Monday, November 24, 2008

Quick Looks at Two Good Books for Advent: The Rosary and Christmas with the Holy Fathers

Can you believe that we are in the final days of the end of the liturgical year?

As much as I love Ordinary Time (and I love Ordinary Time), I actually am really looking forward to Advent. I feel it will be so calm and meditative and ... I have absolutely no reason for thinking so. Work is still nutty, as it should be at this time of year, and there is Christmas shopping and the Beyond Cana retreat prep continues apace and then there's the podcast and guest reading for StarShipSofa and ...well you get the idea.

However, I'm going with the power of positive thinking and going to try hard to make at least my prayer time calm and meditative and connected to God. As it should be always, indeed, but with the special emphasis on looking forward to Jesus, the Light of the World, as well as reflections on Last Things.

Which is all a very long introduction to these two books that I've meant to tell you about for at least a week now. (But craziness at work, etc. ... so ... ) Maybe, just maybe, my sense of calm is due to having been reading these and thinking about them.

Your beloved knocks. The door opens. You meet Mom.

And she turns out to be the nicest person you've ever met.

She welcomes you into the family, and she radiates kindness and beauty. All that worrying, all those moments of self-doubt subside, and in a matter of seconds you feel excited to be in her presence. You look around and don't see the father, but you sense that he is everywhere in this home.

Now let's take a step back. You have never experienced a love like the one you have with your beloved, and, while you feel an openness, you admit to yourself that this person can be a mystery to you. You have questions. It's not that you don't feel close to your beloved, it's just that you begin to hunger and thirst to know everything about this love that has come into your life. And to be perfectly honest, you feel intimidated, because your beloved is such a complete person, and you feel more often than not, less than whole.

What were you like as a child? What were your parents doing before they had you? What were your friends like? Did you ever get lost? What were some of the loneliest times of your life? Why did you come into my life?

You've held off asking some of these questions of your beloved, but here in front of Mom, you feel strangely comfortable to let loose. It's as if she is standing there ready to embrace you and help you understand everything. Who better than your beloved's mother to answer all these questions swirling in your mind? Who better to provide insight than the woman who carried your beloved in her body for nine months and who experienced the pain and joy of bringing her child into the world?

You begin to ask all your questions, and this woman who you've just met seemingly transforms into your own mother. She smiles and takes down a scrapbook and the two of you begin looking at pictures. This is a picture of me when I first found out I was going to have a baby, she says. This is a picture of my cousin and me, we were both pregnant at the same time. Here's one right after the birth. So many people came to visit us. Here are a few pictures of a wedding we attended, and this is a picture of . . .

So you sit in her presence and page through the scrapbook of their lives. These pictures tell stories, and you begin to understand what was once a mystery. You feel this family's happiness, their sorrows, their illuminations, and the glory of their lives. Allof a sudden, the worries, the fears, the doubts, the brokenness, the distractions that you seem to feel on a daily basis fall away snd you are transformed by love.

That is the Rosary.
I have admitted before that I have an on-again, off-again relationship with saying the rosary. However, even during the "off" times I notice that when I have to make a difficult phone call, I am saying a "Hail Mary" under my breath as I dial. It reminds me that I am to be a disciple as she was the most perfect disciple ... it gives me calm ... and, hey, it can't hurt to have Mary saying a prayer for you!

This book made drove away the "off" time even though it is simply a decade or two during my morning prayer walk. Perhaps that is because it is elegant in its simplicity, just as the rosary really is if we do it without complicating matters. Gary Jansen introduces us to the rosary in his own life, gives us the basics, and then provides some lovely art as a meditation aid for each of the mysteries. Even in this basic format he give us much to ponder, as with the excerpt above. That put Mary in a whole new light during my meditations.

Not only is the book lovely but it also reaches out to other than Catholics. I always am curious about how people from outside Catholicism explain devotions that are seen as being strictly "Catholic." Jansen does such a good job that it will help slough off any labels put on this timeless meditation on Christ's life, death, and passion. Highly recommended.

Christmas with the Holy Fathers
Compiled by Peter Celano
Light in Darkness
Pope Pius XII
Christmas Message, 1942

His light can overcome the darkness, the rays of His love can conquer the icy egoism which holds so many back from beoming great and conspicuous in their higher life. To you, crusader-volunteers of a distinguished new society, live up to the new call for moral and Christian rebirth, declare war on the darkness which comes from deserting god, of the coolness that comes from strife between brothers. It is a fight for the human race, which is gravely ill and must be healed in the name of conscience ennobled by Christianity.


The Lesson of Silence--A Prayer
Pope Paul VI
Reflections at Nazareth
January 5, 1964

The lesson of silence: may there return to us an appreciation of this stupendous and indispensable spiritual condition, deafened as we are by so much tumult, so much noise, so many voices of our chaotic and frenzied modern life. O silence of Nazareth, teach us recollection, reflection, and eagerness to heed the good inspirations and words of true teachers; teach us the need and value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of interior life, of secret prayer seen by God alone.
It is easy to see from the two samples above, the messages of past Holy Fathers during Advent and Christmas are timeless. Both those excerpts give us so much food for thought, good reminders of how to recenter our lives, how to reorder our priorities rightly. As our modern lives are even more chaotic and busy than of times past, this is the perfect time to pick up this little book for regular contemplation during Advent and the Christmas season. These meditation-sized pieces come from as far back as Pope Saint Gregory I the Great (590-604) right into current time with our own Pope Benedict XVI. They are divided into sections covering: Advent (Including the Feast of the Immaculate Conception); Christmas Eve, The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (a.k.a. Christmas); Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; and The Feast of the Epiphany. It is surprising how many topics can be covered under those categories. All of them looked like things that I needed to be reminded of and many of them I have taken to prayer since reading them. You may find the same for yourself. Highly recommended.

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