Friday, December 31, 2010

Refocus And Redirect

I don't make New Year's resolutions any more; I gave up this fruitless practice (at least for me) some years ago. This doesn't mean that I enter a new year with no goals or aspirations, it is just that now I try to do it from a faith based and spiritual standpoint.
There has been much around the blogosphere recently about people choosing a personal theme or word for their lives for the upcoming year. My fellow blogger and friend Anne over at Imprisoned In My Bones has chosen the word DEEPER for her word for this new year. She also talks about the Four Degrees of Love outlined by St Bernard of Clairveux. Reading Anne's posts and a little of what St Bernard has to say on these stages of love got me thinking about where God would like me to focus more in this upcoming year.
I don't have a word or theme, but more a direction, for lack of a better word. Like Anne, I am always looking for ways to deepen my spiritual life and therefore my relationship with Christ. I have seen pieces of things come together during this Advent and Christmas season that show me that God through His Son, Jesus is always looking to work more deeply in and through me. He also strives to show me just how much He loves me and wants me to accept that love. I am not as attentive and alert to these promptings as I should or could be.
The one thing that always amazes me about God is that He knows just how to speak and get through to me. I have always loved books~ God knows this and uses this medium often.
Something I realized early in this Advent was that I have become very distracted by the trappings and unnecessities of the world. I think God will use the spiritual reading material he has placed in my hands to redirect and refocus my heart and soul. Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain and Fulton Sheen's The Life of Christ, are the main materials for this.
Our awesome God never tiring of giving and lavishing us with His gifts seems to want to guide me in this through His Mother. Mary along with her own mother, St Anne will guide me through this year. As I wrote in an earlier post, St Anne has chosen to be my patron for this new year. Mary recently has come a little more into my life as well in a very tangible way , but more on that in tomorrow's post.
So to rap up these musings and this year, I look forward to continuing my walk with Christ, deepening my relationship with Him through the guidance of His Mother and the heavenly friends He has sent my way.
All I can say is Ain't God grand!

Monday, December 27, 2010

If You Look For Me

A friend sent this to me in an e-mail. It is something that is easy for us to forget~ especially this time of year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sign And Instrument Of Unity

The Holy Family of Nazareth is truly the "prototype" of every Christian family which, united in the Sacrament of Marriage and nourished by the Word and the Eucharist, is called to carry out the wonderful vocation and mission of being the living cell not only of society but also of the Church, a sign and instrument of unity for the entire human race.
~Pope Benedict XVI

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Birthday Card For Jesus

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

A Merry and Blessed Christmas to all my readers!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve: The Night Hope And Love Came Down

Christmas Eve has always held a sense of wonder and mystery for me, even in the days I spent far from God and my faith. I think many experience this feeling. People of faith know the reason for this feeling, those who have lost their faith, or perhaps never had it, may not know the reason.
There is much going on around the world these days that would seem to say or pose the question: Where is God? Our faith tells us, this night tells us, that in the fullness of time God sent His only Son. On that first Christmas He came, Hope and Love came down.
Since that first night and even long before it, the world has always experienced turmoil and it will continue to do so until Our Lord's return. But as we prepare to welcome our Savior this Christmas, we can be assured that He is always with us.
The poem, "I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was written before the end of the Civil War in America. In the poem the poet writes the line: "God is not dead nor does He sleep." While there is no war being fought on our own soil, wars rage around the globe, and many of our young men and women will spend this Christmas fighting for our freedom and that of others. Let us remember them in our prayers and hold the hope, peace and love in our hearts that were born this night. Let us spread to those around us who need to know that God is not dead and He doesn't sleep.
Here is the musical version of Wadsworth's poem sung by Casting Crowns. You can read the story behind the poem by clicking the link on the poem's title above.
Have a Blessed Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Zechariah: A Model Of Mercy

Zechariah: James Tissot

I posted this reflection on my Advent Reflections page, but felt a little nudge to bring it to the forefront here. Zechariah is one of my favorites. He is a wonderful example of how God gives us the opportunity to always correct our mistakes. I also think he is a good example of what happens when you mess with an angel! Zechariah also shows us how God used simple, everyday people to play great roles in His plan for salvation of this fallen world. 
We are all called to play a part in God's plan. Like He did for Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah and John the Baptist, He will also do great things for and in us if we cooperate with His grace.

The Incarnation is largely about redemption. God became man in Jesus Christ to redeem humanity. In the beginning of Luke's Gospel we are brought into the lives of those who play a key role in Salvation History. It begins with Mary's fiat, then Joseph's faith in God in hearing the angel's message for him in a dream, Elizabeth's response of joy to Mary's greeting, and even the babies in their wombs seem to greet each other.
Redemption also came in another way for Zechariah. He found out what happens when you lack faith and trust in an angel's message; in his case he was rendered mute. But God gives him a chance to correct that mistake when his son, John is born. Zechariah knew full well that giving the child this name would cause some confusion and maybe even a little consternation among his friends and relatives because no one in his family had the name John. This time, though Zechariah trusted God, wrote down that this was to be the child's name and God restored his speech.
We, like Zechariah, are given second, even third, fourth... chances to correct our mistakes. When we approach God in prayer and in the sacrament of reconciliation with humility and sincere repentance, He forgives us and allows us to begin again.
Let us reflect upon God's mercy as we continue to reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation.

Heavenly Father,
You sent Your Son, Jesus to redeem a fallen world. As we contemplate this great mystery of Your Incarnation, may we see Your great love for us and the mercy You are always willing to show us. May we never miss the opportunities You give us to begin again in our life with and in You.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Visiting And Praying For The Imprisoned

 This time of year is difficult for many; it is especially difficult for prisoners and their families. Having a friend who spent more than a few Christmases in prison, I have seen the pain it brings. True many of these men and women are there because of their poor choices, but often, as in the case of my friend there are life circumstances that make it difficult, even impossible to make good ones.
Fr. Gordon MacRae's post at These Stone Walls this week talks about this. He has spent 17 Christmases in prison and has seen many young men come and go. Some are and have made good life changing decisions while there, and some have not.
In this week's post, father tells the story of John whose baby girl was born 3 months into his sentence. John never knew his own father, so really has no idea of what being a father is all about. He is taking some parenting classes in the prison so he can be the father his daughter deserves.
John and all those in prison need our prayers. Father Gordon's post Don We Now Our Gray Apparel is worth the read and is a reminder to remember the imprisoned in our prayers.
Christ tells us in Matthew 25 that, among other things, we should visit the imprisoned. Visiting father at his blog does just that. I know what my visits and prayers meant to my friend. Let us remember these men and women, no matter what they have or have not done, in our prayers this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

God Will take Care Of You

A friend sent me this video in an e-mail today. It comes under the category of "Too Cute Not to Share". This little guy was just around two years old when this family sang this. He shows definite promise, don't you think.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Joseph:Silent But Strong

As we begin this fourth and final week of Advent, the Gospel draws our attention to Joseph. Scripture does not record one syllable ever being uttered by Joseph, yet his strength, courage and faithful obedience are evident through his actions. He believed the angel who spoke to him in a dream of Jesus' conception and coming birth, he protected Mary and the unborn Jesus on their journeys to Bethlehem, Egypt, then back to their home in Nazareth.
I often wonder if Joseph ever had the thought in those early days that this was not the way he saw his life going. He may have; he may have even told God and his new bride as much.
How many times I too have that thought and tell God as much~ "Lord this is not what I had planned; I didn't see things going this way." Any number of circumstances, good or bad, may cause us to utter those words to God.
If Joseph did I am sure God understood, and I think He understands when we say them. The important thing to God and for us is in how we deal with those unforeseen circumstances. Do we continue to whine and complain, stamp our feet and refuse what God has allowed or ordained for us? (Yes, I have done this more times than I care to count.) Or do we respond as Joseph did: "Lord I do not understand all of this, but will do as You ask because You have asked and it is Your holy plan." Now I don't know that those were Joseph's exact words, but his actions certainly demonstrated that sentiment.
God has a plan for each of us; we may not always understand what He is doing or why He is doing it, we just have to trust and obey. Let us look to Joseph and follow his example of silent but strong faith.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our Advent Prayer Intensifies

The Church begins to pray the O Antiphons today. They are prayed as part of Evening Prayer or Vespers in the Liturgy of the Hours before and after the prayer of the Magnificat.
I always look forward to praying these short but beautiful prayers during these last days of Advent because it means that Christ is very near. Our Advent prayers become more urgent and intense during these days. The busyness and hecticness may also intensify as we hurry to finish our final preparations, shopping, card writing, etc, but use these prayers whose titles are for the different names for the Messiah, to prayerfully focus on what is important. Be still, even for just a few minutes, and know that He is God and He is very near.
Dr. Marcellino D"Ambrosio at the Crossroads Initiative has a wonderful history of the Great O Antiphons.
Last year at this time I wrote my own reflections on these prayers; the links for those are at the end of this post.
Let us make the most of these final days of Advent and prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior.
ERO CRAS: Tomorrow I will be there!

O Antiphon Reflections from 2009
Dec. 17th: O Sapienta
Dec. 18th: OAdonai
Dec. 19th: O Radix Jesse
Dec. 20: O Clavis David
Dec. 21st: O Oriens
Dec. 22nd: O Rex Gentium
Dec. 23rd: O Emmanuel

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

John Of The Cross: Doctor Of Mystical Theology

Along with St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross is another of my favorite saints. In fact whenever I think of one, I tend to think of the other. They lived during the same time period and were friends in faith. St John helped St Teresa in the reform of the Carmelite order.
The reason St John of the Cross is one of my favorites is not so much because I understand him or identify with him, but precisely because I do not. I have not read much from this saint, but the little I have read always leaves me with a sense of wanting to grow more in .y spiritual life.
I recently read this of St John: "When you sincerely desire inspiration to the fullest of your being, read John. Entreat him to guide you! He awaits your request. This particular doctor has a heavenly gift to bestow favors upon those who prayerfully petition him because he is so richly endowed."
This great saint lived a life that imitated that of Christ. His writings reflect this and so much more.
Don't be afraid to read his writings or feel frustrated in trying to understand them. I find that taking his writings in small snipets works for me; there is so much in just a little of what he says. We should do as the above quote says and ask his help. He will lead us to what it is we need to read for the benefit of our spiritual growth and help us to understand it as well. In fact we should do this before any spiritual reading.
Here are a few quotes from John of the Cross for your reflection and meditation:

“The beatitudes are a marvelous chain of mountains of which each peak is a steppingstone in the sublime ascent that leads to God. Each one of the beatitudes, St Thomas Aquinas says, is something perfect and excellent – a summit in itself; and at the same time it is a beginning of future happiness even in this life. The beatitudes are not remote presages of the eternal fruits, like the rich, full buds that cover the trees in the springtime and foretell the wealth of the coming autumn; they are the actual first fruits that begin to appear on the branches, awaiting the opulence of maturity. They are something divine that God wills to deposit on earth. They are ‘heavenly-colored hyacinths' brilliant in the muddy water of these mortal and transitory life."

"The first step to be taken by one who wishes to attain the mountaintop is to abandon the road that leads downward. Thus, the first thing we must do if we are to reach the blessed life described in the beatitudes is to renounce, sincerely and fully, the deceptive joy of that the world offers…”

“Very few people have the courage to be happy. It is difficult to tear the heart away from the things of earth, from riches, from honors. Yet happiness is not outside us, in these things: ‘The kingdom of God is within you’ For the kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink, but in justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.

“…tears either come from love or lead to it…The first three beatitudes teach us to die; they disclose the secret of the death – which gives sweetness and joy -… Fruitful tears that fall on the tomb of Lazarus, and like them, produce the prodigy whereby life comes from death!-"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Companions For Another Year

I chose my saint for this year or I should say she chose me~ again. It seems St Anne wants to be my companion for another year. I was tempted to put her name back in the mix and choose again, but then thought better of it. Actually there were several reasons I did not pick again.
For one thing I was the last to choose at our monthly prayer meeting, but more importantly, I think that this saint, mother to Our Lady and grandmother to Jesus, has some more she would like to teach me about motherhood.
I think St Anne knew a thing or two about being mother to someone whose mission went far beyond the earthly realm. Our Lady was destined for a huge role in Salvation History by being chosen to be Mother to God's beloved Son.
My own role as mother is not an earthly one but a spiritual one. Those of you who have been regular readers of this blog know that I am post-abortive. My daughter is in heaven, so in some ways I am mother to a saint. The reality of the situation is that she takes better care of me than I ever did of her. There are times that this beautiful but harsh fact cuts very deep because I know that this is not how it should be, and in those times I find myself wanting to reject the role of spiritual mother because I feel that I do not deserve that title given what I have done.
However, I think God through St Anne is trying to show me otherwise. True, I may not deserve motherhood, but it has been given, and it is a gift. I am sure that St Anne and St Joachim, when praying for a child, never thought that their little girl would be chosen as the most Blessed Mother of all.
I am in no way comparing myself to this saintly woman, but I do think there is a distinct and important reason she has chosen to spend another year with me.
I still have a lot to learn about accepting~graciously and humbly~ the gift of being a mother, and who better to learn this from than St Anne. OK well maybe Our Lady herself, but I think her lessons for me are ongoing.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rejoicing In The Things That Matter

Normally I post something pertaining to the Gospel for Sunday, but this week I think I am going in a slightly different direction.
It is almost 5pm here this third Sunday of Advent and I have just finished a marathon day of cookie baking. Each year before we go on Christmas break I bake oodles of cookies for our staff to enjoy throughout the week. As I was doing this today, I began to feel a little stressed about the time this was taking and how I don't have my home decorated yet, and just how tired I am.
In the midst of all this, I had the thought that Jesus doesn't really care about the cookies or even the decorations. All He cares about is the where my heart is and if there is room there for Him. This led me to thinking about today's second reading from St James. He tells us to be patient with our brothers and sisters, but I would dare take this a step further and say we also need to be patient with ourselves. I know the things that I need and want to get done will, but today is Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday. Today we turn our thoughts to Christ's coming at Christmas. The simple yet profound fact that He came and will come again is more than enough to rejoice over, and it is really all that matters.
So during these last two weeks of Advent, I will heed St James' advice and be patient~ with others and with myself. I will rejoice in the things that matter~ Jesus, the others in my life, and then I will find some time for myself.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where' s The Line To See Jesus?

This one sure puts this season into proper perspective. I heard this on the radio for the first time today and had to share it.
Here is Becky Kelley and Where's the Line to See Jesus?

The Glories Of Mary

Today the Church celebrates the beautiful Marian feast of the Immaculate Conception. Mary was preserved by God from the moment of her conception from original sin making her the most fitting and perfect of God's creatures to bear His Son, Jesus Christ. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is dogma, therefore it is something we must believe as Catholics. Today is also a Holy Day of Obligation meaning attending Mass today is mandatory. Even if it were not, I can not imagine as Catholics not wanting to celebrate this feast with the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus gave us His Mother from the cross, and as Fr. John Corapi has often said, "If she is good enough for Jesus, she is good enough for us!"
For your reflection and menditation today, I offer you this excerpt from St Alphonsus Liguori's The Glories of Mary.

How becoming it was that each of the Three Divine Persons should preserve Mary from Original Sin

GREAT indeed was the injury entailed on Adam and all his posterity by his accursed sin; for at the same time that he is thereby, for his own great misfortune, lost grace, he also forfeited all the other precious gifts with which he had originally been enriched, and drew down upon himself and all his descendants the hatred of God and an accumulation of evils. But from this general misfortune God was pleased to exempt that Blessed Virgin whom He had destined to be the Mother of the Second Adam-----Jesus Christ-----Who was to repair the evil done by the first. Now, let us see how becoming it was that God, and all the Three Divine Persons, should thus preserve her from it; that the Father should preserve her as His Daughter, the Son as His Mother, and the Holy Ghost as His Spouse...
Read more here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Individually Wrapped

No, this is not a post on how to wrap your Christmas gifts, but rather a short reflection on today's Gospel and how God goes in search of each of His lost sheep. While He certainly goes in search of those who are lost, and many among us, including myself have been among those, He also keeps careful watch on those who have returned and want to stay among His flock.
As I listened to the Gospel this morning, I could not help but think about how God cares for and loves each of us individually. Jesus came, yes, for all of mankind, but also for me~ for each and every one of us individually. While I find this thought comforting, it is also humbling because my sins alone could have been enough to warrant His coming.
So as you do your Christmas wrapping this season, remember that you too have been wrapped~ wrapped in God's love, mercy and compassion.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Heeding The Voice In The Wilderness

John Preaching in the Wilderness: Pier Francesco Mola

I have been those Pharisees whom John called a brood of vipers. I have been among those who thought once I came back to God and went through the motions of my faith that my conversion was done.
John's words echo to me now, "Repent! Rethink your life and look for the ways it still needs to change." says his voice. The One who is the the Kingdom of God has come and will come again.
My life is a ongoing process of conversion. Every day I remain on this earth calls me to repentance so that I may be more conformed to Christ and ready to stand before Him when He comes.
Conversion and repentance call for humility. I need to let go of my pride and present myself to God in my nothingness so that He may fill me with His everything.

Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within me.
~Psalm 50/51:12

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent And The Christmas Cactus

This morning as I sat in my living room praying morning prayer, reading and reflecting on the day's meditations, I caught sight of my Christmas cactus. As I looked at this plant, it reminded me of the hope Advent holds for us.
I have had this plant for about 12 years. I bought it as a mere baby of a plant when I lived in North Carolina. It has traveled with me back here to New Jersey and has gone through several jostling moves. I thought the last move to my current residence five years ago in the blistering heat of summer would have killed it, but it didn't.
This plant has been very faithful in bringing me the gift of its bright pink blooms every year. But as Autumn begins every year, I always have that small doubt that maybe this year the blooms will not appear. As I went to water this hardy plant the other day, my doubts were dispelled; there they were, the tiny buds at the end of the leaves that would bloom in vibrant color.
Advent for me can be a little like my relationship with this plant~ full of hope one minute and full of fears and doubts the next. I know that Jesus came 2000 years ago on that first Christmas morning, and I do believe He will return one day. The doubts and fears creep in sometimes when I look around me at all that is going on in our world, and when I see how Godless our culture has made this holy season. I go about my own preparations and wonder, Where are You, Lord? Where have they hidden You? Then just as I continue to water and nurture my Christmas cactus with the hope of beautiful flowers, I remember to pray the prayer that can dispel my doubts and fears! Come Lord Jesus, come! And He does, and He will.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December Devotion: The Immaculate Conception

The month of December is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. This is the doctrine that states that from the moment of her conception, Mary was preserved, by God, from original sin. Pope Pius IX made this doctrine dogma (meaning as Catholics it is something we must believe) on December 8, 1854. This Marian feast is celebrated on December 8 each year and is one of the Church's Holy Days of Obligation.
It is fitting that this feast is celebrated during Advent as we prepare to celebrate Jesus' Incarnation. Mary was chosen by God to be His Mother from the very beginning. Let us look to her as an example of humility and holiness as we strive to bring Jesus others in our own corners of the world.
The following prayer was written by Pope John Paul II in honor of the Blessed Mother and her Immaculate Conception.

A Prayer of the immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
1. "Hail Mary, full of grace!"
Immaculate Virgin, here I am at your feet once again,
full of devotion and gratitude.
I return to this historic Piazza di Spagna
on the solemn day of your feast
to pray for the beloved city of Rome,
for the Church, for the whole world.
In you, "humble and highest of creatures",
divine grace had the full victory over evil.
You are for us, pilgrims on the paths of the world,
the bright model of evangelical fidelity
and the ever-living pledge of sure hope.
2. Virgin Mother, "Salvation of the Roman People!"
Watch over, I pray you, the beloved Diocese of Rome: 
over pastors and faithful, parishes and religious communities.
Watch over families especially: 
may love sealed by the Sacrament ever reign between spouses,
may children walk on the paths of goodness and true freedom,
may the elderly feel surrounded by attention and affection.
Inspire, Mary, in so many young hearts,
generous replies to the "call for the mission",
a subject on which the diocese has
been reflecting over the years.
Thanks to an intense pastoral program for vocations,
may Rome be enriched by new young forces,
dedicated with enthusiasm to proclaiming the Gospel
in the city and in the world.
3. Blessed Virgin, Queen of Apostles!
Assist those who through study
and prayer are preparing to labor
on the many frontiers of the new evangelization.
Today I entrust to you, in a special way,
the community of the Pontifical Urban College,
whose historic headquarters are located in front of this pillar.
May this wonderful institution founded 375 years ago
by Pope Urban VIII for the formation of missionaries,
be able to continue effectively its ecclesial service.
May those it gathers, seminarians and priests,
men and women religious and laity,
be ready to put their energies at the disposition
of Christ in service of the Gospel to the far corners of the globe.
4. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!"
Pray, O Mother, for all of us.
Pray for humanity for those who suffers poverty and injustice,
violence and hatred, terror and war.
Help us to contemplate with the rosary
the mysteries of Him who "is our peace",
so that we will all feel involved
in a persevering dedication of service to peace.
Look with special attention
upon the land in which you gave birth to Jesus,
a land that you loved together with Him,
and that is still so sorely tried today.
Pray for us, Mother of hope!
"Give us days of peace, watch over our way.
Let us see your Son as we rejoice in heaven". Amen!

Prayer by Pope John Paul II on the Second Sunday of Advent, 8 December 2002 . Given at Piazza di Spagna

For more prayers, click on the image for December Devotions on the left sidebar.
You can read more of the history of this feast here.

Closing Prayer

Psalm 45: Canticle of Love to the King

My heart overflows with a good theme;
I address my verses to the King;
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
You are fairer than the sons of men;
Grace is poured upon Your lips;
Therefore God has blessed You forever.

Gird Your sword on Your thigh, O Mighty One,
In Your splendor and Your majesty!
And in Your majesty ride on victoriously,
For the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
Let Your right hand teach You awesome things.
Your arrows are sharp;
The peoples fall under You;
Your arrows are in the heart of the King’s enemies.

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of joy above Your fellows.
All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made You glad.
Kings’ daughters are among Your noble ladies;
At Your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir.