Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Heart for Baby Jesus

My friend Teresa tipped me off on an absolutely wonderful book, Divine Intimacy, with daily meditations on growing closer to God. I have to share yesterday’s reflection:

When creating us, God loved us so much that He made us to His own image and likeness; when redeeming us, He loved us so much that He made Himself to our image! Christmas is pre-eminently the feast of love—the love which was revealed … in the lovableness of a little Child, our God, stretching out His arms to make us understand that He loves us….

          …When we see Jesus, the eternal Word, become a child for us, and from the very first moment of His earthly life, gladly taking on all our miseries, even to the point of having nothing but a manger for a cradle, with a little hay for bedding, and poor swaddling clothes for covering… Oh, we can no longer doubt His love. God loves us! Jesus loves us! … One who so believes in infinite love will know how to give itself to Him without measure: to give itself totally.[1]

This reminded me of a reflection from last week, inspired by these words from Mother Teresa:

Christ comes at Christmas as a little child, small, helpless, so much in need of all that love can give.  Are you ready to receive him? His parents looked for a simple dwelling place for his birth, but there was none. If they came to you in search of a home, would they choose your heart and all that it holds?[2]

This got me thinking about the state of my heart. Then I started imagining my heart—rather than a potential home—as a potential manger for the Baby Jesus. How would He find it? Cool, with hard, lumpy parts?

It became a goal for each day to intensify my efforts to spend Advent well, doing things that would make my heart soft and warm, a more comfortable place for Jesus to nestle. Meditation on God’s amazing love warms up my heart; dying to myself softens the hard lumps.

          I’m sure Mary carefully arranged the straw in the original manger and made it as comfy and warm as possible. Making sacrifices is like giving her more straw to pad the manger and make it softer and warmer.

          Of course, this is not just a goal for Advent. It continues now during the Christmas season, which lasts through January 9 this year.[3] Indeed, it is a lifelong goal.

[1] Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, Divine Intimacy, meditation for Dec. 26, emphasis added.
[2] Mother Teresa, Thirsting for God (Beacon Publishing), meditation for Dec. 21.
[3] The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It’s usually celebrated on a Sunday, except when the Feast of Epiphany falls on January 7 or 8.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent: A Reminder to Stay Awake

"The time to awake is now." 
      St. Paul wrote this nearly two thousand years ago, but his message is just as urgent now, to us, as it was to his original readers, the Christians living in Rome. 
      Jesus warned of something similar in the Gospel reading yesterday from Luke: "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy." And what is it that makes us so? Jesus says "drunkenness and carousing" (and Paul echoes Him in Rom 13:12-14, the second reading at Mass today), but He also adds, "the anxieties of daily life."
     We can lose sight of the urgency of spiritual realities through self-indulgence on the one hand or even focusing too much on our responsibilities. This life--either our attachments and enjoyments or our worries and personal goals--can render us blind to spiritual concerns. 
     Souls are being lost.
     Whenever the Second Coming may occur, the final days of individuals are here now--every day. They need our prayers and sacrifices.
      I know this intellectually, but it hasn't been making enough of an impression on my heart nor enough of an impact on my daily life. Not like Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia of Portugal a century ago. When God woke them up, they began giving away their lunches every day to poor children--though they themselves were all under 10 years old. They would postpone drinking water on a sultry day in order to have something to offer up. They would look for ways to make sacrifices for souls.
      Lord, wake me up. Help me to imitate them. May the eternal destiny of souls weigh on my heart much more heavily, and may I feel that much more intensely and urgently than my appetites or petty concerns or self-indulgence of any kind. Give me a heart eager to help others, eager to imitate You who suffered so much more than I ever have or am likely to suffer, in order to save souls. Let me seek ways to cooperate with You in Your work of salvation.
     Advent is not a time to start celebrating Christmas early so that we're tired of it by the time it arrives. Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. It is a time to wake up and remember the spiritual truths we believe and deepen our efforts to live accordingly.
     For centuries Christians prepared for seasons of feasting with fasting--not only Lent before Easter, but Advent before Christmas as well. Don't wait until New Year's Day to make resolutions. Make them now. Make a plan to live Advent well. 
     The best birthday gift you can give Jesus is a clean heart, dedicated to Him, imitating Him in acts of mercy to others.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Election Prayer

Remember, the Novena of Prayer and Fasting for the Election begins tomorrow! Get the word out.
Here's another election prayer, composed for this occasion: 

Heavenly Father, look with mercy on your people, especially our nation at this critical time. May we remember to honor You in all we do and say. Please protect us from discouragement, indifference, and apathy. Encourage all to make use of the great gift of the right to vote. Help us to seek Your will always and do it, no matter how hard, as Jesus did both in heaven and on earth. Give us the mind of Christ, as well as His self-sacrificing love and determination. Fill us with hope and an eagerness to help bring bring Your Kingdom to every corner of the world.
The whole world's in His hands

Help us to be patient and loving with those who disagree with us. Give us the wisdom to discern how Your higher ways and eternal truths apply to our land and election, and the courage to share this with others with gentle persuasiveness. May Your Holy Spirit work in all our hearts and minds. Guide us as we make difficult decisions, as we choose our leaders, and please protect us from bad statesmen. Grant our civil leaders the desire and fortitude to uphold your divine laws in their governing. Protect all the poor and weak—especially the most helpless and those in greatest danger: the unborn. Deliver us from all evil, especially from the culture of death, from movements that seek to deprive us from our freedoms, from the evils borne of selfishness—from anything that takes us away from You.
         Jesus told us to pray perseveringly and to fast; see (and bless) our efforts to fast for these intentions, for love of You and for love of our children, grandchildren, our neighbors, our nation, and our nation's future. We ask all this in the precious name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.          Sweet Mother Mary, and all you angels and saints, pray for us! 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Pray and Fast for Our Nation

Even if we can't agree on solutions, I think most of us could agree that our nation is in need of prayer--and this would be a good time to pray.
      Jesus indicated that sometimes, in addition to prayer, we need to fast too. Good chance this is one of those times.
      The disciples of Jesus spent nine days praying in Jerusalem after His ascension, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. From that came the novena--a period of praying for nine days.
      Put these all together and you get a novena of prayer and fasting for our nation--just in time for the election.
      We could start on Monday, Oct. 31. (Halloween is a good day to pray too--lots of fun, but also some bad things tend to happen.) Pray every day through Tuesday, Nov. 8.
      How about fasting--who can fast that long?
      Well, it's not impossible, but it's probably impractical for most of us. But it doesn't have to be a total fast or an arduous one. If you can't fast on bread and water for nine days straight, how about having a simple dinner of soup and bread for nine days? Or fasting from snacks, or junk food, or TV, or even having the last word? Kinda like a nine-day Lent.
      To make it more powerful, encourage others to join you. Maybe even tell one other person, one who knows you well, what your fast will be--not for glory but for accountability.
      I received the prayer below for the election today. It looks like a good one. If you don't like it, edit it or come up with your own. Just pray!
      Lord, have mercy on us. Don't give us what we deserve. Help us find our way to You. Help us to fall in love with You, think like you, act like You, love like You, live for You. Amen.

Election Prayer
Almighty God, Lord of Life and King of all Nations, we beg you to look kindly upon our country and help us to wisely choose our new leaders. Inform our consciences and enlighten our judgment, that we may elect those who will mercifully uphold justice and strive to protect the least among us. Help us to discern which candidates will uphold both the letter and spirit of the law. May our nation once again respect religious freedom, authentic marriage, the importance of family and the value of every human life--from conception to natural death. Heal the divisions which wound our unity and help us to overlook political tensions that keep us from becoming a united force for good. May our great land, built on both personal responsibility and charity towards the less fortunate, always balance prosperity with care for the elderly, the poor, the sick, and the abandoned. May we elect honest and trustworthy candidates who will always uphold the common good and protect our God-given rights. In concert with the great founders of our nation, may we confidently proclaim, "In God we trust." Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

God Is Faithful

Growing up in the charismatic movement, it is only natural for me at a time like this to give "a praise report." I feel I would burst otherwise, but more importantly, the Lord deserves public thanks and praise.

Some months ago I had to lay aside my book-in-progress "If You Love Me." Kind, generous friends had enabled me to work on it for months through a crowdfunding campaign, but funds had run out and, as my family needs me to bring in an income, I'd gone back to my part-time work as a freelance writer and editor.

An idea occurred to me for a little fundraising event at our parish, but I felt somewhat hesitant. I'm one of those poor souls who find it hard not to worry about what people are going to think of them. People don't always understand why I would need funding. 

(Let's put it this way: The entire advance from the publisher was what I make freelancing over several months; I've been working on this book for almost two years.) 
        Some wonderful friends supported my little book-n-bake sale idea, and it grew from there. They cheerfully agreed to help me, obstacles collapsed, and things quickly fell into place. I was most excited about my husband agreeing to provide the entertainment through the  "James Flood Jukebox." These and lots of other little signs convinced me that God was calling us to do this.

The Lord has been trying to teach me to rely on Him and not worry for a lo-o-o-o-ng time now, so I tried to center my prayers for this event around His will. Here is my testimony to His kindness, His power, His bountiful response:

I prayed that the set-up would go smoothly. Logistics, organizing, and time management are among my great weaknesses. Yesterday morning, I looked at my to-do list and told the Lord, "Uh, by the way, this is impossible. Just sayin'." I suggested that maybe He could send me some help, or show me what things I didn't actually need to do, or, you know, intervene miraculously. 
        He did all three. Help came from many quarters--especially family (thank you, James, Alicia, Alex, & Isabelle) and some items naturally dropped off the list. But I still didn't think there'd be enough time. After an initial snafu, however, setting up was smooth sailing and actually took less time than expected. (This is a very singular event and true miracle in my life!) We got everything ready and looking really nice, not only in time, but with ten minutes to spare!

I prayed that people would come--a lot would be nice, but it was up to Him. I tried not to think in terms of numbers. When my friend who was handling the food asked me, I thought we could count on at least ten people coming in addition to the ten helpers and family members already there. We set up tables with 48 chairs, just in case.
          Over 70 people came.

I prayed most of all that people would have a good time. This was my main focus. (There's an ongoing need for fun and edifying church events.)
        They raved. Lots of laughter, plenty of smiles, and other sundry signs of enjoyment everywhere.

I also prayed that it would be a blessing to those who came.

          A number of people kindly came over to say how touched they were by the excerpts. Others shared how happy they were with the books they got.

I prayed that God's will would be done with the financial outcome. Honestly, I tried not to think about it. Realistically, it didn't seem likely that the proceeds would cover even a full week of work.   
        The total proceeds were nearly nine times more than that and will fund almost two months of writing!

This is totally a miracle. (One of many along the way.)

My heart is still singing. I am so grateful and so very touched by the outpouring of kindness, generosity, and support received both from friends and even strangers. Even more, I am overwhelmed by the Lord's magnificent display of His love, His faithfulness, and this confirmation that the writing of this book is indeed His will.

Is He asking you to do something out of your comfort zone? Something you're hesitant to try? I hope this story will encourage you to go forward. 
        He is faithful.