Monday, December 30, 2013

Full of Eternity

'Time is full of eternity.  
As we use it, 
so shall we be. 
Every day 
has its opportunities, 
every hour
its offer of grace.'

Cardinal Henry Manning, 1883

Painting: Jaroslav Spillar Familie aus dem Chodenland, 1900, detail

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Happiest Birth

'The birth of the Lord gives rise 
to a thousand thoughts and reflections in our hearts!  
Never could there have been a poorer or happier birth, 
nor at the same time a more radiant and happy mother!'  

St. Francis de Sales

Painting:  Edward Burne-Jones, Nativity

Thursday, December 26, 2013

On the Feast of Stephen

Thanks to good King Wenceslas, I always remember the Feast of Stephen.  I like to think I'd do so anyway, for Stephen is one of my favorite saints.  I see him as a perfect patron for those of us who strive to view life "through the grille."

Reading Acts 6 and 7, I find a number of things to love about Stephen.  He was deeply spiritual and prudent, he spoke with wisdom, and he was called to humbly serve by waiting tables.  When he was falsely accused, his face "seemed like that of an angel."  He fearlessly spoke the truth of God, and those who listened were stung to the heart (Acts 7:54).

And then, as we know, they stoned him.

What does this have to do with living as a cloistered heart?  I would say:  pretty much everything.

Stephen was willing to humbly serve by waiting on tables.  At the same time, he fed spiritually, freely sharing the truth of Christ.

And if anyone ever "viewed and responded to circumstances 'through the grille,'" it was Stephen.  Even as his persecutors were grinding their teeth at him, he boldly exclaimed "'Look!... I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God's right hand."

I am sure this acute view of reality buffered the saint's agony as stones were hurled at him.  "As he was being stoned, he could be heard praying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'  He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'"  (Acts 7:54, 59, 60)

What a way to meet one's Maker. 

I have never had stones thrown at me - not physically.  But smirks and snubs for living and speaking the truth of God?  O course.  This has probably happened to all of us.  Even Jesus told us to expect nothing less.  "You will be hated by all on account of Me."  (Matthew 10:22)

When I feel the sting of tiny pebbles, from neighbors or relatives or associates of any kind, I hope to think of Stephen.  I hope to remember to ask his intercession.

May he help us find the view through the grille. 

Painting:  Bernardo Cavallino, Martyrdom of St Stephen

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This is an edited post from our 2012 archives


Monday, December 23, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christ is Near

a herald voice is calling;
'Christ is near,' 
it seems to say; 
'Cast away the dreams 
of darkness,
O ye children of the day.'"

(Roman Breviary Hymn, 5th century)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Glorious Interruption

This time of year can bring both blessing and hassle.  Holy meditations, carols, the contagious wonder of wide-eyed children...  these unwrap great blessings and usually great fun. 

For some of us, however, the activities of Christmas can feel like an intrusion.  Day to day life is more or less put on hold by an urgent need to shop and wrap and plan.  Chairs and tables are displaced by, of all things, a tree in the middle of our houseThere is no time to do ordinary things, as everyday life is seriously disrupted for weeks on end.  It can seem like a major interruption.

A few years ago, the truth of it hit me.  This is what Christmas has been since the instant of the Incarnation: an interruption.  Please stay with me here, because our first reaction to the word “interruption” could be negative.  But interruptions are often quite positive, and this Interruption was the most positive of them all.

Think of it.  Mary was living a quiet, hidden life.   She was betrothed.   Then one day an angel appeared to her, and with that Holy Interruption Mary’s life was changed forever.  As was Joseph’s, as was yours, as was mine. 

As we know, there was a Birth.  There were shepherds tending their flocks, and again an angel appeared.  A night of sheep-watching was interrupted.  

While most of the world went on unaware, a few men in the east noticed something out of the ordinary.  A sign in the sky.  Something signaling, to them, a wondrous Interruption – one so marvelous that they must drop any other plans they had and go in haste, and they must bring gifts.  These men were wise enough to know that somehow the world had changed, maybe even that the course of life on earth had been altered. 

The change was so shattering that mankind took notice.  Calendars would later mark the divide.  

God Himself had split the heavens.  

We now measure time by the before and after of that Grand Interruption, in effect saying that yes, we see.  We may not understand, really, but we recognize the wonder and the mystery of it.  God interrupted the cycle of sin and death by breaking into our world (John 3:16).  Jesus broke into the flesh of man, shattering hopelessness with His power and mercy. 

With Jesus' arrival in the flesh, God interrupted our misery.  He opened to us the path to salvation.  

When I feel stressed by Christmas interruptions, I try to remember what I'm celebrating.  Death was interrupted by Life.  Despair was interrupted by Hope. 

With His glorious interruption, God tore through the fabric of time.    

This is a slightly edited version of a post from our archives



Paintings:  Frederic James Shields, Annunciation
                Blake, Ancient of Days

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dry Because...

'My spirit has 
become dry 
it forgets 
to feed 
on You.'

St. John of the Cross

Painting:  Zurbarán, St John of the Cross

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Morning Offering

              'Lord, I offer and consecrate to You this morning all that I am and have:
              my senses,
              my thoughts,
              my affections,
              my desires,
              my pleasures,
              my inclinations,
              my liberty.
              In a word,
              I place my whole body and soul in Your hands.'

              St. Alphonsus de Ligori
              Painting:  Orazio Borgianni, St Carlo Borromeo

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Thursday, December 12, 2013


One word we hear at this time of year is "joy."  It sings to us from carols, calls to us from cards, marches across banners in the mall. 

I've heard it said that JOY is found by putting your focus and priorities in the proper order:

J   esus  
O  thers 
Y  ourself  

Is this "priority of focus" how St. Paul could write, in the face of persecutions, "I am filled with consolation, and despite my many afflictions my joy knows no bounds." (2 Corinthians 7:4)..?

Is this "priority of focus" what enabled some of the Church's greatest saints to endure adversities with joy? 

I pray that we may we all burst forth with "the joy of right priorities" at this holy time of year. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always!  I say it again: rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)  

This was originally posted on The Breadbox Letters

Painting:  Otto Scholderer Großes Stilleben mit junger Frau

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Monday, December 9, 2013

My Soul a Tabernacle

'Dearest Jesus, 
work another miracle, 
a prodigy of grace.  
Make my soul 
a beautiful, 
where You will 
ever dwell.  
Let me never 
leave You alone, 
but remind me 
to return 
hundreds of times 
in the day 
and have 
a word 
with You.'

(from Fervorinos From Galilee's Hills,
compiled by a Religious, Pelligrini, Australia, 
1936, p. 194)

Painting:  Edward Burne Jones, 1886

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Catholic Bloggers Network Monthly Linkup   

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Lesson of the Lights

Advent is one week old, and already Christmas decorations surround us.  In Church we watch quietly, our spirits hushed, as light dawns slowly with the softness of sunrise.

It is quite a different story out here... in the glittering, clashing, clattering clamor of the world.

I once spoke about this to my friend RG.  So much hubbub, and so soon!  Carols blaring, shoppers rushing... and so many lights.

My friend looked at me with a wisdom born (I suspect) of having lived 25 years longer than I. "Did you ever think," he asked gently, "that every one of those lights is because Jesus came to us?"

Well, yeah, I said.  "But not everyone putting lights on their houses is doing it specifically to honor Jesus."  I was being very logical.  "Some may not even believe in Him." 

"Whether they believe in Him or not," said RG, "they would not be putting up lights right now if Jesus had not come to the world." 

There would be no Christmas, no decorations, no special songs, no shoppers and gifters, no strings of lights on trees and houses, if Jesus had not come.

RG went on to say that when he saw Christmas lights, he thanked Jesus for coming to us.  I'm sure he seldom forgot this practice, for he was a man of prayer.  This holy man has now gone Home to God; he needs no more reminders.  I, meanwhile, think every Christmas of his simple wisdom. 

"This would not be here if Jesus had not come."  The decorations, the cards, the lights - all shine forth the news that Something Really Important happened on this earth over 2000 years ago.

Something Important Happened, and we have not forgotten.

Thanks be to God for the lesson of the lights. 

This is an edited repost from the Breadbox Letters archives, 2011

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Monthly Linkup   

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Cloistered Heart, Illustrated

The Advent window continues to open.  With every Christmas program, cookie-swap, even (yes!) trip to the mall, there are opportunities to hear and to proclaim (maybe through a card sent or a "merry Christmas" spoken) the message that Jesus has come.

I first posted this video last Advent.  As I ponder it anew, I realize more than ever how accurately it portrays the witness of a cloistered heart.  Oh - I don't mean that we should go through malls preaching and singing.  But what if we did our shopping with songs of praise in our hearts?   Not just at this time of year, but as often as we can remember to do so?

Our inner voices of prayer do, I believe, have an effect on things around us.  How could they not?

I continue to see this video as a marvelous illustration of what cloistered hearts can be, in various ways, in the hustle and bustle and distraction and clamor and craziness of the world.  So I ask it again this year.... 

Can we be cloistered here?

Painting at the top of this post is The Shop Girl by James Tissot

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Monday, December 2, 2013

The Advent Window, Revisited

Recently, I've seen online discussions about whether or not Christmas should be celebrated before the 25th.  In the Church, it's time for hearts to wait in hushed anticipation. In the world, however, things are not that way. We can barely walk out our doors without feeling "the attack of the glitz."

Last year, I wrote a post about a special - actually, THE MOST special - Advent in my life. I wasn't attending Church regularly in that long-ago Advent.  I was twenty years old and in what I've called my "I don't bother God and He doesn't bother me" phase. If pressed, I might have said I believed in God.  Probably.  Maybe.  The truth was:  I just didn't care.

That started changing as the world began its pre-Christmas celebrations in early December.  I wasn't talking to the Lord then, but it seems He used the clamor of the season as an opportunity to talk to me.

It was a month of non-stop reminders of the Reason for the season.  I almost couldn't get away from them.  Switching on a radio, I would catch an old familiar carol, one I'd heard every Christmas since childhood.  This time, however, the words sounded... different.

Sales clerks wished me merry Christmas.  A nativity scene was, as always, featured on the Court House steps, and that year I stopped more than once to notice.

As it turned out, that Advent was a pivotal time.  After doing a few things that I was at a loss to understand (choosing Christmas cards with Baby Jesus on them, taking notice of a song about Christ the Savior), I returned to Mass.  I thought more about God, and began to stammer out a few prayers.  Soon I was involved in a Catholic student center, where I would meet the wonderful young man I'd marry.. and the rest, as they say, is our history.

There are many people, right now, who are just as I was that Advent.  They may not spend much (if any) time in Church.  They might not be interested at all in God, but they're probably interested in Christmas.  They trim trees, string lights, watch Christmas movies, gather at parties, sing carols.  And in between "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "I'll Have a Blue ooh-ooh Christmas," they just might sing a few verses of "Silent Night."

It seems to me that in our secular, we're-doing-fine-by-ourselves world, there appears in this season an amazing and unique window of opportunity.

A slot.

A crack in the Everyday.

An opening through which the call of God might be heard through carol or card.   

In recent years, we have seen that crack narrow.  The Court House steps of my youth haven't seen a nativity display in years.  Store clerks wish me "happy holidays" at best. But even now, somewhere between shoppers lined up for black Friday and the queues awaiting after-Christmas sales, there is still a window of opportunity.  A time when someone rushing through a store might catch the strains of an old familiar carol, one she's heard every Christmas since childhood.   Yet this time, the words sound.... different.  She remembers pictures of a babe in a manger, and some part of her seems to thaw....

This is a season when we can acknowledge (like at no other time) the One Who was born for us. After all, friends will not be likely to toss out cards that happen to have nativity scenes on them.  Neighbors visiting our home won't be offended by the words of "The First Noel." It's all just part of the season, part of the holidays, part of the fun.

The Church will begin Christmas music and celebrations on the 25th, but out here in the world, the window is now wide open.

This is when scenes and songs normally found only in Church can spill out into the world.

And who knows?  Someone years from now might look back on a card I sent her this season, or remember the nativity scene she saw in my home, and recall this very year as her own special Advent. 

For now, for just these few short weeks, the window is open.

We have no idea who might be looking through it.

I pray that they may catch a glimpse of Christ.


top: Franz Skarbina Unter dem Weihnachtsbaum (digitally altered)
bottom: Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Young Peasant Woman with Three Children at the Window