Catholic Exchange: Let Christmas Teach Us to Make Haste in the Spiritual Life

During Advent and now the Christmas season, I have tried to spend time each day meditating on the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. These three chapters are packed with significant events, responses, and depth on the part of the people involved and their encounter with God. Within them we discover the righteousness of St. Joseph, the foretelling of and birth of St. John the Baptist, the Annunciation of Our Lord and the fiat of Our Heavenly Mother, the Visitation and the beautiful prayer of praise known as the Magnificat, and the Nativity of Our Lord. If there is one theme that has stood out to me in my meditations it is that the spiritual life requires haste. When we hear God’s Word, and when we encounter the Living God made man, we are to respond in haste. There is no time to waste. The Word has become flesh, so let us go to Him in haste.

St. Joseph’s obedient and immediate response to God.

We do not know much about St. Joseph. He is silent in the Gospels, but his actions reveal a great deal about the adoptive father of the Son of God. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

St. Joseph demonstrates his charitable character by refusing to subject Mary to public shame for what appears to be an adulterous act, but then an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream. The angel clarifies and explains Mary’s situation to Joseph and also invites Joseph to participate in God’s plan for the salvation of mankind as her husband. His role is to be the adoptive father of Jesus, the God Incarnate, who has come to His people to save them from sin and death. While this particular passage of Scripture does not use the word “haste” –as it appears in Luke–it is clear that St. Joseph responded immediately to God’s will. He did not wait to do these things, he awoke from the dream and did God’s will. He encountered God through the angel and responded quickly to God’s invitation.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Sporadic Blogging and Final Months of Master’s Degree

My writing has grown a bit sporadic again. I am preparing for my first comprehensive exam for my Master’s in early January and I will begin my final semester of coursework before I complete my second comprehensive exam and go to thesis in the spring and summer. The next few months will be busy as I finish up my Master’s. I will write as time allows and continue my regular contributions to Catholic Exchange. As always, I greatly appreciate your readership. I hope you have a blessed remainder of Advent and a joyous Christmas season. Here is some beauty to enjoy and raise your soul to the Most Holy Trinity. Pax Christi.

 

 

 

Catholic Exchange: What Will We Give Jesus for His Birthday?

We are now in the final days of Advent. These last days are a good time to fully prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. If we have not taken the time to enter into prayerful quiet, now is a good time to do so. If we do not enter into the preparation of Advent, there is a good chance we will miss the true joy of Christmas, because we will not have taken the time to prepare our hearts fully for the coming of Our Savior. A couple of weeks ago, my parish priest asked us a question in order to help us prepare for Christmas. He asked, “What are we going to give Jesus for His birthday?” Ever since Father spoke these words, they have been on my mind. What am I going to give Jesus for His birthday?

Whose birthday is it anyway?

To be honest, it is such a simple question, that it is often lost on us; this includes me. Often, we end up making this one of the busiest and most material times of the year. As parents, my husband and I have tried to cut back on the material and busy sides of Advent and Christmas. We spent one too many Christmases with family and friends watching kids tear into far too many gifts only to cast them aside. The desire for more, more, more was all over their faces. More of what, exactly? Things that can never in principle make them truly happy? We realized early on that we cannot hope to teach our daughter holiness if Christmas is seen as an accumulation of large quantities of stuff. We cut back to three gifts from us, which represent the gifts of the Magi. All other gifts are from grandparents and other family. Even then, it has been difficult to maintain temperance in this regard because my husband and I are rather counter-cultural in this approach.

Our reason for this refocus is because it is very easy in our culture to focus on the material aspects of Christmas. We are inundated with the idea that buying the “perfect” gift will achieve happiness for our loved ones or ourselves. Advertising campaigns have even switched to telling us that we “deserve to buy ourselves the perfect gift this Christmas.” We hear this on the radio, see it on TV, and we are bombarded whenever we walk into a store this time of year. I notice a tendency in my own daughter to want stuff and lots of it. Of course, hours or days later she will cast aside this item she had to have since it has served its temporary purpose. I have been asking God how to temperately celebrate His birth in a manner that is a balance between merriment, cheer, self-emptying love, virtuous living, and a focus on Him. Then came Father’s question to all of us, to me.

In the Latin Rite, we can easily forget that Advent is a penitential season. It is not as strict as Lent and often the penitential aspects are not mentioned, but for all intents and purposes, Advent is penitential. We are told to prepare for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas and in the Parousia. If Christ came again in the Second Coming at this very moment, would we be prepared? We are called to constantly prepare our hearts for His coming. This is a call to grow in holiness, to deepen our prayer lives, frequent the sacraments, and to consider those areas where vice rules over virtue. The Catholic understanding is not that we have to be merely “good people”. That idea comes from the post-modern heresy of moral therapeutic deism. We are called to be saints, not “good people”. In Lent, we consider something to give up to grow in holiness to prepare for the great mysteries of Holy Week. In that same vein: What is it we are going to give Our Lord and Savior at Christmas?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Seeing Our Neighbor and the Long Loneliness of December

Every year a discussion about the startling rise in suicide rates during the holidays makes national news. More often than not, the cause is relegated to mental illness, stress, or family situations. While all of these may be true, they betray a purely materialist view of the human person. Mental illness in itself is a tremendous Cross for those who carry it. All illness has a bodily and a spiritual dimension. That’s why Christ gave the Church the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. There is a very real need for physical treatments, but we live in an age that focuses on the body and ignores the spirit. Far too often we ignore the needs of our neighbors. Whether it is the deepening darkness leading to the winter solstice or a heightened awareness of one’s loneliness due to the holidays, people who struggle with mental illness, family problems, stress, or a whole plethora of other issues find themselves undone this time of year. What are we doing to help them?

Do we truly see our neighbor?

I find that one of my greatest shortcomings in social gathers is that I cannot remember people’s names. This is a shortcoming, because it means that I do not stay present and truly focus on each person I meet at an event. In fact, it may take me many meetings to remember the name of a person. I am so self-absorbed that I cannot focus for a couple of minutes to remember a person’s name. It also means that I am not listening to everything else they are telling me. I am not seeing my neighbor. I do not see Christ in them either. It’s impossible to see either if I am not fully present in charity.

Everyone suffers at some point in their lives. For some people suffering is chronic and is a lived affliction. My own father has suffered with chronic illness ever since he had rheumatic fever at 7 years of age. He has lived with intense pain for 53 years. The level of his suffering over the years has only been revealed to me as an adult, since he tried to keep it from my sisters and me as children. While he would not want attention to be drawn to him, I have to wonder if people have cared to notice this Cross in their brother in Christ? Would I have noticed if he were not my own father? Chronic illness is inherently lonely, but often we fail to notice its effects in the person sitting or standing beside us. The Mystical Body is called to walk into the joys and sufferings of their neighbor. Pope Saint John Paul II in Novo Millenio Inuente explains:

A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as “those who are a part of me”. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship.

If we are truly committed to walking as disciples of Christ, then we will step into the Crosses of our neighbor, rather than flee. This requires great courage, charity, and the forming of habitual action.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: The Freedom of Mary’s Immaculate Conception

Today the Church celebrates the great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is the day we celebrate how Our Heavenly Mother was the first to receive the merits of her Divine Son’s Paschal Mystery. Unlike us, she was conceived without the taint of Eve’s sin coursing through her. Do we contemplate this great mystery? What it is to be conceived without Original Sin? To be free of the enslavement of sin is a tremendous gift Christ bestowed upon His mother.

We live in an age largely devoid of a true understanding of sin. There is no good or evil because each individual decides truth. If it is true or good for me, then it is not evil. In essence, this creates a system and moral law devoid of any truth. In fact, it is no moral law at all. In reality, sin makes us want to live in the mud. We think being human requires frolicking in the slop of evil. We call this good. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 2005 points out this error.

Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life:  the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

How often have we experienced this temptation? How often have people told us the exact same thing? According to far too many people, to be fully human is to sin. ‘You Catholics must live no life at all.’ It is “boring” to work towards sainthood. Our Heavenly Mother must have had no life at all. In reality, her life was much fuller than yours or mine because of the gift of being born without Original Sin.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.