees. While in Syria they lived under shelling, in Lebanon it is peaceful. Yet the whole family lives with a legacy of fear.  They are all, even the parents, frightened by loud noises like fireworks. Many are traumatised and need specialist help.  Most have no opportunity to earn money, because their work permissions are restricted, so they struggle to feed their families.  School places in host countries are limited because of the number of people arriving from Syria. 

Every minute, eight people leave everything behind to flee war, persecution or terror – A small number of them come to the West and make the news headlines. Tens of millions don’t.


The dark nights of Advent

 2015-03-17 19.03.28-2

“Father in heaven,
the day draws near when the glory of your Son
will make radiant the night of the waiting world.”
Roman Missal

In the Northern hemisphere Advent corresponds with the season of Winter, when the days are short and the night is long. Advent reminds us that God comes to us in our darkest moments in order to bring His light. The dark nights of Advent reveal to us the light of Christ. Christ comes gently, without a rush, but He does come.

What is the area of your life where you long for Christ to visit you? Sometimes we may feel that certain parts of our life are in a season of awaiting, in Advent. Or we know other people who are in Advent of their lives. Often we associate waiting as something that is not pleasant, and yet when we wait for friends to visit us, or when we are hoping to see family or someone close to us after we haven’t seen them in a long time, the waiting is filled with joy and expectancy. It is an active waiting. Liturgically as we approach Christmas, the waiting takes this fragrance of joyful expectancy. 

In the next week, try and find a few quiet moments where you will let this external joyful reality of Christ’s coming feed your soul. The busyness of the season may make this a bit hard, but it is a worthwhile effort to pause in order to spend time in the presence of God. 

Do not hesitate to invite Jesus into the areas of your life that need Him the most, that long for His light. If there is something painful that you are dealing with, allow yourself to sit with it knowing that you are not alone; as if sitting in the middle of the night waiting for a new dawn. In a week’s time we will celebrate Christmas, which means that the hope that Christ brings is drawing near. And yet in many ways, same as when He was growing in Mary’s womb, He is already here. 

I pray that Christ, who is the true gift of the season, would bring you all the graces you need and that you would be willing to share them with those around you. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). 


Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

This Advent look for those in need

2015-12-01 13.31.53-3

The frenzy of Christmas shopping can so occupy some of us that it takes a special effort to think of those for whom this time is not going to be very happy. 

As we journey towards Christmas, let us try and remember those who need us to bring the Christ light to them. If someone is hungry, we cannot ask them to reflect on the deeper meaning of Advent, we need to bring them food. Try and notice at least one person who would benefit from your smile or your helping hand and then do something, however small, which may bring them some joy. This can be an elderly person that you know, someone who lost their loved one this year, a person that in these cold months needs to live on the street, or someone else that life will introduce you to. Be attentive and help at least one person not to be lonely at this time of the year.

If for a moment we take our concern outside of Ireland, we are aware that the refugees are still coming into Europe, and winter brings added challenges to those who are trying to help them. I would like to tell you a story from my friend Tea, who lives in Bosnia. In the last few months the refugees have been coming through Serbia into Croatia, both of which are bordering Bosnia, so Tea goes to the border with a team of people to provide assistance to the refugees. While you read, if emotions or images you saw on the news come, offer them to God as a prayer. Even if you cannot put it into words, know that your heart prays. Tea says:

“The border between Serbia and Croatia: Buses are coming every 15-20 minutes. Each bus is full of people who are often dehydrated, hungry, wet… A lot of them are with kids. From the point where they leave the bus, people have to walk several kilometres to Croatia and then they continue their trip to the refugee camp in Croatia. We came on the Serbian side, to the point where the buses drop people off. We came with three cars full of food, clothes, blankets, raincoats, milk, juice, shoes… We also came with enough money to re-supply. People were leaving buses, briefly ate, drank and continued to walk. Often they looked confused, disoriented and at the edge of their strength.

Everything that we brought to the border was very useful. However, from the beginning we realised that some things are more important than others. Nearly every person had problems with their feet. I won’t even try to describe how their feet looked like. Obviously, a logical step was to start cleaning their feet, giving them dry socks and new shoes. Unfortunately our shoe supply was not very big (we had around 20 pairs). Well, at this point, as a team we decided that we have more shoes and shared our shoes with those who are in need. My team came back to Tuzla with different shoes. Now I have shoes that were walking from Syria to the Croatian border and that are wet. I didn’t feel that we did anything special. Several reporters saw when one of our team members took her shoes off and gave it to the refugee, then one of them started to cry.”

Joseph and Mary were also walking for days before Jesus was born. They were on their way to Bethlehem. I invite you to become aware of the shoes you are wearing. How far could you walk in them? Would they be good for walking over the fields or if you had to walk for days without changing them? Take a few moments to ponder on this in silence and to offer your silent prayers to God. (short pause)

We ask you, Jesus, to do what we cannot, and to inspire us to do more of what we can in order to help those who are in need.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Writing as an Advent practice


One does not have to have a vocation of a writer in order to taste the healing benefits of writing. It has long been known that keeping a journal helps us to be attentive to the inner movements of our soul and to the deep life learning that each season of life offers us. Life can move quickly, and it is easy to lose a meaningful experience, a life lesson, unless we commit it to paper. Writing about our experiences also gives us a chance to come back to what we have written, to remember and to draw from it at a later stage. 

Some people use journaling to record daily events, but we can go even deeper and use it as a tool to reflect on our life. Writing gives us a chance to slow down and to pay attention to experiences that we can otherwise so easily overlook. If you would like to nurture a reflective dimension in your life, why not take a few minutes each day during this Advent to write about your day. Where did you notice God’s presence? What thoughts, emotions surfaced within you? What prayer was being formed in your depths?  

Writing gives shape to our thoughts. While we can gather many blessings by noting beautiful experiences, God’s graces that we encounter daily, it can be quite healing to take time to journal about painful events as well, such as grief or loss of any kind. Writing gives us a tool to express emotions that we carry within us, instead of keeping them bottled up inside. In this way writing can provide healing and relief. 

In a way writing acts as a mirror; at times while journaling we will write something that we have never thought about before, something we didn’t know we knew or believed. Allow yourself to be surprised with what you write, should that happen. Journaling is a good way to reflect, to pay attention, to observe, to listen, to notice our inner movements and to grow. 

I will leave you with some questions that may help your reflections as you journey through Advent:

Where in my life do I need God’s light to grow?
Did I notice that God is teaching me something new at this moment in time?
What hope have I for this Advent?
What are the ways that I can prepare my heart for the coming of Christ?

You can turn your writing into prayer. God is attentive to what is in your heart, and so be free as you write. The paper will not judge. May you have a truly blessed Advent. 

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

The power of Presence: God with us

“What would happen in a world like this if Christians were to become very still and quiet, creating oases of silence for people whose ears ache and whose heads hurt from all the noise?”
(Barbara Brown Taylor)

Join us in DCU as we explore the value of slowing down and tapping into the power of God’s presence in our daily lives. 

All are welcome.