Monday, December 28, 2009

The Beauty of Christmas and the Beautiful

I "survived" another Christmas Eve dinner. I love Christmas, it's the most beautiful and hopeful of feasts but honestly, it's exhausting. The high point of Christmas Eve (besides the beautiful liturgy my family attended early in the evening) was my two-year-old cousin, who I adore. She opened one of the presents I bought her which was a cookie baking set, which came with accessories. She immediately put the oven mitt on, that it came with. It fit her perfectly and she served us wooden cookies on a tray. It was so sweet and a memory I will always hold dear. The food was also memorable and the gifts I received, the gifts given and so much more. 
One thing that I did in the last few weeks was to nominate a CNN hero for 2010. It was a simple online application. I recently had the privilege of meeting a modern day "hero,"who I nominated. I'm a fan of the CNN special show-"Heroes", which is an all-star tribute taped in Hollywood, and shown on Thanksgiving Night, which highlights modern day heroes.  If you are not familiar with the show, "heroes" are nominated by friends, acquaintances or relatives each year and then on Thanksgiving night the good works of these extraordinary human beings are highlighted on CNN along with film footage of their amazing projects. Ten are chosen and are given an award and a donation for their work. One is named the "CNN Hero of the Year." In 2009, Efren Penaflorida, who started a pushcart classroom in the Philippines to bring education to poor children was the top winner. On Thanksgiving night, I watched some of the show, and learned about the work of a community crusader from Queens, NY, who is sometimes called the "angel of Queens." Jorge Munoz, along with his family, feeds over a hundred homeless and hungry men each night, who "gather under the elevated 7 train in Jackson Heights, Queens." Munoz is a bus driver by day and when he comes home from work, he begins cooking the meals, with his family, for these poor people. He estimates that he has fed more than 70,000 people since 2004. A true hero, a true humanitarian. I'm so impressed with his noble community work and the other heroes, who have made a difference in the world and acted upon their desire to help those in need.  
For the New Year, besides my usual resolutions, I want to spend more time looking for the beauty that surrounds me. The beauty in others, in nature, in simple, quiet times, in my love of books and writing and in my relationship with God. There is much beauty in our world and sometimes we are just too caught up in living and striving and we forget to stop, look and appreciate more. 
I like this quote that I found in one of my books, Tea Time with God, "Beauty feeds our soul, like food nourishes our bodies. Beauty points us to the transcendent, takes us beyond our finiteness and opens our hearts to that which is greater and larger than ourselves."
A Blessed and Happy New Year to All! 

Keep a place in life for beauty    Leslie Weatherhead

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Humble Beginnings for the Savior

As reported in many news outlets, an interesting discovery, close to the feast of Christmas was made by archaeologists in Nazareth, Israel. The discovery will likely shed more light on the hamlet where Jesus lived as a young boy. The remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth that can be dated back to the time of Jesus, shows a humble dwelling in an isolated village. "The dwelling and older discoveries of nearby tombs in burial caves suggest that Nazareth was an out-of-the-way hamlet of about 50 houses on a patch of about four hundred acres. It was evidently populated by Jews of modest means who kept camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority.......Based on clay and chalk fragments found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a 'simple Jewish family'.......The absence of any remains of glass vessels or imported products suggested the family who lived in the dwelling were 'simple.'"
Simple, humble beginnings for the Savior of the world. And now over 2,000 years later, more than two billion people in the world will celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas. Hymns will be sung, Masses celebrated, Prayer Services will be held the world over.  Preparations are under way for magnificent liturgies, prayers, celebrations, parties, dinners, feasts and gift-giving, all in honor of the birth of the Savior and Redeemer of the world. 
As for me, I am preparing to have a Christmas Eve feast at my house with my family and relatives. My aunt (who is 89 years old) is busy preparing the traditional Italian fish salad, which takes her days to prepare. It's the best! I will be busy cooking and baking over the next couple of days as well. 
Wishing all a very Blessed and Merry Christmas! May the birth of our Savior- the Prince of Peace and the beauty and love of this holy Season give us reason to hope. We also have reason to believe in God's abundant generosity and love. Peace!

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

A little child is born for us, and he shall be called the mighty God; every race on earth shall be blessed in him.  (See Is 9:6; Ps. 71:17)


Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Best Christmas Card of All

The most beautiful Christmas Card I received this year (so far) is from the Sisters of Life. They had a wonderful idea and created a card with the faces of adorable children, dressed as the Three Kings.  These are children whose mothers decided against abortion. Moses, dressed as King Balthasar was born in 2006 at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent. Isaiah, dressed as King Caspar was also born in '06. T'veigh Emmanuel dressed as King Melchior was born in 2007. This was the message inside the card, "The little magi on this card are three of the more than 10,000 children whose mothers have had the courage to give them life with the support of our missions. Through the gifts and treasures you bring to these missions, you participate in welcoming the Christ Child into the world. For this we call YOU the Magi." 
I have displayed the card in a prominent place in my home. It makes me happy just looking at the faces of these children. To think that my small donation, when added to all the others, can do so much good. 
I found this on their website-"The Sisters of Life is a contemplative/active religious community of women founded in 1991 by John Cardinal O'Connor for the protection and enhancement of the sacredness of every human life. Like all religious communities, we take the three traditional vows but also we are consecrated under a special, fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life."
Cardinal O'Connor must be smiling down on these wonderful women who have done so much good for the cause of life. And their numbers are growing. Whenever I receive their newsletter, I'm always pleased to see the faces and read the biographies of young women who are responding to a  worthy cause and vocation. They all look very happy. At times, when I'm in Manhattan, I see the Sisters walking through the city confidently going about their work. 

O Antiphon for Dec. 17th

O Sapientia-O Wisdom

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

reaching from one end to the other mightily,

and sweetly ordering all things:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.


My prayer is for the Church-O Wisdom, Most Holy, Give Wisdom through the Spirit to your Church, to all leaders within the Church, so that the Body of Christ might flourish and succeed in doing Your will. Amen.  


Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Great Advent Saint

Recently I was asked to pray the "Traditional Grace Prayer" at my cousin's wedding reception. I considered it a great honor. Before I led the praying of "Grace," I thanked God for the gift of love that the couple shared and for all the blessings in our family. I then recited a quote from the writings of one of my favorite Carmelite saints-St. John of the Cross. He wrote, "In the evening of life, you will be judged by how well you have loved." And then we prayed together. That beautiful quote from St. John is very telling and gives insight into how important love is to God and to our relationship with each other. It's very clear in the Gospels, Jesus commanded us to love one another. I often think of what a different world this would be if humankind had only listened, really listened to those words and acted upon them. Just that one command, if fulfilled, could have brought peace and justice to our world. 
St. John of the Cross, a great Spanish mystical poet and Doctor of the Church suffered much is his life. He suffered rejection, alienation, ridicule, mocking and yet he wound up becoming a great saint and Doctor of the Church. He imitated Jesus and he loved Jesus as only a mystic can, without any conditions. 
St. John of the Cross is an Advent saint. His feast day is December 14th. He is one of the many saints, I look forward to meeting in Heaven. Can you imagine meeting the great saints in Heaven?

The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. The soul has to proceed rather by unknowing rather than knowing.

Desire to imitate Christ and study his life.   
St. John of the Cross

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Digging Deeper Into Faith and Belief

On the Eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I gave a talk on Mary, the Mother of God, to a group of men and women. As always, whenever I am preparing to give a talk, I do a lot of research and then I add personal reflection and experiences. I have been studying the Catholic religion most of my adult life, either formally at Fordham or informally through all my years of teaching, reading, praying, and listening to homilies and talks. I love the mystery and depth in the Catholic religion and since I can never learn all there is to know, I am always "digging deeper," learning more, gaining insights and that keeps it interesting. So when I give a talk I always learn something, both from the research I do as well as from the participants. So on Monday night, I sat with a group of Catholics, who like me, are interested in knowing more. One definition of theology is-faith seeking understanding and whenever that happens its a great dynamic. 
One thing that I mentioned that people seemed surprised to learn is how the date of December 8th was decided. The Church celebrates the birth of Mary on September 8th. The date of the Immaculate Conception was determined by counting back nine months from this date. So we celebrate on Dec. 8th, that Mary was conceived and born without original sin, given a special privilege by God, for Mary is Theotokos-God-bearer. That qualifies her, no doubt. Do you know that name of the Pope who declared Mary free from every stain of sin?      (It was Pius IX)
On December 8th, 1854 Pope Pius IX pronounced that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, was preserved exempt from all stain of sin."
Pius IX on December 8th declared the dogma. There's a nine and an eight in that sentence. The Church celebrates Mary's birth on September 8th. Another 9 and an 8. Perhaps it's just coincidental, but there are a lot of nine's and eight's in this story.......(I didn't mention this in the talk but it makes for interesting blogging).

The Most High has sanctified his own tabernacle.  (Psalm 46:5)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gifts for the Infant Jesus

In an attempt to cultivate a spirit of giving and generosity, I ask my sons each year what they would like to give for Christmas to help others, along with what they would like. My family has made a donation to Heifer International for the last few years, to help the poor.  I read an article years ago, which suggested that we ask children, "What would you like to give for Christmas," instead of, "What do you want to get for Christmas?" 
I was reading in the Long Island Catholic this morning about an idea developed by the Office of New Evangelization in the Diocese of Rockville Center, that I loved.
The Office is initiating a week of prayer for all children. The director of the new office, Franciscan Brother James McVeigh was quoted as saying, "As we prepare for Christmas we are trying to awaken in the hearts of all the faithful to look to the Infant Jesus. The Infant Jesus embraces all, especially needy children....As children get ready for Christmas, it is important for them to learn that there are many children who are suffering." The week of prayer will begin on Sunday, Dec. 13th. There will be prayers with different petitions for each day of the week. Children will be praying for homeless and hungry children, orphans and victims of war, and others. Brother James said, "We are uniting in prayer to the Infant Jesus for our children and youth by encouraging our families to pray for different groups of children each day. Showing our love and concern for these troubled children witnesses a powerful example that the Catholic Church cares for the spiritual and temporal welfare of all our children."
What a great Advent idea! The prayers will be available online and I will download them to pray along with all the children, youth and families that will be praying these prayers during Advent. 
Prayers are available at the office's website at- evangelization.html

Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.  St. Augustine

Everything that lives, lives not alone, nor for itself.  William Blake