Advent Thoughts – Be Vigilant

 

I apologize, I haven’t been writing much at this blog lately.  Things have been pretty busy and my focus has been elsewhere.  I’m hoping to get back to a more consistent blogging schedule soon.

 

In today’s Gospel, Luke says in 21:34-36

 

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.  For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.  Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

 

I heard this at Mass this morning and it just struck me.  How often am I too distracted by what is going on at home or work or society in general to pay attention to the spiritual?  I get distracted by Facebook, Twitter, running, house chores, diet, reading, all sorts of things and I don’t take the time to quietly meditate on my relationship with God.

 

I think it becomes even more apparent at Christmas.  Father Jason said this morning (paraphrasing) that in the “world” it’s already Christmas, and that by the time December 25th gets here, everyone’s tired of it.  But for Christians who have been paying attention to the meaning behind the season, December 25th is the celebration – we are in a period of waiting.  Waiting for the birth of Christ the King.  We need to be vigilant for ways to watch for Christ’s blessing during this busy time.

 

This year, my husband and I are trying to get all of our gift-buying done early.  Typically, we don’t start decorating for Christmas until after my birthday and I’d like to have all of our purchases done by then as well this year.  I really want to focus my girls on the true meaning of Christmas and taking the time to sit with them and talk about Advent.  They see the Advent wreath at Mass, but they don’t know the meanings.  I will confess – I don’t truly know them as well.  I want to make this season special for them and start creating traditions – now that they are old enough to understand.

 

I need to be vigilant.  I need to watch for those gifts that are presented to me as I go throughout my day.  I need to make sure I spend time communing with God, even beyond this season.  I need to make sure my heart does not become overwhelmed by daily life.

 

How will you be vigilant this Advent?

 

“The Forgiven Duke” – A Great Story Continues…

I read “The Guardian Duke” a few months ago and LOVED it.  I really wanted to read the sequel.  Thankfully, the sequel did not disappoint. “The Guardian Duke” left off with Alex and John sailing off to Iceland while Gabriel watched, unable to do anything.

However, since he is the Duke of St. Easton and has resources available to him that others may not, he is able to figure out what needs to be done.  He decides that it doesn’t matter what the Prince Regent wants, he is going after Alexandra, and will put his resources at her disposal to find her parents.

Throughout this book, Gabriel’s wants are subverted at various times and by various factions.  He is constrained by family, duty, rivals, and his deafness.  One of the most beautiful things in this book is how Gabriel comes to deal with his deafness.  The lights that he saw in the first book continue in the second, and play a huge role in allowing him to become “accepting” of his disability.  He also comes to realize that the only thing he needs to rely on is God, and that also helps him accept his shortcomings.

Often in Regency fiction, dukes are shown as infallible and proud.  Gabriel certainly starts out in that fashion, but this book really makes him more human.  His story is very interesting, especially given the fact that he is trying to act as though he can still hear, and this is before sign language.

Another interesting plot in this book is the story of John and Alexandra.  She is still captivating and caring, but she begins to realize how some relationships feel right and others don’t…even if they started out feeling right.  I did not like John’s character, there just seems to be something “off” about him.  The interaction between Alexandra and John feels wrong.  The relationship is resolved during the course of the book, but I don’t want to give away the ending.

Something to look forward to in book 3 – there is news of Alexandra’s parents in this book and I can’t wait to see how the journey turns out.

I was provided with a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Pope Benedict on Lent and Renewing My Faith

Quote

Lent is a time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments.
-Pope Benedict XVI

I know this is a little late, with Lent ending today, but I was going through some old email and came across this quote.  While Lent offers the opportunity to renew our faith, especially with new members coming into the church on Easter Vigil, the renewal of one’s faith shouldn’t be confined to one 40-day period of the year.

To me, renewing my faith is a continual process.  I am always trying to learn more about my religion and deepen my faith in God.  There is just so much I feel I don’t know.  I want to understand, and in order for me to grow in my faith, I need to continually seek out answers to my questions.  Luckily, my parish is blessed with 2 priests and a religious sister who are available to answer questions.

A community of believers plays a huge part in renewing and deepening one’s faith.  Those fellow believers allow you to have support when you doubt, strength when you fall, and prayer when you struggle.  I am lucky that I have several friends who are also “seekers” in their faith journey, and they are also available to answer questions, or to hold my hand as I try new(ish) experiences.

For me, knowing that the Mass has been celebrated for the last 2,000 years, and that it is in mostly the same format throughout the world each Sunday helps me to strengthen my connections to other believers.  Knowing that there is a body of Catholics celebrating the same sacraments I do gives me a sense of continuity to the earliest Christians.

I am trying better to live by Christ’s example and to follow the teachings of my Church.  There were too many years when I was away from the Church, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I don’t necessarily like who I became during those years, so my challenge is to bring myself back to where I was – and I can do that by renewing my faith each day.

What is Your Prayer?

Quote

“For me, prayer is a movement of the heart; it is a simple glance toward Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus. . . . I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers…. I do like a child who does not know how to read; I say very simply to God what I want to say, and He always understands me.”

– St Therese of Lisieux

Welcoming Others at the Lord’s Table

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about our parish’s hospitality.  In my view, we have come a long way in the last few years.  Our Welcoming Committee greets each of our new members.  Our Hospitality Ministers greet parishioners as they enter and leave the church.  But with a parish of 1200 families, it’s hard to get to everyone, or even make everyone happy.  But if everyone tries to be friendly to those around them, attitudes can be changed.

At one of our recent adult education classes, the phrase “open table fellowship” was used.  It made me think….When we celebrate Mass, we are coming to the Lord’s table to share in the body and blood of Christ.  At His table, all are welcome – none are turned away.  So why do we turn away from our fellow diners without a word of welcome?  Just as we invite our friends, family, and neighbors into our homes and seat them around our table with words of welcome and thanksgiving, so we should welcome our fellow parishioners as we all gather at the Lord’s table.

So I challenge everyone to be more welcoming to those you meet.  A smile, a handshake, a simple “Hello” can go a long way to being a hospitable parish.  Hospitality can increase our membership and make those who may have been away from the Church for a while feel welcomed back.

Searching for Meaning

What does the Mass mean to you?  To some, coming church is what they are expected to do at Christmas and Easter.  To others, it’s where they go on Sundays because that’s what they’ve always done.  Yet to others, coming to church is a way to be a member of a living, breathing entity that has existed for over 2,000 years.  There’s no right answer to this question, because a person can have each one of those opinions at different times in their life.

The Catholic Church is all of the above.  It is a body of worshippers who come together to celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  It is a venue for fellowship and socializing.  It is a place to go when you are seeking answers.  It is a family brought together by a common purpose, a common faith.

The central point of our mass is the Eucharist.  To Catholics everywhere, the Eucharist and wine are the body and blood of Christ – it’s not a symbol – it is Christ’s gift to us every time Mass is celebrated.  It’s part of what unites us as Catholics.  Our mass is where we come together.  We gather with our friends, family, and neighbors.  We are joined by the communion of saints to proclaim our unity with each other and to share in the Eucharistic feast at the Lord’s table.

Sister Cheryl is leading a book study on Ron Rohlheiser’s book Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist.  It’s an easy read and discusses the author’s journey in discovering what the Eucharist means to him.  I have found it to be a very powerful book and it has given me many opportunities to think and to figure out my relationship with the Eucharist.

I have been on my own journey to rediscover/reaffirm/understand my faith.  I’m in no way perfect, or an expert on how someone should go about doing this.  However, I have a questioning spirit and am always seeking answers.  I have been attending the classes offered by our parish staff during this Lenten season.  These classes have afforded me the opportunity to learn about the beginnings of the Catholic Church, the mysteries of our faith that I didn’t learn earlier in life (or learned and have forgotten), and the opportunity to talk to other members of the parish who are willing to share their knowledge and experiences.  This is invaluable to me.

My challenge to myself is to truly ponder what the Eucharist means in my life.  I am trying to take the time to think about the beauty and history reflected in our Mass, and to think about what the Church (as an organization, as a body of worshippers, as a faith) means to me.

I invite others to join me on this journey.  Learn everything you can.  Ask the questions you need to when you are unsure.  Become involved – attend classes, discover adoration, come to Communal Penance.

“At Last. At Last. I’m Home At Last.”

At church on Sunday, one of the points in the homily was an exercise Fr. Joseph had completed in college.  It was what each individual wanted to have written on their tombstone.  He said that one classmate wanted “Found a cure for cancer”; another wanted “Visited all the countries in the world”; and a third wanted “At Last. At Last. I’m Home At Last”.  The ensuing homily centered around the notion of “home”.

I got to thinking about my home.  I have had several in my life.  Homes that I lived in with my parents, homes I shared with my husband, places that felt like home, even though I didn’t live there.  When you are away from home, it is a struggle to to feel centered – to have a place that you can go to and be accepted, a place that is a refuge.

Lately I have been thinking that (re)finding my faith is like finding a home.  The Church has always been a constant in my life – even when I was away from it.  It was always in the back of my mind and heart.  Even though I came back a few years ago, I wasn’t really back.  I had issues that I needed to address.  But through the combination of various people I have met, the priests in my parish, and the reflection I have been doing, I think I have begun to find my way home….home to the faith community that means so much to me; that has meant so much to my family; that has allowed me to experience the beauty of the Mass again.

I had a priest tell me yesterday that “God is easy, it’s the people that make things difficult”.  I think that helped solidify my notion of home.  I know that I have a home in my faith, in my belief of God.  I also know that I have a home on earth with those who love me and with those who support me.  My home isn’t necessarily limited by the four walls holding up my house, but it is built by the hearts and hands that are there to hold me up when I am struggling.  To those people, I say thank you.

Being Watchful During Advent

In the readings for the first Sunday of Advent, we were admonished to “be watchful”.

  • Be watchful for Jesus. 
  • Be watchful for opportunities to minister to others. 
  • Be watchful for others ministering to us. 
  • Be watchful for the movement of the Holy Spirit

Be watchful for Jesus.  To Christians, we are in a perpetual season of Advent, waiting for the coming of Christ. This is amplified annually during the Christmas season as we wait for the birth of the Christ-child. Our readings, our reflections are about watching…watching those around us for the joy of the season.

I am seeing this daily in our home. This is the first Christmas that our youngest actually understands that there’s something going on. She is sooo excited about Christmas – sure, it’s the excitement of Santa and of getting gifts, but she is enthralled by everything Christmas-related. She was so happy to help me set up our small Nativity scene the other night. We talked about each piece and what they were. Now whenever she walks by it, she says that it’s her “special thing” that she did with Mommy. For her, Advent is taking “too long”; but for us, it’s not long enough.

Be watchful for opportunities to minister to others. The holidays are a time that donations spike. People are in a giving spirit and they are called upon, whether by others or by their conscience, to give of their time, money, or talents. Ministering to others doesn’t have to be formal affair…maybe it’s as simple as holding the door for someone who is burdened with items, or a kind smile when you see someone who is frazzled. It may be volunteering for a task at work, your church, or other organization that would stretch your comfort level. It’s amazing how ministering to others can influence your everyday life.

Be watchful for others ministering to us. I tend to rush through my day always playing catch-up. I don’t always notice others as I go about my tasks. I tend to want to do things on my own, and I will struggle through a task even though someone else may have offered to help. My challenge in the coming years is to learn to accept others who are ministering to me. To accept that smile, to accept that offer to babysit, to accept that little girl’s hand in mine and not to rush through my day. Accept each person ministering to you as a gift and say “Thank you” with a spirit of thankfulness and grace in your heart.

Be watchful for the movement of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves in unexpected ways. Stories of people who made a serendipitous connection with a stranger abound, or how the non-answer to a prayer was really the answer to the deeper prayer. Be watchful for how the Holy Spirit moves in your life and the lives of those around you. For us, we struggled for years with wanting to have a child. We decided to become foster parents so that we could help others, but we still wanted to have a child of our own. We were finally blessed with the gift of two little girls who fit perfectly into our lives and our family. God heard our cries and even though we weren’t blessed with a child of our bodies, we were blessed with children of our heart. The Holy Spirit moved in mysterious ways.

How have you been watchful this Advent season?

“House of Secrets” by Tracie Peterson

Bailee Cooper has been the “mother” of her family since her mom died when she was young.  She has always felt responsible for her younger sisters, and has put her life on hold/reorganized her life to ensure that she is available to her sisters.  Her dad has not been much help, other than paying for things – education, clothing, homes, etc.  To a certain extent, her younger sisters have also resented her actions/interference in their lives, but have dealt with it because she takes care of everything.

Bailee is offered a promotion at her job where she has been a freelance editor for a number of years.  Her boss, Mark Delahunt, wants her to be independent for once.  Over the years, he has become her friend, no matter the walls she erects…and has begun to care for her.  Bailee is fighting her desire for the position because of her responsibility to her sisters.

Out of the blue, Bailee’s dad summons her and her sisters to their summer house in Washington state.  Not only is this unusual because her dad wants to spend time with them, but also because the sense of their mother is so strong in this house.  The girls have often believed their father had a hand in their mother’s death, but have never confronted him about it.  At the beginning of their vacation, they decide to confront their father with their beliefs – to make him answer to them.

However, nothing goes as planned.  What they imagined as true is false.  What they remember as dreams are reality.  How they perceive their father (and themselves) is not necessarily the truth.  This book is about walls being torn down, people accepting others for what they are, and people accepting themselves for what they are – not what they think others need them to be.

This book is beautifully written and there are twists and turns throughout.  My heart broke for Bailee and her sisters, and the impact that secrets have had on this family.  Through their relationships with God, they will find their way.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

My Thoughts on the Act of Contrition & My Faith Journey

As our church prepares to change to the new Roman Missal on November 27, one of the prayers that is changing is the Act of Contrition, or the Confiteor.

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

The above text is the new version. They have been practicing it at Religious Ed classes with the kids so they become familiar with some of the new prayers. One of the things that is changing back to pre-Vatican II is that during the mea culpa, there is the option of striking one’s breast as a gesture of sorrow. For me, even if my parish doesn’t adopt that option, I will probably take that option. To me, it is a way to internalize the prayer and to remind me that it is truly my actions that I need to watch. No one can ask forgiveness for me except me.

What does this mean for me? When we said it this morning during Mass, it struck me as being something that should be said every day. In the last few days, there were several instances where I have had to ask forgiveness for my actions. It is a humbling experience, to be sure. This prayer brings it to the forefront and reminds me that although I can and should seek forgiveness from the person I wronged, I also need to seek forgiveness from God.

I have been every type of Catholic you can be…the ardent church-goer, the lapsed Catholic, the C&E (Christmas & Easter) Catholic, the angry Catholic, the cynical Catholic, the questioning Catholic, and now I am trying to rediscover my faith. The Catholic Church is where I want to be, I just need to learn more. I have been on this journey for about a year. I am stumbling my way through, but I hope to be successful.