Saturday, December 31, 2011

Quick Bytes #12: Looking Back

Today, as we reflect on 2011, perhaps there is only one question we should ask ourselves:

Did I grow closer to God this year?

A Blessed and Happy New Year to all of you.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Feast of the Holy Family

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family in the Catholic Church. Our perfect example of family living is Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Not much is written in the bible about Jesus' early years but I would imagine they were not so unlike other families of their time.  Spending time praying to God, working and running a small home.  I've no doubt they spent time praying as a family to worship and give thanks to God.  My priest said this morning that he believed even Jesus learned and grew in knowledge of God.   Instead of knowing as an infant, that He was the Son of God.  I would think that God gave this divine knowledge to him in His own perfect timing.   Here is an excerpt of Pope Benedict's address on Wednesday, December 28, 2011 regarding the example of Jesus, Mary and Joseph:

"The Holy Family is an icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together. The family is the first school of prayer where, from their infancy, children learn to perceive God thanks to the teaching and example of their parents. An authentically Christian education cannot neglect the experience of prayer. If we do not learn to pray in the family, it will be difficult to fill this gap later. I would, then, like to invite people to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family, following the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth".
Blessings,
Noreen

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Homily

Christmas Homily from Father Francis Maple.

What a wonderful day is Christmas. Everyone seems happy and full of good cheer and so it should be. But what does Christmas mean to you and me, to other people and to God?

It breaks my heart to say that for many Christmas day can be summed up in the words, "Eat drink and be merry", just having what some would say a good time. There are some who don't even know the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Their celebrations can be summed up in the story of this little boy. A teacher wanted to begin spiritually preparing her class for Christmas. Her first question was, "Who was born in a stable?" One little boy put up his hand and said, "Miss, I was most certainly not born in a stable!" Neither did he know that the Lord Jesus was born in one. If you were to ask him what Christmas was all about he would tell you about Santa Claus and the presents he would receive. That and nothing more.

If you were to ask God what Christmas means to Him He would tell us it was the fulfilment of the plan He formed before time began. That it was always His intention to be loved perfectly by one of His creatures. He created men and women in His own image. They were the pinnacle of His creation. It was His will that in return one of these creatures should love Him perfectly. This is where His Son volunteered to be that Person. It was as if His Son said, "Father, I will be the One to love You perfectly."

Now He would have to find a woman who would accept to be the mother of His Son. The woman He chose was Mary, the virgin girl from Nazareth, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph. God prepared her to be His Son's mother by giving her the unique privilege of the Immaculate Conception and being sinless all her life. Mary accepted this vocation with the words, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me." Those are the happiest words ever said by a descendant of our first parents. When Mary said those generous words, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Son was conceived in her womb. Nine months later Jesus was born in Bethlehem. That's what Christmas means to God and that's what Christmas means to you and me.

We thank God our Father that despite our sinfulness and our coldness every year He allows us to celebrate the birthday of His Son. Jesus, we thank You for becoming a man for us and for raising our human nature to such an exalted level. We thank Mary for being the chosen person to bring Jesus to us for without her there would have been no Jesus. We thank you Joseph for the protection you gave Jesus and Mary your wife.

Lord Jesus, we celebrate your birthday. We want to have a worthy heart prepared for You. Please help us to make it warm and comfortable. Make up what is lacking in our poor efforts to please You. O King of Glory, may our every thought, word and deed of this day be a fitting homage for Your coming.


Father Francis Maple

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas.


Merry Christmas to all our contributors, followers and readers. 

May the Love and Peace of Christ be with you throughtout the New Year.

God bless.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

She Didn't Understand

Last night, my family had the privilege of attending a beautiful community penance service at the parish just across the bridge from ours. Our own pastor was a "guest" priest for the gathering; and 2 others came to join the "home" priest in West Virginia.

The pastor of the host parish offered a wonderful homily and something he said several times has stuck with me into the next day and has become a meditation for me as I go about my day.

I thought I'd share my thoughts with you here:

In speaking about The Annunciation, Father S. drew our attention to the fact, that even after Mary knew that her visitor was an angel of God...and even after she listened to his message AND his subsequent explanation of how the events being foretold would come to be...

SHE STILL DID NOT UNDERSTAND.

The Virgin Mary, the one, whom from all time was chosen, destined, prepared, and preserved in order to one day find herself greeted by an Angel and asked to be the mother of the Messiah...

DID NOT UNDERSTAND.

Mary was confused. She was "in the dark". She could not comprehend what was happening; much less God's WILL for her life...SHE WAS CLUELESS.

All that she knew was that she, like her people, had long-been awaiting the coming of a Savior.
She knew/believed that there was a God.
She knew/believed that it was His Angel who was speaking to her.

She knew of all that, but beyond it...

SHE DID NOT UNDERSTAND.

In fact, she no more understood what was happening or going to happen any more than WE do today...even after all these years and what we've learned since then!

The beauty of this idea is what came next.

This young girl, even though she was confused...even though she did not understand...and even though she was troubled in her heart...TRUSTED COMPLETELY and SAID "YES" to God.

She did not hesitate. She did not demand further explanation. She did not ask for a sign (though, it could be said, God offered her one in the pregnancy of Elizabeth for in seeing her cousin with-child, Mary  then knew that what had happened to her was REAL and was TRUE) and she did not stop to consider the consequences which might befall her...

She simply surrendered all to God and made herself available to Him as His chosen vessel!

We must be like Mary.

How many times do we cry out that "we do not understand"?

We do not understand why children and good people must suffer.
We do not understand why we do "x, y, and z" with our families according to the Teachings of the Church and yet, our lives end up tossed about in turmoil and confusion and it seems that those who have fallen away or have never known God to begin with, are often, (it appears) "better-off".
We do not understand the mysteries of our Faith, nor do we understand the depth or infinite components of God's love and mercy.
We do not understand why we feel so lonely when we are surrounded by people.
We do not understand what He is asking of us half the time...or if our choices/decisions reflect His will/plan.

But, even so...we can be like Mary.

We can go forth, on bended knee, in humility and with complete trust ...

AND SAY, "YES".

We need not ask for explanation...or wait for an audible/clear answer...

It is good enough to know that He is there and that He is GOD...our loving Father in heaven.

SHE DID NOT UNDERSTAND any more than we do.

Let us, like her, make ourselves "handmaids" and invite

"it to be done unto us according to His Word".

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Color Me Catholic Review

The other day I blogged about a wonderful activity to teach children (or perhaps even big kids) about the Catholic Mass here and I wanted to share it with the readers of the Community of Catholic Bloggers too.  The Color Me Catholic kit is designed and created by Monica from Arma Dei and Equipping Catholic Families.  She graciously gave me one for free in exchange for a review of her product.


It has 10 mini-booklets that instructs the learner about Treasured Vessels, Vestments & Symbols, Church Furnishings, Parts of the Mass and Sacraments & Sacramentals.  Also included are the new phrases from the New Roman Missal. As the title indicates, the kit is downloaded from your computer in black and white and needs to be colored.  You then become the artist by choosing the range of colors to be used.  My son assisted me in the coloring of the mini-booklets and it's folder since he is the better one at matching colors!  Monica also has provided this tutorial on Youtube to help with the assembling of the books and is quick to respond to questions via email.  My printer does not have a double-sided setting, so, Monica instructed me on how to do it manually.  It took a bit more effort, but was easy enough to do.




This kit is small enough for little hands and simple enough for them to use.  I brought it to my first grade Religious Education class and my students became excited over it.  They loved the smallness of it and going through and trying to identify the pictures they knew.  They also began spontaneously quizzing each other to see who could name the pictures.  It was fun for them and I will be using it as an on-going instructional tool in my classroom.  I believe my 11 year old even learned a thing or two by reading through the mini-booklets!

Monica assists in the work of God... she helps to "equip the called" by creating colorful and simple activities and crafts for children.  I would highly recommend checking out her products at Arma Dei or her blog, Equipping Catholic Families.

Merry Christmas!
Noreen

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Materialist! Moi?


They say that Christmas has become materialistic. And how true this is.

But surely it is right that Christmas is materialistic – in the proper sense of the word!

Let’s consider this: God – A spirit somewhere out there in the universe He created, decided to materialise and come down to earth.

He materialised, assumed a physical form, as the human Jesus, born by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

God materialised to be amongst us, so that we may see Him, speak to Him, listen to Him and hopefully learn from Him.

And most important of all, to be saved by Him. God – Jesus. The Spirit materialising for us.

Now how wonderful is that?

Do we ever stop and wonder about the real miracle of Christmas and the true meaning of materialism?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Quick Bytes #11: Strength

Remember when you were a kid ... and you had to tell your parents something bad?

Maybe you failed a test and you had to get them to sign the paper.

Or maybe you got detention, and had to fess up.

Dented Dad's car?

Broke Mom's favorite statue?

Do you remember the lump in your throat as you thought through how to deliver the news?  You played out all the scenarios ... and none ended well.

Do you remember the moment right before you spilled the news?

"Mom?  Dad?  There is something I have to tell you ...."

<gulp>

Now imagine what Mary felt like when she had to tell her parents she was pregnant.

And it was God's child.

A statement that, given her situation, would bring great embarrassment to the family.

And possible death to herself.

And then she had to tell her husband ...

What strength our Blessed Mother had.

God Bless you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Simbang Gabi

Last night at church, we were able to join in on the beautifully artistic celebration of Simbang Gabi which means a mass at dawn.  This is a Filipino custom that is celebrated in the Philippines at 4am before the sun rises and heats up the land.  Farmers travel for miles to join this mass and carry these beautiful lanterns to help light the way.  The Simbang Gabi mass is a nine day novena to the Blessed Mother that starts on Dec. 16th and ends on Dec. 24th.


Ours was not done at 4am but during the 5pm Vigil Mass with so many gorgeous colorful lanterns on display and the ladies dressed in beautiful yellow and red dresses.  Part of the mass was said in Filipino and part in English.  The children were dressed with one Mary and Joseph; and the rest were angels in a procession throughout the church with a Filipino Music Group singing songs in their native language.  Absolutely beautiful!


Following the mass, we went to our gym where we feasted upon Filipino cuisine with Filipino live music as our entertainment.   It was a special evening for all that felt as if we were transported for an evening to the Philippines!  To learn more about Simbang Gabi Mass you can go here.

Advent Blessings to all,
Noreen

Friday, December 16, 2011

Seven Days In Utopia

I don't go to the movies often, but when I do I love to watch the trailers for upcoming movies. The same is true when I rent a DVD. In one of the movies I received from Netflix recently I saw a trailer for this little gem called Seven days in Utopia. I put it on my list and received it last weekend. I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Seven Days in Utopia stars Robert Duvall and Lucas Black. Black's character, Luke Chisolm is a golf pro who has a meltdown on the course during his debut at a PGA tournament. While driving a country road he has a bit of a car wreck and ends up in the town of Utopia. Here he meets Duvall's character, Johnny Crawford. Crawford promises Chisolm that if he spends seven days in this little town, he will get his golf game back. What Chisolm never saw coming was that he would get more than his game back. Crawford would also teach him the importance of faith and relationships. Crawford also shows Chisolm how to bury the lies he has believed about himself and life, and how to reveal the truths. Crawford gives him three little letters:S,F,T~ See, Feel, Trust. This Chisolm will come to see applies to his golf game, his life, and his faith.
You don't need to be a golf fan to enjoy this movie, but of you are, it has its share of real life golf pros. Put this one on your to watch list; you will be glad you did. There are lessons we can all take from this one~golfer or not.
You can watch the trailer below for a sneak preview.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chip butty sarnie?

The kind of sandwich you prefer says a lot about you.

What is your favorite sandwich? Is it the British Chip Butty Sarnie? Fried potatoes between two slices of bread. Or is it a bacon sandwich? Or bacon, lettuce and tomatoes? Or sausage sandwich?

Perhaps you're more refined and you have cheese and cucumber sandwiches cut in neat little triangles with a spot of tea ... don't you know? Or salmon and cucumber if you want to be even more upper class!

There's such a variety of sandwich fillings and maybe they do say something about our tastes, our up-bringing, and our lifestyles. What is anyone to make of my favorite ginger marmalade sandwich? Or my second favorite - Marmite sandwich?

But that's not what this is all about.

We Catholics sometimes have a favorite Saint. What does our choice of Saint say about us I wonder.

Do you have a favorite Saint? Who is it and what does your choice say about you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Testify to the Light

“A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” – John 1:6-7
John the Baptist was called to be a witness for Jesus. He gave witness to Jesus, the Light of the world. He testified by his life and his words.
John did not pretend to be the Messiah. He did not try to call people to himself. He was always pointing the way to Jesus.
We too are called to be witnesses to Jesus.
We too are sent from God to testify to the Light.
And how do we do that?
We tell our story.
We tell how we have come to know Jesus and what He has done for us.
We tell how He has changed our lives.
We share our faith.
John was called to testify. John was called to be a witness.
And so are we.
We are not the light. Jesus is the light. Like John, we point the way.
Point the way to Love incarnate.
Dear Jesus, help me to be a witness to your presence in my life. Help me to be a witness to your Light and your Love. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Light our world. Amen.

first posted on my blog 12/11/11
Photobucket

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Patiently Bear Weaknesses

Do you feel stressed over the Christmas season? Do you feel guilty about feeling stressed? Do you dread encountering some relatives you see only once a year and breathe a sigh of relief that it will be 11 more months before you have to be with them again? Do you feel guilty about that?

We want to get together and enjoy one another, but in the pit of our stomachs we may experience a grinding anxiety over what could happen when Uncle Off I. Cious, Aunt Whine. E. Pants, Sister Daffy, Brother Crit I. Cal, In-law Hair Trigg R. Temper and the rest all come together under the same roof. And let's not forget about me: diagnosed with a severe case of Foot-in-Mouth disease that seems incurable even after years of treatment.

We want peace and joy. We are supposed to be celebrating Jesus' birthday, aren't we? But many families have a certain amount of disfunctionality that belies all those happy faces in the ads and on cards. It can really drain away our peace of mind. The family get-together becomes something to be endured and gotten through rather than a fun occasion full of love and laughter and something we look forward to.

So what's the answer? St. Benedict, the practical and wise tells us in chapter 72 of his rule. It's not just for monks. We average Joes can live it, too. When I read it this morning I immediately thought of everyone going through family difficulties during the holidays.

Let them bear most patiently one another's infirmities, whether of body or of character.
This eagerness to live for others leads us to help another bear his burden. It is not only to put up with another's weaknesses, but also to carry, bear, shoulder lovingly the infirmities of others. "Bear ye one another's burdens," says St. Paul to the Galatians (6:2).

Father Gerard Ellspermann, O.S.B. commenting on this phrase of the rule writes:

"Bear them most patiently" means, too, that we suffer with the other one -- and that most patiently. The Latin word, patior, means in its reflexive sense, "I suffer, I myself suffer, I suffer myself." It is only when we can't stand ourselves that we begin to take it out on others and become impatient with others. "Most patiently" is one of those phrases we can stop on, think about, and pray about.

The highlighted sentence really brought me up short. What is it about the relatives that they can't stand about themselves? What is it about me that I can't stand? Whoa.

Father Gerard goes on:

This work of accommodating ourselves to one another in the community is a continual struggle. Not only is tolerance necessary, but it is also one of the bet ways to make our following of Christ practical. Perhaps what is even more necessary than tolerance is a sense of compassion after the mind of Christ.

Actually, we are back again to charity that is manifested in mutual regard and mutual kindness. While we share many advantages with each other, we also have to endure with tireless patience the differences among ourselves. The nationalities represented in one community, the differences in temperament, the superiority of some and the rivalry of others are all embraced under bearing the infirmities of others, be they of body or character.

St. Benedict, patient with the weakness of monks, pray for us.
And pray for us as we gather to celebrate the birth of Christ in our families so that we may experience peace and joy in each other's company and cut one another some slack.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Quick Bytes #10: Waiting

Christmas is almost here...

There is anticipation in the air...

But are we waiting for a Baby bearing gifts and throwing parties?

Or One bringing salvation?


(Sometimes it's awfully hard to tell...)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Memorial of St. Ambrose


"Care must be taken that our speech proceed not from evil passions, but from good motives;    
for here it is that the devil is especially on the watch to 
catch us."

"If anyone takes heed to this, he will be mild, gentle, modest.  
For in guarding his mouth, and restraining his tongue, and in not speaking before examining, pondering, and weigh his words--as to whether this should be said, that should be answered, or whether it be a suitable time for this remark--he certainly is practicing modesty, gentleness, patience.  

So he will not burst out into speech through displeasure or anger, nor give sign of any passion in his words, nor proclaim that the flames of lust are burning in his language, or that the incentives of wrath are present 
in what he says.  
The snare of the enemy is our speech--but that itself is also just as much an enemy to us.  Too often we say something that our foe takes hold of, and whereby he wounds us as though by our own sword.  How far better it is to perish by the sword of others than by our own!"

St. Ambrose (340-397)

He found himself chosen to be bishop after mediating an argument between Arians and Catholic while being a catechumen.  
He devoted himself to learning theology and was ordained a priest and consecrated a bishop on December 7th in Milan.  
He's written books on scripture and the early church fathers, composed hymns, and is credited for being involved in the conversion of St. Augustine.  

You can read more about St. Ambrose's writings here.

Blessings,
Noreen

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Knot.

Wisdom in Our Youth

My 16 year old daughter was recently asked to write a talk for a Ladies' Retreat at our parish.

Her topic was to be "The True Meaning of Christmas and Keeping a Holy Focus During this Season" from a teen's perspective.

I was greatly inspired by several things my daughter shared.

I don't know about you, but whenever I have the opportunity to be exposed to faithful, zealous, devout youth, I instantly have renewed HOPE for the future. (I had this feeling when reading Kathryn's recent post on this blog about FOCUS)

Truly, it will be the grass-roots uprising of YOUTH who want to restore the Church, Family, and Nation that will change the world...loving Christ and sharing Him with others...one day at a time.

One of the things my daughter mentioned in  her talk that moved me so was this: She said that she feels we, as people celebrating the Advent/Christmas Season tend to pay too much attention to "public influence" and not enough attention to "The Ultimate Influence".

I love that. "Ultimate Influence".

I wonder how different the average day in America would look if we would all strive to take these words of a young teen to heart...how would the streets look...and the stores...and the homes of families across the country?

My daughter also said that we need to enjoy the "present moments" of our lives more...and that "rolling out cookie dough and cutting out snowflakes, are far more important than they seem to us at the time".

Wow! Such insight from someone so young; and also, for me, as her mother, such a blessing to know that she "gets it" and that these moments in our own family life have reached her heart and have drawn her closer to God.

Finally, my daughter said something that has become my own meditation for this Advent Season. I thanked her for teaching me and leading me to Christ. She said that rather than trying to "make the best of Christmas", she feels that she needs to try to "make the best of HERSELF DURING Christmas".

Wow, again!

That, after all, IS the true essence of Advent, is it not?

Preparing our hearts, best we can, to meet Our Savior in His Coming; both at Christmas time and in the end of ALL time.

So often, the media and even the casual conversations of everyday people, seem to be flooded with stories of fallen away youth; irreverent youth, lukewarm  youth, disrespectful youth.

I thank God for the glimpses He gives me of youth that are close to His Divine Son...youth that DO care about their fellowman, youth that understand the real point of holy days like Christmas, and youth that are willing and courageous enough to share their insights and wisdom with others...

This talk reminded me of another Youth...a Divine Youth, who was found teaching the teachers in the temple, one day. So too, was my daughter, "teaching the teachers" as she ministered to her own pastor and the ladies of our parish.

I am now trying to make the best of myself during this beautiful Advent Season.

I hope you will do the same.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mary, Masterpiece of the Holy Spirit

Part Three of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, begins with this title and picture:
El GrecoSaint John Contemplates the Immaculate Conception, Church of SainLeocadia and Saint Roman; Museum of Santa Cruz, Toledo. 
The commentary on this picture in the Compendium was illuminating to me.  Click the hyperlink to read more on how Mary is our teacher and guide for living in the Spirit.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Truth with Zeal

The Holy Spirit gives us joy. And He is joy. Joy is the gift in which all the other gifts are included. It is the expression of happiness, of being in harmony with ourselves, that which can only come from being in harmony with God and with his creation. It belongs to the nature of joy to be radiant; it must communicate itself. The missionary spirit of the Church is none other than the impulse to communicate the joy which has been given.
~Pope Benedict XVI, Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, 2008

Wondering where the new evangelization is? Here in our little midwest town, we are witnessing the new evangelization through an amazing group of Catholic missionaries, known as the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

Here in our town, Christ has brought the Catholic faith alive for college students across campus and across our community through the efforts of the FOCUS missionaries here. There are between 60 - 80 college students who attend daily Mass at the Newman Center. These students are reverent and love tradition. They are on fire for their faith and are are an inspiration to people in our family and families across the community. The FOCUS missionaries and their student disciples are living the sacramental life without fear and bringing the light of Christ to the darkness of our times.

At our university campus, we have four FOCUS missionaries (two women and two men) who have given their lives radically to Christ and His Holy Church. They disciple students to lead Bible studies and various community activities that evangelize to the Truth of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church. We are currently supporting two FOCUS missionary families in the United States by giving on a monthly basis, specifically for these two families. There are hundreds of FOCUS missionaries across the country (and now internationally!) that raise their own money for support of their mission work. If you are interested in finding a missionary to support with a one-time or an ongoing gift, go check them out at FOCUSonline.org. This has been the best investment we have ever made, both for the growth we have experienced in our own faith and for the fruit we have seen by Christ's work through FOCUS.

If you have any questions, or would like to know the names of some specific missionaries we know personally that you can support, send me an email at intheirhearts@gmail.com

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The New Translation of the Mass

All over English speaking Catholic world this past Sunday we celebrated the holy sacrifice of the the Mass with some new, more formal language.  This has been a change ten years in the making.  At my parish we have had workshops and practice sessions.  We have received booklets and gotten an entirely new  hymnal.  The changes were not unexpected. They were anticipated.

People have different feelings about the changes from--it's about time to why did they do that?  Change can be hard to take.  But, I suspect in a year or two we will wonder what the fuss was about.  We will find it hard to remember the change and how it all took place.  The Mass is the Mass and the changes will take hold because the Holy Spirit will lead us.

I thought before we all forget, it might be a good idea to reflect upon the changes that have just occurred.  When your grandchildren ask you, what story will you tell about your own experiences with the changes in the Mass?

I wanted to state for the record that this past Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, felt awkward.  I kept looking at the book for the words.  At one point I searched desperately for the words to the Our Father and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that it didn't change. And I already knew that, but somehow in panic, I forgot.

My very well prepared congregation did pretty well with the changes until we reached the Gospel and we were on a different page that had the readings and not the responses spelled out.  When the Priest at that point said--The Lord be with you.  We all in unison responded--And also with you.  Even though we knew somewhere in the backs of our brains from all the practice that it was supposed to be--And with your spirit.  If it hadn't been the Mass we might have had a little nervous laughter, but we just went on.  It will be a learning experience.

I love some of the new language--'chalice' instead of 'cup' for example rings true.  It will take a little longer for 'consubstantial' to come tripping off my tongue, but it will happen. Overall, very little has changed, it just feels a little different to say different words.  As our priest said in his homily, the changes will get us back into the book and thinking about the words of the Mass.  That can only be a good thing.

I would invite your comments about your experience with the changes.  When something as monumental as changes to the words of the Mass occurs, it is worth taking notice and remembering how it happened.