Thursday, December 27, 2012

St. Francis Preaches to the Birds

A dear friend of mine recently gave me a generous and thoughtful gift; a beautiful golden embossed picture of St. Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds.  After hanging it in a place of honor in my home, I spent some time learning about the story behind the picture so as to enhance my prayer whenever I would look upon it.  I came across the words that St. Francis spoke to the feathered creatures and found them to be not only very touching but also a great source of inspiration to prayers of thanksgiving.  He said:

"My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God."

Now as another year comes to a close I find a fair share of difficulties and worries, not only in my own personal life but also in the common life of our country and world, that are sure to cross the threshold of tomorrow and remain for quite a while, and my heart and soul feel weighted with sorrow and frustration.  It's hard to fly with the freedom of the winged birds when the heaviness of heartache holds me back.

So I gaze upon that lovely image of holy St. Francis and I imagine him speaking to me like he spoke to the birds, reminding me to always thank God my creator for my many blessings-for my family, my home, my job, my health, my friends, my faith.  And realizing that I am greatly blessed, I understand that God will always see to it that all of my spiritual and material needs are met, that I will have just enough but not too much, that He will always be with me in all times, places and situations and that His love is strong enough to billow me up as I strive to take flight toward His will for me regardless of how weary I may become, and for that I give thanks and praise to God.

(listen to  St. Francis Preaches to the Birds by Franz Liszt)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Am I Not Here Who Am Your Mother?

"Listen, put it into your heart, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing.  Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed.  Do not fear this sickness nor anything that is sharp or hurtful.  Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and protection?  Am I not the source of your joy?  Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?  Do you need anything more?  Let nothing else worry you, disturb you."  ~Our Lady of Guadalupe's words to St. Juan Diego

Last summer during a time of personal distress, I knelt in a confessional to remove my sins and a wise priest who listened with his heart gave me a beautiful penance.  He told me to spend some time  looking upon the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and to recall the words she spoke to St. Juan Diego, "Am I not here who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and my protection?"  I'm sure it was the most beautiful penance I have ever received!  And ever since that day when that penance was bestowed upon me in the confessional, I have pondered those words in my heart again and again.  I find them coming back to me whenever I am feeling the pain of trials that seem insurmountable.

And I think about the fact that at the tender age of two weeks old, my own sweet mother brought me to Fr. Claude Leclair at Sacred Heart Church for baptism on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I understand now that I had been under the shadow of my Mother's protection ever since my baptismal day, but I had not realized it.

The same can be said for all of us; we are all under the shadow and protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas.  She is waiting ever-expectantly, wanting to give birth to our peace of mind, to our trust in her love for us, and to our understanding of her constant care for our souls.  She is waiting to deliver us into the arms of her beloved Son for all eternity.  Do we realize it and turn to her?

Pope John Paul II's Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe

O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church, who from this place reveal your clemency and your pity to all those who ask for your protection, hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust, and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer.

Mother of Mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice, to you, who come to meet us sinners, we dedicate on this day all our being and all our love. We also dedicate to you our life, our work, our joys, our infirmities and our sorrows. Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our peoples; for we entrust to your care all that we have and all that we are, our Lady and Mother. We wish to be entirely yours and to walk with you along the way of complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ in His Church; hold us always with your loving hand.

Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, we pray to you for all the Bishops, that they may lead the faithful along paths of intense Christian life, of love and humble service of God and souls. Contemplate this immense harvest, and intercede with the Lord that He may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole people of God, and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious, strong in the faith and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries.

Grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings, with the same love with which you conceived in your womb the life of the Son of God. Blessed Virgin Mary, protect our families, so that they may always be united, and bless the upbringing of our children.

Our hope, look upon us with compassion, teach us to go continually to Jesus and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to Him, by means of the confession of our faults and sins in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul.

We beg you to grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments, which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left us on earth.

Thus, Most Holy Mother, with the peace of God in our conscience, with our hearts free from evil and hatred, we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace, which come to us from your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns for ever and ever.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012


"Tender and beautiful fronds of my beloved plane tree, let Fate smile upon you.  May thunder, lightning, and storms never bother your dear peace, nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.  A shade there never was, of any plant, dearer and more lovely, or more sweet."  ~from Handel's Largo

Advent can sure be crazy sometimes, can't it?  We're supposed to be quietly waiting for the coming of the Lord; it should be a solemn time of peace and stillness, but in fact, it is often the exact opposite.  We often find ourselves with too much to do, too much to eat and too much to spend.  Nothing quite spells stress like Christmas preparations!

My advent stress levels have been at an all-time high so far this year and I have spent too much time fretting instead of patiently praying for peace.  After an incredibly busy morning at work, I left for my lunch break walk a bit  later than usual and was startled by the snap of cold that met me when I stepped outside!  I wrapped my scarf a little more tightly around my neck and increased the pace of my footsteps.  When I reached Gesu Church, just three blocks from my office, I saw that they had a sign outside advertising a mid-day organ concert and the doors to the magnificent upper church were open, so I snuck inside to warm up and check it out.  I was the only one there! It turns out that I had stumbled upon a private concert just for me!

 I was just finishing my rosary when the organ swelled with sound and I heard the strains of Largo, an old favorite from my childhood.  I could just picture my sister Cindy with her chestnut brown curls sitting at the piano, fingers poised in perfect position, practicing Largo over and over again while my mom oversaw the practice session from her nearby Husqvarna Sewing Machine where she worked on our family mending.  I was awash in the comfort of pleasant, long-forgotten memories.

It's funny how God always seems to find a way to bring peace to our hearts when we are most in need, and He does it in such unexpected ways!  I never would have imagined that listening to Largo in a grand and empty church on a blustery December day would have brought peace to my frazzled heart, but it did!  And at that moment, I understood that God is in complete control of my life, just as He has always been, and I can let go of the worry and let God handle things in His own way and in His own time.  God is always good and I am very grateful!

Maybe you'd enjoy finding a few moments of calm by listening to the peaceful sounds of Largo yourself?  If so, you will find a lovely version here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Three Advents

At Roses for Our Lady's December 9th Holy Hour for Vocations, Bishop Hying spoke about St. Bernard's "Three Advents."   I had never heard of three Advents before and I found the idea of it to be fascinating and rich in food for thought.

According to St. Bernard, the three Advents include the coming of the Christ Child into the world though the  Virgin birth which is the first Advent.  The third Advent is the final coming of Christ at the end of time.  In the first Advent He comes to save us and in the third Advent He will call us home.  These are the Advents of promise and fulfillment.  

But the second Advent is the Advent of the here and now, the Advent of the present moment.  Christ dwells within our souls in this Advent of struggle and His presence within us brings us comfort and reassurance.   Since a definition of the word "advent" is "coming" I find it very appealing to meditate on Christ coming to me now when I need Him the most, like a hero coming to the rescue of a fair maiden in distress.  Wherever you are right now, whatever state of sinfulness or sanctity, sorrow or joy, distraction or rest in which you currently find yourself, Christ is coming to you to bring you His peace. 

He's coming to you in the smile of a baby, in the embrace of a child, in the wisdom of an elderly friend.  He's coming to you in the kindness of a stranger, in the peace of a gentle song, in the whisper of a prayer.   He's coming to you now, bringing you His love and His peace.  Can you feel Him?  Can you feel the Advent of Christ within your heart and soul right now?

"He shall be peace."  ~Micah 5:2