Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

In the Byzantine Catholic church, the birth of Our Savior is celebrated with a special greeting extended by the priest: "CHRIST IS BORN!" In response, the congregation replies, "GLORIFY HIM!" It is a wonderful way to remind ourselves that something is different today and throughout the Christmas season.

In Rome, the Holy Father marked the start of the Christmas season with the Latin wish for peace: "Pax vobis" ("Peace be with you") to which the faithful present at St. Peter's responded, "Et cum spiritu tuo." ("And also with you.")

Both greetings have a simple similarity: they announce good news and they call for our response. May the love of the Holy Family pour into your heart this Christmas and help you to respond with even greater charity to all those you meet in 2009. Buon Natale and Verso l'alto!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Best Christmas Gifts

Well, here we are, less than a week away from the celebration of the birth of Christ. How has your Advent been going? I'm happy to say that I've had a prayerful few weeks, thanks in large part to my wonderful morning prayer group, and have been cultivating the spirit of joyful expectation. I have actually enjoyed doing the Christmas shopping, a little baking and the other material preparations that are necessary at this time of year. And in the midst of it all, I have been able to witness many times what Pier Giorgio knew so well: i.e, the best Christmas gifts are acts of charity.

If you have joined THE PACT, you know that it involves a simple commitment to do one act of charity a day. At this time of year, there are endless opportunities that present themselves. You can let someone ahead of you in a long check-out line, share a coupon with someone who needs one, smile and speak kind words to the tired cashier, buy a little gift for someone you normally wouldn't, leave the parking space closest to the store for someone else -- and all of that is just some of what you can do when you are out shopping! There is so much more. Send Christmas cards to people you know are lonely, who live alone or have very little family. Make a call to someone who would so appreciate having a little conversation with you. Go caroling! Make time for people instead of excuses. Love. Forgive. Pray.

A wise woman I know has often reminded me, "Honey, all people have the same basic needs: to be loved and to be needed." She's right. And those are two things that you won't find on any shelf in any store. Give the best gifts this Christmas. You will be so glad you did.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Just taking a moment today to wish you a blessed feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn and patroness of the Americas. By the way, this is also the anniversary date for FrassatiUSA which relies on her patronage as well as that of Pier Giorgio.

This is such a great Marian week with two wonderful feasts serving as bookends -- Monday, the Immaculate Conception, and, today, Our Lady of Guadalupe! I have been reflecting on the great faith of both St. Bernadette and St. Juan Diego who were the messengers of Our Lady. Can you imagine going to a priest or bishop and saying that you have spoken with the Blessed Mother and she would like a church built? I like how the priest's response is portrayed in the film, "Bernadette." He practically throws her out of the rectory! What would you have done in his shoes?

In both cases, the visionaries were asked to go back to the Lady and ask for a sign, a miracle. Although this may at first seem like a lack of faith on the part of the priest or bishop, it really is a show of faith when you stop and think about it. In other words, they believed enough to believe a miracle would enable them to believe! Do you follow me?

In the movie, "Bernadette," after the priest's very harsh reception of her message, Bernadette says that she wasn't upset about it. She says, "I was asked to deliver the message and I have delivered it." Such humble obedience. Centuries later, we can still see the tremendous fruit that came from the humble obedience of St. Bernadette and St. Juan Diego. Simple messengers. What a great challenge for us during this second week of Advent -- to look for and find ways that we can be simple messengers of the Good News of Christ.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

In the Good Old Days

The other night, I was reading a bedtime story to a little six-year-old friend of mine. She looked at me, at one point, and said with a sigh, "I miss the good old days when..." and gave an example of something she missed doing. It was so odd to hear a six-year-old talking about the good old days! She was right to miss them, though.

I miss the good old days when Advent was a real season that we celebrated.
My great Catholic parents made a point of it. Would you believe our Christmas tree did not go up until a day or two before Christmas? We never turned our Christmas lights on until Christmas Eve and we kept them on for the 12 days of Christmas...or longer.

Every night, we gathered around the Advent wreath and lit the candles, said the prayers and sang a hymn. We had a chart to keep track of our good deeds. On the feast of St. Lucy (December 13), we were given one seed of wheat for each good deed we had done. We planted our seeds in our own little pots of dirt and placed them on a window sill to grow as gifts for Baby Jesus. It was a great competition to see who had the most wheat and the tallest.

Very late on Christmas Eve, we would all gather by the tree where a nativity set was displayed below. The manger was always empty until that night. We would have a family procession and sing "Silent Night" and the youngest in the family would place the infant Jesus in the crib. We would sing other carols afterward. Sometimes I would play "The Little Drummer Boy" on the piano while my brother Greg accompanied me on his snare drum. (We are all so much older now but we still have that procession and the youngest still places Baby Jesus in the crib.)

On Christmas Day, we opened gifts with tags that said, "From Baby Jesus" or "From Saint Nick." We never got anything from Santa Claus. In fact, a funny story in our family is that, one year, a neighbor up the street asked two of my sisters what Santa brought them for Christmas. They said, "nothing." The neighbor thought maybe we were poor and couldn't afford presents and sent down bags of gifts! My mom had to explain to her that Santa didn't come to our house, but, not to worry, we got our share of presents from Baby Jesus and St. Nick.

Christmas-caroling was usually impromptu but you could always pull a little group together. We would go to the neighbors who didn't have much family or company and sing a few songs and visit awhile. This is a tradition that has passed down to some of the nieces and nephews. Last year, we piled into a few cars and went to a neighboring town to sing a few carols for a woman with a homebound, disabled son. Such a simple joy to give that costs only a little time.

I could go on and on about our family traditions and how Advent was a time of joyful expectation and Christmas was all about the birth of Christ. But you probably have your own memories of how it was -- in the good old days.