Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Which Christmas Traditions Help You Become the-Best-Version-of-Yourself?

I've been following Matthew Kelly's 'Best Advent Ever' to discover how to best lead up to experiencing genuine Christmas Joy with my family. During these weeks we have been instructed on how to discover the best version of ourselves - which aspects of our lives to improve, which to reconsider or discard. Today's lesson offers the following:

Our essential purpose is to grow, change, develop, and become the-best-version-of-ourselves. Do your Christmas traditions help you do that? Will they help you prepare for Jesus’ coming? Follow Dominick’s 3-step process to decide which Christmas traditions to keep and which ones to consider eliminating.

Take an inventory of all the habits and traditions that make up your typical Christmas.
Look at each one and determine which ones will help you become the-best-version-of-yourself this Christmas, which ones don’t make a difference, and which ones are just distractions.
Eliminate the things that are just distractions, even if they are fun or old traditions.

This left me pondering about which Christmas traditions are dead weight in my life. We all know that our Christmas preparations can sometimes become overwhelming. As our families grow and change, we may even add more in the way of traditions and activities. But is that what it really takes for the most joyous Christmas ever?

Let me share a few things that have made my Christmas more joyous throughout the years. Some of these changes have been deliberate while others happened due to necessity.

  • Some years I don't bake. Yes, I know that's a shocker to most of you but as my family grew and expanded, I realized that my cookies were only a part of the crowd. I have grown children now, who have spouses. While my baking was a source of pride, the need simply wasn't there for more sweets.
  • Our menu was also altered for more enjoyment and less duty. After our mother died, we felt duty bound to cook everything she had prepared – plus any dishes added as our family grew. The leftovers would last a week! Now we have honed our menu to include favorites while eliminating overkill. This is better for everyone – less expense, less calories, and less effort. Our meals would still match most Christmas feasts but we have done away with unneeded extravagance.
  • We eliminated adult gifting for our extended family Christmas Eve gathering. As the family grew there were many, many children - siblings, cousins, friends. Having even just a name drawing became more chore than joy for the adults. We concluded that we would switch to a "Funny Santa" game with a reasonable price limit. The caveat being that we had to bring a gift we wouldn't mind taking back home with us - no pranks.
  • The children each give and receive one gift – the drawing is held on Thanksgiving. To make the children's gift exchange more meaningful, we begin with the youngest and each child is handed their gift by the giver. One gift at a time is presented and there is a 'no rushing' rule. In this way, each child is allowed the joy of both giving and receiving - two 'gifts' in one.
  • As more children came along even "Funny Santa" became a stretch, so off it went, never to be practiced again. Watching the child gift exchange is more than enough to satisfy the adults.
  • Sometimes we don't go on an official Christmas light excursion. One of the traditions we used to practice was to rent a limousine each year for light viewing. We would pack snacks, cocoa, and provide the driver with our choice of Christmas CDs. These days we may combine a late afternoon grocery run with driving through the local light attraction at a public park and spotting lights on our way home.

Allowing ourselves to let go of things that we cling to out of habit or tradition frees us for keeping and developing more enriching practices. Here are some example of faith building traditions that do we intend to keep:

  • Advent Wreath – whether it is a traditional, fresh pine wreath, one made with children’s hand prints, or an artistically fashioned faux wreath, this is a must. We light our candles daily and read a bit of scripture or other text providing a build up to the Nativity.
  • Waiting Tree – this was a tradition I introduced when the first of our nine grandchildren were very young. It’s a small, tabletop tree that holds tiny books, hanging from golden threads. Each book contains a portion of the Christmas story - one is read and hung per day.
  • Petition Activity – another tradition was started to make Advent more meaningful for little children. One child takes a turn, day by day, to choose a colored clothes pin with a prayer petition on it. This reminds us of those we love or those who are in need.
  • Christmas caroling – even if we are unable to sing with a large choir (our parish is quite small), we choose a day for the cousins to get together to sing. We visit the elderly and widowed up and down our rural road to give a bit of cheer to those who might otherwise miss out.
  • Advent/Christmas books and movies – each year we purchase another Advent/Christmas themed book or DVD for our collection. While anticipating Christmas, what better way to spend evenings than to share a spiritually themed story or two?
  • Confession –whether it’s a local penance service or just a regularly scheduled time, we make sure that we are up to date on our confession. Even with the aim of going once per month, we sometimes fail. During Advent we make sure that we have prepared a proper home for Jesus, when He comes.

As we live amongst the hustle and bustle of the world around us, we sometimes struggle to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. It is only when we set out to prioritize our activities – and even our thoughts – that we are able to become the best version of ourselves. When we find a new way to accomplish this and practice it, our efforts contribute to peace in the family and in the world. As we await Our Lord’s coming, as a little Child, may we find the proper priorities and through them shine His Light for the world.

What are some of your family’s Advent and Christmas traditions? Are you willing to reconsider some of your priorities? Or is your tradition-driven activity already finely honed? Chime in and let us know!

Happy Advent!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

We Are the Reason for the Season

As children, many of us enjoyed carefully studying the Highlights pages to find the hidden objects. I remember diligently seeking for each one until all had been found. Our adult lives are like that as well, although our diligence may not mirror that of our childhood.

Seeking the Hidden Objects in Life

The possibilities of finding the hidden are endless. Do we see the poor, hoping for a hand up? Or the lonely, hoping for a smile? How about the misunderstood? Hidden needs and opportunities are only as limited as our ability to see and hear – and feel.

Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. Jesus is coming in the form of a child born of poverty and displacement. He comes to set in motion our very Salvation. As we hustle and bustle around in preparation of gifting, feasting, and fulfillment are we aware of the hidden objects?

As humans, created in the image and likeness of God, have we found our hidden saint? Are we seeking to emulate Him Whose creation we are? Or are we more concerned with our search for that illusive gift or that earthly happiness we all seem to crave?

Seeking for the Reason for the Season

During his homily this past Sunday, our pastor made a surprising statement. He said, “Jesus is not the Reason for the Season – we are.” Jesus’ coming had not so much to do with Him as it did with us and our seeking of the Kingdom. We are on this earth for the sole purpose of seeking the Eternal Promise – the real gift given to us on Christmas, when the Son of Man was born of a virgin. That he later died on the Cross for us and our sins, cemented the deal. Our Eternal life with God rests solely on our persistence in seeking it with our thoughts and actions.

Preparation is Key

Preparation is as important as the destination; without it, we may never find our goal. “We walk over the anniversary of our death each and every year. Let that sink in for a moment. As our pastor shared this tidbit, I must admit that I was taken aback. What a profound statement to make – and yet, so true. As Jesus reminded us in the Gospel of Matthew, “But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone.” That statement holds true for both the hour of our death and for the end of time when the Jesus we are seeking comes again.

Are we ready? As we bake, cook, address Christmas cards, and deck the halls, we should keep in mind our eternal preparedness as well. That poor family needs a few groceries. The man who greets us from a wheelchair at the department store could use a bright, sincere smile. The widow a few pews over would love to be remembered by a kind word or thoughtful note. Has our pastor been shown any appreciation lately? We are his family and he selflessly serves us as a representative of Christ Jesus. The possibilities are endless. Our mission as spouse, parent, cousin, and neighbor revolves around sharing the Good News as well. For what we learn, we must share in order to grow the Body of Christ.

Seeking Until We Find

In an ever enduring cycle, Christmas comes and goes every year. What we need to do is find a way to reawaken the wonder that we felt as children. Channeling childlike innocence and reliance on God will help us achieve that goal. If we empty ourselves of selfishness, greed, and distraction we will truly find exactly what and Who it is that we are seeking. In living consciously living Advent in this spirit, we will find the Christmas of our dreams.

“All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (CCC 2013)

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Fr. Pavone Controversy - guest post

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Fr. Frank Pavone’s video on the 7th day of the Election Novena. This controversy exists on at least three levels: 1) the use of the unborn child’s body, 2) the use of the altar and 3) a priest openly supporting a political party. Honestly, I am wondering why this is such a big deal.

Dignity of the Dead and An Aborted Baby

I don’t see exploitation here. The child was already dead and was being held up as proof of the evils of abortion. Why is using an aborted baby to give witness to the atrocities of abortion undignified? This poor discarded child is dead and being prayed over and held as an example of the evils of abortion. The sight of the dead baby on the altar was difficult to see but the child was in the fetal position, a perfectly dignified position.

Many are citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.

However, in this case, I don’t see where Fr. Pavone treated the child’s body with disrespect or against charity. Yes, the body of a third-trimester child is naked on the altar. Yes, this child has been chemically burned in the ultimate act of disrespect of abortion. Could Fr. Pavone have clothed the child? Of course, but is it necessary? No. This child is a ‘poster-child’ of what abortion really is. It really results in these tiny humans being burned and dispelled from their supposedly ‘safe haven’ of the womb. Yes, it is shocking. Yes, it is horrible.

Sacredness of the Altar

As Catholics, we believe our altars are sacred. Many hold ancient relics from the bodies of saints. The altar is typically used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Fr. Pavone placed this aborted child on the altar and began speaking of how that tiny human was a witness to the atrocities of abortion. I guess I just don’t understand what the big controversy is about; our Pope has even had a beach ball on the altar. Yet, here is a priest who has dedicated his life to defending the unborn making a profound symbolic statement by placing an unborn child who has been sacrificed on the same altar used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Separation of Church and State

I think what really has people up in arms is that Fr Pavone was brave enough to call out the Democratic Party and candidate based on the issue of abortion. There are arguments based on the fallacy that the Democratic Party wants to make abortion “rare” and thus more pro-life than Republicans. It is the State who is infringing upon the Church. Christian business owners are forced to close down or bow to the LGBT movement. The Democratic Party Candidate herself said the Catholic Church would have to change its moral compass in order to continue in the United States of America. Christians are labeled backward and ignorant, simply for standing up for their Faith. How could a priest not endorse the Party or Candidate standing in defense of religious liberty and life?

Fr. Pavone wasn’t using the dead child for monetary gain nor was he acting as a paid spokesperson for the Republican Party. Fr. Pavone was making the public aware of the evil of abortion. He was speaking the truth about the Republican and Democratic parties and using the Truth from God as well as the truth from these Party Platforms to inform voters.

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Guest Contributor: Erika Vandiver

Erika is a former Forensic Biologist for the State Police with a BS in Molecular Biology. In her almost 10 years as a Forensic Biologist, she developed a respect for law enforcement and assisted in many criminal cases. She is a self-professed biology and Catholic nerd–reading anything and everything in an effort to keep abreast of new revelations. This came in handy when she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer while 20 weeks pregnant. She chose to ignore the doctors’ options of abortion or delaying treatment and instead received chemotherapy while pregnant. She and her little chemo baby girl are alive and well, giving witness to their incredible story. She credits the world-wide Catholic community and the support of her family–especially her husband of 10 years–for the blessing of her daughter’s and own survival. Her miracle baby girl has an older brother as well as four saint-babies in Heaven.