Pregnant Pause

By Cory J. Howat

I’ve been known to tell a story or two. It is not often that I pass up a good conversation and enjoy hearing people’s tales. Though often teased for dragging the stories on, I have always been a fan of building up the tension in a story to really drive home the climax. My wife even joked the other day that I have one of the longest pregnant pauses… Ha! I gently joked back that she was the one 8 ½ months pregnant.

As a chance to brush up on literary terms and to make sure I wouldn’t be in the “dog house”, I looked for an official definition for “pregnant pause.” What I found got my wheels spinning… So, a pregnant pause is a “pause that builds up suspension in the listener/viewer, for a greater dramatic effect of what follows after the pause.” I could go no further. You could tell me that I am sleep deprived, but I immediately thought of Advent.

As you may know or have been reminded in a recent homily, Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” We are familiar with the societal and Catholic expectations of Christmas and how they sometimes compete during this time of year. Society has us scrambling for gifts, decorating the house to the nines, and bouncing from party to party to party. Our Catholic faith can feel sometimes like it has us more bridled like a horse, telling us to slow up…expect…wait…… so that we cherish this “arrival.” Suddenly, I saw a connection to what the Lord desires for us during this Advent time. It was my pregnant-paused wife. It was the journey of our Blessed Mother as she anticipated the birth of her son, Jesus Christ.

My wife and I are expecting our fourth child any day now. With this being our second child with the due date of December 25th, we can really connect Christmas with new-life. What a long-lasting gift! During my wife’s pregnancies, I am always in awe of how being pregnant and bringing forth new life is the ultimate self-sacrifice. If my wife wants to do anything at all when she is pregnant, it usually takes a little longer with a little more thought. Her body won’t let her do otherwise… in a good way. Especially late in pregnancy, every thought and action is a bit more intentional. My Advent is right in front of me.

CoryI could then only prayerfully imagine Mary, pregnant, and how she was intentional in her expecting of Jesus. Even the physical limitations of pregnancy gave Mary pause for this arrival. It is in this waiting that truly prepares us for the arrival of a Savior. If we numb out the waiting with too many distractions, the dramatic effect of the arrival can be lost.  If we don’t pause, we can’t build anticipation. May the example of Mary teach us this valuable lesson. I pray that you will be able to experience a “pregnant pause” this Advent so that Christmas will have a greater dramatic effect in our hearts and in our lives.

Cory J. Howat is the Director of Stewardship for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.  His love for traveling, culture and adventure provide a unique perspective on life and the universal Church. For more about this blogger, click here.

10 Ways to Prep for Christmas this Advent Season

By Dana Doyle

“For You, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.  Truly my hope is in you.”

When I was young, I have several memories of my mother saying, “ I wish the Lord Jesus would come back today and spare us all!”  My reaction as a child, of course, was, “No!  I’m not ready for Jesus to come back yet!” (I’ve still got a lot of living to do!)  Now that I am a parent, I completely understand my mother’s pleas for Jesus’ return.

Dana 1 Looking at our self-cut Christmas tree– complete with asymmetrical branches and various bald spots, I notice that our tree topper is strangely off kilter.  How appropriate!  The tree, for me, is an analogy for our world right now.  It does seem to be spinning out of control – hopelessly barren in places – messed up.

When I look closer at the tree, however, I see the beautiful glistening lights, and ornaments that tell our family’s story.  I see it in a different way that is endearing and HOPEFUL.

Advent is a season of great hope.  It is a season of joyful anticipation.  It is a season of awe and inspiration.

 

 

As Christians, we know the secret to hope in the midst of the darkness of our world.  Hope has a name.  His name is Jesus Christ.

Dana 3

During this sacred season of advent, let us prepare our hearts for His coming with as much fervor as we prepare for gift giving and Santa’s arrival!  The Christ Child offers us all that our world cannot give us – PEACE, HOPE and SALVATION.  Let us be generous in giving our time and our hearts to our most Blessed King in anticipation of His coming this Christmas.

 My Personal Top Ten List for Advent Preparations (in no particular order):

  1. Reading the mass readings of the day prayerfully

  2. Making a good confession

  3. Praying and meditating upon the joyful mysteries and visiting an adoration chapel to worship the Lord and to bask in the silence

  4. Trying to get to mass at least one extra day a week

  5. Going to view a “Living Nativity” in the community

  6. Listening to a Christmas CD that is actually about  Christ’s birth (and singing whole-heartedly along!)

  7. Doing a service project to help someone in need

  8. Considering “spiritual” gifts for some of the people on my list – like masses, rosaries adoration time –   They don’t cost a thing (but time) and have immeasurable benefits!

  9. Spending time in nature in awe of God the Creator.

  10. Reading a good religious/inspirational book.

I hope that my list might give you some ideas for making your own Advent preparations even more meaningful.  May the great gifts of the Christ Child be yours this Christmas!

 

Dana Doyle is a teacher and religion coordinator at Lady of the Lake School in Mandeville, a wife, a mother of three, an author and an avid blogger. Visit her blog, “Catholic Working Mom” at www.danardoyle.wordpress.com. Read more about this blogger here.

Keep Joseph in Christmas

By Karen Baker

Jesus-in-the-Manger-610x351That seems to be my daughter’s Advent mantra. We were shopping at the gift shop at St. Joseph Abbey near Covington (a highly recommended activity!) when I saw some beautiful Christmas cards featuring Madonna and Baby Jesus. I showed them to Hannah and asked what she thought. What she thought was this: Where’s Joseph?

I found another set of cards, which I didn’t find as pretty as the first, with the whole Holy Family. “So you prefer the ones with Joseph in the picture?” I asked. “Well, yeah,” she said. “Joseph is awesome.”

Out of the mouths of 20-year-olds: Keep the foster father of Jesus in the picture! Joseph was a “righteous man,” as the Gospel of Matthew tells us. He was a follower of Mosaic law who wanted to do the right thing; more importantly, however, he was a man who listened for the voice of God and followed the divine will. When the angel told him not to be afraid, he listened and took Mary into his home. He provided a safe place for the baby Jesus to grow into the divine man who changed the world and saved us from our sins.

We don’t know much more about Joseph from the Gospels; for that matter, we don’t know much about thousands and thousands of people who live simple, holy lives dedicated to following God’s will. There is a lot to be said for those simple, holy lives.

So, yes, Joseph deserves some credit for his role in the Nativity story. As I drove home with my new Holy Family Christmas cards, I remembered a story I read by Fr. James Martin, SJ, about the quiet yet crucial role of Joseph in our salvation story. You can read it here.

karenbakerKaren Baker is a freelance writer with a Masters in Pastoral Studies from the Loyola Institute for Ministry. She works in the Office of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and in ministry at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mandeville.

We need to take a deeper look…

By Ansel Augustine, MPS

Just like everyone else, I have deep emotions and thought about what has happened in Ferguson, MO, but what needs to happen is for us, as people of faith, to respond to the frustrations and hurts of all of our brothers and sisters because what happens to one part of the Body of Christ affects us all. The following article from Catholic News Service summarizes why it is up to us, as a faith tradition that was at the forefront for fighting for the rights of the oppressed, to once again do what we are called to do. We need to look at what divides us (ie race, gender, economic status, neighborhoods, etc.) and truly EMBRACE those things that make us unique as GIFTS from God and not as threats to society. We need to take a deeper look…

Catholics should ‘rekindle’ commitment to end racism, bishop says
By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The scenes of chaos and violence in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 24 following the grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an African-American teenager, reveal deeper issues going on in the country, said one of the country’s black Catholic bishops.

“The racial divide that exists between blacks and whites is not addressed adequately except when tragedies such as this happen,” said retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, who is president of the National Black Catholic Congress.

The smashed windows, lootings, car and building fires when the grand jury’s decision was announced were “part of a cycle of violence that is going to continue spiraling,” he added.

The reactions also went against the Brown family’s wishes to keep “protests peaceful.”

In a statement, the family urged the public to channel their “frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”

When asked what can be done to work toward this “positive change,” particularly by the Catholic community, the bishop said Catholics should return to the passion many of them showed during the civil rights movement.

“We need to rekindle that commitment and not be so silent and only react when there is a great tragedy that forces us to,” he said Nov. 25 from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Washington where he is rector for the Josephites, the order founded to serve newly freed slaves in the United States and now ministers in African-American communities.

The bishop noted that many church leaders were at the forefront in integrating schools and fighting against racial discrimination in the 1950s and ’60s.


St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson greets parishioners at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Church in Ferguson, Mo., Nov. 24 following a prayer service. The service was held the same evening as violence began to erupt following the announcement that a St. Louis County grand jury would not indict a Ferguson police officer in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown. (CNS/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

“The church took an active role” back then, he noted and added that church leaders in St. Louis have made efforts but overall the church as a whole has not been as “visibly active.”

Bishop Ricard, who grew up in the segregated South in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and was a seminarian in Washington when the Civil Rights Act passed, does not have a simple reason for why the church has not been as outspoken in recent years but he thinks complacency is partly to blame.

“People throw up their hands in air when there aren’t clear solutions or they are distracted by other things going on,” he told Catholic News Service.

What he would like to see happen in the wake of the Ferguson decision and reaction is for parishes or dioceses to convene to discuss racism.

“We have structures in place,” he said, noting that it also takes courage and the “will and leadership to determine we’re going to take this step.”

Because as he sees it, these types of violent situations and reactions will continue “and if anything, get worse” if nothing is done.

He described the situation in Ferguson as a “very tragic event to see two lives, two families damaged.”

He also said it “raises questions on both sides on the use of violence and police reaction,” adding that in this country there seems to be a “consistent pattern of excessive force used against African-American men.”

In an interview with CNS this summer, he said that “racism is still a part of the fabric of our environment — of the air we breathe. It’s still part of the DNA of most Americans.”

He said it is so embedded in society that “no one group is going to solve it” and it will take “a lot of courage, forethought, imagination to address this well.”

HS_Ansel-FORMALAnsel Augustine is the Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries. He has also served as the Associate Director/Coordinator of Black Youth & Young Adult Ministry for the CYO Office of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.  He is also on the Faculty of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. Read more about this blogger here.

The Grace of Gratitude

By Dr. Tom Neal

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.” — Meister Eckhart

nealI came across this quote a few years ago, and was stopped in my tracks by the simplicity of its vision. Gratitude, which is the acknowledgement of being the beneficiary of an unearned gift, possesses life-changing power.

My grandmother used to always say to her grandkids, “Most of the problems today in the world come from a lack of gratitude. Everyone feels entitled, so no one is grateful.” When she would say this to me as a teen, I thought of it as simplistic and trite. But as I’ve grown older, its truth has become overwhelmingly clear and my wife and I work hard to pass this truth on to our children.

We all bear “debts of gratitude” to others – our parents, our teachers, and the nearly limitless procession of people who have, in ways great and small, gone beyond what is strictly required in order to make our lives better; to make us better human beings. Those of us who bear this debt of gratitude can only rightly repay it, as the saying goes, by “paying it forward” to benefit others who, like ourselves, can make no strict claims on our love and patience, generosity and time.

As people of faith, we add to our “litany of gratitude” God Himself, who created us, sustains us and redeems us. He is owed an infinite debt of thanksgiving. But how can we repay such a debt? As Catholics, we believe it is above all in the Holy Eucharist, which unites us with Christ’s supreme act of thanksgiving, that we return to God the Father fitting thanksgiving by offering the first fruits of lives lived in sacrificial service to God and neighbor. In other words, the eucharistic gratitude we offer God in the Mass must arise above all from our daily labor of loving our neighbor. St. Catherine of Siena, giving voice to God the Father, expresses this powerfully in her Dialogue:

I ask you to love me with the same love with which I love you. But for me you cannot do this, for I loved you without being loved. Whatever love you have for me you owe me, so you love me not gratuitously but out of duty, while I love you not out of duty but gratuitously. So you cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you. This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me — that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me.

I once met a woman in Iowa who had served as a nurse for over thirty years. She boasted to me that she had never missed a day of work in her whole career. When I marveled that someone could remain so healthy, she said: “I’ve always believed that my health was a gift from God so that I could care for the sick, because if I’m sick they won’t have me to take care of them.” I thought, now that’s the sign of a saint – someone who sees her health not as a sign of God’s favor for her, but as a sign of God’s favor for others. Yes, saints are the most grateful people in the world and, consequently, the most giving people in the world.

“What do you have that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?” — 1 Cor. 4:7

TomNeal-HSDr. Tom Neal is originally from Rhode Island. He has lived over the years in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Iowa and is now proud to be a NOLA Catholic! His wife and four children live in Metairie, LA and they love being called to be saints among Saints.  Dr. Tom Neal presently serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and has a particular passion for exposing the unlimited potential of theology to offer the faithful a deeper sharing in the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.

Rehabbing Gratitude

By Sr. Judy Gomila, M.S.C.

Physical therapy helps an individual to gain strength, mobility and fitness through exercise. It takes commitment and consistency if we are to reap the benefits of the rehab. I learned this personally when I had total knee replacement surgery. As I had been forewarned, the rehab was painful – although the physical therapist was gentle, compassionate and full of good humor.

Through prayer in recent months, I have become more aware of the transfer value of physical therapy experience. Have you ever considered spiritual rehab to increase your functional abilities to live the Gospel? A broken spirit…a hardened heart…a bruised relationship…a rigid outlook can all benefit from the miraculous wonders of a heart that exercises gratitude.

snoopyJust in time for Thanksgiving – with advantages to be felt all year long – we can rehab our inner selves and appreciate our multiple blessings. A quick and easy way to connect to God is to express gratitude. Gratitude is a response to the Giver of a gift: food, a sunrise, friends, talents, life itself.

When we give thanks our spirit joins with the Great Spirit in the dance of life that is the rhythm between giver and receiver. When working among Native American Tlingit people in Alaska, I learned so much about their sensibility. For example, a person about to take the life of something – a deer, a tree, salmon – humbly asks permission of the spirit that dwells in the animal or plant and gives thanks for their willingness to sacrifice their own life. Sometimes a pinch of corn or tobacco was given in compensation. This acknowledges mutuality – giving/receiving on both sides.

Gratitude can help us to overcome the “Gimmes”. In today’s society we are on a consumer treadmill. Catalogues, ads, commercials beckon us to big box stores, a smorgasbord of dollar stores, QVC, etc. I find it amazing that we rent containers to keep “our stuff” in because we don’t have enough room at home…and we keep on buying.

Over the years, I’ve read a variety of articles about dieting and weight loss. One tip suggests that you eat slowly and wait 20 minutes so your stomach will know it is full. Maybe a similar strategy could apply before we make more unnecessary purchases. Giving thanks for what we already have is like that pause when eating.   It allows us to register on the emotional and spiritual level that we have enough!

With commitment and consistency the exercise of a grateful heart will also discover the hidden blessings in difficult situations: death of a loved one, the diagnosis of cancer, loss of a job, Katrina fall out. These can be some of our greatest teachers. We can be appreciative of the lesson if not the pain.

Thanksgiving is an annual holiday. As people of faith, we can exercise on-going, inner rehab and approach each day with an attitude of gratitude. Reflect on other benefits of gratitude. Let us come before God with thanksgiving and extol God with music and song (Psalm 95) – no spandex or tennis shoes required.

Pray: Psalms of Thanksgiving and Praise – http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/Bible/Thanksgiving-Bible-Verses.aspx#

Read:The Benefits of Gratitude – http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/

View:The Story of Stuff – http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/

 

HS_JudyGomilaSr. Judith Gomila, MSC is a Marianite Sister of Holy Cross. She holds a Masters in Theology and Religious Studies from St. Paul University, Ottawa, Canada. Sr. Judy has served the Church in education/evangelization/mission outreach for 50 years. Currently she coordinates the Public Relations and Communication ministry for the Marianite Congregation and is co-director of the Marianite Associates, an organization for lay women and men who identify with Holy Cross spirituality. For more about this blogger, click here.

Welcome Dr. Tom Neal!

The NOLA Catholic Experience is excited to welcome Dr. Tom Neal to our regular blogging team! Originally from Rhode Island, Tom has lived over the years in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Iowa and is now proud to be a NOLA Catholic! His wife and four children live in Metairie, LA and they love being called to be saints among Saints.

TomNeal-HSDr. Tom Neal presently serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and has a particular passion for exposing the unlimited potential of theology to offer the faithful a deeper sharing in the mind and heart of Jesus Christ. He has worked for twenty years in adult catechesis, retreat ministry and teaching theology in various contexts trying to make present for others the “Word made fresh.” Tom received a Masters in Systematic Theology from Mount St. Mary’s University and a PhD in Religion at Florida State University. His Masters studies focused on the Orthodox theology of salvation known as theosis, and his doctoral studies concentrated on the socio-historical contexts within which late medieval mysticism flourished in Spain. His dissertation was on the Teresian Carmelite reform and the construction of ascetical identity in the writings of St. John of the Cross.

While he loves to continue his work on general topics of spiritual theology, especially inasmuch as they relate to priestly formation, Tom has dedicated much of his energy more recently to theological reflection on the vocation and mission of the lay faithful to be “secular saints” whose essential labor is to consecrate the world itself to God by faithfully living out their personal vocations in the world. He believes that the Church has yet to produce a proper theology of “lay secularity” and, consequently, a robust vision of spirituality that is suited to those whose primary path to perfection is to be found in engaging in temporal, secular affairs. His hope is to make a small contribution to that development.

Be sure to follow Dr. Neal’s personal blog at Neal Obstat Theological Opinings!