Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Christ Child

"This is the place to be if you are feeling bad about yourself."
~Old Man Marley in the movie Home Alone 

church scene from the movie Home Alone (source)

I frequently remain in church after daily Mass to make a mini holy hour before dashing off to work.  I'm often kept company in prayer by several others including a few homeless people who occupy the back row of the church.  Some days tears softly fall from my eyes as I pray, letting out all of my fears and worries to the Lord, and some other days I notice that I'm not the only one sniffling and dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. There are an awful lot of people who feel bad about themselves who bring their sorrow to the Lord.   It seems natural to release our sorrows in the form of tears while kneeling before the tabernacle, doesn't it?  They become a gift to God and to us as well, bringing about much needed relief from stress and sorrow.  So there we are, a motley crew remaining after Mass to give God the gift of our pent-up sorrow in tearful prayer.

On Monday before Christmas, the church had quickly emptied out after Mass, except for me and the homeless couple who recently started showing up in the back pew.  Several church employees were busily setting up the Christmas trees and manger around the altar, making the church look even more lovely than it already does, for the upcoming holy day.

I glanced up from my prayer book as a homeless woman walked past me on her way to reverently light a candle. After her moment of prayer she stopped beside my pew, and then came and sat beside me, like several other homeless people have done when they were in need of a little cash.  "I'm Sue," she said as she stuck her hand out to shake mine.  She told me that she never knew Old St. Mary Church existed until she became homeless.  We talked about what a treasure this beautiful old church is and about our Christmas plans.  She was taking a bus across town to visit her brother but was short of cash for the fare and wanted to know if I had a few dollars to spare.  I wanted to tell her about how I never have any money because one or the other of my five kids always seems to have a hand in my pocket and that I couldn't help her right now.  In my mind I justified my stinginess with the thought that all mothers of teenagers surely must be broke.

But it occurred to me that God was whispering to me as I sat in that pew, telling me that Sue's prayerful request, and the tears she surely must shed like so many others in the silent church, were like those of a child, perhaps even those of the Christ Child in the manger that was being arranged in front of the church. So I gave her the last few dollars and the coffee gift card  that were in my wallet. Maybe, like my own children, the homeless who frequent daily Mass will be keeping a hand in my pocket, forever in need of a dollar or two to get them through the day.  And I will give it all away knowing that I will receive the benefit of watching the Christ Child grow within the homeless people who carry Him so tenderly, so lovingly, through their waking hours of wandering and prayer, giving me a generous example of simplicity and trust in God.  A few dollars-what a small price to pay for so great a lesson!


Sunday, December 22, 2013

St. Joseph-The First Priest



There is a scene in the movie The Nativity Story, with Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac, where, immediately following the birth of Christ, a joyous St. Joseph holds the infant within his hands, raising him high in the air. 

In watching this, it occurred to me that St. Joseph was the first priest.  I was struck by the similarities between St. Joseph in the manger and the priest at the altar, both holding the living Christ within their hands, faces joyfully exultant at the wonder of His beauty and the awesome privilege of holding our very Savior in the air.  Without speaking a word, St. Joseph seems to say "Behold!  Here is the Lamb!" These are the very words that the priest voices out loud at each and every Mass.  St. Joseph was the first man to have the honor of holding Jesus close, to love and nurture Jesus within his own heart as the Catholic priest is called to do. St. Joseph shared Jesus with the shepherds and kings in the manger as the Catholic priest shares Him with the poor and the rich at Mass.  How blessed we are by the holy, obedient, faith-filled, loving example of St. Joseph!

St. Joseph, the first priest, pray for us!


Prayer to St. Joseph over 1900 years old -from Pieta prayer book

O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.  O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the loving of Fathers.  O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms.  I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart.  Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw My dying breath.  St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us.  Amen.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

She Has Loved Much

"While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head."  ~Mark 14:3

My living room shrine includes a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes from the shrine in France, an antique heirloom crucifix from my mother, a relic of St. Margaret Mary, a picture and relic of St. Maria Goretti, several jars of sea glass, and now, my treasured painting of St. Mary Magdalene.

My beautiful and extremely talented friend, Christi Jentz, has blessed me a fabulous and original painting of my favorite saint, Saint Mary Magdalene, entering the gates of heaven while tightly holding onto her jar of precious ointment.  I had her framed and she now graces my living room wall. Every time I see her, I just stop, caught off guard by her beauty, and I offer a prayer of thanksgiving for Christi's prayerful and artistic talent, and for the example of love set by my favorite saint.  I hope and pray that not only will I emulate St. Mary Magdalene's great love upon this earth, but that one day, I, too, will know the joy of walking through that magnificent gate into the eternal wonder of heaven. ( Visit Christi's website, Lumen Christi Art, for more of her fabulous artwork. I highly recommend a thorough and lengthy visit here-there is much to learn and Christi freely shares her artistic and spiritual knowledge.  You will be enriched!)

St. Mary Magdalene captures my attention far more than any other saint.  What was it like, I wonder, to have walked the earth in her sandals, to have the singular grace of physically touching the Lord, of crying at his feet, of looking into His eyes and finding love and forgiveness there?   How unbearably crushing was it for her to stand with His Mother at the foot of the cross and watch in anguish as he gasped his last tortured breath? And after His resurrection, how she must have been beyond ecstasy and unable to keep from sharing the miraculous story of her encounter with the Lord outside the tomb with the rest of the world.  Every person she met must surely have been the recipient of her great joy and left her presence deeply moved by her words, "He is risen!  I have seen Him!"  Don't you think she must have shared her story over and over again with everyone who would listen?  After all, who could possibly be quiet and still after a glorious encounter such as witnessing the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?

And yet, many must have thought her quite mad.  Did they scoff at her, thinking she was simply unable to accept the death of her dearest friend, and was now telling tales of an extraordinary fantasy?  Was she considered an outcast by her community for her insistence upon the resurrection of the Lord?  After all, this was the woman who once was afflicted with seven demons, who was known to live a sinful life.  Why should anyone listen to her?

There is a little known book, St. Mary Magdalene: Her Life and Times as Seen in the Gospels, History and Tradition, by Edith Filliette, which gives a deeper insight into this lovely saint's life experience.  Perhaps most moving to me is the passage that explains how the Lord touched her outside the tomb and how that gentle caress remained with her physically even beyond the death of her body.  Regardless of whether or not anyone believed her words of witness to the resurrection, she knew within her heart, soul and body, that His love was worth living and dying for, that Jesus Christ alone was the Word of Life and the God of Love, our Savior and Redeemer, our eternal joy.

 "When St. Mary Magdalene's body was exhumed, "a  small piece of skin was found attached to the brow. It was smooth, clear and lighter than the remainder of the body, and was the size of two fingertips. As it resembled live skin, it was subsequently named "Do Not Touch Me"-the words spoken by Christ to Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection; it was believed to have been the touch of the risen Lord on the brow of Mary Magdalene."


"This small particle of skin remained unchanged for another 500 years, and no suitable explanation was ever found for the phenomenon. Five centuries after its discovery, it finally detached itself from the brow, and was placed in a separate reliquary." ~from St. Mary Magdalene-Her Life and Times by Edith Filliette



St. Mary Magdalene by Christi Jentz

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent Joy

Gaudete Sunday Advent Wreath, Basilica of St. Josephat, Milwaukee
Happy Gaudete Sunday!  What follows is Bishop Hying's Herald of Hope column from the December 12th, 2013  Milwaukee Catholic Herald.  I found it be extremely encouraging and thought that perhaps you, dear reader, might be uplifted by it as well. Wishing you joy during this third week of Advent!

Bishop Hying photo credit:  RScrip Studios


This coming Sunday, we will light the rose-hued candle on the Advent wreath as we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, Latin for “Let us rejoice!”

Joy is always the theme of the Third Sunday of Advent because we have now passed the halfway mark and are closer to Christmas than we are to the beginning of Advent.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul bids the Christian community to rejoice because the Lord is so near to them and loves them so much.
The astonishing aspect of this exhortation is that Paul writes these words from prison. His life is filled with suffering, anguish, rejection and uncertainty. Yet, in the midst of it all, he is filled with a remarkable joy, because his heart is united profoundly with Jesus Christ.
Just scratch the surface of life and you will discover an abundance of sadness and anger all around. There are so many problems, challenges, difficulties and suffering everywhere.
Many people seem to have lost hope in the future, the government, the church and perhaps themselves. Others struggle with depression, anxiety and the effects of dark winter days. Life can feel awfully heavy at times.
Yet, in the midst of the gloom, the Lord calls us to a radical and profound joy, that sense of God’s gentle nearness and peaceful love that grasped St. Paul in his prison cell.
Sometimes, we may confuse joy with pleasure. Eating Cap’n Crunch breakfast cereal, going on a fabulous vacation, buying a new car or redecorating the house can give us great pleasure, but the feelings generated by such experiences do not last. Our hungry hearts will soon seek another pleasurable moment to fill the void within. Pleasure is not joy.
So, maybe we are really looking for happiness. Being in the right career, finding the groove in our marriage or a deep friendship, watching our children flourish into beautiful young adults can make us remarkably happy, which is much more substantive than mere pleasure.
Yet, such happiness can vanish in an instant – the betrayal of a loved one, the sudden loss of employment, disappointment in love, a distressing medical report can bring our emotional world crashing down around us. Happiness is not the same as joy.
Joy is that deep sense of consolation, purpose, fulfillment and hope that comes to us when we experience the remarkable love of God. We may find ourselves in the darkest of nights, life may look crazy and impossible, everything we looked to for security may have vanished, but we know that the Lord loves, sustains and saves us.
As the saying goes, I do not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. Perhaps only one who has been held in the fiery crucible of torment and suffering can know joy, because when our face is pressed against the wall and there is no way out, we either choose to believe or despair, to hope or to give up. Authentic joy is not a fake smile pasted over the darkness, but the fruit of much spiritual wrestling with God.
When I think of the greatest Christian heroes – Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, I picture them with a beatific smile. They had all walked in the dark valley, as we all do, but all had come to know and feel the “Dawn from on High” – Jesus Christ – loving, leading, forgiving and guiding them.
Interned at Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe voluntarily traded places with another man condemned to death by starvation. Whenever the Nazi guard looked into the cell in which the priest was locked with nine other men, without any food or water, Fr. Kolbe was smiling, singing, praying and encouraging the others. He drove the Nazis nuts with his irrepressible joy. They did not know what to make of him.
I want that kind of joy!
A joy not predicated on external circumstances. A spiritual joy grounded in the love of Christ. A generous joy that finds more fulfillment in what is given away than in what is kept. A joy that can shine in the darkest of nights because it has already tasted the bliss of God’s love. A joy that evangelizes in this world that is often sad, angry and despairing. 

May the greatest gift you discover this Christmas be a deeper joy in the love that the Lord has for you.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christ Within

Do you ever feel a rush of adreneline, one that comes upon you for no apparent reason, waking you up in the middle of the night, perhaps, and you can't quite put your finger upon what it's all about?  But a certainty overcomes you that God is about to do something big in your life.  And that big thing might be very ordinary like taking better care of your family or your health, or spending more time in silent prayer, but somehow, you just know that He is working, calling out to you, needing you to carry Him into the world in a deeper and more meaningful way, and every cell in your body responds with "Yes!  Here I am!  Use me!"  You might have been feeling insignificant and useless in life, but now, you are certain that God has a purpose for you, something really special, only you just don't know or  understand what it is.

St. Teresa of Avila
Could it be that He is asking you to become more aware of His presence within you, and to bring Him to others in a deeper way? In this world, we are all called to carry Christ within ourselves, to bring Him to each other and to share His love with everyone we meet throughout the ordinary events of our lives.    The saints and mystics have described this eloquently.

Listen to St. Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.” 

And my favorite, Caryll Houselander:

Caryll Houselander

"For the moment, the precious and only now, you alone are the bearer of the Blessed Sacrament into your own little world.  You are the monstrance, the priest giving Communion, the Real Presence, to your husband, your children and your friends; and the reason why, or one reason why, Christ has given himself to you, is because he wishes to be with them, as things are, only through you.  This is an astonishing thought, as every thought about the Blessed Sacrament is, if you bring an ounce of courage and realism to it." 

Perhaps Christ is asking you to bring Him to the food pantry and to offer a gentle touch and a kind word to those who are worried about how they will manage to make a pleasant Christmas for their families with very little money.  Perhaps he wants you to offer a smile to the store clerk who is overworked during the pre-Christmas rush of shopping.  Maybe you are to offer His shoulder to cry upon for a soul who is hurting and in need of a little compassion. What if He wants you to prepare dinner with an extra touch of love for your family today?  Give Christ to everyone with whom you come in contact through your loving words and peaceful actions, your generosity and warmth, your gentle touches and joyful smiles. Strive to keep out anything that threatens to creep into your spirit that isn't purely the love of Christ. 

How will you carry Christ into the world today?  How will you let Him use you for His glory? How will you let others experience Christ through you in each and every moment of your life?  Be the monstrance that contains the Lord and radiates His love out to everyone.  Be the chalice, pouring the life-blood of Christ out into the world.  Emulate the Blessed Mother, birthing Christ into the world.  Feel His loving presence within your very soul and then lavish it upon others without reserve.  And then, allow others to bring the Christ that dwells within their souls right back to you.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fragments

"He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied.  They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full."  
 ~from Matthew 15: 29-37

source
Do you ever feel like a fragment; like the left over piece, not completely whole, not quite good enough, standing on the sidelines while the world passes you by, of no use to anyone?  I think at many points in our lives we can say that this sad description fits us quite well.  No one is immune to feeling left out at one time or another.  Consider the last player picked for a team, the employee passed over for a promotion, the youngest child who must stay home while the older siblings enjoy a special night out.  We long to be considered the first choice and the cream of the crop, to be included, but sometimes we must wait in patience for our turn to shine.

A fragment, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, is an "incomplete part."  And of course, we are all incomplete parts of the Body of Christ, waiting for the day when we will be united to Christ's love for all eternity and will become fully whole.   In the above scripture passage, there were so many fragments left behind, that someone bothered to collect them and save them for use at another time, they weren't simply discarded as useless.  They were to be cherished as something to look forward to enjoying at another time, when hunger would strike once again.  And beyond this, we are told that there were so many fragments left that they filled seven baskets, seven being a perfect number.

So if you're feeling a bit cast-off or picked over don't dismay!  God is saving the best for last!  He wills that no part of His body, for we are all the body of Christ,  be lost. When your turn finally comes to shine for the Kingdom, you will be the perfect fit at the perfect time.  Hold fast to your faith and trust in the Lord.  In His time, you will be the favored portion.

My dearest Lord,

I rejoice in your faithfulness!  You never fail to amaze me.  Just when I'm feeling down and out, less than worthy, unneeded and unwanted, You reveal your desire and Your plan for me.  You let me know that I am loved, wanted and needed beyond my imaginings.  You draw me close to Your heart and whisper words of encouragement to my weary soul.  Thank you so much for your steadfast and faithful love!   Thank you for showering myriads of blessings upon me and upon all those who are feeling fragmented in this life.  What a joy it is to belong to You!

Amen.