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.

 

Heart on Fire

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Road to Emmaus St. MaxEver since I became a Christian people have asked me two questions about my conversion. The first question has been along the lines of, “What was it that convinced you to give up your search for hard proof and accept on faith Christ’s saving Grace and God’s Word?”; and the second has been, “How did it feel when you discovered the Truth?”

My answer to the first question has always been easy for me to explain. Simply put, it was God bringing to fruition my deepest and longest held desires within hours after my witnessing the positive power of prayer and, because of what I had seen and heard, deciding to take a leap of faith by getting down on my knees and praying to Him for help in making those dreams come true.

But, I’ve always had difficulty answering the second question. With respect to Him answering those particular prayers, I certainly felt immense relief and tremendous joy. But, how did I feel about the fact that He answered my prayers at all? That’s a totally different feeling and the one I’ve struggled with adequately describing.

Even as late as this last Sunday, when I related my story in a witness I gave at a men’s Christ Renews His Parish retreat at our church, I still couldn’t do it justice. I know I was amazed, but amazement is a condition of the mind, and there was more to it than that. It felt more like an affair of the heart than of the mind. It was like an instantaneous falling in love and then feeling that same love being reciprocated.

Then, on Monday, in a God-moment, I found the best answer I can expect to find.

I was flying from Chicago to Houston and I couldn’t sleep because the lady behind me, bless her heart, could not keep her two year old son from screaming the entire three hours of the flight. So, I pulled out my bible and opened it to a random page. That page happened to be the start of chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke. Starting at verse 13, Luke recalls Christ’s Appearance to the two Disciples on the road to Emmaus. After Jesus said the blessing and broke bread with the Disciples, and their eyes were suddenly opened and they realized it was Jesus with whom they had been walking and talking, He disappeared from them.

“Then, they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?’” – Luke 24:32 NAB

That is precisely what happened that weekend in April 2012. Through the men of that Christ Renews giving team, Jesus, by the Light of the Holy Spirit, opened the scriptures to me and set my heart aflame. That’s how it felt when I discovered the Truth – my heart was on fire. And, it still is.

After saying a little prayer of Thanksgiving for this revelation, I pondered why this happened to me. To this I came up with my own answer: my heart was open to the truth that weekend two and a half years ago. I was tired of fighting it, tired of trying to do everything on my own and getting nowhere. By deciding to go on that retreat I cracked the door open enough to let God into my life.

But, more specifically, I wondered why it doesn’t happen to more people. In thinking about my own life up to that point, I saw where there are varying degrees of unbelievers. There are those who are just outside the margin, like I was most of my life. Then there are the unbelievers who fight hard to not believe. Their doors are not just shut, they have deadbolts on them. The first might be perpetuated by a certain laziness or simple self-reliance, but I think the latter is due to fear. Fear of being wrong. Either way, I know now that folks on both those shores are missing the boat. And, in doing so, they are missing out on that wonderful feeling of burning love within their hearts.

It’s ironic, though, that all it takes to get that feeling is to give in to the One you have fought so hard against, and to open your heart a crack, just enough to let the Light shine in.

That’s our challenge as Christians in trying to bring others to Christ. How do we convince them to not be afraid, to see that there is goodness in the Alternative, and that life is so much easier and sweeter when the locks have been removed and their hearts are freely open?

“Lord Jesus, I am so grateful for Your presence in my life. Thank You for Your patience, for waiting for me to open my heart so that You could set it afire. Lord, I pray that, as Your disciple and through Your good Graces, I am able to convince those who are afraid, and those who are sitting on the fence, to open their hearts to You. 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.

Connecting the Dots between Our Blessings and God’s Love

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Photo credit:  Pinterest

Photo credit: Pinterest

I want you to stop what you’re doing. I want you to spend a few moments thinking about the five to ten people you love the most. Visualize your love and really open up your heart and feel your love for them. Imagine how sometimes your love for them is so great it hurts. How sometimes it brings you to tears because you’re afraid they don’t fully understand how deeply you love them. How sometimes it drives you crazy wishing you could show them your love in ways they can better understand.

I’m no social scientist but I’d say that 99 percent of us experience very similar feelings of intense love for at least a few people in our lives.

Now, turn your hat around. Take several moments and make a mental list of the people who you believe love you: spouse, children, parents, sibling, best friend – whoever. If you believe that we are, indeed, similar in the way we feel love for those closest to us, then imagine those people feeling the same way about you as you do for them. Don’t venture into thinking about how well they show their feelings of love, just that they have them. Regardless of how they demonstrate their love for you, can you empathize with them? You know how they feel because you feel that way yourself, don’t you?

Next, mentally select one or two of those people who you say loves you the most. Think back over the last week or so and remember a kindness that person did for you. Maybe your husband cooked you dinner because you’d had a rough day. Maybe your wife brought you a cold iced tea or beer while you were working up a sweat doing yard work. Maybe your son or daughter colored you a picture because of the way you inspire them.

Was the instance that came to mind one for which you offered sincere gratitude? Or, was it one where, perhaps, you failed to express adequate appreciation? Did you stop and consciously think, “He/she did that for me because he/she loves me?” I’m betting there’s a good chance you didn’t recognize it for the act of love that it was. You took it, and the other person’s love, for granted.

These thoughts came to my mind this afternoon when I stopped into a special place and prayed. I worked in Somerset, Ohio today and afterwards I visited St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the “Cradle of Faith” and oldest Catholic Church in Ohio, to spend a few minutes with the Lord. Once again, I was the only person in the church and the perfect silence inside was ideal for some one-on-one time with Him.

As always, I began my prayer with thanksgiving. I had much for which to be grateful.

First and foremost I gave Him thanks for blessing me with a beautiful and healthy granddaughter, my first grandchild. Elsa Augusta was born to my oldest daughter, Sara, and her husband, Andy, in Seattle, Washington on the 13th. I had been praying for nine months for Sara and Elsa’s safe delivery and good health, and God answered my prayers.

I gave thanks for the wonderful weekend I had just experienced with my wife, Melinda, as we tent camped in a state park in Kentucky, our first camping trip ever without children along.

I gave thanks for the good health of another pregnant daughter and her unborn son; for the safety of another daughter and her husband in their hazardous environment occupations; and for the continued well-being of my youngest daughter in her first semester of college. I am a fortunate husband and father and I wanted to make sure He knew I appreciated all my blessings.

Finally, I thanked God for His constant and eternal love.

And then it hit me. There was a difference in today’s prayer as compared to my prayers in the past.

Up until today, my praying had become rote. I had always given thanks because that’s the first thing you’re supposed to do when you pray. Although my prayers are always sincere – as they certainly were today – I know sometimes I simply rattle off ‘thank yous’ like I’m checking them off my list.

I always give thanks for His love not because I constantly feel it (I know I probably should feel it, but, honestly, I admit I often don’t), but because I have faith and believe Jesus Christ when He tells me God’s love is constant and eternal.

There, on my knees in St. Joseph’s, it dawned on me that this may have been the first time I genuinely connected the dots.

You see, normally, I give thanks for the blessings He gives me, and I give thanks for His love, but I seem to have failed in connecting the dots and realizing that those blessings are a direct result of His love. I hadn’t made the conscious connection that, “I have been blessed because He loves me.” I know now I have often taken His love for granted.

I couldn’t help but think about how I feel when my love is not fully appreciated and I wondered how God feels after I’ve done the same to Him. And, I couldn’t help but think that, perhaps, a good way to thank God for His love and blessings is to express it sincerely to the one who is acting on His behalf, the messenger who delivered it.

Maybe it took the miracle of a new granddaughter, the intimacy of a weekend away with my wife, and the knowledge that all was well with the other primary loves in my life for me to see how all of those blessings are, indeed, a result of His complete love for me.

How are you doing at connecting the dots?

“Heavenly Father, thank You for all Your many blessings and for allowing me to experience the beauty of Your love. Please know that I love You with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind. 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.

A New Catholic Prays the Holy Rosary

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A woman prayingOne of the most confounding things about being a new Catholic has been learning how to pray the Rosary. I’ve been to family Rosary gatherings, special Rosary services, and attempted several times to pray it on my own. But, it never quite clicked for me.

In my first attempt, I pulled out my Knights of Columbus “How To Pray The Rosary” wallet card and followed the instructions. I navigated my way around the Rosary without any problems but I had trouble with contemplating each of the mysteries. The instructions said to announce the mystery and then contemplate on it while saying the decade of Hail Marys. So, using the Sorrowful Mysteries as an example, I announced, “The Agony in the Garden”, and then tried to think on that as I was saying my first decade of Hail Marys.

Those five words, “The Agony in the Garden”, didn’t tell me much. There wasn’t enough there to contemplate. What was I supposed to think about? I did manage an image of Jesus wrestling with what he knew He would have to do, but, I couldn’t sustain that vision when I was trying to deliver ten marginally memorized Hail Marys.

For my next effort I went to a Sunday Family Rosary with friends. I followed in sync with everyone but, once again, I got lost when they got to the announcement of the Mystery. This group used the St. John Vianney Vocation Society publication as a guideline. Thus, when they announced, “The first Sorrowful MysteryThe Agony in the Garden”, they also said, “Jesus asked His Apostles to pray so that they ‘might not enter into temptation.’ Our Lord knew they needed to pray in order to endure what would soon happen.”

I thought, “Wow, there’s more to it than simply saying, ‘The Agony in the Garden’”? In addition to envisioning Jesus in agony over his fate, here was something else to be contemplated: praying for the strength to resist temptation. I asked a friend about this and he told me, “Not everyone prays the Rosary exactly the same way.” The heck you say!

About a month ago a friend gave me another Rosary guideline, this one published by the Marian Fathers. It suggested that the first Sorrowful Mystery should be announced as, “In His anguish He prayed with all the greater intensity, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Then He rose from prayer and came to His disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted with grief.” (Luke 22:44-45)

As I read this I was able to conjure up a better vision of how Jesus must have felt that night in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Also, about a month ago, one of our priests, Fr. Rob, handed out CDs he had recorded of himself praying the Rosary. The way he announced each Mystery made it more personal for me. For example, with the first Sorrowful Mystery he said, “As we recall The Agony of Jesus in the Garden, let us ask the Lord to feel the weight of our own sins, that we can truly repent from the evil that is in them”. I could do that.

About that same time my wife told me of another resource that helped her to better understand each of the mysteries. The web site, The Rosary Center , illuminates each Hail Mary of each decade of each Mystery in such a way that I can’t help but understand them. It also summarizes each Mystery with a “Spiritual Fruit”, which, for The Agony in the Garden is, “God’s Will be Done”.

In the end, I’ve learned there are many different ways to pray the Rosary, each different but each correct. And, I’ve concluded two things: first, that most cradle Catholics probably learned one way to pray the Rosary and have probably always prayed it that way; and second, that I would teach myself to pray the Rosary by utilizing the expanded reflections on each Hail Mary as presented by the Rosary Center. Then, once I internalize the meaning behind each Mystery, I will be able to recite one of the “shortcuts” as found in the other guidelines but still know the true meaning of that Mystery.

Do you have any special thoughts you can share about how you pray the Rosary?

This week I had an opportunity to give it another try. My experience convinced me to write about it.

Many of my posts are born from “God-Moments” when the Lord reveals Himself to me through subtle indicators that He is present.  Such was the case Tuesday.

I was working at our office in Somerset, Ohio. As I was leaving it began to storm. Rather than drive in a downpour, I chose to stop at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, just three quarters of a mile from my office, for an hour of Adoration. St. Joseph’s is the oldest Catholic Church in Ohio (see my post from September 2013 The Cradle of Faith in Ohio) and is a beautiful church. I grabbed my Rosary from my car’s console, and I ran up the steps to the church. I was the only one there. I knelt in the front pew, said prayers for Thanksgiving and assistance, and then began to pray the Rosary with determination. Since it was Tuesday I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries and I was able to contemplate each of them in a way I had never before been able to do. With each Hail Mary I felt as though I was there, two thousand years ago, witnessing each event. In perhaps a small way, I had a sense of what Jesus was feeling. But, I also felt a connection with Mary and how she must have felt as a parent watching her Son being crucified. I cried.

When I finished I sat there a while longer in the total silence and solitude of the church. I realized I had not yet read the daily scripture so I pulled out my phone and called up my Laudate app. As I read, a smile came on my face and I nodded gratefully towards the ceiling. I discovered that it was the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary that day. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Lord, I’ve come to expect these visits from You. I look for You to show Yourself and You have never failed or disappointed me. I certainly don’t feel I deserve them but, nonetheless, I thank You for all the Graces You give me. 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 and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

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