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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gr8tful

"What language shall I borrow
to thank Thee Dearest Friend
for this Thy dying sorrow
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever
and should I fainting be
Lord let me never, never
outlive my love to Thee"

The words of this hymn are attributed to the 12th Century mystic, St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  Since that time, they have been translated from Latin to German to English.  Five centuries later, Bach added the music from a folksong in his Passion Chorale.

On this Thanksgiving Evening, I am grateful for the countless ways that my Lord demonstrates His constant, merciful and abundant love to me through my family, my friends, my feeble faith and the events of my life -- the good and the bad. The attitude of gratitude is a fertile soil within which the seeds of faith can take root and grow.

Luke's Gospel (17: 11-19) tells the story of the 10 lepers who were healed.  When the one grateful leper returned to Christ after having been healed by Jesus, what did the healed man do?  He fell on his face and thanked the Lord. Jesus then remarked, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well".  This man's faith in Jesus made him well.  Think about that. The simple act of having faith in Christ can heal us.  It's fun to  meditate on these elements of scripture.  I find that I like to try to fill in the blanks of what was not revealed in the story. Was the 1 leper a grateful type before Christ healed him, or did it take the miracle to bring him into a grateful state of mind? What about the other 9? Why didn't they return?  Did they feel entitled to the healing? Were they afraid?  Did they think it merely coincidence? Did they rationalize that their leprosy was not so bad?  Were they thinking of their blessed reunions with long, lost family? Of how they would dance and drink with their friends? Did they fear rejection by the authorities if they gave credit to Jesus? He was not real popular with the Pharisees, you know.  If I think about it long enough, I can put myself in both situations.  Sometimes I've had the faith of the 1 leper - face-in-the- dust-type gratitude - and sometimes I've had the sloppy ingratitude of the other 9 and used many of those reasons to justify my inaction.

I need the reminders.  And I need days like today. If I had the faith of a mustard seed, I could move mountains.  There it is again.  Have a little faith and watch what happens.  I have watched these mustard seed miracles in the lives of people that I actually know.  And you know something?  It works over and over and over again. Our Lord is teaching a very important maxim:  Faith and gratitude are connected.  I'd like to think that this gratefully clean leper went on to use that great faith of his to move some mountains. Perhaps he inspired St. Bernard of Clairvaux or St. Damian of Molokai.  Grateful people - people with an attitude of gratitude are spiritually healthy people.  They sort of interiorly 'sparkle'. They may suffer just like the rest of us but they live radically different lives evidenced by their thankfulness to someThing...someOne infinitely more powerful than them.

Grateful people - people of Grace - change our world.  For all of you face in the dust types - I'm grateful for your example.

Happy Thanksgiving. May you be blessed by God's grace, mercy and kindness.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Porch of Advent



Welcome to the Porch of Advent…

Just yesterday, soul mate asked me if we had our labels all set to go for our Christmas cards.  Christmas cards? Mailing labels? Set to go? Let the dither begin.

There are tons of things to do before Christmas.  There’s the shopping and the decorating and the Christmas cards and the concerts; oh, and don’t forget Thanksgiving – the holiday that always seems to get short shrift.  And why this is, truly baffles me.  We spend more time on Super Bowl Sunday than we do on Gratitude Thursday, but I digress. There are tons of things to do before Christmas and they usually have the ability to upset my applecart.

All this shopping and baking and decorating (oh my!) can send one into a exasperating and overwhelming state of anti-serenity.  Tidings of comfort and joy? I think not. Chiefly, the secular, frenetic pre-Christmas pandemonium can cause a disquieting schism in our hearts and can separate us from our deepest desire: union with Christ.  It does not have to be so.  In fact, Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom suggests something completely different.  Advent is a time of waiting in expectant silence.  It probably could be better likened to “nesting”:  what a mother and father do prior to the birth of their new baby.  Notice a pregnant mom in her 9th month.  She doesn’t move quite so swiftly.  She slows down.  She rests more as her body prepares for the busy and sometimes sleepless days and weeks ahead of her as she cares for the new infant family member.  The mom-to-be is not lazy or loafing.  On the contrary – there’s a lot going on…on the inside.  Advent, like the 9th month of pregnancy is a time to slow the outside down, while interiorly recollecting and waiting in expectant joy for the coming of something really special. 

Just how do we do this, then?  I have to “plan” to slow down?  If you are anything like me, the answer to that question is a resounding “yes!”  Spend this week and map out a plan. Like most plans, it should be flexible yet sturdy enough to keep you on a well-lit path.  Invite God into your plan through prayer.  Our Blessed Mother longs to help you as well.  She has never failed to guide me closer to Her Son.  Start with some simple things.  Things you can do individually and with family and friends. 

Between now and November 27: 
·      Start with a good confession – unclutter your soul; make room in your heart for His Holy advances
·      Purchase your purple and pink candles
·      Ready the Advent wreath and make preparations for its blessing

During Advent:  November 27-December 24
·      Attend daily Mass if you can; If you are unable, go one more additional time beyond Sunday each week. Many churches offer at least one evening Mass during the week
·      Line up your devotions, the USCCB has a great free, downloadable guide available at http://www.usccb.org/advent/advent_index.shtml.
·      Pray the rosary daily.  Pray it alone, with your friends or with your family.
·      Plan a retreat
·      Fast once a week
·      Be of service – be a light: 
-Go a-wassailing! Sing Christmas Carols in your neighborhood or visit a local convalescent home
-Help serve meals or stock shelves at a local food pantry
-Adopt a family for Christmas and share your gifts with the poor
·      Enjoy your family and really take advantage of the gift of Sundays as resting together 
·      Take time each day to ‘waste time with God’…sit in His Holy Presence before the Blessed Sacrament or at home in a private place where you can speak to the Lord in His favorite language: silence

“Advent is par excellence the season of hope in which believers in Christ are invited to remain in watchful and active waiting, nourished by prayer and by the effective  commitment to love.  May the approaching Nativity of Christ fill the hearts of all Christians with joy, serenity and peace!”
(Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, December 3, 2006)


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thy Kingdom Come!



A few years after converting to Catholicism and before I had a major awakening into Catholic Sacred music, I listened copiously to Christian Rock.  I enjoyed the likes of, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Jennifer Knapp, Jaci Velasquez, Chris Rice, and Rachel Lampa to name just a few.  It wasn’t until I started figuring out that many of our brothers and sisters in the Christian Rock biz referred to us Catholics in less than Christian terms and a few were downright hostile to the Eucharist – referring to our Blessed Sacrament as a “death cookie”.  Needless to say this abruptly ended my infatuation with the whole Christian music scene.  I do still like a few of those tunes however and today on this feast of Christ the King, I waxed a little Third Day and the song that is featured above.  Though my musical tastes have shifted dramatically, this song still does something to me. 

A pivotal line in the lyric goes like this:
“But you left your throne in the sky, just to live inside my heart”

I suspect the theology may be slightly off in this rendering, the meaning to me is not lost.

On this most sacred Feast of Christ the King, my thoughts turn towards what it might be like to entertain a head of state.  I would want everything to be perfect; spit and polish down to the last detail.  The meal would be sumptuous;  my home would be immaculate.  I would make sure that my Guest’s needs were attended to that they felt perfectly at home and comfortable in my care.  In common parlance, I would
turn my life upside down in order to hospitably entertain this very important Guest. 

There may be some things that would need to be “fixed”.  I will need to dispense with the amazing amounts of clutter piles that have collected all around the house.  I might even take on some remodeling projects that have been shelved for other pressing matters.  I will, of course, need to review etiquette with my teenagers I would need to be certain that I have take the appropriate time to plan out all of the events and happenings of the evening.  No small task! Hospitality is a big deal. It happens when we prepare exteriorly for house parties and very important visitors but it should also happen interiorly for our soul’s Sweet Guest – the King of Glory.

So, the way I see it is that me and Zaccheus have something very much in common.  He’s up in a tree and gets the very clear message that he’s about to be entertaining this JESUS figure…in his home.  He’s got some work to do, yes?  So do I.  He’s got to make every detail right…so do I.  But there’s more than window washing that needs to take place.  Zaccheus made amends with every person that he stole money from.  He not only offered  “even stevens”…he paid it forward fourfold.  He did the internal work necessary for entertaining his Guest.  So must I.  I must remove clutter piles of envy, rivalry, deceit and calumny.  I must review my own etiquette and appearance:  Do my actions match my words?  Do I put others in the near occasion of sin by my dress? Is my heart a worthy throne for this Most Holy King? I am subject, He is object.  He chooses to make His throne my heart.  Have I adequately prepared a place for him there or am I still caught up in worldly pursuits?   I am reminded in today’s liturgy that Christ comes to dwell in me.  He comes to build His kingdom within my soul.  If I consent to this with my will, He will "replace my stony heart with a natural heart"; I will be remade in His likeness- in the Glory of the King of Heaven. 

Who is this King of Glory?  He is your Lord and Savior. He is your heart’s deepest longing.  May His radiance dispel all of the dark and shadows.  May He reign in your heart.  This King of Glory is Jesus Christ.  He was, He is and He is to come.  Are you ready?

“All the heavens cannot hold you Lord. How much less to dwell in me….I can only make my one desire holding onto to thee.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Random Act of Culture

Thank you Adam Bartlett for sharing this musical joy.  Watch how the folks were transformed by this random act of culture...amazing.