Sunday, December 14, 2014

5 Ways to Find Peace and Joy this Advent and Christmas (Amid Unrealistic Expectations)

In the hustle and bustle of December, our lives (and our Advent) can become filled with a busyness that is often fueled by unrealistic expectations. We can become consumed with the desire to find or make perfect gifts for each of our loved ones. Sometimes we feel pressured to purchase gifts that we can’t afford. Many times, our hearts and minds are so filled with trying to provide a perfect Christmas for our families that the season of Advent — a time meant to be filled with prayerful quiet and joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth — has been completely derailed and lost…
Lost in to-do lists, things-to-clean lists, and cookies-and-treats-to-make lists, presents-to-buy-or-make lists, people-to-visit lists… and a gourmet Christmas feast to pull together list.
Sometimes we recognize all too late, after our children are grown and gone, just how fast the times goes by.  And then, how we wish we would have spent more time relaxing, enjoying, and just being together … rather than being consumed in planning, doing, and fretting over trying to attain some false ideal of perfection. We often recognize too late how we missed the time we had with our children because our minds were filled with lists of “ways we can be loving” that we would get to in a minute … 10 minutes … or tonight … or tomorrow … or next week …
But rarely were our minds quiet enough, or still or at peace enough, to be loving in the only moment we truly have… the present.
In our pursuit of perfection, our joy, peace and the quiet inside our soul is crowded out with expectations, frustrations and feelings of guilt when we can never measure up to our desires. And if we’re not careful, we can miss living our lives because we become so focused on our plan that we continue to miss the moment in front of us –the one we are living now – and the only moment possible to truly love. For moments in the past can never be relived, and moments in the future are so elusive that they are always just one more moment away …
Perhaps, at this moment, we can take the time to pray and ask ourselves if we experience this.
Are we caught up in the pursuit of providing the picture-perfect Christmas – complete with a loving, beautifully dressed family in a gorgeous home with a sumptuous feast? Are we caught up in trying to be the perfect parent, so much so that we can never relax and enjoy our kids? Are we focusing so much on tasks to be done, that we are missing the people whom we are doing all these things for?
Are we missing our idea of a perfect Christmas so much that we can’t be grateful for the Advent and Christmas God He is giving us now? Are we so focused on the lists, that we forget the Reason, the Person of Christ, whom we celebrate?
While our desires may be beautiful, none of these “things” have been promised to us.  Jesus doesn’t even promise us a happy family.  If you are struggling with this, I write more about it here.
While caught up in our busyness, and our idea of how Christmas is supposed to be, we can lose sight of what it actually was! We forget about the poverty the Holy Family faced that first Christmas night — perhaps this is because we envision it to have been like the beautiful masterpieces that depict the Nativity.
Detail of Adoration of the Shepherds. Antonio Balestra.
Detail of Adoration of the Shepherds. Antonio Balestra.
Yet, instead of a warm home and the beautiful cradle that Joseph must have built for Jesus, Joseph and Mary had only a stable and a manger for their newborn Son. In reality, this stable or cave was probably stinky, filthy, and cold.
And instead of being surrounded by loved ones, not one person in Bethlehem recognized or made room in their hearts or homes for the Messiah, Whom they had prayed and longed for for centuries!  (Our Lord often comes to us in ways we fail to see – think of your toddler tearing up something you had been working on for weeks.  Do we recognize Christ in the least of these?)
It wasn’t the religious who came to adore their God , but the poor and homeless shepherds who were deemed outcasts and unworthy to worship at the Temple, who heard the angels’ chorus and worshiped the newborn King of Kings. (The Magi came later.)
Yet, in the midst of these cold, miserable, and harsh conditions, the most incredible and unfathomable Gift was given to us! Our God and King, the creator of the earth and moon and stars — of all that is seen and unseen — became flesh and dwelt among us! Who can ever fathom the extent of His Love for us – a Love that would go to such extremes to “become man in order to make us gods?” (St. Ambrose).
Is there any greater gift that we could have on Christmas than Jesus?  Is all the pressure we place on ourselves really necessary? Does it add to or detract from our recognizing and worshipping Jesus’ birth and His Presence that is still was us today — for He is still Emmanuel.
If you are someone who struggles with this, (like me), here are some ideas for finding balance, peace and joy in these holy days:

1. Make a morning offering.

Find time for at least 10 minutes of adoration, Scripture reading, solitude and listening to God. Begin your day in God, with His Word in your mind and in your heart.

2. Make short acts of adoration, thanksgiving and praise throughout the day.

Call to mind the first Christmas when false expectations and meaningless busyness try to steal away your moments. If we can go to Mass and adoration all the better, but if we can’t we can spiritually unite ourselves and receive spiritual communions throughout the day by offering up prayers of desire and praise.

3. Go to confession.

God’s Mercy, grace and strength is amazing and can help rid these tendencies in us.

4. Ask Mary and Joseph for help…

…to know and love the Father’s will, and His Son, Jesus, as they did.  Recognizing God in His hiddenness — in our family members and in our trials – while keeping and treasuring all these things in our hearts.

5. Be happy!  

A spiritual director once told me the greatest gift we can give our children is for us to be happy!  Ask the Holy Spirit’s help to choose to enjoy, love, and treasure those God has given you to love, in each moment He has given you to live! We can do this by being mindful of the great and unfathomable love of Jesus and all the gifts we have been given.
Finally, here is a beautiful video that illustrates when we put these ways into practice: if we choose to put God first, to adore Him, to look for Him in the most unlikely places, and to enjoy the moment we’ve been given and the people God puts in our path, God can work astoundng miracles!
It depicts the true story of soldiers choosing to celebrate the love and peace of Christmas in the midst of war.  A second video follows it that shares the history of this amazing story.
Let us pray,
Mary and Joseph, help us to live this time of Advent and Christmas in love, peace and joy regardless of our circumstances, busyness and imperfections. We ask you to help us let go of what is unnecessary, and to trust and rejoice in God, our Savior as you did, even when facing severe hardships.  Mary and Joseph, pray for us and hold each one of us and our loved ones close to you.  Guide us and help us to welcome your Son as you welcomed Him — not in a perfect home, but in love, worship and awe, making room for him in our hearts and in the busyness of our lives.  
Copyright 2014 Janet Moore 
Originally posted on 5 Ways to Find Peace and Joy this Advent and Christmas (Amid Unrealistic Expectations)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe - Our Loving Mother and Miracle Worker

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!!!!

I love this feast!  
I so love our Our Blessed Mother that I long to share her with everyone -- because her love for us is unimaginable -- and she only desires to "show, exalt and make Jesus manifest" (present) to us! 

In 1999, my family and I were blessed to go on a pilgrimage to Mexico City to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and to be present for .John Paul II's Papal visit.  After years of longing for a baby, just over a year later we were blessed with the miracle of our daughter, Marie, who is named after the Mother who interceded for her birth.  

So, just as I was then... 

I am still moved by God's plan to use His Mother to intercede for us and heal us. 

Through her image, she wrought the amazing miracle of converting the hearts of the entire people of Mexico, which included 6 million souls (some number those converted up to 12 million souls) who had been worshipping and making human sacrifices to their Aztec gods.  In her image, she showed herself to be above the sun and moon gods that they worshipped -- for she was clothed with the sun and the moon was under her feet. While greater than their gods, she was not a god -- for she bowed her head in prayer to her unborn child inside her, manifested by the cord that signaled that she was with Child.  

Astoundingly, it seems as if every detail of God's portrait of Mary is filled with meaning, with some so scientifically inexplicable that even scientists call the image "living"! Click here to download a powerpoint presentation that beautifully explains many of these phenomena. 

In fact, in and through these signs, God, through this amazing portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe, has wrought about immeasurable miracles.  At least 6 million and one! 

And, who could not be moved by Mary's words, words of the Mother of God and our mother?

"Juanito, dearest Juan Diego."
"Listen, Juan, my dearest and youngest son, where are you going?"

"Know, know for sure, my dearest, littlest, and youngest son, that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth. I want very much to have a little house built here for me, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him and make Him manifest. I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings. And to bring about what my compassionate and merciful concern is trying to achieve, you must go to the residence of the Bishop of Mexico and tell him that I sent you here to show him how strongly I wish him to build me a temple here on the plain; you will report to him exactly all you have seen, admired and what you have heard. Know for sure I will appreciate it very much, be grateful and I will reward you. And you? You will deserve very much the reward I will give you for your fatigue, the work and trouble that my mission will cause you. Now my dearest son, you have heard my breath, my word; go now and put forth your best effort."...

"Listen to me, my youngest and dearest son, know for sure that I do not lack servants and messengers to whom I can give the task of carrying out my words, who will carry out my will. But it is very necessary that you plead my cause and, with your help and through your mediation, that my will be fulfilled. My youngest and dearest son, I urge and firmly order you to go to the bishop again tomorrow. Tell him in my name and make him fully understand my intention that he start work on the chapel I'm requesting. Tell him again that I am the ever Virgin, Holy Mary, the Mother of God, who is sending you."...

"That is fine, my youngest and dearest son; you will return here tomorrow so that you may take the sign he asked for. Then, he will believe and no longer doubt or be suspicious of you; and know, my dear son, I shall reward your care, work and fatigue in my behalf. Go now; tomorrow I shall be here waiting for you."...

"What is happening, dearest and youngest of my sons? Where are you going? Where are you headed?"

"Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing. Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. Do not fear this sickness of your uncle or any other sickness, nor anything that is sharp or hurtful. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you. Do not let your uncle's illness worry you, because he will not die now. You may be certain that he is already well."...

"Go up, my dearest son, to the top of the hill, to where you saw me and received my directions and you will find different kinds of flowers. Cut them, gather them, put them all together, then come down here and bring them before me."...

"My youngest and dearest son, these different kinds of flowers are the proof, the sign that you will take to the Bishop. You will tell him from me that he is to see in them my desire, and therefore he is to carry out my wish, my will. And you, who are my messenger, in you I place my absolute trust. I strictly order you not to unfold your tilma or reveal its contents until you are in his presence. You will relate to him everything very carefully: how I sent you to the top of the hill to cut and gather flowers, all you saw and marveled at in order to convince the Governing Priest so that he will then do what lies within his responsibility so that my house of God which I requested will be made, will be built."

May these words of Mary, and these astounding signs, help each of us come to understand how much we are loved by God, Who never ceases to reach out to us in our need through Our Blessed Mother's loving intercession.  

Just as You, O Lord, saved all those who were destined to be sacrificed to the false Aztec idols, may you save us today from our culture of death, which leads us to sacrifice our souls to the idols of pride, pleasure, power and monetary gain. 

Just as you saved the Aztecs in a way we could have never imagined, we trust You are working to save us in ways we don't understand. 

O Lady of Guadalupe, whose miraculous presence is still with us today, pray for us!!!

© Revised 2017 Janet Moore

Monday, December 8, 2014

In Mary's Immaculate Conception, We See Who We are Called to Be!

Mary revealed herself to us by saying:  "I am the Immaculate Conception"  in Lourdes, France in 1858 -- when the young girl, Bernadette, to whom she had been appearing, asked her who she was. 

I spoke of the Consecrating ourselves to Mary in a previous post.  By contemplating this Consecration, it will help us to understand more fully the Immaculate Conception.

Immaculate Conception, Bartolome Murillo.
Today, I'm sharing another great saint of our times who lived this total Consecration to Jesus through Mary.  It is St. Maximilian Kolbe, the famous martyr of the 20th Century, who offered himself in exchange for another prisoner's life in the German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz during WWII. He is also famous for founding the "Militia Immaculata," which is the "Army of Mary" formed by those who have consecrated themselves to her.  He believed that this Consecration, and the souls formed through Mary's intercession and love, would bring about the salvation of the world.  

He spent his life contemplating Mary as the Immaculate Conception and wrote many amazing things about her, whom he referred to as the Immaculata.  

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
“Of herself, Mary is nothing, even as all other creatures are; but by God’s gift she is the most perfect of creatures, the most perfect image of God’s divine being in a purely human creature.  She is God’s instrument.  With full consciousness and total willingness she allows God to govern her; she consents to his will, desires only what He desires, and acts according to his will in the most perfect manner, without failing, without ever turning aside from his will. 
She makes perfect use of the powers and privileges God has given her, so as to fulfill always and in everything whatever the Lord wants of her, purely for love of God, One and Three.  This love of God reaches such a peak that it bears the divine fruits proper to God’s own love.  Her love for God brings her to such a union with him that she becomes the Mother of God.  The Father confides to her his Son; the Son descends into her womb, and the Holy Spirit fashions out of her perfectly pure body the very Body of Jesus.” 
“The fruit of the love of His Trinitarian life and of Mary the Immaculata is Christ the God-Man." 
“In the union of the Holy Spirit with Her, love unites not only two beings, but one that is the entire love of the Trinity, the other the entire love of a creature, and in this union heaven and earth are united – the height of love is achieved.”
“We should strive rather that souls may constantly deepen their love for her, that the bond of love between her and these souls may grow ever closer, and these souls may henceforth be one with her, with her alone.  Just as the Immaculata herself belongs to Jesus and to God, so too every soul through her and in her will belong to Jesus and to God in a much more perfect way than would have been possible without her.  Such souls will come to love the Sacred Heart of Jesus much better than they have ever done up to now.  Like Mary herself, they will come to penetrate into the very depths of love, to understand the cross, the Eucharist much better before.  Through her, divine love will set the world on fire and will consume it; then will the “assumption of souls in love” take place.  When, oh when, will the divinization of the world in her and through her come about?" 
“Until the end of time, we must win the universe and each individual soul, now and in the future, for the Blessed Virgin, and through Her, for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Those souls will reach a much better and more profound love for the Sacred Heart than ever before. Through their love the world will be set on fire and consumed.”  St. Maximilian Kolbe 

In Mary, we see who we are called to be!  

We are called to live in union with God, to be filled with His Grace and bearers of Jesus to the world.  We have been made sinless through the power of Jesus' sacrifice; and we, too, are meant to reign in heaven with Our God for all eternity. 

May we seek to live according to our profound and inherent dignity and call.

And may we reflect upon Mary's unique and singular grace and her part in the plan of our salvation in these days of Advent and always, drawing ever closer to her, our Mother.  And may we consider offering ourselves to God through Mary in total Consecration, so to become a member of her "Militia Immaculata."

O Mary, Conceived without Sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Copyright 2014 Janet Moore

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Life Changing Advent Traditions

The Advent wreath is one of my favorite traditions and devotions.

I have wonderful memories of each of my children's eyes sparkling in anticipation and love as they were entrusted with lighting the candles.  Often, the traditional prayers for the Advent wreath have been replaced or left unsaid.  In the beginning, we had tried to pray with the prayers provided in Advent wreath prayer leaflets, but soon found that reading from little books of Advent reflections for children, or reading Scripture passages was more helpful.  But, more often than not in the last few years, I have taken to singing the O' Antiphons, popularized in the beautiful hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,"  because the words never cease to stir my soul.  For I, too, long for Emmanuel, God With Us, to be felt among the untold number of souls and broken families who are living in such pain and exile in this world, captive to the sins that the evil one assured them would be their freedom.

Besides the timeless beauty of sharing a meal around the light of the Advent wreath, I am SO EXCITED to share with you a new tradition we just began this year -- we are reading together as a family the book, 33 Days to Morning Glory, by Fr. Michael Gaitley.

The book contains instructions that guide you in understanding the quickest, easiest and surest way to holiness.  It is offering yourself completely to God (specifically to Jesus through Mary) in Consecration.  This book is meant to provide a new, updated version of St. Louis de Montfort's classic, True Devotion to Mary.  St. Louis' book changed my life and led me to make a solemn Consecration of myself to Jesus through Mary about 2o years ago.  In the years since, I have renewed it again and again, and it has never failed to greatly impact my life.  John Paul II was a big proponent of this devotion.  So much so, that his papal motto was, "Totus Tuus,"  meaning "Totally Yours" in Latin.  This expresses the idea of the soul totally giving everything to our Mother, so she can help not only lead us to Jesus but also form us into Him through her love and intercession.  About 4 or 5 years ago, I began to renew my solemn Act of Consecration each morning, (after I heard that John Paul II had done the same), and I can't begin to express how much my life has opened up and has been transformed.  I highly, highly, highly recommend doing this!  Each time, I have made the Consecration, it is like a new world of grace and opportunities have opened up for me!

33 Days to Morning Glory is a family friendly, engaging and modern way of expressing the content of the classic True Devotion to Mary, (which I didn't think was possible).  So far, we have really enjoyed it (my husband and 14 year old daughter and I).  It is written so that only 1 - 2 pages need to read each day for 33 days.  The 33 day format is a perfect timeline for Advent --(but you can do it at any time of the year).  St. Louis only recommended that you always end (and thus, make your Consecration) on a Marian Feast Day.  The 33 day plan we have undertaken began on November 29 (we actually started on November 30 -- so we'll catch up and do 2 days on one day) so we can end on January 1st -- the feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

I have often wanted to share this devotion with my family.  I'm so excited that it is now possible with this amazing new resource.  I pray that you may be inspired to try out this devotion if you haven't already done so.  This book is probably perfect for middle school age and up. If your kids are still young, I invite you to do this for yourself or together with your spouse if they are willing.  You'll be glad you did.

Copyright 2014 Janet Moore