Put Your Faith Where Your Prayer Is

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Photo: Catholicexchange.com

Photo: Catholicexchange.com

On January 5th I became a grandfather for the second time. My grandson, Jack, and his parents came home from the hospital on the 7th. On the evening of the 8th Jack stopped breathing. 

My wife, Melinda, was holding him when the event occurred. Her sister, Barbara, who is an RN, and her husband, Dave, a physician, had stopped by to visit and see the new arrival as they were driving from South Dakota to St. Louis. They helped revive him. The EMTs arrived and whisked Jack to the hospital where he spent the next 17 days undergoing a plethora of tests. Jack is home now and doing well.

But, this story really isn’t about Jack. I needed to set the stage with his life-threatening event in order to relate the life-changing experience I had because of it.

In my life I have had no major tragedies, and only one significant infirmity, within my immediate family. Thus, after Melinda phoned me the next morning, I wasn’t as cool and collected as I had been trained to be in emergency situations. Panicked would be a better adjective. I prepared to go home, pack a bag, and start the ten hour drive from Ohio to Kansas City. But first, I sent an email to friends from church and to the coordinator of our parish prayer chain describing the situation and asking for prayers.

I’ve never driven so far with something so heavy weighing on my heart and mind. Before I reached Indianapolis I found myself crying, fraught with fear for Jack’s health and grief for Lisa and Joe. I felt helpless. I’m a man and an engineer. One of my jobs is to fix problems. Not knowing how to fix little Jack nor how to comfort my daughter was eating me up.

At a rest stop just past Indy I checked my phone for emails. Angie, a dear friend back home, emailed saying she believed that Jack’s guardian angel was with him the night before. Had he been lying down instead of being held, he could have stopped breathing with no one the wiser. Then, she stressed that Barb and Dave were there by no mere coincidence. She believed they were sent there by God at just the moment Jack needed them. Her message was so positive and encouraging, and she lifted my spirits.

But, by the time I reached Illinois I was again in a state of despair. Searching the console between the seats for a napkin to wipe my tears, I found, instead, one of my rosaries. I don’t know how it got there; I don’t remember putting it there. I am not accomplished at praying the Rosary but I sensed I was meant to find that rosary at that moment, and, if there was ever a time to ask Our Lady to intercede and help me in my prayers to Jesus, I felt this was it.

It was Friday and the Sorrowful Mysteries were to be prayed. I contemplated the first Mystery, The Agony of Jesus in the Garden, and read, “In praying to the Father, Jesus found strength, trust, and an angel was sent to comfort Him. So, Jesus will be your comforting angel. It’s as He said to us, ‘Why do you worry in your difficulties? Be strong in Me; look to your God in your most troubled hour, and you will be triumphant.’”

The second Mystery, The Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar, reminded me to bear my pain for the love of our Lord. The third Mystery, The Crowning with Thorns, suggested, “He seems to say to us, ‘Why do you despair when you suffer? Is that the way you love me? Meditate about my passions.’ Let us ask for the gift of patience in our suffering.”

In the fourth Mystery, The Carrying of the Cross, I contemplated how Jesus accepted His suffering out of His love for us. I thought about how His Mother, Mary, must have felt as they met on the road to Calvary. “Oh, how Her Heart must have ached.” I felt we had something in common.

And, finally, as I prayed the fifth Mystery, The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus, I was reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciple just before He died, “Behold your Mother”, and how He wishes that we depend on Her Immaculate Heart for a refuge.

Over the next couple hours I thought much about these messages. I didn’t know how to “give it up”, so I prayed fervently for the Lord to help me help Jack and his parents.

West of St. Louis I took my rosary in hand and prayed again. This time I asked the Lord to take away my pain and suffering or, at least, let me bear it so that Jack and his parents would not have to.

I arrived at the hospital in time to see Jack for a few minutes before visiting hours were over. Seeing him connected to all those wires and tubes was difficult. But, seeing the fear in Lisa’s and Joe’s eyes was even more so.

That night, before bed, I prayed for God to help them and to help me know what to do.

On Saturday morning I saw an article on social media about self-pity and how we need to look to God instead of to ourselves. This drifted in and out of my conscious thoughts the rest of the morning.

Also that morning, I discovered a headlight out on my car. I didn’t need that, but I knew it would need repairing before heading home the next day. I spent a few precious minutes with Jack back at the hospital before I left for the dealership. Standing there, unable to hold him, I still felt helpless. I knew Lisa felt the same way.

On my way to the dealership, I recalled Angie’s note, the messages I received from praying the Rosary, the message about self-pity, and my despair of not knowing what to do. Then, with the images of Jack wired to the monitors, and the concern on my daughter’s face, my emotions reached a climax. I’m not sure how to explain what happened next. I think I realized it was all beyond me, that only God could help. I think, in my heart, I finally gave it up to Him. I say “I think” because, in the nanosecond in which I made that leap of faith, I went from bewilderment to immediate, unprecedented, and intense joy. I instantly began praying, “Thank you, Jesus, thank you!” In that moment when I had unconsciously placed my trust in Him, He told me Jack was going to be okay. I also knew that my faith had finally become more than words.

Over the next couple hours, He reinforced my faith with more God-moments. Afraid I was likely to have a wreck, I got control of my emotions. I turned on the stereo and the first song I heard was one from Jason Gray, A Way to See in the Dark1:

“Here I am begging for certainty again / But simple trust is what You’re asking me to give…

“The question mark hung at the end of every fear / Is answered by the promise that You are with me here / And that’s all I’ve got when the lights go out and I lose my way / So, I’ll close my eyes, I won’t be afraid, I won’t be afraid.

“And, I’ll reach for your hand in the night / When the shadows swallow the light / ‘Cause I’m giving up, giving in / Once again a childlike faith is my only way to see in the dark….”

I have listened to this song hundreds of times but this was the first time I actually heard its message. It was like Jesus telling me, “Son, how many times do I have to tell you to trust in Me?”

At the moment I pulled into the dealership I received a text from Eric, a friend back home, saying he was praying for Jack and the rest of us. This text was special because Eric is the one person I know who routinely says, “Let go and let God.” It was as if he intuitively knew I had just done so for the first time in my life.

Preparing for a long wait, I grabbed my rosary and a devotional from my back pack. Since it was Saturday, the Joyful Mysteries were the prayers of the day (Coincidence? I don’t think so!). My take-away message from this Rosary was, “In the difficulties of life, the only safety is finding Jesus and never again leaving his great love.”

I had not taken time that morning to read Saturday’s scriptures. The first reading for January 10th included 1 John 5:14-15, and said, “Beloved: We have this confidence in him that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours.” God was telling me again, “Trust me!”

The Gospel for that day, included John 3:30: “He must increase; I must decrease.” It was a reminder to look constantly to Jesus instead of inwardly with self-pity like I had the last day and a half.

From my devotional for January 10th I read: “Practice trusting Me during quiet days, when nothing much seems to be happening. Then when storms come, your trust balance will be sufficient to see you through. Store up for yourself treasure in heaven, through placing your trust in Me. This practice will keep you in My Peace.”2

I thought, “Okay, Lord, I get it now. In one hour, You have, in several ways, affirmed there is no such thing as despair if I will only put my faith and hope in You.”

Finally, I read the daily reflection from Presentation Ministries. It referenced 1 John 5:16 saying, “Many have not had Christmas because they have not repented of sin in their lives. Through the Lord’s forgiveness, they will be given Christmas just before the season ends. On this second to last day of the Christmas season, go to Confession. For so many, Confession is the key to Christmas.”

At 2:10 p.m. my car was repaired. I wanted to get back to the hospital to see more of Jack, but, I now felt pulled to go to Reconciliation. I found the Queen of the Holy Rosary Church was on my route back to the hospital and they had Confession at 2:30 p.m. I arrived there at 2:27 p.m. After relating my story to the priest and confessing my sin of not trusting God, he assigned me a penance to say a prayer of Thanksgiving.

When I returned to the hospital and saw the little man again I knew in my heart he was going to be okay. I didn’t know when but I knew, in God’s time, he would be. I felt the positive power of hundreds of prayers being said for him. I was at peace.

It is in these God-moments, when the Lord reveals Himself to me, that I feel closest to Him. I now know what Eric means by, “Let go and let God.” I know what trusting in Him means. And, I now know how to put my faith where my prayer is.

(Put Your Faith Where Your Prayer Is was first published in Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

1 A Way To See In the Dark, ©2011 Centricity Music Publishing, (ASCAP)/Nothing is Wasted Music (ASCAP)/Simply Complex Songs (SESAC)/Countermechanical Music (SESAC)/Centric Songs (SESAC), words and music by Jason Gray, Doug McKelvey, and Seth Mosley.

2Jesus Calling, ©2014 Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson Publishing

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

A View from the Back Pew

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St. Francis de Sales Church

St. Francis de Sales Church

In the almost three years I’ve been going to church, I have sat nearly every Sunday in about the same place: in or close to the fifth pew from the front on Mary’s side and at the end of the pew next to the outside aisle. Why there, you ask? Well, because that’s where my wife, who is a cradle Catholic, always sits. And, I suspect, she sits there because that’s where her mother always sat, and her mother before her, and so on. Some habits are hard to break, I suppose.

But, last Sunday was an exception. My wife was out of town for the weekend which allowed me to sit wherever I wanted. I chose to sit next to my friend, Joe, in the last pew in the back, still on Mary’s side, and still next to the outside aisle. I couldn’t sit at the very end of the pew. That is Joe’s spot. He always sits there and gets to Mass early to make sure he gets it. He’s as habitual as my wife. It drives me crazy. I accused him of sitting there because it ensures he’s the last one to take communion and, thus, he gets to finish the wine. He gave me a lame denial, claiming that’s where his mother always sat.

Sitting at the back of the church was an entirely new experience. There’s a lot that goes on behind you that you can’t see when you’re sitting up near the front. For example, it appears that parents with young children prefer row eight and back. I always knew they were back there somewhere but when you sit in the front you don’t want to crane your neck around to see where the commotion is coming from. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about crying babies, I’m happy they are there. They are the future of our Church. But, I do wonder how my wife got away with it all those years when she toted our three diaper-clad daughters to church alone, without me, and still managed to sit in the fifth pew.

I noticed that many children eat their dry Cheerios and Froot Loops for breakfast while in church although I’m pretty sure our priest has spoken about not doing exactly that. Since I’ve never been in their shoes I can’t be judgmental of the parents but I expect they have weighed the risk of getting caught with the peace that goes along with keeping their kids occupied and quiet. I imagine my wife pulled the same covert maneuvers when our girls were young.

Another observation: there appeared to be a big void in the middle of all the pews from about the seventh or eighth row back. The pews were occupied and crowded at each end but only a couple people sat randomly in the middle. I couldn’t help but wonder why the first people to church don’t move to the middle of the pew so that those coming after them don’t have to pardon themselves as they squeeze past just so they can get to a seat. But, then, with some embarrassment, I realized that my wife and I are two of those people who regularly occupy the end of a pew. On the other hand, we never get to church early. Maybe that’s something we can work on.

I made two other significant observations.  The first was how reverent the congregation was as a whole.  Based on what I see from my normal perch, I have always been impressed by the reverence exhibited and my observation from the back pew simply reinforced that notion.

On the other hand, the second of those final two observations was a striking realization that nearly blew me away. Kneeling there, singing the Communion song and waiting, with Joe, to be the next to last soul to walk up to the altar for Holy Communion, I couldn’t believe how many people, upon receiving Holy Communion, simply walk out of church without waiting for the Mass to be over, without waiting for the final blessing, or to hear any announcements that might be made. When you sit near the front, you just don’t know this is going on. And, then, I couldn’t help but put myself in our priest’s position – he sees all of this! How discouraging for him!

Now, again, trying not to be judgmental, I am sure some of those departing early have a legitimate reason. I won’t try to guess what those reasons are but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. But, they can’t all have urgencies that are more important than finishing the business at hand!

As I walked out of church I remembered an article I had read just a few days before about people leaving Mass before it was over. I found the article and I feel obliged to include it below.   It is written by Andrew Werkheiser in the January 20, 2015 edition of IntegratedCatholicLife.org, and is entitled Leaving Early? Really? .

You have been invited to a wonderful dinner by one of your friends and/or family. You had no worries about cooking the meal or going out that night, and were just able to relax and enjoy a nice home cooked-meal. As your host is walking in with the dessert that he/she spent an hour preparing, you get up, put your head down, cautiously never making eye contact, and quickly shuffle your way to the door and leave…Well that was rude. If you do that to my fiancé or me, I think I would say something along the lines of, “What the hell?” I mean it’s nice to leave all the dessert for the rest of us, but sometimes that one piece was really meant for just you or that kid that you’re dragging out by the hand. By the way, you forgot the most important thing of all, helping with the dishes. What a way to say thank you!

Where on Earth am I going with this?

I’m talking about Mass people! I’m talking about leaving before the final blessing, and dare I take it one step further, before the final hymn is over. I know, I know, that horribly long one to two minute song that is just oh so painfully cutting into YOUR SUNDAY. I want to relate it to something that should hit home, and explain why I feel the way I do about it.

You would never in a million years so rudely leave your friend or family’s house before dessert, and more than likely you would help with the dishes as well. I see the final blessing as our dessert. I see it as that final step to fulfill a weeklong void, which we have only been asked to fill once a week for one hour. Now, for you sly corporate smart alecks out there, you probably think, “Well, I would like to add about 30 minutes to that clock spent on drive time, thank you.” I don’t want to hear it, you’ll survive. You see, our priests and pastors spend an hour preparing our meal and then so graciously offer us a little extra, a blessing at the end. Something that helps us get through the week… and something that is meant for us to hear, and meant to nurture us. Just as you may have had a piece of pie for yourself and everyone else gathered at the table, maybe last week when you walked out, you missed out on that slice that was just for you. That one little line or phrase that was maybe solely for your ears, but you’ll never know. I don’t know about you, but if the big man upstairs has some Holy Spirit, or wisdom for me, I’m going to take every slice of that I can.

Now, as for helping with those dishes I was talking about earlier. After your amazing church staff has so graciously provided you with “dinner and dessert,” you should say thank you. They took even more time out of their day to serve you than you did to just show up. That choir singing their heart out every Sunday, remember them? How about you say “thank you” by hanging around for, never more than, 120 extra seconds of your life. Just be there, just remain and whether you sing or do the dishes or not, at least hanging around is a much better gesture than just high-tailing it out of there.

And for those that need proof, here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

CCC ¶ 2180 – The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass. The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”

This, to me, is a straightforward explanation that states that we are to attend and participate in the “Mass.” Not half the Mass, not almost the whole Mass. “THE MASS.”

Oh, and if you still feel like it’s okay, this may change your mind – Judas was the first to leave the Last Supper right after our Lord presented the bread and wine, body and blood. The other apostles, they hung around the whole time, they showed a thankful appreciation, to He who prepared the meal.

Sorry for the rant… sometimes I just can’t help but feel sad with so many folks leaving early.

As I said, I’m sure there are people who certainly have, on occasion, a reason to leave Mass early, but as it applies to most folks who habitually rush out, I think Mr. Werkheiser hits the nail on the head.

One final thought before I leave you. These observations from the back pew in the church make me wonder how much life and vitality we could each infuse into our community if we took it upon ourselves to get out of our habits, to consciously choose to sit in a different location each Sunday, to meet a new person and shake their hand at the Sign of Peace, then to take the time to talk to them and get to know them as we walk out into the gathering space together after Mass is over. Perhaps that would be all it takes to encourage those who leave early to stick around and extend their reverence another couple minutes….for dessert. That might be an idea for Lent. Who’s going to join me?

God Bless You All.

(A View from the Back Pew was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2015 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Nine Ladies Dancing

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Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Since New Year’s Day I have thought, like many people, that I should make a new list of resolutions, goals, objectives, or whatever you want to call them, to begin 2015 on the right foot. All the usual ideas have come to mind: lose weight, get more exercise, get organized, spend more quality time with my family, become a better husband, father and friend, and various other things, all of which are supposed to bring happiness in life. 

Then I remembered the feelings of defeat from last year, and years prior, as I failed to meet the expectations of my resolutions, and I began to feel depressed.

Yesterday as I was mulling over ways to do better, my mind wandered and I began thinking about how I’ve been celebrating the days of Christmas, or, more accurately, how I haven’t been celebrating them as I had resolved to do during Advent. I counted the days since Christmas Day and realized we were at Day 9. Nine Ladies Dancing as the song goes.

I recollected reading about the mystery and lore surrounding the carol, The 12 Days of Christmas. Googling the song to learn more, I found that it was written sometime during the mid-1500s to mid-1800s, when Roman Catholics in England were forbidden to practice their faith, as a catechism song for young Catholics; and that each daily “gift” was secret code for a religious belief. For example, “My True Love” is God, a “Partridge in a Pear Tree” is Jesus Christ, and the “Four Calling Birds” are the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

And then there are the “Nine Ladies Dancing” which are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit according to St. Paul, (Galatians 5:22-23): Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control (the Catholic Catechism, CCC 1832, adds Suffering, Modesty and Chastity to make the traditional 12 fruits).

It occurred to me that the truly successful person is one who exhibits the fullness of these nine fruits through resolutely practicing them in his or her life. And, it seemed that focusing on them ought to enable one to indirectly realize success with just about any of the other typical, and usually secular, resolutions with which we struggle every year.

For example, by practicing Self-Control, I will eat healthier and exercise regularly, thus losing those extra pounds which have accumulated around my middle.

Living life daily with more Love, Joy, Kindness, Generosity, and Gentleness will improve the moments I have with my family and friends.

Having Patience and Self-Control will help me become more organized.

Focusing on Peace, Love, Patience and Kindness will help me to become a better servant-leader at work with my employees.

And Faithfulness, along with actions employing the other eight fruits, will help me become a better disciple of Christ.

Today, as I’ve thought more about these, I think I’ll add the four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance, and the remaining theological virtue of Hope (Faith and Love are already covered), to the nine fruits upon which to build my personal and detailed list of “resolutions” for this year.

I believe if I focus on being more loving and charitable; on opening my heart to the joy I receive from God’s gifts to me; seeking peace and justice for all; being prudent and patient, kinder, gentler, and more generous; having a deeper faith based on the hope of eternal life, and trust in God; improving my self-control through moderation and self-denial; and developing strength and courage in times of temptation, I will look back at the year 2015 and consider it a success.

Won’t you join me and consider writing your New Year’s resolutions this year by focusing on the processes, the fruits, rather than the end goals?

“Heavenly Father, thank you for the instructions you provided to us through your Son, Jesus, that show us the way to You. I pray that You will help me navigate and follow the Light. And, I pray that You will lead me back when, through my own faults, I get side-tracked or drift off course. Amen.”

©2014 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Catechism in a Year

Friends:
I would like to recommend following the “Catechism in a Year” (Information below). Most of us use the Catechism as a reference, like an encyclopedia, but it is so much more. It is almost poetic in how well it is written and how rich it is in meaning. The “Catechism in a Year” makes reading the Catechism easy and accessible.
–Rich
 Catechism
Catechism fans! On January 1, 2015, we start over (at the beginning) studying the entire catechism in a year. We hope you’ll join the largest group in human history to ever study the Catechism together! And don’t forget to invite your friends to join in, too (just share the links below).
A few questions you might have:
What if I want to do something different? You might want to try reading all four Gospels in a Year. Just go here and subscribe: flocknote.com/gospel
What about the exciting new project starting in 2015? We will be announcing this and letting you know how it works some time in January. It will not be another daily email *study* program (like Catechism in a Year or Gospels in a Year). It is something new, different, fun and much less time-intensive for you. So stay tuned for that.
How do I sign up for Catechism in a Year (or help my friends do so)? If you are getting this email, you are already signed up to get it (so no need to do anything). If you want to invite others to join in, simply share this link with them:flocknote.com/catechism
How do I STOP getting Catechism in a Year? Simply click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of this email.
I hope you’re all having a blessed Christmas season and are ready for a new year of growing in faith together!
- Matthew Warner

Time to Think

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Birth of John the Baptist

Birth of John the Baptist

In the Gospel of Luke 1:15-16, the angel Gabriel announces to Zechariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, will have a son who will “be great in the sight of the Lord….He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” But, because of their age, Zechariah doubts this message from God and the angel strikes him dumb until the day his son is born. (Luke 1:20). 

Yesterday’s gospel reading (Luke 1:57-66) recounts how, shortly after the boy is born and the house is filled with guests, Zechariah “asked for a tablet and wrote ’John is his name’, and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.” (Luke 1:63-64).

Then, in today’s gospel reading, The Canticle of Zechariah, (Luke 1:67-79), Zechariah prophesies that a mighty Savior has been born, and that his own son, John, will be, “called the prophet of the Most High”, and will, “go before the Lord to prepare His way” (Luke 1:76).

I can’t help but believe, that during those nine months when Elizabeth carried John, Zechariah kicked himself a few times for his lack of faith. Not being able to talk must have been a burden. But, it gave him a lot of time to think about the angel’s message. And, most importantly, it created the perfect opportunity for Zechariah to listen to the voice of God, uninterrupted by his own speaking, which ultimately allowed him to utter his prophesy.

I don’t think I want to be struck dumb like Zechariah, but I know it would do me good to spend a little more quiet time with the Lord, to turn off my own voice and begin listening to Him to understand His message for me. Because I am traveling, I will miss my normal hour of Eucharistic Adoration this week. I need to build a substitute into my schedule.

Heavenly Father, on this eve of the birth of Your Son, help me to stop and spend at least a few minutes recounting the preparations I’ve made during Advent so that tomorrow will find me rejoicing like the shepherds coming down from the hills into Bethlehem. Amen.

©2014 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

She Said Yes!

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Mary's FiatMary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to Your word.” – Luke 1:38

After the priest at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Seattle, Washington read these words from Luke’s Gospel yesterday morning, I said four special prayers.

The first was a prayer of thanks for how fortunate I am, or rather we all are, that Mary gave her fiat, her “Yes”, to the Lord’s angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. I thought about the love she must have had for God, a love based on an unshakable faith. I wondered if she had any idea of the unfathomable joy she would experience during the life of her Son, as well as the excruciating heartbreak she would endure at His death. Did she ever doubt her decision? I don’t think so. I believe she stuck by her words, “May it be done to me according to Your word”, her entire life, even at Christ’s death. Hallelujah, through her, a miracle was born!

My second prayer was also one of thanks for how fortunate I am, as well as my entire family, that my daughter and son-in-law, who live here in Seattle, chose to say “Yes” to God’s plan of having their own child, our first granddaughter, who is now two months old. And, I am thankful for another daughter and husband who did the same and are expecting our second grandchild, a son, in the next few days. Likewise, I wondered if they have an idea of the joys and the heartbreaks they will experience as parents. But, I know, no parent does until they actually happen. I said a prayer of thanks for their love and their courage to be good parents. Hallelujah, through my daughters, miracles are being born!

The third prayer was for all the children whose parents had neither the unselfish love nor the courage to follow through and bring them into this world, parents who chose to follow their own will and said “Yes” to abortion and “No” to the plan which God had already set in motion for them. Lord, bless the souls of these millions of children who never had the opportunity to carry out Your will here on earth, nor the chance to experience the joys of life.

And, finally, my fourth prayer was for all the mothers who have said, and all the mothers who will yet say “No” to God’s plan and abort their babies. I am sure, for many of those mothers, there is deep emotional pain and tremendous heartbreak that accompanies their decisions. Unfortunately, I know there are many mothers who never bat an eye. Lord, please have mercy on these women, forgive those who have contrite hearts, and help those who do not to see the error of their ways.

Lord God, as I await the birth of your Son, Jesus, I give you thanks for our Mother Mary, my mother, my wife and the mother of my children, and mothers everywhere who have said “Yes” to your will. May You grant them a special place in Your Kingdom. Amen.

©2014 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

The Innkeeper and His Wife

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Nativity SceneAs a youngster I remember being read Christmas stories of the Nativity. The most prominent memory is that of Mary and Joseph being refused accommodations at the inn in Bethlehem. I thought what a terrible man the innkeeper must have been to refuse giving a room to a poor pregnant girl and her husband, especially since she was carrying baby Jesus!

This memory came back to me the other day from two different sources. First, as I dusted off my Christmas music CDs, I found Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy, by Jason Gray. Track 4 on the CD is titled Rest (The Song of the Innkeeper)1, a story from the perspective of the innkeeper.

Then, I was looking through my library and I found the classic short story, The Innkeeper’s Wife2,by A.J. Cronin, a Scotsman, who, was commissioned to write a Christmas story for the December 21, 1958 issue of The American Weekly magazine. As his title suggests, he chose to write from the wife’s perspective.

After my last post in which I tried to imagine being in the shoes of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, I found myself contemplating the Nativity of our Lord by comparing the perspectives of both the innkeeper and his wife through the lens of these two story tellers. I’d like to invite you to imagine back and make this journey with me:

It’s December in Palestine. There’s a dusting of snow on the ground and a chill in the air.

Residents are under the oppressive thumb of the Roman procurator, Herod, and “forced to worship as idols the deified Emperor set up in the temple.2 Herod has ordered that all people must go to the temple to register for the census and pay their taxes.

There is a constant stream of people transiting through Bethlehem. Our innkeeper, Elah2, laments, “There were no rooms to rent tonight, the only empty bed is mine, I’m overbooked and overrun, with so many things that must be done, until I’m numb and running blind!1   He is turning people away.

This has been going on for weeks. Elah and his wife, Seraia2, are running out of food to feed their guests. They’re making money but it is wearing on them. Their marriage is strained and Seraia is getting hints of Elah’s possible infidelity.

It’s been a rough, tense day for the two when a young, pregnant woman and her older husband, cold and dirty with worn robes, come into the inn asking for shelter. Now comes the moment of reckoning – how the proprietors respond to Joseph’s and Mary’s plea.

In Gray’s story, the innkeeper turns the pair away from the inn but leaves us to assume that, with some measure of charity, he offers his stable to Joseph and Mary (…But at least they won’t be wondering, if they’re sleeping on my stable floor”).

He confesses his belief that his people will be delivered from their current plight by a Messiah, but he alludes that perhaps the busyness of life doesn’t give him the time he needs to pray for it (“As a boy I heard the old men sing, about a Kingdom and a coming King. But keeping books and changing beds put a different song inside my head, and the melody is deafening.”). Then, in his fatigue, the innkeeper makes a desperate plea for deliverance (“I need rest, I need rest, Oh come oh come Emmanuel, with a sword deliver Israel, I need rest!”).

Gray closes his song with a beautiful bit of irony. Believing that the Messiah will be a sword wielding King, it never crosses the innkeeper’s mind that his Savior, and the peace for which he is searching, is lying in a bed of straw in his own manger (“Tonight I can’t get any sleep with those shepherds shouting in the streets. A star is shining much too bright, somewhere I hear a baby cry, and all I want is a little peace.”).

In A.J. Cronin’s short story, he draws us deeper into the event by closely examining the players: Elah, Seraia, and Malthace, one of the hired help and Elah’s supposed mistress.

Seraia, the wife, is introduced as loving, tolerant, and forgiving, but emotionally bruised from the loss of a baby during child-birth which has driven a wedge between her and her husband. Now, Elah has turned his attention to the alluring Malthace leaving Seraia lonely and ignored.

Elah is obviously struggling to cope with the pace of business due to the influx of travelers into Bethlehem. He is gruff, self-centered and bedraggled.

When Mary and Joseph present themselves at the inn looking for a place to stay, Elah angrily turns them away without a shred of charity. Seraia, on the other hand, exhibits compassion for the couple and, through her gentle heart, takes pity on them and leads them to the stable, a small cave cut into the bank opposite the inn, and invites them to shelter there.

The story continues with the birth of Jesus and Seraia befriending the couple, helping them care for the baby Jesus. She retrieves from her room the swaddling clothes she made for her baby, but which were never used, and offers them to Mary for her special baby. Seraia develops a bond with Mary and falls in love with the infant child.

Seraia is observant and notices that ever since the child was born there has been a new bright start in the eastern night sky and it has been moving higher each night. She mentions this to Elah but he is more intent to complain about the racket from the lowly shepherds who have come down from the hills “proclaiming tidings of great joy for all people, crying aloud that light was come into the world, that the glory of the Lord was around them.”

Elah eventually learns that his wife has been sheltering the couple and that their child has been born. He does finally notice the new bright and rising star and soon encounters “three horsemen, richly dressed and of dark complexion” who are perhaps “potentates from the East”. These strange visitors will have nothing to do with him but, instead, head straight for the stable. He notices that each is carrying a rare and valuable gift: one of gold, one of frankincense, and one of myrrh.

Curious, Elah sneaks a peek into the stable and there sees Mary and Joseph, the three esteemed visitors, and Jesus being held by his mother. While he observes the presentation of the gifts, “the child in his mother’s arms moved slightly and turned its gaze full upon him. As that single glance from those innocent and unreproachful eyes, filled with such tenderness and grace, fell upon the innkeeper, he could not sustain it. A shock passed through him, his own glance fell to the ground. Instinctively he turned away and, like one intent only upon escape, went back across the yard as though pursued.”

Elah is shaken. He is suddenly aware of his guilt: his lack of love towards his wife; the absence of charity to the couple in his stable; and his dearth of compassion to everyone else. He makes a commitment to change and set things right. He finds kindness towards Seraia; dismisses Malthace; and makes an attempt to make amends to Mary and Joseph only to find that they have departed because, according to Seraia, “Herod, the procurator, means evil towards the little one.”

The story closes with husband and wife finding peace and restoring their love for each other. Seraia vows to remember and celebrate the anniversary of the birth of this special child. And, in a strange twist, the innkeepers are recompensed for their hospitality when they find, left behind in the manger, the King’s gift of gold in the rough shape of a cross.

Both Gray and Cronin present very imaginative stories in their own right. In Gray’s, the innkeeper was so set on believing their savior would be a mighty warrior king that he never opened his heart to God incarnate. And, in Cronin’s, the innkeeper would have met the same fate had it not been for his forgiving and loving wife who provided shelter to the couple. Through her the opportunity was created for him to gaze upon the Christ child, Who ultimately returned love to his heart.

As I get closer to Christmas, I know Jesus has looked me in the eye and helped me evaluate my heart. He has made me more aware of my love for others and He has helped me see my guilt. I feel fortunate to have, at last night’s penance service, been able to reconcile and receive the grace of His forgiveness. Now, when I give the gift of myself to Him on the anniversary of His birth, my heart will be clean.

How long has it been since you let Him stare into your heart and convict you? It’s not too late.

Merry Christmas and God Bless.

1Rest (The Song of the Innkeeper), Words and music by Jason Gray and Randall Goodgame, ©2012 Centricity Music Publishing & Nothing Is Wasted Music (ASCAP)/Mighty Molecule Music (ASCAP)

2The Innkeeper’s Wife, by A.J. Cronin, ©1958 Hearst Publishing Co., Inc.

©2014 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Saints Joachim and Anne: The Perfect Grandparents

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Saints Joachim and Anne

Saints Joachim and Anne

I know it’s been six days since the Feast of the Immaculate Conception but I’m going to write about it anyway. That’s because I learned a few things that day and I want to share them with you. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, after being Catholic for a year and a half, I still thought the Immaculate Conception of Mary was when Jesus was immaculately conceived in Mary. When I discovered I was wrong, I learned I wasn’t alone – many cradle Catholics don’t know that it does not commemorate the immaculate conception of Jesus in Mary, which is actually the Annunciation, but, instead, the immaculate conception of Mary herself. 

After Mass last Monday evening, I had a chance to talk to our Deacon. I asked him, “If Mary needed to be immaculately conceived to be the mother of Jesus, then did Mary’s mother need to be immaculately conceived to bear Mary?” He explained the difference between the two. With Jesus, Mary was a virgin and God was the father (Luke 1:35 – And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”). But, Mary was conceived in the normal human fashion by the union of her parents, St. Joachim (´Jō´·ə·kim) and St. Anne, but was made immaculate by God at the very moment of her conception.

On Tuesday, I happened to watch a video of the A Cappella group, Pentatonix, sing the Christmas song Mary Did You Know (written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, 1991). The song lyrics ask questions such as, “Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?”

Thinking about this, I took the question back one generation and wondered if Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, had any idea when their beautiful and pure daughter, Mary, was born that she would eventually give birth to the Son of God? Did Mary tell them about her encounter with the angel Gabriel and that she had given her fiat, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)? Did Anne and Joachim, along with Joseph, hide pregnant Mary in the village of Nazareth to protect her from their society’s custom of stoning? What influence did Anne and Joachim have upon Jesus as he grew from an infant into a young man?

I wanted to find out more about Joachim and Anne. I discovered that their names are not mentioned in the Bible and there is actually no concrete, historical evidence telling us about them, but what is believed was handed down as tradition with sufficient authority that the early Church accepted it as the truth.

One document that supports that tradition is the Gospel of James. While Church scholars accept that there may be parts of this infancy gospel (a story written to satisfy the desire of the early Christians to know more about the early life of Christ) which are true, they have established that it was written in the middle of the second century (c. AD 145) and, thus, was not inspired by God and is not completely reliable, or, as we say these days, “isn’t the gospel”.

Another document that supports the legend of Sts. Joachim and Anne being the parents of Mary is the book The Mystical City of God, written by a Spanish nun, the Venerable Mother Mary Jesus of Agreda (1602-1665). Sister Mary Jesus of Agreda received spiritual revelations from Our Lady about Herself and Jesus and then recorded them in her book. While The Mystical City of God is not biblical, and has often been disputed, it did, in 1949, receive the Imprimatur of the Church, declaring that the work is free from error in matters of Catholic doctrine and morals.

Both documents support that Mary was made immaculate by God immediately upon her conception. Because Sts. Joachim and Anne, after being married for twenty years and unable to bear children, had their prayers answered, they raised their daughter, Mary, as a consecrated temple virgin and she remained unstained and free of sin her entire life.

As for my questions, I can only speculate. But, there was a certain spiritual satisfaction in contemplating the answers.

I doubt Sts. Anne and Joachim had any idea when they discovered they were going to be parents that they would one day be the grandparents of the Lord. But, because they had longed for years to have a child, I’m sure they loved Mary immensely and nurtured her such that her destiny of one day being the Mother of God would be fulfilled.

I’m sure their faith in God helped them believe their daughter as she related to them her encounter with the angel Gabriel. And, I’m sure they were in wonder, if not fear, when Mary told them she had assented to bear the child who would “rule over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1: 33)

I imagine that in the town of Nazareth, a village of probably no more than a hundred or so people, many of whom were most likely related, it could have been difficult to hide the fact that Mary was pregnant. I’d bet there were some tense days and sleepless nights for a while as they discussed what to do.

I imagine that Mary loved, cared for, and nurtured Jesus by following the example set for her by her own parents.

And then, finally, I’m sure that the strength, courage, and will that Mary had to have to keep believing as she watched her son being crucified had to be a result of the strong faith instilled in her by her parents and further strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

I can only imagine what might have happened. But, there’s one thing I’m sure of: God had a plan from the beginning. In it, He cherry-picked all the players, beginning with Joachim and Anne, blessed them and filled them with His grace, and then sat back and watched them carry it out perfectly.

Today, two thousand years later, are we honoring, through thankful prayer, the execution of His wonderful plan and its ultimate, divine creation, our Lord, Jesus Christ?

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of Your Son, who, by the power of the Holy Spirit saved His own Mother from the stain of original sin and, thus, ensured she would join Him in Heaven, body and soul, at Your throne. I pray that, through my baptism and Your continuing grace, I may one day join Your family. Amen.”

©2014 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Advent: Preparing Our Hearts as a Gift for Christ’s Coming

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Advent wreathI received my “Little Blue Book1” in the mail yesterday. This is the book our parish office provides to the Church community to help us prepare for Advent and the Christmas Season. It consists of 43 days of readings, reflections and prayers beginning with the first day of Advent (30 November) and ending with the last day of the Christmas Season, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, (11 January).

When I found it in my mailbox I had to pause and remember what it was. Then, I recalled last year’s edition and how I came to thoroughly enjoy reading it each day. You see, last Advent/Christmas season was my first as a Catholic. I recall I was about half way through the 25 days of Advent before I began to comprehend that it was not just an event or a time-period in name only, but that there was indeed substance to it, a purpose.

The other thing I remember about last year was how difficult it was to take time to contemplate and reflect on that meaning and purpose. Last year found us not only caught up in the usual frantic activity of gift buying for family, but also preparing to drive from Ohio to Louisiana to spend Christmas with our daughter and, ultimately, her wedding three days after Christmas. Although I didn’t salvage much of Advent, we did enjoy a peaceful Christmas with her, and her wedding was one of those beautiful life events I will never forget.

So, when I received the book yesterday I was a little excited. I read the first two days of reflections and then had to put it down to do something else. I picked it up again today and read a couple more day’s worth before I put it down again because it felt like reading ahead was cheating – kind of like reading the last page or two of a novel to see how it ends instead of starting with the first page of chapter one.

A page from The Little Blue Book

A page from The Little Blue Book

But, that was just enough to pique my interest. As it sat there on the kitchen table this evening I glanced at it each time I walked by, my thoughts ruminating. At some point I asked myself, “Okay, since I missed half of Advent last year, what am I going to do differently this year so that I may be spiritually prepared for the celebration of the coming of Christ at His birth?” With that question, I sat down to brain storm and jot some notes.

First, I am happy I decided to go to Reconciliation this last Saturday. Afterwards, I felt totally forgiven and renewed. This seems like a necessary way to get started on the right track to experience this special event.

I will read from the Little Blue Book every day and spend, as it suggests, at least six minutes of quiet time with the Lord.

I will read the daily Scriptures and, in reflecting upon His Word, I will be more contemplative about His message.

I will open myself up to Him, being intentionally watchful for the way He presents Himself to me.

I will soak up the peace that He humbly brings to me and use it to displace the anxiety that is so common with today’s materialism.

I will pray more than I usually do each day, taking time to experience and give thanks for His love.

I will demonstrate my love for Him by being kinder and more charitable to those in need this season.

I will especially try to remember to call on Him to strengthen me in times of temptation, and to receive His light if my heart begins to darken.

And, I probably ought to sacrifice by fasting in some way. I certainly don’t think it will hurt me any!

As I write this, I seem to recall there being a second purpose behind Advent, that it’s not just a time to prepare for the coming of Christ and the celebration of His nativity, but also a time to prepare ourselves for His final coming. And, as I look at my list, I hope my plans will suffice for this purpose, too.

Having made these commitments, I feel positive I will be successful in keeping them. Although we are traveling again this Christmas – to Seattle to visit our new granddaughter, and to Kansas City for the birth of our second grandchild over New Year’s – the cost of holiday airfare for three people will just about eliminate anything but minimal gifts and, thus, the need to get anxious about shopping for just the right stuff. Hallelujah!

This Advent, I hope to honor my commitment to give thanks for His gifts by particularly enjoying the special time I will have with my family and preparing myself as a gift to Him at the celebration of His birth.

How will you prepare this Advent for the coming of our Lord?

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of Your love in the form of Your Son, Jesus Christ, whom You sent to lead us to You. Help us, O Lord, to prepare our hearts for His coming. We pray that He finds us eagerly awaiting Him in joyful prayer. Amen.”

1 Little Blue Book, ®2014 Diocese of Saginaw, Inc.

©2014 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

 

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