A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Archive for the ‘Seasons of the Church Year’ Category

Through social media alone, we have many choices of whom to follow: actors, athletes, politicians, reporters, and so on. We can choose to receive up-to-the-minute news on their thoughts, opinions, hopes and plans. We can tell the world we liked what we read and even share it with the click of a mouse.

But are we sure we want to model our life and work on those of another person? Are we sure we want to follow that person’s example?

At some point, we all have to choose the path we’ll follow.

Jesus’ disciples knew this well. When Jesus taught his followers, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48*), explaining that “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56), many of his disciples walked away. And so Jesus asked the Twelve if they would leave as well. But think about Simon Peter’s answer in John 6:68-69:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

We might admire others’ way of life, their good works, their values, but only Jesus has “the words of eternal life.” As Peter preached to the Council in Jerusalem, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Just as Joshua (see Joshua 24:14-28) and the prophet Elijah (see 1 Kings 18:20-40) asked the Israelites to choose whom they would follow, we have a choice to make: we can follow the path others have taken, or we can follow God and ask him to guide us in the way that we should go.

As we prepare our hearts during the season of Lent, I pray that we would commit ourselves once more to following the Lord.

“(B)ut as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

~ Joshua 24:15

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

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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.)

 

 

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. 

 

My husband’s arguments to the contrary, I don’t think Die Hard is a Christmas movie; it’s a movie that happens to take place at Christmas. I think a Christmas movie has a main character who discovers the true meaning of Christmas or who receives a Christmas gift of love, forgiveness or compassion.

Some people, though, may not even want to think about watching one of the many schmaltzy holiday movies on TV right now, let alone debating whether they’re really Christmas films. I’m thinking of people who are grieving even as Christmas approaches.

Some of the hyper-festive holiday music on the radio might also be too much, I thought to myself as I listened to the laidback, jazzy soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas this morning. And the holiday lights and decorations and greeting cards? Too cheery.

Nanny's birthday

My mother with my grandmother on Nanny’s 80th birthday

I love everything about Christmas, but even I get a little sad sometimes while looking at the holiday treats—which seems silly, unless you knew that my mom’s mother loved receiving boxed chocolates as gifts, enjoyed an After Eight after Christmas dinner, and always gave my father a tin of cashews “From Santa.”

When life is on a relatively even keel and we’re looking forward to Christmas, it can be hard to remember that the holidays are challenging for some.

We could pause when we’re sending out cards and year-end letters to think about who might appreciate a thoughtful personal note more than a cheery greeting. For example, my mom, writing up her Christmas cards, realized that more low-key cards would be better for the three widowers on her card list, two of them facing Christmas as a single for the first time in decades.

We could give some thought as to which of our relatives, friends or neighbours might find themselves spending Christmas dinner alone because the spouse who did the cooking no longer lives there or has passed away. When I was growing up, after my dad’s mother died, his father spent Christmas Eve with us for a number of years.

We could also consider who might welcome a friendly visit as they struggle with the holidays—so focussed on children—because a child in their life has lost the battle with illness. Or who might appreciate a hand with their holiday preparations because they’re dealing with their own illness or that of a parent, a reality for many today as our population ages.

As we anticipate celebrating Christmas, may we be mindful of this prayer intention of the Holy Father for December:

That families, especially those who suffer, may find in the birth of Jesus a sign of certain hope.

 

 

 

 

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 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.)

snufflin gbulldog

Cute as she is, even my bulldog is tempted to steal shoes in order to get a treat.

I might be tempted to buy a milk chocolate bar even though I’m trying to eat better, a book in the discount section of the bookstore when I have a stack at home, or yet another magazine about getting organized. (If no one reading this would be similarly tempted, it’s helpful to remember I’m a neat freak.)

It might seem that people give in to temptation more easily today, but I doubt that’s true. Consider what Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” And actress Mae West said, “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”

But giving in to temptation isn’t our only option, as Jesus’ example shows.

Remember that even Jesus was tempted. The Gospel reading for yesterday’s Mass told us Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:13*). As our parish priest pointed out in his homily, temptation comes in our area of weakness. Matthew 4 tells us Jesus had been fasting for forty days and nights, and Satan first tempted him to satisfy his hunger (Matthew 4:3): “And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” Jesus resisted temptation, drawing on the scriptures in his responses to Satan (see Matthew 4).

We need to remind ourselves, as our priest also stressed, that temptation is not sin; we sin when we give in to temptation. If being tempted were the same as sinning, we would not find these words about Jesus in Hebrews 4:15:

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.

We can take comfort in the fact that Jesus, in his time on earth, was tempted, and so he knows what we go through. We can remind ourselves that we haven’t sinned until we’ve given in to what tempts us. We can draw strength from Jesus’ example, from the scriptures and from the Catechism. And if we do give in to temptation, we can receive God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation and, like King David, ask God to cleanse us of our sins and “put a new and right spirit” in us (see Psalm 51).

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

I may look relaxed on the outside, but I generally feel like I should be doing something. Feeling like a coiled spring has taken its toll, but with the help of physiotherapy, massage and yoga, I’m already starting to feel better.

The first step was choosing to change. And the same holds true for our spiritual health.

As our parish priest pointed out at last night’s Ash Wednesday service, we have a choice to make: we can be the same people at the end of Lent as we are now, or we can choose to examine our lives and make changes during Lent, with God’s help:

  • We can look at how we spend our time. Are we working so many hours that we seldom sit down to dinner with our family?
  • We can consider our relationships. How do we speak to our spouse and children? Do we use our words to build them up or tear them down?
  • We can think about how we use our material blessings. Do we have so much stuff that decluttering is always on the menu? Do we give to our church and to charity?

Lent offers us a great opportunity for a spiritual “house cleaning”—the chance to work on giving up bad habits and establishing good habits that help us make better use of our time, treasure and talents and bring us closer to our family and to God.

I pray that we would decide to be changed people at the end of Lent and that we would let God show us the ways he would have us change.

Go where thou wilt, seek what thou wilt, and thou shalt not find a higher way above, nor a safer way below than the way of the Holy Cross.

~ Thomas à Kempis, quoted in “Celebrate February 2015,” Catholic Digest, January/February 2015

For some ways to observe Lent through penance, prayer and almsgiving, see this checklist on the Held By His Pierced Hands blog.

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

 

As I sat down to write this post, the title of an Erma Bombeck book popped into my mind: Family—The Ties That Bind…and Gag!

I could be talking about members of our church family we don’t get along with, but that might be a post for another day. In this case, I’m talking about family members we spend time with over the holidays.

Maybe we have a mother who pushes food on us when we’re trying to lose weight, a sibling who can’t let go of the rivalry, an aunt who always asks when we’re going to get married or have children, or in-laws who criticize the way we’re raising our family.

Or maybe we find it stressful to spend much of the holidays, or even just Christmas dinner, in close quarters with our extended family—and maybe it’s partly because of the way we view their words and actions.

This weekend, I read a wonderful quote from The Imitation of Christ in the “Celebrate December 2014” column of Catholic Digest:

Endeavour to be patient in bearing the defects and infirmities of others of whatever kind; for you also have many things which others must bear with.

Isn’t that the truth! We focus so much on the things that bother us about other people that we can easily forget we might be annoying them, too.

Maybe we won’t let anyone else help with Christmas dinner because they won’t make things the way we would—and then we complain about how much work it is. Or we insist on doing all the decorating ourselves instead of sharing the fun. Or we don’t leave room for our spouse’s family traditions. Or we exchange many of the presents we receive.

playful housecat

My “picture perfect” holiday includes cats that “help” tidy up the gift wrap…

Instead of striving for a holiday celebration that will “nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives,” as we hear about in “Sleigh Ride,” we need to remember that we’re all human, all flawed, and all in need of forgiveness. We need to be patient with one another and grateful that we’re still here to spend another Christmas together.

I pray that we would look past others’ faults and that they would look past ours so that we don’t miss out on the joys of celebrating Christmas.

I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and all the best in 2015.

And speaking of the new year, I’m taking a short break from this blog to spend time with my family over the holidays, but I’ll be back with another post on January 5th.

 


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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