25 December 2013

Venite adoremus...

"O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem."
"O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer."

While this quotation is part of the Easter Vigil Exsultet, it was one of the first things I thought about after the clock passed midnight and the day became Christmas.  Earlier, I wrote about this year's Lent--filled with impatience and yearning for Easter--and how it shares that feeling of anticipation with Advent leading to Christmas. In the same way, Felix culpa not only causes me to meditate on Christ's Crucifixion, but also reminds me of the Incarnation.

I am continually pleasantly surprised by the parallels between the birth and death of Jesus Christ. He was laid in a manger in the stable; He would later be bound to wood at death. He was brought fine perfumes by the wise men; these perfumes would be used for His funeral cloths. Our Lord suffered and died for our sin, but could do so only because He humbled Himself to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a beautiful cycle which makes me want to celebrate the liturgical year properly all the more.

"Oh happy fault that merited such and so great a redeemer." It is easy (in that the evidence is apparent) to look at the Crucifix above the altar and say, "This is how He loves us." However, the Incarnation seems less obvious. Perhaps we have become a bit desensitized to the Truth. The Nativity scene is as memorized as the Goldilocks and the Three Bears tale, yet if we really acknowledged the reality behind this Child, we would fall to our knees. He is not merely a child, but also God. He comes to us, not grandly announced or on a red carpet, but proclaimed to few and basically in a barn (as a Midwest girl, this application makes the story of Jesus' birth even more incomprehensible: He could have been born less than a few miles away from me surrounded by livestock and soybeans. That just sounds crazy to think, doesn't it?).

What kind of King chooses to enter the world in this way? What kind of King allows Himself to join our weary world, being denied by those who can help Him, in the poorest of conditions? The answer: a King who has come to redeem us. He comes to us vulnerable and in humble conditions because He understands. His mission isn't just to tell us that He is worthy of worship (which He does receive at His birth); His mission is to make us holy, to save us in the time and place that we are.

So He meets us in the simplest and purest way as a child. I am reminded of Pope Benedict XVI's Midnight Mass Homily of 2006:

"He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him."

Our Lord presents Himself to us in the most beautiful way, completely out of love for us. Over the next 12 days of Christmas, let us come to the Infant Jesus in the Nativity, not with a fleeting, "How cute," but in reverence for the great work He accomplishes by entering the world in the way He does.

"Come, let us adore him!"
"Venite adoremus!"

22 December 2013

Dear Friends,

This is a good/great/wonderful reminder right now:

Love you, Papa Benny.

21 December 2013

First Comes Lent, Then Comes Advent

When I left school and came home, I was looking through the program from Easter Vigil now near nine months ago. I remember waiting so eagerly for several months for the day to arrive, and it is still odd sometimes to think that it has been this long gone.

Going through the program I remember very specific scenes.

"Blessing of the Easter Fire. Blessing of the Candle. Lighting of the Candle."
I remember standing in the courtyard as these events took place. I remember our RCIA group gathering around, standing close together in the breeze and having amusing exchanges with the people around me about our friend and sacristan's potential pyromania. I remember walking up the stone incline to the steps before the church.

"The people re-enter the darkened church. The priest and ministers follow. The celebrant stops three times, proclaiming, "The Light of Christ." The people respond, "Thanks be to God" After the second acclamation, all light their candles from the Easter candle."
This was one of the most memorable and magical moments. The slow procession of the priests hiked up the anticipation I was already feeling dancing at the end of my nerves. Then the light began to spread in the darkened church, like "And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." Except I so eagerly wanted to comprehend it, and seemed to be holding my breath as priests and candlelight got closer.

"First Reading, Second Reading, Third Reading,..."
These readings, songs and prayers seemed to go on forever (that happens when you have nine of them), but each reading was like the first time I'd heard them, each Psalm opening up understanding and agreement, each prayer faithfully offered. The history of salvation unfolded with each round, each one as one drop of water closer to refreshment that would come with the Gospel. But perhaps my favorite part was next.

"Gloria. The church bells are rung, the altar candles are lighted, and the church lights are turned on."
It seems like such a simple explanation, too simple an explanation, for what that moment was like. From near complete darkness, meditating on the Word and being led in prayer for the better par of an hour, the introduction of light was as brilliant as the organ jumping to life and voices filling the church with praises to and of and for God, God Who gave of himself so completely out of His love, Who rose again from His power, offered us His hand of friendship. Music filled the air and I swore I could hear the angels and saints along with us. With my sponsor beside me, others in RCIA surrounding me, the priests who inspired me before me and my family behind me, I felt this was a true moment of true community. This was the Church as She should be: brilliant, exultant, joyful. I was practically shaking with excitement as the last notes of "Amen" faded to the edges of the room.

The excitement at the Gloria must have been the excitement of the Resurrection. All was darkness before: the apostles were hidden away after their Lord and leader was put to death, we had endured forty days of penance and abstinence and prayer. The Gloria was like the tomb being opened, like the angels saying, "He is not here," like Mary Magdalene's realization, like Jesus walking through the wall to greet His friends. The Gloria was like the triumph over death, was like Satan being cast into Hell, was like the window to Heaven and eternity being opened above us.

The glory of the moment of our song melted into the glory which greeted us much later in the Eucharist. Bread and wine, now Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, raised into the air resounded just as loudly and shone just as brightly as the music from earlier. "Here I am," the Lord speaks from that altar. "Take and eat...take and drink," He shares himself with us, who have no business coming to Him in any form, because He asks us, because He has given us the grace required.

When I imagine Heaven, I imagine singing joyfully all day (what are days in Heaven?). I imagine finding all completeness and beauty in One Person, whom I will never be separated from again. I imagine reuniting with other faithful servants, linking my arms with theirs and being happy and more alive than we ever were on Earth. I imagine the brilliance of God being too much to bear as my imperfect human self, but in that moment I imagine being unable to do anything but stare at His radiance and splendor, just as I behold Him in the Eucharist. I imagine being truly awe-struck.

I am waiting now again as Advent continues. My reward at the end of the month will be the announcement of His birth and the celebration of it. As expected, it seems like Christmas time will never come. It reminds me, just as this Lent and Easter did, that though this life is a years-long wait, the wait is worth it. The reward will be beautiful.

17 December 2013

St. Therese on Human Judgment

"For my part, I prefer to be charged unjustly, because, having nothing to reproach myself with, I offer gladly this little injustice to God. Then, humbling myself, I think how easily I might have deserved the reproach. The more you advance, the fewer the combats; or rather, the more easy the victory, because the good side of things will be more visible. Then your soul will soar above creatures. As for me, I feel utterly indifferent to all accusations because I have learned the hollowness of human judgment.
When misunderstood and judged unfavorably, what benefit do we derive from defending ourselves? Leave things as they are, and say nothing. It is so sweet to allow ourselves to be judged anyhow, rightly or wrongly."
-St. Therese
Of course only the sweetest of the saints could say such a thing. When we are judged, when we feel personal insult, when we feel taken for granted, how do we react? "I must set them right!" may cross your mind. Or perhaps you bite your tongue and bitterly stew over their words/action for the next week (I'm guilty of this one). As contrary to intuition or common practice as her advice seems, St. Therese really knows the right course of action here and must have sent this page from her Story of a Soul to me at the right moment. Not a white rose, but just as good.

Such a passage strikes me in general for how unique and unusual it is. She does not only say, "Turn the other cheek," but also, "Have no resentment for either slap." How easy is it for anyone to take criticism? Add to that taking mis-attributed criticism without complaint, then humble yourself for how easily the criticism could have applied to you.

It sounds absolutely insane on the surface. However, it becomes simple and logical when one considers it longer. "Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36) If we are to be like Christ, we cannot expect to be treated any kinder than He was. Further, the judgment which most matters is our Final Judgment by the One who truly knows us. I'm not saying God is going to cut us all a break and overlook every sin we've committed here; I mean that only He is capably of properly judging us. Any judgment from others is considerably less important by comparison. (I speak here of improper judgment; of course correcting the ignorant and admonishing sinners are spiritual works of mercy). "The hollowness of human judgment" shouldn't send us into hysterics.

The real trick is changing our state of mind from one of indignation and pride to one of obedience and humility. If someone negatively admonishes us for a fault which we do not possess, it is not always truly necessary to point out their error. It is much more simple to "leave things as they are." If it is a grave mistake which necessitates correction, you should point out the truth to the other person. That there is the point: in all we do we should strive for the Truth. If we retaliate based upon our pride and not guided by the Truth, we have only made our lives more difficult. We have caused further strife with another and have deviated from the path our energies should be focused upon.

When we believe we have been slighted in some way, let us first ask whether correction is needed: Is the Truth obstructed or poorly represented by the slight? Can it be done so also by our reaction? If not, let us accept it as a small suffering which we can offer to God for ourselves, the other party, the souls in Purgatory or sinners everywhere. Let us remember in the moments in which we are tempted to act most selfishly where our hearts ought always to be directed. Let us ask St. Therese for her assistance to teach us how to walk her Little Way.

14 December 2013

Feast! OR Why Don't You Have This Book Yet?

Are you a Catholic (or non-Catholic Christian as well!) looking for a way to celebrate the liturgical year? Do you enjoy cooking and living faithfully? Would you believe me if I told you there is an easy way to do these things? Then...

Check out Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year by fellow blogger Haley and her husband Daniel from Carrots for Michaelmas. (If you do not know them already, get your cursor and keister over there.) Haley, Daniel and their children Benjamin, Lucy and Gwen live in Florida, urban homesteading it up as gardeners, backyard chicken keepers and marathon runner. It doesn't hurt that the kids are the most adorable and most quotable in the world.

I was thrilled when I heard Haley and Daniel were working on this book, grabbed a PDF copy as soon as she said it was available and figuratively devoured it as quickly as possible (though, literal gobbling up would have occurred if her book came with recipe samples. Just an idea, Haley! ;) ). I am so pleased by this book because it offers so much of the information it promises in the title: twenty-three recipes (healthy and gluten-free, if you or your family are wary) and many reflections on liturgical seasons. The major selling point? It is all delivered to your eyes in super nice format and to your brain in super easy to incorporate into daily life format. Plus, who can resist the faces of her cute children? No one, that's who.

As a recent convert, I am so thankful that this book exists. I feel like it will be my go-to resource for ideas on how to celebrate the Christian Year, especially when it comes to cooking (honestly, is there a better way to celebrate?) with seasonal, quality food (Haley @Carrots is basically my soul sister). I look forward to using it more-so when I have children of my own to teach about the Saints, Advent, Feast days and the good of God's creation. I love the book for its all around practicality. With it, I can strive to live faithfully without stressing out.

If you are as eager as I am to dig in, you can purchase Feast! by several methods:
PDF at $7.99, print at $21.99 and 30% off (at least for now) at Amazon print at $15.52.

The Carrots family is so sweet and I congratulate them on the completion of this project. Well done!

08 December 2013

The Award for Most Selfish Article of the Year Goes To...

Yes. I believe I have found the most selfish article ever written.

Over at Buzzfeed, you can find 28 Reasons You're Better Off Never Having Kids.

I am finding it a little hard to believe I just wrote that sentence.

So the list counts up a wonderful set of twenty-eight reasons not having kids makes your life awesome. The first reason? "Your sleeping schedule won't revolve around when another tiny human feels sleepy." Okay, I'll be one of the first to admit my love of sleep. I don't always sleep as much as I should, so given the opportunity, more sleep would be fantastic. But read that sentence again. Your sleep schedule won't revolve around "another tiny human"'s feelings. I mean, how dare that tiny human feel sleepy, right? Doesn't he know I haven't had my beauty rest yet? How selfish of this week-old person!

With the second reason, we are brought much comfort in knowing that not having kids means we can sleep "without worrying a child is burning down the house." Because that kind of thing can't be prevented by shared naps, baby-proofing or good parenting.

The list continues on with reasons inconsequential ("I can't swear around those little jabberjays!") and exaggerated ("Your body basically explodes when you give birth," something I'm sure author Adam Ellis has to worry about). Other objections are completely avoidable ("What if I raise a monster?") or null ("I can't have a glass of wine at night!" What, is your toddler going to tell on you to the alcohol police?).

If you have kids, you can't have an ugly house like this.
Because it's the kid's fault he gouges himself with your pointy shelves.

The entire article is composed of typical materialistic objections. There will be less time for myself. I'll have to give up my hobbies. Children cost $241,080 to raise. Whoa, let's stop for a second. $241,080 to raise a child? How much crack is that author smoking? Not much, we'd admit, if we subscribe to spending thousands of dollars on clothing in the first years, spending $800 a month on groceries for a four-person family, purchasing the latest technological gadgets, giving each child a too-large room of their own, focusing on gifts and parties more than birthdays and holidays, buckling under the convincing "But everyone else has one!".... Not much, we'd admit, if we show love to our children by our purchases and by never saying "no."

What is it that makes it so acceptable to hate on the infants of the world? Agreeing with an article like this (which does occur, as a skim of the comments of the article unfortunately tells) is basically like saying, "Hey, thanks, Mom and Dad, for raising me and everything, but you would have been better off never having had to take care of me." Talk about ungrateful. This same attitude makes it easy for us to promote extreme pro-choice stances. It is better, this article and those stances say, for this nuisance of a child never to have existed to bother me so. After all, all that matters is my comfort, my possessions, my wealth and my "individuality as a person." That stuff is all eaten up when you bear children. You couldn't possibly gain anything from parenthood like love, hope, strength, cleverness, craftiness, thriftiness, a better sense of humor, deep human connections, selflessness or a brighter outlook on the world.... You couldn't possibly gain by learning to love someone else more than you love yourself.

And that's it right there: the reason we're better off not having kids is because then we won't be the center of our own universe anymore. For some reason, that frightens people more than anything else.