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."
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.
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.
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 house. There 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.
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.
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
'Lord, I offer and consecrate to You this morning all that I am and have:
In a word,
I place my whole body and soul in Your hands.'
St. Alphonsus de Ligori Painting: Orazio Borgianni, St Carlo Borromeo
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)
'Dearest Jesus, work another miracle, a prodigy of grace. Make my soul a beautiful, living Tabernacle 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)
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.
once spoke about this to my friend RG. So much hubbub, and so soon!
Carols blaring, shoppers rushing... and so many lights.
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?"
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."
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."
be no Christmas, no decorations, no special songs, no shoppers and
gifters, no strings of lights on trees and houses, if Jesus had not
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
For now, for just these few short weeks, the window is open.