Saturday, December 15, 2012

Moving Closer To The Crib

Moving Closer To The Crib During a Season of Struggles and Great Hope

We read in the Catechism, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present [the] ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming (CCC, 524).”
Just recently, in his Dec. 2nd Angelus at St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict reminded us of our responsibilities as a Christian witness during this time of year. He said, “Amid the turmoil of the world, or the deserts of indifference and materialism, Christians accept salvation from God and witness with a different way of life, like a city set on a hill.”
Pope Benedict also told us that we are “a sign of the love of God, his justice that is present in the history but that is not yet fully realized, and that we must therefore always be waiting and seeking it with courage and patience.”
Advent is one of the most beautiful seasons in our Liturgical year. It’s a season of joyful expectation – all about reflecting on our faith and pausing to prepare our hearts to greet the Christ Child, and even preparing for entering our Eternal reward and looking forward to Jesus coming in His full glory one day. It is indeed a distinctive period filled with the amazing graces awaiting us – pregnant with wondrous hope!
Sometimes, though, the hype from the secular culture, which seems to scream at us at every turn, can be downright discouraging. Trying to find the necessary silence required to immerse our hearts into prayer at this time of year can be extra challenging. As well, we might be feeling overwhelmed thinking about our responsibilities to “put on a great Christmas” or to accomplish everything we feel compelled to do and maybe feeling tempted to pull off some sort of unobtainable level of perfection regarding our shopping, decorating, baking or whatever.
Our to-do list seems endless and we usually inadvertently add to it: the cookie baking, pageant watching, Christmas card writing, cleaning and scrubbing every corner of the house for the holidays, getting the tree, decorating, holiday parties to attend, the meal preparations and food shopping. Oh! Did I mention Christmas shopping?
The Advent season can get utterly lost in our busyness and the culture’s craziness. Perhaps, instead of lamenting about the fact that we feel so bombarded and stretched while facing that lack of time dilemma to truly participate in Advent, let’s instead do something different. How about attempting to change our attitudes (how about practicing the virtues?) and tweak our schedules a bit to weave in extra prayer and meditation on the marvelous events that mark the Advent season?

Advent Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated 

Try to take the unnecessary pressures off of yourself. You don’t need to strive for Norman Rockwell picture perfect – seriously!
Along these lines, in my newest book, Rooted in Love: Our Calling as Catholic Women, I said:
I think that we women can become our own worst enemy by worrying that we’re not doing enough to please others and God, too. We actually heap more responsibilities (whether they be actual or emotional) than is necessary upon our own shoulders. We deal with so many demands for perfection in our lives. Many of the saints spoke about how a whole lot of us might never do very big things in life (or what some might consider “big” things). But we can lead simple yet faithful lives by doing small things with great love. This is very pleasing to God and is actually the secret to real holiness as both St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta preached. And, yes, God calls all of us to become saints.
Perhaps the irony is that, as many women struggle with the demands of our society and the mass media to become “perfect,” achieving perfection is simply being faithful to the duties of our lives. God looks at perfection much differently than do we.
I think of the holy simplicity of tiny baby Jesus making His entrance into the world very quietly in Bethlehem in a cold cave in the dark of the night, warmed by the breath of animals and His loving Mother’s tender embrace.
I ponder the humility, obedience, and holy love of Mother Mary, a faithful young Jewish teen of Nazareth in Galilee who had prayed with her people for the coming of the Messiah and perhaps for half a second found it difficult to grasp that she was the simple virgin chosen by God to bring about the birth of our Savior.
When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary delivering the life-transforming message, Mary took the blessing straight away to her heart and offered her whole being to God – her Fiat. “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Through her selfless Fiat, Mary was immediately collaborating with the entire work of what Jesus would accomplish.
As we know, the angel Gabriel also informed Mary that her elderly cousin Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist. Rather than worry about her own pregnancy discomforts, Mary focused on the service of another by running in haste to help Elizabeth for the remainder of her pregnancy.
Blessed Mother Teresa spoke about our Blessed Mother’s generous heart in lovingly serving Elizabeth. She said,“The wonderful tenderness of a woman’s heart: to be aware of the sufferings of others and to try to spare them that suffering, as Mary did. Do you and I have that same tenderness in our hearts? Do we have Mary’s eyes for discovering the needs of others?”
No matter how much we may try to run and hide from the seasonal chaos, we should remember that Advent is indeed a season of hope and expectation for the most wonderful GIFT of all, given to us by our loving God. There’s no need to go into hibernation mode to avoid the crowds at the malls or the advertizing frenzy on the TV and radio. Unless we live the life of a hermit, we are meant to associate with others – within our families and when we are out and about in our community. Amazing transformations can occur within our encounters and exchanges when we allow God in.
Perhaps we can all take some time in the coming days to ponder how God might be calling us to “run in haste” to aid someone. Could it be our spouse, our child, our relative, our fellow religious, our co-worker, or our lonely neighbor?

Reaching Out Beyond Our Comfort Zone

Reaching out to those in need around us can be accomplished in the seemingly tiniest of ways – a smile, a friendly word (even when it might be difficult to do so!) and in greater deeds too, like helping our elderly neighbor decorate for Christmas or bringing a hot meal to a shut-in and visiting for a while. When the phone rings or a message comes in through your social media from someone requesting your advice, perhaps you can consider it to be an opportunity to serve with Christ’s love even when you are so busy. Time is a precious gift, often tough to part with in these jam-packed days. But, the rewards are great indeed for everyone involved.
You can perhaps discuss with your spouse, family, or parish group possible ways in which you can make a loving difference in someone’s life this Advent season. In addition to your gesture being warm and lovely, the act becomes a Christian example, a form of evangelization.
In my new book, Rooted in Love: Our Calling as Catholic Women I talk a lot about the necessity of prayer in our lives and I express that I wholeheartedly believe that one of the most important prayers is our Morning Offering in which we offer our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings to our Lord first thing in the morning on our knees right by the side of our bed. I said:
The great thing about the morning offering is that you are surrendering everything over to God as you start your day. In this way, you are giving him complete control – handing him the reins. By doing so, you in essence are freeing yourself of worrying about how things will unfold throughout the day. All of the challenges, craziness, joys, and everything that presents itself will be enveloped in a trusting prayer to God. He will be with you and help you in every detail of your day. It’s a simple prayer requiring very little time and effort, but when sincerely and lovingly presented to God, it will guarantee that your life that day is shrouded in his infinite grace and love – no matter what happens!
Yes, schedule those essential times of personal and family prayer. But, be mindful too, that simply living out our vocations in life as faithfully as we can is in reality a prayer too. Everything that happens and each person we encounter is an extraordinary opportunity for grace. The outcome of every experience depends upon our attitude and our responses to each circumstance.
This awareness can perhaps offer us another way to view little hardships, inconveniences, and greater trials we may experience too, as well as the encounters of grumpy demeanors, or people with short fuses, “parking lot rage,” and the various needs of others in our midst.
Let’s pray for the courage and patience that our Holy Father Pope Benedict encouraged us to use during this Advent time of seeking and waiting. The world looks to us as that “city set on a hill.” Will we say “Yes” to God even when we are being challenged? Can we even pray for the people who harass us or irritate us in some way?
I’m reminded of the guy who gave me the finger in the grocery store parking lot. In return, I waved a friendly “hello” to him and then prayed a decade of the Rosary for him as I drove away. As Mother Teresa would say, that person is“Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.” Maybe there’s no one else in his life at this time who would take the time to pray for him. Perhaps God put me in his life to gift him with prayer.
Let’s ask ourselves, “Do we have Mary’s tenderness of heart and her eyes for discovering the needs of others?” Can we “renew our ardent desire” each time we utter “Yes” to our Lord in all He asks of us this season of hope?

Here I am Lord

Dear Lord, Jesus, please open my heart more fully during this Advent season and please nourish my heart and soul with Your abiding love and comfort. Help me to feel Your miraculous peace at a time when I feel stretched to keep up with all I need to do and while I struggle with what the world beckons me to accomplish. I am continually bombarded with messages from a lopsided culture and the ever-present advertising frenzy all around me and I wish to keep my eyes on You. 
Show me the way to strike a healthy balance regarding preparing for the Christmas holiday and preparing my heart to welcome You more completely. Please continue to enkindle the holy flame of Your love which You have placed in my heart so that I might become a radiant beacon of Faith to all I meet this Advent season and beyond. 
I pray that every person I encounter will feel Your holy presence in my soul. I humbly offer this prayer to Your most Sacred Heart, dear Lord Jesus. I trust in You. Amen.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent teaching from Johnnette Benkovic

The ancient prayer form called Lectio-Divina is a perfect way for us to enter into an ever deepening relationship with God, and the season of Advent provides us with the perfect opportunity to use it. The following six steps lead us in this beautiful method of prayer:
 1. First, prepare to meet with God.
Come to your time of prayer with expectant faith, knowing that this prayer meditation on the Word of God will yield fruit in your life even if it is not immediately apparent. Before beginning, rid yourself as much as possible from distractions. Turn off the television, radio, CD player, and — the cell phone. This is a time to be alone with God and to hear His voice in the inner confines of your heart.
2. Select a Scripture passage.
While there is no right or wrong way to select a passage, during this Advent season readings relating to the coming of the Messiah are particularly appropriate. Use the readings of the day from the Sacred Liturgy, the Office of Readings, a Scripture study guide, or the infancy narratives. The passage need not be lengthy. The goal here is not to make progress in reading the Bible, but to make progress in your relationship with God.
3. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you.
Ask the Holy Spirit to remove any interior obstacles or blocks that might prevent you from hearing the word of God. Ask Him to give you knowledge and understanding, wisdom and hope. Ask Him to illuminate any areas of your heart that need to experience His healing and light.
4. Read the passage of Scripture  s-l-o-w-l-y.
Make yourself present to the Word through an act of faith. Consider the context of the passage, what is being said in the passage, and what the specific application might be for you in your life.
5. Listen for God’s voice in the “bottom of your heart.”
What is God saying to you through this passage? Is He teaching you a lesson, explaining a great truth, shedding light on a circumstance in your life, “revealing the fundamental cause of a present day difficulty?” Listen, listen, listen.
6. Voice a response back to God.
St. Teresa of Avila said, “All that should be sought for in the exercise of prayer is conformity of our will with the divine will, in which consists the highest perfection.” With that in mind, what resolutions, decisions, or changes do you wish to make in your relationship with God, within yourself, or with others? Tell God what they are and use His grace to follow through with them. Take the first step immediately.
Prayer is the gateway to divine union and intimacy with God. Through it we are informed, reformed,and transformed. Our heart is healed. Our spirit is purified. Our soul is made whole. During this Advent, promise to make time for prayer every day. See what a difference it will make in your preparation and experience of the coming of the Lord.
Today’s Spiritual Exercise:
Select one of the following two passages from Sacred Scripture. Pray it using the Lectio-Divina method described in this post. Keep a journal and record your insights and inspirations for this passage. Be sure to formulate a response back to God.
Psalm 25: 1-5
Matt. 3: 1-3
Some resources to make your Advent more meaningful:
In Coversations with God: Advent/Christmas Edition
Dawn of the Messiah by Dr. Edward Sri
Watch and Pray: An Advent Reflection with Fr. Edmund Sylvia, C.S.C.
[The blog post above is from the teaching series that Johnnette gave a previous Advent:]

Find Johnnette here:

Friday, December 7, 2012

The "Yes" of Advent

I am pleased to welcome Sarah Reinhard to "Catholic Moms Talk" today. Sarah is a wife and mother, author and blogger. She blogs at and is the author of a number of books for families, including Welcome Baby Jesus: Advent and Christmas Reflections for Families and A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism.

The “Yes” of Advent

Some years ago, for reasons that I don’t even fully understand myself, I started walking around with a big bah-humbug chip on my shoulder.

I would grump my way through Advent, resist all attempts at smiling and celebrating anything related to the dreaded C-word, and pretend it was all okay.

And then, inevitably, I would find myself at Midnight Mass.

In our small parish church, wherever I was seated, I would smell the incense. The priest and procession would come, with Baby Jesus in their midst. Father placed Jesus in the Nativity, and Mass commenced.
Every year, I’d walk out into the crisp Ohio night after that Mass and somehow was changed. The bah-humbug chip would be gone, replaced by emptiness and a fullness that combined within me.

In my non-Catholic upbringing, the closest I came to the experience of Midnight Christmas Mass was in the before-bed singing of my Aunt Charlotte.

Aunt Charlotte was the only adult I’ve ever known who believed in Santa Claus and could make me believe. Somehow, I never really bought into it, unless I was with Aunt Charlotte. She had a way of making the magic of Christmas come alive, and she did it while teaching me about the wonder of the Advent wreath and the beauty of preparing.

Her belief in the magic of Christmas was really a faith in the truth of the Incarnation. She had a childlike simplicity in her approach—before she died unexpectedly a few years ago, she began asking me about my devotion to Mary. I struggled to explain it to her in a way that would share the beauty of my love for Mama Mary with her—in a way that would make it as real as the trust she had in Jesus and Santa.

Christmas Mass makes me think of Aunt Charlotte and Mama Mary in equal measure. And getting to Christmas Mass, through the journey of Advent, has made me struggle to throw that grudge away from me.

I want to enjoy this season of light and joy. I want to be ready for the King.

This year, I think I’m going to be closer than I ever have been. I’m blaming my kids for this: my seven-year-old has been reminding me of Aunt Charlotte this year.

On the one hand, my seven-year-old has it firmly in mind that it is Advent. She knows it’s not Christmas.

And yet, she’s not afraid to have fun, to laugh, to enjoy herself. She’s been regaling me with her opinions and thoughts about Santa’s love for children in ways that hearken to my aunt.

Each evening, my seven-year-old reminds me that we need to light the Advent candle. She’s interested in what this week’s focus is, in what we’re preparing for, in what this journey is leading to.

Her insatiable curiosity is inspiring in a way I haven’t felt since I was slightly older than she is, and Aunt Charlotte grabbed my shoulders and turned my head. With excitement in her voice, she exclaimed, “Look! In the sky! Do you think…?”

It’s really about a Yes, isn’t it? For me, it all comes back to the Annunciation, to that young girl who said Yes to God’s incredible proposal.

Can I say Yes this Advent? More importantly, will I?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent Week One: A Time of Preparation, A Time of Prayer, Part I

Advent Week One: A Time of Preparation,
A Time of Prayer, Part I
Great events are marked by great preparation. A wedding, the coming of a new baby, graduations, special anniversaries, significant birthdays, and celebrations of all sorts are often months in the planning.

Christmas is a spiritually significant event. And so it follows that Christmas is preceded by a time of serious preparation. Advent is that time. This liturgical season helps us prepare for the spiritual reality of Christmas — the gift of our salvation through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How then can we make our Advent experience more fruitful?

All true spiritual preparation begins with prayer. Prayer is to the spiritual life as lungs are to the physical life. Without prayer, spiritual life cannot be sustained. It languishes, suffers and dies. For the Christian, prayer is not optional. It is essential.
Throughout the ages, great men and women of faith have shared their experiences of prayer with us. What they have written is helpful. It educates us, encourages u and enlightens us. St. Teresa of Avila tells us that prayer is simply conversation with God. St. Francis de Sales says, “The chief exercise of prayer is to speak to God and to hear God speak in the bottom of your heart” (Letters to Persons in the World, 3, 11). And John Cardinal Newman states, “As speech is the organ of human society, and the means of human civilization, so is prayer the instrument of divine fellowship and divine training” (Miscellanies, 203).
But, in the end, the only way to pray is to begin. And the only way to pray well is to pray often. As one spiritual writer says, “The only way to pray is to pray; and the way to pray well is to pray much. If one has not time for this, then one must at least pray regularly. But the less one prays, the worse it goes” (Dom Chapman, Spiritual Letters).
And why shouldn’t we pray much. In prayer, God lifts our hearts and minds to Him. Through prayer, He calls us into intimacy with Him. From prayer, we  grow to spiritual maturity. And because of prayer, “the fundamental cause of present day difficulties” is removed (Pope Pius XI, Caritate Christi compulsi, 1932).
How, then, can we pray better? Meditating on Sacred Scripture is one way. Sacred Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself, and through it He speaks to us. With each reading, God instructs us, guides us, leads us, and answers our deepest needs. Using Sacred Scripture as a means of entering into prayer, then, is the best way to improve the quality of our prayer time.
Lectio-Divina is a centuries-old way of praying with Scripture. This way of praying can deepen our advent experience and help prepare us to receive the abundant life Jesus Christ longs togive us this Christmas. Tomorrow we will discover the six steps of Lectio-Divina and begin to utilize this ancient and efficacious prayer form.
Today’s Questions for Reflection
To what extent am I willing to make this Advent a truly holy time of preparation?
What practical adjustments may I have to make to follow through with my commitment? 
Which adjustment can I make today?
[The blog post above is from the teaching series that Johnnette gave a previous Advent:]

Find Johnnette here:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hark, a Herald Voice Is Calling...

I am thrilled to welcome Johnnette S. Benkovic to "Catholic Moms Talk" today. Johnnette is the Founder and President of Women of Grace®, a Catholic apostolate for women featuring a number of outreaches including conferences, media, study groups and more. She is also Founder and President of Living His Life Abundantly® International, Inc. (a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit corporation). After years of being a non-practicing Catholic, in 1981 Johnnette experienced a deep conversion back to her Catholic faith. Her conversion sparked a new vocation: that is, one of sharing the Gospel message through the utilization of media. She has been an inspiring and consistent presence on Catholic radio (1987) and in Catholic television (1988) ever since. You can find Johnnette here:

Johnnette is the Executive Producer of the Women of Grace® television program, a program highlighting contemporary issues from a Catholic perspective which also discusses authentic femininity™ in the world today. She is also host of Women of Grace® Live, a call-in radio talk show airing five times a week. She is heard nationally on AM/FM stations, Sirius Satellite 160, and internationally via short wave radio.

In addition, Johnnette is a popular conference speaker, published author, retreat director, and seminar presenter. She is the author of several books including Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant LifeGrace-Filled MomentsLiving Life Abundantly: Stories of People Who Have Encountered GodExperience Grace in Abundance: Ten Strategies For Your Spiritual Life and The New Age Counterfeit. She also developed the internationally recognized Women of Grace® Foundational Study Series which has transformed thousands of women worldwide through the healing love of Jesus Christ.
On the personal side, Johnnette lost her son Simon in a tragic vehicular accident, just after he returned from Iraq as a decorated soldier. Soon after Simon’s death, she lost her beloved husband of more than thirty three years, Anthony, to terminal brain cancer. Through these tragedies, Johnnette was strengthened by her faith, family, friends and the prayers of the many wonderful supporters of Living His Life Abundantly® and Women of Grace®. Family life is very important to her. She enjoys time with her daughters, grandchildren, extended family and friends.

Hark, a Herald Voice Is Calling

“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the dreams of darkness,

O ye children of the day.”

Lo, the Lamb, so long expected,

Comes with pardon down from heaven;

Let us haste with tears of sorrow,

One and all to be forgiven.

                                               Roman Breviary,
                             Hymn En clara vox redarguit at Lauds

For Reflection: 

Advent is a time to watch, wait, and make preparation. How do I see all three of these reflected in the above hymn? How am I employing these in my life as I begin this Advent season?

Come back to visit "Catholic Moms Talk" tomorrow for another (longer) Advent Reflection by Johnnette.

Find Johnnette here: