Sunday, December 24, 2017

6 Things About Christmas You Might Not Know

At my age of ‘slightly 60’ you’d think I’d know a thing or two about the Season. After all, I've faithfully celebrated Christmas my entire life. Yet a couple of these revelations surprised me. They might just surprise you too!

Why We Hang Stockings

Why do we hang stockings at Christmas? Watch this brief, informative video so find out about the true story of the REAL Santa Claus.

The Christmas Tree

We’ve often heard that the Christmas Tree has pagan origins. What is it with people accusing the Catholic Church of either being pagan or usurping pagan holidays and symbols? Here is another take on the subject that has a much more saintly tone.

Biological and Chronological Reason to Believe Jesus Was Born in December

We’ve all heard the naysayers, “No one knows when Jesus was truly born. People just had to pick a date and so they transferred His birth to a pagan holiday”. Well, there might just be a few pieces of proof, found both in scripture and the calendar.

For another take, check out this helpful information.

The Significance of Swaddling Clothes

Do you know the significance of Jesus being swaddled at birth? Watch this brief video! Jesus truly is the Lamb of God!

Jesus' Birth in Bethlehem Prefigures the Eucharist

What's amazing is that from the first instant of the Incarnation (God made Man) we were given a discourse on the Eucharist. There have always been subtle ways that point to Christ's role in our Salvation.

Bethel - Means the House of God.
Bethelehem - Means House of Bread.
LaMange (the manger) - Means t o consume.

The Season of Christmas BEGINs on Christmas

Contrary to popular sentiment on the Hallmark Channel or children’s stories, Christmas is a Season. The days leading up to this Season is the Season of Advent (now celebrated for four weeks in most churches). Christmas Eve ends Advent and Christmas Day heralds the Season of Christmas. Check out the neatly laid out basics by National Catholic Register.

So, there we have it, some things you may or may not have known about Christmas. How many were already familiar to you? Let us know in the comments. Three of these were news to me!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

We Need Advent to Properly Celebrate Christmas

Leading up to the festivities of Christmas, Advent can bring many pressures to an already hectic time. Keeping Christ in Christmas is certainly our first objective but life's realities must garner our attention as well. Balance needs to be found so that you approach the Season in a way that is right for you. As an individual, your life is unlike the life of any other. Your family responsibilities, job obligations, and the things that just happen - this all fits into the equation of what makes up the entire picture of your life.

Sometimes stepping back and looking at the whole picture is a helpful means of finding balance for your reality.

1. Don't feel inadequate because you are not keeping up with all of the many opportunities to have the best Advent ever. You cannot do it all. You probably are not even able to fulfill your own personalized agenda each and every day. Be honest with yourself and grab onto the things you can do and prioritize. That way, your spiritual life will remain at the top but, your other duties will also stand a chance.

2. Instead savor Advent - a season purposely focused on waiting and preparation. Every day, try to find a quiet moment to allow God to fill the spaces in your heart that need comfort, courage, and grace. For a mom, that might only be available early in the morning, late at night, or while waiting in the car while performing mom’s taxi service. Yet, you can make it special nonetheless. Breathe deeply and invite Him in.

3. Do not think you have to be Martha Stewart or recreate every 'wow' project on Pinterest, some years I make the most perfect cookies, from scratch. There are the cookies of my German heritage and there are the cookies that look picture perfect with colorful icing. I manage to get it all in because I feel inspired and because life has allowed it that year. Other years, it simply fails to happen. There might be too many choir and Christmas play practices. Or maybe I have chosen to sew a few gifts. Sometimes I simply feel uninspired. I have had to learn to just let life ebb and flow. The main thing is to make it to confession, prepare for His Coming, and to make sure others feel (and see) Christ's love in me.

4. Instead simplify by choosing one or two things per day, so that you can enjoy Advent with your family. Maybe you are like me and you want to be structured but your mind wanders restlessly between all of the objectives I have set up for myself. When that feeling threatens to steal my peace of mind, I go to the time-honored system of list making. The list begins with the most important objectives and dwindles down to the optional. If I set my mind to completing the items on my list, one at a time, it all of a sudden becomes doable.

5. So the second (or third) Sunday of Advent has come and gone. Don't throw your hands up in despair because Advent has already begun and you're feeling behind. Is it really too late? Not a chance. Remember, we serve a God of many chances. However many days remain, that is how many opportunities you still have to 'get with the program'. What is your hold up? Start today!

6. Don't over emphasize the material - whether it's preparing a feast (or replicating a French pastry shop), gifting, or decor. Some years the financial picture is less promising than you would like. That is the year that you give from the heart. Some of the most memorable gifts have been the ones that cost very little but hit just the right spot in the heart. Bags made for the girls out of left over fabric, a heritage cookbook, or a specially handcrafted booklet. These are actually the ones most cherished.

8. In the rushed and demanding days leading up to family gatherings, savor each aspect, make each prayer, book, project or gift sublimely important by pouring your love into it. Allow Jesus to sit at your side and offer these gifts to Him as well.

When everything on your list is checked off, the last package is wrapped, and your special times with Jesus have strengthened your spirit, that is when you will become most aware of the beauty of the Season. The glow of the faces around you as you attend Mass, the soothing nourishment your soul receives when receiving Him in the Eucharist, and the afterglow of the remembrance of a humble Child Who came to save us all - that will be your Gift.

The hurry and worry will be washed away. Your preparation and readiness to greet Him will all fall into place and you will realize that we truly need the anticipatory time of Advent to fully celebrate Christmas.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Advent Season, For Us and For Others

Everything about the First Sunday of Advent urged us to be ready. We heard about those who were wise and prepared and those who were foolish and did not. Staying awake, not in the literal sense of losing sleep but in preparedness, is the order of the Advent Season.

We are reminded to look at the many ways we diligently prepare in our earthly lives. Only a fool would fail to prepare for a hurricane by attentively watching the weather and battening down the hatches. It would be a poor host who was ill prepared when anticipating holiday guests. If, like my own community, there is a contaminated water boil advisory. Do we not boil even the water for washing dishes?

Yet, as detrimental to our well being it would be for us to scoff at weather, important events, or cautionary community announcements how much more important is preparation for the King of Kings?

Seasons like Advent and Lent bring the urgency of preparation even closer to the forefront. After all, the worst disaster imaginable is the loss of Eternal life in Heaven. The ultimate expected Guest is Jesus and the most harmful contamination is the stain of sin on our souls.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who Is My Neighbor in the World of Today?


In the book of Luke, an expert in the law asks, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. His examples guide us through several encounters with an injured man - all with diverse responses. Jesus then turns to the lawyer and asks:

Which of these three, in thy opin ion, was neighbour to him that fell among the robbers? But he said: He that showed mercy to him. And Jesus said to him: Go, and do thou in like manner.

Digging deeper into the basis of this story, I find myself wondering how many minute details are regularly missed when it comes to the coincidental encounters we all experience.

In Search Of Neighbor

Ever since my husband and I temporarily moved into a duplex while our tiny house was completed, the family across the way has intrigued me. Unlike the remote, pastoral surroundings of our new home, here we have close neighbors all around. We have become acquainted with some of them. Like us, the neighbor behind us also has a small dog, with a propensity for escaping her allowable geography, which has given us occasions for casual conversation. Next door, a precocious neighbor toddler is the same age as our youngest granddaughter and across the street, a neighbor dutifully cares for the needs of her aging mother. By chance encounters and common interests, I've found small familiarities with these families.

One neighbor, however, I have not met yet am intrigued by chance observations. Passively sitting in the driveway while the rest of our downsized belongings are loaded onto a small trailer, I ponder on the insight I have gained, just by reflective attention to a few details.

Physical Challenges

If we are willing, there is much to be discerned by a casual glance now and again. This particular neighbor suffers from some debilitating physical ailment. Handicap plates on the car, the glimpse of a wheelchair, and thoughtful placement of a strategically situated side table speaks of someone who loves the outdoors but is confined to the inside while looking out. Sometimes there is a game of chess visible on the little table in front of the gleaming glass door but even so, the preferred vantage point is always outdoors.

Love of Nature

There are robust hanging plants, thriving plants in pots, and a rainbow of vibrant flowerbeds all around the front yard. Their splendid garden features a riot of color. Nurture and care of this Eden are clearly evident.

This neighbor shares my love of animals. A chance glance in his direction gives a glimpse of not one but two cats, casually strolling past the glass door and then luxuriously perching on the sofa. At just about dusk each evening they head out to prowl and do what it is that our feline friends do under the cover of darkness. They quickly return to the welcoming arms of their humans, which indicates they feel loved.

Along with the array of blossoms, foliage, and pampered cats are several bird feeders - finches, robins, and humming birds all have their own specific feeding station. All of this appears to be easily viewable from the carefully arranged furnishings and the glass door.

Our Neighbor Is Tidy And Has Nothing to Hide

Despite the obvious physical challenges faced, the yard and drive are meticulously kept. No offensive litter, neatly clipped grass, and much attention to order are evident in their landscape. Our neighbor portrays a tidy habit.

Open blinds, windows, and doors speak of the candid nature of our neighbor - there is nothing superficial. As open as a book, this person is living a full life despite the burdensome hand they have been dealt. There is a pure appreciation of life evident here and a richness not provided by merely temporal goods. By all appearances this neighbor finds boundless joy, fulfillment, and peace in what he has been given. His cup seems to overflow with an almost enviable God-given plenitude of riches.

Interact With Neighbor

As I sit here today, our last day of inhabiting this bustling neighborhood, I can't help but wonder about the lives of the people we never came to know. Like us, they may be in transition. Some, like the elderly neighbor, are most likely here to stay – as their lives tranquility follow the setting of the sun.

I've spontaneously prayed for these people, as they appeared out of their doorways and enclosures and have marveled at how much God loves each of us no matter how different our lives have been or are destined to be.

Opportunities Missed?

What fruitful opportunities were missed and are now regrettably gone forever? Should I have crossed the street and struck up conversations? In retrospect, I inwardly answer, yes. Would I have found a receptive soul? Perhaps, I could have learned something of benefit to my own Eternity. What is done, is done, but a lesson to take away is to seek out opportunities and not blindly march through our days as single-minded, secluded souls.

The question I ponder now, is how will I present myself as a Godly witness to others? How will I show mercy to a mere acquaintance ? Not in search of worldly praise but as a spiritually positive example of what it means to be a neighbor who is obedient to Christ. Are others' casual impressions of me valid or negatively warped by a lack of transparency or some faulty perception? Even as we seek to live our lives in the best way possible, we are reminded that our lives give witness to neighbor, concerning who we are.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Painful Punishment of Silence

Silence, they say is golden, yet under some circumstances silence can also be a form of bullying. While the basic needs of mankind include sustenance and shelter God has also endowed us with an intrinsic need for love. That love often relies on communication. We live our lives yearning being heard and understood.

The Quiet Bullying of Silence

There is a healthy use of silence to compose our thoughts and calm anger which can be of great benefit but sometimes an extended period of punishing silence causes pain to the other. In one way or another, we have all used silence as a weapon against another. Showing a cold shoulder or ignoring someone because of some real or imagined indiscretion can be a pain inflicting tactic. Whether a school friend or significant other, sometimes our intent is to inflict the pain of denying the victim our company. In self-righteous fashion, we withhold ourselves from them and leave them with the pain of silence – of being shunned.

Silence as Pride

The sin of pride comes to mind. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “the root of all sins lies in man’s heart”. (CCC 1873) As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we recite words that ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. In calling down the same judgment on ourselves that we hold against others, we should attempt to soften our hearts to the pain of others. Yet in building an artificial distance between ourselves and another, we erect a wall of pain and isolation, one that will cause another to suffer. Again, looking to our own experience we begin to realize that silence does cause pain. The pain of silence becomes apparent when we are the ones who are shunned, unable to plead our case, ask forgiveness, or perhaps even understand the perceived transgression.

Spreading the Pain

Calculated silence takes on a deeper, more hurtful dimension when others are pulled into participation. Emotional blackmail can cause group silence, thus increasing the pain of the one who is cut off. Again our Faith tells us not to err by leading others, or ourselves, into sin.

Refusing to Talk

Sometimes the harshest punishment for some deduced transgression is to say “I don’t want to talk about it”. The injustice of denying communication leaves injuries on both parties that may not even be justified. Allowing an explanation may find the faulty words were much more benign than they were perceived.

Perhaps, though, the words did intentionally inflict pain. After some thought, there was repentance and a desire for forgiveness. However, the barriers built by silence became impenetrable. In situations such as this the injury sustained by both parties, inflicted on their very souls, is harmful. As a recent radio host on Catholic radio explained, repressed emotion – especially anger – can have a harmful effect on both the mental and physical well-being of a person.

The Spiritual Cost

There is also a spiritual cost. Bullying silence can become sinful. If we are admonished to forgive “not just seven times, but seventy-seven times”, then are we not also bound to break the silence and allow another to speak his peace? Since the Lord confused man’s speech due to the Tower of Babel, mankind has struggled with inadequate communication. The least we can do for justice is to give a fair hearing to those who stand accused.

The Bible on Forgiveness

From the Beatitudes to the Lord’s Prayer, we are admonished to be merciful, to forgive, and that our own judgment depends on our judgment of others. Scripture is full of instances encouraging forgiveness but how can there be forgiveness if silence stands in the way?

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

This Lent presents an inspirational opportunity to put the hurt feelings and accusations behind us. As we focus on fasting, prayer, and alms giving, wouldn’t it be a merciful gift to fast from the bullying sin of silence?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Soldier or Saint – Leave No One Behind

In his book, Church Militant Field Manual, Father Richard Heilman relates the Soldier’s Creed of the United States Army.

"I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills."

Military discipline, that which aids these warriors in protecting their country, demands a dogged dedication to developing their strength in the service of others. Without total dedication to the mission of saving and protecting others, the mission of the soldier is destined to fail. That is why the Warrior Ethos practiced by military personnel states:

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Soldier or Saint

In winning the battle against the Evil One, soldiers for Christ must employ a similar strategy. Whether soldier or saint, the necessary component is to go “all in”. This type of dedication and the necessary skill to pull it through are no accident. It is the result of intensive training. A soldier must pledge to advance his mission through self-restraint, commitment, and pride. Our pledge as soldiers in the Church Militant demands the same

As Catholics and members of the Church Militant, we are soldiers for Christ and our mission is clear – the advancement of His Word and the winning of souls. We are called to be our brother’s keeper in the clear sense of being members of the Body of Christ. Sinner or saint, rich or poor, strong or weak – we are all beloved children of God the Father. Our purpose, here on earth, is to bring souls – our own and those of others – to the Eternal Home with Jesus Himself. Being a child of God leaves no room for egocentric self-interest. The Word is there to be shared.

Mission One

Placing the mission first sets the tone for the importance of the goal – saving others. When we seek to participate in the New Evangelization to which Pope John Paul II called us, our focus must not be abandoned. Winning souls for Christ is the pinnacle to which we must be determined to ascend. This requires a dedication that may not come naturally for most of us. Therefore we should pray for strength and success. We must soldier on.

“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13

Refuse Defeat

Yet bringing souls – even our own – to Jesus is no task for the weak. This mission requires a steadfastness and determination not come by naturally. In training for our mission our weapons come from the supernatural: grace, divine inspiration, and the Word of God. Often times we seek to share what we, ourselves, have learned but lack the perseverance to allow others to fully embrace the importance of the mission in their own time. The four Cardinal Virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance play a key part in defying defeat and accompanying others gently into the Light.

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57 

Never Quit

Discouragement can become our enemy as the Evil One places a lack of resolve onto our weary souls. In order to dig deep into our supernatural reserves we must avail ourselves to the weapons of the Church Militant. Holy Mass and the Eucharist, the Rosary and other devotions, and the examples of those warrior saints who have gone before us will help us in sustaining the fight. As in the Psalm of David we pray, “Answer me quickly, O LORD, my spirit fails; Do not hide Your face from me, Or I will become like those who go down to the pit.

Leave No One Behind

Sustained by the Word of God, fueled by His promise, and spurred by our Spirit-inspired commitment we are able to reject defeat. Imagine what would happen if all members of the Church Militant rose up, with a common purpose, and refused to leave behind any soul within their reach. What is keeping us from joining forces and completing this holy mission?

“We must learn the special operations (special ops) techniques and procedures for search and rescue missions of fallen comrades (those who have become weak in their faith). Although rarely wielded by the Catholics today, this supernatural strength and these techniques are truly authentic gifts of the Church that are field-tested and battle-hardened. We must commit ourselves to their restoration if we ever hope to stem the tide of evil and rescue our lost loved ones who may be destined for eternal damnation.” (Excerpt from Church Militant Field Manual).

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Gift of Unanswered Prayer

We all have things that regularly appear in our prayer petitions. Some are wants, some needs, and some are desires. As the saying goes, “God has three ways to answer our prayers – yes, no, and not now.” Like any good parent, God the Father indulges us but gives preferential treatment to our needs. Sometimes our needs do not correspond with our wants or desires. Then there are times when we need to be patient and wait – the timeline belongs to God

Wants, Needs, and Desires

Wants are the distractions of our souls. We can never get enough of them. Be they money, fame, delicacies, possessions, or admiration, their attainment fails to satisfy. We always want more. Often the want of more is our downfall. Think of gluttony, pride, envy, and the other Deadly Sins. In their extreme sense, they become a mortal sin, requiring confession.

"For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." (Romans 8:6)

Needs are the essentials that people require to live – nourishment, shelter, clothing, medical care for the sick, and love. Without these necessities, our earthly bodies will soon falter and perish. When we pray for our needs, God hears and helps with these fundamentals. Matthew 6:26 tells us,

“Look at the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, nor reap, nor gather into granaries, and your heavenly Father nourishes them. Are ye not much more excellent than they?”

Desire is the long term range of what we want from our lives. Do we have an important goal, like becoming a saint while here on earth? Is it our desire to serve God while we serve the least of these? Perhaps we feel moved to start a ministry of some sort. If our desire is to live a life pleasing to God, we make sure that we know, love, and serve Him in every aspect of our lives. Then, when we open our hearts to His Word, the path will be illuminated for us.

A Disappointing Response to Prayer

When we receive a response from God, the details might surprise or even disappoint us. If we have the proper disposition, as creature belonging to Creator, we soon begin to realize that a response contrary to our desires may very well be a much better option for our spiritual lives. Surprisingly, it may even be better for our temporal lives as well. All God asks of us is that we keep an open heart and mind. He wants to help us blend His wishes with ours to form us more perfectly for Eternal Life. If we only listen to His call, the prayer answered contrary to our wishes may very well have a wonderful effect - one we never imagined. In any case, making the best of His answers will make for a much more fulfilled life. Father God knows best.

"We are at Jesus' disposal. If he wants you to be sick in bed, if he wants you to proclaim his work in the street, if he wants you to clean the toilets all day, that's all right, everything is all right. We must say, 'I belong to you. you can do whatever you like.' And this is our strength. This is the joy of the Lord." -Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Disappointment for Our Family

My own life gives witness to these truths. Unable to have more children, my husband and I decided to adopt and were chosen by a birth mother. One call we had both deeply felt was to have a house full of children. This fervent desire appeared to be coming true for eight months of the pregnancy. Our excitement was tangible and shared by our other, much older children. As the time drew near, we began to see a change of attitude in the mother - nothing blatantly obvious, just a sense that something vital had changed. When our lawyer made the call for which neither of us was prepared, the tears came in waves for days. Why had we not seen this coming? How did this change of mind come after such a long time? We were devastated.

Fast forward a few years, just when Luke would have been a toddler, I was given a devastating diagnosis - BRCA1 breast cancer. This was not just some take a pill, have a lump removed type of cancer - the gene our family carries has killed every woman in my family - three generations back - at forty to fifty years old. Our lives were turned upside down. From chemotherapy and one surgery after another - one lasting sixteen hours - my outlook appeared bleak. This was a debilitating time in my life - I was as helpless as I had ever been and completely reliant on others. While it was a humbling experience to have my husband and daughter take care of even my most basic functions, there was a joy and love never before experienced.

Had our little Luke come to live with us, I am sure we would have found a way to survive, but knowing he was in a good home helped deal with the empty place in our arms and hearts. Four years later, our daughter was diagnosed with the same cancer. She was twenty-eight years old and twenty weeks pregnant. Again, our lives changed drastically. As I had before her, consultation and surgery took us from Kentucky to Texas. The one-year-old son she already had needed care and days were again filled with nursing a loved one. Times like these find me pondering on the gratitude felt for a loving God the Father, who sees us completely - including our most intimate needs.

Prayer is Dialog

Prayer is an open-ended discussion. It is not akin to asking Santa for some favorite wish or toy. Prayer is an ongoing conversation in which we pose our requests while God tempers our gifts for our own benefit. It is also a lifelong endeavor, allowing us to get to know what our Creator wants for us and an opportunity to work with Him. As the road we travel, here on earth, winds its way this way and that, our needs, desires, and even wants change. As the Master of the Universe, God knows this and sees ahead, down the path of our lives. Where we see only the darkness of an unlit path, He sees fully in the bright light of His love. What we may need tomorrow or next year or five years from now, God already knows. That is why His responses come from a place of pure love – His every move is designed to help us become the best version of ourselves.

The Gift of Unanswered Prayer

If we keep our minds and hearts open to the nuances of God’s hope for us, we will begin to see a pattern. Even as we voice our wants, needs, and desires – we are able to temper our reactions and expectations. We receive the gift of Patience. In the gift of Wisdom, we are able to discern that the more we empty ourselves of corporal attractions, the more open we are to what God has in store for us and the more Fortitude we display as we wait for an epiphany as to what this might be. After all, God the Father knows best.

Advent offers the opportunity for us to empty ourselves and set up room for Him in our hearts. In what is left of this penitent and anticipatory season, let us weigh the significance of our requests. As we discern for ourselves, it would also be a worthy endeavor to focus on the needs, wants, and desires of others during this giving season. May we have an inspirational Advent, leading us to the magnificence of Christmas joy. This is the Gift our Father in Heaven offers to His children - all we have to do is cooperate.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)