Here we are, moving fast and counting down the days until Christmas! It is truly a challenge not to get caught up in all the hype and lose sight of the hope of which the season of Advent is supposed to remind us. The hope is all about Jesus rescuing humanity from the throes of sinfulness, selfishness, and misplaced adoration. It is a very joyful hope.
In our haste, how easy it is to think about sales instead of souls! Black Friday sales started even before the day after Thanksgiving this year. Retailers were eager to rid themselves of inventory accumulated during COVID shutdowns. How about spiritual shutdowns? Maybe we should take stock of our immortal soul and those of our beloved family and friends. We all are not preachers and ministers, but we can certainly exemplify simple ways to point to the true spiritual joy of the Christmas preparation time. Advent calendars don’t have to involve only a piece of candy or a little toy each day of the countdown. What if even a small child were blessed with hearing a small prayer or truth about Jesus each day?
Decorations for Christmas have been out in the retail stores and in people’s yards since October! We compete to save money and show our decorating skills. More importantly, wonderful declarations about the promised Savior stand out in numerous verses in the Bible all year long, and especially in this Advent season. The entrance antiphon on the second Sunday of Advent declared:
O people of Zion, behold, the Lord will come to save the nations, and the Lord
will make the glory of his voice heard in the joy of your heart. (Isaiah 30:19, 30)
We are exhorted to rejoice because the Lord is near (Philippians 4:4-5). The gospels of Matthew for the Sunday liturgies have John the Baptist telling people to prepare for the One to come, and later we are reminded of how Mary conceived Jesus (Matt.1:18-24). We are urged by John the Baptist to repent, not to be rushing to store for rebates or refunds.
Hurry up! Get to the Christmas party at work! Or at the sports club! Be careful about priorities though! Parties are fun breaks from work and chances to reconnect socially with friends, family and co-workers. Why not take some important spiritual breaks and attend a few extra masses or some brief prayerful visits before the Blessed Sacrament?
We hear Santa’s laugh often during this holiday season: “Ho! Ho! Ho!” May we try to help ourselves and others to be holy, holy, holy as we await the celebration of our Savior’s coming!
There I sat, in the passenger’s side of our pickup truck, for hours and hours as my husband drove us from Connecticut to our new residence in Royal Palm Beach Florida. Being of short stature, I had the pleasure of the sun in my face when the visors were not long enough; but I also had wonderful views of large birds gliding among the clouds high in the sky above us. I noticed how gracefully they flew, how unencumbered their flights were in contrast to the sometimes jerky, crowded, stop-and-go vehicle traffic below them. I also became aware of how wide open and full the wingspreads of the birds were. Those natural aviators were fully open to the power and directions of the wind currents. While I could not ask the birds their opinions, their travels looked very peaceful and delightful.
So I propose the question to all of us: do we open our wings fully to the power and direction of the Lord? Apart from all the confusion and distractions of our daily lives, are we able to open ourselves up to the love and inspirations from the Holy Spirit? Not one of those birds had its wings open only halfway or one-sided. There was a complete openness to that which would offer efficient and safe propulsion. With the resources of prayer and sacraments, we can get through our busy traffic, and now, the holiday traffic…with a cushion of faith and confidence.
At the same time, we have the joy of the season of Advent when we can try to spread our wings fully, to open up and prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s nativity. It is so easy to get “jammed up” with lists, shopping, decorating, rearranging, parties and party-planning, wrapping, and errands that can really cramp our style. Circumstances can ruffle our feathers! At the end of a busy day, who feels like praying? And yet, what and who should be our real priorities?
I suggest we wrap up a little prayer-time gift for Jesus every day. If we spread ourselves out and lift up our thoughts and imaginations with gratitude and trust in our loving Savior, we can be pleasantly surprised at the gifts we receive, even before Christmas Day! Open up to the Lord!
We might choose to look to St. Paul for some scripture verses to form the bases of our prayer-time gifts:
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)
Or we might look to Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
on your own intelligence do not rely;
In all your ways be mindful of him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Let’s take flight this Advent!
The presiding priest gave the final blessing at the Saturday vigil Mass, and then the deacon said, “Go forth in the peace of Jesus.” I have heard similar dismissals many times, but for some reason, the invitation to peace resounded in my brain.
I was struck by just how dimensional that peace of Jesus really is and was prompted to suggest some of the facets of that peace as I see it.
P - Pastoral. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, offers guidance and direction to all of us. We can easily be lost sheep in this busy environment of ours. If we just keep our eyes on Jesus and humbly acknowledge that our loving Savior hears our prayers and knows what is best for us in his time, we can be peaceful. Joyfully, follow our Leader!
E- Evangelical. When we have Jesus’ peace, we know we cannot keep it to ourselves. We can happily spread it through witness stories that we share with others. Jesus’ peace is far-reaching and meant to be contagious. It helps us to be open and eager to be loving. Pass on the peace to others!
A - All-encompassing. The peace of Jesus affects all areas of our lives: our personal prayer life, our social life, our family life, our moral decisions, our work life. When we are truly open to experience Jesus, we can experience new vigor, strength, and perseverance. We see broader pictures in life. We are more open to forgiveness. Bring it on!
C - Calming. Many movies and television shows nowadays encourage and dramatize rushes of adrenalin in us. Everything has to be exciting and grossly stimulating! With the Lord’s peace, a calmness comes with more patience and ease. Easy does it!
E - Everlasting. So many things come and go quickly. Everything and everyone seem to be in a big hurry. The peace of Jesus is time-tested and guaranteed never to expire so long as we stay close to him through prayer and a humble willingness to follow scripture teaching. Happily ever after!
We read in John’s Gospel (20:19-23) that when Jesus’ first appeared to his apostles after his resurrection, his first words to them were, “Peace be with you.” He then gave them the power to forgive sins: “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (v. 22b-23)
Did you see? The peace came first. Let’s try to put Jesus’ peace first in our daily lives.
Ah! What a fine specimen! Right there on the table! A big, fat, orange, round pumpkin, waiting for a carved personality!
The young man grabbed his carving knife, cut a circle around the stem, cleaned out the pulp and seeds, and proceeded to create his masterpiece for the Halloween season. Carefully, he carved first the right triangular eye, and then the left.
Lord, help me to keep my eyes on you.
Help me to see others as you do,
with compassion and forgiveness and generous love.
Give me clear focus on what is truly and purely truth in this world.
Guide my eyes toward opportunities to share your Good News.
Ah! Next came the nose! With precision, the man carefully cut the big nose triangle from the middle of the evolving Jack-o’-lantern face. Plop! Out popped the chunk! No nostrils needed!
Jesus! Help me to keep my nose away from others’ business where it doesn’t
belong. May I offer good help and Christian advice when it is called for,
knowing my limitations.
With every breath I take, may I somehow give glory to my Creator who loves
me and made me in his image.
And the smiling mouth! The fellow carved a big, happy mouth for Mr. Pumpkin! The momentum was building. His masterpiece was almost finished! Up and down, carefully scraping! There! All complete!
Lord, help me to be careful what I say to others. May my words be wise and
effective. May my smiles brighten people’s days and lift their spirits. May I give
you praise by echoing your message of compassion and understanding. Help
me to speak up courageously in defense of those who have no means of
speaking for themselves.
Ah, again! The last creative touch! The lighted candle inside, so that Mr. Pumpkin can shine brightly for all to appreciate! Flickers of autumnal joy! He rests on the porch step, and he beckons those who pass by to enjoy the warmth of his pretty face and spirited grin! Well done, Mr. Pumpkin-Carver!
Come Holy Spirit! Be my inspirational Light in a world that can easily ramp up
darkness and despair! Shine forth with goodness and genuine, contagious
hope! Help me to be a light to others.
Creator, Carver God! Sculpt me into the creation you want me to be! May I
sit still long enough to glow with your saving light and be attentive to your many
Thank you for your multitude of daily blessings that I often take for granted!
With the change of the seasons comes pleasant memories of when my husband and I would go on little road trips to Maine and New Hampshire to moose watch. We were often successful in catching sight of those big animals and, in the process, I was made much more aware of the variety and beauty of the trees we would often just drive by and take for granted.
So many majestic trees proudly lift their limbs and branches skyward! The strong evergreens remind us of the ever-loving, ever-present, unchanging Lord! Nesting places for birds and forest creatures stand strong in the forests in all kinds of weather. Orchards provide wonderful fruits thanks to a God who loves to see his creation fulfill its true potential—and that includes us! Our prayer can rise to God that we may be more and more fruitful as we try to live out our holy potential. Our merciful Father gives us so many chances to turn over new leaves and show our true colors.
We might be moved to pray with Psalm 1:1-3:
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path
that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law
of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its
season, and their leaves do not wither. In all they do, they prosper. (NRSV)
In the splendor of autumn’s colors, we can give glory to our Artist Creator. The cooler temperatures and decrease of daylight time bring about chemical changes in the deciduous trees. Because of these chemical changes, the green chlorophyll color goes away, and we see the beautiful leaf shades of red, orange, and yellow. What an amazing process! Thank you, Father, for such delight to our eyes!
When we think about some of the many trees mentioned in the Bible, we remember the Lord’s appearance to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1), a detail that helps us get a picture in our mind’s eye in this life-changing story. And in the 19th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we read of the short tax collector, Zacchaeus, climbing a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus among the crowd. We might find it inspiring to take leaf-peeping rides or hikes and unite ourselves with the mighty oak trees. We also might see Jesus a little better if we lift ourselves up higher above our everyday routines, challenges, and worries.
Nowadays it is easy to take photos with our cell phones; we can easily take little notes of inspirations we might receive. We can find prayers easily online. I don’t think I am going out on a limb here when I suggest that autumn, with its numerous trees, could be one of the holiest and prayerful times of the year if we give it a chance! And if we happen to see a moose pass by, what a bonus!
Nighttime can be noisy, at least in my house. Our cat, Buddy, likes to sleep with my husband and me every night. Buddy is a good ol’ cat, but he snores. He usually sleeps on the bottom right side of our bed, just below my feet. My six-foot husband, to my left, also snores—not necessarily in harmony with Buddy. It has been suggested that I join that snore symphony, but I never hear that!
Add to that cacophony the occasional sounds of emergency sirens from the vehicles at the firehouse a couple of streets from our house. And I cannot forget the young gent who lives across the street from us who, for reasons I don’t know, sometimes decides to warm up his large diesel-fueled pickup truck to go out driving at about 12:45 a.m. I think he works for a repair garage, so he may be going out to rescue a driver in need, so I should not really pronounce judgement.
With the various night sounds comes the opportunity for me to be awake in the darkness of the room. Instead of being annoyed, I can decide to add a little prayer time to my tossing and turning. Certainly it is good to have a regular daily prayer routine, but impromptu prayer minutes can be stress-free and thought-provoking.
One such prayer-poem I have written could, perhaps, find a place on someone’s nightstand.
Sing me a lullaby, Jesus.
Put a love song in my heart.
Fondle my fears ‘til they fizzle;
Give my sleep time a good start.
Christ, be the Lord of my dreaming;
Send all my nightmares away.
Grant me forgiveness and mercy
For sins I chose yesterday.
Thank you for all of my blessings.
I know there are more to come.
Tuck me into your joy and peace,
Keep my loved ones safe, every one.
When my three grandchildren were little, we would often sit on my couch, and I would read to them from numerous popular softcover books. There was a very lightweight quilt on that couch that we would carefully throw over our laps as the reading session proceeded. We called it the “story blanket.” It added to the fun and magic of those shared moments. The four of us were unified and joyful as we shared the tales about pokey puppies and silly bears and adventuresome spiders. Those were the good old days!
Recently I got thinking about that story blanket and wondering if something similar might be useful in times of stress or anxiety. It could be an actual or even virtual “prayer blanket” or “no-worries blanket” that could be thrown over one or more of us together to offer a respite from discomfort. For a little while, we could distance ourselves from whatever is causing any upset in our lives. Blankets cover up people and things. They provide protection, a measure of warmth, inclusivity, and privacy. Most blankets are soft; so much in our world is abrasive and rough.
With the constant presence of cellphones and computers nowadays, it is not so easy to separate ourselves from outside stimuli. I see people walking, talking, texting, and listening everywhere I go. While it is all done in the name of convenience, there is something to be said for being able to take time to clear one’s head, connect with our loving Father God, and feel a non-technological connection with others. The comfort of the real or imagined “prayer blanket” could give gentle peace a chance.
So many times I hear people say in an effort to comfort others: “We are sending you our thoughts and prayers.” Can that become a stock expression? Do we always really follow through and take the time to think and pray for those individuals as we plow through our busy days and nights?
So let’s frequently pull our prayer blankets over ourselves and be comforted by what St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans (8:38-39):
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor
present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other
creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The other day I watched a local news story about the increase of whale sightings here in New England. A little boy was interviewed and said there were three things he really loves—music, video games, and whales. I thought it would have been good if one of his professed loves was God, but I realize that he also may not have thought about the individuals he loves, such as his family members. Still, it was a chance for me to offer a tiny prayer for that little boy, a prayer that he understands that God, our Creator, is responsible for all those blessings, including music, video games, and whales.
I was outside with Buddy, our old cat, and a bunch of young boys whizzed by on their bikes. For no apparent reason, one older fellow yelled out, “Oh my God!” I got thinking about how many times I hear that exclamation or read:”OMG” on the computer. Is that expression a prayer, or is it comparable to “Gee whiz” or “ Wow!” or something as secular as that? Is it an attention-getting outburst or as repeatedly mundane as a habitual “Bless you”? Is the person really calling on God for help, as in a prayer? Well, again, that was a little chance for me to offer a prayer for that young man that God would bless him and protect him on his speedy bicycle travels.
I sometimes get annoying phone calls from people or recordings that don’t speak but just hold open the phone line. I could just hang up, but, since the line is still open, lately I have taken a minute to pray the Lord’s Prayer out loud before I or they hang up. Maybe only God hears me, but I pray.