Packing Christmas Away

Today we celebrate the last official day of Christmas, and for me the closing of this season carries with it a tinge of sadness.  The idea of carefully packing away all of my beautiful Christmas decorations leaves me feeling a little blue.  I know our house will look very plain and empty without all of the greens, reds, and golds…the very visible signs of hope and of the promise fulfilled in Christ’s coming.

20161229_134457

This Christmas was very special for me because I think it was the first time ever in my cradle catholic life that I paid close attention to what God was trying to say to me during both the Advent season and the Christmas season itself.  I believe that this preparation allowed me to continue to see all the signs of Christ’s coming everywhere I looked, well after December 25th.  I’m very thankful for that.

Yesterday at Mass we celebrated the last Sunday of Christmas, and it felt so very fitting that it fell on the Feast of the Epiphany—the day we celebrate the Wise Men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus.  I was lucky enough to cantor at this particular Mass, and it was special because it allowed me to sing the words from Psalm 72: Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.  Every nation on earth will adore the Christ-child; the one who is High Priest, Prophet, and King over all the world.

It was also incredibly special because it gave me the opportunity to notice things that I usually don’t. Right before the Gospel Reading Father incensed the psalter.  We read about this kind of offering in Scripture often, and it is carried on in the Tradition of the Mass.  It is a reminder through our sense of smell that our prayers and daily sacrifices, united with the Words of God and his passion, are lifted up to heaven together in oblation to God in the Mass.  Yesterday in Mass I got a unique visual of this, because as Father began his homily I saw the incense resting above the altar, and fanning very, very slowly to the giant crucifix behind it.  I could almost see the Lord smelling it…taking in a deep breath as he hung on the cross in the most perfect offering.  It was as if he was breathing in deeply the beautiful fragrance and offering of the Mass and exhaling it all back.  It was a stunning image, and one I think perfectly captured the reality of the Mass.     

ecatholic-stock-photo-55

After this vision, I was called back to Father’s homily in which he spoke of the three Wise Men.  He told us of their journey to see the Messiah who was to be born, and how they went out of their way to follow the star which shone brightly in the sky.  Father reminded us that their journey was treacherous, but despite the obstacles they would face, they showed immense courage.  They allowed the bright shining star to lead them on an unknown journey—a journey which they hoped would take them to see the King.  And it did. It led them to a tiny baby resting in a humble and meager manger: a poor and lowly image that nonetheless radiated such beauty and profound light.  All they could do was kneel in thanksgiving, offering their finest gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to their King.

blr

The gifts that the Magi brought the Lord are deeply rooted in significance and meaning.  The three gifts pointed to and foretold just who the baby in the manger was: the gold was a gift associated closely with royalty and endurance; the frankincense had medicinal purposes; and the myrrh was an embalming and anointing element.  Through these three gifts, the Magi were acknowledging that Jesus was a King whose kingdom would never end, that he would take on the role of High Priest, and that his life and death would significantly be involved in our salvation (the True Prophet who brings the Good News).

This got me thinking about Christmas in our culture today and what it seems to have become all about.  The center focus has greatly shifted away from Christ, moving more towards other things like Santa Claus, goofy Christmas songs, and the countless hours of prepping and buying, storing and wrapping, giving and receiving gifts with one another.  One has to sit and wonder if this is what Christ wants of us during the Christmas season.20170109_120103

Yesterday, though, I couldn’t help but think that the practice of gift giving isn’t too far off from what God wants us to realizeHe doesn’t necessarily want us to focus on the material goods, but he wants us to understand what it means to be given a gift, and in return pour ourselves out in love for one another as a gift to each other.   In Christ, we receive the greatest gift of all: we receive the gift of salvation and the divine opportunity to enter into communion with the Lord; to know him, to love him, and to put him on for ourselves through the Holy Spirit.  Yesterday I realized in a deeper sense that the Christmas season doesn’t just end abruptly, but rather ends with a calling.  Through the guidance of the Christmas season we are brought into the New Year with the most perfect gift of Christ’s love, then sent forth to carry his light and his love out into the world. Christ perfectly lived out his calling to be priest, prophet, and king, and in doing so he gave us the capacity to live this out in our own lives today.  We are called to daily make an offering of our lives to one another and to the Lord in a gift of love; we are called to boldly proclaim God’s goodness to the world; and we are called to become kings like Christ, masters of our own desires and selfish whims, and people who seek always to prioritize and will the good of the otherIn this three-fold way, we become Christ’s light in the world, a gift to one another.  Through Christ, we become the visible signs of the promise fulfilled.

I think just as there is a time for all seasons, it is fitting to pack up and store our Christmas supplies away.  Just as Christ walked forward in his life and resolutely journeyed towards Jerusalem, we too have to go forth and live our lives day by day.  We cannot live in the Christmas season forever.  We have to encounter all the joys and celebrations, and obstacles and pains that come with a New Year.  Hopefully, though, as we continue on in this journey we remember to merely store the Christmas decorations in the dark and dank basement of our homes…not the spirit of Christmas itself.  That, we should remember to save and store in the inner recesses of our hearts.

 Untitled

 

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is a very special Feast Day in the Church, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary!  Not only is today a Feast Day, it is a Holy Day and all the faithful are called to go to Mass to celebrate the most holy conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

To honor our Blessed Mother, here are a few facts about her Immaculate Conception:

-1-

Though conceived without sin, Mary’s conception was a human one.   Unlike her Son Jesus (who was conceived by the Holy Spirit), Mary was conceived by two human parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim.

ann-joachim-mary-233x300

Mary was conceived in a special way, without the stain of original sin, making her Immaculate.  Original Sin is the state all of humanity is born into, a result of the great Fall of Adam and Eve.  It is a deprivation of sanctifying grace (a habitual gift given to us by God,  that perfects our souls and enables us to live with God and act by his love), and as such leaves the human nature corrupt.(This is why Baptism is so essential—especially for infants—because through it we receive sanctifying grace).  Mary, however, received God’s sanctifying grace the moment she was conceived in the womb, and was preserved from the defects of original sin by the grace of Christ.

mary

-2-

Scripture gives us a window into the very special disposition of Mary’s soul.  In Luke 1:28, the Angel Gabriel greets Mary with a particularly special greeting, “Hail, full of grace (or, “favored one”), The Lord is with you!”  This greeting was a unique one, which hardly translates well in our English language.  However, the Greek expression for “Hail, full of grace” more aptly expresses the quality of Mary’s state of being.  In Greek the greeting is “chaire kecharitomene,” (a passive participle expressing an action completed in the past with an application in the present) which reads in English as “Hail, you who have been perfected in grace!”  This indicates that Mary was graced by God in the past, but continues to live in a state of sanctifying grace in the present.  Thus, Mary’s Immaculate state was not a result of the angel’s visit, but she was endowed with sanctifying grace from the moment she was conceived.

 

-3-

As a human, Mary was still in need of Redemption, but she was saved in a special and unique way.  Mary, too, was a descendant of Adam and thus subject to the necessity of contracting original sin.  However, God intervened, preserving her from the stain and corruption of Original Sin from the moment she was brought into existence.  She was thus redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—through anticipation (or in other words, preemptively).

 

-4-

The following analogy might help you understand this a little more:

Mud pit analogy.jpg

 

-5-

Aren’t we all sinners? A quick thought if Romans 3:23 is popping into your head right now: Children before the age of reason are incapable of sinning (because sin requires the ability to reason and intend sin), and both the angels and souls in heaven are without sin.  Mary’s blessedness doesn’t take away from the glory of God, but rather, it demonstrates his great glory by showing us the work he has done in sanctifying creation.   Sinning doesn’t qualify us to be human—it is just what we are working with when we are brought into the world in our fallen condition.  It is in fact when man is without sin that he is living most fully the life that God created him to be.  Mary, chosen as the one to carry the Christ child, was preserved from sin and created exactly the way that God wanted her to be.

-6-

Why was the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception defined so late? The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, which is a long time after the birth of Mary.  Why did the Church wait so long to publicly declare her Immaculate Conception?  Though this delay signifies that the doctrine was merely invented, we must remember that the Church never issues definitive proclamations on teachings of the faith until a.) they either have to (to confront and avoid false teaching on the matter), or b.) to expand and clarify the teaching so that the faithful may better understand it.  The reason this particular doctrine wasn’t issued until 1854 is because the faithful at that time were desiring that this doctrine (taught, maintained, and believed to be true since the beginning) be officially proclaimed.  They did this in hopes that it would inspire a deeper devotion to Jesus through her, and help the faithful have a better understanding of her.

-7-

Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.  When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he announced to her that the birth of her Son will happen by the power of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35) This “overshadowing” of the power of God is a reference to the Shekinah of the Old Testament—the Hebrew term for God’s presence among his people. This presence overcame the company of the people in the form of a great cloud, and overtime ended up overshadowing the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark was the way in which God’s presence was always visible to the people, so that they could know with certainty that God was indeed with them.  The Ark contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (on which were written the Word of God), the manna God gave the people for sustenance, and the budding staff of Aaron, who was the high priest of the people.   The Ark which held all of these three things foreshadowed the New Ark, Mary, who (overshadowed by the Shekinah of God) carried within her womb the Child of the Promise: the very Law and Word of God itself, the true Bread of Life, and the great High Priest sent to redeem all of humanity.  Thus, it makes perfect sense that the New Ark be preserved from sin and sanctified from the beginning of her creation.

4f3935eba1b0f41b2032ffa1fb8177fd

All of these facts point not just to the awesomeness of Mary, but more importantly to the awesomeness of God who created her, so blessed and full of grace.

Untitled

*The featured image at the top of the post can be found and bought by the artist on her etsy account here. 

 

Should I take my kids to Mass?

This past Sunday was the first time in a long time where we didn’t have to walk out of Mass.  As Father began his closing blessing I looked over to my husband to express my excitement, and was met with his wide-eyed smiling face.

Yes.  That was a good one.

We made it through without a single fit and no whining.  It was incredible.  This kind of quiet in Mass is such a rarity with two young kids…and a golden opportunity for me and my husband.

It was the first time in a long time that I could concentrate during the consecration, and it primed my heart so well that I even got choked up walking to receive Communion.  In this quiet I could prepare my heart enough to savor the gift I was being given in the Eucharist, and it was amazing.

And, also, probably a fluke.  As wonderful as it was, my husband and I laughed to ourselves after Mass knowing that it was probably a once in a blue moon kind of thing—enjoy it while it lasted!  Next Sunday we will probably be met with the familiar cries, fidgets, and groans for Mass to be over that come from both a toddler and a baby who don’t quite fully get the magnificence of it all.

But that’s OK.

Joe and I go to Mass each Sunday because it is an obligation that our Church has given us.  Canon Law says that on Sundays the faithful are obliged and bound to participate in the Mass, and that we should give particular care for reserving the day especially for worship.  (Canon 1247) This law is what is called an “ecclesiastical law” (a law, given by the Church to the faithful, to those who possess the sufficient use of reason). So, in reality, our children could miss Mass if we didn’t want to bring them.  It wouldn’t hurt them morally or be a sin for them if they didn’t go.  Though we are tied to our moral obligation to attend Mass each Sunday, they are not.

But another, and more important reason, why Joe and I go to Mass is because it is the place where we encounter God in a special and unique way.  Through the community of believers, and especially through the liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist, we are given a divine opportunity each week—rather than a mere “obligation”—to get especially close to God.  It is a gift, and we go to receive.

However, in the craziness that comes from taking the kids with us, it’s easy to forget why we even go and tempting to throw our hands up in the air and give up bringing on them along.  I have story after story of not-so-fun experiences with the children at Mass…

So why even take them?

We take them to Mass for the same two-fold reason that we go to Mass: the obligation, and the gift.  Though they don’t have an obligation to go, as parents, we have an obligation to raise them in the faith.  This is an obligation we signed up for when we baptized them as children.  The family is the place where they are to gain the foundations of the faith, and there is no better way to prepare them than to immerse them in the communion of the Mass each week.  Despite their distractions and clamoring for toys and snacks, there are many opportunities for our faith to become visible to them, so that when they are older and gain an understanding for the Mass, it is both familiar and familial.  They are able to see mom and dad praying (or at least trying to pray), to interact with other members in Church (who overtime become familiar to them), and to gain a firsthand experience of God’s Fatherly love (a kind of love that is both patient and persistent) in our parental ability to make it through a Mass with them with patience and love–reminding them through our actions that this is where we are called to be.  That this is HOME. 

Even when it’s hard. 

The graces that come from toting your kids to Mass each week payoff, but they do so in small ways overtime.  When we walk into Mass now, sometimes I hear Eli excitedly saying, There’s my friend!  As Father lifts the Host in the air I’ve heard Eli whisper, Mom why he do that?  During the readings as he plays with my hair, he casually asks, Mom, what he saying?  Question after question arises during mass—questions that seem so simple and easy to pass over—but each is an opportunity for him to encounter Jesus and the Church in a childlike but profound way.  I whisper back, “Bud, Father is calling Jesus to be with us,” and, “That’s a ‘lector’—he’s reading God’s Word.”  Sure, in the moments where the kids are crying or whining and I’m beginning to sweat it’s easy to lose sight of these little opportunities…but in the big picture, we are giving them an immense gift by going to Mass together as a family.  And it starts as early as the beginning.  Even Lucy, who is still so little, participates in the Mass just by being there. And with her smiles—and even her cries—her presence is a reminder to everyone else that the Church is young, active, and alive.

I urge you to take your children to Mass as a family.   I know it can be difficult at times, and can be frustrating, but it is SO worth it.

untitled

Here are some tips for taking your family to Mass:

-1-

Sit near the front of the Church.  I know it sounds counterproductive, but I swear to you this works.  There is something about being near the front that calms the kids, more than if you sit in the back.  This is not to say that you won’t have to head to the back of the Church at times, but being in the front allows them to see what is going on and gives them an awareness that they are there for a reason.  Their perspective is so much shorter than ours—allowing them to see above the pews will do wonders for their behavior.

-2-

Avoid the cry room.  I know some still prefer it, but the cry room can be straight out bananas most of the time.  If you think it’s hard for you to pay attention in the Church, it is that much harder to pay attention in the cry room.  To the kids it can make Mass seem more of a time to play, than a time to pray.

-3-

Make sure your kiddos are fed before Mass, and if necessary, bring a few quiet snacks with you.   However, be smart in choosing your snacks.  Hand held snacks are the best; avoid snacks that can spill all over the place and create distractions and a scene.

-4-

Bring a quiet toy.  Once Eli was a little older and it became harder to keep him still and quiet, we allowed him to have one toy (more than one always proves to be too distracting) to keep him pacified. We allow him to bring a hotwheel, or a small figurine, and it has worked well.

If you don’t want to bring toys that are unrelated to the Mass, take a look at these options:

Mass books

Rosary

Mass buddies (Saint card set) 

Quiet felt play sets 

-5-

Don’t leave Church, just leave the pew.  Make a habit of taking your child out of Mass when their noise/crying distracts from the Liturgy.  Taking them to the back is a good way to let them know that their behavior is unacceptable, and signals to them that they are to be quiet in Church.  However, don’t let them run around and play.  Holding them teaches them that disruptive behavior isn’t rewarded.

-6-

Make Mass an experience for them.  When they get noisy, quietly try distracting them. Ask them questions like, Where is Father?  Can you find Jesus?  Point to a candle!  This works well, especially for children over the age of 2, and teaches them to participate in the Mass.

-7-

Don’t let other people’s concerns get you down.  It is very rare, but in the case that you encounter someone who is rude or uncharitable to you because of your children’s (loud) presence, take my advice: Just don’t worry about it.

You are not there for them.  Do your best to minimize your children’s distractions in Mass, but don’t allow someone to keep you from going.  Brush any awful comments and disapproving glares off, and keep your eyes transfixed on the Eucharist, because HE wants you and your children to be there—and that’s all that matters.

And lastly:

-8-

Don’t sweat the fret. Even though it can be extremely difficult to quiet your own heart and pray during Mass when you take your kids, don’t be discouraged from taking them with you or from going to Mass.  God knows your heart.  He will feed you, even if you are unaware that you are being fed.  That moment last Sunday in which I was able to savor the Mass was wonderful, but it was merely a fruit of the gift, not the actual gift itself.  The Eucharist is fuel and nourishment for us, even if we unable to enter into the Mass fully.  Our awareness is not primarily what God looks for, it is the opening of our hearts.  If we come to him in the Mass with an open heart, he will fill it.

 Thoughts or hesitations about taking your kids to Mass?  Have any more advice to add? Comment below! 

Untitled

 

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

 

 

advent-candles

It’s normal to begin seeing some signs of Christmas coming as soon as the leaves start falling off the trees and the chill begins to move in.  Though there are a few signs of Christmas as early as August (like the holiday collection at Hobby Lobby), most people usually hold off on their shopping list and home prep until at least after Thanksgiving.

This year, though, has seemed quite different.  Though Thanksgiving has barely passed, many people I know began embracing Christmas much, much earlier than usual.

It’s clear our country needs a bit of a pick me up right now.

I think in the wake of the election, most people are dying for some hope and goodness to pour forth in our country.  People are ready to experience the kind of spirit that the Christmas season brings about, where everyone is called to come together and celebrate the joy of giving and receiving, not just gifts, but one another’s company and companionship.

Yet, despite the great joy and happiness that comes in all that the Christmas season brings, all the details we enjoy so much this time of year (stockings, music, good food, twinkling lights, etc.) are merely glimmers of the profound depth that lies in the real meaning of Christmas.   If all the focus is on all the fun before December 25th even hits, by the time Christmas actually rolls around people are more ready to pack it all up in their exhaustion of it, then bask in the joy of Jesus’ coming.  If we celebrate too much before Christmas even arrives, we may end up missing the whole point of the Advent season.

Advent is the liturgical time in the Church (this year beginning on December 27th), which is set aside  for us to reflect on the deep longing we all have for the coming of Christ.  It is the time for contemplating three main things: the salvation history of the past, and how Jesus entered into our fallen and broken world offering redemption for mankind; how our redemption is being accomplished here-and-now, in and through Christ and his Church; and how we are still waiting in joyful anticipation for the future and final coming of Christ.

Though the time for hanging stockings, and playing Christmas music is imminent, it’s important to remember that Advent is a time specifically set aside for preparing our hearts and minds for his coming.  It is the time for us to examine all the ways that we fail to recognize the great gift we are given in God’s love and call to communion, and through hopeful longing and joyful anticipation, submit ourselves to prayerful penance and spiritual preparation in order to make room for him in our hearts.  Advent sums up and symbolizes our daily mission: to live our lives in gratitude for the gifts God has given us and daily prepare ourselves for what awaits us in eternity.  Everything else—all pieces of happiness and joy that we experience on this earth and in this season—are merely a small impression and sharing in what we receive in the gift of his coming.

Our Church offers us ways of entering into this preparatory mindset through it’s liturgical practices (through special decorations, songs, and readings), but as you unpack your Christmas lights and start prepping your home, here are some tips for preparing your heart for Christ’s coming during this Advent season:

-1-

Spend some time each day during Advent praying with daily readings and reflections offered by the Church.  There are some great ones out there like, “The Advent of Christ,” by Edward Sri, this Advent Journal by Blessed is She, and this Advent Companion which coincides with the Magnificat readings.   This is such a special way to engage in the spirit of Advent, because these daily readings help focus your intent and guide your mind during the craziness of the season.

-2-

If you are excited about decorating your home for Christmas, decorate with the themes of Advent in mind.  Place a Nativity Scene in your home, but leave out the baby Jesus until Christmas morning.  Hang pictures like this and others that are thematic of our hopeful longing for the day of his coming.  Save some of your best decorations commemorating the birth of the Lord to hang on the day of Christmas.

-3-

Count down the days leading up to Christmas with an Advent Wreath which marks each Sunday before Christmas, an Advent Calendar which offers daily prayers and gives reminders for the special days in Advent, or a Jesse Tree which guides you through the story of salvation leading up to the birth of Christ.

-4-

Celebrate Feast Days that take place before Christmas, like The Feast of Saint Nick (on December 6th), or The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (on December 8th).

untitled

Since Advent is a time of preparation, it is considered to be a kind of “little lent” in the Church.  Thus, fasting, doing penance, and giving alms are all great ways to prepare your heart for Christmas.

-5-

Confession is an important part of prepping for the Lord’s coming because it allows Him to draw us nearer to him and rid ourselves of all that separate us from him.  Make time for reconciliation before Christmas to really prepare your heart to receive him with great joy.

-6-

Most people don’t connect fasting with the holiday season (the time of year we all gain a pound or two), but fasting is a great way to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christmas.  What better way to share in Christ’s gift to us, than by offering up goods in preparation for his coming (be it food, habits, or something else you find yourself clinging to).  Offering up these daily goods is a reminder that, no matter how wonderful earthly goods may be, they pale in comparison to the gift we receive in Christ.  This manger activity is a great way for the whole family to fast and prepare for Christ together!

-7-

In the spirit of giving, Advent is a great time to practice spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy.  Giving gifts to disadvantaged families and to those in need are both wonderful ways to prepare for the Lord.  Volunteer your time, offering it to those in need, or invite people into your home who may feel isolated and lonely during the holidays.

untitled

As you prepare for Christmas by buying gifts and preparing your home, most importantly, remember to take this time to reflect on the gifts Christ has already given us and those he promises are yet to come.

Also, throughout this Advent season be sure to check back in!  I will be posting special reflections on the Sunday Advent readings and special feast days during Advent.  Hope you take the time to read!

advent-north-star

Untitled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

2011114207christ_the_king_6_cropped

Today’s Mass celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King.  I was reading in the Magnificat, and I wanted to share a quote included in today’s readings from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

Jesus of Nazareth…is so intrinsically king that the title ‘King’ has actually become his name.  By calling ourselves Christians, we label ourselves as followers of the King…God did not intend Israel to have a kingdom.  The kingdom was a result of Israel’s rebellion against God… The law was to be Israel’s king, and, through the law, God himself…God yielded to Israel’s obstinacy and so devised a new king of kingship for them.  The King is Jesus; in him God entered humanity and espoused it to himself.  This is the usual form of the divine activity in relation to mankind, God does not have a fixed plan that he must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man and even of turning his wrong ways into right ways …the feast of Christ the King is therefore not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight on crooked lines.

I love that last line.  I love the image of a God who “writes straight” on our “crooked lines.”  How often in my life do I feel crooked.  Crooked, and so unholy.  Always so much more ready to submit myself to the world than my God.  Yet God, all-merciful and all-loving, continues to reach down to us in our weaknesses and in our failures and look upon us kindly, and bless us when we are undeserving.  He continuously calls us back to himself; to He who is the source and summit of all of our deepest desires.  What a generous and loving King we have.

In connection with this feast of Christ the King, the Psalm for the day is one of my very favorites, Psalm 23.  Psalm 23 is one of the most familiar psalms, and is often said or sung at funerals.  It never really occurred to me just how precious this psalm is until I read it as a prayer, closing my eyes to imagine the Lord, our King, taking my hand and leading me as he led the inspired King David.

The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.

In God, we lack nothing.  If we place all of our trust in him, all of our hope…how can we have fear?  He is the answer to our deepest desires; he hears us when we call him; he is by our side when we are suffering or afraid.  Like a good shepherd, he watches over us and cares for all of our needs.

In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul.

I love this verse.  This image is so perfect because it paints a clear picture of our caring Father, our God.  He knows what we need, even when we don’t.  In all the hustle of the world, and in everything we tangle ourselves up into, we have a God who knows our needs, who whispers in our heart to rest in him.  I love imagining the Lord bringing us to a safe place—a green pasture—and leading us to peace.  It is such a beautiful image.  Sometimes we need to allow God to lead us, especially when we are afraid.  In this verse I have imagined myself wearing a blindfold over my eyes, giving all of my trust to God.  It is so hard to completely submit ourselves over to God, but uniting ourselves to him is the answer to our restlessness.  The image of “still waters” is also very beautiful.  It calls to mind the reality that often times we try to quench our thirst in waters that are chaotic; waters that don’t completely satisfy us and leave us thirsting for more.  Yet God leads us to still waters, where we are given all that we need in Him. Just as we thirst for him, he thirsts for us.  He wants us to be filled in and through him alone, who is living water.

He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name.

This is a great reminder for ourselves that it is in God alone that truth is found.  Not in myself, not out in the world.  He alone is good, and all other goodness is a mere fraction of all that he is.  This line reminds us that he wants to walk with us in our journey.  He wants to guide us forward, pointing us towards the good so that we may have an easier time uniting our souls to him, and so that we may be a witness to others.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.

There is so much evil in this world.  I think sometimes it is much easier to see the evil than the good.  So many people are suffering, and there is such a lack of hope permeating our culture.  There is no denying that evil is real.  There is a cosmic battle taking place in our world, and we have to choose a side.  But where evil exists, there is the Lord standing with his rod and staff, protecting us and casting down all evil that seeks to harm us. He gives us hope in the resurrection, and hope for eternal life and even when we are faced with trial in this world he is there to help us persevere, until we rest in peace with him forever.

 You set a table before me in front of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

I love this verse because when we choose the Lord, when we place our trust in him, he invites us to his banquet, and seats us in honor. When we take him as our King, he brings us into his Kingdom, not as subjects or slaves, but as sons and daughters.  I love picturing the Lord actually setting a table, and anointing our heads.  It is a beautiful reminder of all the goodness that the Lord seeks to give us, how he is our King, and he shares all of his riches with us. It’s also a good reminder that the Lord knows each and every one of us.  He has gone ahead and prepared a place for us, and waits to invite us into his Kingdom, and clothe us in his purple and gold raiments.

 Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days.

There is no greater goodness than God.  All happiness on earth that we may find is fleeting, unless it rests and has its foundation in him.  He calls each and every one of us to enter into a relationship with him; to hear his voice and answer his call.  He wants to establish his kingdom for all of us on earth, that we might have authentic freedom: freedom for the good.  Our world today seeks to be united to a kingdom where freedom is an absolute.  Freedom means doing whatever makes “me” happy, and means being “free from restrictions”.  In this mentality, freedom runs the risk of being separated from Truth.  Having authentic freedom means seeking God on our own accord, and ultimately clinging to him—the one who is the culmination of man’s blessed perfection; the King who has, as Saint Paul says, loved us and given himself up for us.  This is also a reminder that there is more beyond life as we know it.  Our goal should be heaven and uniting ourselves with God in his heavenly Kingdom, and we should never lose sight of that.  We should daily call ourselves to conversion, so that we may one day be blessed enough to “dwell in the house of the Lord for endless days.”

On this day as we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King, may we all be united in the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Lord Jesus, make us yours.  Live in us, gather together a scattered and suffering humanity, so that in you all may be subjected to the Father of mercy and love.”  May our freedom be found in the King, who gives us truth, and truly sets us free.

Lent–Loving the Summum Bonum

 

 

It is in these dark and still nights, these desert times, that the soul experiences its greatest growth.  There, in the inner arena, the soul battles the world, the flesh and the devil—just as Our Lord battled Satan’s triple temptation in the desert.  Jesus’ battle was external, for He could not sin; our battle is interior, but with a hope sustained by the knowledge of Christ’s Easter victory over sin and death.
I just recently spoke with my sister who told me about an incident that occurred in her life.  She told me about a run in she had with someone regarding fasting, particularly for Lent.  My sister, knowing that it was Ash Wednesday, made a comment about fasting from meat on Wednesday and the person (as if offended by the very notion of fasting) said, “You don’t believe in that too, do you?”  The person proceeded to question the whole practice, going as far as saying she quit doing that when she “grew a brain.” 
Hmm.
Aside from the knee jerk reaction (picturing lunging and tackling) that I personally had upon hearing this story, I realized…what a misconception.
When I hear things like this it is so easy to get upset and offended.  It is so easy to write these people off as stupid and ignorant.  It is so easy to be lead by feeling, because the faith that we have is precious and worth defending. 
So instead of tackling physically, I decided to write a post about Ash Wednesday, fasting, and Lent, in order to “tackle” this with facts.
So, what is Ash Wednesday and why is it so important to our faith? 
Ash Wednesday is the call of the faithful to “repent and believe the gospel.” (Mk 1:15)  For the next 40 days, the faithful willingly submit to fasting and to self-denial in order to imitate the Lord’s forty day fast in the desert.  In this penitential season, we have the opportunity to make an annual spiritual “tune up”—a retreat with our Lord. 
The major themes that permeate the Lenten Season are Baptism and Penance.   During Lent we are to recall our baptism (the Sacrament which brings us into the life of Christ), and practice penance (internally and individually, and also externally and socially).  Through these two things, Lent prepares us and disposes us to celebrate the paschal mystery of our Lord come Easter. 
Significantly, the liturgical season of Lent coincides with Spring.  Spring calls to mind images of new life, growth, hope for a new change.  These things should characterizethis time of prayer and penance, and thus should lead to conversion of the heart once again towards Christ.  For 40 days, the Church invites us to start afresh.  During Lent, we are called to “spring” into action, to do the tasks of the season, and to prepare for the graces that are obtained from Easter. 
Why do we wear ashes on our foreheads?  Because they are a vivid reminder of our mortal nature—we are bodies fashioned from dust—they are a symbol of this passing world and reminder of our death, a symbol of penance and sorrow for sins, and a  reminder of the curse in Genesis.  During Lent we are to ask the Lord to protect us in our constant struggle against evil, and help lead us to holiness through our self-denial.   
Why do we fast?  Because in fasting we are admitting to ourselves that nothing, NOTHING, is as good as God.  He is the Summum Bonum—the Highest Good.  Everything else should be ordered according to this fact, and during Lent, we are proclaiming this beautiful reality. 
This is why it is good to abstain from meat, one of the most favored and hearty foods among all people.  This is why during Lent, we should really discern those things which we struggle with—those things we tend to put above God—and give them up out of our love for the Lord. 
In my RCIA class we discussed some things that might be a good idea to abstain from for the 40 days of Lent.  I thought it might be a good idea to post them, because I always struggle with really pinpointing what it is I want to give up for Lent. 
Here are some ideas:
      ·         Sweets

      ·         Warm shower (take a lukewarm shower)
      ·         Smoking
      ·         Alcohol
      ·         Your pillow
      ·         Make-up
      ·         Soda
      ·         Gossip
      ·         Television
      ·         Unnecessary Shopping
      ·         Seconds
      ·         Facebook
      ·         Fried food
      ·         Music in the car (use time for prayer instead)
      ·         Nail polish
      ·         Cologne/perfume

Also, Lent is not only calls us to fast, but also to commit ourselves to prayer and almsgiving. 

Here are some suggestions for enhancing a prayerful life during lent:
      ·         Pray the rosary daily
      ·         Daily mass, or mass more than 1 day a week
      ·         Daily scripture readings
      ·         Lectio Divina
      ·         Weekly stations of the cross
      ·         Spiritual readings/daily meditations  
      ·         Going to confession weekly during Lent
      ·         Visiting the Lord at weekly or daily adoration in the perpetual adoration chapel

Some suggestions for almsgiving this Lent:
      ·         Help out at your local soup kitchen
      ·         Donate to a local shelter
      ·         Volunteer your time at your church (singing, lecturing, become a Eucharistic minister)
      ·         Start tithing if you don’t already
      ·         Bring canned goods to the church for those in need

Have no shame in wearing the ashes tomorrow.  Lent, though marked by penance, self-denial, and suffering, is truly a happytime.  Lent is the season which calls us to seek and develop a closer relationship with God.  There is always room to grow.  There is always more love to take on. 

Commit to the Lord, and whatever you do, you will succeed. 

God Bless,
Lauren

Merry Life

This past advent season had me reflecting quite a bit more than it usually does.  I felt like this past year was the year that I would actually acknowledge that the Christmas season is much much more than just a season filled with spirit lifting Christmas music, pumpkin spice and eggnog flavored everything, and a time to load up on nice presents that would bring a smile to my family and friends faces.  My effort was put primarily into reading The Advent of Christ by Edward Sri.  This book was filled with daily scripture reflections meant to help prepare for Christmas.  Though I have to admit that I did not make it entirely to the end (allowing my own personal distractions to get the better of me), I have to say that it was a great way to keep my mind attune to what the Christmas season is really all about—i.e. Christ! 
One of the major things that has been on my mind (which you can tell from almost all of my posts and the name of this blog) is love.  While it may be that I am at a point in my life when I am overcome with love and happiness that has led me to think about it so much, I still think that love is always an important thing to discuss in depth.   

Christmas calls us to remember and celebrate the birth of the Christ child.  It is a time for us to reflect on the fact that God sent his only son to us, for the benefit of all mankind, and he sent him in the form of a sweet babe.  A baby!  This really is an incredible thing to think about.  Our Savior came into the world in the form of a tiny little baby.  Just. Like. Us.

This fact of course leads me, as a new mother, to reflect on the beauty that babies teach us in their innocence.  Daily I am learning what it means to put the self behind and to serve.  In our modern world, this of course sounds like an unappealing way to live.  I can see how being tired, unable to really have a whole lot of “me” time, and being quite stinky at times can sound unappealing, but I will also add that this is the most fulfilled I have ever felt in my life. 

It is a crazy thing to transition into—the fact that some little being relies on you for everything.  My son cannot feed himself, clothe himself, bathe himself, or change himself.  He needs me.  He needs his daddy.  He needs someone to be there for him to meet all of his needs.  Not only that, but he needs someone to care enough to love him and be patient while meeting those needs.

This is the message that Christ sends us throughout his whole mission:  “Love one another, as I have loved you.” 

It’s crazy that even in the Christmas season, the time we should be reflecting on the greatest moment in history, how we are being told even more so than any other time to serve ourselves.  Commercials are now littered with the message of treating yourself the way you think you deserve.  It’s like they are re-writing the Golden Rule!  Instead of focusing on loving others the way that we would like to be loved, society is now nixing the others and saying, “Just go ahead and love yourself! You know what you deserve!”

How sad.  How sad is it that we live in a world that promotes self-love over love-of-neighbor. 

I recently watched “Marvin’s Room” with Diane Keaton and the great Meryl Streep.  The movie was about a woman (Keaton) who had cancer, and in the end she learns that the disease is terminal.  Though she finds this out, she has the following conversation with her sister and is moved to tears:

 Bessie: Oh, Lee, I’ve been so lucky. I’ve been so lucky to have Dad and Ruth. I’ve had such love in my life. You know, I look back, and I’ve had such… such love.

Lee: They love you very much.

Bessie: No, that’s not what I mean. No, no… I mean that I love them. I’ve been so lucky to have been able to love someone so much.

While I was watching this, I was reminded again the beauty in dying to self.  It is in loving others that we find fulfillment.  I like to think that is Christ’s prize in the cracker-jack box that is his beautiful message.  It is the secret ellipsis in his message that our world will not experience until they embrace the first half: “Love others as you do yourself…and you will find happiness.  You will find peace.”

We cannot find true and lasting happiness in serving ourselves.  We must turn outward towards our families, neighbors and friends, and love.

Thanks for reading!

Lauren