We recently been seeing the removal and even destruction of statues of certain famous people who, besides their heroic deeds, had either committed or permitted some not-so-admirable practices.
This underscores for me the fact that we humans like visual aids to reinforce certain ideals or to perpetuate certain virtues. Eyes-on and even hands-on experiences are effective for teaching and making lasting impressions on us. We find it helpful to see tangible things and not just rely on understanding abstract concepts. We need to “flesh things out.”
While I understand and appreciate Jesus’ birth, there are no photos of his coming. However, I have a lovely set of nativity figurines I put on display every Advent and Christmas season. Right after Thanksgiving, I brought out my set and carefully arranged the porcelain figures on the top of a small bookcase in my living room. I know some people don’t put out the baby Jesus until Christmas Day, but I love that baby all season long, and I know he came, so I don’t wait.
I finished my decorating and went to bed. In the middle of the night, I heard the telltale sound of porcelain clinking together, and then bang! My husband went downstairs and found the donkey from my nativity set broken on the floor. Buddy, our senior cat, had jumped up onto the bookcase and could not get out of his own way. He took off in a guilty flurry and zipped up and down the staircase a couple of times at top speed.
These days I see advertisements for Advent calendars. What I see are kits that have the first 24 days of December displayed with either candies or trinkets of some kind for each day. I think that, by and large, it is children who are attracted to these calendars that help build excitement and anticipation as Christmas Day draws nearer and nearer. Certainly, retailers will do all they can to build enthusiasm for the approach of the big day. Also, Advent calendars are more items to offer consumers.
If we get away from the buyers’ calendars and check out the liturgical calendar, we consider the days before the feast of the Nativity with a focus on the joyful anticipation of God’s greatest Gift to the world. Sure, Advent calendars offer the viewer a little gift every day; but we need to think about the many gifts God gives us every day.
Let’s make up a spiritual Advent calendar. Based on the readings for Masses, let’s concentrate on a gift God gives us each day. A certain word, psalm verse, or clause from a reading might be chosen. There are so many possibilities, but I will get us started. Ready?
Here we are, coming fast to the end of the year. Two big holidays punctuate these last days: Thanksgiving and Christmas. People have already wished me happy holidays.
What are the current concerns we hear about on the news? For Thanksgiving, the prices of turkey and all the fixings will be going up because of shortages and pandemic repercussions. If the most important thing about the holiday is food and making it taste the way it should, then we had better get shopping and searching for sales and supplies. After all, isn’t Thanksgiving mainly about those favorite recipes and eating a feast? Who are we thanking anyway: the workers at the farms and grocery stores, those who prepare the savory dishes, those who planted the vegetables? Do we go far enough and thank the Creator for all the blessings? Do we think more about our appetites and our pigging out than the true meaning of the holiday? Certainly, it is enjoyable to eat lots of good food and share time and stories with family and friends; but do we also take the time to truly be thankful to God for all we have? Is one little “Grace Before Meals” prayer the beginning and end of our effort of giving thanks? How do we allot our time?
Retailers are getting nervous about the supply shortages. They are urging consumers to shop very early. After all, isn’t the Christmas holiday supposed to be when we all splurge and spoil our families and friends? Aren’t all the decorations, lights, and gifts the objects of our hectic activities? Who cares whether we call the season “the holidays,” or “Christmas?” Isn’t the focus on those special presents and Santa Claus? Spend that money! Everyone should be merry and bright as we concentrate on material goods!
It is almost time for me to put away at least some of my Christmas decorations. I am a figurine collector. All year round, most of the flat surfaces of my living space display some sort of decorative accessory amid framed family photos. Christmastime is special, with a number of angel figurines, three figures of singing children figures, and two Nativity scenes. There is also a Christmas village with small figures engaged in seasonal activities. So it is a job to put all these decorations back into their storage boxes.
I noticed this morning something that should have been obvious. The traditional décor is sharing the space with additional occupants: small bottles of disinfectants and sanitizers. I had left them out so as to be handy and to remind my husband and me of the importance of trying to avoid contracting any viruses lurking beyond our domicile.
I have a bowl of peppermint candies handy near my front door; I often grab one on my way out the door just to make sure my breath is not offensive to anyone I might encounter.
I got to thinking about the idea of keeping important things handy. I possess a large number of small prayer pamphlets and holy cards I have gotten from many different sources. They are stuffed in among books on my three bookcases, but they are not really handy or obvious reminders like the sanitizers on my tabletops.
There is a warm, soft blanket at the foot of my bed. My cat, Buddy, loves to get on top of it and, with his front paws as if he is marching, alternate left and right while purring up a storm. That can go on for a few minutes. He closes his eyes and appears to be comforting himself and soaking up the feeling perfectly.
With the coming of the new year, I hope we all can somehow find comfort….even if we are not marching on a soft blanket. For us, it may be best to cover ourselves with a blanket of prayer. Let’s all ask our loving Lord for a blessed new beginning, as we take comfort in Lamentations 3:22-23:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
When our daughter was born, I looked at each of her little hands in awe—all ten tiny fingers, little pink fingernails, small perfect knuckles. Now I wonder if Mary ever took one of baby Jesus’ hands into hers and marveled at its beauty as she compared its size to hers. Did he lightly squeeze her finger? Did she kiss that tiny hand and hold it close to her face? That’s often what mothers do.
When the boy Jesus helped Joseph with some of his work, did Joseph ever put his bigger hand on top of Jesus’ hand to guide him in how to use a tool efficiently? Did Joseph ever, even just in his mind, compare his big hand to the little boy’s? Did Joseph make note of his own callouses, the likes of which not yet appeared on his foster son’s hands?
Once, on a silent weekend retreat, I was praying in the chapel. My hands were intertwined, and my eyes were closed. And as I prayed, it felt as if someone’s hands were folded over mine in protective love. I sensed it was Jesus there with me, although I certainly did not see any hands but mine. What a comfort it was! For a few minutes, my whole world was in his hands, reminding me of that African-American spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
In his ministry, Jesus’ hands came together in private prayer, made a muddy paste to give sight to a blind man (John 9), touched and healed a leper (Luke 5), wrote in the sand as he stopped the stoning of an adulteress (John 8), and grabbed struggling Peter whose faith wavered as he tried to walk to Jesus on water (Matthew 14) —-to name just a few of his numerous loving actions.
I sometimes wish I could have been at the Last Supper to see Jesus take the bread in his hands and pass his consecrated Body to his apostles. Priests’ hands are so blessed to be able to consecrate the unleavened bread at Masses! Even the privilege of our receiving the Body of Christ into our very own hands is so special!
Every year, when I unpack all my Christmas decorations, I display a little white ceramic Nativity set. It has a sticker on one of the six pieces that says, “Made in China.” I do not remember where or from whom I got the figures, but something about them is very appealing to me. So much for my expensive taste, eh?
The white color reminds me of the purity of Mary, Joseph, and the Savior Infant. The three-inch, four-inch and one-inch figures reflect the light in the room and attest to the radiance of the family’s holiness. The little touches of gold paint tell me that this is also a regal family: members of God’s kingdom. Wrapped in the folds of the parents’ clothes, I can imagine, are all the ins and outs of their experience to arrive at this holy event.
The baby’s arms are outstretched. I remember the first time I held my baby girl. She stretched out her arms as she searched to ascertain her safe surroundings. Jesus in this Nativity set is sending a message of openness to the human experience—safe or not— and a willingness to become available to all the world.
When I was in seventh grade at St. Joseph’s School, our class was part of the Christmas pageant, and we were chosen to sing all the stanzas of several Christmas carols. I went home from school one day and proceeded to memorize the stanzas of the most popular carols. That was a long time ago, but I still remember some of those stanzas.
Many of us welcome those familiar songs as we hear and sing them, usually beginning right after Thanksgiving. I wonder, though, as with so many things that become familiar, do we pay attention to the meaning of the words? The words of some of those second and third stanzas may be passed over; some of the melodies and rhythms may draw our attention away from the words. Don’t get me wrong. Music is fine; but these popular songs tell of the important news of Christ’s birth for a very weary world. C is for carols.
Topics: angels, Christ child, Christmas, catholic program renew, Immaculate Conception, Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph, prayer, renew catholic program, RENEW International, Christmas pageant, crib, Christmas carols
Even as a child, I was drawn to what was called at Mass “the Last Gospel”—the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 1-14, that that the celebrant recited before the final blessing and dismissal. As I wrote in an earlier post, I miss hearing that passage at Mass and wish it had not been taken out. It is not just the cadence of the reading, although I do like that; I think it’s the progression, the build up to the magnificent climax—that the Word became flesh.
This is a wonderful gospel passage with which to pray during this season of Advent.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
I love to listen to words. They are informative, soothing, inspirational, and thought-provoking. So is the Word of God! Jesus was there, in the beginning, right from the start of creation.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
Life and light! Topics of discussion especially during this pandemic year! People are taking great measures to be safe from infection and protect their precious gift of life. So many families are putting up their Christmas lights earlier than usual to brighten their spirits. If we turn to Jesus in prayer, he is the best Light of all. He shows us how to look at life. He is our loving Light-giver! If we feel overwhelmed by the darkness of fear or doubt, Jesus is right there to give us hope. He is more powerful!
Topics: Christmas, Emmanuel, catholic program renew, Gospel according to John, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, prayer, renew catholic program, RENEW International, pandemic, God with us, The Word became flesh, In the beginning was the Word