Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Retreat

Everyone needs to take a retreat, now and then.

It has been an enjoyable Christmas break for our family, thus far.  A good retreat.  We haven’t had a lot on the schedule, which is a nice thing.  We’ve been able to spend time doing relaxing things we enjoy.  Among the activities some or all of us have been doing:  reading, enjoying nature, watching good movies, visiting an art museum, playing without having the realities of life (chores, schoolwork) intruding. (Although, I no sooner finish that sentence, than I hear sounds of discontent rising from the playroom.  Sibling squabbles still intrude!)

Once upon a time in a land not too far away, my older daughters were involved in the Little Flowers Girls’ Club.  It’s been a few years, my memory of it is sketchy, and so my description of this event might not be accurate.  However . . . one of the projects they worked on was the concept of “eutrapelia.”  Wikipedia defines this as a Greek word meaning wittiness.  It goes on to say that this was one of Aristotle’s virtues, the “golden mean” between boorishness and buffoonery.  The Little Flowers Girls’ Club calls it, on their website, “modest relaxation.”  In their Little Flowers group, my daughters discussed the idea of there being an appointed time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3), including a time for rest and relaxation.  Retreat.  I would describe it as another opportunity to make sure both our Mary side and our Martha side are well integrated with each other.  Let us be neither boorish nor buffoons.

Thank you, God, for this brief respite from the busyness of life.  Thank you for all these things we’ve been able to enjoy, whether created by your hands in the form of the natural world, or created by human hands in the form of the written word, sculpture, canvas, or film.

Happy Fifth Day of Christmas!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Christmas Poem

How Far Is It To Bethlehem?
by Frances A. Chesterton
How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by a star?

Can we see the little Child?
Is He within?
If we lift the wooden latch
May we go in?

May we stroke the creatures there
Ox, ass, or sheep?
May we peep like them and see
Jesus asleep?

If we touch His tiny hand
Will He awake?
Will He know we’ve come so far
Just for His sake?

Great kings have precious gifts
And we have naught
Little smiles and little tears
Are all we have brought.

For all weary children
Mary must weep
Here, on His bed of straw
Sleep, children, sleep.

God in His mother’s arms
Babes in the byre
Sleep, as they sleep who find
Their heart’s desire.

Many sources online, but I found mine here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

December Weather

Welcome to December, as seen in my corner of the Midwest!

One week, it is warm enough that we are able to wade through a stream, going outside in rain coats and wellies.

One week to the day later, we are able to take a nature walk through the snow, bundled up in our winter coats and snow boots.

Hold on, though!  The next week, the snow is gone and the warm air smells like spring.  Back to lighter weight coats, again.

It's cold again, today.  That's all right.  Over the years, I've grown to embrace whatever weather is thrown at me.  Thank you, God, for creating a world in which beauty can be found in each season. 

Does that sound cloyingly sentimental? Perhaps. Still, a change of perspective that allows us to live happily in the present is better than wasting energy, complaining. 

Have a lovely winter!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

St. John of the Cross Novena: Day Nine

From Degrees of Perfection:

17.  Always be more disposed toward giving to others than giving to yourself, and thus you will not be envious of or selfish toward your neighbor.  This is to be understood from the viewpoint of perfection, for God is angered with those who do not give precedence to his good pleasure over that of humans.

                    I feel a lot of people (Christians and others) get this one wrong.  I see a huge emphasis on being generous with material goods or avoiding jealousy about material things.  I see throughout St. John’s writings that the giving we are meant to do is not to be considered solely in material terms.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a problem in the industrialized world regarding attachment to material goods.  But the problem isn’t material in nature.

                    Why do I say this? I’ve seen envy and selfishness towards neighbor in people of little material wealth and great material wealth alike.  Similarly, I’ve been impressed and inspired by the generosity of both those of little material wealth and great material wealth.  The difference between the selfish and the generous?  Nothing to do with their paycheck or their contribution to the gross domestic product.

                    Some people have turned their backs on the materialism of this world, but haven’t become any less self-centered for it.

                    All giving must originate from a spiritual source.  It’s about giving of self more than it is about giving of things.

                    I find this to be why fasting is an important discipline.  Friday meat fasts, Lenten fasts, periodic fasting from whatever takes one’s focus from serving God, so to serve others. These practices of discipline help us to “be more disposed toward giving to others.”

                    What comes to mind? 1 Corinthians 13, of course!  St. John of the Cross has actually written a number of things about 1 Corinthians 13.  Rather than finish this reflection with one of those quotes, I’ll go straight to the source that inspired John:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

St. John of the Cross Novena: Day Eight

From Degrees of Perfection:

16. Remember always that you came here for no other reason than to be a saint; thus let nothing reign in your soul that does not lead you to sanctity.

·         How much time do I waste in worrying about things beyond my control?
·         Becoming a saint requires a good deal of dying to self.  Often, I find myself being stubborn about things I should let go.  Even if (or when) I am in the right! These are the things that reign in my soul and hold me back from becoming the person God wants me to be.

“Ridding oneself of what is repugnant to God’s will should be understood not only of one’s acts but of one’s habits as well.  Not only must actual voluntary imperfections cease, but habitual imperfections must be annihilated, too.”
The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 5

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

St. John of the Cross Novena: Day Seven

From Degrees of Perfection:

2.  Endeavor to remain always in the presence of God, either real, imaginative, or unitive insofar as is permitted by your works.

·         Eucharistic Adoration!  Before the Exposed Blessed Sacrament!  My favorite devotion!
·         God is present.  Constantly.  It is not “permitted by my works” to spend my life before the Monstrance.  Make many acts of adoration/devotion throughout the day.
·         Remain in God’s presence throughout the day.  Good times: reading a book, dining with family, etc.  Challenging times: difficult people, grocery shopping, other unpleasant chores, etc.

“God sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially even though it may be the greatest sinner in the world.  This union between God and creatures always exists.”
The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 5

PS to myself: It is good to recall the idea of the unity of God and creatures when faced with the challenge of difficult people.  That is God’s presence at that very moment!  Remember this!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

St. John of the Cross Novena: Day Six

From Degrees of Perfection:

12.  Pay no attention to the affairs of others, whether they be good or bad, for besides the danger of sin, this is a cause of distractions and lack of spirit.

·         Gossip! This is an area where I can boast in the grace of God.  I was once a bit of a gossip, taking too much interest in “the affairs of others, whether they be good or bad.”
·         Does excessive checking of Twitter, Facebook, blogs constitute an over interest in the affairs of others?  Alas, for me, those things can be a distraction and I have to be disciplined about my use of the internet. Especially political things.  I can get so wrapped up in all that.
·         St. John of the Cross would probably counsel me to pray, rather than waste time on other things.  Pray for the state of the world, rather than checking in on breaking news to see what’s happening to it!

“Let those, then, who are singularly active . . . observe here that they would profit the Church and please God much more . . . were they to spend at least half the time with God in prayer.”
Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 29