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.

“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?

“The Merchant’s Daughter” – A Nice Story Though Lacking in Passion

“The Merchant’s Daughter” by Melanie Dickerson

I just finished The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson.  It is the story of Annabel, sent in the 1300s.  Her father was a merchant who died in the Plague after essentially bankrupting his family (losing all of his ships, etc.).  So this family that was used to the “easy” life no longer had it so easy.  The mom wasn’t too interested in doing any work, the older brother was making life easy for him (not doing any work), and the younger brother was used to being coddled.

Everyone in their village had to work for the lord of the manor at a set time.  Annabel’s family had gotten out of it by paying a fine.  However, they hadn’t paid the fine for 3 years and hadn’t worked either, so people in the village were grumbling, and the family was eventually brought before the new lord of the manor, Lord Ranulf.  They had a choice – pay the fine or send one of them to the manor to work as an indentured servant for 3 years.

Annabel makes the choice for the family, hoping that by working in the manor, she can figure out a way to get to Lord Ranulf and ask him to help her get into an abbey.  One of her goals is to read the Holy Bible and to live a life for God, pondering his Word.  However, some of her problems from the village follow her to the manor.

Here is what I liked about the story.  I thought that Annabel was a nice girl who just wanted to do what was right.  I thought that Lord Ranulf was misunderstood by the village, and that he just really wanted to be left alone.  Due to his past, he had issues relating to people and trusting others – especially women. I thought that it was a nice story, some of the characters seemed more realistic than others – there was more depth to some characters.

What I didn’t like…I had a hard time believing the relationship between Ranulf and Annabel.  I had a hard time believing that Annabel would be as educated as she was for the time period, or that the interaction between lord and servant would be so easy.  Maybe I just don’t know enough about the time period, but it still seemed unlikely.  The relationship between the two just seemed to lack passion or commonalities.  Yes, I realize that I am trying to make them into real people, but to me, the characters of the books I read are real people while I am reading the book.

Amazon Product Page – to be published November 29, 2011

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through the NetGalley program.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

A Prayer to Accept Change

Just when I thought I had it all figured out, Lord, things change again.

When will I be able to rest in the comfort of knowing what comes next?

 

You, who transcend all time,

who created the stars and set them in place,

you, who are ageless yet known in every age,

grant me the grace to accept the

changes that are happening.

 

Empty my heart of anxiety,

and fill it instead with wonder and awe.

Release me from the chains of complacency,

and bind me to your ever-moving Spirit.

 

When the things I believed to be permanent and stable are left by the way side,

enfold me in your undying love that I may remember in whom all things are

bound.

 

When fear of something new paralyzes me,

And grief cripples me with anger over the loss of what had been,

Send your angels to give me a gentle push over that frightening edge into the unknown,

So that I may learn to trust in you.

 

For you alone are eternal.

You alone are enduring.

You alone are the everlasting Lord.

And in you alone will this restless world find peace.

Amen

-Diana Macalintal (2010)

This was read the other night at church, and it was especially appropriate since we are in the midst of much change – the New Roman Missal is due to be released in November, we are undergoing diocesean strategic planning, plus our parish will be beginning strategic planning in the next few months.  Our parish needs to have the strength to make some difficult decisions and still remain true to our core.  We are a parish with a great sense of community that can only get stronger.  We have undergone a lot of change in the last 15 years – not because chose to, but because the situation forced us to.

At every turn, change is upon us – no matter if it is at church, at home, or at work.  Change can be uncomfortable, and it may make people leave because they are unwilling or unable to change.  It boils down to how the leadership of the organization approaches change.  Are they willing to undertake the journey with the group, or do they subliminally set up roadblocks or give the impression they don’t want to change?  If the leadership is willing, change will come and the journey will be a lot easier than if leadership gives the impression that the change is unwelcome.   As Father Jason said tonight, “I can’t make the decision for the parish, but I can walk along with you during the journey.”  That’s what is required of leaders – to walk the journey.