Friday, December 19, 2014

The Thrill of Hope

One of my favorite lines from the Christmas hymn "O Holy Night" is: "the thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices..." This year I find myself reflecting with gratitude on the hope that the Incarnation of our Lord brought 2000+ years ago to all humanity and brings to me and you and all of our loved ones today - the hope of eternal life.  After all the cookies are eaten, and gifts are unwrapped, and the memories of the festive celebrations are images on our photos and in our minds, what remains is the hope that is at the heart of our Christmas celebrations.

In Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection, we have the hope of freedom from the slavery of sin, the promise of the peace of the Kingdom, and the pledge of eternal glory in the life to come. What greater gift is there than that. What greater cause for rejoicing than this truth! Let us all ask the Holy Spirit to allow us to experience this "thrill of hope" that the Nativity of the Lord brings in a new and deeper way this year.

Because there is only so much multi-tasking I can handle without sacrificing my own peace and sanity, I'll be jumping off the grid for a few weeks and will return to blogging on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord - January 15, 2015. Please sign up for new posts so you don't miss anything when I return - I have some ideas for a series on the Blessed Mother entitled: Love Beyond all Telling as well as a book club to study Father Lawrence Lovasik's The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time and more.  In the meantime, I pray that you and your families enjoy a blessed Christmas season.

Enjoy this powerful video of Josh Groban's stirring rendition of O Holy Night, set to scenes from the Nativity Story. Have a tissue handy! 

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Worth Revisiting Wednesday: 7 Lessons From Pope Francis

Today the Holy Father, Pope Francis, celebrates his 78th birthday and in honor of that celebration, I'm joining up with Theology is a Verb and Reconciled to You for their Worth Revisiting Wednesday link-ups.  Head on over to visit them and be inspired by the awesome posts you read over there!  I loveboth Elizabeth and Allison's blogs and am always enriched by their writings - truly kindred spirits of mine.
This post was originally posted on March 14, 2014 in celebration of Pope Francis' one-year anniversary as Holy Father.
You are never above asking for prayer.

The very first lesson I learned from Pope Francis occurred just minutes after he appeared on the balcony on the day of his election. In a demonstration of utter humility, the new Pope asked the crowds for their prayers and then bowed his head and received those prayers. This was not a rhetorical question on his part. He both needed and sincerely desired the prayers of the people now entrusted to his care. As a Mom, I am often tempted to think that I need to have all the answers - to have it all together in front of my children. The reality that Pope Francis drove home to me in that moment, is that there is no one on this earth who is too exalted to need the prayers of others, even those of whom they have been chosen to lead. 

It's all about encountering Jesus.
Over and over again during this past year, Pope Francis has stressed the importance of "encountering" Jesus. In the encyclical Lumen Fidei, the Pope writes "Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love..." When asked what Christmas meant to him his answer was: "It is about an encounter with Jesus".  In a homily in September 2013 the Pope explained how this encounter takes place. "Know Jesus with the mind - the study of the Catechism: know Jesus with the heart - in prayer, in dialogue with Him. This helps us a good bit, but it is not enough. There is a third way to know Jesus: it is by following Him. Go with Him, walk with Him.” 

Keeping these three elements of encountering Jesus in balance is essential, but not always easy.  As a theology student, I spend a good deal of time studying about Jesus and the matters of faith. I have learned the hard way that if I devote all my time to study and neglect time in prayer and that active "walking" with the Lord that I become "disconnected" from Jesus.  How do I know this? I miss his presence. I feel an unrest within my heart. I long again for that intimacy with him. It is only in that encounter that my heart is satisfied. 

Celebrate your Baptism.
In an address to his Wednesday audience, the Pope did something a little unconventional - he gave an assignment to them: "And do not forget your homework today: find out, ask for the date of your Baptism. As I know my birthday, I should know my Baptism day, because it is a feast day." He went on to explain why he was asking everyone to celebrate the date of their Baptism: "The danger of not knowing is that we can lose awareness of what the Lord has done in us, the memory of the gift we have received. Thus, we end up considering it only as an event that took place in the past – and not by our own will but by that of our parents – and that it has no impact on the present. We must reawaken the memory of our Baptism. We are called to live out our Baptism every day as the present reality of our lives."

Ever the dutiful student, I took his assignment to heart and for the first time since that day, I celebrated my Baptism this year. Guess what?  The Pope is RIGHT!  Through seeking out the date of my Baptism and actually celebrating it - the reality of my Baptism is something that has come alive to me as never before. Thank you Pope Francis for homework! 

Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
I'm a bit of a control freak. And like most good control freaks, I don't like relinquishing the reins of my life to anyone. I have found in my spiritual journey, however, that the Holy Spirit often has different plans than I do. 

"The Holy Spirit can make people uncomfortable", Pope Francis said. "Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences."

The Holy Spirit has made me uncomfortable on more occasions that I care to count. Each time, yielding to that discomfort is a challenge. When I initially read the Holy Father's words I felt led to answer again the persistent question in my heart - Do I want to be comfortable? Or do I want to be docile? In fact, answering these questions needs to occur on a daily - even hour by hour basis. Through the gift of free will, I know that the Holy Spirit will never impose his plans for my life on me, but rather, he waits for my freely given "Yes". Yet, I also recognize that I cannot give up that desire for comfort and control without his help. And so my daily prayer is: "Lord, help me to trust the Holy Spirit  - help me to be comfortable being uncomfortable."

Embrace the grace of shame.
Pope Francis has spoke often during the past year about the Sacrament of Reconcilation - encouraging the faithful to frequent the sacrament.  He even tweeted about Confession calling the sacrament a "priviledged place of encountering Christ."

In my own life I have run the gamut of experiences with Confession, from joyfully frequenting the sacrament as a young child, to being absent from it for 20 years, to returning to it in an immature way, to finally seeing it as that privileged encounter with Christ that the Holy Father talks about. My prayer before Confession is often for the gift of honesty and transparency. In light of that prayer I truly appreciated the Pope's challenge to be as direct as possible in the sacrament - something that I find can be very daunting. "And we always have the tendency to hide the reality of our failings. But there is something beautiful: when we confess our sins as they are in the presence of God, we always feel that grace of shame. Being ashamed in the sight of God is a grace. It is a grace: ‘I am ashamed of myself."

I have never considered shame to be a grace. Yet, I know from my own experience, that it has been the times when I have directly and concretely confessed my most shameful sins that I have been able to experience the healing power of the Lord through the Sacrament of Confession most profoundly.  Thank you Papa, for teaching me that shame laid before Jesus' merciful love is a grace indeed.  

See the person before us.
Pope Francis seems to have a gift to be able to zero in on the person standing before him.  Video clip after video clip show him fully engaged with whomever he is speaking with at the time, no matter what is going on around him. It is evident that in that particular moment, that individual has his undivided attention. More than just paying attention to what they are saying, the Holy Father truly "sees" that person as they are - in the fullness of their dignity as a son or daughter of God.  

In the busyness of everyday life, I often fall into the trap of getting things done at the expense of really "seeing" the people I interact with. After a year of watching the beauty of these special moments with the Holy Father, I pray that I may imitate his ability to be fully present to the people that the Lord places before me and to see them as he sees them.  

It is a joy to be a Christian.
If I had to describe the greatest lesson I have learned from Pope Francis this past year I would sum it up in one small word: JOY! Not only does the Holy Father preach joy, he provides an example for the entire world of joy of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. In one short year, Pope Francis has captured the attention of the entire world by radiating "The Joy of the Gospel".

"The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew."

Read the following related posts:
"What's the Big Deal About the Pope Going to Confession"
Pope Francis' Do's and Don'ts of Mercy
Overcoming Careless Words

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Will the Real Santa Claus Please Stand Up?

Ever hear the expression "Truth is stranger than fiction"? When it comes to the lives of the saints, I would propose a few twists on that axiom:
  • Heroic virtue is stronger than superhero powers.
  • Eternal life is greater than worldly success.
  • Truth is more compelling than legend.
The Church celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. Perhaps no other saint's life in the history of the Church has been more superseded by a legend than his. When most people think of St. Nicholas, the image they have is of a jolly, white-bearded Santa Claus shimmying his way down the chimney, with a large sack of toys slung over his back. The fact is that St. Nicholas' life of deep faith in Jesus, heroic defense of the truth (did you know that St. Nicholas was an outspoken defender against Arius and the Arian heresy at the Council of Nicea in 325AD?), and a heart filled with charity and generosity paints a far more interesting and abiding role model than Coca-Cola's image of Santa ever could

Learn more about this unique saint's life, death, and powerful stories of his intercession and celebrate the real Santa Claus with your family this year. Here are a few resources to check out.

1.The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Benedictine Monk Anselm Grun is a beautifully illustrated story for children of all ages about St. Nicholas. The book recounts his life and miracles attributed to his intercession. It would make a great addition to any Advent Book Basket.

2. For teens and adults looking to delve more deeply into the life of St. Nicholas, check out Wonderworker: The True Story of How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus by Msgr. Vincent Yzermans. Msgr. Yzermans wrote this book for his great -nephew Nicholas. In it, he describes not only the life of St. Nicholas and the many miracles attributed to his intercession - he also describes the evolution of the modern Santa Claus. 

Msgr Yzermans includes this thought-provoking quote, from Robin Crichton, in the afterword of the book, in a letter written to his grand-nephew. As we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas it is worth pondering the message about this one-of-a-kind saint that we wish to transmit to our children. 
"Santa Claus is faced with an identity crisis. He is schizophrenic. Which of all his multiple personalities will triumph in Christmases to come? Generations after generations of families have introduced their children to the legends, in one guise or another. Santa has survived for over 1700 years. Now he has reached perhaps the biggest crisis of his career and, as in his past, so his future will be a reflection of the values of the society which we in ou turn create for the generations to come." 
3. The Saint Nicholas Center is a terrific resource chock full of all things related to St. Nicholas, including: history, how different cultural traditions have developed, games, recipes and other activities for the entire family!

Please note that this post contains Amazon affiliate links - which means that if you click through the link and make a purchase - my domestic church will receive a small commission. Woo-hoo! We greatly appreciate it!