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A very merry and blessed Christmas to one and all!

What a marvelous, joyous, and wonderful season begins today on this feast of the Nativity of the Lord.  How fortunate we are if we know anything of the meaning and power of this holy day.

The name Christmas–assuming it is used at all and not displaced by the vague and generic “holidays”–has largely been stripped of that meaning and power.  What our society commonly refers to as “Christmas” has become a season which now begins even before Halloween and mostly involves spending money and decorating things.  Many people in our society will be giving one last Christmas hurrah tomorrow with bargain-hunting in the stores; many others will be eagerly taking down the decorations, having begun to grow tired of them after a couple of months.  At best, Christmas is a sentimental time, a holiday for children and family and feasting.

But today is the Nativity of the Lord.  Think on that name for a moment: the Nativity of the Lord!

Today is when God was born into human history, human nature, human experience.  He who created us and the entire universe from nothing, He who exists beyond all time and space in what we call Eternity, He who is revered by all the choirs of holy angels–it is His nativity on earth that we celebrate!  He did not come down in all His great glory, attended by legions of the Heavenly Host.  He did not appear as a mighty super-man.  If He had, we certainly would not refer to this day as His nativity.  No, He was born as creatures are born: as an infant.  Small, helpless, thoroughly dependent on others for survival.

Never had such a thing ever happened or even been dreamed of before.  Nor shall such a thing ever happen again in time and space.  It was a singular event, the Nativity of the Lord.  That alone should earn our respect and our amazement.  But like a drop of water impacting a still body of water, His Nativity changed everything–changes everything–and forever will change everything!  The mingling of the material and the divine, of history and eternity, of the finite and the infinite could not fail to change everything.  The birth of God in the world gave new birth to everything.  It elevated humanity and all creation to a previously unimagined dignity, while revealing in the almighty God a profound and previously unimagined humility.

Modern man may imagine that after more than two millennia, he is no longer affected by nor subject to that event.  He rationalizes away the holy season of Christmas as nothing more than a modern-day Saturnalia or Yuletide.  And so it has become!  While that is not entirely a bad thing, that isn’t the depth or breadth or truth of it.  While many modern men will be content to leave it at that and rush off toward the next big festival, the Christian can never be content with such a thing.

Instead, let us allow ourselves to dive deeply into the tremendous wonder of this holy season and be carried, transported, and transformed by it.  Let us appreciate and give thanks for the incredible thing our Lord did for us in His Nativity.  And let us not do so only today, but for the entire Christmas season: the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Epiphany, and up until the Baptism of the Lord–to my knowledge, this is what Catholics observe as the Christmas season.  While the rest of the world gets back to business as usual, let us persevere in the joy and wonder of Christ’s birth.

The name Francis likely reveals what will be the main themes of this papacy.  I’ve heard confirmations that the Holy Father chose the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, as opposed to St. Francis Xavier or St. Francis de Sales.  However, all three of these great saints have important things in common: all three of them were great evangelizers, and all three pursued a mission of building, or re-building, the Church in very difficult times.

The image of St. Francis of Assisi has often been softened in modern times into some kind of medieval hippie.  But the truth is that he–like my father, St. Dominic–lived in a time when the Church was on crusade abroad, while falling to heresy and internal weakness and corruption at home. It is said that Christ Himself charged St. Francis to re-build His Church, which was falling into ruin, while Pope Innocent III had a dream in which he saw Francis physically holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran. St. Francis also ventured into the camp of the Sultan of Egypt near Damietta with the intent of either converting him or dying in the attempt. He kissed a leper and bore the wounds of crucifixion in his own body.  He had a boldness and toughness that he often doesn’t get credit for today.

St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits who studied with St. Ignatius of Loyola, was a fervent and fearless missionary to distant lands such as India and Japan–lands in which Christianity was pretty much unknown.  He is said to have converted more people to the faith than anybody since St. Paul.  He died just within reach of mainland China, which had been his ultimate goal.

St. Francis de Sales had close ties and working relationships with both the Jesuits and the Franciscans.  As the bishop of Geneva, he strove to re-convert and re-evangelize those around him who had left the Church for Calvinism.  His gentleness and intellect won many of them back.  He also served as a spiritual director to many, many Catholics from all walks of life to strengthen, reassure, and instruct them.  We are blessed that many of his letters and writings have survived; they are just as relevant as ever.  (In fact, I give St. Francis de Sales credit for helping me to come back to the Church.)

We are again living in very difficult times.  Traditionally Catholic and Christian nations are falling to radical secularism and so-called liberalism which is anything but liberal-minded.  The Church is imploding due to internal weakness, divisions, corruption, and scandal.  Generations of Catholics have been poorly formed and catechized and have all too easily drifted into the secular world or into other Christian communities or other religions.  Meanwhile, new generations of Catholics in places like Africa and Asia, as well as very ancient communities in the Middle East, are striving amid enormous adversities, often striving for their very lives and yet nonetheless thirsting for the Gospel and the Church, and longing for the love, support, guidance, and reassurance of their brethren and the Holy Father.

In short, traditionally Catholic and Christian lands are in dire need of re-evangelization and re-conversion, the Church is in need of re-building and re-forming from within, and Catholic communities both old and new in other parts of the world are in need of building up and support.  These processes have been begun by previous popes.  They have laid the framework and the kindling.  I believe our current pope, true to his namesake(s), is going to light it all on fire!

For myself, I can say that Pope Francis has already inspired me to greater humility, greater prayer and spirituality, and above all, greater simplicity and poverty of spirit.  All the good intentions I had for this Lent, all the disciplines, all the penances, have just been kicked up to the next level.  And believe it or not, this Jesuit with the name and heart of the great Saint Francises, has inspired me to live out more fully my Dominican spirituality.  Of course, Dominicans always have, and always will, play an important part in any form of evangelization and building up of the Church.  Dominicans, like Franciscans, are a mendicant order.  I think we may get back to those roots under the influence of Pope Francis.  And when the Dominicans get back to their roots–not only the spirit of poverty, but the very important roots of prayer, study, and preaching–great things are bound to happen!

As my sister St. Catherine of Siena said, “When you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!”  I think Pope Francis is going to help all Catholics everywhere to be what we should be–disciples of Christ!  May it be so–amen.

This is one of my favorite days of the year.  Even if the weather is still a bit on the warm side, All Hallows Eve means summer is over and autumn has begun.

That this past summer has been so arid and desolate–a real desert–makes this day all the sweeter and more rejuvenating, all the more blessed!  I am so relieved to have made it here, and I thank God and all my loved ones and supporters and intercessors for seeing me through the summer.

This day is a turning point in the year, and one that always brings about good things.  I can’t help but feel excitement and hope and energy!

And then, this is not only All Hallows Eve, it is also my Birthday Eve!  Life can never be too bad when you’ve got all the Saints in Heaven as your patrons. :D

Greetings, dear readers!  It’s been so long, and I apologize for that.  Honestly, time has just gotten away from me.  I often feel like this year has only just begun.  But no!  We are now in the midst of Spring (in this hemisphere at least) and the glorious season of Easter, springtime of the soul!  So, first thing: I want to wish a joyful and blessed Easter to all of you!  :D

As usual, I have been prompted by my friends and your fellow readers that I am overdue for a blog post and an update.

Not too much has changed, but the changes there have been have been quite significant.  I am recently moved into a new apartment in a different part of town.  I also have a new relationship with a wonderful gentleman.  As you can imagine, these new circumstances have brought great joy and freshness to my life!  I feel like I have finally closed an old chapter in my story and entered into an entirely new one.

I was starting to think this would never happen.  It seemed like a wild fantasy, something impossible and out of reach.  I yearned for it so greatly, and the yearning seemed completely ineffective and futile.  I felt I would be consigned to the same place for the rest of my life.  But it did happen.  As gradually and delicately and naturally as a new bud opening in Spring it happened.  Without my realizing it, it was happening for quite some time, until the full glory of it struck me.

The natural seasons happen much the same way, don’t they?  They change over time until one day you are struck by the fact that it is Spring or Summer or Autumn or Winter.  It should come as no surprise; these changes happen every single year.  And yet each season is always new and extraordinary, even if we may only appreciate it for a moment.

Thinking of nature’s splendor brings to mind a very dear and special person–and this is another recent change to my life: the recent passing of Father Edward Mathias “Matt” Robinson, O.P., the spiritual director of my local Lay Dominican community.  He lived to the ripe old age of 97, and will always rank as one of the most knowledgeable and wise people I have ever known, learned in the natural sciences as well as theology, philosophy, and spiritual matters–much like the patron of our local priory, St. Albert the Great!  He was also known as the patriarch of the local pro-life movement.  I highly recommend his online work, Fetal Life and Abortion: Human Personhood at Conception which appeals to human reason through philosophy and natural science to demonstrate the personhood and right to life of fetuses from the moment of conception.  There is also a brief obituary posted there currently.

April has also brought the second anniversary of my father’s passing.  Grief does strange things to time.  Sometimes it feels much longer than two years, while sometimes it feels like just yesterday.  The one thing that is constant is my missing him.  I know he is still near to me, but there’s nothing to replace the sound of his voice or the warmth of his hand enclosing mine.  How lonely life is sometimes!  This too is a season that must run its natural course.  I know that’s exactly what he would tell me.

And of course, I have plenty of people and things to which to devote myself in the here and now.  In every time, we must be faithful to the present, so that is what I am trying to do!

I hope you all are doing well, and keep you in my prayers as always.  God bless you!

I’ve been in a state of languor this Lent.  Partly because of circumstances beyond my control, and partly because of my own all-too-frequent indolence.  But tonight, I have remembered how I once summed up Catholicism: “There is always a new beginning.”  I wrote that in the epilogue of my conversion story.

That inspired me to re-read my conversion story–something I haven’t done in many months, or maybe years.  And I can truly say that it has given me a shot in the arm!

Mentally revisiting all those events and time periods… looking back over all that I’ve been through… remembering what a hard-fought battle it was… recalling junctures where things could have gone terribly wrong…

All of this has brought me back to my senses, back to myself.  It has rekindled my fires and restored my sense of purpose.  It has raised my eyes back up to my goal–nothing less than God Himself, for eternity, in Heaven.

That’s all I really want.  And there’s no surer way to attain to that goal than to just keep on being what I am–a practicing Catholic.

So.  Here I go again!

A blessed Lent to you all.

It’s been a beautiful autumn day, sunny and bright, but very cool!  The leaf-turning (such as it is in these parts) has begun.  The colors are rather sparse, but when you do see them, they are quite lovely!  We have some maples, which are always glorious!

I am feeling much refreshed and recharged.  I think my medication is working nicely; I have greater energy and emotional stability, I think.  Thank God.

Prayer has been coming more easily as well.  I went to church this evening after work to pray the Rosary.  It is always a sublimely beautiful and peaceful place.  A holy place.  Today, though, it was even more so.  Perhaps it was the low, autumn evening light… what a sweet and enchanting atmosphere, so redolent of this season.  I looked at the Crucifix.  It is life-size and dominates the entire space.  And the Lord’s body looked so alive.  Less like carved and painted wood, and more like living flesh.  As I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries, I felt like I was there on that first Good Friday.  It made me tremble.  I felt such a surge of love and gratitude.  It’s all too easy to look there and see just a decoration.  This evening was much different.  It was profound.

I’ve also felt a surge of creativity.  I’m trying to drag myself away from Aubrey & Maturin (I’m almost through the 3rd book now!) so that I can work on my own writing.  Of course, that includes the blog, for all love!  :)

Recently, my ring broke very unexpectedly.  It was the only ring I wore.  Silver with a mystic fire topaz.  This one.

I’d bought it for myself shortly after my fiancé, Patrick, died.  I’d wanted a wedding ring just like it.  At the time, I fancied it helped keep my bond with him alive and “real.”  But it was just a ring I’d bought for myself.  And I wore that ring through some incredibly brutal times.

I was sad when it broke, but then I realized that compared to the sadness I’d come through already, with that ring on my finger, it was as nothing.  In fact, I’ve come to see it as a kind of release, a liberation.  As if my ring were saying, “I belong to that time… but you do not.  I’ve accompanied you far enough.  You should go on ahead now.  Find a new ring to go with you.”

It reminded me of a very vivid dream I had one night a few years ago.  I was sitting next to Patrick.  It seemed we were up on a high cliff, overlooking a sea.  He was telling me that our ways must part and we must go on our own ways.  He said there were other people who needed my love, and I must go to them and not linger near the past any more.  It was a sweet, gentle, simply truthful scene.

I felt a definite breaking off, a definite separation.  But it was a natural break, not a painful, jarring one.  It wasn’t a complete destruction of the past–nothing can ever destroy the time we had together.  It just shrank to a broken shard that I could carry around for remembrance, but not enter back into.

Sort of like the piece of ring I still have lying on the table.  I’ll probably keep it, at least for a while.  I still admire it.  But I won’t be wearing it any more.  I won’t be having it repaired.  I’m going to let it stay broken.  And get a new ring for this new time in my life.

I’m thinking about a deep red garnet.  It can remind me of the Precious Blood of Christ that has purchased my new lease on life–not only this life, but the one to come.  Maybe this one.

Or perhaps a lovely color-changing alexandrite to remind me of life’s transience?  Perhaps this one?

What do you think?  Are there any gemstones that have special significance in Catholic tradition?

This morning I went to a meeting of my parish pro-life group.  We had as our guest speaker Darlene Ellison, one of our own co-parishioners and author of The Predator Next Door.  She’s a wonderful lady, and gave a powerful talk… a very brave, very open talk.  She spoke of how tragedy helped her begin to truly believe and live out her faith, and how, in looking back at her life, she could see that God had been subtly building her up to face the tragedy–and to overcome it, to grow from it.  He brought new life and purpose from it.  He brought understanding from it.

Although my story is very different from hers, I identified so much with what she was saying.  I too re-discovered my faith in tragedy, and I too can see how God was working to build me up to face it, to overcome it, to grow from it.

This might sound strange, but when I think of the time leading up to Patrick’s death, it was almost as if I had premonitions at times–without fully realizing it at the time, of course.  It’s really hard to describe.  A lot of little things that sort of subconsciously or unconsciously jolted me with the message, “You won’t be able to have him with you much longer… but you will get through it… I will be here to see you through.”

The biggest thing I remember was the night when Patrick pointed out the church that was to become my parish church.  Part of me deep inside knew that it was going to become my safe haven, my castle keep, my second home.  Part of me was poised to flee to it, and when the awful time came, flee to it I did.  Amid all the shock, confusion, and anguish, I gravitated to the Church, and to this church in particular.  It was like a homing beacon had gone off.

People don’t always understand how I could regain my faith and my relationship with God in the midst of tragedy.  I can see how it might seem counter-intuitive.  We often hear of people losing their faith and turning against God or ceasing to believe in Him at all in response to tragedy and suffering, and we can hardly help but understand and sympathize with that.

I don’t really know how to explain it.  Perhaps I never entirely lost the faith of my childhood.  Perhaps there was still a tiny speck of faith left in me.  Faith that informed me that suffering and tragedy bind us to the Cross–and to Resurrection.  Faith that informed me that God would never abandon me.  When I was a child, I often looked at this plaque my grandmother had at her house upon which was inscribed the  poem, “Footprints.”  Maybe that memory was a tiny seed that had lain dormant in me all those years, waiting for a moment in which to burst forth in all of its meaning.  Waiting for the moment at which I would really need to know its meaning.

It was a moment that had to come sooner or later.  No human being alive has any guarantee against it.  And God generally doesn’t protect us from it.  But He does enable us to weather the storm and then to grow–even flourish.  He never fails to bring forth goodness from tragedy or from evil.

It is always good to have other people re-affirm these truths and re-affirm for me that I’m not really all that strange for gaining faith from tragedy.  It emboldens me to tell my own story and give my own testimony to how very good and powerful God is.

The Triduum is ended with the holiest night of the year and the most sacred and splendid of all liturgies: the Easter Vigil.

The liturgy begins in darkness.  The sun has set, and all the lights in the church are out.  And then a new fire, begun from a spark of flint, emerges.  The great Paschal Candle is lit, and from it scores of other candles, the flame being passed throughout the church.  A new dawn breaks!  Not with the light of the natural sun, but with the light of the Sun of Justice, Christ, our risen Lord.

And then, in the golden, dancing glow, the chanting of the sublime Exsultet (or Paschal Praeconium) begins:

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

Oh, the Exsultet!  It is truly one of the highlights of my entire year.  One of my favorite parts is:

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

“O happy fault”!  Sure, life would no doubt be easier and better had Adam and Eve not eaten that fruit.  But their fall didn’t only bring about hardship.  Their fall ultimately brought Christ to us.  Under the circumstances, what more could we hope for or desire than for God to become one of us, to come in Person to pay our debt and raise us up, to restore us to divine life?  To allow us once more to behold the face of God!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
“The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy.”

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

These are just a few excerpts from the Exsultet.  But I’m sure you can see how enchanting it is and why it is something I look forward to and cherish deeply each year.  It always brings tears to my eyes!  It summarizes so beautifully and perfectly what this night means… and, really, what our Christian faith means!

[UPDATE]: Father Z has an excellent post dedicated to the Exsultet, including an audio file of him chanting it in Latin.  Truly beautiful and not to be missed!  [END UPDATE]

This is also the night when many people become new Christians and new Catholics.  Bearing witness to that, standing in support of them, and welcoming them into the Holy Church is always a profoundly moving and humbling thing.  I had the special privilege of sharing in the joy of my friend Susie and her husband as their son was confirmed and received Communion for the first time tonight!  God bless him and all of our new brothers and sisters!  They’ve been on quite a journey, and it won’t be ending any time soon!

It’s the most powerful possible testament that, despite what our society might look like and what our media might tell us, the Catholic Church isn’t old and dying.  Every year she becomes younger and fresher.  The Church may not be “popular,” but she still draws people to herself and to the Lord.  She still has power over people.  People still long for her, desire her, and strive after and pursue her.  People still embrace her.  She makes human beings more, much more, than just Homo sapiens sapiens.  Calls us to sublimation and heroism.  And people still want to be heroes and heroines, not in the eyes of society, but in the eyes of God and His Church!  She makes the weak strong and the humble glorious.  Who wouldn’t want that?

The neophytes aren’t the only new, fresh blood in the Church.  The Easter Vigil renews all of us!  It certainly renews me.  I was telling Susie as we walked to our cars that I always feel so alive after the Easter Vigil Mass!  It breathes new life into me.  I come from it an entirely new person.  We all do.

Let us praise and thank the Risen Lord for His tremendous blessings!

Christus resurrexit!  Alleluia!

One of my favorite Saturday pastimes is watching Antiques Roadshow.  I love seeing the huge varieties of antiques, whether valuable, or maybe not-so-valuable.  I like collecting little antique things myself–especially Catholic items.  Nothing huge, just little books and things.  Sometimes I rescue them from used bookstores or shops.  I want to make sure they find good homes.

Dearest of all, of course, are things handed down in my family–such as the little 1940s Sunday Missal that belonged to my Grand-uncle John (who was also my godfather).  I’ve mentioned this missal before (see “Related Posts” below).  It’s not anything spectacular or materially valuable; an antiques dealer or collector probably wouldn’t pay me anything for it.  But it’s precious because it has been treasured by my family–it was important enough to my godfather to keep it, it was important enough to my father to keep it, and it is important to me to keep it and hopefully be able to pass it to somebody in the next generation.  This little book represents my bond with my family, and our shared bond with our Church and our faith.

As dear as material mementos and heirlooms may be, our liturgical traditions are even more so because they are alive.  They are suffused with the life of God and with the life of every creature, human and angelic, who participates in them.  In them past and present, Heaven and Earth converge.

I can’t understand why any of them were ever abandoned, neglected, or rejected.  If our ancestors left us chests of gold and priceless jewels, would we just suddenly one day toss them out, let them be scattered and lost, as if they had become worthless?  Would we look at them and say, “Oh, all of this stuff is so old, it has no place in my life today, I’ve moved on to newer, better things, I just don’t care about it any more”?  No.  We might preserve them, sell them, spend them, admire them, pass them to descendants, or squander them–but all of those acts would be based on the notion that the gold and jewels were still valuable.  We may have different ideas about how to best use them, but their value would not be disputed.

The value of our religious and liturgical traditions have been disputed and denied, and yet, in reality, they are far more valuable than inanimate objects like gold and jewels.  Gold and jewels can be preserved or spent, admired or squandered.  But our liturgical traditions can be lived, experienced, acted, and participated in!  They can be used this way every day, or even every moment, in every part of the world, without ever being spent–indeed they can grow and spread and become even more valuable the more they are used!

Fortunately, as we are seeing now, even if one or more generations ceases to regard them as valuable, later generations can revive and rediscover them and restore them to their proper dignity and worth–and restore them to even greater life than they knew before!  I am so very happy and grateful to see this happening in the Church today, with the Tridentine Mass, and with the Dominican Rite also.  And I am so grateful for the efforts of our Holy Father Pope Benedict and all of the priests and laypeople who have seen our liturgical traditions for the infinitely valuable things they are.

Related Posts:

Holding my heritage in my hand

Missal pics

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