Friday, December 14, 2012


(“Ann Onymous” sent me another thought-provoker. I gave it my usual editorial attention. Any resemblance to the original is purely coincidental.)

Looking in the Mirror

The other day a young person asked me how I felt about being old. I thought about that. Actually, I don't really think of myself as old! One doesn't “get” old all of a sudden. One “becomes” older just by living longer. It's our human condition—no exceptions. So I'm quite used to the idea.

One “grows” older and that is a gift in process. Probably for the first time in my life I'm now becoming the person I've always wanted to be. Oh, not my body! I sometimes despair over the wrinkles, the baggy eyes, and the cellulite. Where did the collagen go when it disappeared from my arms—and other mostly hidden places? Often I'm surprised to look closely at that old person who lives in my mirror. But I don't agonize long over such things. I would never trade my amazing friends, my fulfilling life, my loving family, and my hopefully acquired wisdom for less gray hair or a flatter belly.

Some things get better with age—wine and cheese, for example. As I've aged, I've become more kind to myself and less critical of others. I've become my own best friend. I don't chide myself for eating that extra cookie, for not making my bed, or for buying that silly gadget that I didn't need but that gives me pleasure. I'm entitled to be messy if I wish, to be extravagant if I can be, and to stop and smell as many roses as I want to.

I've seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon before they experienced the great freedom
that comes with aging. Whose business is it if I choose to read all night or play on the computer until 4 a.m. and then sleep until -- ? No one sees me when I dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 50s & 60s. Or if I wish to weep over a lost love. If I choose to, I will strut along the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body oblivious to the pitying glances of the bikini set. They, too, will get old (if they're lucky). I know I'm sometimes forgetful. Then again, some things in life are just as well forgotten. I eventually remember the important things, but if not, they couldn't have been that important anyway.

Sure, over the years my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when a beloved pet gets hit by a car? Broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect. I'm so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turn gray and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair turned silver.

I can now say "no" and mean it. I can say "yes" and mean it. As I advance in years, it's easier to be positive. I care less about what other people think. I don't question myself anymore. I've even earned the right to be wrong—on rare occasions, of course!
Becoming older has set me free. I'm not concerned about what could have been, nor do I worry about what will be. After all these years, I've finally made peace with the person I've become. I'm not going to live forever on Planet Earth, but while I'm still in my mortal “earth suit,” I won't waste time lamenting what it looks like now. It has served me well. God has prepared a fantastic “space suit” for me to wear in my eternal life to come that is wrinkle-proof and everlasting.

Today I'm going to appreciate every one of God's not-so-ordinary miracles of life and breath and what's left of my diminishing five senses. I will greet the day with thanksgiving, joy, and anticipation. I will live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, appreciate my blessings—and leave the rest to God. Yes, I've decided I like having grown older!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


This "Ann" said it better for me. I just declare "DITTO"!
(Stolen from one of those circling emails--
but "souped up" and adapted by Leona, of course)

(By Ann Onymous)

You know. . . Time has a way of moving quickly
and catching you unaware of the passing years.

It seems just yesterday that I was young,
just married and embarking on my new life with my mate.
Yet in a way, it seems like eons ago,
and I wonder where all the years went.

I know that I lived them all…
I have glimpses of how it was back then and of all my hopes and dreams…
But, here it is…I'm in the winter of my life 
and it catches me by surprise…How did I get here so fast?
Where did the years go and where did my youth go?

I remember well…
seeing older people through the years and thinking that those
"older people" were years away from me and that "winter" was so far off
that I could not fathom it or imagine fully what it would be like.

But, here it is…
My friends are retired and getting grey.
They move slower and I see them as older persons now
Some in better and some worse shape than me
but I see the great change in them…and in myself!
They are not like I remember them when we were all young and vibrant.
Like me, their age is beginning to show and we are now those
"older folks" that we used to see and never thought we’d be.

Each day now, I find that just taking a shower is a real target for the day!
And taking a nap is not a treat anymore… it’s mandatory!
‘Cause if I don’t do so with my own free will… I just fall asleep where I sit!

I enter into this new season of my life unprepared
for all the aches and pains and loss of strength and ability
to go and do things that I wish I had done but never did.
It could be kind of scary...
but I go forth leaning on Jesus Christ, the Lord of my life!

Yes, I have regrets. There are things I wish I hadn’t done,
things I should have done. But indeed,
there are many things I’m happy to have done.
It’s all in a lifetime…!

So, if you’re not in your winter yet…
let me remind you that it will be here faster than you think.
Whatever we would like to accomplish in our lives, let's do it quickly!
Let's not put things off too long!
Life goes by so fast. Let's do what we can today.

You can never be sure whether this is your winter or not!
You have no promise that you will see all the seasons of your life.
So live for today and say all the things you want your loved ones to remember
and hope they appreciate and love you in return
for your love of them and your investment in their lives!

Life, as it has been and as it is now, is God's love gift to me.
The way I live my life is my gift to those who come after.
I want to make it a fantastic one!
I want to remember that it is not health or riches that is real treasure
but wisdom from God and living for His pleasure! 

Sometimes we need an angel for ourselves
to help us as we struggle through life's journey;
Sometimes we are destined to be God's angel to others.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Will the real Saint Nick please stand up?

(Conversations with Jeffrey--The Series)

“Jeffrey, you believe in Saint Nick, right?”

Grandma, remember I'm 13 now!”

“I mean the real one, the flesh and blood man whose Feast day is December 6 and celebrated by Catholic Christians all over the world.”

Don't you mean December 25th and Santa Claus?”

“Nope. At Christmas we celebrate the birthday of Jesus, although we don't know the exact date or year of our Savior's birth. I mean Saint Nicholas, a bishop of the Church, a real historical figure who lived at the turn of the fourth century.”

Exactly where did he live? I'm guessing it wasn't at the North Pole?”

“In Asia Minor in what is now Turkey, but it was a Greek province at the time. It isn't far from the Holy Land, Israel, just across the Mediterranean sea.”

So there really was a Saint Nick?”

Absolutely. Catholic Christian Churches around the world still honor Saint Nicholas as the generous, model bishop who put Jesus Christ at the center of his life, his ministry, and his entire existence.”

But where does the name 'Santa Claus' and his story come from?”

'Santa' means 'saint' and 'Claus' came from shortening the bishop's name 'Nicholas.' Some say that early Dutch settlers in New York brought their tradition of 'Sinter Klass' to America and that started the tradition here.”

Tell me again what a 'saint' is?”

The word 'saint' means 'holy.' Saints are just ordinary people who want to live like Jesus taught us to live, but they are special because they did a good job at it. The apostle Paul calls all Christians 'saints' in his writings.”

They're sort of like Catholic Christian heroes, right? Like role models?”

That's the idea. We consider them examples of how we too should live pleasing to God. Because they are still alive in Heaven, no matter how long ago they lived on earth, we can ask them to pray for us.”

What connection does this real Saint Nick have to the Santa Claus story today.”

“The Santa Claus story sort of grew in people's imaginations through the centuries since the real man lived who was named Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, a southern seaport in Turkey. Even the way the modern Santa Claus is dressed came from the real Saint Nicholas. Bishops of the Church always wear red and Nicholas was a bishop. Today's Santa and his 'helpers' are always dressed in red. Starting in 1931 (when Grandma was only six years old!) the Coca-Cola company started using a caricature of the real Saint Nick for their advertising.”

What's a 'caricature'?”

“It's like a cartoon, an artist's way of exaggerating certain features of the real person.” 

Do we know anything about Nicholas as he was growing up?”

“Nick was the only child of very rich parents who died in an epidemic when he was a young boy. He grew up in a monastery and became a priest when he was 17. He inherited his parents' wealth and used all of it to help poor families, widows, and especially children and orphans. He became famous for his generosity and kindness and giving of gifts.”

How long after Jesus' resurrection did Nicholas live?”

“About 280 years. The Christian Church was just getting started, but faith in Jesus was spreading fast all over the known world of that day. During Nicholas' life the leader of the country, Emperor Diocletian tried to destroy the Church with his political power. One of his advisers was the son of a witch. The Emperor worshiped pagan idols, burned writings about Jesus, and forced priests to renounce the Christian faith or face death. He forbade Christians to meet together or hold any government office. As a bishop and their leader, Nicholas was the main target for his persecution.” 

Did this stop Bishop Saint Nick and all those new Christians?”

“The emperor arrested him and had him tortured for disobeying the new laws. Actually, the real Saint Nick must have been very skinny, unlike today's Santa. He spent more than a decade in prison being starved and also fasted often when he was free. Emperor Diocletian was eventually defeated, and his kingdom collapsed. Constantine, who became the next emperor, was favorable to the Christians, so Saint Nick finally got out of jail.”

Did everything go smoothly for the Christians then?”

“There was trouble. Some who called themselves Christians but didn't believe exactly what Jesus and His apostles taught caused confusion. Nicholas was known for his courage to stand firm for the true Christian faith. He lived it and taught his people well. He was against the heresies of those times.”

What's a heresy?”

“It's a teaching that is contrary to what Jesus and his followers clearly taught. The main heresy in Nicholas' day was led by a man named Arius from Egypt. He tried to convince people that Jesus was not really the Son of God, maybe just a prophet or only a top angel—'sort of a lord' but not equal to God.”

How did that all get settled?”

“In those early first centuries after Jesus' resurrection when all the new Christians were forming their common beliefs, they settled important matters of the Christian Church by calling a Council of all the bishops. The first one ever was called by Emperor Constantine during the time of Bishop Nicholas. It was held in Nicea in 325. More than 300 bishops from all over the Christian world attended, including Nicholas. Their conclusions are what we declare in the Nicene Creed that we say every Sunday at Mass.”

Did our Saint Nick stand up against this Arius fellow?”

“Bishop Nick got so angry with Arius at the Council for saying such things about Jesus, that he belted him—he hit him with his fist and knocked him down!”

Wow! What happened to Saint Nick?”

“For doing that, the Emperor took away his vestments and his bishop's credentials and threw him in prison. The story goes that Jesus and his Mother appeared to him in a vision in prison and reinstated him as the bishop.”

What kind of gifts did our Saint Nick give to people?”
“Legends say that Saint Nick always wanted to help people anonymously. He didn't want to draw attention to himself. On one occasion he heard that a certain poor man had three daughters who wanted to be married. But their father didn't have money for a dowry so Bishop Nick secretly helped him out.”

What's a dowry?” 
“In those early centuries, a young woman's father had to offer a prospective husband something of value called a dowry. Without a dowry, she was not likely to marry and might have to be sold into slavery. On three different occasions, so the story goes, Saint Nick threw gold coins through their windows where they landed in stockings hanging by the fireplace to dry.”

Could that be where the custom of filling stockings at Christmas came from?”

“Probably. He is also known for saving three innocent condemned prisoners who were blindfolded and ready for the executioner's sword. Nicholas fearlessly grabbed the sword, cleared them of the unjust charges, and the men went free. Saint Nick is widely known as the patron saint of children. There are other stories of him rescuing children from danger after they were kidnapped or missing. There is a scary one about three little children lured into the clutches of an evil butcher. At another time three theological students were murdered by an innkeeper and their bodies chopped up and hidden in a pickling tub.”

That's gross, Grandma. Is it true?”

“Who knows? Stories grow bigger with the retelling. Saint Nick was said to have restored the dead students to life. He had a strong concern for justice, especially for innocent condemned prisoners. Also for intervening in favor of people unjustly jailed, which was common in those days.”

He must have been quite an aggressive man.”

“You could say that, but it was always to defend the true faith of Jesus. The real Saint Nick also destroyed many shrines to pagan idols, drove the demons away, and built churches in their place. He so totally destroyed the most beautiful and famous pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis, who was the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Diana, that not one stone was left in place. Thousands of churches all over the world are named in honor of Saint Nicholas.”

Did Saint Nick ever get to the Holy Land?”

“He went there on a pilgrimage. On his way back, the story goes that the ship he was on and the sailors were protected when he prayed, like Jesus did, for God to calm the storm. Many seaports especially in Greece, since Nicholas was Greek by birth, erected statues of him surrounded by small ships made of silver or carved from wood. Sailors even now ask him to pray for their protection. Instead of wishing one another luck, they say, 'May Saint Nicholas hold the tiller.'”

Is Dec. 6th Saint Nick's birthday? How did the idea of giving gifts get shifted to December 25th ?”

“Dec. 6 is the day he died. Saints' days are always commemorated on the day of death, the happy day of their entrance into eternal life. In Europe it was on Saint Nicholas' day when gifts were given. At that time gifts were mainly nuts, apples, and sweets put into shoes left beside beds, on windowsills, or before the hearth.” 

Where did the idea come from that Santa comes down the chimney?”

“Well, that certainly didn't come from the days of the real Saint Nick. Did you know that chimneys weren't even built on houses in those days? Chimneys didn't come into use until the 13th century when they were constructed in northern Europe.”

A lot of the early Santa pictures you showed me have a hooked staff behind him in the sleigh. What's that all about?”

“That custom did come from our real Saint Nick. It is called a 'crozier' and is always carried by a bishop even now in our Churches. It represents a shepherd's staff since a bishop is to be the shepherd of his people, as Jesus is the Good Shepherd.”

Bishop Loverde carried a crozier like that when he conducted our Confirmation Mass.”

Did you notice that in some pictures of Santa today he is carrying a big book? In some European gift-giving traditions the large book represents the record of children's behavior—Santa is checking if they were 'naughty or nice.' But the big book we see at Mass from which the priest or the lector reads is the Book of the Gospels or the Holy Scriptures.” 
For today's Santa, where did the idea of the sleigh and reindeer come from?”

“It took generations before the tradition settled on Santa coming on Christmas to bring gifts. In 1821 the first, small, lithographed book was published in America titled The Children's Friend. A 'Sancte Claus' (in German, 'Sankt Nicklaus') was pictured with a red beard arriving from the North in a sleigh pulled by one sort of exhausted-looking flying reindeer. They were shown landing on a roof by a chimney. Santa began to be thought of as rewarding good behavior and punishing bad. Gifts were mostly safe toys, dolls, and books. The sleigh even had a bookshelf! From then on the tradition shifted away from the real Saint Nicholas celebration to Santa coming on Christmas eve.”

Grandma, that long-ago picture shows Santa as a tiny man not the big guy in pictures we see now.”

“That was still the idea two years later when Clement Clark Moore wrote the poem 'The Night Before Christmas' for his six kids. The way the author imagined Santa was 'chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf' and his sleigh was miniature. The description stuck and the poem became famous.”

Where did that long clay pipe and all the smoke Santa blew from it originate?”

“The traditional pipe was from the Dutch, who were known to be heavy smokers. It wasn't until the end of the 1920s (when Grandma was in kindergarten!) that the American Santa began to be pictured as a normal-sized old man but with a hugely fat belly.”

And his original red beard has became all white and long to match the fur trim on his suit. He has a fat, white mustache, rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes.”

That's the way the story goes. And he wears snow boots, a wide black belt, and a long-tailed ski cap. But Bishop Saint Nick's hat was called a 'miter,' the special tall, pointed hat of his appointed office.”

And I guess he likes Coca-Cola, or hot chocolate, and cookies that people leave by the fireplace for him!”

“Now he owns eight reindeer (nine, if you count the new Rudolf with the red nose!) and a bunch of elf assistants who are busy making toys all year. And the toys are really high-tech now!”

That doesn't sound much like our original Saint Nick.”

“Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem; the real Saint Nick points us to the real Babe of Bethlehem. 
Today's Santa is pictured as flying through the air from the North Pole; Saint Nick walked the earth caring for those in need. 
Santa, as we know him, was brought on the scene to boost commercial Christmas sales; Saint Nicholas brought the message of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all—the real Christmas story. Santa belongs to childhood fantasy; Saint Nick is still a Christian model for all of us.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Counting on my Catcher

Practice makes perfect--TRUST

Trapeze artists offer a beautiful image of trust. Flyers have to trust their catchers. They can do the most spectacular doubles, triples, or quadruples, but what finally makes their performance spectacular are the catchers who are there for them at the right time in the right place. Much of our lives is flying. It is wonderful to fly in the air free as a bird, but when God isn’t there to catch us, all our flying comes to nothing. Let us trust in the Great Catcher.     
Fr. Henri Nouwen

And God inspired Saint Paul to express it in this reassuring way:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:28, 38 – 39

Trust is a hard and difficult concept for me. Maybe it stems from my childhood or maybe from aging or being gun shy after many failures. Or maybe it is from my own reality as a person as I am learning, re-learning and unlearning many things about the life, the heart, faith and God.

Trust has to do with relying on the integrity of Someone or something, like when I drive across a bridge I trust that the structure will hold. But trust in the seen is a far cry different from trusting in the Unseen.
I trust Jesus, I do, but I am human and in my more humane moments, my trust is fragile, even in the face of evidence to contradict my lack of trust and faith. Time and time again God has shown himself in love and tenderness by meeting needs and pouring out Grace in my darker, more fragile moments.

Trust is indispensable to faith in Jesus. I must trust Jesus at his word, even though I cannot see him face to face in his bodily form. But with trust, I do see Jesus daily: in the eyes of wounded people facing their pain boldly and head on; in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor; in the sentient beauty of the mountains that surround my world; in my quiet moments. I do see the Word become flesh and in and around me daily.

Trust comes when I ask for the eyes to see in the dark, my own darkness to be precise, the glory of the Lord and his love.

Trust comes when I pray for wisdom and then without thunderbolts and lightening, I simply make a choice, trusting that God is working deeply in the midst of my choices, regardless of whether I see or feel God.

Trust comes when I take leaps of faith. It is knowing that when I risk all, one of three things will happen:
either I will be caught when I fall;
 I will sprout wings to fly;
 or I will not be broken if I land too hard.

Trust is accepting God's unconditional love. It is saying to God, “I know You love me, like no other, and You will always be there…You will never forsake me, even if I forsake myself.” Trust is knowing Jesus says to me daily, “I will never, ever, leave you or forsake you.”

                   Guest post from “Earthy-monk” (Excerpts)