When I was a younger teenager, I worked as a sacristan for my old parish of Incarnation. I loved that church, especially when it was done up in all its Christmas splendor. We had elderly ladies who volunteered their time arranging flowers, altar linens and various greenery all over the sanctuary. Being a sacristan, I was kept out of this work as my job consisted of cleaning and replacing candles / candle holders, making sure chalices and cruets were sparkling, and ensuring we had ample supplies of unconsecrated hosts and wine for whichever Masses were coming up.
However, I always fancied the idea of being part of the troop that made the sanctuary explode with color to celebrate the birth of Christ.
This year, I got my wish in a very odd, but super "God knows all" way.
A friend of mine solicited nursery advice from me now that she's expecting her first little boy. I happily shared fun little things I did with Vince's nursery. After the conversation, though, I felt a sadness due to the fact I will likely never decorate a nursery for my own little one ever again.
I went through a brief couple days of sadness because of this. It wasn't just the conversation I had with her. It was just that our conversation had capped a string of similar conversations that added up to me longing for a little baby to decorate for.
Well, God saw my sad little heart and sent my friend, Steve, to give me a boost. Steve is our parish Superman (arranging liturgies, directing music, directing pretty much everything that goes on in regards to the church in general - ha). Anyway, he sent me an e-mail inviting me to take part in decorating the church for Christmas.
I was delighted! Would I like to help decorate the church? YES! A thousand times yes! How exciting would that be?
So at the appointed time, I arrived ready to move some poinsettias, hang some garland, and swap out the purple for gold.
The first task at hand was the altar linens. At first I didn't want to step foot into the sanctuary. I don't believe it's proper for a woman to enter the sanctuary, but I realized it was a foolish notion on my part. How was I going to help if I couldn't enter the very place that needed dressing?
The next problem I ran into was the altar. I was asked to change the altar cloths, themselves, and I really didn't like that idea. Steve wasn't going to make me do it because he could see that I was uncomfortable, but I figured if I maneuvered everything just right, I wouldn't have to touch the altar, itself, and would only adjust the linens over it as respectfully as I possibly could.
It was then that I realized I was preparing Jesus' nursery.
I mean, there we were, this troop of volunteers running to and fro getting linens in order, flowers in place, and decorations just right. We were just like nesting mothers driven to perfect the nurseries of our little newborns.
And that really is what we were doing. We were preparing the dwelling of the Christ Child who come to us in a very special way at Consecration. The thought was so moving to me. I was so grateful, then, to be given this chance to dress up the King's nursery. I imagined how Mary must have felt as she made certain the garments she wove were lined up and ready for His arrival... how she must have straightened and restraightened the meager belongings she and Joseph had taken on their impromptu trek to a cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem, all the while singing songs of praise to the God who took refuge in her sacred womb.
I was so happy, then, to realize that God was kissing my broken little heart by letting me make ready His nursery in lieu of one of my own. I was almost thankful for the sadness I felt earlier since it made me that much more aware and appreciative of my part in decorating the church.
God is good. He really does see all, and if you patiently offer even your tiny, silent sadness, He'll return it to you as a gift.
Waiting for the Christ Child
Little Mary with her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne.
The Name of Christ is mighty
Apparently the Name of Christ is more dangerous to the public than concealed weapons (which are perfectly legal) in N. Carolina. Nice.I found a seed on Father Z's blog this morning detailing a new policy enacted in N. Carolina regarding police chaplains' ability to use Christ's name while praying at public events.
One chaplain's response was like an arrow to my heart... a beautiful, wonderful arrow of integrity and wisdom.
Pastor Terry Sartain, upon learning of this change, withdrew from the event because, "Jesus is the only thing I have to bless people with." This man understands what so many others do not. The Name of Christ is one of our greatest blessings. It's why we always ask for everything "in Jesus' Name." Christ left us even the grace of His own Name to help shield us from harm. Other religions treat the names of their gods / prophets as unspeakable or curse-inducing utterances. Not Christianity. We were blessed to understand that our God is a loving God who WANTS a personal relationship with us. He WANTS us to know Him intimately. Thus, He blesses us with the comfort of His Holy Name.To remove our ability to call out His blessing through using His Name, this policy effectively steals from us our ability to properly pray. It also forces us to deny the God who gave His Life for our salvation.And I can't help but know with certainly that the developers of this policy fully understood that. I believe Satan and his demons coated this with the sugar of tolerance and unity, but in reality, this is just one more step towards a global "religion" that is no religion at all. It is a dismantling of Christianity in lieu of agnosticism. It is a stifling of our faith... another gentle inoculation to prevent the spread of Christ's Name to new generations of souls. This has nothing to do with tolerance. It is INTOLERANCE that has paved the way for this desecration of religious liberties. But few will see it this way because so many are grateful for the chance to cast aside the trappings of religion. Their own opinions on religion cloud their ability to see beyond the "Don't use Jesus' Name" and realize that it is a tiny cog in a bigger machine that is shooting down a person's individual right to practice their religion as he or she sees fit.Chaplains are VOLUNTEERS. They are volunteering their time to give comfort to the men and women who serve. At a prayer service (if one is requested by the police force), folks EXPECT to hear names like Jesus, God, Buddha or Mohammad. These words do not point a finger at atheists, Jews or Spaghetti Monster believers in an attempt to say "You're going to a naughty place for not believing!" If you invite a volunteer chaplain to one of these prayer services, you're inviting their brand of religion. If you don't want to be stifled by Christianity, find a volunteer who will speak what you're looking for. But do NOT, NOT, NOT attempt to tell someone how they can and cannot pray (publicly or otherwise!). These chaplains (whatever their religion may be) are looking to offer comfort in the form of a universal blessing. Christ does not just bless Christians. He blesses all, regardless of their belief in Him. If someone were to say to me, "May the Spaghetti Monster's blessing be upon you always" I'd say, "Right on, good sir. Thanks for having my back with the warm fuzzies."I would not respond, "Dude, I believe in JESUS, okay? Stop insulting me with your well-wishes!"And yet that's exactly what is being done by this policy. It is ludicrous and is once again an attempt by policy makers to stifle the religious freedoms of folks... folks who are VOLUNTEERING THEIR TIME for goodness sake!*Sigh*It reminds me of this yearly mess... Will this sort of foolishness have no end?
This is a perfect time for the Golden Arrow Prayer. It was given to St. Gertrude the Great by Christ, Himself, who said, "It will wound My Heart delightfully and heal the wounds inflicted by blasphemy."
As I said on Fr. Z's wall, I hope in this case it will heal the wounds inflicted by arrogance, silence and betrayal.
May the most holy, most sacred, most adorable, most incomprehensible and ineffable Name of God be forever praised, blessed, loved, adored and glorified in Heaven, on Earth, and under the Earth by all the creatures of God and by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.
I realize I'm on the late side with this. With emotions running high as a result of the closings / mergers, you'd think I haven't been paying attention to anything else. In truth, however, I've been reading about the Magi for the last several days. For Christmas, I purchased The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a collection of St. Anne Catherine Emmerich's visions. On Thursday night, I started getting the first snippets of her visions of the Three Kings. I have to admit, I was really surprised. With all the specials I'd seen via the History Channel, I thought I had them pegged as master astronomers who only understood this "king" to be the political kind. I also thought there was a group of them, watered down through history as "3" to represent the 3 symbolic gifts presented to the Christ-child.Boy did I learn a thing or two... These men were, in fact, kings. Yes, they were master astronomers, but their astronomy went well beyond star-gazing for clues as to the next political uprising. Apparently, their lineage was established more than 500 years before the Star of Bethlehem came to be. God had granted 3 of their ancestors a vision which predicted that a Child would be born of a Virgin. This Child would come to rule the world and bring peace and prosperity to all who accepted Him. The sisters then were given a promise of celestial signs that this promised Child was born. Ever since, these people looked to the stars in anticipation of the Child's birth. Unfortunately, some people believed that the practice of sacrificing children would bring about the Child's coming faster. Thousands of innocent children were sacrificed in a cruel manner (they were flayed and their blood spread throughout a temple dedicated to the Virgin). Thankfully, at the birth of Our Lady, the 3 Kings were gifted a vision of a Virgin in the stars. This wasn't just an astronomical sign - they actually saw a Virgin holding a balanced scale in the sky and understood that the time for the Child would soon be at hand. At the same time, a priest within the Temple of the Virgin also received a vision in which he came to understand that sacrificing children was a horrendous thing and must be ceased immediately. From that moment forward, the sacrifice of children stopped there. No doubt God granted this mercy in honor of Mary who, having been born into the world, would never wish for such an atrocity to occur in her name. Our Lady, not yet a Mother, still brought peace and life to children just through her blessed and perfect existence on Earth.Anyway, the 3 Kings truly were 3 in number and all related in direct lineage from those first prophets 500 years ago. They came from "afar" and were truly pious, holy men. Though they didn't believe in "God" as the Jews did, they understood that a higher power was calling them to lead lives of justice and humility. They longed for the Promised Child who would unite the world under peace and love. Thus, when they recognized the star announcing His Birth, they didn't hesitate to put together their gifts (well thought out given their 500 year prep time) and be on the move. As they traveled, they drew a large following (about 200 people). Since the kings were generous in their alms, folks flocked to them. Everywhere these men went, they asked about the Newborn King. No one knew what they were talking about! The kings were confused and troubled by the lack of regard for this Holy Child. Everywhere they went they became more and more baffled as no one wanted to hear anything about this Child. The kings were treated kindly because of their obvious riches, but otherwise were looked upon as fools. How loving God was to open the eyes of Gentiles. When these men (and their entourage) finally arrived at the Cave of the Nativity, the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph were moved by their gifts (which really were gold, frankincense and myrrh - among many other things). They were so happy that such wise and holy men had come to pay homage to God. Even though the Holy Family was turned away and treated with disregard by their own people, Gentiles had come, seeing with their hearts the Truth of God's Love.As the priest said in his homily, the 3 Wise Men are proof that God is the God of ALL people. God calls all of us to Himself. We have the free will to answer His call.
The above painting is an original done by an artist by the name of Mark Sanislo. I found it a few months back and was immediately struck by its beauty. Also, the Christ-Child looks just like my niece, Arianna!
Anyway, I wanted to share this truly unique painting with you. It speaks to me of the true Christmas message.
May all of you feel the Love and Peace of Christ, and may you hold Him close as our beautiful, Blessed Mother does.
Merry, merry Christmas!
Ah, good Saint Joseph...
Unwrapping the True Gift
My favorite Holy Family picture
Modern, I know - but I love the intimacy of this moment...
John snapped this picture of Vince and I right before we left for Christmas Eve Mass. The church was packed with PACERs (those who attend only on Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Christmas, Easter, or other Required events like weddings and funerals). Honestly, I'll admit to being really irritated by that at first. These folks were coming in droves to the church for what reason? A sense of obligation? Tradition? Sudden desire to rekindle a relationship with Jesus?
Then I realized I was honestly no one to dare exhale a huff from my lungs. Regardless of the reason, Jesus was no doubt happy to have folks come to see Him. Maybe a few were even moved by the Spirit and will become a fixture in our parish. Here's to hoping, right?
Anyway, on account of the church being packed like a sardine can, I couldn't hear or see anything. That meant Vince couldn't either. I was surprised he was as calm as he was. He behaved very well save for a short moment of refusing to share his book with another little girl beside him. After a quick "Angry Mommy" look, he handed the book over without question and then clapped, proud of himself for sharing.
During Communion, I made my way to Father's line and as I knelt down before accepting the Host, I saw Vincent stoop again beside me. The altar server holding the patten saw him stoop, too, as did several people in the pews as there was a moment of "awww" as I flushed with pride and gratitude. I was so proud that Vincent was picking up proper etiquette and grateful that God had pushed me to take him all this time (through you fellow bloggers!).
Anyway, we made our way back to the now empty cry room (apparently once Communion is received Mass is officially "over"). Vince had definitely had enough of being a "good boy" and chose that moment to run like a crazy person all over the place. I allowed him about a minute of energy-loss until I wrangled him in for the final blessing.
Due to the crowd and Vince's super-fidget, I thought it best to leave approaching the nativity to next week. All in all, a wonderful experience.
We're just waiting on you now, Baby Jesus! :)
My favorite Christ Child
St. Joseph beholds His God
Kissing the Face of God
My favorite BVM / Child Jesus
Another favorite - I imagine she's pondering His Passion
I love how peaceful and happy they both look!
Could you imagine...?
The poll is below for those of you here to answer that! For the rest of you - the reason for the poll...I'm gonna go ahead and apologize thrice for this entry. I realize some folks might be a bit offended by the title, others by the comic to the left, and still others by the video at the end.
Please note that my intention is not to incite ire, but to develop a point about this whole "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" debate.
So if you offend easily, I'd suggest refraining from the visual aids I've chosen (though you might enjoy the sweater!).
Anyway, the comic above was sent to me by my friend, Mary, this morning. I'll freely admit to laughing at the plight of the poor guy who just wants to spread some well-wishes. It's a situation many of us have no-doubt found ourselves in over the years.
The last few years, I've fallen into the politically correct trap of "Happy Holidays." It started back when I was working as a Center Director for an educational center. With 200 some families as customers, I felt I needed to be diplomatic in my holiday greeting approach so as to side-step the toes of paying customers. I also had a lot of Jewish / atheist friends, so saying "Merry Christmas" seemed insensitive to me.
Mind you, I wasn't "super-Catholic" at the time. As I've stated before, though I was away from the Church, I never lost my love of Christ, so when I stopped saying "Merry Christmas" I always felt a twinge of guilt. I felt like I was actively pretending not to be Christian just to appease public opinion.
That being said, my pastor's homily last week made me re-examine this stance. I briefly touched on that in this post, but I admit to pondering this for a little while now.
This year, I've definitely made more of an effort to wish others a Merry Christmas. However, if I know you're Jewish, I'll wish you a Happy Hanukkah. I don't believe that's taking Christ out of Christmas so much as acknowledging the beliefs of others and wishing them goodwill in a language they will appreciate. After all, our words can be gifts as well.
And what are well-wishes other than verbal gifts of goodwill?
Think of it this way...
Your dear Aunt Sally creates one of her infamous winter sweaters for you. She slaves over it lovingly for a month, picking out colors, embellishments, and patterns she "just knows" you're going to love. Excitedly, she hands you the box which represents all those hours she thought of you, persisting against craft store lines, miscounted stitches and tangled tinsel, all so she could keep her cherished loved one warm through those chilly winter months.
You open the box and pull back the paper, revealing her most "unique" creation yet.
Do you throw the box at her and stomp off, angry that she doesn't know your favorite color is now black, or that feathers are so last season?
Of course not.
You emphatically thank her for her thoughtful gesture. You compliment her on her choice of colors and you gush about the adorable Mr. and Mrs. Santa Flamingo. You point out the green tinsel grass as brilliant to the cousin sitting next to you, and you might even brag about the softness of the feather collar. In fact, just to prove your gratitude for such a heartfelt, thoughtful gesture of slave-labor, you just may pull it over your head and strut through the kitchen so everyone can admire dear Aunt Sally's artistic brilliance.
Because it's not about the sweater. You don't get warm fuzzies because the gift itself is something you love. The person GIVING you the sweater is who you love, and what that sweater represents - thoughtfulness, generosity, and love - is what counts. The feelings BEHIND the gift are what shoot out the warm fuzzy vibes into your heart. Why is it any different when those feelings are encased not in a sweater, a coffee maker, or a fruitcake but in a verbal salutation of goodwill?
So how about we all agree to view these salutations as a personal gift from the heart! Accept each and every greeting as a thoughtful gesture of peace and blessing, and dole out your own without fear of stepping on toes. If anyone is offended, simply remind them that words are gifts, too, and they should be accepted graciously from anyone willing to bestow them.
As for me, I'll be sticking with "Merry Christmas" unless I know for a fact someone celebrates a particular holiday. :)
I was all set to hear our pastor expound upon Our Lady's "fiat" this weekend. Imagine my surprise when he instead focused on the first two readings instead! Ha ha ha.
It's okay, though, because he made some great points that I simply hadn't thought about and tied it nicely into Our Lady's "fiat."
He started by explaining that while David wanted to build a great temple to house God because he was ashamed of his own opulence while the Ark rested beneath a tent, David missed a huge lesson - God wills everything.
God handed victory to the Israelites. God gave David the wealth he enjoyed. God gave David the talent, wisdom and patience necessary to lead His people. God also provided David with the home he found himself in - a far cry from the fields of his youth.
So while David's gesture was from the heart, he missed out on the fact that God was already fully present in EVERYTHING. Sure the Ark was an extremely prominent sign of God's presence, but that didn't mean He wasn't everywhere else as well. A temple (or in our case, a Church) cannot contain the infinite. Sure, God is present with us in a wholly unique way through the Eucharist, but He is also present within each one of us.
In fact, the Blessed Mother was, in truth, THE Temple of God. When the angel came down and greeted her with "Hail Mary, full of grace" he was acknowledging that her soul was a complete refuge for God's love. Upon her "fiat" Gabriel no doubt knelt down in adoration as the Incarnation of Christ illuminated her soul.
We each contain the light of Christ within us. It's up to us to acknowledge it and share it with others - which our pastor smartly tied into the "Merry Christmas" message. He chided us for using "Happy Holidays" and reminded us of our duty to SHARE Christ with others... not hide Him away for use only in Church or when we think we need Him. God is with us always because He WANTS to be with us. So let's not do Him the dishonor of ignoring Him during the time of His greatest gift to us... His Birth into Humanity - the trumpeting call for Salvation.
Stop, already, Gina!!!
I'm going to keep posting these smile-making videos until I can't find 'em anymore! It's Christmas, gosh darn it, and I'm determined to spread the happy!
I've always been a huge Groban fan. This just makes me love him even more! Enjoy!
See these three beauties? They're my other children - Piper, Zoey and Lucy. Piper and Lucy are sisters we found behind our work-building when they were about 5 weeks old. Zoey came two years later, a banged up kitten of 5 weeks with two impossibly broken legs and a horrible respiratory infection.
Anyway, I've had tabby cats all my life. I find them to be the most beautiful of all cats with their interesting markings and special relation to the Blessed Mother. What relationship is that? Well, there's a old legend that goes a little something like this:
The night Jesus was born, the air was very cold and damp. Little baby Jesus was shivering, and the Blessed Mother was unable to warm Him enough. Even the oxen who crowded around their God could not provide enough heat for Him. In walks a beautiful tabby cat who hops into Christ's cradle and curls up beside Him, sharing his warmth and lulling Him to sleep with constant purrs of love and gratitude. The little Christ-Child was soothed and warmed, and as a result of this act of kindness, the grateful Mother raised her hand in blessing over the humble creature.
This is why tabby cats are honored with the familiar "M" mark on their foreheads. It denotes the special blessing Our Lady imparted to them through the generosity of the small cat who wandered in to pay homage to his King.
Ever since hearing that story as a small child, I'd bless my tabbies by placing my thumb over the "M," thanking Our Lady for her blessing, then praying a Hail Mary over my furbaby asking for her continued protection. I'd repeat this every so often with ALL my tabbies. Zoey's my first cat who isn't a tabby. She's all black! Ha ha. So when I pray over my two girls with the familiar "thumb over the 'M' motion," I feel like I'm sorta leaving Zoey out of the mix. Of course I ask Our Lady to bless her, too, but it doesn't feel the same.
Ha ha. Ah well. I realize that's silly, but just something I was thinking about tonight after snuggling up with my girls. It reminded me to share the story of the Nativity Tabby with those of you who might not have known it otherwise! :)