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.