Posts filed under Advent

How to Recover a Runaway Christmas...

A glittery Christmas without a proper spiritual framework is like bad liturgy. We can add all the lights, elves, guitars and electronics we want but at the end of that hour, we're left feeling like somehow the season (or the Mass) has failed us. We have decorated and hustled to please ourselves and not God. We have thrown ourselves into the wrong things and forgotten what we insisted last year we would never forget again: Jesus.

So here I sit on the threshold of Christmas with that familiar feeling of combined adrenaline, fatigue and dread. The excitement and mystery are gone for the moment... because I know all the details of the elaborate preparations. I am immersed in them. No magic elves come in to cook the food and wrap the gifts. That's on me. I made the plans and now I have to get it done. And when it is over, will I breathe a heavy sigh of relief? Or will I fall asleep with the scent of incense in my hair and a prayer on my lips? Or both.

I don't know that it is possible to take the ego completely out of the human condition. But I have one more day to get this a little closer to right. Although there was no blog post scheduled for today and I really don't have time... I needed to write. Because I need the accountability. It's going to be a busy, challenging 48 hours or so and I just want to make it perfectly clear...

Christmas is not about me. It's about Him.

It's not my job to push and force the feeling of joy. I am only called to come to the manger with my best... and adore. He has something to give me and I want to be available to receive it. If I fail to feel any particular emotions of excitement or happiness, it is not a failure of Christmas... it is simply the emotion of the moment. Neither here nor there. Christ comes as He will and not always on a flurry of twinkles. 

His birth room was a cold and stark place. And there was joy. It is proof that the busyness we burden our families with is not necessarily appropriate at all. The feast is for Him. The celebrations are for Him. I've forgotten... again... and I have one more chance to prepare my heart beautifully to receive Him. There are some things that are going to go undone today. I must decide that my time with Jesus isn't going to be one of them.

So I'm adding one more thing to my preparation list even though it doesn't really fit anywhere in the original plan. I'm going to adoration. To sit quietly and do nothing except be with Jesus. 

May your preparations be a time of authentic joy. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts this Christmas season and forever! 

 

 

Posted on December 23, 2014 and filed under Advent, Christmas, Liturgical Year, Spiritual Life.

My Advent {Sorrow and Joy}

My heart is so full of sorrows and joys that all I really want for Christmas is a 25-year long nap. This incredibly beautiful and intense Advent has been soul-stretching. While I appreciate that and have been blessed with much consolation and truly lovely season... I'm just wondering how I'm going to survive the next few decades. The answer is just... Jesus... and a thousand little yes's and and failings and daily showers of grace and mercy. I just cannot tell you how sad I am. And I have no words for how extraordinarily happy I am. I'm not sure how a soul can remain intact long through that kind of movement. And the depth of my fatigue combined with a strangely renewed energy... a contradiction. But proof that my soul is really alive.

I remember when I was younger and I would just take a break when I needed one. Now, there is no break. There are brief periods of nourishment but not at all timed to my personal preference. Motherhood is a continual dying to self until, presumably, the only thing left is Christ Himself. I don't resent it. I am grateful. But there are certainly days when I am completely in the dark as to how the strength will come in the morning. The marathon of the holy day seasons are beyond my strength and I'm really just learning to hang on and embrace the imperfect with peace.

With those thoughts in mind, I'm dumping 7 Quick Takes using whatever is on my ipad camera.  Each one a post of it's own (and some will be). But the posts that my heart writes all day, everyday in the midst of engaged motherhood... those posts just can't be written yet. I wouldn't even know how to begin. Joy and sorrow. Bigger than a keyboard.

~1~
Christmas Love Letter

This is the post-in-waiting about how the surprise early Christmas gift I gave to my husband completely changed my heart. I think he liked it and I'm grateful for that. I am astonished that I was able to pull off the surprise. But the biggest surprise for me was how a dormant part of my heart blossomed as I transformed our sanctuary. This post is definitely coming. With lots of pictures.

~2~
Bittersweet

If we're connected on Facebook or Instagram, then you may have already seen this. But I'm going to say it again. Thankfully, no one can see my tears... again...

No words. Other than... The great joy of seeing my children love each other will certainly be challenged by the sorrow of eventually seeing them leave each other.

~3~
More Than Music

Nothing illuminates the great problem of bad liturgical music like hearing well done sacred polyphony. When this group starts to sing, it is as if my soul has no choice but to pray. Like getting knocked down and then raised up by a strong and gentle holy wind. It is incredible how this little group of 13 managed to fill the entire church with... what? Not just music. More than music. And my girl, whose voice I always try to single out, but never can.

~4~
Vestibule With a View

It has been a very long time since I have been able to sit in church, with my family, for more than 15 minutes. My 18-month old is a stinker. Most of them are. But this one is the uniquely stinker-ish. Consequently, this is often my view at church. Between getting ready, out the door, and wrestling my girl through Mass, Sunday mornings are a physical marathon. I'm not really complaining. Because teenagers are much harder to wrestle. Yes, they are.

~5~
He Must Become Greater; I Must Become Less

One of the many beautiful little nooks hiding in at our parish. This is one of my favorites and also happens to depict my saint for 2014. St. John the Baptist. I don't always know why my saint picks me. This year I do know. And that is one of the posts my heart sings but my hands cannot write. Yet.

~6~
A Good Priest Brings Christ

Good priests. Joyful priests. Fervent priests. Priests who get what we do as parents. And live their lives as if what they do, say, wear, and live matters to the rest of us. Because it does. Perhaps more than they can know on earth. Priests who live for Jesus first and clear the way so that we can see Him more clearly. Priests who challenge you to live a life of holiness... and then let you buy them a bacon burger so the conversation can continue. 

~7~
Singular

The isolation of the young trying to live a Christ-focused life. The sitting in the back of the family bus even though the wings are ready to fly on their own. The dreaming of the future. The stretching of mind and soul. Joy and sadness. The post that can never really be written by me at all. 

And that's all I've got for now. Well, not really. It's just all that I can manage to communicate. And I'm pretty sure you understand. Because holy seasons are not for staying in neutral but for great movement of mind and soul. I trust that you have your share of joy and sorrow this Advent. I am keeping your intentions in prayer.

Joining up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

Posted on December 14, 2014 and filed under Advent, Family Life, Miscellaneous.

Why the Santa Debate Matters

After 17 years of participating in the debate over whether or not Santa belongs in a Catholic Christmas, I admit to being a little weary of it. Same thoughts, same people, same divide. And then I recall that I am getting older... but there are many people who are hearing the debates for the first time and who have never considered the possibility of Christmas without Santa. Is it my obligation to speak against Santa? Not really. But it is my obligation to speak about Jesus...

So I bring it up again, not to argue but to engage. Which may be only a matter of semantics but I like to think it is something more. Argument for argument's sake? Or discussion for the sake of finding the truth and greatest good? Hopefully, I can claim the latter.

So why does it matter? It matters in the way that anything matters in our lives (does it serve Christ or not?) but particularly because the Santa tradition is enmeshed with one of the holiest seasons and feasts of the liturgical year. Within that context, Santa either leads us away from Jesus or closer to Jesus. There is no neutrality in the spiritual life. 

Do we need Santa? Of course not. And that answer also provides the answer to the question of whether or not we should have a Santa. If we do not need him to live fruitful, holy lives, then there clearly is no obligation to have him at all. With no obligation, the only remaining question is whether or not it is either beneficial or harmful to have him... since we know he cannot remain a neutral figure. 

Does Santa lead us closer to Christ? The answer to that question, honestly treated, is the one that will finally end the debate and discernment in each of our homes. 

Santa isn't taboo in our family but neither is he a "thing." He isn't real. He doesn't bring presents. I've written about our reasons for this HERE but I think they can be summed up neatly in two points....

1) We don't lie to our kids. Ever. It is either a violation of God's command or it is not. 
2) We try to avoid things which distract from Jesus. Because He is everything.

We do read fairy stories. We pretend and dress up and read Tolkien and Lewis and Chesterton and all manner of wonderful fiction. But we have never told our kids that hobbits are real. We have never carried a fictional story so far that our kids stare trustingly up at us with eyes of wonder... and believe us. Not even when it would be fun. Not even if we thought we thought we could make something good of it.

The truth is that those of us who are clever enough to convince children that the person of Santa exists -- with the North Pole, his magic reindeer, elves, fanciful accessories and all -- also possess the ability to create meaningful, memorable, beautiful, and fun holy days without Santa. He isn't necessary to receive God's greatest gifts.

The path to sanctity is a battle and I am not always a good soldier. Even if I wanted Santa, he doesn't fit in my home. He complicates. I am not talented enough to make such a game work in the favor of sanctity in my house. If you can, that's great. But the burden is still on you to evaluate whether you have instilled in your kids a greater sense of wonder for the beautiful and REAL Infant King than for a fictional magical man. 

Santa defenders like to use the fabulous G. K. Chesterton quote to support their traditions and I think that's a worthy defense if ever I heard one. Chesterton's work is marvelous. He is easy to quote because he was brilliant, concise and truth-seeking. But he was still just a man and I am not under obligation to his word. I am, however, under obligation to the Word... and it is for me alone, under the direction of the Holy Spirit working through the Church to determine how I am to continually pursue Christ first.

Also, if we look closely at Chesterton's words, it is clear that they do not contain a justification for the complex fabrication of the modern Santa nor any encouragement for the practice of giving Santa the unhealthy emphasis that we do. He never said "Parents, this is what you ought to do..." but simply gave us a look into his personal journey to Christwhile admitting that his experience differed from that of his friends.

Chesterton's culture was different from ours. The Christmas gifts he alludes to were completely contained in the stocking at the foot of his bed. A large gift was one that only fit halfway into his stocking! And we see that in his particular situation, these traditions were not an obstacle to Christ, but helpful in understanding an unseen benevolence. Can we honestly make the same claim of our practices? 

I don't think that we can generally make the same claim for our cultural Santa. If you personally can... If you can honestly say that telling your children a deliberate falsehood (one which then becomes a central focus during one of the holiest seasons of the year) actually brings Jesus into greater focus, then I have no argument with you at all. As a parent, however, I know how difficult it is to remain properly focused even without Santa. Unless I am uniquely ill-suited to this task of motherhood, it is probable that others share the same challenge.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus...

His name, His Presence, His gift! The entire season should breathe Him as naturally as a heart beating in a body, and the Body of Christ should radiate this awareness through the season. If the game of Santa can exist without taking away from that even in the smallest way, then I have no issue with it. But I have not personally seen the evidence in the American Church. 

I see a broken Body that is often in a death struggle with materialism and dishonesty. I see Catholic parents who argue passionately in defense of their Santa but who are listless in defense of the faith. Impotent in the face of a culture that seeks the souls of their children. Are you one of them? Probably not if you are bothering to read a Catholic blog! But I still know that you struggle. Because you breathe. Because sin is real. Because the family is always under attack. 

Do our children speak more about Santa or gifts than they speak about holy things? We do not do Santa and I still squirm at the answer.

To those of you who read more of Chesterton than just quotes and memes out of context on the internet, do you think that he would really approve of the way that our culture has turned his Santa into a smarmy plastic falsehood instead of a mysterious magnanimous work of the imagination which illustrates the generosity of Christ? Because of course, Chesterton did not believe in a real Santa. He was a rational man after all. He believed in a real Christ who reveals Himself through the beauty and mystery of creation and yes, even imagination. 

This post is not really anti-Santa at its core. It is Christ-seeking. What more can we do to bring our children to His Sacred Heart? If Santa helps you do that, then please keep Santa. After honest introspection, I do not find myself equipped to pull that off. It is enough for me to keep clinging tenuously to the holy things. 

In spite of the fact that my kids have never believed in a magical Santa, they lack nothing in our Christmas celebrations. Christmas is filled with gifts and food and glitter and mystery... with a depth of joy greater than I could have imagined for them. Does this prove that they would be lacking something with the addition Santa story? No. But I cannot imagine that the addition of the present-focused fiction would enhance their Jesus-joy any more. 

I realize that my family is in the minority even among Catholics. That's okay with me. Because... well... Jesus


To read more about our decision to go Santa-less at Christmas...
Bah Humbug! Dissin' Santa

Thoughts from priests and an archbishop about Santa...
Was He Right to Say It? I Suspect So.

Posted on December 4, 2014 and filed under Christmas, Advent, culture, Family Life, Liturgical Year.