"God made us for joy. God is joy, and the joy of living reflects the original joy that God felt in creating us." (St. John Paul the Great)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Love does such things!"

[The] journey of God from the everlasting into the transitory, this stride across the border into history, is something no human intellect can altogether grasp. The mind might even oppose the apparently fortuitous, human aspect of this interpretation with its own ‘purer’ idea of godliness; yet precisely here lies hidden the kernel of Christianity. Before such an unheard of thought the intellect bogs down. Once at this point a friend gave me a clue that helped my understanding more than any measure of bare reason. He said: “But love does such things!” Again and again these words have come to the rescue when the mind has stopped short at some intellectual impasse. Not that they explain anything to the intelligence; they arouse the heart, enabling it to feel its way into the secrecy of God. The mystery is not understood, but it does move nearer, and the danger of “scandal” disappears.

None of the great things in human life springs from the intellect; every one of them issues from the heart and its love. If even human love has its own reasoning, comprehensible only to the heart that is open to it, how much truer must this be of God’s love! When it is the depth and power of God that stirs, is there anything of which love is incapable? The glory of it is so overwhelming that to all who do not accept love as an absolute point of departure, its manifestations must seem the most senseless folly. (Romano Guardini, The Lord)

My Advent prayer today: Lord, may we know Your love, may we accept Your love, may we allow Your love to change us, and may we return Your love to those we encounter today.

Monday, December 2, 2013


$1.87 -- that was all Della had, after scrimping and saving, to buy her Jim a Christmas present. So she sold her long beautiful hair -- her prized possession -- to buy him a chain for his watch -- his prized possession -- only to learn that he had sold his watch to buy her combs for her hair, which was now gone.

I read the kids one of my favorite Christmas stories this evening -- “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. “The magi, as you know, were wise men -- wonderfully wise men -- who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents.”

We talked about sacrificial giving. And we talked about the bits of selfishness, the lack of generosity, and the sense of entitlement I have noticed creeping into their hearts of late and how it saddens me. One of the kids came back an hour later, with tears in her eyes. Her conscience had told her Mom might be right.

Later, as I sat and pondered my day, I was painfully aware of my own selfishness and lack of generosity. I didn’t get near what I wanted to done today. I was annoyed by interruptions. I was irritated by having to do and say the same things more than once. I wanted to be left alone. And I reflected: How often do I respond to love’s demands in this way? Too often.

Judging by my reflection, it becomes clear to me that my time could be considered my prized possession, and I am aware of the misplaced desire in my heart that my time be my own. And so an Advent resolution becomes clear as well: To sacrifice this prized possession for love of my family. To look up from my work into the eyes of the child pleading for my attention. To put aside a to-do list in favor of a board game or a book once in a while. To put my arm around the child who wants to talk, rather than to hurry her off to bed. To let go of what I think I need to do at any given moment and to pay attention to those around me. To be so ravaged by love as to outdo myself in generosity, as Della did.

“And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

Sunday, December 1, 2013


The Christmas liturgy includes these beautiful verses from the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Wisdom: “For while all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course, thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne….” The passage, brimming with the mystery of the Incarnation, is wonderfully expressive of the infinite stillness that hovered over Christ’s birth. For the greatest things are accomplished in silence -- not in the clamor and display of superficial eventfulness, but in the deep clarity of inner vision; in the almost imperceptible start of decision, in quiet overcoming and hidden sacrifice. Spiritual conception happens when the heart is quickened by love, and the free will stirs to action. The silent forces are the strong forces. Let us turn now to the stillest event of all, stillest because it came from the remoteness beyond the noise of any possible intrusion -- from God. (Romano Guardini, The Lord)

“This is the year,” I say to myself every November -- the year when I will work frantically all month so that the frenzied pace that is December will be evaded and the Advent for which I long will be possible.

Then the first Sunday of Advent arrives. I look at my list of things that need to be done in less than four weeks and I sigh, “Oh well, maybe next year.”

This year is no different. I had illusions of gifts bought and wrapped, cards addressed and mailed, and lists made -- all before Thanksgiving. My Advent days would be perfectly planned and I would spend the dark days of December fostering “quiet silence” in my home -- prayers around the Advent wreath, story time in the warm glow of the fireplace, an Advent playlist of songs that would turn our hearts to Bethlehem and our infant Lord.

Today is the First Sunday of Advent and I find my illusions evaporating in the clamor that is life. I just now sat down for the first time today. I am at my sister’s in Minnesota spending time with my nieces and nephew while my sister and her husband take a well-deserved break on the beaches of Cancun. The cousins are having a blast together -- Wii dance parties, hot tub time, fort building, and movies. But “quiet silence” isn’t exactly a phrase I would use to describe my day.

I find myself tempted to think, yet again, “I hate Advent.” It doesn’t seem fair -- all these things that need doing. And right now. Despite trying to fight the the-Christmas-season-starts-the-day-after-Thanksgiving-(if-not-sooner)-and-ends-on-December-25th-at-midnight cultural mentality, I find I’ve been sucked in. I need to find the perfect presents. At the perfect price. On the right day -- Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday. I need to wrap those presents. And mail them in time to arrive by Christmas Eve. I need to design a card. Something clever. With a great family photo. And update the card list. And address the envelopes. And buy the stamps. And mail them in time to arrive by Christmas Eve. I need to bake twelve different kinds of cookies. And plan parties. And menus. And outings. All on a budget. 


And then start hyperventilating.

The reality is I will never have the Advent for which I long if everything has to be perfect by the time that first purple candle is lit. And to sigh and give up before Advent even begins is to miss an opportunity -- an opportunity to quietly overcome that which is bombarding me from every side, an opportunity for hidden sacrifice, an opportunity to let my heart be quickened by love. I can’t control the “noise” all around me -- I can’t even avoid it. I have four children -- seven, this week. Most of the stores I regularly visit have been playing Christmas music for a month already. Christmas specials fill the television programming. There are radio stations dedicated to playing Christmas music from now until December 25 (when the Christmas season actually begins!). Hustle and bustle and "Christmas" are all around me.

But the “quiet silence” for which I long isn’t something external. It’s something I have to intentionally create in my heart. Intentionally create, and carefully guard. Whether I have seven loud children around me, or only four. Whether I’m in a store blaring Christmas music or at home alone being bombarded with the clamor of the lists shouting inside my head. Only then will I be able to foster that silence in my home and in my children. In the midst of the “superficial eventfulness” that our culture has made of the month of December, I must superimpose that “inner vision” of what I know Advent to be -- a turning “to the stillest event of all, stillest because it came from the remoteness beyond the noise of any possible intrusion -- from God.” 

Let us all turn to Him and find in Him the “quiet silence” within which we can hear His voice. God bless your turning this Advent.