“In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
-St John the Cross
Did you feel that anxiety this morning?
Maybe it started last night.
The first Monday of the new year. The return to school for most children and teachers. The unofficial start date to healthier eating, increased exercise, and improved productivity.
After a horrific 2020, many are looking at this new chapter as a fresh start- an opportunity to fill in the gaps and to make necessary changes, all while keeping a distance with masks still on face accompanied by very clean, yet dried out hands.
As I felt this “rush” as I gulped my first and second cups of coffee, my anxiety was calmed by watching my two children play by the soon to be taken down Christmas tree.
They did not feel the pressure of their fresh to-do lists. Instead, they just loved one another and they were very much present to the moment and task at hand- my oldest building blocks, and my youngest attempting to crawl.
No matter what tasks must be completed this day and this year, no matter what resolution is going strong or yet to begin, remember to remain gratefully present and most of all, love!
Love your neighbor and stranger, alike.
Love by being selfless instead of selfish.
Love God first.
Be loved by God first-allowing your cup to be filled so you can fill the cups of others.
Take a deep breath this day. Remember to be patient and good to yourself. And, if you do many things or just a few, secure that all of it is filled with love.
I love cooking, and the holiday break presents time for greater exploration with new recipes. Yesterday, I checked off split pea soup from my list of meals to attempt.
It was phenomenal (if I can say so myself). The fresh ham bone from the local farm stole the show, providing the missing ingredient to create a savory lunch (and dinner, and lunch today).
Whenever I see split pea soup on a menu or cooking website, I think of a dear friend, Bishop Ignatius (Iggy) Catanello.
During my college days and early years in Campus Ministry, I had my own “Tuesday with Morrie” with Iggy. We would gather often for a lunch at the local (and now closed) Fame Diner, which sat across the street from the Queens Campus of St. John’s University.
The diner was also just a few blocks distance from Holy Family Parish, where Iggy served as pastor. It was a convenient location for two friends to meet. Judging by how Iggy was treated each time by the diner staff, it was clear that this establishment was a suitable second home for his ministry.
Iggy always ordered the same thing: split pea soup, usually followed by a sandwich. During this meal, he would intently listen, gently offer examples of faith, and fill my cup with affirmations and appreciation. I would leave these meals feeling incredibly blessed by this time spent with one I considered a living saint.
In my book, Dreams Come True: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life, I discuss Iggy’s impact on my life in further detail.
A number of years ago, Iggy passed into the next life. From time to time, I am reminded of our changed relationship. Yesterday, was one of those days.
As I broke gluten free bread into my bowl of split pea soup, I looked up at my wife, Suzie, and I said, “Iggy would have loved this soup.”
A few minutes later, I was telling my daughters that this day was the feast of Holy Family, in which Suzie smiled, saying “and that was Iggy’s parish.”
A tear filled the corner of my eye. As simple as it was, I was moved by this symmetry.
I could credit my subconscious for waiting to make this soup on the feast day, in which I can thank God for such a thoughtful part of the mind.
I prefer to point to the Holy Spirit, beyond the actions of my subconscious, recognizing how she moves through our lives and in our actions.
Albert Einstein wrote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
At times this year, I would have benefited from a restorative lunch with this old friend. Perhaps, in its own miraculous way, I received this gift yesterday.
In the Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night,” there is this beautiful and heartening line:
“Til He appears and the soul felt its’ worth.”
I imagine on that first Christmas, when Mary and Joseph held God’s miracle in their arms, their souls, at long last, felt its worth. From initial disbelief to acceptance of God’s will, this humbled couple recognized their role in human (and divine) history.
As we prepare for Christmas in a few short days, when we invite God to enter into our hearts once again, may our souls feel its worth as well.
Will you, this Christmas day, allow yourself to be transformed, to see your greatness, and to be open to all of the possibilities that exist?
Will you bring Christ into the world by sharing the gift of yourself with neighbor and stranger, alike?
If we are safe and unselfish, this will be a different Christmas. Allow the pain of loss of life, of traditions, of safety to shape a new heart within. Like the first holy family, under the dark clouds of insecurity, your soul will find its worth in the gift that is God.
Like that first Christmas night, be reminded of God’s gentle hand that is shaping within you a purpose that will lift spirits, reminding others of the unconditional love of our God. If we can do this, then even in this dark year, we, too, can celebrate a true holy night this Christmas.
After dinner each night, my four-year old pulls out her Advent calendar, punches her little finger into the appropriate number, and grabs her evening chocolate square.
This nightly routine presents an important reminder to celebrate the Advent season- a time to prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus and to seek God in our midst.
Under the soft glow of our ornament-filled Christmas tree, we speak often these days about the Holy Family- Mary, Joseph and Jesus. We try to paint the picture of perhaps history’s most well known family and this cherished account of God’s love.
Yet, in this gaze to the past, we must not ignore the invitation to look around and to find similar families seeking food, drink, home, and safety.
Today’s Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are found in the 79.5 million individuals who were forcibly displaced from their homes (as of the end of 2019). In time, we will gain a painful glimpse into how Covid-19 impacted this marginalized population’s suffering even more.
There is no shortage of need in our world. We are reminded daily of the injustices that cripple our society (and for some reading this, it is excruciatingly real), yet with deep division in our nation, our communities and in our hearts, we are often more concerned with being right than trying to understand and to change.
If we are to truly live this Advent season, our time, energy, and fortune would be better served to find God in stranger and neighbor instead of that Amazon Prime sale that will provide only a temporary gratification.
We need a shift in this season, and all seasons, to find harmony in what we say we believe and in how we live. We cannot gently place our porcelain characters in our home Nativity creche while ignoring our abandoned human family.
We cannot care more about the small baby Jesus figurine that we keep secure in a drawer until Christmas day than the nearly 32-million displaced children who are filled with God’s Spirit.
If this year has taught us anything, it is that we are connected. We need one another, to not only act responsibly, but to act with love. The suffering is just too great.
Today’s holy family is indeed gathered in your home and in your community. They are also gathered in the tens of millions who are hungry. In the United States this year, 1 in 4 families didn’t know where their next meal would come from due to a broken system crushed by a crippling virus.
This year’s holy family is found in those who mourn loss of work, loss of life. They are found in those who are treated differently because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, the way they live and love. And yes, they are found in those who were told their home were no longer theirs- and they find themselves seeking and yearning for someone to care enough to do something.
This Christmas, let’s care enough. Let’s bring the spirit of the carols we sing to generously and prayerfully transform our world.
Given all that this year has been, if there was ever a time to answer prayers, it is now.
May that chocolate-filled calendar and fragile Nativity scene remind you not only of the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago, allow it to tug at your heart to seek out and to lift up today’s holy families.
Earlier today, I attended a fascinating and uplifting workshop by Dr. Jenny Bloom out of the Office of Appreciative Education. The title of this one-hour webinar was “Chronic Uncertainty: How to Approach the Future when it is Anything but Certain.”
I could write and reflect for hours on all of the inspirational and practical nuggets that Jenny provided, but what struck me most was this referenced quote from author, speaker and trainer, Cy Wakeman:
“What would great look like now?”
At first, I reflected on my answer and it was truly a restorative exercise. I encourage you to do the same to keep your life on purpose.
As my reflection continued, I started to dissect this idea of greatness, and I generated some guidelines for your consideration to secure that our pursuit of great is of and from God.
It has been a year, and we still have two-and-a-half months to go, filled with an expected hostile presidential election, less sunlight, very different holidays and traditions, and rising Covid numbers. And this just brings us through December 31st, with even greater uncertainty with what awaits us around the corner in 2021.
None of this we can truly control outside of how we care for ourselves and others. If we choose greatness, as mapped out above, we will live a life on track, a life in service, and in union with God. Our actions will be considerate of others and for the common and greater good.
Yes, in a horrible time in our history, the invitation to greatness might feel far, far away. The truth is that it much closer than you think, and it can begin right now-just look above and look within!