What Rules You?

Last Sunday (not yesterday), we celebrated Christ the King. It is one of those great feasts that gets lost on the calendar. As much as we would like to pay attention to it, the world around us has moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas and wants desperately for us to do the same. Let’s face it, shortly after the Labor Day sales are over, people are talking about Black Friday and in one store, I actually saw lit Christmas trees before I saw Halloween candy. But I digress…

The feast of Christ the King always reminds me of a homily I heard years ago. “What rules you?” the priest asked. My mind wondered then, as it does every year on that feast day, and I begin to think back over recent days. There is so much going on at work. At home, too. This week will see us juggling the science fair, the biennial adult ministry conference that Maureen coordinates with her team and at which the bishop and I will present, a new babysitter, projects, homework, and getting dinner on the table.

The day before Christ the King, we cleaned the house. From top to bottom, basement to bathrooms, wood floors to the grass outside, we cleaned. For the most part, the children were willing participants. Sure, the promise of pizza for dinner and getting to stay up late to cheer the Irish to victory helped, but so did the “divide and conquer” methodology we employed to get small children to accomplish small tasks and then move on to another job.

As I thought back over the day, it occurred to me that what ruled us was a checklist: the list of chores was created by us, but we were controlled by it. Like so many days and nights, we fly from lists at home to tasks at work and from commitments with family to promises made to friends. We let the work around us consume us, change us, and push us into an amnesic state where the “why” we do what we do gets lost.

We clean because it is important to take care of the place where we live. We straighten and dust and vacuum to be healthy in mind and soul so, later on when the pizza is consumed, and the Irish are up by six, we can sit on the sofa and hold our children as they fall asleep. We go to work, I hope, because we love what we do and, yes, because it pays tuition and the mortgage and the food bill. We keep track of what we do, perhaps, for a sense of accomplishment and to know when our work is complete.

Still, it is nice to be reminded once in a while and just to pause and ask ourselves that tough, embarrassing question: What rules you? From where is your motivation derived? Why do you serve in the way you do at the place you do and with the people you do?

Maybe, just maybe, answering the questions now will make for a more clear-headed Advent and enjoyable Christmas season, surrounded by family and friends.

Of course, by then, the house will be a mess…

~pjd

Memorial Day

It would easy – too easy – to lose sight of why we take the day off from work today. Between hot dogs and hamburgers, beach passes, and cutting the grass, today marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Many of us will stand along streets to watch parades, catch up on household chores, and spend time with family and friends.

But it’s important, too, to pause for a moment and remember why we enjoy the freedom to do the things we love to do. Thanks to the sacrifice of someone’s daughter or son, sister or brother, mother or father, you and I get to vote for whomever we choose and then complain about the outcome. We get to speak our mind out loud without fear of recrimination and we get to worship wherever we choose.

Freedom comes at a price. Following the Civil War, which claimed more lives than any conflict in our nation’s young history, our leaders were faced with the need for the country’s first national cemeteries. Within a few years, Americans in towns and cities began setting aside a day in late spring to pay tribute to the fallen, decorating their graves with flowers and praying for the dead.

As wars continued, so did the number of cemeteries. Decoration Day gave way to Memorial Day, which was established officially as a federal holiday in 1968 and first celebrated across the country in 1971.

So even if you do not have a chance to visit a cemetery and lay flowers at a grave, you and I can pause this day and give thanks for the brave women and men who offered, as President Lincoln called it, “the last full measure of devotion.”

And so we pray…

God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your daughters and sons.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

—from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers

 

reprinted from May 2017 (forgive the re-post, we are taking a break today)

Word Made Flesh

Merry Christmas.

Today is the day when people, believers and nonbelievers alike, celebrate Christmas far more widely and with far greater joy than any other holiday or holy day.

Is this simply because Christmas is about motherhood, the birth of a child, innocence, and love? After all, these are at the heart of human life. I suppose it’s true that most of us would find it hard to identify with rising from the darkness of the tomb. Maybe that is why Christmas often has broader appeal than Easter. But perhaps there is more, a lot more. Perhaps we are more deeply in touch with an abstract idea we call the Incarnation than we realize. It could be that something deep inside us knows what “the Word made Flesh” really means.

From the moment God breathed God’s life-giving spirit over the darkness of the void and brought creation to life, God spoke to people. Through giants like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Deborah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, the psalmists, God gave us the words of life.

But, on Christmas day, the living Word of God came into the world. Mary gave birth to the Son of God. In this Jesus, God communicated most eloquently with God’s people. In this Jesus, God held children. God met with skeptics and dined with outcasts. In Jesus, God talked, listened. God wept over the dead Lazarus. God touched the leper. God put mud and spittle on the blind man’s eyes and healed him. Through Jesus, God entered the cycle of human life and unswervingly walked its path to the end.

Perhaps Christmas is so touching because God skipped nothing, not the frantic eruption of birth nor the numbing moment of death. God came to be one of us. One of us.

Perhaps the gift-giving of Christmas, the outpouring of love we lavish on one another, echoes the final message this God-Made-Man spoke through human flesh: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Maybe this feast opens the door to some inner cell of our hearts where we imprison the Word that tells us that now we must be the arms of God surrounding the little ones; that we must be God’s voice to speak and God’s ears to listen; that we must weep God’s tears; that we must be God’s healing hands; that we must be Jesus in our times and in our culture. the power of this truth escapes and, at least for a few moments, warms up the coldness of our world.

It is indeed up to the twenty-first century Christians to give birth to Jesus in their own time, their own culture, their own families. This is the heart of faith and life. Each of us is an innkeeper. It is up to us to find room for Jesus.

Deep within us, we know it. We feel it and so we celebrate.

May that wonder and joy of that first Christmas be yours today and always.

Anticipation

The children are planning for Christmas. They are making lists and comparing them with each other, making sure that they do not overwhelm Santa or Mom and Dad. I think they also want to make sure they do not repeat on one list what is asked on another.

When we moved to Connecticut, we started a new tradition. The children’s list can include only four items:

One thing you want.
One thing you need.
One thing you wear.
One thing you read.

For the sake of tradition, we also allowed one thing from Santa. The practice requires thought, planning, and maybe a little scheming. In the end, however, it has been a great move. Gone are the days of the endless list of toys that will litter the basement – we already have plenty of Legos for that. Gone, too, are the days of trying to count to make sure every child receives the same amount. The lists are simple and direct. Needs are identified and answered. There are still “family gifts” like the Nintendo Wii that appeared a few years ago and still haunt us, or the Lego Millennium Falcon, which did not actually get put together until just a few months ago, so it is not as if anyone is cheated by the new tradition.

The youngest has been asking for a few days when we can start decorating, but until the leaves are out of the yard, it just seems too soon. The liturgical calendar requires we “do” Advent first, but I think the tree may appear this weekend. After a whirlwind few weeks of attending the National Catholic Youth Conference and celebrating Thanksgiving on the road, visiting family and friends, and going to the movies (you really should see Coco), the school bus arrived on time this morning and the family is settling back into our routine.

I am taking a few days off this week, making use of the vacation days I will lose if they go unused. There are plenty of chores to do around the house, but my guess is that I will work from home while I pretend to get some reading and writing finished for school.

As we head towards the season of waiting, may your week be filled with the hope and anticipation that can always be found this time of year in a house filled with children.

~pjd

Losing Gratitude

I do not like to wait. If I buy a gift for someone, I usually deliver it long before it’s time. We tend to shop for Christmas all year long, looking for sales and trying to help Santa finish early. At some point, we forget where we hide things or forget what we have purchased, all of which makes for a fascinating Christmas Eve.

And each year, I swear I will “do” Advent better. Then it sneaks up on me and pretty soon we are halfway through the season and I still haven’t gotten the candles out.

Apparently, the rest of the world is afraid they will miss this important time of preparation too. Everyone seems to be in a rush to get to the manger. Christmas lights and decorations were up at Home Depot long before all the pumpkins were sold. Black Friday, which was annoyingly creeping into Thanksgiving day, has suddenly, and for no apparent reason (save the obvious greed), developed into a season all its own. You can now shop Black Friday sales pretty much all through November. Small Business Saturday gives way to Cyber Monday and soon we are two weeks into Advent and I can’t find the wreath.

And in the midst of this mess, we have lost sight of my favorite national holiday.

Prayers of Thanksgiving have long been a part of our religious heritage and prayers of thanksgiving at harvest time have been around for centuries. Rooted in this country in the practices of Puritans and stories of Pilgrims, Thanksgiving was first celebrated by all the states in the Union in 1863 as Abraham Lincoln sought to hold a country together. Later proclaimed a national holiday by a joint resolution in Congress and signed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, Thanksgiving has been a part of our nation’s fabric for generations.

Though the timing was changed along the way, in part for economic reasons, the simple message remained the same: take one day of the year to give thanks for all that we have.

So before we decorate. Before we light candles and open little paper doors. Before making our list and check it twice. Before all the waiting begins, let us just stop for one day. No shopping. No surfing. No texting. No posting.

Just be with the people you love and say “thank you” for the blessings they are in your life. Thank them for the way they challenge you, move you, and improve you.

It’s one day. My favorite day. Family day. Lazy day. Baking day. Cooking day. Going to Mass because we want to day. Pie day. Turkey day. Thanksgiving Day.

Thanks be to God for the blessing we have, the blessings we are, and the blessings we are called to share

~pjd

 

This post originally appeared in 2013 but the Donovan clan returned home late last night from the National Catholic Youth Conference and are exhausted, so please forgive the repost.

Pause To Remember

It would easy – too easy – to lose sight of why we take the day off from work today. Between hot dogs and hamburgers, beach passes, and cutting the grass, today marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Many of us will stand along streets to watch parades, catch up on household chores, and spend time with family and friends.

But it’s important, too, to pause for a moment and remember why we enjoy the freedom to do the things we love to do. Thanks to the sacrifice of someone’s daughter or son, sister or brother, mother or father, you and I get to vote for whomever we choose and then complain about the outcome. We get to speak our mind out loud without fear of recrimination and we get to worship wherever we choose.

Freedom comes at price. Following the Civil War, which claimed more lives than any conflict in our nation’s young history, our leaders were faced with the need for the country’s first national cemeteries. Within a few years, Americans in towns and cities began setting aside a day in late spring to pay tribute to the fallen, decorating their graves with flowers and praying for the dead.

As wars continued, so did the number of cemeteries. Decoration Day gave way to Memorial Day, which was established officially as a federal holiday in 1968 and first celebrated across the country in 1971.

So even if you do not have a chance to visit a cemetery and lay flowers at a grave, you and I can pause this day and give thanks for the brave women and men who offered, as President Lincoln called it, “the last full measure of devotion.”

And so we pray…

God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your daughters and sons.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this though Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

—from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers

Death And Life Are In The Power Of The Tongue

I’m sorry…I didn’t mean it

I take it back

Strike it from the record

What is as irreversible as murder, violates its victims more than theft, is as deadly as an epidemic? And is a lot closer to you than you want to think?

Gossip, slander, and thoughtless speech. Gossip is a million-dollar industry in our country today. We tend to think of it as a sport, harmless and fun. After all, it’s only words.

As Christians, we are called to see it differently. Which is worse, we must ask, to steal from someone or to speak ill of someone? To defraud a person or to humiliate him? Answer: Property can be restored, but the damage done to another can never be undone. In fact, our Jewish ancestors compared slander and humiliation with murder: the destruction is irreparable and enduring.

You can’t take it back. What we say about each other is terribly powerful: words have a long, long half-life, and they can destroy in unseen, unhealable ways.

Our words are a footprint we leave for the world. What will they reveal about the way we treat our children, our parents, our friends, students, co-workers, employees? How we treat ourselves?

It’s a new year. Perhaps none of us will find a cure for cancer, or feed the world’s hungry, or bring about world peace. But nearly every day we find ourselves with someone’s reputation or sense of worth in our hands.

We can improve our world in a powerful, pervasive way; we can act as though our words had the power of life and death.

They do.


About this reflection

When I was a child, there was an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal with the headline and text above, though I have edited some text. The ad was in celebration of the Jewish New Year, I believe. My mother, wise as she was, cut it out and posted it on the refrigerator. If you said or did something that warranted further reflection, you got to stand in front of the full page of newsprint. In time, I had it memorized. When her children moved out of the house, my mother made sure we each got a copy. Mine hangs on the refrigerator and I can still say it by heart. We learn slowly as children…and sometimes more slowly as adults. Happy New Year Mom. Happy New Year One and All.

 

 

Almost Christmas

‘Twas the week before Christmas
And all over the place
Unfinished projects
Stare us right in the face

The shopping’s not done
The wrapping – forget it
The living room, once clean,
Looks like a hurricane hit it

The tree is up,
So is the wreath.
It will all come together
By the skin of our teeth

But it snowed this weekend,
Our first in this state
Five inches in all
The kids couldn’t wait

To go out and play
And sled down the hill
And then sit by the fire
To shake off the chill

So the troops are quite happy
School’s almost done
Then we celebrate Christmas
And the birth of the Son

Who brings us great Joy
And good will and His peace
May He live in your hearts
With a love that won’t cease

May your week be quite blessed
And your halls be all decked
May your list be all finished
Your to-dos all checked

May the Love that we celebrate
Warm your heart and your home
May you take the spirit of Christmas
Wherever you roam