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A toast to friendship

December 31, 2014

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Friends make our lives richer, even when the friendship ends.

Friends make our lives richer, even when the friendship ends.

At a time when we gather to toast and reminisce, I’m remembering New Years’ past and the friends who celebrated with me.

I tend to rewind a lot of holiday memories at this time of year and think about the people who’ve been part of my life. Some are still my friends, which makes the memories that much sweeter. Sadly, others have either passed away, or otherwise passed from my life.

It’s hard to imagine who or where I’d be without friends. Through the years, they have supported me, challenged me, laughed and cried with me, and just been there with me.

Friendship not necessary?

C.S. Lewis calls friendship the most spiritual of the loves he describes in his book, “The Four Loves.” Of all those loves, which include affection and romantic love, friendship is the least natural, instinctive, biological or necessary.

Without Eros (romantic love) none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it.

I think the assertion that we don’t need friends for survival is debatable. Mine have bailed me out in many ways and I them. At least it’s hard to imagine life without them. In losing friends I have most fully realized this.

We see in our friends qualities and virtues that we can’t see in ourselves. And true friendship takes us beyond ourselves.

Aristotle presents three marks of friendship.

  1. Benevolence: We actively pursue our friend’s wellbeing.
  2. Reciprocity: Friendship has to be mutual and not done only for the sake of our own desire.
  3. A sense of mutual indwelling: Friends are a single soul existing in two bodies.

Friends with Christ

I think this is the kind of friendship Jesus wants to have with us. He mentions it three times in John 15:13-15:

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…

It has been through losing friends that I have most able to accept and appreciate the Lord’s friendship—and to learn more of what it means to be a friend.

Friendship may be unnecessary, like philosophy and art, and it may have no survival value, as Lewis states. But instead, he writes, it gives value to survival.

As midnight rolls around, I drink a toast to friends who have enhanced my survival by loving me and showing me how to love the Lord!

Happy New Year!

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Patience: The Perfect Holiday Gift

December 19, 2014

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I’ve had a lot of time to think while sitting on hold with Minnesota’s health insurance exchange during the past month. While I waited, I had to listen to Kenny G or a clone play the same nasally music snippet again and again as I thought of my depleting cell minutes.

I was told a computer glitch was preventing my insurance application from going through. No one in three agencies seemed to know much about the problem except that it had to be corrected by one of the others.

My experience has me thinking about patience—not that I’ve been so patient. It does seem, though, that patience is what God has asked of me.

Patience and suffering

The word patience comes from patient, which means to suffer. That might mean severe pain but I think more often irritation or inconvenience at an oversight or act of nature that make us wait. It’s frustrating and feels unfair.

A more complete definition of patience is, “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”

We know delay, trouble or suffering can be expected but we’d rather not see them. Like when my jacket lining gets caught in the zipper. Or when my purse strap loops around my car gear shift–again! These are not great tragedies but annoyances that cost precious seconds in the race of life.

Leo Tolstoy recognized that it’s a battle to be patient: “The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”

Patience seems to be losing these days, on the road at least. Fewer folks will wait until traffic passes to turn and the green light seems to get longer and longer. I find myself reluctant to let others go ahead of me because it will slow me down.

Life is faster

Doesn’t everything seem faster now, so that when we do have to wait it’s less tolerable? Emails and texts move in a split second. Food is faster. Shopping takes a click with instant credit.

Some say we shouldn’t be too patient or we’ll be left behind. What the world doesn’t understand is that patience is the first attribute of love, according to St. Paul, who writes that love isn’t just patient when you have time but ALWAYS.

It also makes sense to be patient if you want to get things done, from zipping your jacket to closing a complex business deal. Archbishop Fulton Sheen put it this way:

“Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is ‘timing.’ It waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.”

The Israelites living before Christ had to wait. It took them 40 years to enter the Promised Land. Later they waited in exile in a foreign country to return home. Through it all they waited for centuries for a Messiah that God had promised. The Jewish people are still waiting.

Scripture shows that they weren’t always patient. Like me they got upset and angry when they should have accepted or tolerated delay, trouble or suffering.

God sent his Son to help with this

The good thing is, God came through anyway. He settled and later resettled the Israelites on the land. Then he sent his Son to save us and show us how to be patient.

I know God gives me opportunities to be patient. Sometimes these opportunities seem like gifts I wish I hadn’t opened. If I’m actually going to act on them, I need God’s help—the grace he offers. If I do accept his grace they usually turn out to be good gifts.

Eventually my insurance problem was resolved. I have health coverage for 2015 and I’m truly grateful. Most of all, I am thankful that Christ came quietly and gently as a baby 2,000 years ago, bringing new life to an impatient world.

Merry Christmas!

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Spiritual lessons learned from a wet basement

June 25, 2014

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There are a lot of wet basements out there right now. While water seeps into my basement, sin keeps coming back into my heart. Photo/littlegreenfroggy. Licensed under Creative Commons

There are a lot of wet basements out there right now. As water seeps into my basement, sin keeps coming back into my heart. Photo/littlegreenfroggy. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Like other places in the country, Minnesota has been pretty wet this spring and early summer. With each major rainfall, I’ve had streams of water coming into my basement.

My house is 106 years old and when it rains hard, water seeps in from the four corners. In one spot, there had been some kind of a pump which was later removed (I have no idea why.) and a concrete patch was placed over the spot.

Water comes in through the patch and pools there, so that I frequently have to sweep the water down to the drain. (I am going somewhere with this.)

A stream through the basement

Five minutes after I sweep, as much or more water collects in that spot so that I have to keep pushing it down to the drain. After an especially heavy rainfall last week, water continued to come up through that patch for a few days after the rain stopped.

It has mostly dried up but more rain is forecast this week.

I am looking for a permanent solution but for now I can be thankful that there has only been a couple inches of water in the deepest spots.  Compared to what many others are dealing with, that’s not so bad.

This stream running through my basement (apparently there are actual underground streams throughout the neighborhood) made me think of a particular area of sin I struggle with.

Pride like rainwater coming in

Like the rainwater, pride seeps in,  collects in my heart and swells my head. I sweep it out when I go to confession. I pray the Litany of Humility and I think things are drying out but then pride finds its way back in with each new rainstorm.

Confessing my pride and praying for greater humility are necessary steps in overcoming this sin. But just as sweeping out the water doesn’t keep more from coming in, I need to stop pride at its source.

In a sermon, St. Benedict said pursuing humility is like setting up a ladder. When we act humbly we go up and when we praise ourselves we go down. He identifies 12 steps going up the ladder toward heaven.  Near the top it gets a little monk-oriented but I think lay people can benefit from it, too.

Charity pumps out pride

Ultimately, the pump that will keep out the water of pride is charity, as Cardinal Giovanni Bona wrote in the 17th century:

Pride is the root of every evil; charity, that of all goods. But you cannot plant the latter unless you have completely uprooted the former. Charity will teach you how to extirpate it, since it alone knows how to withstand the spirit of pride. You will be able to resist its spirit if you hide your virtues and show your defects. Then give much attention and consideration to the following as the source of the vice of pride: not to tolerate that others say of you what you willingly confess of yourself.

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With quiet promptings the Holy Spirit transforms us

June 6, 2014

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Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble  Licensed Under Creative Commons

Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble Licensed Under Creative Commons

Tongues of fire and door-rattling wind shook the Apostles up at Pentecost I’m sure. When I pray to the Holy Spirit I also sometimes expect dramatic action. Mostly what I want is for the Spirit to instantly transform me—to give me a clear vision for my vocation or life’s purpose, to make me bolder or better at prayer, and overall to make me act and feel holier.I wait for the Lord to come with a powerful show of force as the prophet Elijah might have been expecting:

Then the Lord said, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak … (I Kings 19:11-13 NAB)

Often while I’m waiting for wind and earthquakes, the Holy Spirit comes with small quiet whispers that nonetheless coax me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I say yes to what the Spirit asks. Little things like, ‘ask that crabby co-worker how his day is going’ or ‘say something nice to the cashier’ or simply ‘smile at the lady pushing her cart in the produce section.’  

Some promptings are scary

Other times out of fear and irritation I swat at the Holy Spirit’s suggestions like flies at a picnic. Little promptings that make me uncomfortable such as inviting a neighbor to a church event, sharing about my faith with non-practicing family members or defending Church teaching when it’s attacked.

When I do respond to these scary suggestions, the situations often turn out differently than I expect–and somehow I’m different. I think the Spirit quietly goes about transforming us as we let Him guide us. Maybe He’s doing with these small whispers exactly what we wish He’d do with one spiritual earthquake. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t ever make an earthquake, strong wind or fire happen in our lives.  

Elijah recognized the Lord in a small noise. We need to listen for those quiet promptings, too.

I believe the Holy Spirit gives us His gifts through these promptings.  As the Church teaches, Confirmation increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive at Baptism, gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. (CCC 1830)  But I wonder if are gradually learning to use these gifts as we rise to the challenges the Holy Spirit gives us.

He is transforming us

As we listen for the Holy Spirit’s whispers and try to act on them, we can trust that He is transforming us and  making us holy in the way He knows is best for us. St. Augustine reveals this trust in his famous prayer:

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.

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Mark this Ukrainian’s prayer request as urgent

May 24, 2014

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Mykola and Tania Symchych with their daughter Olenka

Mykola and Tania Symchych with their daughter Olenka

We Americans know it’s important to vote but we don’t usually experience quite the sense of urgency about elections that Ukrainians feel right now.

On Sunday, Ukraine will elect a new president and other officials while Russia, their powerful and somewhat menacing neighbor looks on. With pro-Russian separatists inciting violence in the eastern part of the country and  several regions voting for independence from Ukraine, the country doesn’t exactly have ideal conditions for free and fair elections.

The outcome of the election—whether a peaceful transition to a new government or what some fear, social and economic decline and more violence—could help determine the country’s fate.

Despite the uncertainty, my friend Mykola Symchych has hope that the elections will bring stability. His Catholic faith has something to do with that hope. On May 25 he will vote for Ukraine’s president as well as for the mayor and city council of Kiev where he, his wife, Tania, and daughter, Olenka, live.

Last Sunday, the Easter season sermon in Mykola’s church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC),  the predominant Catholic church in the country, was preempted by his pastor’s exhortation for the congregation to be sure to vote after carefully considering the candidates.

Identifying candidates who haven’t been involved in corruption or at least seem committed to avoiding it now is challenging as corruption has been systemic in Ukrainian government. To make matters worse, corrupt officials have simply formed new parties, said Mykola, who teaches philosophy at a UGCC seminary and does research. “They’ve just changed masks but they are the same.”

Good guys and bandits

While Mykola is watching or reading the news, three-year-old Olenka points to images of politicians and public figures and asks, “Is he a bandit or not?” She already knows there are good guys and “bandits,” he said.

But while there is unrest in areas of eastern Ukraine including Donets’k and Luhans’k which have resulted in deaths, and even fears of violence as far west as Kiev, Mykola said the capital remains fairly peaceful. Prices for food and other items are higher.

As he crosses Maidan square each morning on the way to work, it’s quiet compared to a few months ago when Ukrainians held mass demonstrations against the former government, he said. “It is a memorial of people who were killed there though there is no need for rallies now.”

Mykola and his family’s Easter celebrations were a bit more somber this year because of the political situation.  The UGCC, though part of the Roman Catholic church normally celebrates Holy Week and Easter with the Orthodox on the Julian calendar instead of with Rome on the Gregorian calendar in order to align with the Russian Orthodox church.

This year however, Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox observed the holy days on the same dates, something  that occurs about every four years and could be seen as a sign that greater unity among the churches and the country is possible.  “This year we were together with all the Christians of the world and it was very pleasant,” he said

Prayer is needed

Christians around the world will be watching as Ukraine elects a new government. Mykola asks us to join Ukrainians in praying for his country.

“We want to ask God to help us make the right choice,” he said.  “It is very difficult to make the right choice. Our wisdom is very limited. God knows what is best for us so we have asked him, we have prayed to Him.”

It’s not just about the election, he added.  “All our life we have to ask God to help us. “

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My personal relationship with “Him”

March 11, 2014

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It's possible to have a personal-sized Jesus. Do Catholics have a personal relationship with him?

It’s possible to have a personal-sized Jesus statue but do Catholics have a personal relationship with him? How is it different from other relationships in our lives?

I’ve never had so many relationships. Friendly corporations and nonprofits want to get to know me and reward me for liking them back. I have digital friendships with social media contacts I’ve never seen except for their profile picture. And I have close working relationships with the digital devices in my life.

In the movie “Her,” set in the not-so-hard-to-imagine future, a man falls deeply in love with his phone’s operating system. We think it’s a little weird but understandable.

It seems to me that we’ve expanded the definition of relationship for the digital age. But no one would ever say a digital friendship is the same as a personal relationship.

Before they tell you a lot about themselves or even where they go to church, some Protestants reveal that they have a personal relationship with Christ and they want to know if you have one, too.

Catholic personal relationship?

I think Catholics sometimes hesitate at this question because it’s not how we’re used to talking about our faith. Do you wonder if these Protestant friends have something you don’t?

As a practicing Catholic, I know I have a personal relationship with Christ because the Bible and the Church assure me that I do.

The word “relationship” doesn’t appear in my Bible concordance, so I looked up “friendship.” Jesus tells us we are his friends in John 15:15:
“…I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”

The Catechism makes it clear that a friendship or a personal relationship is what we’re called to:

The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, “the image of the invisible God” is destined for and addressed to man, himself created in the “image of God” and called to a personal relationship with God. (CCC299)

Called to relationship

The Lord is calling us to have a personal relationship with him that’s more than emotional. We know Him through prayer but we also come to know him profoundly through the gifts He’s given us in the sacraments. The Catechism states:

Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,’ but especially in the Eucharistic species. By his power he is present in the sacraments so that when anybody baptizes, it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he has promised ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.” (CCC1088)

There’s nothing virtual about a personal relationship with Christ. The Lord is personally present in the sacraments and in his Word. According to Father Dwight Longenecker our relationship with him is really more like a marriage—we have to work at it.  “That relationship is made solid and real and substantial by day by day commitment to prayer, the sacraments and the works of mercy.”

I like my phone but we will never have that kind of friendship. As I continue to get to know the person of Jesus Christ, I look forward to going deeper our personal relationship.

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Stuck confessing the same sins over and over?

January 30, 2014

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Better to ask for "the usual" here than in confession, where it's not such a good thing to come in with the same list of sins time after time. A good place to get "the usual." Photo/Seattle Municipal Archives.   Licensed under Creative Commons

Better to ask for “the usual” here than in confession, where it’s not such a good thing to come in with the same list of sins time after time. Photo/Seattle Municipal Archives. Licensed under Creative Commons

If a regular customer sits down in a diner and says “the usual”, an experienced waitress will bring their eggs exactly to order without any more questions.

I feel like if I said “the usual” to my confessor he’d know my list of sins as well as the diner waitress knows her regular customers’ orders. When I go to confession it sometimes seems a lot like the time before.

I commit the same sins over and over. It’s some consolation that I’m mostly not out inventing new sins but sometimes when I kneel in the confessional I don’t feel like I’m making much headway.

I guess what I should ask myself  is, do I really want to get these sins off my list and what am I doing to make that happen?

Conversion

What it takes is interior repentance, according to the Catechism. “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed.

“At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart). “(CCC 1431)

According to one priest, the way to overcome sin is to “look at the causes of it in ourselves, address them, and avoid what leads us into temptation.” He suggests making an examination of conscience at the end of the day to look at each sin in context, ask for God’s mercy and grace and make a resolution to avoid those sins the next day.

Another suggestion is to journal about it and then go back to find patterns that could lead to a trigger or circumstance causing the sin. That can give clues about how to deal with those circumstances to respond differently the next time.

Desire to overcome sin

We have trouble doing  what we know is right because the enemy convinces us to give up the desire in our hearts to be good. If we don’t have the energy to please God, we won’t try very hard.

The solution is to ask the Holy Spirit to heal us and give us back the desire to please God.  A good goal is to ask God to help us eliminate one sin each year.

It is harder to work at avoiding sin than it is to say “the usual”  in confession partly because we’re kind of comfortable with those sins. They’re always there unless we decide we want to get rid of them. But change happens, if we want it.

A clean heart create for me, God;
renew in me a steadfast spirit. 

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When Eucharistic Adoration feels like the library, try more Fear of the Lord

January 6, 2014

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The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of fear of the Lord which enables us to approach Him with awe and reverence. Photo/ElectricDisk Licensed under Creative Commons

The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of fear of the Lord which enables us to approach Him with awe and reverence. Photo/ElectricDisk. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Vitamin D is harder to come by naturally during this cold, dark season. My spirit’s also been lacking another nutrient lately: Fear of the Lord.

I walk into the Perpetual Adoration chapel, kneel before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and sit down without giving Him much more thought sometimes than if I were walking into the library and he were the librarian.

Sadly, some of my Holy Hours can seem like a trip to the library. I get busy with prayer, reading and writing not thinking too much about the Lord in front of me until it’s time to “check out.” At times seeing Him doesn’t move me into rapturous prayer or even hold my attention very long.

More than the season

Winter blahs? Maybe but it goes beyond the season. Our faith isn’t based on feelings but without them life can start to resemble the winter tundra.

Saying I lack fear of the Lord doesn’t mean I feel more bold and brave before Him. It doesn’t mean we’re supposed to live in terror of God, either. As I see it, I’m  missing the awe and reverence I might feel before any king or even Pope Francis.

Fear of the Lord is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that are increased in us at confirmation. (CCC1303)

As Mark Shea writes,  “We who have received his Divine life in baptism and confirmation are to walk in that same spirit of filial, not servile, fear and to likewise offer ourselves in love and not in self-contempt.”

Having some real fear of God mixed in with awe and reverence isn’t a bad thing. After all, even though Christ is with us so humbly in the form of a small disc of bread, He is King of the Universe.

Respect for God

According to the Catechism, “Respect for his name is an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it evokes. The sense of the sacred is part of the virtue of religion.

It goes on to quote Bl. Cardinal John Henry Newman:

Are these feelings of fear and awe Christian feelings or not?… I say this, then, which I think no one can reasonably dispute. They are the class of feelings we should have — yes, have to an intense degree — if we literally had the sight of Almighty God; therefore they are the class of feelings which we shall have, if we realize His presence. In proportion as we believe that He is present, we shall have them; and not to have them, is not to realized, not to believe that He is present. (CCC2144)

I think the only cure for my deficiency is to pray that I may believe and become more aware that the Lord is present. Controlling feelings may not always be in our power but it is possible to make an act of the will.

A prayer

I will pray that I don’t take the Lord for granted, as I do the quiet presence of the librarian. Someone suggested saying a prayer modeled after the one priests say before Mass:

Enter this Holy Hour as though it were your first Hour, your last Hour, your only Hour. 

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The forgotten Christmas carol verses

December 23, 2013

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carolers 6647481663_c03702f643

Christmas carols make the season joyful. They also help us reflect on our faith.
Photo/di_the_huntress. Licensed under Creative Commons.

If you think you know Christmas carols by heart, try singing all the verses.

It seems like many Christmas carols and hymns have been distilled into short tunes that are strung together to form instrumental “carol medleys.”

I hear them on the radio, in doctor’s offices and in stores. Even at Mass we rarely sing more than a couple verses of any carol.

It’s too bad because there’s a lot more to many of these carols than we often hear at Christmas. Sing all the verses and there is sometimes a real story connecting the incarnation with Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, or a story of someone’s struggle.

“We Three Kings of Orient Are” is a familiar carol–until we go past the first verse and chorus. The next verses describe each of the kings’ gifts. Have you ever heard this verse on the radio?

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gath’ring gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

That’s pretty heavy for a Christmas carol but it was Christ’s life. The carol does have a happier ending:

Glorious now behold him rise,
King and God and sacrifice;
Heav’n sing “Hallelujah!”
“Hallelujah!” earth replies.

The final verse of “O Holy Night” tells of Jesus’ mission and of his victory:

Truly he taught us to love one another;
His law is love, and his gospel is peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise his holy name.
Christ is the Lord, oh, praise his name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

When we sing  “O Little Town of Bethlehem”  we’re probably thinking about “the silent stars going by” not our redemption. We don’t often get to the fourth verse:

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel.

Probably the most personal story I’ve heard in a Christmas carol is in “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The lyrics of this carol are taken from a poem by American poet  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow written in 1863.

The opening verse is familiar:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

But the fifth and  following verses are not so Christmasy. Longfellow wrote the poem after his wife died and his son left to join the Union army during the Civil War:

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

I waited to see if Longfellow would regain his hope. Thankfully he did:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Besides offering the joy of the season, Christmas carols tell a real story. They help us reflect on Christ’s birth and life. If you want to know more about the forgotten verses, check out this large collection of lyrics and recordings of Christmas carols and hymns.

Have a Blessed Christmas!

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St. Nicholas and the worldly spirit of Christmas

December 6, 2013

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Like a big, friendly dog that wants to rough house in the living room, the worldly spirit of Christmas jumps all over our quiet Advent.

All the music, shopping,  parties and expectation steal our attention so it’s hard to focus on purple candles, prayer and waiting for Jesus’ coming.

Today’s saint knew that Christ was the true joy of Christmas, so now he probably shakes his head at how his red-suited “descendant,” Santa Claus, has made his Christian charity in gift-giving so secular and commercial.

No doubt he prays for us especially during this season, as we try to keep the worldliness of  Christmas at bay so we can prepare our hearts through prayer and little acts of charity.

Nicholas is famous for giving gifts but he did a lot more than that. He was probably born in about 280 AD of wealthy Christian parents in Patara (now Demre, Turkey). He received an inheritance which he gave to the needy.

A source of our Santa tradition is the story of how Nicholas secretly delivered three bags of gold to a destitute father’s home so he could give his daughters dowries. It’s believed the bags landed in shoes or stockings drying by the fire. Despite his attempts at secrecy, Nicholas, by then a priest, was elected bishop of Myra.

During the persecution of Diocletian, some accounts say Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured. It is believed that he participated in the Council of Nicaea in 325 and strongly denounced the Arian heresy, which asserted that Jesus is not truly divine but a created being.

According to another legend, when the governor had been bribed to execute three innocent men, Nicholas intervened and won their release. After three officers who had witnessed the men’s release were themselves falsely accused and condemned to death, they remembered Nicholas and prayed for his intercession. That night, Nicholas appeared to the Emperor Constantine in a dream, asking for the officers’ release. When the emperor questioned the officers and learned of their prayer for Nicholas’ intercession, he freed them.

After a life of service to the Lord, Nicholas died around 343 and was buried in Myra.

Before Santa was even imagined, Nicholas was long venerated in the Church, especially by the Orthodox. Many churches are dedicated to the saint. In 1087, merchants from Bari, Italy, took Nicholas’ relics to their city, where they are still located.

Every year the’ relics are exumed and they exude a clear liquid called manna which is believed to have healing properties. It’s a pretty amazing story about this amazing saint which you can read at a website all about St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas, prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming and show us the true Spirit of Christmas.

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