Thursday, December 30, 2010

Drawing Number 2!

I will be drawing from those of you who post comments for a Graeter's gift card.  The drawing will happen on Sunday.  Here's what you need to comment on:

-What has been the funniest thing that has happened to you (or that you've witnessed) this Christmas break?

Become a follower and post your comments below.  If you're already a follower, you just need to sign in and then post away!  One submission per person.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oh Holy Night

Last week I had a conversation with a good friend of mine from college.  He drew my attention to the line, "Long lay the world in sin and error pining / Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth."

Long have we lay in sin, pining, grasping for something more.  Longing for happiness.  The next line says it all.  Christ appears and each individual soul finds its worth.  We find all that we had longed for.

Check out the song and lyrics below.  The words and music have a vertical effect on the soul, but we must allow ourselves to be struck by them.

O holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night
Of the dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
Till He appeared
And the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night oh night divine

Led by the light
Of faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts
By His cradle we stand
So led by light
Of a star sweetly gleaming
Here came the wise men
From orient land
The King of kings
Lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials
Born to be our Friend
He knows our need
To our weakness is no stranger
Behold your King
Before Him lowly bend
Behold your King
Before Him lowly bend

Truly He taught us
To love one another
His law is love
And His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break
For the slave is our brother
And in His name
All oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy
In grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us
Praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord
O praise His name forever
His power and glory evermore proclaim
His power and glory evermore proclaim
His power and glory evermore proclaim
O holy night

CCLI Song No. 4321921
© 2004 Van Ness Press, Inc. (Admin. by LifeWay Christian Resources)
Adolphe Charles Adam | Dennis Allen | John Sullivan Dwight
For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use.  All rights Reserved.
CCLI License No. 800199

Friday, December 24, 2010

Warm wishes this Christmas...

Warm wishes.  Friendship.  Kindness.  Happiness.  Family.  Giving. 

For many who combat the materialism of Christmas, these words have become the "reason for the season."  Fr. Anthony Giambrone, O.P. spoke on this topic during his homily yesterday.   He brought up a point that I'd been pondering about the materialization of Christmas and the counter movement to make Christmas a time of friends, family, warm wishes and cheer.  Fr. Anthony brought up Dickens' The Christmas Carol as an example of this.  

 It was no coincidence that when I got into my car later in the afternoon, the first voice I heard on the radio was an anchor saying something like, "Peace, joy, happiness and family.  These are the true reasons for Christmas."  I chuckled to myself. 

Now, I don't want to take anything way from all of these good things.  Material gifts are often great.  Family and friends are excellent.  Warm wishes are cozy.  Peace and kindness are things we all desire.

But sentiments can cloud our vision.

There is something deeply personal about the Incarnation, and this intimate moment when God becomes man should teach us something deep about our humanity. 

At Christmas we remember - we live the memory - the fact that God became man.  We not only call to mind the birth of a tiny little king, but the whole of His life, and the fact that by dying and rising from the dead, He can be encountered now as He was then by shepherds and Magi.  Christ teaches us what it means to be human.  He does this by teaching us:  how to call God "Father," how to pray, that freedom lies in pursuing the greatest good, what sacrifice means, and that we find ourselves by giving ourselves in the purest form of charity. 

The more this encounter with the Word made Flesh becomes a real event, a real experience, the deeper our conversion will be.

Let us not, in the midst of presents, generosity, friends and family, forget this intimate invitation of the Mystery with our hearts.

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.   Ezekiel 36:26

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shock and Awe

Christmas is almost here.

This frustrates me.  And not because I don't like Christmas.

I, once again, failed to enter into the Advent in the way I wanted to.  Not sure if you find yourself in a situation like mine, but two days of Advent is still two days of Advent.  This means there is still time to recall the deepest feeling of anticipation you've ever had and try to apply that feeling to what it means that God took on flesh to save your life.

There is still time to ponder what it means that God loves you and me so deeply that he crashes into our humanity, taking it on fully, in order to teach us what He wants most:  For us to simply be with Him.

May we each be surprised once again, surprised at the announcement of the Incarnation as the shepherds were, this coming Saturday.  And may we, in a spirit of surprise, wonder and awe, make haste to the inner recesses of our hearts to encounter the living God. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Treat

Summer sausage is a Christmas staple, just like turkey fitting tightly with Thanksgiving.  Summer sausage is more impressive than turkey, though, as it is not refrigerated and can be purchased on an end rack at virtually any store.
Wikipedia tells me this is an air-dried, salt-preserved roll of animal organs...namely organs from cows, pigs and even deer.  This is the sort of stuff that goes to waste, unless it finds its way into dog food or slimes together with other animal organs and lots of salt to produce the Christmas delicacy we know and love.  

But that sounds sick. 
Fortunately, I have determined its origin, one that is contrary to the all encompassing knowledge of Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, knowing the origin doesn't make you feel any better about eating it. 
I was amazed to find on the buffet table - a table covered with various entree, vegetable, fruit and dessert casseroles (yes, everything was in casserole and constructed with lots of cream-ofs) - not just a couple varieties of summer sausage, but four different types.  Each neatly cut and lying next to cheese and crackers.
Impelled by the goodness, I tried all of them and eventually fell into a salty stupor. 

In this state of unconsciousness, I had a vision, true insight into the origin of the meat. 

Surrounded by my four uncles (the four responsible for the variety of summer sausages on the table, the four who will save up vacation days for hunting season, the four who construct full-size buildings out of a few pieces of scrap wood, the four who can kill an animal, skin it in their kitchen sinks and fry it up in less than an hour - I'm sure you know those types of people), I found myself in the middle of a snow-laden woods.

We were on all fours, eyes focused on the ground in front of us, laying in wait.  Just ahead of us, the leafy bed of the forest floor began to be displaced by a slight tremble and roll.  It was a sausage coming to the surface in search of grubs. 

Whack-a-mole instantly became valuable. 

As the meat's mysterious path turned toward us, Uncle Duane sprung forward and, with the only weapon he had, drove the heal of his boot deep into the moving earth.  

He stunned the summer sausage.

Eagerly anticipating the feast, we surrounded the divot and tore at the ground with our hands, unearthing the creature and sticking it in a brown bag (if you've ever purchased summer sausage from a local shop, you know they always put it in an unmarked, brown bag).

A deep satisfaction was coming over me, when suddenly, I came to.

Back at the Christmas party, I looked over at the counter - just beyond the casserole table - lined with four brown bags.


...something felt as if it were still alive inside of me.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Extermination Justification

Hole-in-the-wall.  Mom and Pop.  Greasy Spoon.  DINER (in neon lights). 

These places keep America running smooth, and I love them.  Everywhere I go, I find them and I judge them based upon their home fries.  Greasier is better.  Salty is stellar. 

I've been frequenting a local diner (by the way, real diners are only open for breakfast and lunch) for about six months now.  A real gem in the rough. 

The entryway is a bit dark due to the old wood-paneled walls.  Sometimes I'm not sure if it's open, but the blinking Lottery sign in the window assures my appetite that it will be satisfied.  On cold mornings, the inner portion of the window will be covered with condensation from the eggs, bacon and sausage that are cooking over open fire. 

Beautiful imagery, really. 

This place is legit.  Here's why:
  • The home fries are amazing.
  • The owner has run shop for 37 years and has not aged. 
  • There used to be a beautiful mural of a beach scene (they've since brightened up the place by painting the walls white). 
  • You can order a burger at any time of day.  So far I've had burgers at 6:55am and 9:30am.  
    • I learned about legit diners from my dad who eats a cheeseburger with his Coke every Tuesday around 9am.  
  • The nice waitress often fills my water glass with a Styrofoam cup.  Don't know where it's from or who used it last.  This is family-style service.
  • My order has been memorized.  
  • They openly exterminate pests.
I will elaborate upon my final bullet point.

Several months ago, I was enjoying a breakfast sandwich at my diner.  It was nine in the morning.  I looked up from my treat and spotted a man walking around the perimeter of the room.  Canister in hand.  He was spraying the floor where it met the wall. 

My verbatim stream of consciousness:  "That is the exterminator.  He is spraying for bugs.  I am eating my sandwich just a few feet away from his poisonous spray.  This can't be legal.  I love it.  I love this place." 

Still, I thought it was a dream.  I must have slipped into a grease-induced coma.  It didn't help that he vanished into the kitchen and I never saw him again.  
One may recall Upton Sinclair's The Jungle at a time like this, or maybe even the FDA.  Proper "code" would be for extermination of pests to happen after the restaurant closes and within a certain number of hours before it opens.  Proper concealment of the act of extermination that hints at the high probability of bugs/germs in all restaurants makes everyone feel nice and ignorant (though I will not deny the immanent threat to my health here).  

I like transparency. 

Last Friday, 6:50am, he showed up again.  He was no illusion.  I watched him spray down the dining room, then the kitchen, only to set down his venom and pull up a bar stool for all the fixins'.  

"This really is the diner of my dreams," I thought to myself as I walked over and asked him to spray some beetle juice on my sandwich before I partook in its goodness. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Retreat Video 2010

Here's a look back at In Reverse!  And if you ever wondered what a retreat might be like, here's your answer.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Battle of Willpower

We have a tremendous amount of talent on display.  Kate takes on the teens in a harsh round of Ninja.  Her tactics are unusual, but effective.  Her patience extraordinary.  Her fear, unimaginable.

Notice Jackie's attempted swipe at the face, and Kate's icy flinch.

As the round progressed, Kate's moves became, well, more progressive.

Behold, the gift of courage.

Unfortunately for Kate, the bold move she made - which if you pay careful attention, did not even come close to the hand of her dreaded opponent - eventually led to an even bolder, resulting in the loss the game, and of her hand (too gruesome to show here).

Yet focusing on the loss, here, ignores the evolution of a fighter in front of our eyes.  What courage!  What willpower!

I am told that Kate's hand has regenerated. 

Monday, December 6, 2010


Christmas tree is up.  Ours is not the biggest and definitely not even close to being the brightest.  It's about 4 feet tall and sits on a table (baby-proof).  We only had one strand of lights, so it's a bit dim.

But, to Therese, our one-year-old, it is new, and therefore, it is awesome.  When I carried her into the living room on Sunday morning and set her on the floor, she proceeded to say "wow" nonstop for over 30 seconds.  That might not sound like much time, okay, you try it then.  Set the stop watch on your cell and say "wow" nonstop for 30.

It's a lot of wow-action.

Here's a clip that captures the cuteness factor. 

Upon further reflection, her apparent amazement struck me.  This is wonder - to be filled with amazement and awe.


The simple little dim Christmas tree filled her with wonder.  What a lesson for me and for you during this Advent season.  We are called to actively prepare for the biggest "WOW" the world has ever proclaimed:  The Incarnation.  The Creator of the universe became one of us.  We relive that memory, and are called to live the memory of this extraordinary event always, that in living it, we might stand filled with wonder at its unspeakable mystery.

This pic is filled with wonder.  I like the guy on the right, who is clearly thinking, "Mary, get out of the way.  I want to see this child."  The guy in the nice light blue outfit (front, left) is pointing and saying to his friends, "Check this out...I can't believe what I'm seeing!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Season of Hope

"Hope has to rest on a fact that is present...It is Christ, Christ our hope - that is, present...This is the fact that allows us to face everything" (Msgr. Luigi Giussani). 

Advent is a season of hope. 

Sometimes I have a difficult time with the concept of hope, just like I have a difficult time with the idea of having dreams (as in aspirations...not visions of sugar-plums in the middle of the night...or of turkish delight). 

I've always been told to dream big, so I did.  But big dreams based on zero reality, typically don't go very far.  At least they haven't in my life.  But aspirations that I've built on facts have, probably because they are reasonable.  I think I'm starting to look at hope this way as well.

Every Advent, there is a focus on the second coming of Christ, which serves as a gentle reminder that we're going to die some day.  The world is finite.  We are finite.  And so on.  I used to hope big any time I thought about these "end times."  "Gosh, I hope that I attain salvation."  Throwing words out there as if it would end up being a thing of chance.  But that seems crazy now - now.

Emphasis on the word "now."

The problem with my original stance (hoping big), was that it was not based on a fact that is present now.  This is not unlike a big dream that is based on unreasonable, abstract aspirations.  The original stance forgot the first coming, which is Emmanuel - God with us.  God is with us now.  The fact of the Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection (which makes the fact present now), ought to give me great hope for my life right now and for my salvation.  It isn't a blind hope or some far-fetched dream.

The Psalmist drills this point home as he says, "But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope" (Ps. 130:4-5).

Because of the ways the Lord has made himself present to us, through our encounters with Him in the Eucharist, in each other, in the Church, through the forgiveness we have experienced in Confession, we have been given great reason to hope.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hungry? Grab a Loaf

I checked out today's Gospel this morning.  It is one we've all heard before:

At that time:
Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee,
went up on the mountain, and sat down there.
Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.
The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole,
the lame walking,
and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.
Jesus summoned his disciples and said,
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
for they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat.
I do not want to send them away hungry,
for fear they may collapse on the way.”
The disciples said to him,
“Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place
to satisfy such a crowd?”
Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?”
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.”
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.  (Mt. 15: 29-37)

Did you notice how long the crowd was with Him?

Three days!

Three days they sat at his feet.  Surely they ran out of food, were tired, thirsty, and apparently, not bored.  And, what does He do for those who are faithful, who stick it out with Him? 

He provides in abundance. 

This whole idea of "three days" calls me on to a greater focus this Advent season.  Is my focus on Christ, the one who will fulfill my hunger, and satisfy my thirst?  Or, am I trying to satisfy these needs myself?