The Fourth Sunday of Advent

            (This year on the Liturgical Calendar the Fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve.  It is a compressed week.)

Last year in 2016 at this time, I was a mess.

My husband and I were running around, trying to find presents for all of our friends and family, baking cookies for the neighbors, visiting with everyone coming back to Cincinnati for the holidays, watching every Christmas movie under the sun, to make it all absolutely perfect…all while I was 3 months pregnant, exhausted and desperate for Frisch’s onion rings.

It was a weird time.

The excitement of the pregnancy made the holiday celebrations even more meaningful than usual as people expressed their joy at the soon-to-be arrival of our little one. But at the same time, my drive to make Christmas “perfect” as I had strived to do for years, made it all that much more difficult. I remember feeling paralyzed as we unearthed the Christmas decorations (multiple mounds of them), and feeling like it was just too much to try and put it all up. But I felt like I had to as I thought, “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without XYZ decoration!” And so we did all of the things that would make the season “wonderful” – wrapped all of our presents perfectly, provided the perfect side dishes for all of our family gatherings, created the most perfect card to send out, and put every ornament in a perfect place on the tree. And by January 1, we were drained.

Fast forward to 2017.

Our baby girl is now 6-months old, exploring her world and growing by leaps and bounds each day. It’s an exciting time with LOTS of firsts! But I have to say one of the most surprising things for me as a new mom is that Christmas has felt “different” this year, and not necessarily in the sense I expected. What I EXPECTED was that I would create the “perfect” Christmas for her, she would stare at our Christmas tree ornaments with wide eyes and a smile, be fascinated with a big man in a bright red suit and play with wrapping paper next to me as I meticulously covered each edge and corner of a gift. It would be like a storybook. What I GOT instead was this overwhelming feeling to protect her from the overabundance of it all.

My husband and I both agreed to take a break from putting up our boxes upon boxes of decorations, we put up our tree with a few of our favorite ornaments, displayed our manger scene and decided to make most of our gifts instead of urgently shopping around for presents. Now don’t get me wrong, part of our reasons for making these decisions included sleep deprivation, a tighter budget and unpredictable diaper changes, but let me tell you – finally – the Christmas season feels GOOD. By not emphasizing all the other “stuff” that we typically do, we have found ourselves more immersed in the celebration of Advent not only at mass each week, but also at home. We’re actually taking the time to read our little blue book, use our Advent calendar and are specifically setting aside time for ourselves to spend quality time together as a family. It has inspired us to really embrace the beauty of preparation, the hope it inspires and the ultimate destiny it fulfills – Jesus’ birth, of course, but also our entrance into heaven one day.

While some people would certainly say that the deep joy we are experiencing this season is due to having a new baby – and yes, certainly, there is a lot of joy in that! – I would venture to say that the deep joy we are experiencing is due to taking the time to really reflect on and enjoy what this season is all about with our new baby. It has made me realize that we don’t need all of the stuff to make Advent and Christmas wonderful. We just need each other, our love for one another and the opportunity to spread glad tidings of great joy to the family, friends and community around us.

My husband and I have both decided to continue with our “toned down” Christmas in future years. As it is our job as parents to prepare our daughter, and any other future siblings she may have, the importance of being selfless, giving and loving others, we feel it starts here. What an opportunity to show our daughter and our future children the difference between God’s love and the false allure of the materials of this world. Jesus was born amongst livestock and wrapped in some rags. Why would I ever think that Christmas should be about all the “stuff?” Because truth bomb: all of that stuff doesn’t make us happy. The presents. The cookies. The decorations. The cards. Trying to perfect all of it only made the season miserable, exhausting and overwhelming to me, yet year after year I would do it again. And the one year we decided not to? Well. . .

It’s been a most blessed season.

The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of God shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.  The angel said, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’

And suddenly there was a great multitude of the heavenly host with an angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.  Lk 2: 9-14

Mandy Geyman and Lucy Mandy and Lucy

 

The Third Week in Advent

Third Sunday of adventI have been blessed to have taken 4 pilgrimages to the Holy Land. My first 3 though prevented me from going to the site of the Visitation because my arthritic knees would not permit me to climb the hills. Even the thought of walking those hills to get the Church of the Visitation made me cringe.

When I think of Mary traveling to be with her cousin Elizabeth in Judah, I imagine how difficult that journey up those hills must have been for her. She was a young woman and while I am sure she had good knees, she was in her early stages of pregnancy. As I thought about Mary making the journey from Nazareth to the hills of Judah (about 90 miles) walking and/or riding on a donkey suffering from symptoms of possibly nausea, headaches, backaches and tiredness, I was amazed at her self-sacrifice. She was determined to get to her cousin Elizabeth to help her in her time of need.

Elizabeth was an old woman who was likely suffering similar symptoms to Mary’s and she may have even had worn out knees. She was very near to giving birth to her son, John the Baptist, and Mary had to get there to assist her through her pregnancy and to help her with her newborn son. She put herself aside to help her cousin. No wonder God selected this woman to raise his son. She was selfless.

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Lk. 1-39

VisiationI finally made it to the Church of the Visitation at the top of the Judean Hills (see the picture to the right) on my last pilgrimage and was awestruck looking out over the scene. It was not only one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen but knowing what happened there made me more conscious of focusing on other people instead of my own troubles. The view along with this  reminder was well worth the wait.

Dear Lord, help me to always put others in need first as Mary, Your Mother did. Don’t let me trip over my own problems on the way to helping others, particularly as I look around at this time of the year and see so many others who require help.

Cathy O’Toole

 

 

Second Week of Advent

second sunday of adventThis week we read a little about St. Joseph. He has always been a bit of a curious figure to me. He never speaks anywhere throughout the New Testament and he isn’t even mentioned much with the exception of passages in Matthew and Luke about the birth of Christ. We know very little about him other than he was a carpenter, a bit older than Mary, was from the lineage of King David and he was from Nazareth.

When Joseph discovered Mary was with child prior to their marriage, what went through his mind? Did he assume that Mary had been unfaithful to him? He knew Mary was a woman of virtue so he must have been very confused by this situation. Matthew tells as that he was unwilling to embarrass her so he resolved to send her away.

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. MT 1: 19

Maybe he loved Mary so much that even though he knew that he was not the father, he wanted to protect her and her child.  Maybe that is why he did not want to expose her to shame in their community.

Perhaps he was terrified that he wouldn’t be a good enough father. I am sure many would be fathers worry about this.  It is difficult to know what he was thinking.

One day though, an angel appeared to him in a dream and said;

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.   Mt. 1:20

We do know that just as Mary trusted God’s plan for her, so did Joseph. And, just as God had a plan for them, he also has a plan for each of us.

Dear Lord, help us to trust in your plan for us just as Joseph and Mary did. Their faith was so strong that despite what they were being asked to do, they willingly complied. Lead each of us to love and serve you and to follow your direction for our lives. Give us a strong faith so that no matter what You ask of us, we are willing and able to follow.

Cathy O’Toole

First Sunday of Advent

“What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” Mk. 13:37

 This time of the year we are likely to be making lists and checking them twice.  There is much to do in the next few weeks.  From shopping for presents and wrapping them, writing cards to people we long to stay in touch with, decorating the house inside and out, baking, planning menus, sending invitations, planning parties and perhaps even arranging trips to visit family and friends out of town. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the season.

As St. Mark reminds us in his gospel on the first Sunday or Advent is, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”  In other words, don’t lose sight of the true meaning of this season.  I know you may be thinking, yet one more thing to worry about.  But, if it wasn’t for the birth of Jesus, there would be no Christmas; no parties, no cards, no trips to be with family, and most importantly, no Savior.

So when you and your family make ready for this holiday, focus on the true meaning and prepare your hearts to receive our Savior.  Go to Mass, Reconciliation and light your Advent Wreath each week. Pray each day and reflect on your prayers.  Watch, wait and prepare.  He will be here before you know it.  Will you be ready?

Dear Lord, do not let me lose the meaning of this season in the busyness of the holidays.  Let me focus my time, energy and talents where it matters, on the birth of your Son.  

single candle                 Cathy O’Toole