Categories
Advent Ink Slingers Liturgical Year Michelle

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

Yesterday we began the new liturgical year within the Church. It is an exciting time to say the least! As we begin our Advent journey towards Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth, it’s important that in the rush to prepare for the secular part of Christmas that we don’t take this time for granted. We must slow down and recognize the importance of the Advent season. It isn’t merely the time we need to shop for gifts but instead it is time set aside to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Savior.

The word Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus. It means “coming” or “arrival”. Advent is the season in which we prepare for the coming of Christ. But while we are preparing for Christmas and the birth of our Savior (the first coming of Christ), we are also preparing for the second coming of Jesus.

At Mass our priest reminded us that Advent is not a penitential season but instead the season of hope and joy. And really, he is right because what could be better than preparing to meet the Lord? The Church, in her wisdom, has given us the gift of time to prepare a place in our hearts for Jesus to reside. The question remains- will we take the time to prepare a place for Him?

I pray that during this Advent season we each will set aside time to contemplate on the hope, peace, joy, and love that God brings to us through Christ our Savior.

Have a blessed Advent season and may your new year be filled with God’s light, love, mercy, and hope

Categories
Advent Confession Ink Slingers Liturgical Year Michelle Spiritual Growth

Advent: A Time of Repentance, Penance, and Renewal

Advent

Advent is a time of preparation- preparing our hearts, minds, and souls for the Christ-child who will one day offer each of us salvation through His sacrifice upon the cross. It is a time to quiet ourselves and reflect on God’s love and blessings.

Advent is not only a season of preparation; it is also a season of repentance, penance, and renewal. We are called to have a conversion of heart and it is only through complete acknowledgement of our sins, dedication to overcoming the temptations through sincere and fervent penance, as well as with the gift of God’s grace, that we can hope to be renewed once again in Christ.

For Catholics this seems easy enough… we are blessed to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This makes it easy on us, right? Simply go into the confessional, confess your sins, and voilà, good as new! Right?

Wrong.

repentanceRepentance requires more of us than that. True repentance is taking a long, hard look at ourselves and finding all the places we fail. It is admitting that we have not put God at the center of our lives and that we have disrespected Christ through our thoughts, actions, and/or inactions. It is saying we haven’t loved others the way He calls us to love. This is hard to do. No one likes to look that closely at themselves. It’s scary and unsettling. How could we have become “that person”?

Does it truly matter if we repent or not? Doesn’t Christ forgive us anyway?

It matters because sin keeps us separated from God. When we separate ourselves from God we are separated from His graces and love. When we fail to be truly contrite, we tell Christ that His sacrifice is not important to us; that we are comfortable with the wall we are building between us and Him; that our wants and desires are more important than a relationship with Him.

We are each called to look deeply at ourselves to see where we may be building walls between us and God, where we may be failing to be Christ’s hands and feet to others, and how we may have turned our back on our Lord. Advent gives us ample opportunity to do just that.

Where do we start?

There are many examinations of conscience out there that you can choose to read to figure out where your shortcomings are. You can even download apps on your phone to help you figure out what your sins are and to keep track of how many times you have committed a particular sin! I’ll be honest and tell you that many of the examinations that I have seen don’t particularly help me much. It’s not that I don’t sin, I do! But because of the way the examinations are written, I just don’t seem to get much help from them in truly digging deep into my heart and soul to find where my biggest faults lie.

To aid me in discovering where my sins are hiding, I had to come up with my own examination of conscience. Perhaps it’s a bit unorthodox, but I think it is effective nonetheless.

Many years ago I heard a song by Michael W. Smith called I Have Never Been Unloved. The lyrics spoke to my heart. I saw myself, and most importantly, my sins, in that song. I knew immediately it was the examination I needed the most.

My Examination

I have been unfaithful- have I doubted God and all His love and blessings? Have I been apathetic in my faith because of my doubts?

I have been unworthy– have I been thankful for the gifts I receive? Have I shown God’s love to others?

I have been unrighteous– have I had wicked or ill thoughts about/towards others?  

I have been unmerciful– have I withheld mercy to others? Have I been cruel to others?

I have been unreachable– have I tuned out God or turned my back to those who have reached out to me?

I have been unteachable– have I refused to acknowledge the truth? Have I insisted on my own way, denying that others may be able to show me a better path?

I have been unwilling– have I refused to allow God’s will in my life?

I have been undesirable– have I been rude, mean, or ugly to others? Have I pushed others away from me?

I have been unwise– have I disregarded good advice because of stubbornness? Have I made poor choices when I know that better choices exist?

I’ve been undone by what I’m unsure of– have I allowed doubt to pull me from my faith?

I have been unbroken– have I put my own will above God’s?

I have been unmended– have I refused to allow God to heal my heart? Have I held onto a grudge and refused to accept an apology from someone who has hurt me? Have I refused to ask others for forgiveness?

I have been uneasy– have I refused to place my trust in God and instead allowed worry to consume me?

I have been unapproachable– have I closed myself off to others whether it is because I worry about being hurt or some other reason? Have I acted like I am better than others or that others are beneath me? Have I been friendly to those I don’t know, to those who have hurt me, and to all those I encounter?

I have been unemotional– have I allowed myself to experience the joy of love and the pain of sorrow? Have I closed myself off to others so that I won’t get hurt?

I have been unexceptional– have I tried to be Christ’s light in the world? Have I tried to help others and to make this world a better place to live? Have I been lazy?

I have been undecided– have I faltered in my faith? Am I proud to be a Christian and to be a follower of Christ or do I hide my faith and beliefs?

I have been unqualified– have I refused to do God’s work because I don’t feel qualified? Have I refused to seek out the skills I need to do a particular task?

I have been unaware– have I closed my eyes to the suffering around me? Do I see Christ reflected in the faces of those who are most needy? Have I turned my back on Christ when I turn my back on those who ask for my help?

I have been unfair– have I discriminated against anyone? Have I oppressed anyone? Have I treated anyone in a cruel manner? Have I tried to get further in life by stepping on someone else?

I have been unfit for blessings from above– have I lived my life in a manner that tells God that I do not want His blessings and I am not deserving of His blessings?

When we look deeply in our hearts we can see our shortcomings and our deficiencies. We are called to acknowledge those sins, to ask for forgiveness, and then to change our lives so that we do not continue to separate ourselves from God.

God desires an intimate relationship with us. And as I conclude my examination of conscience, and particularly after I receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I am reminded that despite all of my sins and my failings, Christ has always loved me. While I may separate myself from Him, He never leaves my side.

“Because of you and all you went through, I know I’ve never been unloved.”

 

Categories
Anima Christi End of life Molly G Prayer

Line By Line Prayer Reflection: Anima Christi, Part X

This is the tenth of a series of posts reflecting line-by-line on the Anima Christi.

anima christi

As a mom of 5 kids, I am often plan ahead for things.  My older girls dance competitively, and so each week, I transport the whole family to dance class.  As I begin sending kids to their respective dance studios, I can also be found dishing out dinner in pre-made thermos containers for the others who are waiting, passing out coloring books or homework, and hooking my youngest up to her tube feed or giving seizure meds.  I often get comments on how prepared I am to have everything ready for our long nights away from home.  This is true.  I just have to be.  Whether it is school, dance, appointments, or other daily tasks, as  mom of a large family that also includes a special needs child, preparedness is just a necessity.  It’s a way of life.  This prayer got me thinking, though – am I truly prepared in the most important way? Am I properly preparing my children to be ready for God and His call? Upon reflection, these lines of the Anima Christi really speak to me about two important things – listening, and preparedness.

It is easy to get caught up in our everyday lives, schedules, and obligations and forget to listen.  We shush the children to move forward quickly, rush through dinners to get to a practice, or don’t take time to hear what others are saying so we can finish an assignment and move on to the next task.  Listening is often just ignored.  With the noisy world we live in, we forget sometimes that listening is just as important as speaking.  Actually, in our spiritual life, listening is probably more important than speaking.  We need to listen to God and what He is calling us to do in our lives.  During tough decisions, more than talk about it with 500 people, maybe we should listen for God’s peace.  During hard emotional times, rather than discuss it with multiple friends, perhaps we should listen for God’s comfort.  By doing these things, listening not only brings clarity to our lives as far as what God nudges us to do, but also helps us to be prepared.

Being prepared is so important in many aspects of our lives.  Spiritually, this is imperative, as we all know this life is temporary.  We are here only for a short while to do good, learn about God, and get ready to be with Him in heaven forever.  In the rush of planning children’s dinners to take in the car, or buying supplies ahead of time for an upcoming projects, we also need to be helping them to learn to listen to Christ.  I need to prepare them for the fact that His calling of us, is, well, unplanned.  We do not know when God will call us home, but without lessons in listening or preparing our souls the best we can, we may let other things cloud that blissful moment.

At the end, when all on this earth will be left behind, we will want clarity.  We will want peace.  And we will want comfort from fear.  What better way than to listen to God as we live each day, so when He calls us for that final time, we can remember with confidence His promise to be with us always…. “…in the hour of my death call me.  And bid me come unto thee….”

the joy of letting God speak to us

Categories
Advent Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Liturgical Year Resources Your Handy-Dandy List

Your Handy Dandy List to an Intentional Advent

Intentional Advent picHave you made plans yet for Advent? Is Advent a spiritual time for you or is it all about shopping, decorating the house and the tree, Christmas parties, and so much more? Do you add anything to your spiritual routines during this time (much like we often do during Lent)?

Advent, at least in my experience, often seems to get lost in the shuffle of Christmas. It doesn’t help much that Christmas decorations, Christmas ads/commercials, and Christmas music has been everywhere since Halloween or earlier. Yet, like Lent, Advent is also a penitential season. It’s a time of preparation, but not the kind of preparation the secular world is doing. As Catholics we are preparing for the upcoming birth of our Lord and Savior as well as preparing for His eventual second coming. Advent, therefore, is a good time to help us focus our minds and hearts on Christ. We should do so intentionally, not trying to do too much, but doing at least one thing (more if you can swing it) to help us focus on the true reason for the season.

Thus I decided that this was a good time to put together a new “handy dandy list” in the same vein as the Lenten list I created (with LOTS of help) a few years back. I’ve divided this list into seven broad categories. A few items could have fit easily into more than one, so I had to make a few judgment calls. Overall, it should be easy to scan through each list for ideas.

So, read through the list, pick out one or two or more things you like, and make an intentional effort to have a prayerful Advent. I wish you many blessings as we begin a new liturgical year and spend approximately the next four weeks preparing for the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Without further ado, here is your Handy Dandy List to an Intentional Advent.

History

Why do we even have a special time set aside in the liturgical calendar to prepare ourselves for Christ’s birth? Why do we even call it Advent? Before the new liturgical year starts, how about checking out a bit of Catholic Church history using these resources:

Spirituality

  • St. Andrew Christmas novena, see the November 30-December 24 version here and the nine day version here
  • Celebrate St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), see here for a variety of traditions around the world
  • Attend Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8)
  • Go to confession and/or a Reconciliation service before Christmas
  • Fast (one day a week, three days a week, the whole season, whatever works for you) or abstain from meat (or another food of your choice)
  • CRS Fair Trade Advent prayers
  • Daily Advent reflections from Fr. Barron and Word on Fire (follow the link to sign up for them to arrive in your email daily)
  • Attend a Parish Retreat at your parish or a neighboring parish, or find a one day or a weekend retreat in your area
  • Give something up for Advent (who says you can only do that during Lent?)

Family or Group Activities

  • Advent Calendar 2015NEW for 2015 – download and print this Advent calendar chock full of great ideas to keep you focused on the season.
  • Do a Jesse tree with your family, Catechism class, homeschool group, or other group
  • Keep an Advent wreath in your home. My family lights it each night before dinner. Alternatively, if you’re a teacher (Catholic school or in a catechism class) you can do an Advent wreath by cutting out leaves from construction paper, have children write their sacrifices on them, make an Advent wreath out of the leaves (posted on a door or wall), and then make Advent candles out of construction paper to adorn the wreath.
  • Get each child a paper Advent calendar (especially those with pieces of chocolate in them!) or create one of those paper chains to count down the days until Advent.
  • Join in on the Advent Photo Journey on Instagram sponsored by Catholic Sistas (details coming soon so stay tuned!)
  • Do an Advent version of Secret Santa. I’ve seen various names, including Secret Saints or Advent Angels. Pull together a small group of friends, arrange a way to pull names so that everyone has a person to pray for during the Advent season (Elfster is a great resource for matching people up without anyone knowing who has who). You can have participants pray for each other, do a small gift exchange, exchange favorite holiday recipes, or any combination or anything else that you and your group wants to do. Whatever you do, make it simple, cost effective, and fun and meaningful for participants
  • Make a manger out of any used container, shoebox, etc. and allow children to place a piece of straw in it for each act of kindness during the season. Place a baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve.
  • Get the AdventAdventure.com from Holy Heroes.
  • Our very own Ink Slinger Christi has written an Advent book that families can do together. Check out her website Advent Journey with Mary and Joseph to buy the book and use the free online resources.
  • Check out lots of free coloring pages, including Advent wreath pages, an Advent Calendar coloring page, Christmas coloring pages, and much more at Saint Anne’s Helper.

Community Service

Advent is a great time to get involved in some form of community service.

  • Make gift bags for the homeless (toiletries, non-perishable foods, etc.) and donate to a shelter (call ahead to find out what their needs are)
  • Volunteer to serve a meal at a soup kitchen or other type of shelter
  • Participate in an adopt-a-family or adopt-a-child program, many churches will have special programs at this time of year
  • Bring your kids along and donate to Toys for Tots
  • Visit a local nursing home, even better get a group together to go sing Christmas carols for the residents
  • Invite someone to your home for Christmas who otherwise has no where else to go (an elderly parishioner, a neighbor, college students, particularly international students, who may not be able to go home for the holidays)

More Books

Besides the books already mentioned in the sections above, here are some more that I am aware of or have recently heard about. All of these can be helpful in having an intentional Advent.

Music or other Entertainment

There’s nothing like relaxing with some nice music. For this Advent season, here is some suggested music that help set a contemplative atmosphere.

  • Advent at Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles
  • Puer Natus Est: Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas
  • A traditional Advent tradition is the chanting of what is known as the O antiphons. These seven antiphons are sung, one each night, from December 17 to 23 at Vespers (evening prayer). They are included on a variety of sound recordings, one I found that received good reviews is The Great “O” Antiphons by the Choirs of Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, WA.
  • NEW ADDITION: I just discovered a free app available for iOS devises (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) and Android called Musical Advent Calendar 2014 (Google store version HERE) from Naxos Digital Services. It contains 25 “doors” you can open starting on December 1 (so not true to the Advent season as us Catholics define it) with a musical selection for each day. Worth checking out, I just downloaded it myself.
  • Attend a Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah, the Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, or any other Christmas production being performed in your area

More Blog Posts and Articles on Advent

Want more Advent inspiration? Here are more articles and blog posts to enjoy:

Your turn: what would you add to this list?

Categories
Fatherhood Motherhood Parenting Rachel M

Not My Will, But Yours Be Done

With the birth of each successive child, my husband becomes more and more paranoid about finishing our will. And, rightly so, because with 5 children under 5 if something were to happen to both of us we would of course need an earthly angel to continue the daunting task of parenting our children. Yet, we have continued to put off this task. Perhaps partly because it’s such a devastating idea to any parent, but mostly it’s because we cannot agree on whom these two amazing people who would raise our children should be.

How as Catholic parents do we possibly decide whom shall take over our parenting should we both die? What is this decision based on? How can we ever know that we’ve made the right decision?

The secular world may have a much easier task when making this choice. It’s much more black and white for them. Questions like, who can best provide for my children, who loves them the most, who has time and space for them, etc., quickly provide concrete answers that can lead parents to the best option.

But, as Catholics, our main purpose for becoming parents is to get our children to Heaven. While this is no easy task, it is a simple statement. Every decision we make for our children, every act of love and every failure, each day we only have to ask ourselves one thing. Will this get my child to Heaven?

And so, choosing whom to will our children to should follow that same line. Whom do we believe will be the best at getting our children to Heaven? This is not a black and white question, in fact there is far too much grey to consider. It becomes difficult to walk the line between considering all of the factors, and judgement. We must carefully discern the spiritual lives of others which is both uncomfortable and quite challenging. Yet, we must.

While material goods, financial security, and physical and emotional well-being are important for our children, these are not the most important consideration. Catholic parents must find suitable adults who actively practice the Catholic faith.

For many Catholic couples, that completely narrows the field. It cuts out a lot of family members and friends who might otherwise be wonderful choices. It can also lead to hurt feelings within the extended family. But, despite our earthly heartbreaks, oh what rewards this choice can bring when made with a joyful heart for the love of one’s children.

My husband and I have approximately three days before our fifth child is born, and we know we must make this decision now, like right now. It is only through great discernment and prayer that we will be able to do so.