Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Like Snowflakes Falling from the sky....

So when you are having a crabby day, and feel at odds with the entire world, doesn’t it drive you batty when someone cheerfully chirps something like “you should count your blessings” or “every cloud has a silver lining”? There are times when I don’t want to be cheered up… when I just want to wallow in self-pity. Admittedly, as I write this, I am in a good mood. So I’m looking at things from a “glass half full” view rather than a “glass half empty”. This year has not been without its challenges. Yet even during the worst moments, it wasn't hard to recognize that despite all the anxiety and troubles, there were many blessings as well. In realizing that, I have become much more aware of every day blessings… and am getting much better in counting them and being grateful for them!

Some of my recent blessings:

Our upcoming office move- something that nobody is happy about or looking forward to and have been somewhat resentful of! The reality is, however, that we’re not moving out of our building… we’re merely moving across the hall! Other colleagues have recently moved to another building on campus, and after visiting them, it was very apparent that we were very lucky to be able to stay in the building we’re currently in!

With Christmas just around the corner, my church has adopted several families. In order to make sure that the children in these families received things that they needed and would be happy with, volunteers call each family and usually speak to the Mom. Hearing the tearful relief, joy and gratitude from each Mom was incredible. Several told me that if it wasn’t for the members our church, their children wouldn’t have a Christmas. They went on to say how blessed they were to have been adopted by our church. Yet I felt that we were the ones who were blessed… because this entire experience made it very apparent that we are blessed to have the resources and ability to reach out and help others.

Then there are the tidbits of time spent with my Mother… whose dementia is taking her from us. Yet periodically she can be quite clear, proving that she still is with us! I loving making her laugh, and sharing with her about my day. She can still comfort… and sometimes she is clear enough to remember that we were upset or worried about something… and in her maternal way still offers us loving support and concern. This means more now than ever. I could spend time wishing that I had appreciated her more “back in the day”. Instead, these moments are gifts… and they pack quite a meaningful punch!

The holidays bring with them frantic, frenzied schedules which we are apt to complain about. We have to be here, we have to be there; there is so much to get done and it seems never ending and at times impossible. It can be overwhelming. Yet hearing about others who have no one to spend Christmas with… or others whose families are spread around the globe, making it impossible to be together, make it very obvious that the fact that we can be with our families is a huge blessing that should not be taken for granted.

Our washing machine has been broken for some time. Eventually we’ll get around to repairing it… but I've learned that even though it’s a nuisance, going to the Laundromat and getting 4 loads of laundry done in less than two hours is pretty awesome!

This doesn't even cover the myriad of blessings that cross our paths every day, like snowflakes falling from the sky… too many to count, too many to recognize. Blessings like:

The wave of a friend from across the street * The snoring of three peacefully sleeping Newfs * The laughter of a baby in a restaurant * A message from a long lost friend on Facebook *A smile from a stranger * A student holding the door open when you have your hands full * Find gas for a ridiculously low price * Heat * Electricity * A good boss * A job * Driving around a night looking at Christmas lights * Chickadees greeting me each morning * The hoot of an owl at night * Starry Skies *

Again, there are so many that it’s impossible to list them all. No matter how big or how little a blessing may seem, the impact is the same. To know that we are blessed means so much. The important thing is awareness. Look for them. It’s not really that hard. And when you come across one, cherish it and then be sure to give thanks!

In closing, here is a prayer of thanksgiving that I found online (click here) :

For all You have given,

Thank You God.

For all You have withheld,

Thank You God.

For all You have withdrawn,

Thank You God.

For all You have permitted,

Thank You God.

For all You have prevented,

Thank You God.

For all You have forgiven me,

Thank You God.

For all You have prepared for me,

Thank You God.

For the death You have chosen for me,

Thank you God.

For the place you are keeping for me in heaven,

Thank You God.

For having created me to love You for eternity,

Thank You God.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Gaudete Sunday

Happy Third Week of Advent, also known as "Gaudete Sunday". On this day, we are to Rejoice, because the Lord is Near! Our hearts should be filled with Joy as we prepare for the coming of the Lord!

"Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thes.5: 16 - 24

Some may say "easier said than done...". And considering all the hustle and bustle of the season, that's understandable. Yet to have joyous, meaningful Christmas celebration, it's imperative to prepare for the way of the lord. It's imperative to set aside time for reflection and thanksgiving... for contrition, and yes, for rejoicing that the Lord is near! It is for this reason that the candle for the 3rd week of Advent is rose colored. This symbolizes joy in anticipation of the coming of Christ.

Of course this isn't always easy to do! We're all under an immense amount of pressure at this time of year. I am blessed in that I love being with my families. Yet there is still stress. For me the stress is the lack of time. It seems that we are always rushing. We hurry up to get somewhere, only to start watching the clock so that we're not late to the next place on our schedule. This is ridiculous! It's more important to be "present" and enjoy the company of the people we're with. Everything will get done... it always does. So stressing about it is a waste of time.

I have an 'app' on my Facebook page called "Message from God". Each day I receive a different message. Yesterday's message read:

"On this day of your life, Annie, we believe God wants you to know ... that a soft answer turns away wrath. When everyone around you seems to be in bad spirits, bickering and complaining, take a step back. It's so easy to answer in kind, but instead feel into your heart and answer gently. Let peace radiate from you."

What a beautiful reminder of 'how to be'. Practicing this in times of stress and clock-watching would be so awesome.. and would enable me to have a much nicer, peaceful celebration with my loved ones. After all, this is a season to Rejoice and not a season for anxiety and strife!

In closing, I'd like to share with you this wonderful video about the 3rd week of Advent:

May God bless each and every one of you. It is my prayer that all who read this have a joyous and blessed Christmas season.


Monday, December 05, 2011

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas! As a child, my family never celebrated St. Nicholas day. I remember hearing about some of our friends who did, and feeling envious of them. And in childlike wisdom, who wouldn't want to wake up to a stocking full of goodies on the morning? It was like a preview to all the toys and gifts we were going to receive on Christmas morning! I thought that St. Nicholas Day seemed to be a good idea! It would be a way to "tide us over"! Of course, in reflecting on the absence of participation in the Feast of St. Nicholas traditions, it's obvious at how secular my family's celebration has always been! After boldly suggesting that perhaps we should celebrate this, my Mother replied that it was a "Catholic thing", and since we weren't Catholic, then we didn't "do" St. Nicholas day.

So, ok. We weren't Catholic, and in reality I was probably past the age of believing that Santa really came down our chimney. Yet I still embraced the magic of Christmas. Curiously, when I learned that sad truth, my Mother sat me on her lap and explained about "the spirit of Santa

Claus" and how he really did exist, but that Mommy's and Daddy's helped him out. And once Christmas morning came, and there were still presents under the tree, any anxiety I felt evaporated. And while these are warm memories... and this time of my life was filled with joy, love and laughter, I see now that I missed out on so much... missed out on celebrating the birth of the Christ Child- the true reason for celebrating!

I discovered that there are many different customs for St. Nicholas Day. I read on the Fisheater's Website that

"Today is, for many Catholics, the day for gift-giving (some do this on Christmas, some do this on the Feast of the Epiphany in memory of the gifts the 3 Kings gave to Baby Jesus, and some spread the gift-giving out on all these days). In some places, especially in the Eastern Catholic churches, "St. Nicholas," dressed as a Bishop, will show up and hand out presents to the little ones, and children put their shoes in front of the fireplace to be filled with candy and presents by morning. Because coins are one of the many symbols of St. Nicholas, chocolate coins are a perfect thing to put in the childrens' shoes. One can use Christmas stockings instead of shoes, or one can buy adult-sized wooden shoes, paint and decorate them, and bring them out for use just on St. Nicholas's Day.

In any case, an icon -- even a nice Holy Card -- of St. Nicholas should be visible today if at all possible. Surround it with greenery and candles, and tell your children the story of the Saint Nicholas behind the "Santa Claus."

On St. Nicholas's Feast Day, it is customary to serve Speculaas cookies, a spicy Dutch cookie, cut into shapes relevant to the life of St. Nicholas (coins, mitres, ships, balls, money bags), and painted with colorful icing"

I also found an compelling blog, written by Father Steve Grunow which examines the constant struggle between Christians and Secularists. Click here to read: St. Nicholas and the War against Christmas.

And finally, just who was St. Nicholas? Check out this video that tells the true story of Santa Claus:

2nd Week of Advent

Happy 2nd Week of Advent. The Gospel from this week:

Gospel Mk 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths."
John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel's hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
"One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Amen

Pope Benedict as asked: “As we prepare for Christmas, it is important that we find time for self-contemplation and carry out an honest assessment of our lives."

I know in my heart of hearts that this is always a good thing to do... it's cleansing, it's uplifting and it's healthy. So with all these wonderful benefits, why does it make me uncomfortable? Just the fact that it does tells me that I need to get busy!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Be Not Afraid - St. Louis Jesuits & Bob Dufford, S.J.

Praying thanks for this Morning, turning my back on the darkness of night towards the light of day, the light of hope, the light of life and love.... All of which are the light of God!

It amuses me at times when I realize what a slow learner I am! I'm not necessarily slow all the time, but it seems that when learning some of life's important lessons, I'm horrifically slow! I've even blogged about this before, so one would think that I'd get it.... that I wouldn't continue to fail. The failure I'm speaking of is not epic... it's merely a result of being human, of being weak.

I recently heard or read (and Lord knows I wish I could remember the exact words) that to worry, is to sin. Those words made me sit up and take notice. Upon closer look however, I wonder... at these times, and I really worrying... or is my conscience speaking to me? My gut tells me the right answer is a combination of the two.

When my conscience is bothering me, I often wake up in the darkest point of night and begin to fret. The darkness of the night seems to nurture the anxiety, and I am soon in the clutches of panic and fear. At these times it's hard for me to remember to as God for help. I do pray... and usually fall into a restless sleep, relieved to hear the alarm and to "get away" from my anxious thoughts. And during these times, when I'm out with the dogs... I find comfort in looking to the eastern skies, where a beautiful pink glow is forming. The sun is rising... and soon the darkness has faded and the light of a new day gives me hope. The symbolism is obvious... the relief and comfort are real.

I recently read: "The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us the need to trust in God in our troubles, to pray humbly, without presumption but with hope, and not to give up when the answer doesn't seem to come."

From "The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2830 "Our bread": The Father who gives us life cannot not but give us the nourishment life requires - all appropriate goods and blessings, both material and spiritual. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists on the filial trust that cooperates with our Father's providence. He is not inviting us to idleness, but wants to relieve us from nagging worry and preoccupation. Such is the filial surrender of the children of God: To those who seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, he has promised to give all else besides. Since everything indeed belongs to God, he who possesses God wants for nothing, if he himself is not found wanting before God."

From the New Testament: Matthew 6:25-27 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

Gary Zimak writes in "Does God Want Us To Worry?": "One of the most difficult problems that we must deal with in our earthly life is fear. We are anxious about many things and spend a lot of time worrying, often about events over which we have no control. In his initial speech as Holy Father, Pope John Paul II repeated the phrase “Be Not Afraid” three times. "

Which reminds me of one of my favorite hymns: "Be Not Afraid". Here are the lyrics of "Be Not Afraid" followed by a video:

You shall cross the barren desert,
but you shall not die of thirst.
You shall wander far in safety,
though you do not know the way.

You shall speak your words in foreign lands,
and all will understand,
You shall see the face of God and live.

Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I shall give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters
in the sea, you shall not drown.
If you walk amidst the burning flames,
you shall not be harmed.

If you stand before the pow’r of hell
and death is at your side,
know that I am with you, through it all

Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I shall give you rest.

Blessed are your poor,
for the Kingdom shall be theirs.
Blest are you that weep and mourn,
for one day you shall laugh.

And if wicked men insult and hate you, all because of Me,
blessed, blessed are you!

Be not afraid,
I go before you always,
Come follow Me,
and I shall give you rest.


Forgive me for my weaknesses... for my propensity for worry. Please lift me up, make me stronger so that I can be a better child of God...


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Silent Monks Singing Halleluia

Someone just sent me a link to this video, and it's wonderful. I wanted to share with you on my blog!

Happy First Week of Advent!

Advent has arrived.... along with the long awaited and often dreaded changes to the Roman Missal! I wondered to myself if Advent would get lost in the midst of big change. Our parish prepared us, and my impression, happily, was that the arrival was not lost. We had cards in our pews to help us along with the changes to the Mass. The Advent wreath was set up, and beautifully so on the altar. There was another beautiful outdoor Advent wreath, in front of the church, its first candle lighted! We had set up the giving tree in the front vestibule of the lobby early Saturday morning. So yes, Advent is here. And with it comes the question, what are we to do next?

We are to watch and wait, and prepare for the coming of the Christ Child! I love Advent. Until my faith journey began 5 years or so ago, I never understood the significance of Advent. After learning about Advent, and taking time each day for prayer, and reading of the Scriptures, and for reflection, I have been spiritually ready for Christmas. I have been able to embrace the true spirit of Christmas! Of course, the secular hoopla still exists, and still demands my time. And while I used to embrace that side of Christmas, it pales in comparison to the true reason of the season... the coming of the Christ Child... the coming of our Salvation!

Below are excerpts from an article entitled "History of the Advent Wreath by Fr. William Sanders." (Click here to read the entire article)

"The Advent wreath is part of our long-standing Catholic tradition. However, the actual origins are uncertain. There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of Spring. In Scandinavia during Winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.

By the Middle Ages, the Christians adapted this tradition and used Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. After all, Christ is “the Light that came into the world” to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God (cf. John 3:19-21). By 1600, both Catholics and Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath.

The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. The wreath is made of various evergreens, signifying continuous life. Even these evergreens have a traditional meaning which can be adapted to our faith: The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew, immortality; and cedar, strength and healing. Holly also has a special Christian symbolism: The prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, and one English legend tells of how the cross was made of holly. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. Any pine cones, nuts, or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolize life and resurrection. All together, the wreath of evergreens depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, who entered our world becoming true man and who was victorious over sin and death through His own passion, death, and resurrection.

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. A tradition is that each week represents one thousand years, to sum to the 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Birth of the Savior. Three candles are purple and one is rose. The purple candles in particular symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and goods works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when the priest also wears rose vestments at Mass; Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when their preparation is now half over and they are close to Christmas. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead."

In closing, I'd like to share with you this prayer I found:

"Advent Wreath Prayer for the First Week of Advent”

Bestir, O Lord, Thy might, we pray thee and come; that, defended by Thee, we may deserve rescue from approaching dangers brought on by our sins, and being set free by Thee, obtain our salvation. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.


Have a glorious Advent!