Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent

Advent is, par excellence, the season of hope.”

~Celebration of Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent
St Peter's Basilica, 1st December 2007



The story of Christ's birth is a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love.

So, what happened? What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists.

And when it's all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off, and this empty feeling of missed purpose. Is this what we really want out of Christmas?

What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?

Today begins Advent. Enter the conspiracy!

HT: Homeschooling with Joy

Friday, November 28, 2008

Prayers, Please

I leave this afternoon for an Ignatian Spiritual Exercises retreat over the weekend. As I am presently in the midst of some great discernment and difficult decisions, I am very much longing for an outpouring of graces. I would be deeply grateful for your prayers, that the Holy Spirit may enlighten my heart during this retreat. Each of you will be in my prayers as well. Thank you so much!

Pax Christi.

Pope Benedict on Beauty

This caught my eye immediately...a splendid article! Also very reminiscent of the theme of this book (if you haven't yet read it, this is an official recommendation to do so). :)

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2008 / 11:18 am (CNA)- Although the world is immersed in images, it can be empty of beauty, Pope Benedict said today in a message he sent to the Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts and Literature as it explores the relationship between aesthetics and ethics.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, is hosting a public event with the theme—"The universality of beauty: a comparison between aesthetics and ethics," and to contribute to the discussion, Pope Benedict has sent the archbishop a message.

The topic chosen by the academy reminds us of the "urgent need for a renewed dialogue between aesthetics and ethics, between beauty, truth and goodness," the Pope writes.

This need to reconnect beauty with truth and goodness is not just limited to the "contemporary cultural and artistic debate," but extends to daily reality, the Holy Father argues.

Today we can see "a dramatically-evident split" between the pursuit of external beauty and the idea of a beauty that is rooted in truth and goodness. Oftentimes, society only understands the search for beauty as an "exterior form, as an appearance to be pursued at all costs," he explains.

"Indeed," the Pope writes, "searching for a beauty that is foreign to or separate from the human search for truth and goodness would become (as unfortunately happens) mere asceticism and, especially for the very young, a path leading to ephemeral values and to banal and superficial appearances, even a flight into an artificial paradise that masks inner emptiness."

Pope Benedict also calls on contemporary reasoning to rediscover the link between beauty, truth and goodness. "And if such a commitment applies to everyone," the Pope asserts, "it applies even more to believers, to the disciples of Christ, who are called by the Lord to 'give reasons' for all the beauty and truth of their faith."

When Christians create works that "render glory unto the Father," the Pope continues, they speak of the "goodness and profound truth" that they are portraying, as well as the integrity and sanctity of the artist or author. To this end, Benedict XVI encourages believers to learn how to "communicate with the language of images and symbols ... in order effectively to reach our contemporaries."

The Holy Father also mentions how at the Synod on the Bible the bishops noted that knowing how to "read and scrutinize the beauty of works of art inspired by the faith" can lead Christians to discover a "unique path that brings us close to God and His Word."

Finally, Pope Benedict cites John Paul II's Letter to Artists, "which invites us, to reflect upon ... the fruitful dialogue between Holy Scripture and various forms of art, whence countless masterpieces have emerged." His message closes by appealing to academics and artists "to arouse wonder at and desire for beauty, to form people's sensitivity and to nourish a passion for everything that is a genuine expression of human genius and a reflection of divine beauty."

How I love that final quote! My heart leaps to respond to his call "to arouse wonder at and desire for beauty". I believe that each of us are called, in our individual vocations, to contribute to this noble effort. What will you do today to manifest a reflection of divine beauty to the world?

The (Entire) Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference;
living one day at a time,
accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Let me take, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will.
May I be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks with a Catholic Flavor

Today, Americans gather to celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. For many, the day holds long-revered traditions. Perhaps it wouldn’t be complete without Grandma’s special pastries, or Aunt Mary’s cranberry sauce. Many a hostess will shop, plan, and labor to ensure that dinner is perfectly cooked and ready on time. Many a father, grandfather, or uncle may be eagerly waiting to watch some football. Many a child may anticipate indulging in sweet things. Whatever the individual traditions, many of us look forward to a joyful day celebrating the abundance of our blessings.

As with any holiday, it is so easy to get caught up in the hustle, bustle, obligations, and expectations of it all that we can lose sight of why we celebrate in the first place. So what if the turkey isn’t ready to go on a magazine cover, or if the pie crusts got a little dark? If you have bounty enough to eat a thanksgiving feast, you are wealthier than many in this world. And if you have a family with which to gather and celebrate, in an era of family brokenness and division, you are blessed.

Or perhaps we’re feeling a bit less grateful this year, what with the state of our economy, growing international unrest, and the strain it has all put on many American pocketbooks. St. Paul has a word for us there, however: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (Thess. 5:18, emphasis added)

Times considered less than ideally prosperous are the ideal time to re-notice and better appreciate the most important blessings in our lives – those that make us truly wealthy. Even if your thanksgiving meal is less than ideally bountiful, or your family can’t unite due to distance or division, there are still fundamental gifts for which to be grateful: Life. Love. Freedom. Beauty. Senses through which to experience the world. And most of all, the gift of Jesus Himself, brought to us through His Church.

The Greek word for “Thanksgiving” is Eucharistia. That’s right: the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our Lord, is the ultimate “Thanksgiving Meal”. What better way to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day? The turkey bakes for hours anyway, and few cooks remain peaceful spending all day in the kitchen. Take an hour to leave the hustle and bustle as the invited guest of this heavenly banquet hosted by the Giver of Life. And see how much richer this “holy day” can be!

Find Mass times in your area here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Silent Growth

"We need to find God, but we cannot find Him in noise or in excitement. See how nature, the trees, the flowers, the grass grow in deep silence. See how the stars, the moon, and the sun all move in silence."

Mother Teresa
~ ~ ~
Photo credit: My sister, Veronica, who often captures beautiful flower photos!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

All About St. Nicholas

I'm doing some preparation for the Catechetial program which I coordinate, to prepare resources for my catechists to use for St. Nicholas Day in a few weeks, and have to share here a few of the lovely sites I've found...

The St. Nicholas Center is simply a treasure box for all things St. Nicholas! Everything you could wish to learn about his true story, worldwide traditions surrounding his Feast Day (December 6), celebration ideas, kid's activities, an online store with stickers, bookmarks, (and even cookie cutters!), and more.

There is what appears to be a beautiful St. Nicholas traveling exhibit, which will be in Chicago for the next two months.

And some exciting news that I didn't know: there's a brand new, major feature film, "Nicholas of Myra", in progress right now! It looks like a splendid project, and probably an outstanding family film rich in history, spirituality, and meaning. The official movie website is

...Just another beautiful evidence, I believe, of the ongoing "new pentecost" we are blessed to be seeing within the arts, particularly within filmmaking. The Passion of the Christ seemed to pave the much-needed way for a growing number of quality films rooted in virtue!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Life is Fragile

Quite a lot has happened over the past few weeks. Most significantly, a heartbreaking accident which took the life of my friend and fellow Suzuki violin teacher, Amanda Jahn, along with her two young children. All three were killed when a drunk driver blew a stop sign and hit them last Thursday night. At our Suzuki string group concert rehearsal just a few hours before, Mandy and I were playing violin together, and even joking about our paychecks. I received a tearful phone call at 7:30 the next morning with the tragic news.

One hears of these kinds of tragedies from time to time, but it is so very different when the victim is someone you know. It's a gripping wake-up call to live each day as if it were your last, and not to take one's family for granted. Many of us can't imagine the grief of the young husband and father who lost his entire family in one night. But he is a man of strong faith, which is carrying him through this great loss.

According to the news article in our local paper, Josh spoke with Mandy over the phone just minutes before the crash, and told her he loved her. They said goodbye thinking they'd be reunited within twenty minutes. How treasured that phone call and those final loving words must be to Josh now.

Indeed, life is fragile. It is also precious. Do we live each day as if it were our last? Give your spouse, parent, or sibling a hug today...we never know how long we have left with them.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"Hold on to the Word of Life"

Yesterday was a troubling day for America. Many of us weep that the pro-life victory for which we fought and prayed so hard was not reached. Instead, the U.S. swayed and fell for for a leader who may have promised a fix for the economy, but who refuses to fix the deepest injustice in our nation: over 1.2 million unborn Americans murdered each year through legalized abortion.

My dear friend Malori asked a powerful question on her blog last night:
President-Elect Obama, in your acceptance speech you said you stand up for
everyone in America: black and white, male and female, young and old, gay and
straight, disabled and non-disabled. What about the born and unborn?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Perhaps, after last night's election of a black President of the United States, some think Dr. King's dream has been realized. I beg to differ. Perhaps we've learned to stop judging by the color of skin — and I agree with countless others that this lesson is a necessary one — but we've missed the other important half of Dr. King's dream. When will we learn to judge by the content of character?

Despite the sadness, I am buoyed by the undespairing spirit, prayerful hopefulness, and unyielding determination I see — in the blogosphere and in person — on the part of so many of God's people. And today's first reading was by no means a coincidence...

"For God is the one who, for his good purpose,
works in you both to desire and to work.
Do everything without grumbling or questioning,
that you may be blameless and innocent,
children of God without blemish
in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you shine like lights in the world,
as you hold on to the word of life,
so that my boast for the day of Christ
may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain."

—1 Philippians 2 (emphasis added)

My goddaughter profoundly pointed out that the Obama victory could be our Lord's way of keeping us on our knees, away from the danger of becoming complacent, and on the path of repentance and conversion. Thus may be brought about actual hope and change — not from President Obama, but from the merciful hand of the real Messiah.

And that, my friends, is change we can believe in.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Eve

The final hours are here. My family and I just returned from a holy hour of adoration (I confess that some of us drifted off at prayer; we're a bit exhausted from a massive pro-life voter guide distribution effort over the weekend). The mass media is trying their utmost to have us believe it's practically over already...have you noticed the headlines? They're already trying to crown Obama. But as Fr. Pavone so simply and eloquently reminded us: the only thing counted on election day is votes. Not one of the liberal media's polls determine our next president. Actual, real votes do.

And, of course, so does the prayer of a humbled people pleading earnestly to their God. Folks, if there was ever a time to pray, this is it. If you can fast, do so. If you can keep an all (or part) night vigil tonight, do it. If you can take off of work tomorrow to help get out the pro-life vote, do it.

A few election eve articles to help us keep things in perspective:

"I'll Say It Again, This Election Will Be Closer Than They Think"
by Father Jonathan Morris on the Fox Forum

Fr. Frank's perspective on polls, state initiatives and last minute duties
by Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life

What To Do Between Now and Election Night

Election Day Traps

Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Mother of America,
Patroness of the Unborn,
Queen of Justice,
pray for us!

Photo at left: Senator McCain during his July 2008 visit to the Shrine and Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico (which I was privileged to visit 9 years ago).

All Saints

All Saints' Day was actually Saturday (Nov 1), but this song was too fun not to share. Enjoy!

"Saint Song"

Election Countdown/40 Days for Life: Day 40 (Sun)

From American Papist News: A terrific interview with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver! Of the growing number of U.S. Bishops who have spoken emphatically on the moral obligations of Faith and Politics, he is one of the most outspoken. Thomas Peters, a young Catholic who runs an impressive blog and his own news service, recently interviewed Archbishop Chaput, who gave candid answers to highly relevant questions on Catholicism and citizenship.

Part 1:

Part 2:

The intention of our final Life Devotional is perfectly fitting with All Souls Day, also celebrated Nov. 2: Let us keep our eyes fixed on the New Jerusalem, where death will be no more.

Election Countdown/40 Days for Life: Day 39 (Sat)

Today's Life Devotional intention is "that volunteers will replace exhaustion or discouragement with rejoicing over the miracles we have seen thus far, and enthusiastic service as God takes us on to victory!"

It's likely that by now we've all experience some moments of discouragement and exhaustion. I found this final advice from Fr. Pavone just the boost to push us through the remaining days of this battle. By the way: did you know that the 2000 Presidential race was decided by 537 people in one single state? Take a watch!

Election Countdown/40 Days for Life: Day 38 (Fri) has a new video added to their compelling collection: a heartfelt appeal from Miss America 2001. This non-threatening website asks for your pledge to vote for pro-life political candidates, remembering that our next president is likely to appoint the Supreme Court Justice whose vote could either prolong or end Roe vs. Wade. Never undervalue the power of one vote!

If you haven't yet visited and learned what it's all about, what are you waiting for?

Today's Life Devotional intention: Pray that we become vessels of hope to all around us, especially to those who minister in the pro-life movement.