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Lent: Entering the Beauty of the Desert

Taken from the border of the wilderness area in Joshua Tree National Monument

Seeds of contemplation on the beauty of the desert on the eve of Lent. . . .

* “I will allure her into the desert and speak to her heart.” Hosea 2:16

* “In silence and hope will your strength be.” Isaiah 30:15

* “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

* “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make of myself a torrent.” — Words of Christ to Blessed Angela of Foligno

* ” She lived in solitude, and now in solitude has built her nest; and in solitude he guides her, he alone, who also bears in solitude the wounds of love.” — St. John of the Cross

* “Solitude is not emptiness for we are walking toward an oasis where someone we love is waiting.” — St. Therese of Lisieux

Christmas Blessings

The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Is 7:14)

The Annunciation

 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of  his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:30-33)

Joseph’s Dream

 Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary for your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken to the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanu-el” (which means, God with us. (Mt 1: 20-23)

The Prophecy Fulfilled

 And in that region were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were so afraid. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign unto you: you will find a babe wrappe din swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2: 8-14)

May the Blessed Mother guide us to her Son. Sincere wishes for a blessed, holy, joyous, and peaceful Christmas season.

 

Viva Christo Rey!: The Feast of Christ the King

“God does not have a fixed plan that He must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man and even of turning his wrong ways into right ways… The feast of Christ the King is therefore not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight on crooked lines.” — Pope Benedict XVI

Today, as the Church closes out the year in preparation for the beginning of the new liturgical year next Sunday on the first Sunday of Advent, it is only fitting that we celebrate the truth that Christ is Lord: of all on earth and above the earth, of all people and of all concerning them, of all life and of victory over death. This is true regardless of whether people believe He is or not, whether they acknowledge His existence or not. As we prepare to spend the next four weeks reflecting on the meaning and purpose of the Incarnation and Birth of the Lord of All, this feast is a comforting and blessed reminder that when all is said and done, Christ is the one and only King, present now and forever, until the end of time.  

Perhaps I should be ashamed to admit that I only just found out the circumstances surrounding the induction of this beautiful feast by Pope Pius XI as a way to combat the rising tide of secularism and hostility towards the Church that was beginning to flourish in the last century and continues on to today. If this is news to you, or if you need a refresher, you might like to read this mindful and enlightening article by Dan Burke.

Remember to Pray For Priests

Sadly, this week I also learned a wonderful and truly gifted priest from a nearby parish has left the priesthood. This was a devastating and sober reminder to me of the great need and responsibility we have to pray for our priests. While it is true that one of the duties of a priest is to be a model of holiness in leading the people in his care to Christ, it is also true that we are all indelibly marked as “priests, prophets, and kings” through our Baptism. It is not just the job of a priest to be holy so that the people he serves may be holy; it is also the job of the people to make every effort to grow in holiness and to support the priest in his service to the people of God and in the gift of his entire life in service to the Church. The priest is like a soldier on the front lines of a very great battle. To leave him to fight alone, without prayer and the individual effort to grow in holiness in response to God’s universal call, is to leave him prey to the enemy and many evils.

It is true that many are reeling from the abuse crisis in the Church, and rightfully so. But we cannot forget or abandon the many, many priests who continue to fight each day for the people of God, who continue to sacrifice unfailingly even in a climate that has made it extremely difficult to do their jobs with any dignity. St. Therese, in her autobiography Story of a Soul, reminds us of both the humanity of the priest and of his special need of prayer:

“I understood my vocation in Italy . . . I lived in the company of many saintly priests for a month and I learned that, though their dignity raises them above the angels, they are nevertheless weak and fragile men. If holy priests, whom Jesus in His Gospel calls the “salt of the earth,” show in their conduct their extreme need for prayers, what is to be said of those who are tepid? Didn’t Jesus say too: “If the salt loses its savor, wherewith will it be salted? How beautiful is the vocation, O Mother, which has as its aim the preservation of the salt destined for souls! This is Carmel’s vocation since the sole purpose of our prayers and sacrifices is to be the apostle of the apostles. We are to pray for them while they are preaching to souls through their words and especially their example.” [Emphasis in the saint’s original text]

St. Therese mentions the great need priests have of prayer, those who are holy, those who are lukewarm, but what of those who have walked away and are lost? She was no stranger to this experience: all of the nuns in her Carmel grieved over a French Carmelite priest who left the priesthood. St. Therese especially offered many prayers and sacrifices for his conversion.  She teaches us emphatically that all priests need our prayers, desperately. As one Body in Christ, each one of us is affected by the actions — good and bad — of all the rest. But we also all share in the graces each receives through prayer and sacrifice. This is the beautiful treasure of the communion of saints which we share in even now.

"When the priest is on the altar, he is always Jesus Christ on the cross." -- St. Bernadette Soubirous

As we celebrate this great feast of Christ the King, it would be well if we remembered in a special way those who have given their lives to ensure that we are able to receive the graces God intends for each one of us through the sacraments instituted for the Church through His Son, Jesus Christ. It would be well if we remembered to pray in a special way for those who have given their lives to ensure that each and every day, in every Church throughout the world, Christ is able to become truly and really present — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — in the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, to be present to each one of us in the most special way. By His own design, Christ can only be present in the Eucharist through the anointed hands of the priest. It would be well if we remembered and prayed for these men, and if we were mindful of our own responsibility to grow in holiness so that through our own example others may see that Christ is the Light of the World.

The Beauty Collective

Image of "Windflowers," by J.W. Waterhouse, courtesy of http://www.jwwaterhouse.com

Seeking Divine Beauty, by Rachel Balducci Faith and Family Live

Appreciating the Simple Moments, by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur CatholicMom.com

Robert Downey, Jr. Asks Hollywood to Forgive Mel Gibson – Frank Weathers, YIMCatholic (The title doesn’t sound “beautiful” but this is a beautiful example of faith and forgiveness in action where we least expect it. Read it and be pleasantly surprised.)

“Once Upon a Time” and the Ethics of Elfland, by Matthew at By Way of Beauty

Beauty Is Objective, by Marc John Paul, Bad Catholic

4 Tips For Effective Mothering From Blessed Zelie Martin, by Meg Matenaer CatholicMom.com

St. Therese’s Teacher: Our Lady of the Little Way, by Fr. John Saward, Pastoral and Homiletic Review

Seeds of Grace: Empty Canvas, Revisited

My sorrow, when she’s here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be; she loves the bare, the withered tree; she walks the sodden pasture lane.
Robert Frost

As we move in to the months of autumn, I’m beginning to tend to the things that will enable us to settle in for the winter — or at least as much of a winter as we ever get here in Southern California. The days are rapidly shortening and in the last week, the night time temperatures have dropped well into the 40s. This is my signal to take a beauty break, get back out into the garden, and start tidying things up.

For those of you who have been reading here for a few months, you may remember when I posted about starting our garden back in June. I thought it might be fun to share with you what I ended up with.

No matter how many plants and seeds I nurture along, I can never get over the miracle of life in the garden. This year, there were a few surprises. The tomatoes were seedling transplants that took forever to get going. But once they did, as you can see they literally took over the entire plot! I’ve never had such high-maintenace tomatoes in my life! They grew outwards and trailed more like a squash vine than the tall, more bushy tomatoes I am used to. Some of the branches were easily 10 feet long or more. Obviously, they refused to be confined to tomatoe cages or really to be contained at all.  While producing a great deal of fruit, these hardy plants eventually posed a danger to the rest of the garden community by blocking the sun. Thus, the beans and peas died, the basil shrivelled, and the parsley had to fight to stay alive. Today I cut it way back to let in some light and cleared away the not-so-lucky plants who were unable to thrive under the vast tomatoe canopy. 

Two unexpected miracles. . . . this little half-eaten kale plant was started from a tiny seed back in June. It struggled to survive and at one point, I really thought I’d lost it. Suddenly it started growing. After 4 months its still under 6 inches tall and shows continual assault from some unseen pest. But I am hopeful that it’ll survive to provide at least a few meals for us this winter.

The other miracle are the brussels sprouts, also started from seed. The seed which produces this alien-looking plant is quite small, and the gardening catalog I purchased them from emphasized that brussels sprouts are not easy to grow. Ever hopeful, I figured I’d plant them and see what happened. Like the kale, they took forever to sprout and it seemed like they were barely hanging on for months. But in late August, these too took off and have continued to thrive, despite the encroaching tomatoes. Amongst the layers of leaves (which the gardening catalog says to leave on to protect the young stalk) we can see a central stalk forming with the beginnings of the buds that will eventually become the sprouts! These guys still have a long way to go — today I discovered powdery mildew on some of the lower leaves, likely caused by the tomatoes blocking the sun. Still, I’m hopeful. . . .its amazing that, after everything, such a tiny seed can produce such a large plant. (And I know that a lot of people simply despise brussels sprouts, but if these little ones make it, I’ll be sharing a recipe that will convert you, guaranteed!)

As I help the garden move through its final phases, I am reminded that each season in nature symbolizes a corresponding season of human life. As I enter into fall, I am reminded of my aging, of the miles I’ve gone on my journey and those I still have yet to go, and see that in the perhaps not-too-distant future I may enter the winter of illness and death. In her wisdom, the Church seems to be aware that, consciously or unconsciously, we may be having such thoughts about the road we are walking and so she ushers us into the last two months of the year with the great feast of All Saints. 

The Feast of All Saints reminds me that I am living in the fields of the Lord. Looking to all of the holy men and women who have gone before me, both known and unknown, I am reminded of the fact that, no matter what things may look like on the outside or how much it may feel like I am struggling just to survive or how many pests threaten to devour me, the seed of grace (God’s life in me) which I received at baptism is alive, producing and responding to the tending of the Constant Gardener.

In his book The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. 1, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Legrange uses the analogy of the seed to explore the truth of the gift of sanctifying grace we are given at our baptism. The invisible seed of grace is in many ways similar to the tiny kale seed, or brussels sprout seed, I planted. It is pure potential. Legrange says that, “The value of a seed can be known only if we have some idea of what should grow from it; for example, in the order of nature, to know the value of the seed contained in an acorn, we must have seen a fully developed oak. In the human order, to know the value of the rational soul which still slumbers in a little child, we must know the normal possibilities of the human soul in the man who has reached his full development. Likewise, we cannot know the value of sanctifying grace, which is in the soul of every baptized infant and in all the just, unless we have considered, at least imperfectly, what the full development of this grace will be in eternity.” The full development of this seed of sanctifying grace can be seen in the lives of the saints, who share with us their experiences on the path to holiness. Just as each acorn contains within it all that is necessary to become a great oak tree, so each of us possessed of sanctifying grace contain everything necessary to become a great saint, however little and unknown we may be.

Typically, people associate the advent of spring with growth, new life, and rebirth and the Church is no different. But the Church encourages us to focus on the opportunities we are given for growth and rebirth throughout the year. At a time during the natural year when many in the secular world may find themselves occupied with thoughts of loss, decay, and death, the Church reminds us through the feast of All Saints, and the commemoration of the Holy Souls, that there hope in new life and that this hope is not seasonal but is rather a daily, year-round truth. God promises us through His Son that He will make all things new.

Entering into autumn through the gateway of remembering our family in heaven reminds me to look again and be grateful for the tiny seed of grace I received at baptism, and to recall that while my own garden might be on its way out, God is still nurturing, planting, pruning, and feeding the garden of my soul where all of the seasons exist simultaneously.

St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila)

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Teresa of Jesus, also known as St. Teresa of Avila. She has long been a favorite of mine and is the namesake of my dearest sister, St. Therese of Lisieux. They share a refreshing sense of humor, down-to-earth practicality, and great confidence in God and love for Jesus, all of which I need to deepen in my own life. And apart from that, St. Teresa is the patroness of headache sufferers, which I experience chronically.

In case you don’t know much about this beautiful sister in faith, Benjamin Mann wrote this well-researched and lively article in recognition of her feast for the National Catholic Register. Its definitely worth the few minutes it will take to read and you might just find a new friend in heaven to walk the journey with you in the process.

Words to live by………….

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. All things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end. . . Hope, O my soul, hope. You can know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes away quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain and turns a very short time into a long one. — St. Teresa of Avila

Our Lady of Sorrows

“Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Lk 2:34-35)

O Mary . . . a terrible sword has pierced your holy soul. Except for God, no one knows of your suffering. Your soul does not break; it is brave, because it is with Jesus.  Sweet Mother, unite my soul to Jesus, because it is only then that I will be able to endure all trials and tribulations, and only in union with Jesus will my sacrifices be pleasing to God. Sweetest Mother, continue to teach me about the interior life. May the sword of suffering never break me. O pure Virgin, pour courage into my heart and guard it. –Prayer of St. Faustina to the Sorrowful Mother (Diary 915)