Advent -Hushing our Hurried Hearts

Now that we’ve got Thanksgiving under our (slightly loosened) belts, it’s time to turn our attention to something – new.  While to our worldly senses, the year is winding down with a celebratory month of shopping, singing, decorating, and baking, our liturgical year has really – very quietly – just begun.

It sneaks up on us, Advent does.  It’s that reminder in the form of four candles each Sunday at Mass, and replicated on our tables (if we’ve thought ahead to dig out the Advent wreath and search out candles in the appropriate shades.)  We slide into the pews and notice a new flame lit and we take a deep breath: Oh yes, it’s not Christmas yet…I should really prepare somehow….in between our list-making and party-hopping.  It’s a twinge of guilt, a whisper of pray.  It’s a lot of good intentions, swallowed up by the jubilation of the world, which has, not surprisingly, skipped over the hard part.  The patient part.  The long, silent stillness of wait.

The world waited thousands of years for Him, but like self-centered toddlers we want Him and we want Him NOW – on our schedule.  We expect Jesus to be in the manger when the lights and wreaths are hung – even if that’s weeks before Christmas.  As if blaring carols from the radio and store speakers make it happen.

The beautiful thing is, in the liturgical calendar, we really do participate somehow in this breathtaking mystery.  But it’s in sacred time, not secular.  So we’ve somehow got to set our inner watches to that holy reality.  How?  How can we hold onto the hushed, expectant wait when everywhere else they’ve fast-forwarded to the feast?

I know the answer lies in the heart. I know that there I watch with the stillness of the season.  It’s like my morning prayer time, clutching coffee and keeping company with the Word while waiting for the pink glow of dawn to begin spreading over my Eastern-facing living room.  The rest of the house sleeps, and I am tired but expectant.  I know I need to keep that inner silence this Advent.  I need to build a manger with my small little sacrifices – the crusty pots, the squirrelly pre-schooler, the traffic, the bills – all of it offered up with joy.  I need a craft a cradle from the extra reading and meditation stolen from the demands of the season.  But then the challenge is to leave the little manger empty and to simply allow myself to long for Him.

Advent is a time to ache.  In a good way.  To ache for something which has been promised.  To remember that He will come, but there must be a place for Him – an emptiness carved by our inner watchful hush.  Where the paper wrappings are cast aside and the immense wait begins for One to wrap Himself in flesh.

I’ve no illusions that it’ll be easy.  With a large, busy household, “hushed” isn’t our usual Advent adjective.  Christmas gift and cookie exchanges, programs, and parties keep us hopping all Advent long, and it’s impossible to side-step it altogether.  It’s a joyful time, and I don’t begrudge that.  But in the midst of it all, this year I’ve made a promise.

To keep a place of emptiness inside, a hollowed-out and hopeful place in my heart which only He can fill – in His perfect time.

No “Gloria” yet.  Just this: O come, O come Emmanuel.

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A Mom on Mount Carmel

I took a fascinating online class on the nature of Mystical Theology in the Church this Spring. What precious time I could carve out from my busy life as a mom six, I spent delving into the works of St. John of the Cross and meeting a new friend, a little Carmelite mystic named Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, often called a “spiritual sister” to St. Therese, the Little Flower.  Late at night, huddled on the couch while the household slept, I read about the ascent of  Mount Carmel, the famous allegory used by St. John of the Cross to describe the spiritual life, the journey of the soul’s toward union with God.

Our professor asked us to write our final paper on our own journey on this mystical mountain.  He challenged us to reflect on how we could embrace the self-renunciation necessary to climb closer to the summit.  After a few days of mulling this over mounds of laundry and miles of carpooling, here is what I came up with: Continue reading

What Little Boys Are Made Of

My husband are I are raising six lively children; two-thirds of which are boys. (Come March, one will be a man…but let’s not think about that just yet.  Oy vey.)  And the boys are bookends of the bunch.

Which means that for almost eighteen years now, I’ve been buying, stepping on, picking up, sorting, containerizing, carrying, hot-gluing, and looking frantically for, an ever-growing collection of “guys.”  That is what they all are called: guys.  Whether they are Jedis, Lord of the Rings or Narnia figures, army men, knights, or comic-book style superheroes, they are cherished “guys” and we cart them around everywhere.  There are always some in the car, the bottom of my purse (covered in crumbs), scattered in the bottom of the bathtub or kitchen sink, in pockets, puddles, sofa cushions, strollers – for a while my youngest took to carting guys around in an empty cereal box.  Guys appear out of nowhere in church, and even – true story – were spotted this Christmas in the crèche on our table “protecting the baby Jesus.”  My daughters were never much inclined to carry dolls around outside of the home, but my sons all clasped ever-so-tightly to miniture men with gigantic powers.12377679_1041101309255511_2580522357998219090_o

Their eyes would shine as they studied their guys in quiet contemplation.  Then, silently, their lips would move as they began an imaginary scene.  More guys would be gathered, and epic stories unfolded on the carpet, in the car, even the shopping cart.  And always, the everyday would fade away and scenes I would never fully see were played out in imaginations filled with boyish wonder.  Bad guys would be thrown, smashed, tossed, hit, flung.  And good guys would be lifted, victorious in the end.  And it would repeat, day after day, hour after hour. Continue reading

Everyday Mercies

“The theme is Mercy,” she said.  “Our scripture is, ‘He crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.’  But what you want to talk about is up to you; just keep it to about 25 or 35 minutes.”

I thanked the organizer of the woman’s conference and hung up the phone.  I was delighted to have been asked to be one of the local speakers at the dynamic, well-attended diocesan conference.  But as I stood there in the kitchen, feelings of doubt began to well up and I thought, Why couldn’t I have an amazing story to share in this talk?  A miraculous healing, maybe.  If only I could have been brought back to life – after a tête-à-tête with Jesus in heaven – by the touch of a relic flown in from Rome.  Or a conversion.  Yes, a conversion – a breathtaking story of how God appeared to me and broke through the years of hardened cynicism and unbelief.  But, alas.  I was just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill cradle Catholic and I didn’t much to say about Mercy.  This was going to be awfully dull, I decided.  Maybe I should back out.

Have I not shown you Mercy every single day of your life?  The words, unspoken, were unmistakable.

“Yes, Lord,” I admitted.

Then tell them that. Continue reading

“The 33”: Of Men and Miracles

Last weekend my husband and I sneaked out for a rare evening to ourselves.  I had been waiting for “The 33” to come to theaters; it was a familiar storyline to me – and to many – and I was anxious to see it dramatized.

My Dad had providentially been working on pro-life projects in Chile five years ago at the time of the 33 mine workers unbelievable rescue, and had enthusiastically shared with us the immense relief felt by an entire country as they were pulled from what seemed like the center of the earth.  It was an answer to prayers echoing around the world, and a there was a sense that God may have a message in it for those who would take the time to hear it.  Certainly, the 33 men of the miracle thought so. Continue reading

For the Woman Who Wasn’t There: To All the Moms who Watched Philly From Afar

When we welcomed Pope Francis into our country,  I’m sure many of you moms, like me, dreamt of traveling to be with the crowds who were there to celebrate, listen, and pray with the pontiff.  Of course, for most of us, it never got further than a fleeting, wishful thought.

But we watched from home.  Calling our kids into the room when the Pope appeared on the screen.  Straining to hear his broken English as we listened from the kitchen.  Stopping in our tracks while carrying laundry baskets to listen to snippets of commentary from the exuberant reporters.  Catching an interview with a weeping bystander between the dentist appointment and the basketball game.

Thanks to my gloriously Catholic college, my husband and I have a blessedly big collection of friends, now scattered throughout the country, who made the trek to be there.  Families, priests, nuns, all posting photos and updates and selfies from the heart of the action.  Some actually sang for the Papal Mass.  One family we know was blessed by his hands as he lingered near their spot in line.

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Local leaders took our intentions with them and journeyed to represent our desert diocese.  They met up with our beloved bishop and shared his words with us back home.  Pictures of their pilgrimage were sprinkled in my newsfeed each day.  And I loved it all. I loved hearing, seeing, thinking, praying from afar.

If you were like me, you teared up watching John Boehner cry, got all warm inside when the Pope hugged prisoners, laughed seeing his delight at a baby wearing a Pope ensemble.  And still, there may have been a tinge of melancholy and wistfulness.  Because, in the end, you weren’t there.

Ahhh.  But you were. Continue reading