Have you noticed the newest warning in theaters these days? In addition to the reminders to turn off cell phones and cease conversation, moviegoers are also asked to stop text messaging during the film. It is probably "old-fogey-ness," but I confess to being stymied by the desire to send a text message during a movie. Is it really that hard to refrain from chatting for a couple of hours?
This may be hitting me more forcefully than usual because it is Advent. I love this season in a particular way for the sounds I associate with it, especially the music. For several years, I have attended a service of Lights, Lessons, and Carols at a nearby Jesuit university. It includes Scripture readings interspersed with song. The “lessons” are about Mary and her encounter with the angel Gabriel, the visit with her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth, and the starlit night of Jesus' birth. When we rise to sing carols like "Silent Night," I am moved beyond words by the beauty created by both mood and music. Is there any other time of year in which we harmonize so well?
A few years ago I directed a women's retreat on the power of words to either hurt or heal us. In the course of the retreat, I noted how advertisements, emails, and up-to-the-minute news batter us each day with words that don't matter. By some estimates, forty percent of our landfills contain cast-off words in the form of discarded magazines, newspapers, and junk mail. In the midst of it all, we long for a few words that matter. Thus we do well to pay close attention to the voice of the ancient prophet warning of the transitory nature of all life. “All flesh is grass… The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6, 8) During this sacred season, we wait in hushed anticipation for that Word which matters above all others.
The late Henri Nouwen wrote about the still, silent voice of God who speaks to us of blessing and hope. The words we thus need to hear arise from a place of deep silence and then, once heard, return there. There is no way to heed them if we are talking all the time. Listening in the way of Mary, we will find the words we most need nestled deep within our hearts.
At the end of the women’s retreat I posed a question: If each of us had only one more word to say, what would it be? The responses fit perfectly into Advent’s quiet beauty: peace, hope, joy, thanks, love, wonder, blessing. They reverberate in the songs we sing and the stories we tell - of holy nights and peace on earth, goodwill to all. If we do send someone a message - text or otherwise - perhaps we can, in the spirit of the season, keep it short, simple, and resonant with the sounds of this sacred season. Let it contain words that matter.
Use the readings for each week of Advent to help deepen your experience of this sacred season. Download activities to use in your home or parish as a way to break open the Word each week.
Share a Prayer for Advent Grace Prayer Card with your family or class and let it lead you into the quiet beauty of this sacred season.
Sadlier offers whole community seasonal events that can be used with the entire parish community or all the students in a school community or religious education program. The Christmas season is a wonderful time to gather the whole community together for a celebration.
Each Gather In My Name event offers a variety of activities. These Christmas handouts can be used if you are implementing the full Christmas Gather In My Name event in your parish or school, or as a standalone activity for students and their families.
Download all of the Christmas event handouts and access event details!
“Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”Luke 6:38
Several years ago, our son, Eric, gave us a great gift. After growing increasingly frustrated with holiday shopping, he told us he was bowing out of the Christmas gift business. He gave us a list of charities in which to donate the money we would have spent on his gifts and asked us to provide the same for him. In short, he gave us the gift of non-gifting!
We shared the idea with our daughter, Anna. Being in in a state of transition, she certainly didn’t want or need more stuff to haul around so she, too, endorsed the idea. We have kept it up all these years, deciding together on a donation that will serve those in need because of natural disasters or other calamities, or simply because of our collective concern about poverty, disease, or environmental conservation. Thus, we gave one year to an organization serving those who had suffered the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and another year to the victims of the floods in Colorado. This year, I suspect our dollars will go to those aiding victims of the Ebola virus.
In truth, there was great relief in bowing out of the exchange of presents. No more mall crawls or Black Fridays. No more fretting over finding the right present or one that, at least, won’t require the hassle of an exchange. Granted, our family is small and we have no little children to consider. Even so, giving to others who are truly in need rather than a bunch of stuff to one another seems fitting for a season focused on the great gift of love embodied in the person of Jesus. We each donate to charitable organizations throughout the year, but doing so in concert with one another brings a particular sense of joy. I am proud of the way in which my children consider so seriously the concerns of those in need, and delight in the conversation that ensues around the charity of choice for the year. Together we have become even more aware of our abundance and the simple gift of giving to others. What we have received in return is a gift beyond measure.
Saint Katherine Drexel inherited a large fortune and gave it all away in order to help others, particularly Native Americans and African Americans, improve their lives through education. Read about her story and download activities for your class or family.
Download a Prayer for Christmas Giving and share it in your home or parish.
The candy cane is a treat often associated with Saint Nicholas, the patron and protector of children. The crook symbolizes the gentle image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Celebrate Saint Nicholas Day with a blessing and sharing of candy canes!
Download the Saint Nicholas Day Blessing of Candy Canes Prayer Card now.
My favorite season of the year is approaching. Setting out familiar symbols puts me in the mood for a time of joyous expectation. Advent is about to begin.
Years ago I started a practice of beginning each day in Advent with natural light. Since I generally rise an hour or so before dawn, this means making my way downstairs in the dark and fumbling around for a fire starter. Then I light a candle on the Advent wreath. Its warm glow illuminates the room and creates a mood that lingers well into the morning. As the weeks wear on, the light accumulates as more candles are lit. All of it culminates with the bright feast of Christmas.
This Advent I am offering a retreat on the Infancy Narratives, so I have been immersed in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Each provides an entirely different picture of that long-ago time. Luke’s portrait includes angels proclaiming astounding news to a young maiden and to shepherds in a field. It is filled with wonder, light, and exclamations of praise from expectants parents, Mary, Elizabeth, and Zacharias. Matthew paints his story with darker hues. Joseph takes center stage as he is awoken from sleep to be told where to go and what to do in order to take his part in this mysterious story of redemption. Herod’s bloody rampage is shocking even by today’s standards of violence and brings into focus the dangerous times into which Jesus was born.
John’s Gospel begins in different fashion. There is no manger scene, shepherds or wise men following a midnight star. In place of an infancy narrative there is an ancient song extolling Jesus as the incarnate Word of God and light of humanity. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4). Perhaps it is this image that brings such comfort as I ignite the Advent wreath in the early morning darkness. It reminds me of the light that Jesus brings in the midst of all distress and despair, agony and anxiety, confusion and chaos. The great mystic, Julian of Norwich, wrote about a vision of God telling her all would be well. This was not a promise of a life without labors, disquiet, or troubles. Rather, God told her, “You will not be overcome” (Showings, 315). Advent’s light is a beacon of hope and a call to trust in the presence of Christ’s love shining in the midst of our darkest days.
Download Prayer for Lighting the Advent Wreath Prayer Card to use at home or in your parish.
A 90-year-old man was arrested recently in Fort Lauderdale. His crime: feeding the homeless. It sounds like a joke, but it’s altogether true. The town passed an ordinance restricting the feeding of homeless people in public areas. Fort Lauderdale is not the only community with such laws. As cities and towns grapple with ways to safeguard neighborhoods, such restrictions are becoming more commonplace.
One argument in favor of these laws is that feeding the homeless only creates a further state of dependency. The practice might also serve as a panacea for those who would rather not look more deeply into the systemic causes of homelessness and other forms of poverty. This makes such measures a call for justice rather than charity.
As Christians, this isn’t an either-or question; it’s both-and. While the search for solutions to homelessness must be part of our response, charity cannot be put aside. The Gospels are crystal-clear on this matter. The words of Jesus about the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) describe the importance of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothes to the needy, and welcome to stranger and the prisoner. No talk of long-range studies; simply extending a hand to those in need. The great scholar and teacher, Saint John Bellarmine, put it this way: “On the last day, when the general examination takes place, there will be no question at all on the text of Aristotle, the aphorisms of Hippocrates, or the paragraphs of Justinian. Charity will be the whole syllabus.”
I don’t think Jesus or John Bellarmine would argue with the need for systemic solutions to the pain of poverty and homelessness. In the meantime, however, the way in which we reach out to one another with a plate of food, glass of water, or comforting words still matters. With the approach of Thanksgiving, I hope the bans on feeding the homeless are not only relaxed, but also re-examined. The mandate of charity is clear.
Read about the life of Saint Vincent DePaul, a great model of charity and compassion and use the activities with your class or family.
Download a Prayer for Charity and share it in your home or parish.
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On Thanksgiving, families and friends gather to share a meal packed with tradition. This often includes a prayer of blessing or, at least, a naming of gifts for which each person is grateful. For a brief moment, we have an opportunity to consider what we have – here and now – and to recognize that it is enough.
When we pause to consider how we have been blessed, we cultivate a mindfulness of grace as the outpouring of God’s love. Done on a regular basis, the practice of gratitude slowly works its way into our spiritual core and shifts the way we perceive the world around us. Instead of wanting more, we become content with what is right before us. Over time, a grateful heart becomes softer and more compassionate. Gratitude spawns generosity. When we know we have been blessed, we are drawn to sharing our bounty with others.
Thus it makes sense to practice grace-giving around a Thanksgiving table laden with delicious food. Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast notes that we honor God “…by honoring God’s gifts, by cultivating and refining what we’re given and passing it onto others” (Music of Silence, page 62). This can make the day after Thanksgiving a new beginning of sorts. After being well-fed, we then reach out to those who are starving for food and resources, for warmth and shelter, for a kind word and a consoling presence. In such a way, our thanks-giving becomes a grace to share with others, thus creating a table of blessing at which all are welcome.
Download a Prayer of Grace Before Meals Prayer Card now.
We bought a new phone the other day and it took us all evening to set it up. What used to be a simple task—plugging the unit into a phone jack—now entails selecting ringer tones, speed dial numbers, memory banks, and caller ID options. The operation booklet is sixty-five pages and we still haven’t gotten to the section about the answering machine.
For a spiritual direction class, I was once assigned reading about the "demon of busyness." It described how being "on call" at all times, through e-mail, texts, tweets, and posts, is increasing feelings of stress and overload within our culture. If it takes several hours just to hook up these devices, it's no wonder the busyness demon has possessed so many of us.
In Tahiti, the natives describe a condition that ranks on the other end of this spectrum. They call it fiu (appropriately pronounced "phew")—a state of boredom, blankness, and extreme weariness. Paul Gauguin captured some of it in his paintings of Tahitian women. Their faces reveal an ennui that comes from living on a hot and humid island with little to do and even less motivation to do it. The state of fiu is hardly consoling. After all, if we can't escape the demon of busyness by heading for Tahiti, what hope is there?
Where is the balance between these two extremes? The answer to this question bubbled slowly to mind even though it has been posted in our kitchen for weeks. A friend gave us an inspirational calendar last Christmas and this month's message is only now starting to sink in: "The Sabbath mind rests in God and trusts in God for tomorrow." Sabbath—that old, old word. We are supposed to keep it holy, not on rare occasions, but each and every week. In Jesus' day there was a lot of equivocating about what such holy non-activity entailed. He was challenged constantly. Was it right to heal someone on the Sabbath? Wasn't it illegal for his disciples to pick pieces of grain on the Sabbath? Jesus' response was clear and filled with common, sacred sense. We aren't made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath is made for us (Mark 2:27).
The word itself denotes rest. Not falling down in an exhausted heap after a week's worth of busyness, but true rest. Along with the physical break, we also need a mental one. Cultivating a Sabbath mind, however, may be the biggest challenge of all. Being forever busy churns up a cauldron of agitation—the antithesis of Sabbath. To rest is like sinking into deep water where surface storms can no longer distress us. Rather than drowning in ennui that sucks the life out of us, we can breathe, relax, let go, and trust that God will indeed take care of all of our tomorrows.
There is a terrific feature on our new phone called DND. It's one I need to utilize on a regular basis as a way to remain faithful to Sabbath holiness. Whether I enable the feature on my phone or in my mind, the message is the same: Do not disturb. I'm resting.
Engage your family or class in a discussion about the times in which it is important to disconnect – from electronic devices or an overabundance of activity. Talk about ways to create Sabbath time in your lives.
As Veteran’s Day approaches take time to remember those who have given so generously of their lives by praying for veterans and all of those who have sacrificed for others.
Late at night, when assailed by worries and fears, I draw them around me and call them by name. Michael. Mary Alice. Carl. Marie. James. Jacquie. The list goes on – my own personal “circle of saints” to whom I turn for comfort and consolation. My parents are part of the litany along with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and, of course, my beloved daughter, Jenny. My two good friends, John and Joanie, who, while hundreds of miles apart died within hours of each other, are also part of the circle. Their passing was made a bit easier for me by this mystical connection, almost as if they decided to accompany one another into the next life. Remembering each person and drawing hope from the life they share far beyond my comprehension eases my anxieties and places my fears in perspective.
I used to pore over stories of the saints as a child. I inherited a set of booklets called The Little Lives of the Saints from my older sisters. From them I learned rudimentary tales of such celestial giants as Catherine of Siena and John of the Cross. It was later in life that I began to appreciate the feast of All Saints – that great celebration on November 1st of “…all the redeemed, those on earth and those who have died.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 871) My knowledge of the saints began to read less like legends from time past and more like up-close and personal stories of friends and family.
Such a notion has brought heaven and earth closer together, something those steeped in Celtic spirituality know well. In his book, Anam Cara, the late John O’Donohue laments the way we have “spatialized” the eternal world. Doing so places the saints far away rather than in our midst. “…You can sense the presence of those you love who have died,” he writes. “You feel that they are near.” No wonder “thin places” are those experiences where, according to Celtic wisdom, that sense grows sharper and more profound. Perhaps that is why the Church has wisely designated a special day to not only celebrate but also to hone our spiritual senses. In doing so our own circle of saints grows larger and more exquisite, spiraling ever outward to include those role models of faith from faraway times and the more immanent reality of those here among us.
Follow the Lives of the Saints throughout the year and find activities for your family or class. Use these stories to initiate discussion about the circle of saints in your lives.
Download my Prayer for All Saints and use it in your parish or home.
I don’t know the reason for it but I recently spent a morning feeling impatient with everyone and everything. The drivers going a few miles below the speed limit. The woman taking way too much time to make her deposit at the bank. A computer that took forever to download a document. It’s not like I had anywhere vital to be. I was simply feeling impatient.
My work in spiritual direction has taught me to listen to these kinds of emotions rather than pushing them aside. What I discovered was, while I was not exactly dreading a commitment later that day, I really wanted it to be over. In essence, I was anxious to get the present moment out of the way and then found myself bristling with irritation at the one that followed. It led to a chain of exasperation that kept me agitated for the entire morning.
I recently read an article about a social study on the value of patience. Participants were asked to choose between a small but immediate reward and waiting several weeks for a larger one. Not surprisingly, most of them chose the former. Those who delayed gratification treasured their reward more highly than those who opted for immediate results. This was true even when the rewards turned out to be identical. The study affirmed how the act of waiting reaped other “hidden treasures” – self-control, willpower, anticipation, and gratitude.
There are different ways to wait, of course. My own restless, anxious, frustrated kind only brought about more angst. Type the word “wait” into a biblical web site and over 100 results pop up. Twenty-two of them have to do with “waiting for the Lord.” One of the most striking is Psalm 40:1: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” The psalmist is describing the kind of waiting that produces the same results affirmed in the social study. Our inner cries are heard, our restlessness quelled, our appreciation of the moment amplified.
It took a while but the lesson I needed to learn about patience eventually registered. I was rewarded with a bit of insight into the cause of my impatience and an openness to waiting upon God’s good timing. Needless to say, the remainder of my day proceeded much more happily.
A striking example of patience is Saint Rose Phillipine Duschene who had to wait many years to realize her dream of becoming a missionary in America. Read about her life and use the activities to initiate a discussion about patience in your family or class.
Download my Prayer for Patience and use it in your parish or home.
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