A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Archive for the ‘Holy Days’ Category

 

Planning a wedding, celebrating a new job, welcoming a newborn or an adopted child into our family, moving into a new home? If so, the solemnity of Ash Wednesday might seem at odds with our mood.

Think about this reading from Joel 2:12-13*:

“Yet even now,” says the LORD,

“return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

and tear your hearts and not your garments.”

Wedding 300dpi BW

My maternal grandparents on their wedding day

Who could think of fasting or weeping or mourning at a joyful time? And yet that is what we’re called to do.

We don’t have to draw on memories of sadder times to get into the spirit of Lent; instead, we need to look into our hearts to see where a change is in order:

  • Do we focus on appearances, or are we genuine?
  • Are we proud of what we have or thankful for our blessings?
  • Do we judge those who are less fortunate or give to those in need? Do we give donations or volunteer our time to gain attention or to serve?
  • Do we take our spouse and parents for granted, or are we grateful for their love and support? Do we care for them in turn?
  • Do we encourage our children or nag them? Do we push our expectations for their lives or encourage them in their God-given gifts? Do we notice and comment only on acting-out behaviour or give them credit for the good character they show in working hard at school, getting along with siblings, doing their chores and being kind?
  • Do we focus on others’ mistakes and refuse to acknowledge or ask forgiveness for our own?
  • Do we attend Mass and receive the sacraments only occasionally, or do we receive them regularly to strengthen us?

If we do a spiritual self-check and think everything looks fine, maybe we need to ask the Spirit to show us where we might be failing our families, our friends, our faith or ourselves. Then, even in a time of great joy, we can enter into the spirit of Lent and begin to prepare our hearts to welcome the risen Lord at Easter.

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.”

~ Luke 3:4

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

 

 

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Homemade Christmas scene

Part of a Christmas scene created by my great-grandparents during World War II.

Every year, I read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, partly because I enjoy reading about Christmases past, but mainly because I enjoy seeing how the miserly, crusty Ebeneezer Scrooge is transformed by his experience.

When Scrooge pointed out to the Ghost of Jacob Marley that Jacob was “always a good man of business,” the Ghost had this to say:

‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’

Maybe we need to look at business in the way Marley’s Ghost described. Kindness, mercy and charity take up more room in our thoughts as Christmas approaches, but are they something we think about once a year, just in time to earn those charitable tax credits, or do we even think about these virtues at all?

It’s wonderful when people donate food hampers at Christmastime or make donations to soup kitchens so that people can enjoy a holiday meal, but people are hungry all year long.

It’s great when we donate gently used and new winter gear for charities to give out to those in need, but we could donate clothing and household items at any season as our children grow out of their clothes or we find we no longer wear or use items.

It’s a blessing to charities when we select presents from their gift catalogues, but we could support their efforts to provide clean water, care for expectant mothers, or educate girls and women all year long.

Our giving could have more of an impact if, instead of giving into charitable impulses or looking late in the year to earn receipts at tax time, we thought about what touched our hearts and gave in a planned way, whether in the form of money, time, or skills. We can learn more about the charities we’re considering giving to through the Canadian Council of Christian Charities’ certified charities website and Canada Revenue Agency’s Charities Listings.

May we not be so caught up in our day-to-day routine that we, like Marley’s Ghost, could ask ourselves this:

‘Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!’

While my husband and son have time off work and school, I’ll be taking a break from this blog to spend time with them, and I’ll post again the first week of January. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas, green though it may be, and all the best for the new year. 

 

I love Christmas music. But only in December and just after New Year’s Day, and not all day long.

Add the constant holiday soundtrack to store announcements and the chatter of our fellow shoppers, and we may struggle to hear ourselves think about anything else but the pressure to shop and bake and mail Christmas cards and wrap gifts before time runs out. Or about the fact that we’re not ready for the holidays.

Compassion may loom large in our minds during the Christmas season, but self-compassion? Probably not on our to-do list, I realized this morning during my yoga class, as the teacher reminded us to be compassionate toward ourselves.

We need to remind ourselves that our homes don’t have to be design-show perfect. We don’t have to make or address our greeting cards by hand or include a lengthy Christmas letter, unless we want to, of course. We don’t have to prepare a huge family meal by ourselves. And we don’t have to feel guilty about these things.

Christmas is a time to come together with friends and family. It shouldn’t be a time to run ourselves ragged to pull off the perfect holiday, which isn’t even possible. Just read about the first Christmas in Luke 2:4-7*:

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Joseph and Mary had to complete their journey just before the birth of Jesus. And the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, wasn’t born in a palace but in a stable—the humblest of beginnings.

So why do we need our celebration to be over-the-top, best-Christmas-ever perfect?

Christmas card

A greeting card my great-grandpa sent my great-nanny during World War I.

Once upon a time, I would have been very stressed to be in the position I’m in. I haven’t decorated my home for the holidays yet. I haven’t started my holiday baking, either. And I realized this morning that I haven’t gotten my son a Christmas ornament yet, which is something I do every year. But I took a breath, looked at what I have done and what I need to do, and realized that everything could be finished, especially with some help.

What could we do to make our holiday preparations less stressful this year?

  • Ask one or more family members to help wrap gifts. I used to help my mom wrap gifts for our extended family. We could also use gift bags or boxes if wrapping is a challenge, and it would make it easier for others to help.
  • Have young children put stamps or return address labels on Christmas card envelopes. I enjoyed helping my mom address cards as I got older.
  • Let our children help cut out or put sprinkles on cookies or cut up ingredients for fruitcake, depending on their age. I used to help cut up the glazed cherries for fruitcake when I was a child, and my son likes to help with the butter cookies (cutting them out as well as eating them).
  • Share the cooking duties with family members. My family is contributing different parts of the Christmas dinner this year: my mom is cooking the turkey and making the buns, I’m preparing most of the vegetables, and my dad is making the caramelized potatoes. Maybe I’ll ask my husband to help make a pie!

If we remember what we’re preparing for—and it’s not a camera-worthy holiday extravaganza—we may just put less pressure on ourselves and find it easier to keep our Christmas spirit.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

 

As a child, I loved How the Grinch Stole Christmas, both the book and the animated special. In fact, I still watch the show each December.

Remember how the Grinch was mystified that Christmas had come to Whoville without decorations and rafts of presents until he realized that, perhaps, there was a little bit more to the celebration?

As Christians, we know there’s more to it, even if our culture doesn’t always reflect it. Flyer bundles become fatter as December wears on, each ad describing that store’s amazing deals. Evening traffic is heavier than usual as people try to fit in a little Christmas shopping on their way home from work. Shoppers scan parking lots, normally only partly full, in the hopes of finding a convenient parking spot, or any spot at all.

A CBC story last year on “Christmas traditions: Why do we give gifts at Christmas?” tells us that “The common explanation is that gifts are given at Christmas to remind those celebrating the holiday of the gifts brought to the baby Jesus to celebrate his birth.” We read about this in Matthew 2:10-11*:

When [the Wise Men] saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Too often, we forget the worship part. We skip over Advent services, church pageants, and Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Mass and head straight for the gift giving.

But we don’t need to buy into the pressure to bury our loved ones in presents. We can give fewer gifts that will truly mean something to the recipients, thinking about their interests and likes. For example, last year, I gave my father a huge frame filled with old pictures of his parents and extended family, and this year, part of his gift will be some homemade rye bread; I’ve also made some other presents, such as an apron decorated with hand-drawn pieces of sushi for a niece who likes to cook and is interested in Asian cultures.

And we don’t need to buy into the pressure to cram activities into every moment leading up to the big day. We can decorate and entertain the way we like, not the way the magazines tell us we should. We can bake a few kinds of cookies or have a cookie swap or skip the cookies entirely. And we can give our loved ones the gift of our time in making gifts for or with them; wrapping presents, doing holiday baking or decorating the house together; going skiing, sledding or skating together and enjoying a hot chocolate after; or hunkering down on a cold day and enjoying a movie or game night as a family. My husband usually takes some time off work at Christmas, and over the years we’ve gone tobogganing, enjoyed the Christmas Treats Walk at the Toronto Zoo, taken in a Disney on Ice show or two, and had lots of game and movie nights and dinners as a family—something we don’t always get to do in an average busy week.

reindeer and geese

Reindeer (and Canada geese) enjoying a snack during the 2007 Christmas Treats Walk at the Toronto Zoo.

We don’t need to make it our mission to bring stores into the black by charging purchases till we approach our credit-card limit and then hitting those Boxing Day sales. We don’t need to shop or run errands or attend holiday parties till we drop. But if we decide to enjoy the social events, baking, decorating and gift giving, we need to keep our holiday preparations and expectations manageable and reasonable so that we focus on the true reason for the season: celebrating our Saviour’s birth.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

As the afternoon sun turned to clouds today, I thought about the old saw that April showers bring May flowers. For the beauty of spring to materialize, we need those cloudy, rainy days.

The same is true of our faith: to reach the joy of Easter, we must first go through Good Friday. Without Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, there would be no resurrection to proclaim. And only once Jesus returned to the Father did the Holy Spirit come to the apostles, preparing them to go out and begin building the Church by proclaiming the good news to the Jews and the Gentiles.

Yes, the Good Friday service can be sombre, with the reading of the Passion story and veneration of the cross making Jesus’ sacrifice more real, and with our leaving the church in silence. But we can look forward to the joy of the light spreading in the church at the Easter Vigil. We can gladly sing the Gloria again at whichever Easter service we attend.

As we gather with family to celebrate Easter, I pray that we would look beyond the chocolate, candy and cards and remember that, before the disciples rejoiced at his rising, Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,

he was bruised for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,

and with his stripes we are healed.

~ Isaiah 53:5*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Shrove Tuesday being tomorrow and Ash Wednesday the following day, the season of Lent is just around the corner.

For some, the start of Lent may be nothing more than a good excuse to eat pancakes or begin the countdown to enjoying Easter treats. Now, I enjoy chocolate eggs just as much as the next person, but Lent should mean so much more.

As Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND, reminds us in The Confirmed Catholic’s Companion: A Guide to Abundant Living, this season is about penance, almsgiving and fasting, with this focus:

Lent is a time of sanctifying our lives in preparation for celebrating Jesus’ glorious resurrection.

And so we’re turning our minds to what we might give up for Lent, such as chocolate, coffee, some screen time, or a habit we want to break. Or maybe we’re considering taking up a spiritual discipline, such as attending morning Mass, taking part in Eucharistic adoration, or praying the rosary a certain number of times each week.

Here are just a few thoughts on ways to mark Lent:

  • Plan to receive the sacrament of reconciliation during regularly scheduled reconciliation times or following our parish’s reconciliation service.
  • Serve at the Ash Wednesday service or a Way of the Cross service.
  • Spend one lunch hour each week attending a midday Mass near our workplace.
  • Take part in a perpetual rosary with fellow members of a parish group or ministry team.
  • Involve our family in planning and preparing meatless meals for Fridays in Lent.
  • Make our favourite specialty coffee or tea at home and collect the amount we would have spent in a jar over the course of Lent, to be donated to charity at Easter.
  • Go through our family’s spring clothes and shoes and donate outgrown but gently used items to charity.
  • Serve a shift at a shelter or soup kitchen with our family or parish group.

I pray that, on our own and within our families, we would find our journey through Lent a time of spiritual growth as we prepare our hearts for Easter.

O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow;

enlarge it, that you may enter in.

It is ruinous, O repair it!

It displeases your sight; I confess it, I know.

But who shall cleanse it, to whom shall I cry but to you?

~ St. Augustine of Hippo, quoted in Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers

 

“Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.”

~ John Wesley, in his sermon “On Dress,” quoted in “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”: The Talmudic Source

Those who have read my posts before know I like bringing order to chaos, like the Borg of Star Trek fame. I like to have a place for everything and everything in its place. And I like to have a clean house.

cleaning supplies

Some of my cleaning supplies…

And so I read with interest today’s quote in the “Quiet moments, daily inspiration, feasts, and fun for November” article in the current issue of Catholic Digest:

“Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create.”

In a culture perhaps more concerned about sanitizing surfaces and keeping everything smelling fresh than about showing compassion, this quote from St. Martin de Porres should strike a chord with us.

We see and hear so much tragic news that we can harden our hearts, purposefully or not, to protect ourselves from being saddened by it. Thinking that there’s nothing we as individuals can do, how often do we fail to show compassion on even a small scale? How often do we hesitate to get involved?

I recently read in Sirach 17:22* that “A man’s almsgiving is like a signet with the Lord, and he will keep a person’s kindness like the apple of his eye.”

Could we let down our guard for a little while to extend kindness to someone else?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Offer our condolences to and check in from time to time with a friend or family member in mourning.
  • Go through our family’s winter clothes to see if we have any items to donate to charity.
  • Volunteer to serve as an in-school tutor or a friendly visitor at a retirement residence.
  • Make and carry out a plan for charitable giving at home or in the workplace.
  • Pray for the faithful departed during this month dedicated to the souls in purgatory.

I pray that we would remember God’s compassion toward us and want to extend that same compassion to others.

He has showed you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

~ Micah 6:8

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Years ago I learned about the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23*). Sunday school teachers taught my son about this as well. But I don’t remember learning about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as set out in Isaiah 11:1-2:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,

and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,

the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the spirit of counsel and might,

the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

Section 1831 of the Catechism tells us that the “seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord” and that these gifts “make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.”

We need more of these gifts as Christians, parents and spouses to have the courage to challenge our spouse and children on their behaviour, as our priest pointed out at yesterday’s Mass, and to face our own shortcomings. To set a good example for our children and guide them in making the right choices. To give good advice when asked, and to recognize our own need to ask for help and advice.

When we come to Mass and offer our own intentions—whether before the service, during the prayers of the faithful, or after receiving the Eucharist—we can ask for more of these gifts of the Spirit.

Who doesn’t need more wisdom when considering a career change? Or fortitude when children act out? Or knowledge when making choices about an ageing parent’s care or weighing the treatment options for an illness we’re facing?

I pray that not only on Pentecost but every day we would recognize that “The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit” (s. 1830 of the Catechism) and that we would ask for more of these gifts to help us become more like Jesus.

Happy is the man who finds wisdom,

and the man who gets understanding;

for the gain from it is better than gain from silver

and its profit better than gold.

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;

those who hold her fast are called happy.

~ Proverbs 3:13-14, 18

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

 

On Sunday, our priest talked about the command Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20*:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Most of us are familiar with the Great Commission. But as the priest pointed out, this applies not only to the disciples but also to us. And then he asked the congregation how many of us had brought someone to church. Not many hands went up.

There seems to be an unwritten rule that we don’t raise politics or religion in conversation, especially in our multi-faith society. How do we reconcile this with our call to “make disciples” and “be witnesses,” as set out in Acts 1:8?

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”

Here are a few low-pressure ways we can invite people to visit our parish:

  • Encourage our kids to invite a friend to a parish picnic, a family movie night, or a seasonal event like an Easter egg hunt or a Christmas party.
  • Encourage our youth to bring a friend to a youth ministry outing such as a movie night, sporting event, or “Welcome Back!” barbecue.
  • Invite someone to a Catholic Women’s League or Knights of Columbus meeting to hear a speaker on a topic the person is interested in. Or ask someone to be a guest speaker at one of these meetings.
  • Extend an invite to a special event such as a pancake breakfast, spaghetti dinner or bake sale.
  • Participate in local events. For example, the parish could have a float in the Christmas parade, a booth at a street fair, or tables at a community yard sale.
  • Maintain our parish website with up-to-date information on ministry activities and contacts.
  • Mention our involvement in our parish—our work on a sacramental preparation committee, in children’s or youth ministry, and so on—in conversation, whether in person or online.

If we have relatives who have walked away from the Church or who have never attended church, we could invite them to parish events as well.

I pray that we would find the courage to invite others to our church to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

When I was expecting my son, the morning sickness (or all-day sickness) and fatigue at the beginning were…less than fun, but less challenging than the last few weeks, which saw me dressed for comfort in my husband’s t-shirts, with my sneakers laced as loosely as possible, and my wedding ring on a chain around my neck.

But the physical discomfort was worth it when I had my son. And saw a new life begin.

Sometimes we have to go through discomfort and even pain to find the joy and new life on the other side. And that was never more true than at the first Easter.

Jesus was flogged, crowned with thorns, forced to carry his own cross, and crucified while others mocked him and divided up his clothing. One of his disciples had betrayed him; many of them had fled out of fear; and one, Peter, had denied three times that he knew him.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,

he was bruised for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,

and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus willingly went through all this, knowing that he would rise on the third day, so that we would have forgiveness of our sins and the hope of new life in him.

The disciples feared persecution and mourned the loss of their teacher and their idea of the Messiah, only to be overjoyed when Jesus stood among them and to learn the truth about why he came to live among us:

“Thus it written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)

As we walk in the shadow of the cross tomorrow, may we remember all that Jesus went through to save us and the joy that awaits us at Easter, when it will be proclaimed, “The Lord is truly risen, alleluia.”

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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