December 30, 2011

A Christmas Insight

After Mass yesterday morning I knelt in front of the Nativity set up in front of the altar. Aside from the fact that I am one of those liturgical purists who object to anything set up in front of the altar, what really stood out for me was that the image of the Child Jesus was directly in line with the Crucifix on the wall behind the altar. The Child's arms were spread open as were Jesus' arms on the Cross.  The arms were both in the same position showing me that we cannot gaze upon and meditate on the Child in the manger without it leading us to the Cross.  If it doesn't, then the nativity of Jesus it is just a nice sentimental story, a peaceful scene that makes us feel good. If we don't see the Cross in that peaceful manger scene then the whole Christmas story means nothing.

Jesus is God assuming our human flesh, our frailties, our pains and our sorrows. He came in innocence and died as an innocent person. His coming leads to death, but not in the way we might think of it. It is death to sin. His suffering, His death leads to new life.  His suffering and death shows us that only in suffering with Him do we rise with Him.

Many years ago I heard a priest say in a homily that from the Manger Jesus looked upon the beams of the stable which would one day be the wood that would make up His Cross.  I dismissed the story at the time as simply a pious sentimental legend considering that Jesus was probably born in a cave and place in a feeding trough hewn out of rock. But the concept that His birth led to the Cross is undeniable. 

So what does this mean for me?  It means that I can find Christmas peace not in the cute, weak, perfect  image of the Baby in the manger, but in the strong yet broken body of the God/Man on the Cross. That is where my peace lies, that is where the spirit of Christmas shines forth for me this year.  Not from the light of the star but from the merciful rays of light that emanate from His wounds.

A Great Christmas Present

For Christmas my husband bought me Fr. Robert Barron's video series Catholicism. Portions of the series have been shown on PBS and EWTN but the discs have much more that was not shown on television.  I can't say enough about the quality of this series.

Two of my favorite episodes were the ones on the Blessed Mother and the one on the saints. I used the episode on the Blessed Mother with our RCIA class two weeks ago since I bought the series for work.  They said it really assisted them in understanding who Our Lady is as well as the Church's teaching on her.  Even our team members said they learned a lot by viewing it.

The episode on the saints impressed me since he chose only women to focus on, and these women were ones who all gave up a very privileged life to dedicate themselves to God.  He chose Katherine Drexel, Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein, and Mother Teresa.  He begins the episode with the story of Jesus getting into Peter's boat, without permission, and ordering him to "put out into the deep" (Lk.5:4).  After catching multitudes of fish, Peter leaves his livelihood to follow Jesus.  Fr. Barron says that  "Saints are those who allow Jesus to get into their boats." I found that a very powerful statement which also challenges me.  Do I allow Jesus into my boat? Am I willing to leave everything to follow Him?

I am hoping to use the series at work in ways other than RCIA. It's great for Adult Faith Formation and for Small Christian Communities. I was thinking of even inviting a few friends over to my house perhaps one evening once or twice a month to view the videos and discuss what we got out of them. My husband and I have already had some discussions after viewing the DVDs.  The cost is a bit high but it is a bit less expensive on Amazon. I decided to purchase it from Fr. Barron's ministry Word on Fire to help support the great work he does.  Why not ask your pastor to purchase it for the parish?  

December 22, 2011

Happy Winter

Today is the winter solstice. While it is officially the first day of winter, here on Long Island it feels like spring.  I'm not complaining, I'll take this over 20 degrees and snow anytime.

The best thing I like about the first day of winter is that the days begin to grow longer. Soon it will not be dark as I wake up in the morning or drive home from work. I am the type of person who likes the light.  I don't like going out in the dark, and while cold dark nights are good for getting cozy with a hot cup of tea and a good book or watching a tear jerker chick flick on the TV, I find that too much darkness can become depressing. Psychologists have found that more people do suffer depression when the daylight is short.

I think the same can be said of our spiritual life. The longer we dwell in the "darkness" and allow the prince of darkness into our lives, the worse we tend to feel. And just like the gradual shorting of the days following the summer solstice, the darkness in our lives seems to creep up on us slowly and we only realize it when it starts having a negative affect on our lives.

We have a choice, we can give in to the darkness and wallow in it, or we can light a light and let it brighten our nights and our lives. Christ is that Light when we are in darkness. With His Light we have nothing to fear and all depression and sadness is brought into the Light and transformed into Hope and Love.

May these final days of Advent find you basking in not only the lights of your Christmas tree but in the Light of the Love of Christ.

December 20, 2011

Mary said to the Angel, I am the handmaid of the Lord.

I love the readings of this last week before Christmas, especially the Gospels. Today we again hear the story of the Annunciation that we heard on Sunday.  So many great artists have painted the Annunciation and I was happy to find this beautiful collage of such artistic depictions presented along with Hans Leo Hassler's Dixit Maria.  I loved singing this beautiful piece when I was in choir. I hope it helps lead your meditation these final days and brings you joy and peace. (just ignore the clapping at the end).

December 15, 2011

I am Sending My Messenger Ahead of You

As we approach the final week of Advent I was reflecting on today's reading from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus speaks highly of his cousin, John the Baptist, who is the bridge between the Old and New Covenant. He is the messenger, the one who is to prepare the way for the Lord.  It came to me, that we too are called to announce the Good News of the coming of Jesus and to prepare a way for Him.  John has something to teach us.  We are not to serve the Lord for any personal gain or for recognition. The way we are to prepare for the Lord, is first by preparing our own hearts and being open to the salvation that Christ offers us.

Another of my favorite Advent hymns is On Jordan's Bank.  This speaks of preparing our souls, of recognizing that we need to be cleansed from sin to make a proper "home" for our Lord, Jesus.

December 11, 2011

The Moon and Mary

This afternoon I attended our monthly Oblate meeting at St. Walburga Monastery in New Jersey.  We were treated to a presentation on the necessity of leisure and living in the present. A major part of the presentation was on awareness.  Part of living in the present is "being mindfully aware of our surroundings," Sister said, and how "God makes Himself known" through our encounters with God's creation. Awareness helps us remember "that God is God and we are not." On my drive home following evening prayer, while driving over the Goethals Bridge which connects New Jersey with Staten Island, I noticed the full moon, and was very aware of it off to my left as I traveled on the Staten Island Expressway. Once as the road veered off to the East the moon was clearly seen through the left side my front windshield.  As I was watching the moon (and watching the road) I had an understanding of what sister was speaking about.

It was not just the beauty of the moon that attracted me, but I recalled a quote that I heard earlier during our RCIA session.  I had showed one of the episodes of Fr Robert Barron's spectacular documentary series Catholicism.  It was the episode on the Blessed Mother. I showed this episode because of the feast of the Immaculate Conception last Thursday and tomorrow's feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In the video, Fr Barron quotes Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said, "Mary is like the moon, for her light is always a reflection of a higher light."  

I was hoping that as I crossed the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn that I would see the beauty of the moon reflected in New York Harbor but then realized that I was heading in the wrong direction for that to occur.  Yet the Lord had other ideas.  As I drove through the plaza and onto the bridge, there was the moon, precisely in the center of the bridge uprights.  It appeared as if I were driving directly into the moon. For once I wished there was stop and go traffic on the bridge (as there often is) so that I could snap a picture with my phone, but that wasn't happening.  I lost sight of it for a few moments as I approached the high point of the span but then it was visible again for the final three quarters of a mile before I turned off the bridge.

The image that was coming to me all this time on the bridge was that Mary, the bright reflected light of Jesus, was leading me toward her Son.  But she was not only the moon light guiding me, but the bridge between heaven and earth.  Assumed into heaven, she alone experiences what awaits us at the resurrection of our bodies at the end of time.  As Fr. Barron states, she "becomes a sign of hope for the rest of the human race."

So was it coincidence that I chose to show the DVD this morning where the image of Mary as the moon was presented and that  the moon was just a day past full? Was it a coincidence that this afternoon's talk was about awareness of God's presence in our surroundings?  And, was it a coincidence that the moon just happened to be between the bridge uprights as I was traversing the span?  Coincidences?  Maybe, but I think not.  God had something to share with me and at any other time, if I was less aware, I just might have missed it.

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Today is Gaudate Sunday. It takes its name from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for today's Mass. "Rejoice in the Lord always..." which is again repeated in today's second reading. We light the third, rose colored candle on the Advent wreath signifying that the time to commemorate Jesus' birth is close at hand. It is one of two Sunday's a year when priests and deacons wear rose vestments, and the two times a year when people ask "Father, why are you wearing pink?"  Father inevitably will say, "It's not pink, it's rose!" 

This always confuses me.  Think of it, when you say "rose" what color does that really mean?  If I go to a florist and ask for a rose, the person behind the counter will ask me what color rose do I want.  There are red roses, white roses, yellow roses, orange roses, there are even black roses, and of course there are pink roses. Does anyone ever go to a florist and ask for a rose rose? 

As an artist I am very conscious of color. Pigments can be broken down into very different shades and tints. Rose can refer to very different colors that are somewhere between red and magenta. There are also differnt tints to the color. We have a reddish pink, a salmon color, bluish tint, muted pink, pale rose, mauve, and so on and so forth. 

So why call it rose?  Roses have, since the Middle Ages, been associated with our Blessed Mother.  Part of the miracle at Guadalupe, when the Virgin appeard to Juan Diego in Tepeyac, Mexico in 1531, was that roses bloomed at the spot even though it was not the season for roses. We are celebrating that feast tomorrow. One of the titles of Mary is the Mystical Rose and we know that Our Lady is an important part of our Advent preparation. But still why call it rose and not pink? Is it because "real men don't wear pink?"  That seems rather silly since many men look very good in pink and rose is just as feminine sounding as pink. I guess it will remain a great mystery as to why we say rose rather than pink. 

One of my favorite Advent hymns is Low, How a Rose E're Blooming." It is a sixteenth century hymn that perhaps explains why we say rose instead of pink.  OK, that may take care of it for Gaudate Sunday in Advent, but what about Laetare Sunday in Lent.  Oh well, that's for another time and season.  In the meantime, enjoy the hymn.

December 8, 2011


This week I finally did something that I should have done several months ago, I went back to Weight Watchers.  I stopped going seven months ago and was doing well until I had my surgery in September.  A few weeks of sitting home with little activity found me eating more and moving less and I put on quite a number of pounds.  My reasons for returning to meetings and getting back on program were for health reasons, to feel good and to have more energy and, in my vanity, to look good at my daughter's wedding coming up next October.  But I also found that a big reason is to have more discipline.  I was finding that I was lacking discipline in several areas of my life and I am working on getting back on track.  Weight Watchers program is highly structured and for the plan to work, you have to follow it, keeping track of what you eat, and changing the way you look at yourself and your life.  It's not just about losing weight, and it affects more than just eating.

One of the areas where discipline is absolutely necessary is in our prayer life. I know how important prayer is, but laziness or spending time doing other things often takes precedence over my prayer. When this happens I find that things just don't go right when I don't give God the time He deserves and the time I need to hear His voice. Just like the weight creeps up when I am off program, when I am not praying other things begin to seem more important and I lose sight of how I should be living my life the way God wants me to live it. I get depressed, anxious and everything I am and do are affected, and not in a good way.

We are called to be people of prayer.  It is funny, but I am finding that prayer is helping me keep on program.  When I have the desire to grab for something that I should not be eating, saying a quick prayer asking God to give me the discipline to say "no" often helps me keep on track.  Prayer is a wonderful thing. Now I just need the discipline to get on that elliptical machine, life some weights, or go for a walk.

December 6, 2011

And the Glory of the Lord Shall be Revealed

Still focusing on this past Sunday's first reading from Isaiah, I just love this selection from Handel's Messiah.  It is so uplifting and awe inspiring. In keeping with the rest of the passage, it is a cry of hope. "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it." While not a hymn that we in the assembly would sing in church, it is still one of my very favorites for Advent.

God promises that we shall see His glory revealed.  And indeed we have.  The Father sent us His only Son to reveal the Father to us. In Christ we get a glimpse of the glory of God, and in Christ we offer the Father all the glory that belongs to Him. Jesus reveals the Father to us, for He and the Father are One.  This is an image of an adult Jesus, at a time when most are focusing on the coming of an infant, and it is a promise of what is to be further revealed at His second coming for those who live their lives in Christ.  

December 4, 2011

Comfort, Comfort, O My People

The first reading for the Second Sunday of Advent, Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11, is so rich. There are  many beautiful Advent hymns based on these few passages that I want to share with you. I'll begin with "Comfort, Comfort, O My People," based on the first half of the reading. The passage is from Second Isaiah, the Book of Consolation, and it was written at a time with the people of Israel needed comfort and hope while nearing the end of their exile in Babylon. The Lord knew of their suffering and sorrow and spoke a word of encouragement and promise.

When I was in our diocesan choir we would sing this hymn at Advent Lessons and Carols after the passage from Isaiah was read.  I remember the lector that was chosen to read this passage had a strong and dramatic voice and would make this prophesy truly come alive.  It is joyful prophesy and it is reflected in the joyful tone of the hymn.  It is a hymn of hope, and in today's world we need hope and a word of comfort from our God, who promised to be with us always.