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This phrase makes me think of the animated movie Atlantis. In order to convince Milo, the scrawny bookworm to take the plunge and go on an expedition to discover the lost city, the financial backer Preston Whitmore says to him, “Atlantis is waiting.” This phrase always gets me, the excitement and anticipation. I wish someone would come around to each of us before a big decision and whisper with that same enthusiasm, “_____ is waiting.”
Friends, Advent is waiting. It’s only a few days away. Are you ready? Am I ready? It’s too bad we don’t have a Preston Whitmore who organizes our whole life ahead of our decisions so that the answer is obvious. What we can do, however, is take these opportunities the Church regularly builds into the liturgical year. Advent is the perfect time to step back, slow down and build momentum in our spiritual life.
This year’s Advent Journals are officially here! There are two different journals, both in pdf format. One narrows your focus to the 4 Sundays of Advent. Each day of the week you read one of the readings, and at the end of the week there are a few reflections. On Fridays, I’ve offered a few key themes and images found in the readings and expanded on their importance. On Saturday, inspired by the overall themes of the Sunday, there is a reflection on one of the aspects of Jesus. The Homily Notes space from last year is still there and can be used for additional note taking. Also, and this is so exciting, I figured out the booklet printing issue from last year so there are 2 versions of this journal, one in Booklet Format and one that is A5 size. If you print the A5 size at home you will need to cut the pages down after printing. If you choose the booklet be sure you select “booklet” or “book fold” in your printer’s settings.
Keep in mind that this journal is preparing for the upcoming Sunday of Advent, so it starts this coming Monday Nov. 25!
The second journal is a repeat from last year. I love using Lectio Divina for Advent. I’ve updated the dates and Scripture verses but the rest of the journal is much the same from last year. The last page is still blank if you would rather select your own Scripture verses. I did not do a booklet format for this journal because of all the writing space so there is only one version of the Lectio journal.
Remember, these journals are totally FREE for you to print, so you can grab both and see which works best for you. Or maybe you will find both inspirational. I’d love to hear which you chose and why. Feel free to share this post with anyone and everyone. It is my Advent gift to all of you.
A quick Google search will reveal a whole host of opinions and definitions of the miraculous journey that we call “Motherhood.” For some, motherhood is very specifically tied to the birth event of a child. For others, motherhood begins when that first kick is felt. Still others consider a broader perspective to include adoptive mothers, mother-like figures or even spiritual mothers.
With such definitions, it would appear at first glance that motherhood is yet another area of relativistic individualism – what’s true for me may or may not be true for you and that’s ok. When we go to the dictionary, things are even less helpful. “The state of being a mother” isn’t the most illustrated definition. When looking up simply “Mother” things do get a bit more definite: “a female parent,” “a woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother,” or “something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else; origin or source.”
While there is still room for interpretation in these selected definitions, we can begin to see the blurry outlines of who and what a mother is. A mother is typically a female person, though the final definition opens even this observation up to all people. A mother is a person who has some level of authority over others, especially a protective care or measure of control grounded in a relationship. The last definition is most interesting – origin or source. Let’s take a special look at this perspective and how it relates to the Church’s understanding of motherhood.
St. Julian of Norwich
St. Julian of Norwich was an anchoress and mystic who lived in the late 1300s. An anchoress was a woman who “anchored” herself to a specific church, living a life of cloister and prayer. She received a series of sixteen visions of Christ which she wrote about in her work, Revelations of Divine Love, and can still be read today. She developed a new understanding of Jesus’ identity – Jesus as Mother.
Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His Maternity starts And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us.
Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.
Here we find the maternity of Christ to fit perfectly with our modern definitions of a mother. Through Jesus we find our origin and in Jesus we are enveloped in protection and love.
Chiara Lubich is the founder of the Focolare Movement, a movement of laity and clergy which began during WWII. Focolare means “Work of Mary” and it is through Mary’s guidance Chiara explores what total union with God and one another looks like. Chiara’s theology of Mary is deeply intimate, resonating with both St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe, two of the greatest Marian theologians. Part of Chiara’s understandings revolve around Mary’s role as Jesus’ mother, and by spiritual extension our mother. We are Mary’s children and as such are called to emulate her example. What is her example? To bear Christ to the world.
Mary’s is Jesus’ mother. Her willing cooperation with the Holy Spirit brought Jesus, the Son of God, into human existence. We too are called to bring Christ into the world. The motherhood of Mary in union with the Holy Spirit, which brings forth Christ, is relived in the Church and in each of us. According to Lumen Gentium #65, whenever Christ is born in the hearts of the faithful, they are participating in the mystery of the Incarnation where Christ is “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin.” All Christians, no matter their gender, profession, or age are called to live this birthing every day.
When does motherhood begin?
After all this, we still may not be closer to answering the question, “When does motherhood begin?” However, I think we do have some clues about something broader, and perhaps more important. Like love, motherhood isn’t a feeling. Nor is it necessarily something outside your control. Motherhood, like love, is a choice. When does someone start to act as a mother, to be a mother? Based on the secular definitions and the reflections of Julian of Norwich and Chiara Lubich, it is when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves.
Consider it this way. A couple wishes to have a child. The couple has been struggling to conceive and they are seeking advice, tracking her cycles, practicing NFP, paying attention to risk factors and doing a series of tests to screen out any other potential inhibitors. They make lifestyle changes as recommended. The wife is taking prenatal vitamins, being mindful of any alcohol and taking extra care in her tracking. The husband is supportive, moderating his own alcohol intake in solidarity with his wife, he encourages her tracking and any dietary changes which may help their hopes for a child. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
What about the family who hopes to adopt? They pray every day, children and parents alike, for their hoped for child. They work together to make any necessary changes to their home for the preliminary inspections and requirements. They fill out paperwork, answer questions, take time off work for meetings and other important interactions in order to be accepted as a potential family. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
What about a person who volunteers their time with their parish’s youth group? They dedicated time each week to encouraging and mentoring the teenagers. They open their home to the group for a summer barbeque, travel to a religious site or pilgrimage with them, and even help coach a summer intramural volleyball team. Is this person practicing motherhood yet?
What about the child who sees another sad or hurt at the playground. Instead of walking past, they sit down and ask to play together. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
If motherhood, as I said earlier, is “when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves,” then the clear answer to the previous scenarios is “Yes!” All these examples, even the child, are moments of motherhood.
Chiara sums it up beautifully in a letter written in 1983:
“…Mothers only know how to love. It is typical of a mother to love her children as herself, because there’s something of herself in them. … We too can find something of ourselves in others. For we must see Jesus in ourselves and in every neighbor. What shall we do? With each neighbor, at home, at work, or on the street, with the people we talk; with those we speak to over the phone, or for whom we carry out our daily work – with every person we meet these days, we must think: “I must act as if I were his or her mother,” and act accordingly. Mothers are always serving, Mothers always find excuses for their children. Mothers are always full of hope.”
The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother – St. Therese of Lisieux
Happy Mother’s Day!
I’m so pleased to share with you all these Advent Journals. As you may have noticed, Advent is quickly approaching and there are so many wonderful resources available to help deepen and enrich your Advent experience.
For the past few years, I’ve noticed a need for Advent journals that cover a few bases. 1. They are Scripturally based 2. They are simple 3. They are not time consuming but still powerful 4. They are free. I have 2 different journals this year so be sure to read to the bottom to hear about both. One is based on lectio divina, the other is a deeper look at the 4 Sundays of Advent.
Lectio Divina Journal
In the journal I’ve highlighted one or two verses from the daily readings for reflection. There is space to prepare yourself for lectio and think about what’s going on in your life that day. What’s joyful, stressful, exciting or bothering you? Your lectio experience is colored by what’s happening in your life and it is good to take a moment to acknowledge what you are bringing to the table. There is also a place for your Word or phrase that has been highlighted during your reading as well as your prayerful response to God’s movements in your heart. Finally, there is room to think creatively about what God is calling you to do or change as inspired by the day’s prayer.
The journal includes an overview of what lectio divina is, how to pray it and why it’s such a rich experience of prayer. As I said, I have chosen one or two verses for your reflection. However, maybe you already have a habit of reading the daily readings. Maybe a different verse stood out to you. At the very end of the journal is a blank page. It has all the formatting and different writing spaces, but the Scripture portion is blank. You can use this page to write your own verses in.
Remember, this is completely free and is a pdf. So you can print the whole thing if you are going to use the verses I chose. Or you can print that last page 30 times and fill in your own verse every day. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed and already have a daily Advent devotional but want to give lectio divina a try – just print a week and see how it goes. Maybe every Sunday would work better. This is completely customizable to you.
4 Sundays of Advent Journal
This is the brand new journal and I’m so excited about. I was inspired by a few things. First by my long-term writing project on the Philippians 2 Christ hymn. In that project, I am doing a deep study of the hymn, looking at the historical, theological, ecclesial, and liturgical significance and why it is a piece of Scripture that we all should know inside and out. I was also inspired by Every Sacred Sunday and how their Mass journals encourage Catholics to spend quality time preparing for Mass. If you are looking for something long term to help you dig deeper into the Sunday readings all year long, I cannot recommend their journals enough.
My new Advent Journal works like this. The first and super important thing you need to know is that it starts on Nov. 26. Yes, that’s before Advent actually begins. But, if you are going to be preparing for the 4 Sundays of Advent, you’ve got to start before the first Sunday, right?
Ok, got that cleared up. Mondays we spend time with the First Reading. Tuesdays the Psalm. Wednesdays the Second Reading. Thursdays the Gospel. Each page has the reading as well as space for any notes, questions or insights you might have while reading. There is also space for a brief prayer or reflection on what you’ve read. Think of this as lectio divina lite.
Friday’s I offer a theological reflection on the readings. These include any historical information that is relevant, how the readings fit together, and what they can say to us today. It concludes with a quote from a saint that illuminates the overall theme of the Sunday.
Saturday encompasses how we can take what we’ve learned and grow in the week to come. I include another brief reflection, followed by questions or ideas meant to inspire you to apply the readings to your daily life and enhance your Advent experience.
Sunday is a simple page for homily notes or other reflections you have on these readings. Perhaps you have another Advent devotional you are doing side by side and want to write down a special quote or work through a new idea. Here is space to do it, especially in light of the Sunday readings.
I’m so excited for your Advent journey. It would be great to hear from you which journal you chose and why. I love feedback and want to keep developing these into quality, useful tools for you to deepen your relationship with God. Do please share with anyone you think would benefit from these journals.
Sweet baby Gabriel is 4 months old now. He is in that wonderful stage of alertness, awareness, wiggles and giggles, all beautifully packaged in an immobile ball of chub. He is so generous with his smiles and laughs. He loves to watch his brother and sisters make faces, sing songs and share all sorts of funny noises to elicit one of his fits of laughter.
It’s impossible not to smile when Gabe, or any baby, smiles at you. There is something infectious about their simple joy. Gabe doesn’t seem to tire of smiling. Anything and everything delights him, even if it is the 20th round of “Wheels on the Bus” or his toes being constantly tickled. Without fail, Gabe will light up the room with his sweetness.
As I was playing with Gabe the other day, something hit me. My face, smiling in love and affection, was all Gabe needed to burst into a smile. Over and over again, he continued to find joy in simply seeing my face. It made me wonder if this is a taste of what it’s like to be in God’s presence.
A baby doesn’t need a reason to smile. Out of sheer delight and simplicity they burst into laughter. Over and over again without fail, Gabe’s smiles are guaranteed to brighten my day. How much more so will I find God, He who is Love itself?
God’s love for us is boundless. We delight Him in every way when we seek His presence in our lives. That smile from a baby which so easily fills our soul with joy? It’s microscopic compared to the joy we will feel when we stand in God’s loving, glorious presence.
I’ve shared a Chesterton quote before here. For those not familiar, GK Chesterton was a prolific and highly important writer in the early 20th Century. In his breathtaking book, Orthodoxy, he explores the idea of delight in repetition.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Gabriel’s “Do it again!” smiles bring us all delight and joy. I’ve heard it said that babies are the most perfect people because they have most recently been in God’s presence. Perhaps this is why one of a baby’s first milestones is to smile. They only knew joy and love while with God, isn’t it miraculous that one of the first things they are able to share with us is a piece of that joy.
Before living in Texas I don’t think I truly understood what it meant to long for rain. I know there are climates much drier than Southwest Texas. However, growing up in the Midwest inclines one to take rain for granted. We may have had dry spells, but nothing like the oppressive and unrelenting heat of a Texas summer. A summer which, for those unfamiliar, can start as early as April and last well into October. The ground is so dry the wind can blow dust into a haze which is capable of blocking the sun. The grass crunches like potato chips underfoot.
Just a few days ago when a tropical storm hit Houston, a stray cloud still carrying water manages to open up over our house. My children were delighted. They threw on their rain boots and hurried to find puddles of any size before they evaporated back into the hot air. As I stood in the brief sun shower, a Psalm refrain came to mind
“As the deer longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you O Lord”
Standing in the rain, after months without it, it felt as if my soul was pierced with understanding. I felt relief, joy, wonder and a desire to raise my hands and face to welcome the water. I laughed at myself, because how many movies have we seen where a character has done just this when a long awaited rain finally comes. But genuinely, this seems to be the most appropriate action. The thing I didn’t realize I was waiting for, longing for, had finally come.
As the deer longs – what am I longing for? For rain, obvious. But what else? What is my soul thirsting for, and what am I using to quench my thirst? As human beings made of mostly water, we can only survive 3-4 days without it. Water is a critical element to our existence and to the existence of all creatures. It’s not surprising then that the Psalmist chooses to use this image of water when describing how our souls yearn for God.
If you are feeling run down, tired, perhaps stressed out, take a few minutes to ponder this verse. Perhaps even repeat the first part a few times as you identify with your own thirsts. As the deer longs for running streams….so my soul longs for you O God. Then, let those thirsts go, recognizing that only God can truly satisfy all your wants and needs. You might also take this refrain to adoration, or perhaps use it to focus the few minutes before the start of Mass. No matter where you are in life, this simple verse can help calm your thoughts and focus the moment on He who matters most.