Monday, December 31, 2007

Quotable Monday

"Aw, that's not fair, getting a head start on everyone. It's not New Year's yet."

-Some guy standing in his driveway, as I jogged past him last week

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A clean toddler?

I've been noticing a funny habit of my little boy: he really likes to be clean. When he is eating something messy (which he mostly does with his fingers), he'll often hold out his hands to me once or twice during the meal because he wants them wiped clean. Today we went to the park and he fell down on the damp sand, and "complained" to me that it was on his hands. I was sitting on a bench about 10 feet away, and instead of pushing himself back to standing, he dragged his knees all the way through the sand to me and used my legs as a prop to pull himself up. All to avoid putting his hands back in the sand, at least in my thinking. Oh, and when he finally stood up and saw that the toes of his shoes were covered in sand, he pointed and whimpered. Just once, and then he went back to playing.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Mysteries on Christmas

I heard a priest say something I'd never thought about the other day at Mass. He mentioned the parallel between the mysteries of God becoming flesh as baby Jesus, and God becoming flesh in the Eucharist. Both are just that; mysteries. If you've ever pondered how Jesus could possibly be both completely human and completely God, then you understand that it's a mystery. And if you've ever stared at a blessed host and wondered how exactly it has become the flesh of Christ when it appears to be just flour and whatever else those things are made of, then you understand that mystery.

I just thought the priest made a nice point, and one I will probably think about in the years to come, especially at Christmas. Like any great work of literature, God has inserted some nice parallels into His story that make it all the more enjoyable for us, as well as more easily navigable. And I for one, am appreciative.

Merry Christmas everyone! I wish you joy in celebrating the mystery of Christ's birth today!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Quotable Monday

"My only purpose is to challenge the opinions of those philosophers who, while admitting that there is a God ho concerns himself with human affairs, clam that, since the worship of this one unchangeable God is not sufficient to attain happiness even after death, lesser gods, admittedly created and directed by this supreme God, should also be reverenced."

- Saint Augustine, City of God, Book VIII ch.1

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Easter & Christmas go together

I'm still hung up on Advent, I can't stop thinking about it. What I've been mulling over lately is the connection between Easter and Christmas.

Christmas isn't truly significant if we don't believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate on Easter. If we don't believe Christ gave himself up for us on the cross to save us from eternal separation from him, otherwise known as hell, then his birth is nothing more than a quaint story. Secular culture tries to make Christmas important by gift-giving and eating and getting together with friends and family, but the reason to do these things are dictated by a mere date on the calendar, as well as tradition. No, Christmas doesn't really make sense unless we believe in Easter.

The thing that has really been sinking in is that because of these reasons, Christmas is not the highest holy day of the Liturgical year-- Easter is. Christmas is only the beginning of the greatest story ever told....Easter is the end of it, the grand finale in which God fully reveals himself to us.

But Christmas gets all the attention! And I don't know what to do about it, exactly. Shall I deflate my 'Christmas spirit' in the name of being Christlike? Christmas has always been the big deal holiday, the only one that's so important I will get on an airplane to be with family. This isn't a bad thing, is it? But what do I do at Easter to celebrate that compares?

I'm grateful that I have experienced Easter as a Catholic, because Easter was profoundly different for me this year having observed Lent before hand. Easter didn't suddenly appear unannounced, I had been preparing for it for 40 days. Instead of coaxing some joy out of myself over Christ's resurrection, I couldn't help but feeling joyful. I wanted to throw a big party on Easter. It felt wrong not to.

I've been thinking of Advent as a mini-Lent, but it doesn't feel remotely the same. There are no jangly commercials to make me desperate for a remote with a mute button during Lent, there is nothing on my 'to do' list save 'get right with God', there is no planned overeating. Lent makes me think of a clean chalkboard, and December a cork board overflowing with push-pins and papers. These invasions are not Advent itself, but they make Advent harder to observe. So shall I dispense with them all? Shall I never throw a Christmas party? Not set foot in the mall?

I'm just looking for some balance here - a way to make the secular embellishments of Christmas more toned-down so I can sit down and have time to ponder my position relative to God. I don't want to go so far as to say that Christmas should be strictly celebrated at Church and in the heart, because it is a day worthy of rejoicing, and part of that is adding our human embellishments - feasting, visiting, a little extravagance here and there. That's just the way we do things on planet earth, and I think God understands...and perhaps there should be some more of that at my house on Easter.

I guess all I can say at this point is that I am really, really looking forward to Lent and Easter. This mini-Lent of Advent is making me crave the real thing.

If you have any thoughts or ideas on how to properly celebrate Advent, Christmas, or Easter, please share them!

Looking for Advent

I've been scrambling to understand Advent this year because the Catholic Church celebrates it differently than what I've been exposed to...and secular culture provides absolutely no clues on how to live the Advent season. This is my second Advent as a Catholic, but I don't know where my head was last year. I remember my husband telling me that Advent was a season of penance, but I didn't really understand. All my ideas of Christmas were joyful ones--'penitential' had not entered my consciousness.

I've been doing research online on Advent, but where better to answer my questions than the Catechism? "When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor's birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: "He must increase, but I must decrease." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 525)

Of course Advent is a season of penance, then: whenever I anticipate Jesus' second coming, I am humbled because I fear I am not ready to meet him face to face... or at least as ready as I'd like to be. The other thing that has been made clear to me is that Advent is NOT the 'Christmas season'. Traditionally, Christmas starts on Dec. 25th and goes until Epiphany on Jan. 6th. Yes, Christmas is celebrated for 12 days! But not until it's actually Christmas. I've noticed that Catholic churches usually do not decorate their sanctuaries until the 3rd Sunday in Advent (which is a joyful day), or they wait until Christmas Eve. Now I understand. How am I supposed to be in penitential mode when everything has a strictly festive air?

Most American Christians seem to have lost the tradition of Advent being a time of penance; instead 'anticipation' of Christmas is stressed during Advent, or it isn't celebrated at all. So it's been a little hard to find out what Advent has meant traditionally, but I want to understand it because Advent is a liturgical season and I have loved living by the liturgical calendar since I became Catholic. To me, the liturgical calendar beautifully unfolds the drama of the story of God's love for man each year. The Catechism says "...the Church, especially during Advent and Lent and above all at the Easter Vigil, re-reads and re-lives the great events of salvation history in the "today" of her liturgy"(CCC 1195). Doing this carves out specific ways to participate in the 'history' of salvation. There are times dedicated to fasting and self-examination, there are times of joyful celebration. Living by the liturgical calendar is a wonderful way to be deliberate about living a well-rounded spirituality, and Advent is a part of this.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Quotable Monday

"I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely."

-From the novel "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer prize for fiction

Friday, December 7, 2007

Something awesome happened

Something awesome happened this week. My husband and I were at the abortion clinic praying, and a couple about to get an abortion changed their minds and left.

This happens with some regularity, but I hadn't seen it happen yet. What happened was that there was a Hispanic couple standing at the door with a translator, waiting to get inside. Entrance into the clinic is very controlled, so often people have to stand outside and wait, during which time one of the pro-life folks gets on the small PA system and starts talking to them. For the first time, my husband took the mic because he can speak Spanish, and he started talking to this couple and would not stop...they were outside for a really, really long time.

All praise and honor for their turnaround goes to God! But still, I am proud of my husband for not putting down the microphone, for not being ashamed of his limited Spanish. One less baby condemned to the trash heap! Please pray for this couple, and consider participating in the pro-life movement going on outside abortion clinics across the US, because it does make a difference.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Suffering for the Gospel

I've been reading some of the early Church fathers, and it has struck me how they seemed to view persecution, even to the point of death, as something to rejoice in. It makes me think of persecution as a symptom of being a true follower of Jesus...something you would be glad to endure because it would prove you were a Christian. Here are the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, 3rd bishop of Antioch, in his Letter to the Romans:

"I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God's sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg of you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God's wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ." (The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. I, The Liturgical Press 1970)

Now there is a man with some conviction! I've been wondering how I would respond in such a situation, and it has made me realize how much I flee from 'persecution', which, for me today means shying away from being vocal about my beliefs because I want to be liked. Be liked, or follow Jesus--the choice should be a no-brainer! Maybe you think I have been vocal about my beliefs on this blog, but it's hard for me when I am face to face with someone that I know needs Jesus, but has rejected him.

I came across this amazing prayer, the Litany of Humility, that I have started praying as an antidote to my desire to be likable to everyone. It is very hard to pray, it is very unnatural to pray, but I love the ideas in it and I want to share it:

Litany of Humility

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,
deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,

From the fear of being humiliated,
deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That in the opinion of the world,
others may increase, and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should.

-Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Prayer in the Church

I've taken these comments to 'On Mary' and posted my response here because it was so long...

As to why I think Catholics devalue the prayers of earthly people I have two thoughts. First, it seems that if you thought YOUR prayers were of value why would you spend all that time asking Mary or another saint in heaven to pray for you? Why don't you just approach God yourself instead of asking the saint to do it?

Second, in my admittedly limited experience, I've only heard Catholics pray from a book. Maybe I've forgotten something but what I remember of any Mass I've been to is that all the prayers were read as opposed to what I would call "prayers of the heart". That would seem to give the hearers the impression that the only prayers worthy of God's attention were those with perfect grammar, beautiful phrases and quotes from a Saint. How would the average person be able to match that?

This isn't meant to be critical, but an honest question. Are Catholics taught how to pray from their heart, or do they always have to get out a book and read someone else's prayer or say a memorized prayer? In other words, do the priests, or whoever prays in public, ever NOT use a book, do they model prayers from the heart?

my response:
Why would I ‘spend all that time asking Mary of another saint in heaven to pray’ for me? Because I’d like to have as many people praying for me as possible, and because it’s extremely easy to ask a saint to pray for me, whereas to ask you to pray for me I have to get a hold of you by phone or email. Why do we ask anyone to pray for us when we can just pray to God ourselves? Imagine this: what if you were in a bad situation where no one knew where you were-say your car had gone off a cliff and you were trapped in it. Of course you would pray to God, but would it not also feel good to ask a saint to pray for you as well, and to know that a (former) human being was praying for you at that very moment and knew exactly what had happened? Or think of a martyr in prison, alone and staring death in the face. I think it would be extremely comforting to invoke the names of the saints, especially the ones who had also been martyred. It would make me feel far from alone, I would be far from alone. And this is not an either/or situation – I don’t ask a saint to pray for me OR pray to God myself, I can do both.

I don’t think you really mean to say that written prayers are not ‘prayers from the heart’, but I know what you mean – the first time I went to Mass in high school it seemed wooden and fake because it all came from a book. But this is not how it is- I was wrong. Think of how personally prayerful reading an ancient prayer in Psalms can be – how someone says something that is so stunning and true about God, and you realize it is your own prayer as well. ‘Beautiful phrases’ should be included in our collective worship times.

And on book prayers: As far as hearing goes, weekend Mass prayers said out loud are all from a book. During the week, priests usually invite unscripted prayer from the parishioners during one portion of the Mass. I’m not sure why prayer is mostly written. Perhaps it is because the Church is wrapped up in beauty, and written prayers are beautiful, perhaps it is because there was no gap of hundreds or thousands of years b/t Judaism and Catholic Christianity (I’m guessing Jews read a lot of prayers at temple). Most likely, Mass is a collective experience, and praying the same prayers emphasizes the unity of the Church – 1 billion Catholics the world over are united by praying the same prayers. But as far as praying on the whole, Mass is full of both kinds of prayer,- ‘prayer from the heart’ as you call it and ‘book prayers’. Mass is intensely prayerful. I could tell this immediately the second time I went to Mass. I’m confident I have never prayed as many ‘from the heart’ prayers during any Protestant church service as I regularly do during Mass. Visualize what you would see before Mass begins – people kneeling in personal prayer. Visualize what you would see while the Eucharist is being distributed, and after – the same. Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist requires much self-reflection, and inspires much adoration before, during, and after. While a priest does not neccesarily model unscripted prayer, you cannot help but say your own words to God at Mass.

You speak of the imbalance of Catholics preferring written prayers, this may be true, and may need correcting (apart from Mass). But we need both types of prayers, and I could easily criticize Protestants for not praying enough written prayers. If you never pray written prayers, you are missing out. Reading prayers is not just ‘reading’ them – it’s praying them! Written prayers are hands down the best antidotes to two common problems when it comes to personal prayer; mind wandering and spiritual dryness. What if you are bored with prayer? What if you feel you have nothing to say to God? Praying a written prayer will give you something to say, and will remind you that there is always something to say to God. I like what Peter Kreeft has to say about formal prayer:

“It is as natural to pray others’ prayers as to sing others’ songs. For when we do, 1we make them our own. We should not merely recite these prayers; we pray them. We do not “say our prayers”; we pray. We need others’ prayers for the same reason we needed the help of walking when we were infants learning to walk. We are only spiritual infants. “Religion is a crutch” indeed, and we need it because we are cripples. Others’ beautiful prayers are beautiful crutches to help us walk.” (Catholic Christianity, 2001 Ignatius Press, p384)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Quotable Monday

I'm dubbing Mondays 'quotable Mondays' because wouldn't you like to read something inspiring now and then...instead of well, what I write? So here we go:

"Morality is always terribly complicated-to a man who has lost all his principles."

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936, English writer, eventual Catholic)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's Advent

I've been wondering lately how to impress upon booga bear a sense of excitement over Christmas apart from presents and cookies. I want him to understand that Christmas is primarily a celebration of God coming to earth in the form of baby Jesus. I want him to understand that the good things we celebrate at Christmas - family, peace, abundance- are not honored on a whim, but would not be so apart from God.

I have a few basic ideas, but nothing spectacular on how to impart wonder over the miracle of Jesus' birth; celebrating Advent at home, reading the Christmas story from the Bible, giving just a few gifts, etc. I hope that by trying to be intentional each year, the message will be sent. Kids are sponges, imitating what they see being done around them, so I guess a big part of it will just be making sure my own attitudes about Christmas are ones I would be proud to see in my child. I need to make sure that I'm excited about gift-giving over gift-getting, that I treat Advent as a time to spiritually prepare for Christmas, and that I myself am behaving in a way that honors Jesus' birth.

Having kids is certainly a good reality check.