Friday, December 29, 2017

Looks Like We Made It! Merry Christmas

Of course we made it. Time presses on whether we like it or not, so Christmas now replaces Advent in the Liturgical Year. The anticipation we felt in the previous four weeks is now replaced by a season of total wonder and love, with many facets for us to explore in our spiritual life.

God Seen by Men
During this Christmas Season, it is the hope that in our hearts this Child, Who is God now seen by men, will draw us to the love of the things that are unseen. As we exchange greetings and gifts among ourselves, we should keep in our hearts and minds that beautiful gift God Himself has given us in His Son, Who is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and our means of redemption.

His Birth Alters the World
Truly, the Birth of Christ changes the world. Many consider the season as a celebration of mothers and motherhood. It is difficult for us in our times to believe how women in ancient times had no rights or destiny except through men. Barely above a slave, women in these times were persecuted and degraded among the pagans. As God, He could have come into the world in any number of ways, yet God Incarnate elevates the dignity of women through His Mother - choosing a woman as His way into the world. We owe her gratitude, veneration and respect.

The season is also one of children. Christ's birth elevated the dignity of children as well simply because He chose to come to us as a helpless baby. Pagan rituals frequently used children as sacrifices, and those who escaped this fate were treated no better than women. The dignity and worth of children therefore increased at the Nativity of Our Lord.

Short Season
With all the events that transpire during this time, it is interesting to note that Christmas is one of the shortest Liturgical Seasons in the year. Indeed, it lasts about 12 days, until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. The Liturgy during these days is filled with images of joyous harmony between heaven and earth. It chronicles the early life of Christ. The Feast of the Holy Innocents falls during this time; the Gospels recount not only the Birth of Our Lord, but also the shepherds' visit to the manger, and the Presentation in the Temple. It is entirely fitting, then, that the month, dedicated to the Holy Infancy, ends with these celebrations.

Both the spiritual and temporal preparations we put in place during Advent carry over to this short Christmas Season, making it one of profound joy. It is with hope, then, that we make the most of graces offered as we close out December and carry this feeling into January.





Monday, December 18, 2017

Closing in on Christmas

Making the most of the Advent Season is a challenge in our fast-paced world. Amid the distractions, much of the richness and spiritual joy can be thrown by the wayside, or sadly, lost completely. All is not futile, though and there is still time to make wonderful preparation for the coming Christmas season.

A Spirit of Joy
Advent Week 3 ushers in a spirit of joy mingled with an attitude of penance. For those who have embraced the Advent Calendar activity, this week the candle lit changes from the purple to rose, signaling the imminent birth of the long awaited Messiah. The Scripture readings for Gaudete Sunday exhort us to "rejoice, always" for "our redemption is at hand."

In this octave before Christmas we can focus on the beautiful way in which Christ fills the prophecies of the Old Testament. The Golden Nights, also called The O Antiphons are readings taken from Isiais and Micah, Messianic prophets of the Old Testament. These Antiphons address very directly the titles by which Jesus is called. Beginning December 17 and continuing to December 23, we learn that Christ is "Wisdom, the Lord of Israel, the Root of Jesse, the Key of David, Radiant Dawn, King of all Nations, and finally Emmanuel - God with us." An easy and clear description and prayers for each of these titles can be found here.

An interesting side note to The O Antiphons is that in Latin, each of these titles, when written and formed into an acrostic, form the Latin phrase Era Cras, or "Tomorrow I come."

Mingled with Penance
As much as we feel the building hope in anticipation of Christ's birth, there is still a call to "make straight His path" to our hearts. Ember Days in winter answer such a call. One of four cycles of Ember Days, those in Advent fall on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the feast of St. Lucy on December 13 - in the middle of Advent Week 3.

On these days, we are called to fast and abstinence, not so much as penance for our sins, but in spiritual renewal, reflection on our dependence on God and thanksgiving for blessing received - especially those received in His created world and nature. A full explanation on Ember Days, with special attention to Advent, can be found by clicking to this site.

Leading us to the Stable
This year Advent Week 3 serves as our final push toward Christmas as Christmas Eve falls on what would typically be the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Let us be encouraged in these final days to set aside time away from the frenzy of last minute gifts, cards, parties, decorating and the like to prepare our hearts and minds for the True Gift we receive at Christmas.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Thoughts for December Meditations

December begins and the world is in a frenzy with Christmas preparations and celebrations. Anticipation for the coming year - all those resolutions and hope for a better life - grow as the month progresses. It becomes easy to fall into the distractions and become side-tracked in the bustle, which can bring on stress and anxiety.

There is a better, quieter and simpler way to focus on December which can give us much comfort and consolation. I love the fact that within the Church year, each month has a dedication to help us deepen our understanding about the Faith to nourish our spiritual life and infuse our souls with peace and joy. Allowing ourselves to tap into these resources for even a few minutes a day can put us in tune with the real reason for the anticipated celebration of Christmas and the Christmas season.

Who does not love a baby - especially when the Baby is the Infant Jesus? The Church begins Her Liturgical Year in December, which is dedicated to the Divine Infancy. The Advent Season begins and ends in December, and is all about preparation for the coming of the Savior. Just as we need to prepare for the birth of our own children with baby showers and the family excitement of the new arrival grows, so do we need to spiritually prepare for the birth of Christ in this wonderful season.

Those who are blessed to be able to attend Holy Mass on a daily basis are invited to feel the holy hope of the coming Messiah, Who will break the bondage of sin and offer us eternal life. The liturgy is filled with Old Testament verses associated with the coming Redeemer through the Psalms and readings taken from Isaias - the prophet of the Incarnation.

Mingled with the hope and joy, Advent is also a time of penance. Again the liturgy reminds us through St. Paul's epistles and the words of St. John the Baptist  to "make straight the way of the Lord." While not as demanding as the penitential season of Lent, Advent does invite us to reflect on those things that make the Lord's path to our hearts less winding and more straight. The season encourages us remove from our hearts and minds those weaknesses and habits that keep us from feeling God's presence in our daily life.

So what can we do make this spiritual preparation when daily Mass is not available? The Church in Her Wisdom has placed before us in December's dedication to the Divine Infancy many activities to ready us for Christmas which I have discussed in this article. Delving deeper into the month, The Church calls us to honor Our Redeemer's Mother, celebrating her Immaculate Conception on December 8. Any novenas dedicated to Our Lady and her Maternity as well as those dedicated to Our Lord and His Infancy are entirely appropriate for the season as well. A nice connection to three novenas can be found here - The Novena to the Infant of Prague, The St. Andrew Novena and the Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe (especially as she is the intercessor of the unborn).

For a fuller discussion on the Infancy and Childhood of Jesus as well as links to other small devotions that can be done daily, please click here.

The point is that in order to experience the coming Christmas Season, which begins on December 25, with the most peace and joy in our hearts, we need to make time beforehand to move our hearts and minds from the clutter of daily life. These activities and prayers take very little time during the course of our day. Many can be added to our daily prayers. Through them, our understanding of the miracle that occurred so many centuries ago in a stable in Bethlehem is broadened, our knowledge increased, and our love for the things Unseen intensified.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Blitzing by Advent to Christmas


Here we sit at what is, in the secular world, the end of the year; yet for those in the Christian faith, it is the beginning of a new one. These worlds collide at Thanksgiving, when the secular world explodes into the frenzy of the holiday trifecta (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years), and the Christian world begins its preparation for the Advent of Christ Incarnate.

I have noticed in these past years that even the Christian world blitzes right into the joyous season of Christmas, totally bypassing the preparatory weeks of Advent. Christmas lights go up on houses, trees are purchased and decorated, parties and gatherings are crammed into those few weeks before December 25. What a pity.

Advent is a beautiful time of year. The season is heralded in by the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30). As it continues for four weeks before Christmas, the season is filled with both a call to joyous hope of mercy and deliverance, and an introspective call to penance.

Advent connects the Biblical past of Old Testament prophecies to the birth of the promised Redeemer. The liturgy throughout these weeks is rich with reminders of patient suffering and holy hope. It is a wonderful time to tap into activities to broaden our understanding and place our focus on the upcoming Christmas season. In fact, there are so many activities it can be difficult to choose one. Many can be done as individuals; some are better suited for family or church community consideration. These are some of my favorites:

The St. Andrew Novena (Christmas Novena)
St. Andrew's feast day on November 30 begins the Christmas Novena. A full discussion and the novena itself can be found here. I like this novena as it encompasses the entirety of Advent - a daily reminder of how Our Lord was born into this world. It helps me cope with many of the problems I encounter each day.

Advent Wreaths 
One of the most popular activities to bring the sense of Advent to life is the Advent Wreath. Greens arranged in the form of a wreath and adorned with four candles, three purple and one rose, are lit one week at a time beginning the First Sunday of Advent. A new one is lit each Sunday, with the rose candle reserved for the Third Sunday. Another terrific explanation of the symbolism, as well as the prayers for the ceremony can be found at this website. The Advent Wreath and the prayers bring the family together in preparation for Christmas.

The Jesse Tree and Advent Calendars
The Jesse Tree is another one of my favorite Advent activities for families and communities. There are many different kits available for purchase, but I made my own from felt and is displayed as a wall hanging. It is a favorite because it ties the Old Testament prophecies to the Birth of Christ, as well as tracing Christ's ancestral roots, beginning with Creation. Symbols are placed on the tree each day starting December 1, and is accompanied by a Scriptural passage. CatholicCulture.org has a nice discussion about it, as well as directions for creating your own Jesse Tree. Click here to explore this site.

Along similar lines to the Jesse Tree is the Advent Calendar. This Advent activity, in my opinion, has been co-opted by the secular world to the point that it has really lost its spiritual significance. Google "Advent Calendar" and a host of options are at your fingertips: from children's Lego versions with a Star Wars theme, to an adult version involving alcohol, the Advent Calendar is my least favorite activity.

There are many choices we can make as individuals, families and faith communities to grow and deepen our preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas. If any of these activities pique your interest, go for it! Lessons learned along the way will make the Christmas season - which begins on December 25 - more profound.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Living Intentionally

I had the best of intentions when I started a blog three years ago. As a matter of fact, I had visualized an amazing career as a blogger, writing hundreds of interesting stories about everything in life. I envisioned my daily routine: up each morning early, laptop at the ready, my fingers flowing easily and quickly across the keyboard creating stories, opinion pieces and thoughts to be shared to the hundreds, no, thousands of readers who would eagerly await my next post.

I even pictured myself going through all the comments people would make for each article, taking the positive and negative feedback, you know, being totally professional in addressing replies. It was going to be great as my voice joined other prominent voices in cyberspace to enlighten and delight the world.

Reality quickly set in as I discovered that few, if anyone, bothered to read my posts. Even my closest family and friends managed to find other things to do than read my blog. I will admit that I was consistent for one month only; not enough time to build much of anything, I know. Somehow I had just expected overnight success. When it did not happen, I became frustrated to the point that I was ready to give it up.

It is little wonder then, that my posts for 2015 averaged one every other month. Not ready to throw in the towel, I recommitted myself, so that by the end of 2016 I had published a whopping 30 posts, thanks in part to a writing challenge I joined. This sort of thing was a nice prompt for me, but it became a source of anxiety and frustration mostly because I didn't care very much for some of the prompts (write about the first object you see, which happened to be a salt shaker), so writing became less fun and more like a chore.

Here I am at the close of 2017 and this post on "Living Intentionally" has yet to be completed even though I began it in March. What happened? Where did I get so far off track? I still got up early, but wasn't writing. Instead, I had subscribed to countless personal development, writing and career sites, all of which were well and good, with the intention of using the information to move my career forward faster than I had been seeing it move. I downloaded books, signed up for courses and I still was not getting anywhere. What I discovered, though, was at the end of two hours - very early hours - my mind had been bombarded with strategies, hints, inspirations about creating a better me, as well as a better writer. What it didn't do was move me to action.

Half way through the year, with no successes to bolster me, I managed to find ways to not even get out of bed early. It wasn't that I didn't think about it - goodness knows I was awake - I thought about getting up to start writing or working on priorities for my health coach business, but then thought it was pointless because I had nothing to write, and it was far too early to deal with my health coach business. I convinced myself that I would be able to write later in the day or reach out to my clients -when I might be more inspired.

Rather than focusing on how this year has been a waste and that I am an utter failure, I have been thinking about what needs to happen to get me out of this funk. As a health and wellness coach, I know that there is a strong, almost indestructible connection between the body, the mind and our financial states. There are times when we just need to take that step back (or outside of ourselves) and figure out where the derailment occurred.

For me, it is that I had no clear idea about what I expected from myself. I had these great visual dreams but didn't believe that they could ever be realized. I know now that my dreams of being a successful health coach, joining with other coaches to truly "Get America Healthy," as well as an exceptional writer are within my grasp. I just need to do the work. The first thing is to create consistency in my actions that lasts longer than a month.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Seasonal Changes and Mind Games

Does anyone else think that the change from summer to autumn is the most drastic of the seasonal changes we experience?

I was driving late yesterday afternoon and I could not help but be struck at the "all of a sudden" differences I saw and felt as I made my way home. A sea of red tail lights from the traffic slowly moving with me stood out in contrast to the wave of white headlights approaching from the opposite direction....it was barely 4 pm. Surrounding us all, dusk, with its rich hues of purple created by the sun setting through both thick and thin cloud layers, rapidly disappeared as night fell.

The busy surface streets, lined with shopping centers, brilliantly lit with a variety of colored lights displaying restaurant names, gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies, became brighter as the darkness increased. Residential neighborhoods, illuminated by streetlights, were also starting to glow as residents turned on lights both inside and outside their homes.

Here and there people dressed in light coats and hats -- resilent North-westerners armed with an umbrella, a flashlight or a dog, walked along the sidewalks not bothered by the occasional drizzle. Some, the more athletically determined I suppose, dressed in running shorts and shirts, passed and out distanced the walkers with their rhythmic and almost effortless strides. Still the darkness silently enveloped us.

This growing lack of light did not stop many people from continuing their work-related activities either, be that yard clean up, garage cleaning, or in many instances, putting up Christmas decorations. Yes, Christmas decorations. As November moves out and December moves in, we enter the Holiday Trifecta: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's celebrations.

What happened to those long, lazy days of spring and summer? The hours of daylight beginning around 5 am and lingering until 9 pm or later? Not that I utilized the gift, mind you, but that flexibility to be able to be outside to enjoy a sunrise or a sunset was sort of always there should I make use of the opportunity. The busyness of the days, it seemed, could begin or settle like waves gently lapping on the shore.

The shortened days of autumn and winter -- especially as the year closes -- bring an almost frantic state of mind as the holiday activities loom ever-closer on the daily horizon. Morning light delays its arrival which means I am less inclined to move from the warmth and reverie of bed. Once up and moving, the race to complete daily tasks before early sunsets is much more like trying to get to  safety as waves crash the shore ahead of a coastal storm. The added holiday activities, simple ones, really, like decorating our home, the office, just seem to add to the frenzy.

It really is an interesting contrast that we talk about the "lazy" days of spring and summer, in spite of the fact that the days appear longer; while the shortened days of autumn and early winter are crammed with activity that puts an ant farm to shame. It is the same 24 hours. Nothing more. Nothing less. The challenge is making the most of the daily gift we are freely given, which for me means getting out of the mind-game of light and darkness and just doing what needs to be done.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

In the Clinic Building Relationships

Remember the scene in You've Got Mail when Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), having put Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) out of business, visits her after learning that she is sick, and the conversation turns to relationships? The conversation went like this:

Joe Fox:  It wasn't...personal.
Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn't personal to you. But is was personal to me. It's "personal" to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal, anyway?
Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.
Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

This is at the heart of all things....being personal. In the clinic we see this every day. Going to the doctor is of all things personal, right? Patients new to the practices may, in a matter of a half hour's acquaintance, be asked to get undressed or otherwise expose parts of their body to near strangers....zooming from, "Nice to meet you," to "Let's take a look at that sore on your___________. Would you please take off your shirt and pants?" Pretty darn personal.

In today's healthcare culture, the trend seems to be heavily focused on the "science" of medicine. We are blessed to be living in an age where technology advances enable practitioners to identify with greater clarity not only a patient's medical problem or condition, but also hone in on the severity of the condition. A cough can be a cough, or it can be the symptom of something more serious, which might be identified by imaging studies. The ability to use this technology gives medical doctors information that helps them better treat their patients' medical problems. It seems that the advances in both technology and drug therapy should improve the quality of medicine. Or not.

Certainly the ability to diagnose and treat conditions has improved and lives are saved, for which we should be grateful. The price paid for these advances can have an unseen but perhaps a negative effect. We see this every day in the clinic: Imaging reports from X-rays, CT, MRI tests, lab results and consult reports flood the office fax machine, mail, and email. Our providers spend much time each day reviewing data and planning the next steps in treating the patients who come through our doors. Ours is a small office; I can only imagine what the larger clinics must see, and wonder how the providers deal with the tsunami of paperwork in a practice panel of 2000 or more patients. Time consuming tasks that either bring the provider into the office hours ahead of clinic time to complete, or keep them hours beyond the time the clinic closes can negatively impact both quality and work satisfaction.

All the paperwork and reports needing to be completed for specialist referrals, insurance companies and the government pull doctors, therapists, counselors away from the "art" of medicine; the intangible something that should really be at the heart of working in a medical setting. Asking a physician or nurse why they chose the profession, the most common answer is not because they enjoy reading medical test results, completing forms to justify medical treatment for a patient, or even the money. The most common reason, almost to a person, is that they want to serve others by using their knowledge and skill to improve their patients' health and wellbeing, to treat them when they are not feeling well and to be there ready to help when needed.

So for what it is worth, patients don't know or remember that our doctors spend a great deal of time behind the scenes shuffling papers and jumping through hoops to get services or prescriptions needed in patient treatment. This is science and now bureauracy of medicine. Patients do know and remember, though, how they felt after seeing the doctor; the time spent in conversation with them; the caring touch received on physical examination or even in a handshake or hug; the tone of their voice; a smile. This is the art of medicine. It is building the relationship and feeling valued. It begins, grows and thrives by first being personal.