Start Counting Your Blessings

Today is New Year’s Eve.  Many people are giving thanks that 2021 is just about behind us, although their reasons doubtless vary:  COVID, other health problems, loss of family members, economic setbacks, and so on.

Happy or not that the year is over, many, as they do each year, are putting the finishing touches on their list of New Year’s resolutions, resolutions that are unlikely to remain intact past the second or third week of the month (if they even last that long).

I saw first saw this suggestion some years ago, and saw it again recently. It seemed to me a better way to begin the new year than with half-hearted resolutions.  The suggestion was this:

This January, why not start the year with an empty jar and fill it with notes about good things that happen over the course of the year.  Then, on New Years Eve, empty it and see what awesome stuff happened that year.

Some of us do a daily Examen, part of which is giving thanks for all of the blessings of the day.  But I love the idea of watching the notes pile up in a jar that can then be re-savored at year end.

Why not give it a try?


Life in the Holy Family

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family, usually celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas, but adjusted this year because Christmas Day fell on a Sunday.

I thought it worth sharing today an excerpt from the message Pope Paul VI wrote for this Feast, which suggests what we might learn from this family.

Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like… Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning…Here everything speaks to us, everything has meaning. Here we can learn the importance of spiritual discipline for all who wish to follow Christ and to live by the teachings of his Gospel.

How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths.

First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.

Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings; in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children–and for this there is no substitute.

Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognize its value. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.

Not all of our families look like the that of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. But family – however we define it (and, for some, wherever they find it) is a community of sharing and love.

Blessings on your day, as we continue to bask in the glow of Incarnation.

The Peace Light

Fr. Mark Carr, Executive Director of my “happy place” (the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh), wrote this reflection for the retreat house’s “Monday Moment” weekly reflections. Since I only recently learned about the Peace Light, I thought I’d share his reflection:

Two weeks ago, on behalf of the Jesuit Retreat House, I received the Peace Light, a continuous flame originating in the grotto of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. For almost 40 years, this flame has been shared around the world each December to remind people of Christ’s message of love, peace, friendship, and the deeper meaning of Christmas. It is symbolic of the Light of Christ, promotes peace, harmony, and unity among all people of the world from every race, ethnicity, and creed.

The small ceremony at which I received the Peace Light integrated a line from the Prophet Isaiah and referenced the Gospel of John. It also included the words below. They are words worth reading to our hearts, especially as we approach the celebration of the Incarnation of the Light of the World and Prince of Peace.

This flame is a symbol of peace and friendship. Your faith does not have to be like mine and my faith does not have to be like yours, but the Peace Light reminds us that each of us is free to light our own flame and that we can live and work together in harmony and teach others to do the same. It reminds us that even though there is still much darkness in the world, you and I can overcome that darkness to create a peaceful community.

In the coming Christmas season, let us carry within our hearts the peace and light of Christ!

Blessings to all during these last days of Advent.

Praying the O Antiphons

Somehow it is a week until Christmas! As we enter these final days of Advent, you might consider making the O Antiphons, a part of your daily prayer.

The O Antiphons, which form part of evening prayer during the Octave before Christmas, are familiar to almost everyone in at least one form.  Most people, even if they don’t pray the antiphons in their traditional form, recognizes them from their appearance in a modified form in the popular Advent hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Each of the seven antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah, each refers to a prophesy of Isaiah and each contains a different petition. (You can find the O Antiphons in their traditional form, with accompanying scriptural texts, here.)

In different Advent retreat settings, I’ve encouraged retreatants to write their own O Antiphons. We live in a different time and place than when the “O” antiphons were composed. In addition, each of us has our own needs and our own issues with God. Writing our own “O” antiphons gives expression to: Who is God for me? How do I name God? And what are my deepest needs? How do I need God to come to me.

I engaged in this prayer exercise myself during an Advent Week of Directed Prayer many years ago.  Both the writing of the antiphons and the reflection surrounding the writing was a special time between me and God.  It was powerful because it involved articulating my answers to questions such as those I just posed

I encourage you engage in the same exercise.  As the birth of the Savior draws near, what is the yearning in you this week?  What are the places in your life that cry out for redemption?  Name these.  These are the source of our personal O Antiphons.

I Am No Longer My Own, But Thine

I am leading a contemplative practices group at a Methodist Church in the Twin Cities, part of a Lily Grant funded program administered by St. Catherine University. Last night our theme was Living Authentically – Naming and Releasing Your Attachments: Attachments to the  Past and the Future and Disordered Attachments to the Things of This World.

One of the things I talked about in my presentation was my friend St. Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation, which I’ve discussed here before. Ignatius viewed this consideration, the first thing he invites people making his Spiritual Exercises to pray with, as a fundamental statement of human meaning and purpose.

In David Fleming’s contemporary rendition, the First Principle and Foundation reads:

The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.

During our break, the pastor of the congregation pulled out for me the Wesley Covenant Prayer, a prayer John Wesley expected Methodists to pray this prayer at the beginning of each new year as a way of remembering and renewing their baptismal covenant. The prayer bears more than a small similarity to Ignatius sentiment. In traditional rendition it reads:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

However one phrases it, we are invited to remember that God is the end. We belong to God.