I am embarrassed to say it hit me yesterday that Christmas is what it’s all about. Of course, I’ve known it to some extent but yesterday, for some reason, out of the clear blue, it was an “aha! moment.”  This day, with its month-long advertising lead up, its marketplace pressures of “what are you getting for the ones you love?” Its frantic “get-it-while-it-lasts” message — is really about a quiet birth. And, amazingly, this quiet birth is really about the saving of the world! God wrapped and sent his most precious gift. His Son — our salvation, wrapped in our flesh and in the arms of a young woman who said Yes.
 
And the shocking thing — it’s not what anybody asked for or wanted! No warrior on a steed to conquer the empire. No king in a chariot to overthrow the government. A baby, who would grow and suffer and die — and redeem the human race.
 
So perhaps Christmas isn’t getting what we want – it’s receiving what we need.
 
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Christmas Gifts

By Melodious Monk

I don’t often think about the Holy Spirit very much at Christmas time. We prepare through Advent for a small baby, for a Savior, asking God to prepare our hearts for him to come. But what about the other part of the Trinity? For with Jesus came also the Holy Spirit and his gifts to us. Through Jesus we are given wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord; the 7 gifts of the spirit. That’s a pretty emboldening list of credentials to put on a resume!  Yet most of the time we are too arrogant, or are too prideful, or too self-sufficient, or too un-wanting to use these gifts of grace. Like Mary, we need no pre-requisites to receive the Trinity’s gifts this year. In faith, imagine if we all together say “yes” anew, how much good-tidings and good-cheer could be unleashed in our lives and the lives of others.

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A Gift

 by Renaissance Girl

I received a special gift this past week. I’m about as white, Anglo-Saxon as they come – Irish, Swedish, Scottish three generations back, but my friends have teased me about having some Russian Orthodox blood in me. Ever since visiting Russia with the choir in 1998, and then again with our youth group in 2002, I have hoped to go back someday. There is something about it that I love – a depth and history to the country and the people that just grabs hold of your heart. Especially in worship. I’ve never seen people so eager to be close to the Eucharist – so unconscious of the personal space that we Americans fight to preserve. They press in and past each other to draw close to the altar. And their music – impossible to describe with words how years of persecution and perseverance and love pour out in achingly beautiful harmonies.

So earlier this week, I happened to mention to a friend that I was wanting to pray the rosary, something I used to do as a teenager, but had lost my rosary years ago. The next morning she showed up at work and said “I have these two rosaries if you’d like to use one.” She handed me a red, knotted rope with beads and said “this one was blessed by the Patriarch.”

It’s been in my pocket and passed through my fingers since then. It helps find words for what’s in my heart.

 
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Limited Capacity

I was taking myself very seriously the other day. I wasn’t sure how I could solve (or survive) global warming, the health care crisis, the rise in violent crime, and all the diseases I read about in magazines. Modern life is complex, and it’s easy for me to get lost in its intricacies. I had a thought about Jesus that brought comfort and led to a poem of sorts:
                    

                      He is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

                                         And Mary’s son.

              The Great High Priest, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,

                                            And carpenter.

             Author and Finisher, the Chief Cornerstone, King of Kings,

                                      And calmer of storms.

                Desire of Nations, Sun of Righteousness, Bread of Life,

                                        And friend of sinners.

               He is of the highest complexity and the greatest simplicity.

                          He alone is God even when I pretend to be.

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Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Sr Fidelis  
 
The Nativity of Mary
 

The Nativity of the Virgin Mary is celebrated on September 8th.  However, we’re celebrating it today, because it falls on a Sunday this year.  This is a feast of great exultation!  The antiphons, hymns and texts used are all joyous in character. 

The feast was first celebrated in the East in the mid 6th century; moved to Rome in the 7th, and had spread throughout the West by the 8th and 9th centuries.

The Lauds hymn in Mode 2, is used for both the Nativity of Mary, and the Annunciation of the Lord.  The text is from the 7-8th century and is rich with imagery in it’s description of her role. 

v.1) O gloriosa Domina, excelsa super sidera,
      qui te creavit provide,lactas sacrato ubere.

     O glorious Lady, high above the stars,
     to him who created you providentially, you give suck from your sacred breast.

v.2) Quod Eva tristis abstulit, tu reddis almo germine;
      intrent ut astra flebiles, sternis benigna semitam.

      What sad Eve took away, you restored by your gracious seed;
      that the sorrowing may enter the stars, you, O gentle one, smooth the way.

v. 3)  Tu regis alti ianua et porta lucis fulgida;
         vitam datam per Virginem, gentes redemptae plaudite.

         You are the door of the high king, and the shining gate of light.
         life given through a virgin, you redeemed people, applaud.

v.4)  Patri sit et Paraclito tuoque Nato gloria,
       qui veste te mirabili circumdederunt gratiae. Amen.

        To the Father, and to the Paraclete and to your Son, be glory,
        who surrounded you with the wonderful garment of grace.  Amen.

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Only One Thing

by Renaissance Girl

The gospel reading today was the story of Mary and Martha. I cringe every time I hear that story, because I know I would be a Martha. Her voice rings as my own in my head. “Don’t you see what I’m doing? Can’t you see she’s not helping? Do something.” Before she even had a chance to think, Martha had reprimanded the King of the Universe. And what makes me cringe almost as much is His reply. He says her name, not once, but twice, and the love practically spills off the pages of scripture. And then he cuts right to the heart of her, “you are anxious and distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing…”  And with that one phrase it is as though he slices through her self-imposed tether, and sets her free. Only one thing is needed.


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United by Faith

 
It’s pine pollen season on Cape Cod and my new best friend is a Swiffer. As I roam the convent, armed for duty, I think of Martha, the ultimate Biblical homemaker, and her sister Mary. There is, of course, the familiar story from Luke 10, where Jesus tells Martha to relax and commends Mary for choosing the better course of action. It’s easy for me to hear only the rebuke and overlook that Martha is strong and forthright (“tell Mary to help me!”) and comfortable to be herself in Jesus’ presence. Mary’s strength rests quietly in her gratitude and devotion.
 
John 11 recalls the death of their brother Lazarus. Martha emerges as a woman of faith, running to meet Jesus and proclaiming, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Then, practical as always, when Jesus wants the stone removed, she reminds him there could be an unpleasant odor. At a later time, in a loving act of impracticality Mary pours expensive perfume on Jesus feet and washes them with her hair.

One sister is bold and quick of action, the other reflective and spiritually sensitive.  Both are welcome and loved by God.

 
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To Annunciate

As Sr. Fidelis pointed out in Monday’s blog, the Annunciation feast was moved on the calendar this year. It stuck out to me that while still celebrating the risen Christ in Eastertide, we simultaneously take time to celebrate the promise of him coming – again.  The word “annunciation” means an announcement, and the dictionary specifically states that the word “Annunciation” is referring to Gabriel’s announcement. If we take the verb form of the word, to “annunciate,” the word is defined as, “to proclaim.”  
 
Many days I struggle like Thomas, like so many others, to proclaim Jesus when I can’t see him.  A mentor once told me, “Some days, you need to set your will by simply saying, Okay Lord, I don’t see you today, but in faith I commit (or I annunciate) that you are real today, in this time and place.”

It may change tomorrow, but for today’s journey (a small chunk of time seems more manageable!), I will annunciate forward, actively, trusting you to keep me in your care.

 
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Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

 by Sr Fidelis  

Ave Maria

The Feast of the Annunciation, normally celebrated on March 25th, was transferred to today, April 8th.  Any feast which falls during Holy Week or Easter Week is moved to a later date, because of the importance of these sacred days in the Church’s calendar.

The Annunciation was celebrated in the East as early as 430 AD.  Luke’s Gospel gives us the account of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary.

In the Offertory for this feast day, Ave Maria, two greetings make up the text.  First, the Angel Gabriel’s greeting and secondly, Elizabeth’s inspired salutation during Mary’s visitation.  We know these familiar words as the first part of the Rosary, or “Hail Mary”.
 
The Offertory is a chant that accompanies the presentation of gifts to the altar.  This includes the bread and wine for Eucharist, but also included other gifts and offerings in medieval days.  Because this procession of gifts was of varying lengths, verses were added to the main body of the Offertory, so it could be as short or as long as need be to accompany the action.
 
The version you are about to hear includes several verses that continue the dialogue between Mary and Gabriel.
 
Hail Mary, full of grace,the Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

V 1. How can this be done in me, who have not known a man?  The Spirit of the Lord will come over you ,and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
V. 2  Therefore the holy one to be born of you will be called the Son of God.

Ave Maria

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Dawn of Hope

 
The babe leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the greeting of Mary. Beneath the simple meeting of cousins lay the meeting of babes. The baby John knew, who was coming into the world. It must have been very hard for Mary to have heard the angel, and yielded herself to the overshadowing of God in a way that broke the boundaries of her own understanding. But she moved out on the promise, perhaps even in the seeking of fellowship with her cousin; who was also way out of her rational bounds in having a child in old age, beyond her childbearing years.
 
I find it hard to understand what God is doing at times in my own life. It is much easier to see His hand at work in the situations of others. My life is not straight lines, but crooked ones. I feel the fluctuations in my motivation; the wanting and the not wanting. I take some comfort in the natural movements of earth. The days are now growing longer. First in seconds, then minutes, and finally hours. It will be quite some time before the changes are easily observable. But I have been through this natural process before, and I know I can count on Spring arriving. And so in my inner life, I try to look deeper than my own feelings. And deeper than my own thoughts. I try to acknowledge that leap inside me when I think about the love of God. That movement, like a stream inside me, which is constant, and bringing me to a  place where my longings will be satisfied.