An Incarnational—and Infectious—Start to My Advent

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The weeks preceding Christmas—Advent—usually have the perception of being a magical, jovial, and anticipatory of the birth of the Christ-child. While certainly, my Advent began with an anticipation, it lacked marvel and apparent joy. Instead of initially thinking about preparing my heart and mind for the Lord, I juggled the infectious side effects of projectile vomit and diaper explosions. Both of my sons came down with the stomach flu over the weekend.

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Nothing tests a parent’s patience, will-power or love of their children quite like a continual cleaning of bodily fluids. On top of the symptoms of the stomach flu, my youngest son is also recovering from an adenoidectomy (see below diagram if you never heard of that organ before–as I never did prior to this surgery!) Because the flesh is healing behind his nasal cavity, my two year old’s breath has smelled like death since the surgery and apparently it may take up to three weeks for his rotting-breath odor to be gone!  What a start to the New Liturgical year!

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Too often society places pressure for the perfect “holiday” season: all the gifts must be precisely wrapped and laden under the Christmas tree in a tidy order, the Christmas meal has to be cooked to the exact temperature and paired with the appropriate side dishes depending on the main dish, and family members need to behave–especially your “estranged/weird” uncle [or aunt or other unique relative you may have]. Honestly, I fall into this fallacy almost every year myself. This year was no different. I hoped to be able to take my entire family to Mass to celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. I wanted to show my kids the beautiful Advent wreath and talk about the particular reasons the priest wears purple, or “FATHER IS DRESSED IN PURPLE” as my daughter would shout with glee. Sadly, none of that happened. Because of my priority as a parent, I had to miss this Mass to care for my ailing family.

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After taking some time to reflect on the apparent failures of the weekends, I realized maybe God was preparing me for something greater—Advent really is all about preparation for the coming of Christ. Revisiting the birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, showed me that the arrival of Jesus did not occur in the ideal standards, at least according to the world’s standards. Luke 2:7 details how Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem “too late” and the innkeeper denied them a room at the inn. Instead, of giving birth in the amenities of indoor comfort, Mary had to give birth to Jesus in a humble way—in a simple stable. American novelist Flannery O’Connor wrote the following about the Incarnation,

Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.

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By becoming a human Jesus was able to encounter the entirely of the human condition save for sin. In my children’s pain, suffering, tiredness, and thirstiness this past weekend, Christ was with them in a unique way as he already suffering all those things during his 33 years on Earth.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 463, “Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” The season of Advent is not about preparing for the “perfect” Christmas where Mary and Joseph get a room at the inn. Rather, Advent is about preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth took place in the messiness of the stable, his Passion and Death took place on the messiness of the Cross. While not everything in my life will be neatly fit in my control, after this incarnational and infectious start to Advent, I had the privilege to be graced with the gift of perspective and opportunity to serve my children as Christ served the world!

3 Reasons Busyness is Never an Excuse to Stop Praying

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At 7:47 A.M. I pulled into the school parking lot, in a frenzied state I threw off my seat belt, leaped out of the car, and continued to hurry my children out of the vehicle towards the school entrance. “Come on, come on! Hurry now!” I exclaim to my dawdling four year-old daughter. After getting her and my oldest son to their classroom with backpacks and winter clothing hung-up, I quickly walked down the corridor towards my car. It was now 7:53 A.M. when I restarted my car to drive to work.  Speeding down the highway I weaved around the bustle of traffic. I arrived at my employer’s parking lot at 8:20 A.M., but my journey is not quite complete—I still needed to transverse the long employee lot and cross the street before entering the building. Time seemed to be running out on me…

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If the above paragraph caused slight exhaustion, you are not alone. I want to point out that the busyness of life—especially in the morning seems to haunt me on a daily basis. This hurried existence appears to be inescapable, at least in my foreseeable future. On top of the daily morning grind, we took my youngest son into urgent care again. The doctor gave me news that brought tears to my wife and elicited a stoic response in myself, “He tested positive for influenza type A.” Life is beating us down—not just figuratively, but literally! Sleep deprivation is overtaking both my wife and I, my oldest son is running a fever, and my daughter refuses to go to bed on time–as usual! Taking a snapshot of my life now does not promote much hope on the horizon. Suddenly I came across an appropriate quote from St. Alphonsus Liguori that provided a bit of easement to my situation. According to the great doctor of the Church,

Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears – of everything that concerns you. Converse with Him confidently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him. 

Prayer should be a constant for the Christian, especially during the Lenten season. Sadly, I allowed the busyness of life to be an excuse to develop my relationship with God. After reflecting on St. Alphonsus’ words I discovered three reasons why the rat race of life is a terrible excuse to delay communication with the Author of Creation.

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  1. Little Opportunities: Blessed Paul VI states in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica Testificatio, “If you have lost the taste for prayer, you will regain the desire for it by returning humbly to its practice.” This seems like a paradoxically statement. How can you gain something you lost by returning to it. Herein lies the secret power of prayer, it is not something contingent or limited whereby a cap is placed on its source. Prayer is communication–a two-way communication– with the Divine, God who is eternal and everlasting.

What helped me gain back reliance on prayer is taking advantage of little opportunities throughout the day to insert a petition for God’s assistance or a prayer of thanksgiving for a simple joy in my life. Dialoguing with God while waiting at a stoplight or praying a decade of the Rosary as I rock my son to sleep allowed for me to slowly (real slowly, as I am still improving!) to develop my prayer life.

 

  1. Prayer Sustains Hope: Oftentimes in the great shuffle and strife of daily living hopelessness and despair become implanted in my heart. Watered by the false notion that activity of the world sustains hope the fruit of fear and doubt arise. Filling my day with a billion activities–checking of social media sites for notifications, following new bloggers, or constant publication on my WordPress account does not bring lasting hope. Slowing down–even if it is simply one notch– allows for God to enter into my heart through prayer. I am reminded of the wisdom of  Saint Charles Borromeo who said, “God wishes us not to rest upon anything but His infinite goodness; do not let us expect anything, hope anything, or desire anything but from Him, and let us put our trust and confidence in Him alone.”
    True hope is grown–and sustained– through prayer.

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  1. Parable of the Talents: The third example of why busyness should never be an excuse to cease praying may seem like it is coming out of left field. Please hear out my thought process. The idea of this post actually came to me during my hurried car drive to work this morning. Immediately, I thought of Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30. I associate most with the worker with the single talent.  Instead of investing his God-given talent to grow it, that worker miserly held onto it out of fear. Sometimes I fear failure amid the bustle of the work day so I fail to step out in faith to rely on my God-given abilities to grow my confidence and to share my gifts to bring others to Christ.

However, this morning I stalled that mindset by asking God for assistance to help in during the onslaught of the rushed work day and busyness at home. Through the power of prayer, God provided me the gifts of patience and gratitude to finish out this busy day on a positive note!

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“Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears – of everything that concerns you.” Listening to the wisdom of St. Alphonsus reinvigorated my spirit–instead of being worn down by the busyness of the day I looked forward to the opportunity to rely on God for comfort when life challenged me. I  pray for continual strength to withstand the storm of busyness– and I pray you may find strength and perseverance in the Lord during the hectic parts of your life as well.

Sufferings of a Simple Catholic

To be honest, I did not think I have the strength to even write about anything today. I thought exerting any real mental exercises and strain today would lead to my incapacitation. What am I talking about? Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, I probably am not in a good frame of mind at this point of the week. Let me at least try to explain my situation and I can let you be the judge of that.

Over the course of the past week I’ve experienced the funeral of my grandfather and persistent fevers and severe flu-like symptoms from everyone in my family including: my three young children.  I’m nearly exhausted the amount of PTO I’m able to utilize for this month–and possibly the next month. Both my wife and I are sleep deprived. I’m definitely past the point of exhaustion and almost crossed the line of delirium.

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I’ve really struggled in my spiritual life the last week. Frankly, my relationship with God has been fractured and virtually nonexistent. Sure I could point to several valid (but are they truly!) reasons for why I have not relied on God during my time of turmoil. Some of you may be quick to forgive me—others maybe not. Ultimately, I need to ask Our Father in Heaven for forgiveness.

Doubt, despair, hopelessness, destitution, weakness in faith, and spiritual sloth have been the fruits of my suffering. Jesus Christ clearly teaches in Luke 6:43-45,

43“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

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My reactions to the suffering I encountered this week are an indictment on my spiritual resolve. The one benefit to my failings in my spiritual life is that one thing is clear – I’m at a crossroads. I can either choose the path of sanctity through redemptive suffering or I let wallowing in self-pity dominate my attitude and view suffering as purposeless.

The central event of human history is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His redemptive suffering ties together the fabric of reality. Every person is given a choice: to accept the cross gracefully or flee from it. Sometimes people choose the cross during a significant watershed moment in their life – like Saint Paul’s conversion. Most people have to choose the cross of Jesus Christ daily. This choice is the most important choice in our life. This choice determines whether we are a saint, a child of God, or sycophant of the world.

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St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Suffering will come, trouble will come – that’s part of life; a sign that you are alive. If you have no suffering and no trouble, the devil is taking it easy. You are in his hand.” I need to be continually reminded that suffering is part and parcel of living. Only by joyfully taking up my struggles and uniting them to the redemptive suffering of Jesus’ suffering, death, and Resurrection will I truly find moments of peace during the storms of life!

 

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Dear Lord,
Help me [us all] to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (my sufferings) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls. Amen