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He is born! Jesus is born!
My mother started the beautiful tradition of it being mandatory for each of her children to proclaim these words to her before we could enter into the living room and see the presents and tree on Christmas morning. She knew what direction the day would take and that gift-giving and merry-making would rule the house most of the day. The exception, of course, would be morning Mass, but the submersion into the true focus of Christmas would unconsciously be placed in the background after we arrived back home as family arrived and the celebrating began.
What wisdom she had! My siblings and I have been grateful to continue the tradition of keeping that focus upon wakening Christmas morning, and I personally love hearing it. However, I also truly enjoy the time spent with family and friends, feasting and lauding the praises to our Heavenly Father for sending us His Son.
This year our celebrating continued throughout part of the weekend, enjoying time with loved ones visiting from out of town. God was truly present, even when unexpected health complications put a damper on things. In fact, I found myself focusing even more on Him and His great sacrifice for us. (Watching someone you love suffer tends to do that, right?)
Digression: Someday I look forward to sharing thoughts on how incredibly our God can come to us through suffering, but I won't approach that subject today! (Did I hear an audible sigh of relief??)
Back to my point, it was certainly an unplanned roller coaster weekend, but God had even greater things in store. In His wisdom He would provide us a sort of strange and unexpected opportunity to come to spend time with Him in a new way.
First, I have to point out that as all of our family and friends can attest, my little domestic church is far from perfect. (Come and visit with us for one day, and this point will be made blazingly clear!) But, despite our failings, (and perhaps because of them), we have always made a permanent and undying commitment to never miss Sunday Mass. Obviously, there have been many illnesses or hospital visits that have gotten in the way over the years, but even during times when we have been caught up a bit in the culture of the day with business, etc., God has always helped us honor that commitment.
This past Sunday, however, God had different and very unexpected plans. Before Sunday Mass, the patriarch in our family who suffers daily with health issues experienced some setbacks that prevented us from attending and joining with the choir to sing God's praises. Attempting to go later, we were surprised to find that we had a very difficult time locating a church that had an evening Sunday Mass. Almost all had been cancelled this past weekend due to the timing of Christmas. However, my oldest daughter located a church not too far away that apparently still had a 5:30 pm Mass listed, and we were thrilled.
As tired and frazzled as I was, I knew that Mass was exactly what we needed to calm ourselves and rest in His Spirit of peace.
Once arriving at the church, we noticed that the turnout was much smaller than expected, although considering the holidays and that it was a church we did not attend often, it didn't seem too out of the ordinary.
However, upon entering the vestibule, we met a small crowd of people who were seemingly very confused, wandering in and out of the main part of the church and quietly talking. Concerned, I approached someone and asked what was going on. She said that her son had been signed up to serve for Mass, but the parish priest had not arrived and Mass was due to start in the next couple of minutes.
Starting to worry, the kids and I went into the main church and sat near a lovely setup of the Nativity that happened to be near the Blessed Sacrament. It was a beautiful spot to reflect and pray. We did so silently and waited as people came in and waited for Mass to begin as well.
After 10 minutes, it became clear that there would be no Mass that evening. Personally, I joined in the concern that something may have happened to the priest, so I prayed about this fervently just in case.
What struck me about the whole scenario was that it would have been so easy to genuflect goodby and leave with the thought, "Well, we tried! Better luck next week." But so many of the people that came decided to remain in the church.
The ambience was perfect: the lights were low, casting shadows around us, a quiet hum emitted from the heating vents, the light smell of incense still hung in the air. I felt blessed to have what to me seemed to be the best seats in the house, as we could look upon the Nativity scene and feel like we were almost there.
And I know I am often proud of my children, but that night really surprised me. The kids actually asked me to stay. At my oldest daughter's suggestion, we made a spiritual communion as a family and then she even found vespers on my phone to pray.
The sense of church family at a place where we knew no one was so comforting and sweet. A couple of times my eyes wandered around the church and met a few that belonged to other parishioners…we smiled in understanding at each other.
All in all, we stayed for over 40 minutes, and I actually had to pull my older ones out who wanted to stay longer. But the younger ones had hit their limit, one in particular!
Truly, it was an evening to remember. I still really missed being able to participate in actual Mass, but God was so good in allowing us to spend a very unique evening with Him.
How good our God is!! And how great are His gifts, especially the gift of His Son. I truly hope that these upcoming days of the octave of Christmas fill you with joy and peace.
From our family to yours: Merry Christmas!!!!!
Humility is one of those virtues that has an unsurpassed influence on our lives. Not even pride, the root of all sin, can overcome its power. Its influence on the world is extraordinary, and in many cases soul-saving!
One a look at any creche scene reveals an impact that becomes strikingly clear. The King of Kings, Lord of every and all Lords, the Omnipotent One HUMBLES Himself to become a human baby. And not only that, He lowers his throne to that of a manger surrounded by animals.
Now, if that isn't true humility, then I don't know what is. And, if His lowly birth has not changed history for all, then I don't know what has. Most historians agree that not a single earthly life has had more affect on world history than that of Jesus. And, of course, we, as Christians, know that His birth means far more than just having an affect on history. It means that we can now enter into heaven and experience His unfathomable love for us for all eternity.
We've all heard it said: "Don't underestimate the power of the Dark Side."
I say: "Don't underestimate the power of HUMILITY!"
And to illustrate my point….here is my own home-grown humiliating (er..I mean humility) story!
"Mom, please can we make the spritz cookies today??"
"Ummm, you know, I think our schedule is pretty full today. How about tomorrow?" I replied, avoiding the pleading eyes.
"But Mom, you've said that for the last 3 days!! Why can't we do it today?"
I swallowed and started pulling at a string sticking out of my sleeve, hoping that by ignoring the question my inquirer would get bored and give up. But, alas, the words "give up" are not in this child's vocabulary.
"Mom……please? We'll make them ourselves!"
My head jerked up in interest. "Really? You'll make it yourselves?"
To understand my response to the thought of making these wondrous cookies so often associated with Christmas, one would need to understand just how much the words "spritz cookies" make me lick my lips in anticipation and at the same time send a shiver down my spine. For me, approaching it is kind of like boarding a rocket to the moon and suddenly realizing on the way that you are desperately afraid of heights.
You see, growing up, helping my own mother with these cookies was a clear signal that Christmas Day was drawing near. We kids absolutely loved devouring them - so much so that very few would actually make to the Christmas table. Who could resist that powdery cookie, removed from the oven just before browning so that the quick bite would melt away in your mouth, leaving the perfect hint of almond and vanilla behind? Not me, I can tell you!
It made sense, then, to continue the tradition with my own family when I got married. I had made enough dishes and did enough baking that I felt I was ready for the job. Seriously, how hard could it be? I should have listened to the still small voice inside: "Pride goeth before the fall!"
Well, apparently making spritz cookies on my own was a lot harder than I could have guessed - at least for me anyway. My first attempt left me in tears as I attempted every way possible to get the dough to release properly from the spritzer. The end results were a bunch of melted snowflakes and trees that looked like they had been crushed by a bulldozer.
However, they say that time heals all wounds. The next year, I was determined to get it right. I read all that I could on how to make the best cookies, looked up recommended tips and suggestions, and even went to the expert herself: my mom. But, despite this great effort, the result was the same: spritz cookie failure.
It must be the spritzer, I reasoned in frustration. Truth be told, it may not have helped that our spritzer is so old that it may indeed be the first one ever created, but I would quickly learn that the cookie caper had more to do with the handler than the actual apparatus!
My husband, a great cook himself, was in the other room during that second attempt, and, afraid that I might start hurling cookie dough and spritzer fittings across the kitchen, came in to cautiously offer assistance. (A wise man knows to never approach a mad woman with an armed cookie spritzer without great caution!)
Desperate, I gave in, knowing full well that he would have no more success than I. My pride tumbled to the floor, however, as he took the spritzer and quickly and easily filled a cookie sheet with perfect Christmas trees. "Impossible!!" I said in disbelief. He handed it back and very politely offered that it had probably reached the right temperature when he used it. He then showed me how to use a quick wrist motion that deposited the perfect shape every time.
I tried, goodness knows I tried, but to no avail. It was beyond both of us why I couldn't make it work. Finally, it occurred to me at that point that given the fact that God can pick whatever timing He so chooses, He may have been allotting this particular moment to teach me the valuable lesson of humility.
Still, both despite and because of this, each Christmas afterwards for the next 15 years I attempted to create these confectionary wonders, only to regretfully and humbly retire the spritzer to my husband's able hands each time.
And so I looked with great interest at my daughter as she insisted on taking on what I now consider a monumental task. If my children were intent on meeting my confectionary nemesis face to face and taking it on, then who was I to stop them? Secretly, I sadly realized that a hope played around in my head that their attempts would prove difficult and that justification would finally be mine.
Naturally, of course, my lesson in humility would only continue. Hours later, trays of perfectly scored cookie delights graced the counters. (I was consoled for a moment by a few oversized snowflakes until I realized that they had been produced by a certain 6-year-old!)
Feeling alone in my inadequacy to conquer the spritzer of doom, I made the decision to acknowledge defeat and accept this clear lesson in humility.
Proudly, I commended their success. I am very proud of them for so many reasons, not the least of which included excelling in a skill that has eluded me. God bless them.
My only regret? That I didn't accept my lesson in humility much sooner!
Today, my family enjoyed a peaceful time of togetherness as we traveled on the road to and from events. It was truly a time spent sharing our feelings, talking about our thoughts and basically communicating from "down deep."
I thought I would give you a bird's-eye view of a few moments of our trip that eventually evolved into an epiphany for several of us.
(Note: Names and birth order have been changed to protect the innocent.)
The exclamation burst forth from Child #1 in the back of the van.
"Yes?" I responded.
"She's laughing at me!"
Taking a breath to speak, I was suddenly cut off.
"No, I wasn't! It wasn't at you!" said Child #2. Attempting to add my two cents to this heartfelt, deep sharing moment, I reasonably asked what had started the laughing in the first place.
"What?" came the response. "Are you talking? I can't hear you from back here." I repeated my question again, much more loudly this time. As Child #2 began to explain, an excited rush of emotion was shared from the middle of the van.
"He hit me!" came the words from Child #3. Giving a very firm look to Child #4, I calmly asked what had prompted the unexpected physical show of affection. "I don't know…I was mad." Before I could respond, another interjection came from the far back.
"Mom!! She doesn't know where Krakow, Poland is!! "
"I can't help that I don't know!" returned Child #3 loudly.
Suddenly moved to share my own deep thoughts, I explained that younger children haven't quite learned all that older, much more educated children have, adding also (just to be clear, of course) that this should be quite obvious.
"But, Mom. Everyone knows where it is. It's where St. Faustina came from…"
"I couldn't remember!" Child #3 countered emphatically.
As I began to address this turn in discussion, a new question emerged from Child #3 who seemed oblivious to the fact that a current conversation was already in progress.
"What does 'indulgence' mean?"
Loud protests emerged as all passengers began deliberating at once.
As my blood pressure began to build to a level that could boil an egg, I counted to 5 before addressing each comment. As I spoke, I found myself disappearing into another world, gazing out the window to find palm trees sunning themselves on an ocean-swept beach. Smiling despite myself, I looked dreamily at the blue water with its white-crested waves that had replaced the dingy late fall, early winter landscape passing by.
Suddenly, loud music overtook the air, immediately rising to the top of the throng of voices already rushing turbulently throughout the vehicle, abruptly putting an end to my daydreaming. I turned to Child #2 who had taken it upon herself to turn on the radio.
"This will help!" she said knowingly. For a moment I stared at her. As Child #2 turned the volume up even louder to cover up the increasing din in the rest of the van, the beautiful melody and lyrics of 'Breath of Heaven' became more like a hurricane of heaven storming through the air, prompting the voices to reach an impossibly louder level.
Incredibly, an epiphany dawned at that moment amidst the chaos, and my face unknowingly broke into a wide smile. Child #2 eyed me suspiciously. "Why do you look like that, Mom?" she questioned, half yelling.
"Well, I find it quite interesting that you would choose a beautiful, peaceful ballad to drown everyone out. In other words, although you meant well, you used more noise to shut out the noise."
The light dawned in the two eyes opposite mine and Child #2 sat back and pondered, but not until she had reached for the volume decrease button.
How incredibly true is this in our own lives? It seems that when life becomes the loudest, we forget that God is reaching for us in a still, small whisper. It beckons us, yet somehow we assume it is just another part of the noise of life, deserving no more attention than the clamor around us.
How often do I put on music, a video or sit at the computer when I have a moment to myself, foolishly believing that it will provide the peace I am longing for? It may indeed be quieter than the noise from which I have temporarily obtained a reprieve, but in truth I am just replacing noise with more noise.
During Advent, listening for that small whisper of God becomes even more urgent as He calls me on towards the birth of His Son. How will I ever hear it if I don't remove the noise altogether?
Lord, help me to stop - to truly stop - and take the time to listen to You guiding me to the foot of the manger. May my sacrifice of quiet time for You (and for many of us it can truly be a sacrifice) be the gateway to the stable door where I meet You face to face on Christmas Day!
"Father, am I…nothing?" The question seems to hang in the air during and after it is asked by the character Bernadette Suberouis in the movie Bernadette by Navis Pictures to her priest.
"As we look up to our God we are nothing, but as God looks down on us, we are everything." His response strikes an immediate chord in the viewer for good reason.
Despite a distinct history of man turning his back on his Creator, God's ocean of love prompted an overflow of mercy to flow into a plan of salvation that could have never been dreamt up by the brightest earthly scholar. Man, staring up into the heavens, is nothing more than a speck in God's eye, and yet from God's heavenly viewpoint he has incredible meaning. So much meaning, in fact, that God, in His unfathomable mercy, created a woman conceived without sin to be the vessel that would someday contain God Himself. Enter into history: the Immaculate Conception.
Such a misunderstood feast, since many often understand this to be a feast celebrating the conception of the Savior, but its importance cannot be understated. It seems that we do often manage to take a moment to contemplate the mystery of how God entered this world, but sometimes I think that it would do our souls good to dig deeper into His immense plan of salvation. And I do mean the word immense. His plan is not only immense in the coverage of time. It is immense in every way possible: time, breadth, wisdom, power, the fullness of all mental, physical, and spiritual aspects, etc. It is as if salvation is one giant tesseract on every plane, raised to the infinity power! Pretty mind-boggling, isn't it?
The more I read about it, the more awestruck I find myself. And, the more it makes perfect sense that God would choose the Immaculate Conception and Our Beautiful Lady to bring about His plan to fruition.
When I look to You, Lord, I feel I am nothing. Thank You for seeing me as 'everything'!
Below is a link to the trailer for the movie Bernadette. Directed by Jim Morlino, it is a production made up of child actors and actresses with little to no acting experience. My family was so impressed that we were thrilled to help out when our parish was blessed to host a screening of his next movie, The War of the Vendee. It was incredibly awesome!!
Our kids absolutely LOVE these videos. Please check out Navis Pictures using the button below, and then take a look at the trailer. There are many other shorts and cute Catholic films from Navis Pictures on Youtube that you can access as well. They are definitely worth seeing, and your kids will love them!!
Make straight the way
Six jaws dropped. The same number of pairs of eyes stared in shock. Stunned at the sight before us, thoughts went back to our expedition through the woods the week before to find the perfect tree, traipsing through the brush, fallen needles like a blanket beneath our boots. Now, that blanket of needles lay on our living room carpet, piled in uneven mounds underneath a bare, vertical skeleton.
This was our story last year, describing the morning we had woken up to find that our beautiful Christmas tree had lost all of its needles only a week after its arrival. Apparently our Canaan Fir had turned out to be a Norway Spruce, a variety known to lose its needles quickly when indoors. Well, it was a lesson learned the hard way, but it was certainly well-learned.
The other day, as I was sweeping up the dead needles that remained after our tree setup this year (which is, by the way, an ACTUAL Canaan Fir), I remembered that morning and my thoughts turned to Advent. Have I been doing a good job sweeping away the dead things that have been getting in the way on my path to Christ? I am supposed to be responding to the heralded cry by St. John the Baptist - "Make straight the way of the Lord!" But, with all of the hubbub, have I really focused on removing the dead branches in the way? Or have I let boulders or protruding brush impede my ability to make the way straight?
I knew the answer: of course I have. For a moment, I felt like one of the Magi who may have had a momentary lapse of judgement in deciding whether or not to return to Herod with news of the birth of the Savior. In truth, and to the great credit of the Magi, there most likely was never a lapse of judgement. Thank goodness I was not a crown-bearing royal at such a pivotal point in history!
How hard it is to keep our eyes on the prize and remember to have an Advent attitude. It seems so easy to give in to the distractions and put the real meaning of the season in the background. The fact that this is happening is proof enough that I still have needles yet to be swept away. But, there is still time!! 3 weeks of Advent lay ahead, waiting for me to unfold them. Time enough to push away the boulders and trim the brush. Time enough to focus on the celestial sign pointing to the manger. And time enough to "make the way straight!"
Stay Awake, Be ready
There is a popular kids’ Advent song written by Christopher Walker called “Stay Awake.” Although found in many church missals, including the Breaking Bread editions, it is NOT your typical hymn.
“Stay Awake” calls to mind the joy and excitement that children share as they wait for the birth of our Savior. Walker even has rhythmic clapping built in (hint to music teachers!) to enhance the effect and make his point. And although I tend to prefer ballad-type hymns during Advent, there is something about this little song that speaks volumes.
These two words alone are interesting food for thought when we apply them to Advent. Many of us have dreams of the perfect Advent: a sublime mixture of prayer and spiritual activities, family get-togethers, snowmen, crafting, Christmas cookies, etc. Sublime plan, indeed. Reality? Not so much.
I don’t know about you, but my Advent preparations tend to be exhausting! Our family greatly enjoys the many traditions we have developed over the years, but trying to fit them in with the everyday chaos of life is a challenge. Sometimes, I secretly wish I could just drop one or two and replace it with rest. But just the mere mention of this throws my family into a great stage of lamentation (not necessarily the wailing and grinding of teeth kind, but close). How can we get the best of both worlds? And, more importantly, how can we make certain that we stay awake and focus on making this Advent one that God intends for us?
First and foremost, prayer HAS to be the number one priority. Begin the day asking God to help you ‘stay awake’ and center on His coming. Establish a time during the day that your family can stop and realign its Advent focus. Our family loves to read special prayers at dinner while we light the candles on the Advent Wreath and sing a verse (or 2 or 3 if the younger ones pick it!) of a favorite Advent song. There are many pre-composed prayers that can be found online or you can take advantage of the many beautifully written Catholic family Advent books that are out there. Each year we try new ones, and the kids love taking turns reading or responding. Then, as your day ends, take time to thank God for the immeasurable gift of His Son and ask Him to supply the grace needed to be adequately ready for His great coming!
Second, prioritize your activities and accept the limitations of family life. There are enough Advent and Christmas opportunities to fill every Advent waking minute, but that doesn’t mean that God is calling us to experience each and every one. As long as our prayer focus is on the birth of the Savior and we are viewing the holiday season through the lens of our faith, we have already satisfied the most important part of our preparations for Christmas. This alone should give us peace and comfort as we take on the cooking, shopping, crafting, wrapping, Christmas tree hunting, decorating….and, well, everything else!
Even with the knowledge that we have put Christ first, the strain of expectations can bring us to our knees. For many, the getting “ready” part of this season of peace turns out to be the most stressful 4-5 weeks of the year. Here’s a possible solution that takes little time to accomplish and might actually lighten the load.
Quick Advent/christmas prep. list
The beauty here is that if you can successfully implant some items following the line, you can consider these as bonuses and know that you are achieving a better sense of balance. More importantly, utilizing this list gives you a good indication that your family is accepting its limitations and that you are living an Advent that is more balanced and appropriate. Do, however, recognize that these lists are not written in stone and have a good chance of evolving as Advent unfolds. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide!
Advent should be a time of prayer, family togetherness and peace. The demands of today can make this seem more like a dream than reality. However, with appropriate expectations, a dash of organization and a generous helping of grace, we can arrive awake and ready at the foot of the manger to adore the Newborn King.
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Prepare Ye the Way
Here are some beautiful songs just for Advent!
If a song's title includes (family recording), please refer to the blog entry on 3/8/16 for info...
Hi! I'm a Catholic mom who loves to encourage and support others in their journey to live the beauty of our Catholic faith in a modern world. It can be a struggle, no doubt, but God has given us the tools we need! Join my family (both immediate and extended!) and me as we take on this incredible journey of our path to holiness.
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