This week I came across an interesting prayer that I would like to share with you. The author invites us to feast and not to fast during Lent in order to come closer to God. I invite you to feast, not fast this Lenten season.
A Lenten Prayer
The other day I read in the newspaper that February is designated as heart month by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. During this month there is a concerted effort to raise awareness on how to look after our hearts by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. One of the most important factors in having a healthy heart is to eat well. The foundation proposes several strategies to increase our consumption of fruits and vegetables. Changing our eating habits can lead to a significant improvement in heart health and quality of life.
I was reminded of how we also need to remember to keep our souls healthy. The liturgical season of Lent, which begins this February 18 could be considered a special time when we become aware of the need to look after our relationship with God by looking after our souls. If our heart health depends on what we eat, by the same token we need to pay attention to what we feed our souls. Are we mindful of what we read, sites that we frequent online, television shows we watch or the types of relationships that we keep? These are the nutrients we feed our souls with. If we were to say, we are what we eat, then what we feed our souls with is what we become.
There are many resources on the net that are “health food” for the soul. I am suggesting a few that I have found helpful. Also, you may find some spiritual reading that will help you to nurture your relationship with God and help to feed your soul in a positive way. Pope Francis in his Message on Holiness for Lent 2015 invites us to look after our neighbor this Lent. For those of us who prefer to respond to God through actions, Busted Halo has a suggestion for a Lenten Calendar , called Fast, Pray, Give .
God is reaching out to us in so many ways, let us open the door to him and become soul healthy people.
What is the Synod on the Family? A Synod is a gathering of various members of the church to discuss important issues of faith. In this case, those gathered together will be selected cardinals of the church and some lay people who will come to reflect and dialogue on central issues concerning families today.
What is extraordinary this time, is that Pope Francis has requested that each Bishop conduct a consultation on the family from the faithful in their diocese. The bishops of Canada have prepared various questions important to Canadians to be reflected upon. In Montreal, it was decided to focus on those questions that seemed most important to the people living in Montreal.
The questions as prepared by the Canadian bishops and the diocese of Montreal are all accessible on the Montreal Archdiocesan website. To make it easy to respond, you can answer online. If youwish you can also send your responses to email@example.com. If you only wish to answer some of the questions as they pertain to you, that is sufficient. The answers to the questionnaire will be summarized and sent to the Canadian bishops and then forwarded onto the Vatican committee concerned. The Montreal deadline is February 28, 2015. The data will be used to prepare the agenda of the Synod on the Family.
This is truly a unique opportunity for the Catholic faithful of Montreal and of the world. Pope Francis is convinced that the voice of the faithful as concerns issues of family are important and should be listened to. Let us take this golden opportunity to reflect and discuss with others how, as family, we live our faith and offer our suggestions on the issues that we face in this time.
Our bishops are listening, let us participate in faith and hope for a future that is rooted in our Catholic values and lived experience.
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.