Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent: Preparation for His Power

Christmas teaches us about the strength and might in gentleness, mercy and innocence.

In preparation, Advent can teach us to cleanse ourselves of attraction to false power, so that we might become receptive to the true power of Christ in our lives.

Jesus Christ has brought the world an unexpected (and before unheard of) type of power. Before his arrival, many of the Jewish people were expecting a ruler of military strength, such as David. Much of our world believes power lies in physical strength, the ability to influence, or even to bully and hurt others, physically and emotionally. 

The attraction to power goes far beyond the obvious example above. Humans forget what's most important. We can become consumed with trying to prove our worth to others and to the world, so we may seem "powerful" in their eyes through our "specialness" or "greatness." 

When we are over-focused on creating the "perfect" Christmas celebration for our families, or on producing the perfect work of art or project at work, we are often led away from our primary goal of living here on earth, which is to love and serve God. We are not called to impress Him or anyone else.

Love and service don't have to be fancy or special, just real, honest, sincere and from our heart.

Just through the "mere" act of being born, Jesus demonstrated for us how to live all eight beatitudes. When the Creator of the universe came to us as a tiny baby, He taught us all we need to know about how to love.

When we look at a painting or icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding Jesus, the baby, who is really the focus? Mary is larger and Jesus is smaller, but does that mean Mary is more important? 

No, for Jesus taught us that we are to come to Him as a little child. Jesus never asks us to do anything He did not do first. Jesus comes to us in a tiny, vulnerable human form, held lovingly by his mother, who serves Him with her care. 

It is in the image of Madonna and Child that we see true majesty and might of Christ. Within that tiny baby is contained all the strength and power in the universe. He doesn't want to force us to love Him, but beckons us through the sheer power of His love to open our hearts and souls to Him. 

Jesus came to us in a dirty stable, a place we where we would probably be ashamed for anyone to visit us. Jesus still wants to meet us there, in those dirty, shameful, hidden places of our souls. And he meets us there with the purest, humblest and most precious love there is. 

During advent, as we prepare for Christmas, let us prepare our hearts and souls to receive the strength of the peace of Christ. Let that purification time center around letting go of false ideas of what makes us and others strong. Let us give ourselves to Him with greater humility, purity and simplicity, as He first gave himself to us. 

"O Blessed Jesus,
Give me stillness of soul in you.
Let your mighty calmness reign in me.
Rule me, O King of Gentleness,
King of Peace."

-St. John of the Cross

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why I Cope with Life Better Today

I do not know how I would cope with my life if I were not Catholic. I can easily tell you that I would not cope well. Years of living beforehand would bear that out. 

Here are some differences in how I get through tough times today vs. during my "heretical" years. 

(1) My emotions do not control my decisions as much.

Free will has to do with making decisions without being driven by emotions. I am making more solid, logical and clear choices now than I ever have before. During my "heretical years," I believed that free will had to do with extricating myself from the oppression of moral obligations in order to be free to follow my feelings. How did that work out for me? Hmm.. I'm writing this... so...

(2) I take care to have selfless motives. 

When I pursue being of the greatest service to God above the motives for comfort, public opinion or material things, each decision I make has meaning. When I work to make my life a gift to God rather than a gift to myself, I do not have time to immerse myself in self-pity or resentment.

Good feelings and material things will all pass away. Peace in my heart, mind and soul will never be possible if I waste any time trying to chase any other goal than to serve God. 

(3) Suffering can help me.

A central focus of our faith is how suffering in life can help us. No moment of suffering need ever be wasted. We would all agree that an athlete preparing for competition puts herself through a lot of pain and personal sacrifice towards achieving her goal. A person preparing himself for holiness, in order to prepare for the life beyond, will need to make similar sacrifices and endure pain as a part of developing character. 

When I suffer, I can lift that suffering up to God as a sacrifice for the good of another. I can also use that suffering as an opportunity to surrender my human will to God's will, as Jesus did. I can experience a bond between me and Jesus as I willingly embrace suffering. 

The Catholic practice of penance is also a way to use suffering as an advantage. The evil one believes he can control us with the fear of suffering and death. When we willingly choose suffering, we baffle him. That is why the Passion and Cross of our Lord is the most powerful antidote to evil. 

(4) Comfort? Why?

Many people turn to religion as a comfort when life is painful and challenging, but if I use prayer primarily to make myself feel better, I am using God and not serving God. God's purpose is not to help us feel good, but to BE good- the salt and light of the earth. Although often prayer can be comforting, I do not have to be a slave to comfort when I choose to follow God. Peace is far better than comfort.