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December 15th, 2011
Helpful terms of engagement to maintain holiday cheer

Hollywood families (at least in their writers’ imagination) seem to have warm and fuzzy family Christmas dinners. Mine are more complex. Somehow, the relative morality of another family member invariably becomes a topic of conversation. Over the years, I have developed terms of engagement I consider essential to a healthy, productive holiday conversation about morality. For those of you determined to maintain your own Christmas cheer at the family dinner table this year, I will relay what I have learned. Consider it a “Christmas Spirit Survival Guide.”
Working with Catholic religious communities has taught me two ways to encounter others: I can espouse core Christian beliefs in a welcoming…

December 14th, 2011

In the back pew of the adoration chapel, I folded my arms and slouched before the God who wouldn’t talk to me. It was Advent, and I was wrenching in the throes of undergraduate existentialist angst. Prayer had once suffused my days with joy and meaning; the time I spent in the chapel had gone by quickly and pleasantly, and when I left I felt full to bursting with quiet elation. Now prayer was a process I dreaded: grueling, tedious, utterly devoid of consolation. I was in agony. I resented God’s silence and inactivity, and I told Him so. Repeatedly.
I glanced back at the clock on the wall. I’d been sitting in that chapel for three unproductive, spiritually arid quarters of an hour. I shifted in my seat,…

December 8th, 2011

Many “alternative” gift articles suggest non-gifts — things like giving to charity in the person’s name, or giving service rather than a thing — but choosing a present specifically for another person, wrapping it playfully and offering it to them can tap into love, charity, selflessness and hospitality. I refuse to let consumerism win by equating gift giving with money and greed. I want you to buy gifts, real physical gifts. So how do we choose gifts in a mass consumer culture?

There isn’t just one approach. You might choose items made locally; or by individuals; or from small manufacturers that treat their employees well. If you’re not buying directly from the supplier, you will be considering the retailer too. Let’s call it “conscious” gift shopping. The spiritual principle here is to consider the whole gift: what it will mean to the recipient; what it’s made of; how it was made; who made it; how it got to your hands. I think everyone can embrace supporting individual craftspeople and small businesses over multinational corporations. At least for Christmas.

December 7th, 2011
Grieving infertility and miscarriage in the season of Advent

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.
– Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, O, Holy Night
Wanting to be a parent is perhaps the greatest human desire. The desire to love another soul unconditionally — to teach, guide and nurture — is profoundly exciting. Being willing to impact the life of another in such an intimate way is overwhelmingly selfless. The yearning to share one’s own DNA, body, family traditions, home and life with a new creation is a dream many experience years prior…

December 1st, 2011

Poverty is affecting more and more people in today’s distressed economy. And young adults are volunteering to work with the poor to help alleviate the imposing challenges they face.

Some turn to formal volunteer service organizations (think Catholic Volunteer Network or Jesuit Volunteer Corps). Leah M. Nusse, recruitment and marketing manager for Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, said that groups like hers play a role in addressing the need that comes with rising poverty levels. (Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show 46.2 million people or 1 in 6 Americans living in poverty.)

“With an increased need for services and a diminished level of giving and support of the organizations responding to the need, Jesuit Volunteers can help fill a critical void and increase the capacity of our partner organizations to provide their much needed services,” she said.

November 22nd, 2011
A helpful tool to encourage a more grateful attitude towards life

This is the last column to run before Thanksgiving, so I want to talk to you about gratitude. I could write a dozen columns about gratitude in various forms; for this column, I’m going to focus on one simple tool: the gratitude list.

When you find yourself feeling particularly ungrateful about your life — or your spiritual director or friend points out to you that you are — you can stop and remind yourself of all the things for which you can be grateful.

There are some obvious things. You often hear people say, “at least I’ve got my health.” That might sound trite, but if you have ever experienced a serious loss of your own good health and then gotten it back, or if you or to someone close to you is deprived permanently of good health, you will know that good health is a great blessing. Another common item is family — partners, parents, children: whoever loves you unconditionally and gives you sustenance and support.

Not half full or half empty — just half full

Gratitude list items can also be seemingly trivial things — or at least things that might seem so to someone else. And many things can be seen as blessings or negatives. For example, I do not live with anyone else. I could focus on and feed feelings of loneliness. But I can also be grateful for the control I have over my environment and how easy it is to meditate and have silence when I want it. (Ask anyone with a big family about how precious that is!)

It’s important, even though this is a list, to not fall into thinking of it as a two-sided ledger. It’s not “I’m alone but at least I have peace and quiet.”  It’s, “I can have peace and quiet whenever I want in my home.”

It’s not about seeing our world’s cup as half full rather than half empty. Because the truth is everyone, and I mean everyone, has things they can be grateful for and things they can be ungrateful for. It’s about paying attention to the part that’s full. Who cares about what you don’t have? Seriously. Think about that for a moment.

Focusing on what we don’t have, on expectations of things that have not materialized for us, only leads to anxiety and self-pity. I’m not saying there is no place for wanting to create a more abundant life, but that’s not the way. Paradoxically — as are most great spiritual principles — it is by being content with what we have that we are open to seeing clearly what is around us, and seeing new opportunities.

November 22nd, 2011
Tips to slow down and be grateful

“Thanksgiving Day is coming; gobble, gobble, gobble. Lets give thanks for this day!”
These words are a remnant of the only song about Thanksgiving I remember from my childhood. My family had the main Thanksgiving meal at one grandma’s house in a New Jersey city, then we would pile into my dad’s big Chevy and rumble across the swamps and oil refinery fields to my other grandma’s for dessert. Thanksgiving was a moderately fun holiday. We’d watch football games. My teenage cousin would impress me and disgust everyone else with his uncanny ability to chug… creamed corn. Yet Thanksgiving is the single event where I rack up the greatest number of deadly sins: gluttony, sloth, envy

November 18th, 2011

I’m a proud alumnus of a Jesuit school — Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. One thing the Jesuits are very good at doing is talking about themselves, especially when it comes to their founder, Ignatius of Loyola. Because of this, I think I’ve forgotten more about Ignatian spirituality in the past four years than many people will learn in their entire life. The Jesuits would be so proud.
There were a few things I latched on to, though. One of those was the Jesuits’ vow of poverty, which, from what I saw in my interactions with them, must have some awesome loopholes. Another, more important one was the deep value the Ignatian spiritual tradition places on gratitude.
While I was in college,…

November 17th, 2011

“Here it comes!” my husband said, as the wind slammed our hillside house and a storm of heavy, wet flakes descended on our deck. It felt as if the sky were turning itself inside out and then falling on top of us. Beautiful, yes; scary, just a bit. The furnace stopped humming and embraced silence as a spiritual path. The refrigerator subsided, muttering, then was quiet. All of the lights were snuffed, as if light itself were being hoarded within the bulbs until a better day presented itself.

We sprang into action. Luckily, we could dip buckets into a half-filled hot tub in the basement and haul them upstairs for flushing toilets. We got out the candles and the hurricane lanterns, one so old it barely worked, a relict from hurricanes during my own childhood. My husband ran out onto the deck and started piling wood into a leather carrier, lugging it indoors — along with a blast of wet, cold air.

November 16th, 2011
The new translation of the Mass is coming to a parish near you. Here are the changes you need to know about.

If you’re headed to Mass during the upcoming Advent and Christmas seasons, you’re going to notice some changes. Starting November 27 the Roman Catholic Church will be using a new set of instructions for celebrating Mass — all part of the newly revised Roman Missal (the 3rd Edition, in fact!). This new translation contains revised prayers for both the priest and the assembly. Don’t worry, not all the prayers are changing, but there are some significant changes you should know about.
#1: “And with your Spirit!”
At the beginning of Mass, the priest makes the Sign of the Cross and greets the people by saying, “The Lord be with you.” In the new translation, the assembly…

November 15th, 2011

Why, exactly, do Catholics have the practice of baptizing infants?
What is the purpose of baptism and who can celebrate the sacrament of Baptism?
Do the godparents of our child need to be married to each other?
These are questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.
Baptism is the beginning of the sacramental life of the Church. So, let’s begin…
To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.…

November 15th, 2011

Should Catholics receive communion on the hand or on the tongue?  And how exactly are we supposed to do that reverently?  Is there any other acceptable response besides “Amen?”  …and what does “amen” mean anyway?
These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.
The Church calls the Eucharist the “summit and source of our faith,” so it would seem pretty important to understand the basics about receiving this sacrament when we go to Mass.
To download this video go here and click the…

November 15th, 2011

Why do I have to get confirmed if I’m already baptized? How do I choose a sponsor as I prepare for confirmation? Why do I have the option to choose a new name?
These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.
Confirmation is one of the three sacraments of initiation in the Catholic Church, with baptism and Eucharist. Think of it as a personal Pentecost, when we receive the tools we need for our spiritual journey — the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.…

November 15th, 2011
How the practice of writing in a gratitude journal has become a 10-year spiritual practice

I’ve only kept one New Year’s resolution.
Well, maybe I’ve kept more, but the fact that I can’t remember any others I’ve made makes me think that they weren’t kept.
When I was 16 years old, on our first day back after winter break, my English teacher asked us what our New Year’s resolutions were. I remember one classmate saying that she had decided to keep a gratitude journal, an idea she heard about on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Being an Oprah fanatic, my interest was piqued.
It seems odd to admit that I love writing but hate journaling. It’s the type of feeling I get from hand writing a letter, too. My handwriting and thoughts start out all nice and beautiful, and by the end, I am scribbling indiscernibly…

November 15th, 2011

Why do we have to confess our sins to a priest? Can’t we just pray to God for forgiveness? If I sin but no one is affected then can I say, “no harm, no foul?”
These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.
The Sacrament of Penance (aka Reconciliation) is one of the healing sacraments, and celebrates the loving embrace of God when we turn toward him and away from our sins.
To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.…

November 15th, 2011

Why do we have to have a Catholic wedding? Why does it take so long to get married in the Church? Why does the Church insist we have children?
These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.
To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.…

November 15th, 2011

Join Fr. Dave Dwyer, CSP, as he explains what Holy Orders are, what happens at an Ordination, and what it means to say yes to God.
These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.
To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.…

November 15th, 2011

Who can receive the Anointing of the Sick? How often? Where is it done?
These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.
To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.…

November 11th, 2011

In response to a Massachusetts ballot question that would legalize physician-assisted suicide, Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley has encouraged the Catholic legal community to uphold a “gospel of life.” In the past month, Cardinal O’Malley’s remarks have sparked discussion of this issue among laypeople. Some of this discussion has caught my attention, and it’s pretty clear that there are some serious widespread misconceptions — some of which I once held myself — both about physician-assisted suicide and about the nuances of the Catholic Church’s position.
In the minds of lay people, physician-assisted suicide often becomes…

November 10th, 2011

We are told it is natural to thirst for fulfillment in aligning our life with God’s plan for us and to thirst for the kingdom of heaven on earth to be made manifest around us. So how is this compatible with the idea of accepting everything exactly as it is? This tension is expressed in the Serenity Prayer, which I’ve written about here before. In one line we ask for the courage to change what we can; in another the serenity to accept what we can’t. The prayer’s author then adds a request for the wisdom to know the difference. Well, that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
Usually in this column, I at least take a stab at giving some advice. But here all I can do is acknowledge the tension.…

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