Lessons for Living from the Holy Family

As Christians, we are very familiar with Advent as a season of waiting, but really, our whole life is, essentially, a long season of waiting. Particularly, we wait for the last Advent—the last coming of Christ at the end of time. Every Advent gives us the opportunity to pause, and very intentionally focus on what we should be doing every day of our lives—preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. How are we spending our time in waiting? 

Let’s talk about the characters of the nativity, since there is really a lifetime’s worth of study and beauty that we can glean from diving deeper into the mystery of the great Christmas narrative through the experiences of the dynamic characters in play – Joseph and Mary, the Infant Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the magi, and, as a whole, the Holy Family. The characters of the nativity can each teach us lessons for living our own lives in preparation for Christ’s coming this December, as well as for our own death and Christ’s coming at the end of time.

In this last article of the series featured in the IntegratedCatholicLife.org, I will explore some of the lessons for living from the Holy Family.

The Holy Family: Salvation and Love
Finally, we turn to the Holy Family, the central “character” in this great feast and story of the Nativity, the character whom we, as members of families, can probably most closely relate to.

Pope Saint John Paul II famously wrote in Familiaris Consortio, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family” (FC 75). For most of us, family life is the ordinary means of our sanctification—the way we live our everyday lives at home with our spouses, children, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren make up the stepping-stones toward heaven.

So, in other words, the first lesson for living from the Holy Family is: salvation.

As Dr. Scott Hahn puts it, “Salvation arrives by way of the family—the Holy Family.” Each of us can look to the Holy Family as an example for faithful living within the context of family life. How we respond to our call to live out the Gospel in our own homes, to grow in holiness in some small way as an individual, as a couple, and as a family every day, emulating the Holy Family, impacts the joy and meaning with which we paint our days. This spiritual leadership of our families—becoming the spiritual heads and hearts God made us to be, modeled after the great examples we have in Joseph and Mary—is what we were created for.

Bishop James Conley wrote in the foreword to my book, Head & Heart, “We are created for family life. To be created in God’s image is to be made for family life—the sharing of fruitful love.”

Another lesson for living the Holy Family teaches us is: love.

The most important characteristic that we as leaders of our families can exhibit is a desire to fulfill our vocation to love. St. Joseph, and in particular, Our Blessed Mother and Jesus, were expert lovers. Our vocation as men and women, as husbands and wives, as fathers and mothers, and as spiritual leaders of our families is to love—to love God with one’s whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love one’s family with intention and purpose, seeing in each of them a reflection of God. This is what strong spiritual leaders do. They love.

The Holy Family demonstrates this model for love and spiritual leadership in a uniquely beautiful way. This Advent, we should all be encouraged to take these lessons for living from the characters of the nativity, and other characteristics of strong spiritual leadership, and practically—step by step—make our homes places where holiness can flourish, not only this Advent and Christmas season, but all year round.

To read the rest of the articles in this series, visit the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.

Lessons for Living from Mary and the Infant Jesus

As Christians, we are very familiar with Advent as a season of waiting, but really, our whole life is, essentially, a long season of waiting. Particularly, we wait for the last Advent—the last coming of Christ at the end of time. Every Advent gives us the opportunity to pause, and very intentionally focus on what we should be doing every day of our lives—preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. How are we spending our time in waiting? 

Let’s talk about the characters of the nativity, since there is really a lifetime’s worth of study and beauty that we can glean from diving deeper into the mystery of the great Christmas narrative through the experiences of the dynamic characters in play – Joseph and Mary, the Infant Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the magi, and, as a whole, the Holy Family. The characters of the nativity can each teach us lessons for living our own lives in preparation for Christ’s coming this December, as well as for our own death and Christ’s coming at the end of time.

In this article, originally featured in my series on the IntegratedCatholicLife.org, I will explore some of the lessons for living from the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus.

Mary: Trust and Obedience

Whenever I hear the story of the Annunciation read at Mass or I read it in my Bible at home, I am stunned—over and over again—by what it must have been like to be Mary, in the presence of an angel, being asked consent by God to carry Jesus into the world. I often reflect on the tremendous amount of trust she must have had in that moment that fueled her “yes” to God and paved way for the incarnation.

And that’s the first lesson for living from Mary I want to touch on: trust.

At the Annunciation, Mary was called to exercise a great deal of trust. Then, at Christ’s birth in a manger in a foreign land…more trust. As Jesus grew, got lost in the Temple, went off to preach and to heal…trust. And then, when Jesus was condemned to die and was crucified as she wept at her only Son’s feet…more, painful trust.

Her whole life, God called Mary to radically trust in His plan for her and for her Son. We, too, are called to have that same radical trust in God. We need to trust Him when our kids wander from the faith, when we or someone in our family are diagnosed with serious illness, when our career status turns from employed to unemployed, when money is scarce, when our marriage is hurting, when our future seems uncertain or when we feel abandoned by God. In those moments, we need to trust that God is there.

Our Mother waits for you to hold her hand in your moments of brokenness, rejection, fear, abuse, betrayal, sickness, and shame. She longs to hold you, and remind you, as she does so beautifully by her own example: trust. Trust that God is nearer to you than ever before. Trust that He has conquered death and wants you to rely more completely on Him.

Mary’s second lesson for living that we will explore is: obedience.  

The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen has such a beautiful way of illustrating this lesson of Mary that I will simply refer to his words:

“In what does your life consist except two things: (1) Active duties; and (2) passive circumstances. The first is under your control; do these in God’s name. The second is outside your control; these submit to in God’s name. Consider only the present; leave the past to God’s justice, the future to his Providence. Perfection of personality does not consist in knowing God’s plan, but in submitting to it as it reveals itself in the circumstances of life.

“There is really one shortcut to sanctity—the one Mary chose in the Visitation, the one Our Lord chose in Gethsemane—abandonment to the Divine Will.”

Look to Mary this Advent as a living reminder—the best reminder who ever lived, really—that obedience to God and abandonment to His will for your life is the only shortcut to sanctity.

 

The Infant Jesus: The Blessedness of Littleness and Joy
God could have entered our world in any way He wanted to. But He chose to come in the form of a newborn child. No one could have guessed that the Lord of the whole universe would be introduced to us in a physical way in a crib, rather than on a throne.

And so we learn from the Infant Jesus this first lesson: the blessedness of littleness.

Chapter 4 in the Book of Wisdom says, “For old age is not honored for length of time, or measured by number of years; but understanding is gray hair for anyone, and a blameless life is ripe old age…Being perfected in a short time, they fulfilled long years; for their souls were pleasing to the Lord…” (Wisdom 4:8-9, 13)

Venerable Fulton Sheen writes, “when Wisdom [here meaning Wisdom personified in Jesus] came to earth he was a child, and when Wise Men came to Wisdom they were told to be like children. Christmas, then, is the coronation of childhood, the glorification of the young whose hearts are simple, the proclamation to aging hearts that the world need not despair and die, because the Fountain of Youth has come into it…turn time backward, make old things young again.”

Being a young mother, I am very often reminded of this lesson of the blessedness of littleness. The way my toddler son so beautifully and simply talks to Jesus throughout the day, the way he is enraptured by icons and stories about Christ, the way he loves “Mama Mary” so dearly…reminds me to think about how important it is for me to approach Jesus, as the Gospels tell us to approach him, with the innocence and purity of a child’s faith. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). As we age, our faith can have periods of stagnancy and ‘oldness.’ Advent is a crucial moment in time to “turn backward,” making our faith in Christ young again.

One more lesson we will explore from the Infant Jesus: Joy.

Lest we forget, JESUS IS the Joy to the world. Why do we possess such joy at Christ’s coming? Precisely because He came to make us sharers in His divine nature. The Son of God became man so that we children of men can learn to become sons and daughters of God. Jesus comes as a baby with a mission to save the world. To save each and every one of us. To save you. Christmas is all about joy, the joy that the Infant Jesus brings into each and every one of our hearts by way of his redeeming, personal, intense love for me and for you.

To read other articles in this series, visit the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.

Lessons for Living from the Magi and St. Joseph

As Christians, we are very familiar with Advent as a season of waiting, but really, our whole life is, essentially, a long season of waiting. Particularly, we wait for the last Advent—the last coming of Christ at the end of time. Every Advent gives us the opportunity to pause, and very intentionally focus on what we should be doing every day of our lives—preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. How are we spending our time in waiting? 

Let’s talk about the characters of the nativity, since there is really a lifetime’s worth of study and beauty that we can glean from diving deeper into the mystery of the great Christmas narrative through the experiences of the dynamic characters in play – Joseph and Mary, the Infant Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the magi, and, as a whole, the Holy Family. The characters of the nativity can each teach us lessons for living our own lives in preparation for Christ’s coming this December, as well as for our own death and Christ’s coming at the end of time.

In this article as part of a series featured in the IntegratedCatholicLife.org, I will explore some of the lessons for living from the magi and St. Joseph.

 

The Magi: Watchfulness and Action

The magi were commonly thought of as astronomers, charting and tracking the stars and looking for heavenly bodies as predictors of earthly events. In the Old Testament, the term “wise men” is used in place of magi. What is it that made these men wise, as opposed to purely superstitious?

They have this lesson for living to teach us: watchfulness.

The magi had a desire to know truth and were watchful for God’s presence and for His plan, for a spiritual lesson to glean from their attentiveness to His movements in time and in their lives. That watchfulness opened the door for them to come face to face with the Savior. How often do we get so caught up in our lives—our family situations, our jobs, our medical problems, day to day tasks and chores, that we fail to be truly watchful, focused, and attentive on God’s presence and on His will for our lives? Do you allow our worries, responsibilities, and other things to distract you from the way God is working in you? These distractions are keeping you from meeting Jesus in an intimate way this Advent and on a regular basis in your life.

Take a moment to think about something in your life that is burdensome or distracting to you in some way. Maybe a relationship or a problem at work or a medical condition is keeping you from seeing how God is working—not necessarily in spite of that obstacle—but through that very obstacle, to make you a holier person this Advent.

Their second lesson is related to the first: action.

The magi didn’t just see the star of Bethlehem and say, “how nice.” They got up and they followed it! And their journey wasn’t nearly as comfortable as many of our journeys are these days with our ease of modern travel. But that didn’t matter to them. They knew they needed to take action.

Is there an area in your life where you are failing to take action right now when God may be calling you to move, to do, to change, to act? Maybe it’s in regard to that obstacle we spoke about just a moment ago, that obstacle that God is trying to work through to make His will known to you. How can you not only recognize God working in that area of your life, but then take some action, on your own part, to cooperate with God’s will?

 

St. Joseph: Humility and Devotion
Oh, St. Joseph. He is such a quiet figure in the Gospels—never speaking a single word, yet his actions speaking loudly about the kind of strong, humble, and devoted man he was.

First, St. Joseph teaches us how to be humble.

St. Joseph never thought too highly of himself. Even in Scripture, in Matthew’s genealogy at the beginning of the Gospel, the Gospel writer lists all of the people in the genealogy as the “father of” so-and-so except for Joseph. When we come to Joseph’s introduction into the genealogy, we read that Joseph was not the “father of” but the “husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matt 1:15-16).

To reflect on the rest of St. Joseph’s first lesson for living, I’d like to refer to the words of Fr. Steve Grunow from Word on Fire Catholic Ministries:

“Saints are not celebrities, who leverage every detail about their lives as a means to be known and recognized.  A saint is someone who in their desire to be like Christ is able and willing to disappear into the mission God gives to them.  For some saints, this mission brings with it a great deal of attention.  But for most saints, the life of grace involves a much lower profile and a death to self which requires an immersion into the most ordinary of circumstances. These circumstances are accepted by the saint because they know that it is precisely in the experience of what is apparently ordinary that God is accomplishing extraordinary things.

“Therefore, it is all of us, who right now find ourselves immersed in the mission to be the unnoticed saints of ordinary circumstances, who know that the silence of Saint Joseph speaks louder than any words.”

Before we move on from St. Joseph, let’s briefly discuss his second lesson for living that I’ve decided to focus on: devotion.

 St. Joseph was a man entirely devoted to God and sacrificially devoted to his family. Pope Leo XIII called St. Joseph the “guardian of the Holy Family”—that’s how devoted a spouse and father to Jesus he was. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Joseph was a “just man” (Matt 1:19), meaning he was righteous and devoted to following God’s laws. I like to say that St. Joseph was devoted to spiritual leadership in his family. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI put it, he was “at the service of life and growth…St. Joseph…gave proof of great devotion. For the sake of Christ he experienced persecution, exile, and the poverty which this entails. He had to settle far from his native town. His only reward was to be with Christ.”

This Advent, become a stronger spiritual leader for your family, a devoted member of your family like St. Joseph, and you too will take a step closer to achieving that great reward of being with Christ.

To read other articles in this series, visit the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.

Christmas Spiritual Bouquets

Consider surprising some of your friends and relatives this Christmas with the gift of prayer.  It’s always at the top of my want-list every time of year, but especially around holidays. This card makes a present topper!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons for Living from the Shepherds and the Angels

As Christians, we are very familiar with Advent as a season of waiting, but really, our whole life is, essentially, a long season of waiting. Particularly, we wait for the last Advent—the last coming of Christ at the end of time. Every Advent gives us the opportunity to pause, and very intentionally focus on what we should be doing every day of our lives—preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. How are we spending our time in waiting? 

Let’s talk about the characters of the nativity, since there is really a lifetime’s worth of study and beauty that we can glean from diving deeper into the mystery of the great Christmas narrative through the experiences of the dynamic characters in play – Joseph and Mary, the Infant Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the magi, and, as a whole, the Holy Family. The characters of the nativity can each teach us lessons for living our own lives in preparation for Christ’s coming this December, as well as for our own death and Christ’s coming at the end of time.

In this article, originally featured in the IntegratedCatholicLife.org, I will explore some of the lessons for living from the shepherds and the angels.

The Shepherds’ Lessons For Living: ‘Come as You Are’ and Wonder

In Jesus’ day, shepherds were viewed as the low people of the earth. Shepherds were viewed as a poor, filthy group of people whom most others disliked. And yet the angel came to them, a band of lowly shepherds whom the world preferred to ignore and consider “unsaved”. They are the ones to receive the Good News that Christ the King has been born.

Even from the moment of His birth, Jesus shows us how he comes among the lowest people of the earth—the poor, the sinners, those whom people like Caesar and others would never give a second thought to.

And so we come to the first lesson for living of these characters of the nativity, the shepherds: come as you are.

How often do feel totally inadequate to be a follower of Jesus’ Christ, to receive the immense amount of love he pours out for you, knowing how little you sometimes return to Him? At least for me, I feel this quite often.

So often I’m prideful in the face of a perfectly humble Savior, ungenerous in the face of an all-giving Lord, lazy and un-prayerful in the face of an ardent and pious Christ-child, unloving in the face of an unconditionally loving God. And yet, Jesus looks on me—on you—as he looked on the shepherds, with acceptance and embrace, telling us to come as we are into His presence, knowing we are sinful, but loving us too much to keep us that way.

All who encounter Christ—as they are—can’t help but come away transformed, both the shepherds in Jesus’ day and us today. It’s the encounter with the presence of Jesus Christ that changes us. This Advent, make a commitment to come as you are into Jesus presence so that He can be afforded the chance to transform you, to make you a more humble, a more generous, a more prayerful, loving, and all-around more virtuous person than you are. Think of one habit or vice or sin that you have right now, as you are, that you desire God’s grace to help you improve. This Advent, come into His Presence—in the Sacrament of Confession, in receiving the Holy Eucharist, or in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and allow this encounter to set in motion a transformation in you, readying yourself to come to Him as you are—which hopefully is a better person than you are right now—this Christmas.

Now, the second lesson for living from the shepherds: wonder.

Imagine being approached and sung to by a literal host of angels. This is what the shepherds experienced! A herd of heavenly beings come to tell the shepherds, the colleagues of the great shepherd David from the Old Testament, that the Good Shepherd who has been foreshadowed throughout the Scriptures has come, and so the shepherds stand in wonder of this news, before turning that wonder into action—acting upon and sharing the Good News they have been told.

Has Christmas lost its wonder on you? When the Church sings the song the angels sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest,” listen to the words. Sing the words and wonder at their meaning. Then, share that wonder and the Good News of Christ’s birth with others. Don’t allow a discussion about Christ’s birth to go un-had in your family gatherings this Advent and Christmas season. That’s the whole reason that brings us together in celebration, in wonder.


The Angels: Praise and Evangelization

Angels make appearances all throughout the story of the infancy of Christ. Have you ever thought about why you put an angel on the top of your Christmas tree? As Dr. Scott Hahn has pointed out, many of us put angels on top of our Christmas trees because “Christmas would be inconceivable without angels.”

Angels have much to rejoice about at the birth of Jesus Christ. On that great day when the world saw the incarnation with its very eyes, the angels in heaven rejoiced at the victory of God who came into the world and would open the gates of heaven.

So, the angels did as we ought to do. Their first lesson for living is that of praise.

Worship is ingrained in the angels. Regardless of what else they may be “doing”—visiting Mary to announce that God has chosen her to carry Jesus, coming to Joseph in a dream, watching over us and protecting us as our guardian angels—they are always, always praising God at the same time. Worship is the chief mode of being for the angels, and these heavenly creatures, when they worshipped the God of the universe in the form of a little baby, modeled for us from the moment of Christ’s birth how we, too, should be perpetually praising God.

Do you praise God in all things, at all moments? Do you praise God when things are going well, thanking him and worshipping him for even small blessings of your ordinary day? Do you praise God when you are in the midst of suffering, worshipping Him who never abandons you, even in moments of trial, pain, loneliness, and fear? Angels are always surrounding you, and ready to have you join them in praise and worship of God. This Advent, make a commitment to join the angels in praising God each day for the day’s joys and sufferings.

Angels are messengers of God. That’s what the name “angel” or “angelos” means—messenger. The angels’ ministry is one of evangelization, which should also be a lesson for us in living and in ministry today.

We, as members of the Church, the communion of saints, like the angels, are called to share the Good News. As the Pope Paul VI famously said in his encyclical Evangelli Nuntiandi, evangelization is part of the Church’s deepest identity. How can you better evangelize this Advent? And, like the angels, how can you share this Good News with joy? 

Think of someone in your life who may be far from God or have wandered from the Church. Be a loving friend to them, and share the Good News that God loves them and came for them, too. A gentle way to do this may be through sharing the moving and gentle Catholics Come Home Keep Christ in Christmas evangomercial that we have on our CatholicsComeHome.org website. You also may want to consider getting a copy of my book, Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders of Your Family for yourself or for one of your children, or for a neighbor or other relative as an Advent or Christmas gift this year, as a way of sharing the Good News of what God designed family life to be at home.

So, this Advent, like the angels, praise God everyday, and share the Good News with at least one other person in your life.

To read other articles in this series, visit the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.