February 2 has been named the World Day for Consecrated Life and this year in particular is a year dedicated all the Catholic religious communities in the world. By tradition, consecrated people were those who belong to various religious communities such as sisters, brothers and priests. They live in communities such as monasteries, convents and religious houses. More recently, other forms of consecrated life have emerged such as lay apostolates or consecrated persons who live in the world in smaller groups or alone but adhere to various ways of life in prayer and work. There are many forms of lay apostalate, but all are marked by a dedication to God in their personal lives.
The history of religious communities in Quebec goes back to the colonial days when brothers and sisters came from France and dedicated their lives to the betterment of the community that was growing in leaps and bounds. We owe much of the beginnings of our schools, hospitals, universities and social services to sisters and brothers who dared to educate, nurse and accompany the destitute in conditions that were less than ideal. We hear the names of some of the foundresses and founders of religious communities in our street signs, names of schools and buildings. I personally know of many religious who are still working today quietly behind the scenes with dedication to teach new immigrants, accompany persons who are mentally or physically handicapped or leave for foreign countries to help bring needed skills to countries in distress.
Have you ever crossed paths with a religious brother or sister who has been a sign of hope for you? Or maybe you have been helped by an institution such as a school or hospital that was founded and may still even be financed by a religious community? It may be time now to remember them and give thanks for all that they have given to society and continue to do.
– See more at: http://www.diocesemontreal.org/blogues/en/the-year-for-consecrated-life/#sthash.UbyrArxs.dpuf
The New Year is just beginning and it’s not too late to think about making our New Year’s resolutions. For the second year in a row, Pope Francis has presented us with some great ideas that can nuture our spiritual lives and bring us closer to God. Here they are as the Catholic News Service has summarized them:
- “Take care of your spiritual life, your relationship with God, because this is the backbone of everything we do and everything we are.”
– “Take care of your family life, giving your children and loved ones not just money, but most of all your time, attention and love.”
– “Take care of your relationships with others, transforming your faith into life and your words into good works, especially on behalf of the needy.”
– “Be careful how you speak, purify your tongue of offensive words, vulgarity and worldly decadence.”
– “Heal wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness, forgiving those who have hurt us and medicating the wounds we have caused others.”
– “Look after your work, doing it with enthusiasm, humility, competence, passion and with a spirit that knows how to thank the Lord.”
– “Be careful of envy, lust, hatred and negative feelings that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people.”
– “Watch out for anger that can lead to vengeance; for laziness that leads to existential euthanasia; for pointing the finger at others, which leads to pride; and for complaining continually, which leads to desperation.”
– “Take care of brothers and sisters who are weaker … the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers, because we will be judged on this.”
Pope Francis has a gift for using symbols to get his point across. Speaking about the “oil of forgiveness” reminds me of how oil heals and gives flavor.
Is there one resolution that draws your attention? Maybe God is nudging you to make a change in your life for 2015?
Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him
Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway
Now begin, on Christmas day.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj
The European origin of the Advent wreath predates Christianity. In the Germanic countries, as the daylength would shorten, there had always been a custom of lighting fires and lights, much as for the Christmas tree. In the 1500s, some Germanic Lutherans adopted the practice of lighting a wreath during Advent and it was soon adopted by Catholic and Protestant Germans alike. The German immigrants than brought it to North America where it was introduced to the liturgical movement in the 1900s.
As a child, we always had an Advent wreath set as a centerpiece on the table. The smell of the evergreens would permeate through out the house.
The Advent wreath is circular having no beginning and no end, symbolizing the eternal nature of God. Evergreens remind us of everlasting life as their greenery does not fade in winter. The lights show us that as we wait for the birth of Jesus, the darkness is slowly overcome by the light.
Traditionally there are four candles, three purple, symbolizing a time for prayer and reflection and that we need to wait and watch for the coming of the Saviour. We prioritize a life of simplicity and giving to others. The candle of the third week or Gaudate Sunday is pink and reminds us of joy which is the first word in the entrance antiphon of that Sunday. Some wreaths have a white candle in the middle that is lit on Christmas Day.
The wreath can be made at home and each Sunday, special prayers can be said to remind the family that Jesus is coming. The Advent wreath is a concrete reminder that Advent is a special season of waiting that brings hope, the hope of a new Saviour to come in his simplicity and poverty. Each time the candles are lit, we remember that the light shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot take away the light. The ritual of lighting an additional candle each week is a sign of us patiently waiting for the Christ Child to come.
What are some of your Advent memories? How can you create a spirit of Advent waiting in your home?
One of the central figures of the Christmas season in North America is Santa Claus. He is pictured as a jolly old man, round and smiling with a red suit and black boots. Living in the North Pole, he mounts his sleigh pulled by reindeer and bring toys to all the children on Christmas Eve. There are songs, poems and even movies produced about Santa Claus.
So where does this mythical figure come from and how has he become connected to Christmas?
The origins of Santa Claus stem from St. Nicholas whose feast day is celebrated on December 6. My parents have memories of the tradition of St. Nicholas in their native Germany. Someone in the village would dress up as St. Nicholas and he would go from house to house giving the children oranges and candy.
The real St. Nicholas was a bishop in a part of Asia Minor, now near Demre, Turkey. Born around 270 AD, his parents were devout Christians at a time when Christians were being persecuted. Nicholas’s parents died in an epidemic when Nicholas was a young boy and he was raised by his Christian uncle. Already at a young age, he showed signs of great holiness. Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, and his love for children.
He was a key player in the advancement of Christian thought during the fourth century after the conversion of the Roman Emperor, Constantine. The many stories now told about him alude to his desire to serve his people with loving kindness and compassion. One of these stories tells of how he gave gold balls to a family of poor young girls to pay their dowries. In some European countries, on the feast of St. Nicholas, they give children oranges that represent the gold balls. In North America, this custom became St. Nicholas or Santa Claus who brings gifts to children on Christmas Day.
St. Nicholas can be an inspiration to us in the way that he saw Christ in the poor and needy. Whenever we see a Santa Claus, let us remember the true Christian roots of this mythical figure.
A few months ago, I visited with my daughter and her family. After a rainy day, my grandsons, 2 and 4 years old, and I went for a walk with the intention of looking for all of the slugs and snails that had come out onto the sidewalk as a result of the rain. We would marvel at the different sizes of the snails and slugs, their various colors, how they moved and their shapes. Each one was a source of wonder. Looking with fascination through the eyes of my grandsons made me realize that this is the way that God looks at all of his creation, even snails and slugs.
Advent is the beginning of the church year and an opportunity to begin again to look at the world with the same sense of wonder that God looks at his creation. The Advent stories of the Bible begin when Mary receives the visit of an angel announcing to her that she would be the Mother of God. It is a story of promise and wonder. We can only imagine her amazement at what is happening to her. The readings in this season are full of the stories of wonderful things that happen to ordinary people. They vary from the arrival of a son to an old couple, Elizabeth and Zechariah, to a dream that comes to Joseph, betrothed to Mary. The stories remind us that nothing is impossible with God.
How can we cultivate the sense of wonder this Advent? None of us are expecting any miracle births, but when we pay attention, that which is most often seen as ordinary, becomes a source of wonder. The night sky arrives earlier and the streets and homes are being decorated in preparation for Christmas. There is a sense of something special happening as we prepare for family to come, friends to visit and helping the less fortunate. All of these can be opportunities for looking deeper within ourselves to wonder at how God may be present in our lives.
This Advent, I invite you to discover the joy God brings as we cultivate the sense of wonder.
This is an interesting National Catholic Register article on the situation of the church in Germany, which collects church taxes for distribution to the country’s Catholic bishops conference and the Protestant churches. There would seem to be a very important lesson here for all churches concerning the risks of becoming dependent on external authority for financial governance. The result seems to be a peculiar and deeply serious situation for the Catholic church in Germany. Once again, the result of the church and state being too intertwined is not necessarily so bad for the state, but it is disastrous for the church. I hope and pray that the German bishops can look for and press the ‘reset’ button on how the Catholic church in Germany is governed. The status quo looks untenable.
There is so much that has been said about the synod that finished up one week ago in Rome concerning the family. And for that reason precisely, there is much more that needs to be said. It is difficult to know where to begin. So, I won’t. Chickening out here, due to time constraints.
But, here is the passage of the year that is ‘the take away’ regarding this synod, and it comes from a speech by Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput:
We have deep respect for people with same-sex attraction, but we can’t pretend that they’re welcome on their own terms. None of us are welcome on our own terms in the Church; we’re welcome on Jesus’ terms. That’s what it means to be a Christian – you submit yourself to Jesus and his teaching, you don’t recreate your own body of spirituality.
For a precise and exacting (and not long) analysis of exactly why the Synod was a media disaster, go to the always reliable Terry Mattingly, who has a good piece here, in which Chaput’s comment is quoted.
Nov. 1 Update: Here are a couple of articles (one great, the other a bit off the mark) of analysis that go beyond the misleading headlines of the past two weeks:
1) John Gehring, What the Left and Right Get Wrong About Pope Francis
2) Ross Douthat’s “A Church, Not a Party” in which he defends current practice of not allowing communion for the remarried and divorced. While his instincts are correct, I would suggest that he has not made a good theological argument in defense of current practice. And so, he ends up discrediting, to a certain extent, current church practice, since some of his readers will take his view to be “the defence” of current practice. Douthat (whose columns on culture, the role of religion and society and interpreting history rightly – I regularly applaud) confuses doctrine with discipline by focusing too much on an oversimplified view of authority. It’s still worth reading however.
The disturbing events in St. Jean sur Richelieu and Ottawa during the last week have made me think about the safety of our country and how I take peaceful living for granted. I was finding myself becoming more and more anxious as I listened to the news reports of the killings of the servicemen by two very angry young men. I realized that my gut reaction was a response to the fear that I felt.
And yet how to respond in a way that is healthy and does not perpetuate the cycle of violence and hatred that these actions by others ignite? I was consoled today by a reading in the liturgy that stated “I … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you are called, with humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3) Saint Paul is encouraging his readers to look at each other in a spirit of love and to try to understand each other.
When our lives have been turned upside down, these might be hard words to swallow, but they are words that lead to the road of wisdom and peace. If we react with violence to situations of violence, the cycle will never end.
But in the concrete, how can we bear with one another in love? When we see people consoling those who have been hurt, the families who have lost a loved one, even the families of the perpetrators, we are on the right track. Whenever we try not to judge others by their appearances or belief systems and see them as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, then we see them in a spirit of love and peace. When we forgive others for past hurts, then we grow in humility and gentleness. These are some of the keys to becoming a person of peace.
All are called to be people of peace within our own communities, workplaces and families. It is only in working towards peace at the grassroots level that we can model a society that reflects the suggestions from Saint Paul.
Can you think of situations where you can be a carrier of peace? Where might you be the messenger of the unity of the Spirit?