December 25, 2016 – Merry Christmas

For unto us a child is born,
Unto us a Son is given…
And His name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father
The Prince of Peace (excerpt from Handel’s Messiah)

Every year in high school (except maybe 1 I think, I blame pregnancy brain for my failing memory) the choir sang Handel’s Messiah. Anyway, these lyrics are some of my top favorite Christmas lyrics and tune. It’s happy, bouncy, almost bell-like and so full of promise.

Jesus’ birth brings forth a new dawn for humanity. He truly is Wonderful, our Counsellor, the Mighty God and the Prince of Peace. The sin of Adam and Eve brought sin, death, anxiety, worry and darkness. One of the curses placed upon Eve specifically is that children are now brought into the world through pain. Through this pain Jesus enters the world.

People approach the holidays, especially Christmas, with a variety of attitudes and memories. For some, Christmas is a time of joy, family, good food and fun memories. For others, perhaps Christmas brings sad memories, painful relationships, and loneliness.

Jesus’ birth is a beautiful juxtaposition of these wide variety of feelings. While the angels are singing “Gloria” and filling the skies with what would be the definition of joyful noise, Mary was experiencing the most explosive pain she had ever felt.

I believe this speaks to God’s love and generosity. God doesn’t swoop in a way that is beyond our comprehension, then give us a bunch of teachings that are challenging to understand and accept, then ultimately save us in a manner that is again, beyond our comprehension. Yes, the Incarnation is most definitely beyond our grasp. However, the pain of childbirth, the joy of seeing your newborn child for the first time, the pride in showing him off to visitors – these are relatable moments. I think this is what is so appealing about Christmas. Even though most of us can’t relate to giving birth in a stable or cave, there isn’t much that could be more fundamentally human than bringing new life into the world.

And now to quote myself (I hope everyone is ok with that), I would like to leave you with the last paragraphs from one of the last prayer experiences….

God continues in His generosity and overabundance. Jesus didn’t simply save the nations from the slavery of sin and death. He also gifted us with His very Body and Blood so that we might continue to be united in communion with Him and one another. He went even further than that. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus promised that His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, would come down upon the apostles and remain with them.

God-with-us isn’t just a historical event. Emmanuel isn’t only in the manger.

Jesus, Emmanuel, is the here and now. Even as we celebrate Jesus’ birth today, do not be fooled into thinking that He isn’t born anew each time you invite Him into your heart.

*** Please feel free to share your experience, thoughts and offer support to one another in the comments, on Twitter with the #DailyGraces or on the Facebook pageDaily Graces.

What Can You Give? A 4th of July Message

Happy 4th of July! It is fitting that the Gospel and homily I heard yesterday coincides with this independence day holiday.

For those that need a refresher, yesterday’s Gospel reading was from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus was preparing  72 disciples to go out on mission ahead of him, telling of the Good News that Jesus had to share. He gives them specific instructions about what to bring, or rather, all the things they were to leave behind. They were not to bring money or baggage. They weren’t even permitted shoes! Why do you think Jesus was so explicit about the fact that these travelers were not permitted to bring anything other people would find necessary for travel?

Our priest had an interesting take on that question. Usually when I hear this reading I hear all the things the disciples had to do without. It is a lesson in simplicity, in solidarity with the poor and a call to let go of my clutch on material possessions. This is absolutely a fine message to interpret from this Gospel. Our priest, however, went another direction.

He asked us to think about what we had to give. We were each put on earth with something to give. Consider the disciples. They were not allowed to take things that would have possibly made their journey more comfortable – money for an inn, shoes to make traveling easier, extra clothes in the event that extra clothes would be desired or necessary. But he didn’t send them empty handed. They had their message, the courage of their conviction and their passion for their faith.

What they had seen and heard was convincing enough they felt compelled to share it with others. If they weren’t absolutely convinced in the person and message of Jesus, why would they travel with no money, feeling no anxiety about where they were going to sleep? Why would they travel with no shoes, harboring no worry about the length of the journey? Why would they bring no extra garments, not knowing what kind of weather or road conditions they would encounter?

The disciples trusted that what they had to give would be enough to take care of them. How many of us can say we feel the same? Do we give first and then graciously accept what is given to us? Or do we wait until we have received enough, only then to share what we consider extra? Another way of thinking about it is to consider whether Sunday is at the beginning or the end of your financial week. Do you give to God first (making Sunday the first day of the week), or do you wait to see what is left (making Sunday the last day of your week).

What Can You Give? A 4th of July Message. Daily Graces.
By Jnn13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Text added by Kate Taliaferro 2016
It is my opinion that the founding fathers were looking first to give and then to receive. They wanted to give our people a freedom they had not known. They wanted to give citizens basic rights and privileges. They hoped to give the generations to come a country and government that had the people’s best interests at heart. They had a vision where citizens came together, giving to one another, so that in each other’s giving we all could reap a bountiful harvest of freedom, protection, representation and basic rights.

On this July 4, 2016, I hope that you are able to find a few quiet moments to thank those who have answered this call to give before receiving. May our country continue to flourish, holding true to the vision that brought it into being.

“In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:35

And Lead Us Not Into Temptation

I wish I could say I haven’t been avoiding you, dear reader. And though yes, we have been busy and yes, Ben has come and gone a number of times on various missions and duties  as his job requires, I have still found time to knit, read some books, crochet a new pair of slippers (almost), bake multiple batches of cookies and watch a number of interesting movies. All of this and not one post. To be completely honest, as you’ll soon be able to tell, I wrote this post nearly 2 weeks ago and am only today getting around to publishing it.

I’ve talked before about how I am capable of minor obsessions or passions. I focus intensely on one or two things, like knitting or decorating cookies, and then after some time it falls to the wayside, to be replaced with a new series of books, making rosaries or creating new crochet patterns. All of these are wonderful things. There is nothing inherently wrong with them.

And yet, if I truly believe that this writing is something I am being called to, which I do (I don’t think I could have stuck with it so long if wasn’t God’s will for me at this time), then these other wonderful, interesting and otherwise diverting are actually temptations away from what God is asking of me.

I would imagine we all experience this at some point in our lives, probably many points in fact. We know what we must do, but suddenly other things seem to be more important, are more exciting or are more appealing. We make excuses, we have reasons, we tell ourselves whatever we need to hear, yet in the depths of our hearts we know we are shirking responsibilities or avoiding the callings of God for our life.

Today (well, 2 weeks ago), on the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, I renewed my consecration to Jesus through the heart of Mary. I have spoken of this consecration once or twice I think, but not in any great detail. For the past 33 days I’ve been reading, meditating 33 Days to Morning Glory. Marian Consecration. Daily Gracesand preparing to renew my consecration using an extraordinary book, 33 Days to Morning Glory. Fr. Michael Gaitley MIC, has combined the lives and teachings of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, soon-to-be St. Mother Theresa and Pope St. John Paul II into one complete whole that guides the seeker on a journey to understanding and deeper faith in Jesus with the help of His Blessed Mother.

What is a consecration to Jesus through Mary, or more simply put a consecration to Mary? The easiest way to understand Mary’s role is to explore her mission or “job”. Mary’s job is to form us into Christ. Just as she sheltered, guided and taught the child Jesus, she continues to shelter, guide and teach the faithful today. Mary is a living embodiment of the generosity and overabundance of God. God not only gives us His Son to be our brother, friend and Savior, on the Cross Jesus’ love continues to overflow in the gift of His mother. This moment is especially important for John Paul II, who understood that consecrating oneself to Mary was to join with the apostle John by taking Mary into his home. That’s really what this is all about, inviting Mary into our home, our life, and asking her to school us in the art of sainthood.

And so, as Mary has gradually taken over the tutelage of this unruly student, I have begun to see certain things in new light. Temptation for starters. Temptation is that which encourages us to avert our eyes from God, the sparkle in the corner of our eye that causes us to lose focus and turn our head to a different direction. Mary has been showing me where temptations are in my life. As a result, I’ve been praying that she will begin to give me the strength I need to overcome them and ignore them. Hopefully we all will see the fruit of her labor here in the blog, or in my “Other ideas” folder which seems to be ever expanding.

To be clear, a consecration to Mary in no way obscures, distracts or circumvents a person’s relationship with Jesus, our Savior and Mediator. Mary’s sole purpose is to form us into saints, that is, to help us become every more fully living images of Jesus. She is a gift from the abundant love God has for each one of us. The sacrifice of Jesus for the salvation of the world was enough, His action is complete. Mary is simply one more way that God continues to shower us with His blessing, grace and mercy. That is why we ask Mary to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” We ask her to stand alongside us, to show us the way, as we journey both with and toward her Son.