Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thankful Praise At Year's End

Heavenly Father,
You have given me the gift of this past year~365 days of blessings and graces. Each day in itself was a gift from You. Each day held its share of joys, sorrows and trials, all of them gifts.
Thank You Father for each of these days. Forgive me for the times I refused, ignored or was unaware of the graces You offered in a particular moment.
Thank You for the people You sent my way to support me in prayer and friendship, and for those who posed challenges to love.
Thank You above all for Your greatest and most precious gift, that of Your Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Father, I offer You this prayer of humble gratitude and praise in Jesus' name.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Recourse To The Holy Family

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family. In this day and age when the family is under great attack, let us have recourse to the Holy Family of Nazareth, following their example of unity, simplicity and holiness.
One of our priests at Mass today gave this acronym for family to demonstrate the importance of family.


Prayer to the Holy Family
Lord Jesus Christ, 
who, being made subject to Mary and Joseph, 
didst consecrate domestic life 
by Thine ineffable virtues; 
grant that we, 
with the assistance of both,
may be taught by the example 
of Thy Holy Family 
and may attain to its everlasting fellowship.
Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Icon Of The Crucified

"Lest we be tempted to sentimentalize the mystery of Christ's birth, the Church today sets before us the example of Stephen, first of martyrs, icon of the Crucified. Bethlehem is the prelude to Calvary. We may not merely stand adoring at the crib; we must also follow to the cross."
(Commentary from Magnificat Morning Prayer; Dec. 26, 2011)

I use to wonder why the Church gave us the feast of St Stephen immediately after Christmas. The above quote explains the reason perfectly and simply. To remind myself of this very fact, and to keep me from over~sentimentalizing the Nativity scene, I place a small crucifix at the back of my manger.
In St Stephen's witness to Christ we can see Christ Himself. Stephen was a deacon in the early Church, and as such was very well aware of the religious and political climate of his time. He knew preaching the Gospel could cost him his life. He also knew there was no better reason to die. The word martyr means witness and that is what Stephen did in his preaching.
In Stephen we see Christ Crucified and hear His words. Stephen's words at his death were the same as his Lord's at His death on the cross.
Jesus was the only baby who was born to die. That was His sole reason for coming. He did not die in vain, but to save each of us, and to bear witness to the Father.
The journey to the cross began in the heart and mind of the Trinity with the Divine decision of the Incarnation. Jesus took the first step toward the cross with His birth. In these days if Christmas as we kneel before the crib of the infant Jesus, let us vow to take the journey with Him to the cross by bearing witness to His life and Gospel just as St Stephen did.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Bells Of Christmas

Menges': Adoration of the Shepherds

The familiar Christmas carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day comes from the poem Christmas Bells written by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow wrote the poem some months before the end of the Civil War. The sentiments he expressed in the poem can still be felt today by many, but my favorite line in the poem and in the carol is: "God is not dead , nor doth He sleep..." With all the turmoil in our world and perhaps at times in our own lives, it may be tempting to think that God is dead or at the very least, He is asleep. Our faith tells us He is not, the graces and blessing He has bestowed on us tell us He is very much alive and awake. Christmas brings us the gift of our salvation wrapped in swaddling clothes in the Christ Child.
No matter what may be going on around us or in us, let us accept this gift with all humility, love and joy. May the bells of Christmas remind us that our God is always with us.
To all my readers and to anyone who stumbles upon this post: A Merry and Blessed Christmas. May God grant you every grace and blessing in the New Year.

If you would like to hear the carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, I posted the Casting Crowns version in my post for last Christmas: Christmas Eve: The Night Hope And Love Came Down. 
You can read the story behind the poem here.

"Christmas Bells"
by: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(The original poem, complete with all seven stanzas)

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Calm Light Of Everlasting Life

The title of this post is actually the last line of a hymn titled Lead Kindly Light, written by Bl. John Henry Newman in 1833. I have always loved this prayerful poem and would like it read at my funeral when that God~appointed time comes.
I had been reading some of the history behind the hymn and so was going to post it at some point. Then this morning I saw it again in Fr. Gordon MacRae's post over at These Stone Walls so I figured I was being spirit nudged to post it now. On a side note, Fr. Gordon's post has some very good reflection on the Magi as well so please head over to check it out and maybe offer him a Christmas prayer.
Back to the poem... in my reading about this hymn, one thing I did not know was that it was sung by a soloist on the RMS Titanic during a hymn singing gathering led by Rev. Ernest C. Carter. In John Henry Newman's own words, here is why and when he wrote the hymn: 
Before starting from my inn, I sat down on my bed and began to sob bitterly. My servant, who had acted as my nurse, asked what ailed me. I could only answer, "I have a work to do in England." I was aching to get home, yet for want of a vessel I was kept at Palermo for three weeks. I began to visit the churches, and they calmed my impatience, though I did not attend any services. At last I got off in an orange boat, bound for Marseilles. We were becalmed for whole week in the Straits of Bonifacio, and it was there that I wrote the lines, Lead, Kindly Light, which have since become so well known. 
Aside from funerals, this poem has also always made me think of Christmas because Christ is our Savior whose sole purpose in coming was and is to be the Light that will save us and lead us to our heavenly home.You can read more about John Henry Newman and the hymn here.

Here is the hymn:

Lead, Kindly Light
"Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What I Want For Christmas

Caravaggio's The Birth of Christ

My Lord and my God, take from me everything that distances me from you. 
My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to you. 
My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Mary's Company

Tissot's: The Annunciation

Fr. Francis Ferdinand, in In Conversation With God, writes in his meditation for this Sunday:
"There is no better way of preparing for Christmas, which is now so close, than by keeping Mary company, getting to know her and deepening our love and trust in her."
I love this thought of keeping Our Lady company, of being in her company. Fr. Joseph Homick also uses this same phrase in his book A Place Prepared By God when speaking about praying the Rosary. When I read those words in Fr. Joseph's book, praying the Rosary took on a much deeper dimension. I could imagine myself in Mary's presence and be assured of her constant presence with me.
Staying in the company of Our Lady will keep us close to Jesus, for Mary is not the way but she will always lead us to her Son who is the Way.
In this final week of the Advent season when things in our everyday life get busier, let us remind ourselves to slow down and spend some time with Mary in preparing for Jesus' coming. In doing so we will be able to say with her: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46~47)

Heavenly Father,
You sent Your Son, conceived in the Virgin's womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. May this same Holy Spirit overshadow us so that Christ will be born in us. In staying in the company of Mary we are drawn closer to Christ; with her and through her intercession, may we lead others to Him as well. May Jesus be born in the hearts of many this Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Our Savior Draws Nearer

We are entering the fourth and final week of the Advent season. It is during this week that the Church prays the O Antiphons. These short prayers are prayed before the prayer of the Magnificat during Evening Prayer or Vespers. I love these short but meaningful prayers because they are a sign of our Savior drawing ever nearer.
Last year I wrote a post titled Our Advent Prayer Intensifies. At the end of that post are links for reflections I wrote for each of these seven days~one on each antiphon. There is also a link in that post to Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio's site. His article explains the history of the O Antiphons.
These antiphons are also expressed beautifully in song in the hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel. One of my favorite versions is the one below performed by Selah.
Let us join together with the Church as she calls for the Messiah to draw ever nearer to us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Encountering Christ In Advent

 Tissot's Adoration of the Shepherds

I was reading the Holy Father's address to the people who attended his Wednesday Audience. In it he spoke of Advent being a time for Christians to encounter Christ. Specifically he says: "People who have encountered Christ in their lives, experience a calmness of heart and a joy which no worldly situation can take from them. ..."
This quote from the Pope got me to thinking about all those who, at the time of Christ's birth, had an encounter with Him. Mary certainly had the closest and most intimate encounter with her Divine Son, but Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi also encountered Christ, and when they did they were struck with awe. I also think they must have experienced that calm and joy that Pope Benedict spoke about. Mary may not have understood how her Son would be conceived, but she accepted it with quiet, trusting, joy~filled calm. Joseph too listened and trusted to what the angel told him in his dream. The shepherds left their flocks, and the Magi left their homeland to follow a star.
While it is very easy for us to become distracted by all the glittering lights of the commercialized Christmas, those lights will fade, but the light from the Star of Bethlehem will never fade. We are not distracted by this light, but attracted by it. If we follow it, like the shepherds and the Magi, we will be led to an encounter with Christ. And with this encounter we too can be people of joy and calmness of heart.
You can read Pope Benedict XVI's Wednesday Address here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Graces From Our Eucharistic Lord

Perpetual Adoration Chapel:St John the Apostle Church

My parish celebrated the 15th anniversary of its Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Given that adoration began on this date, I know that Our Lady has had much to do with the longevity of the chapel.
To mark this great occasion, we had a four day parish mission given by two of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. These two priests were very powerful preachers. Their homilies were wonderful, full of reminders of how much Jesus loves us to remain with us in this Most Blessed Sacrament.
Friday and Saturday were the most powerful and beautiful of the entire mission. There was exposition of the Blessed Sacrament both nights, on Friday night, to go along with his homily on the healing power of the Eucharist, Fr. Giuseppe held a healing prayer service at the end of which you were invited to come forward as he went from person to person with Jesus in the monstrance. Saturday evening continued the healing theme, but this time with Jesus as Divine Physician in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
For me personally this was the most powerful evening. I enjoyed Fr. Giuseppe's homilies and got the sense he would be a good confessor. Despite two of our parish priests hearing confessions, I still had to wait an hour and a half to have my confession heard. It was worth the wait. That wait was also spent prayerfully as there was exposition that night as well. Normally when I am on line for confession, I am a little jittery, not so on this night. Waiting in Jesus' exposed Presence had a very calming effect. It had been some time since my last confession, and I had made up my mind that I would go during the mission.
I don't know if you have ever had the experience of a priest telling you what your root sin is, but this happened during my confession. Strangely and divinely enough, I had been thinking about exactly what Father told me. This truly was one of my best confessions.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist really do go hand in hand. We need both desperately. One gets us ready for the other, and both sustain us spiritually.
Many graces were poured out over the course of these four days, not only on me individually, but also on our parish. Our Lord's gifts and generosity are never out done. May He be praised, adored, worshiped and loved always and everywhere.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mary Immaculate And America

"My children, it is only because many years ago you consecrated your country to Me that you have not received the destruction that is gradually coming closer to you from the outside world. But if you turn from Me now I no longer will be able to shield you."
 ~Our Lady, July 1, 1971

The above quote is from a private revelation (not sure to whom) and while we do not need to believe in private revelations, these words seem to ring very true for us today.
 In 1846,the first Council of Baltimore formally declared the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived without sin, the patroness of the United States. This formal declaration came eight years before Pope Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
We in this country need to turn to Mary. As patroness of this country she is also a protector. This country comes closer every day to the destruction referred to in the quote. 
Our Lady's sole desire is to bring us closer to her Son. If we turn to her, she will surely do this, not just individually but as a nation.
We pray to our patron saints for guidance and protection in our lives. Let us pray, as one nation under God, to Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception for guidance and protection. She will lead us to Jesus who is our ultimate Savior and Protector.

Prayer Entrusting the United States to Mary Immaculate
Most Holy Trinity, we put the United States of America into the hands of Mary Immaculate in order that she may present the country to you. Through her we wish to thank you for the great resources of this land and for the freedom which has been its heritage. Through the intercession of Mary, have mercy on the Catholic Church in America. Grant us peace. Have mercy on our President and on all the officers of our government. Grant us a fruitful economy, born of justice and charity. Have mercy on capital and industry and labor. Protect the family life of the nation. Guard the precious gift of many religious vocations. Through the intercession of our Mother, have mercy on the sick, the tempted, sinners—on all who are in need.
Mary, Immaculate Virgin, our Mother, patroness of our land, we praise you and honor you and give ourselves to you. Protect us from every harm. Pray for us, that acting always according to your will and the will of your divine Son, we may live and die pleasing to God.
(Excerpt from a prayer attributed to Archbishop John Carroll, first bishop of the United States)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Perseverance Of The Saints

 DaVinci's Virgin and Child With St Ann

Last night it was my turn to choose a saint for this coming year. In reading the name I had pulled from the basket, I found that not only does God have a sense of humor, but His saints do as well, more specifically, His earthly grandmother. That's right, St Ann has chosen to be my spiritual companion for a third consecutive year! This has to mean something. Either she has decided to become my permanent companion, or perhaps I have missed something important that she has been trying to teach me these last two years. In any case, she was good enough for Jesus and Mary, she is certainly good enough for me. I think I will adopt her as my spiritual grandmother.
On a more serious note, I have always felt that this great saint has much to teach me about motherhood. In my case it is spiritual motherhood. Those of you who know my story have heard the story of how I was given the name of my daughter in heaven while praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. Elizabeth Anne is named for Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist and St Ann. So I also feel that having this humble woman as my companion is a good way to help me remember my daughter as well.
Given that St Ann has chosen me again, it may be time to put more tangible reminders of her in my life~ a picture, a small statue or perhaps a medal.
Thank you good St Ann for putting up with me and for praying for and guiding me for another year.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Living Wholly Off Of God

Tissot: John the Baptist With Pharisees

John the Baptist is a key figure during the Advent season because he sums up what Advent is: preparing for Jesus, the Messiah.
While John is a somewhat larger than life figure, I don't think we always give him enough thought. He becomes a kind of "given" in the scheme of our Salvation History. He's the guy who baptized the people of his and Jesus' day down by the Jordan River, and yes, he even baptized Jesus, but upon reflection, I find so much more to him.
John knew his vocation and he lived it. In fact he lived it from the time he was in Elizabeth's womb. In the presence of Jesus in Mary's womb, he leaped within Elizabeth. This may have been his first act of evangelization. His little leap led to his mother's recognition of Mary as the "Mother of my Lord" (cf. Luke 1:43) and to Mary's Magnificat. (Luke 1:46~55)
John spends most of his brief adult life living in the wilderness clothed in animal skins and living off of locusts. That, taken out of context, might make John a bit of an eccentric, but as Fr. James Torrens wrote in one of his Advent meditations: "John the Baptist was the last of the great servants preparing God's way. With his rough austerity, he had learned to live wholly off of God." (Daybreaks:Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas)
I believe that this is what John is telling us as he leads us more deeply into Advent~ that we too should learn to live wholly off of God. We don't need to live in the wilderness clothed as John was or live on a diet of locusts to do it. We can do it in how we live our everyday lives in the vocation God has called each of us to live.
Over two thousand years ago, John was telling the people of that time to prepare the way for God who would walk in their midst in the person of Jesus Christ. The message is the same for us~Jesus is still in our midst in word and sacrament and he will come again in His person at the end of time.
As my pastor said in his homily for this Sunday: our entire life is an advent. If lived according to the message of John and the message of the Gospel, we are preparing the way. We are preparing the way of the Lord in our lives, and in the lives of those who God puts in our path, and that way will lead all of us to our heavenly home.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent With Our Lady

December is the month dedicated to Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception. As I thought, meditated and prayed about this dogma of our faith, I thought about how Mary is the perfect example of how to live, not only our every day lives, but also this season of Advent.
Advent is about waiting and preparing. We live in a culture that does not like to wait for anything so turning to Mary during this potentially busy season can teach us how to wait and prepare prayerfully.
Our Lady waited nine months for the birth of Jesus, but in a real sense she had been preparing her whole young life for this moment, even if she was not aware of it before Gabriel's announcement to her.
We await Jesus too. Not just at Christmas, but at the end of our lives, and at the end of time. We also await His coming to us each time we celebrate the Eucharist.
Let us turn to our Blessed Mother who will teach us how to wait and prepare for Jesus' coming prayerfully and lovingly as she did.
Prayers and some history of the feast are found by clicking the picture for December's Devotion on the left sidebar.

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.