In preparation of Christmas

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The purpose of Advent is to prepare for the coming of the Lord, but this preparation and anticipation is a two edged sword.  In one way it is the preparation for the Christmas season, which is a reminder of that first nativity and a reminder of Israel’s long waiting of their Messiah. It is a meditation on that history of the Old Testament.

The other side of Advent focuses on that next coming of Christ at the end of time, and at the final judgment. This season looks back towards the past, and also towards the future. In preparing for Christmas in this Advent season then, there are two approaches. One is to look at the readings of the Masses that are part of this season and to listen to the prophets longing for that Messiah. It is to look at what it was those ancient people longed for and how this infant Christ fulfilled those prophesies. It is the meditation on the infancy narratives. Much of Advent is a commemoration of a time in history, and to learn some of the lessons contained in those narratives.

The second side of Advent peers into the future when Christ will come again. For that it is listening to those readings that emphasize be watchful and to be ready for that second coming. The preparations of the festive events of this “Holiday Season”, though do take some specific preparations. For those preparing the dinners, there is the preparation that goes into putting on a festive meal. There is the decking the halls with holly, picking the tree, selecting the gifts, baking the treats; and everything else that is so much part of these seasons.

The point then is that these preparations are not meditative or contemplative but are concrete physically demanding tasks that are needed to prepare for a festive season. They do indeed serve an important part of Christmas, they emphasize the importance of a most joyous event and they emphasize preparation. But if all they prepare for is a meal or party, that preparation misses the point. The preparation is for the entry of God into this world, which is the focus of Advent and Christmas. The point of this discussion? Along with the meditative, contemplative side of Advent there is another way to bring meaning to these seasons. Preparation.

That other way, preparation, is to in some way make Jesus the Christ visible to this world during these seasons. How that is accomplished is up to the individual.

Determining what might be a person’s uniquely individual way of making Christ known during the seasons certainly can take some work. At this time of year there are all sorts of folks that are requesting some Christian compassion. Perhaps this might be a good time, if able, not to ignore their requests. Giving financially though is only one form of making Christ known in this world.

During this season there are all sorts of folks looking for someone to lend a hand in labor, yet again many people indeed do lead hectic lives. There are those who have talents in the Arts who have the ability to deliver Christ in a uniquely beautiful way, but again that’s not everyone. This is something as simple as installing a nativity crèche, or complementing someone who took the trouble to do so.

There are so many varied ways each person can bring some aspect of Christ into this world, that both suits their abilities and personality. Here is that “parable of talents” to be interpreted, to discover ones individual talents. The preparation of Advent involves finding that way. Help make Jesus Christ visible in this contemporary world. Making Christ viable n this modern world is definitely a worthy pursuit during this season of preparation known as ADVENT.

Saint Thérèse de Lisieux, or “the Little Flower of Jesus”

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A briefest of biographies. Therese felt an early call to religious life. Although she had faced many challenges in her personal life, including frail health and emotional distress, at age of 15 she became a nun. Thérèse joined two of her older sisters in the cloistered Carmelite community of Lisieux, Normandy. After nine years as a Carmelite religious, she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. Thérèse was a magnificent writer, and through that writing, she became one of the most popular saints of the twentieth century. Through Pope Pius XI she was beatified in 1923, She was canonized Saint by the Roman Catholic Church May 17, 1925.On 19 October 1997 Pope John Paul II declared her the thirty-third Doctor of the Church. Thérèse is the youngest of all Doctors of the Church, and one of three woman Doctors.

Thérèse lived a hidden life that is the lifestyle of Carmelite nuns. Even though she in her words ‘wanted to be unknown’ yet her writings made her one of the most well known and loved Saint. The saint had a way with words, prolific and poetic and wise well beyond her youthful years. Along with her autobiography she recorded letters, poems, religious plays, prayers and various notes. Through technology (she is a saint in the early technological age) her last conversations were recorded by her sister. By the photographs (a new art form) taken by her sister Céline, she was beloved worldwide.

Popular devotion to Thérèsè suffered from the sentimentality of her age, flowery and embellished kitsch, something that was in direct contrast to the true nature of this popular Saint. In her own words: “I only love simplicity. I have a horror of pretense”, and:” we should not say improbable things, or things we do not know (about Saints). We must see their (the saints) real, and not their imagined lives.” One should definitely become familiar with Thérèsè through her writings, and not through what has been written about her. Her writings are her story, and her devotion in her own words. Briefly her devotion to Jesus can be summed up in one word, Love. It is through love that she sought to serve her Lord. That was her mission in a single word. Love. In her own words:

“Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that the Church being a body composed of different members, the most essential, the most noble of all the organs would not be wanting to her; I understood that the Church has a heart and that this heart is burning with love; that it is love alone which makes the members work, that if love were to die away apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. I understood that love comprises all vocations, that love is everything, that it embraces all times and all places because it is eternal!”

The thing is, with a saint just as this, what is one to do one her festive day? She was a Carmelite, should someone seek their advice? She was a Carmelite, what was their charism? Carmelites are contemplative, so let’s contemplate something. The saint contemplated Love, Christian love, and that is a good beginning. Thérèse enjoyed leaving little signs of kindness. Carmelites are based in prayer, so say a prayer or seek out a prayer of Thérèse, she was a writer. Carmelites are based in community, make a community better. Discover a new community, one lived in faith. Participate in a community. Thérèse did. Carmelites serve, the third part of their charism. Contemplation, community, prayer, service. Therese was infirm, a hint. Celebrate those, in the spirit of the saint. But how does one learn that spirit? That’s easy, simple! Thérèse was a writer, her spirit lives in those writings. Celebrate her with a good read, read what she wrote. She is a doctor of the Church after all and in this age of technology her bibliography is widely available. Read her books, her story, and her prayers. The memory of this saint has been recorded, in her own words. If there is one saint that can be memorialized in a technological age, it is her.

the first Sunday of Lent

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eve_editedFour days with a dash of ash on my head, but why is it there? For some, and I think this has been emphasized over the past few years, the cross of ash is a symbol of faith. To many it has become a proclamation and public display of faith. That is not what the priest says when placing ashes on a forehead. The priest says (or should say) that we come from ashes and to ashes we return.* They can also say repent and remember the gospel. The first saying is a reminder of that first reading of Genesis Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 where God forms man from a ball of clay, we gain life through the breath of God. The second phrase comes from the temptation of Adam and Eve by the serpent in the garden. In that story they fall to temptation and out of God’s grace. That action is man’s original sin. The ashes remind us of who created us, and of our frail human nature, and our path to salvation. While that reading of our birth and fall from Genesis chronicles our human nature and frailties, the reading of Jesus’s temptation Mt 4:1-11  by the same devil emphasizes HIS divinity. Jesus does not fall to temptation. He leads us back on that path towards the garden. Jesus leads us to salvation. The ashes are a poignant reminder of who we are, and who Jesus is.

The ashes are a reminder of our sinful nature, and that first couple was not the only of our kind to sin. Ashes are a reminder of the traditional Old Testament signs of repentance. In that Old Testament man acknowledged their sins by covering their heads in ashes and their bodies in sackcloth. In the ancient Christian traditions, ashes were sprinkled on the penitents as they lie on rough cloth. Penance then was strict, with those sinners standing outside the Church until their penitential acts were completed. Sometimes it is helpful to know traditions of both the Old and New Testaments over time in order to understand traditions of today.

Today, often one only considers themselves a penitent if a Big Sin was committed, and even then the sin is only admitted reluctantly. Those Big Sins are named mortal sins because the break a link to God, they are the sins that kill the soul. The truth is that there are many times per day a person has the occasion to sin. There are 86,400 seconds per day, and each one of them an opportunity to fall. Every choice is an opportunity to do right or wrong. Every second is the chance to do something we should not have, or forget to do something we should have. Before that first couple were guided by the snake, man only knew the grace of God. Our inheritance is the choice between good and evil. We don’t always choose “good”, that is for certain.

While the reading of Genesis documents our fall, the reading from Mathew tells of what was done to save us. It also gives hint at what we are to do this season. The Gospel is the Good News, and that news tells us to pick up our cross and follow him. Gospel tells us how to deal with those temptations as Jesus did. The gospel explains how to say no to the serpent in the desert. The season that is derived from that gospel, Lent, has three concise tools to aid us on our path. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer reminds that there is indeed something greater than us, it also is a path to call for help and ask for strength. Fasting also focuses on something greater than our immediate needs. It builds strength and character. Almsgiving is an act of charity of love. It is a reminder of a God that loves us. It is a reminder to do the same to others, it is also a reminder of the abundant blessings we have received.

How would I explain these readings of the first Sunday of Lent, how would I explain the past four days? It and they are a road map for a journey that is about to begin. They are a reminder of where we are starting from, where we are headed too, and a summary of what we need to get there. The first name for the Church that Jesus the Christ founded was “The Way.”  Might this day be the first road post along that Way?

Rom 5:12, 17-19

*”Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”