We live in scary times. What to do?

Posted February 5th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Lori and Robert Fontana

We live in scary times.  How are we as Christians and   faithful citizens to respond to all that is happening?  Jesus said to read “the signs of the times” as we try to understand what God is doing in the world and to discern what God is asking of us.

mexican poorWhat are the “signs of the times”?  Here are a few obvious ones: social upheaval with a new enigmatic  American president; a world     refugee/migration crisis unparalleled since WW II; a global environmental crisis caused by human-influenced climate change; social unrest among diverse peoples left out of the global economic order (think poor farmers in southern Mexico and   factory workers in Ohio); oppression of religious minorities;   distrust of social institutions from churches, governments, banks, corporations, and media; sexual abuse of women and children; political divisions between urbanites and rural folk; and violence as a quick, easy response to unplanned pregnancies, personal insults, criminal behavior, and diplomatic challenges.

 How would one know what God is up to within all of this chaos?  One way is to consult the Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, and remind ourselves of the scandalizing teachings and behaviors of Jesus: he gathered together disciples (men, women, and children) and taught them the Beatitudes.  He ate with social outcasts; taught love of enemies; healed pagans and Jews; protected vulnerable women from abuse by men of power.  He spoke truth to power, both Jewish and  Roman; welcomed children; affirmed marriage; fed the hungry; healed the sick; and showed mercy to the condemned.  

Pray these Scriptures and seek to “put on the mind of Christ.” (Phil 2:6)  But don’t do this in isolation.  Pray through the Scriptures with others. Let your insights be tested with the thoughts of  other people of faith and good will, even if they have a perspective different than yours.  One of the great needs during these difficult times is for people of faith to be willing to listen and learn from one another:

pope francis 4 Pay Attention to Pope Francis.  Pope Francis has challenged us  – Catholics, Christians from all  denominations, and all people of goodwill – to build bridges and not walls, to welcome the migrant as a friend not an enemy, and to allow mercy to be the clearest manifestation of our faith in Jesus. 

Pope Francis is not blind to the risk of placing the Church (which means all the baptized, lay and clergy) at the service of mercy.  Francis understands “mercy” to be central to understanding who God is and what God is doing in the world through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  It is risky business to allow “mercy” to shape one’s civic duty.  For Francis, this means advocating for the unborn; sheltering the homeless; respecting gays and lesbians; caring for the sick and aged; welcoming and supporting the divorced and re-married; receiving with compassion the members of all religious traditions; speaking with and listening to   political opponents; working to eliminate the human contributions to climate change; and joining with all people of goodwill to work for the common good. 

Our Christian faith has challenged us over the years to transform our thinking.  For example, we have always worked as   advocates for the unborn, but I once favored capital punishment.  In prayer and through the writings of Pope John Paul II and the example of Sr. Helen Prejean, I was challenged to rethink my position.  We had never talked with a follower of Islam; but the examples of Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi, and Pope Francis challenged us to meet with Muslims, attend their Friday prayer, and learn from them how they view the world.  We would resist attempts to impose sharia law on others, but the Muslims we met we gladly welcome as neighbors. 

During these difficult times, we want to be about what God is doing in the world.  We, Lori and Robert, want to be careful that we are on God’s side of on an issue, and not simply trying to pull God to our side/our view of an issue.  Very often this means standing in the middle of an issue and holding on to the good from the “left” and the “right.”  We encourage you to do the same.

All of us can do this if we draw close to Jesus, talk and listen to others who may be different from us, and pay attention to the actions and wisdom of Pope Francis who is convinced that “MERCY” is the word the Holy Spirit has given us to respond to the “signs of the times.”

 

Spring begins tomorrow…in Ireland

Posted January 31st, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew
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By Robert Fontana

Ah, the flowers are budding, the sky is clearing, the days are warming, and the Pub owners are opening up their patios for its patrons.  Spring is in the air, that is, in Ireland.

irelandFebruary 1 is celebrated as the first day of spring in Ireland.   Okay, you’ve visited Ireland.  You know that Ireland is an island in the North Atlanta.  Ireland has two seasons.  Summer with some rain, July thru September; Winter with lots of rain, October thru June (and its cold).  The Irish need a day of hope to get them to St. Patrick’s Day in six weeks.  That day is February 1, the first day of Spring and also the Feast of St. Brigid.  Brigid was a fierce lover of Jesus who lived in Ireland at the time of St. Patrick.   We Fontanas become “O’Fontanas” on Feb 1 and mix the two events, first day of Spring and St. Bridgid’s Day, for a fun family ritual.  I share that with you below, but first, let me give your a brief story of St. Bridgid.

St. Brigid of Ireland.  St. Patrick baptized Brigid’s mother, Brocca.  Brocca was a slave and Brigid was born into slavery.  Not much is known of her childhood, but she was a friend of St. Patrick according to the Book of Armagh which reads:  “Between St. Patrick and Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many great works.”

St. Brigid is credited with founding and leading a double monastery, one belonging to women and the other t0 men.  This indicates the prominent role that women played in the formative years of the Irish Church.  Many miracles are credited to her intercessions before and after her death.  She is remembered by her followers in Kildare (Church of the Oak) which was a center for prayer, study and copying of the Scriptures and other ancient writings, and metal work.  The nuns at Kildare maintained a fire symbolizing the divine presence in the world and in the Church from the middle of the 5th century until the Protestant Reformation 1,000 years later.

St. Brigid is credited with creating the “St. Brigid’s Cross” made from reeds.  It is said that she was comforting a dying Druid king who asked Brigid to tell him about her God.  She told him the story of Jesus, and as she was doing this, crafted a cross out of reeds, like the one pictured.

St. Brigid is one of the patron saints of Ireland, with St. Patrick and St. Columba, and she is also known as Mary of the Gael.

Here is a prayer and ritual to celebrate both even if you do not live in Ireland and Spring is no where to be seen.

Begin with this Prayer to St. Brigid

Saint Brigid, daughter of Ireland and lover of Jesus, draw us by your prayers into the living flame of God’s love.  Help us to clean our hearts and homes of all that is selfish and self-centered. 

Pray that we will be attentive to the poor and spiritually abandoned, that we will practice the Beatitudes in good times and bad, and that the warmth of God’s love will animate all that we say and do.

Each member of the home takes a kerchief or handkerchief (could also use a bandana or cloth napkin) in hand and walks through the house dusting the furniture and books, and lamps, etc. singing “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

When the house has been thoroughly dusted, go outside and tie the kerchiefs on the branches of a tree and pray this prayer:

All:  St. Brigid, come this day to our home and hearts, come by the power of God and be our guest.  Help us, dear Brigid, to wipe away the dust of “me, and my, and mine” that we might love others with a selfless heart.  We pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Our Father…

 

Culture Christmas is over; the real Christmas continues…

Posted December 28th, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew
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By Robert Fontana

Culture’s Christmas ended at midnight on December 25th.  So all the decorations in the stores have come down to be replaced by those for New Year’s and even Valentine’s Day.

DON’T FOLLOW THEIR EXAMPLE!  Stand up to the culture and keep your Christmas decorations up at least through the 12 days of Christmas which would take you to the great Feast of Epiphany on January 6th.  And even after that holy day, why not keep your nativity set up throughout the month of January and play a few Christmas carols on your CD player each day, and encourage your parish church to do the same? February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:22-31), would be an appropriate day for bringing closure to our observance of Christmas and the birth of God’s beloved son Jesus, born of Mary (the Vatican keeps up its nativity set up until Feb 2).

Why?  Because the Feast of the Incarnation of God’s love in Jesus is so marvelous, so awesomely amazing, so over the top, and has such transformative power in helping us love God and love each other!  Let’s keep the celebration going for another month!  Perhaps by extending the observance of Christmas through the simple gestures of singing Christmas hymns and maintaining the crèche in our homes and churches, we will be better equipped to carry on the work of Christmas throughout the year: welcoming the lonely, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry.

When I sit in silence before the figures of the nativity crèche, I am struck by the profoundly human scene I am witnessing: such adoring love being poured out for this newborn baby.  Who among us has not had such an experience of being utterly captivated by the incredible beauty and vulnerability of a newborn child?  And do not our hearts spontaneously overflow with love for the child as we gaze on her in the crib or hold him in our arms!

The Incarnation of God’s beloved son born of Mary is really not too difficult a story to grasp.  We have a taste of it every time a child is born into the world, regardless of the difficult circumstances of that birth.  Every human being conceived is a child of God, made in God’s image and likeness, and carries within his or her soul a spark of the divine and a hint of the Incarnation.  Is it any wonder that Jesus said unless we become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven?  Is it any wonder that Jesus said when we do any act of mercy to the poorest and most marginalized persons, we are doing that act of mercy to Jesus.

When we pray before the crèche we see the entire human story, of rich and poor, women and men, young, old, and precious new life with its inevitable death looming in the future. This human story is sanctified through God’s most audacious act since the creation of the universe: the Son of God born of a woman.  God’s commitment to the human race is now made perfectly clear and irrevocable.  Jesus is God’s full, complete, and absolute offer of love to every human being. Thus the followers of Jesus are also completely and irrevocably committed to “every human being” as the bishops at the Second Vatican Council so elegantly stated:

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [men and women] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of [men and women]. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every [person]. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with [humankind] and its history by the deepest of bonds. (Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World)

Christmas calls for a “Gloria” that should continue through January! So let’s continue the observance of Christmas in prayer, song, symbol, and service.  Let’s invite the Christmas Spirit, which is the Holy Spirit, to inspire us in joy, graciousness, and generosity within the daily events and commitments of life.  May it be said of us as it was said of Ebenezer Scrooge, following the visits by the three spirits, “…that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, ‘God bless Us, Every One!’” (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)

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A Five-Minute Christmas Homily – Jesus is the Gift of Christmas

Posted December 22nd, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

35680619 - african american reverend holding up biblePastors and preachers, keep your Christmas homily short.  The Christmas liturgy, Christmas carols, and family celebrations proclaim the meaning of this sacred day.  All the faithful need from you is an “exclamation point” (and it helps to involve the community).  Here’s my try at a 5 minute Christmas homily.

Priest                 MERRY CHRISTMAS, CHURCH!  I’m going to need your help with this Christmas homily.  When I raise my hand, would you shout out, “Jesus is the gift of Christmas!” (Raises hand.)

Church             JESUS IS THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS!

Priest Would all the children and teenagers stand.  I know that you have       presents under the tree, and they are probably wrapped.  I want you to remember, (priest raises hand)

Church            JESUS IS THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS!

Priest              Adults, please stand.  You are friends, parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts.  You are probably responsible for most of the gifts beneath the tree.  I want you to remember, (priest raises hand)

Church            JESUS IS THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS!

Priest              Jesus, once a baby in Bethlehem, once a man in Galilee, once a prophet crucified in Jerusalem, is here with us right now!  Jesus is not a doctrine to memorize; Jesus is not a list of moral do’s and don’ts.  Jesus is a    person, like you and me, risen, and living in our midst.  Let us invite him into our hearts this night (priest raises hand).

Church             JESUS IS THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS!

nativityPriest               Every gift has to be opened in order to enjoy it.  If you do not open the “gift of Jesus,” he will remain closed off in a box somewhere.  But when you open the “gift of Jesus,” amazing things happen.  YOU FEEL LOVED!  YOU FEEL FORGIVEN!  YOU FEEL DEEP JOY!  And you sense a new purpose in your life.  You want to share this gift with others, with your children and friends, and especially with all who are poor, alone, sick, and afraid (priest raises hand).

Church           JESUS IS THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS!

Priest             So as you open presents, do not forget to open the gift of Jesus.  Receive Jesus’ love; receive Jesus’ forgiveness; receive Jesus’ joy.  Then share this love, forgiveness, and joy with everyone, everywhere, everyday of the year.  Merry Christmas, Church (priest raises hand).

Church          JESUS IS THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS!

Please post your comments!

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Looking for an end-of-the-year tax deduction?  Consider making a donation to Catholic Life Ministries.  If you have enjoyed reading these weekly essays, and you believe in the work we do in counseling couples and families, leading family retreats, deepening faith for adults and youth, preparing young people for marriage, and serving the poor and elderly through Camp St. Francis, then make a tax-deductible donation to this ministry.  You can do this on-line at http://www.catholiclifeministries.org/donate/(just copy this and paste into your web browser) or by U.S. Post:  CLM, 1827-B NE 58th St., Seattle, WA 98105.  WE ARE MOST GRATEFUL!

 

 

Marriage Musings:  MY SPOUSE IS DRIVING ME #*&#%#%!!!!

Posted December 12th, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot

By Robert Fontana

couple-withdrawingTrue stories!  Names and circumstances have been changed:

Jay and Sandra, 30 years of marriage; four children.

Sandra:  I’m married to the quiet man.  We are both going to retire soon, and I will have to spend my time with HIM!  Oh he’s a good father, makes a nice salary, but rarely says a word!  And when he does talk, it’s to “suggest improvements” with meals, parenting improvements, or whatever!

Jay:  I’m not sure why we’re here.  I don’t criticize my wife.  What she takes as criticism are suggestions just to make things better.  She’s very emotional; I’m very rational.  I don’t understand why she is so unhappy, but she takes it out on me by not wanting to have sex.

 And

Max and Esmerelda, living together for 8 months; wedding in four months; she’s pregnant.

Esmerelda: He disappears at the hint of conflict!  WE HAVE A BABY COMING!  This was not in the plan, but I’m getting used to it.  When I told him that I was pregnant, he didn’t say a word.  He just turned around and left!

Max:  I needed time to think. I could not think with you yelling at me about getting a better job and moving to a bigger apartment.  You are just like your father.  He yelled at you; you yell at me.

Can these relationships survive?  ABSOLUTELY!

couple-in-counseling-unhappyFrom the research:  Couples like these above have contacted me, a therapist-in-training in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), an evidenced-based approach to couple counseling that is extremely effective.  Here’s the process:

  1. Name the real culprit undermining the relationship! Stop blaming one another for all the unhappiness in the relationship.  “He’s not the problem,” and “She’s not the problem.”  The problem is the negative dynamic the two of them have created that undermines love.  One spouse’s negative words and/or actions feed the negative words and/or actions of the other spouse and vice-versa creating this “demon dynamic” that is hurtful and leads to bitterness and emotional distance.
  1. Call “time-out!” “You created this demon dynamic, and you can un-create it.”  Once couples have learned to recognize the “demon dynamic,” they can learn how to stop it when tensions are escalating by calling “time-out!”  “Time-out” gives couples space to replace the “demon dynamic” with a healthy marital dynamic, something they learn to do in counseling.
  1. Replace the “demon dynamic” with an “agape dynamic.” Agape is a Greek word that describes doing what is best for another person. In regard to couples in conflict, it means helping couples to replace the “demon dynamic” of hurt and counter-hurt with words and behaviors that restore love.  I especially help couples to listen to and understand the emotions behind a spouse’s comments.  EMOTIONS DRIVE BEHAVIOR, even for adults who say they are not emotional.
  1. Emotional engagement. I especially help couples to pay attention to each one’s own emotional life, particularly the deeper emotions that lie behind anger, rage, and bitterness.  These are the difficult feelings of shame, guilt, loneliness, hurt, sadness, isolation, and rejection that surface when a spouse does not feel safe, loved, accepted, affirmed, and cared for in a relationship.   When a spouse can name these feelings and the other spouse can listen with understanding, then positive engagement happens.

Marriage and Faith:  Speaking kindly to loved ones during difficult times has been a challenge since the time of Adam and Eve.  Here’s wisdom from the Epistle to the Ephesians:

 Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devilNo foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.

Woman Looking at a Man Sitting Beside HerMarriage Tip:   When you are not feeling well, you go to the doctor who checks your pulse and blood pressure, indicators of your physical health.  Couples ought to do an annual check of the “pulse and pressure” of their marriage through a relationship assessment (go to workonyourmarriage.org; click on “Marriage Assessment” in the left hand column).

Be as honest as possible in doing the assessment.  If your assessment results are great, keep doing what you are doing.  Be intentional about continuing the good things that are helping your marriage work.

If from your assessment you discover that your marriage needs some work, decide now to do something positive to strengthen the areas that need work:  read a book together, e.g. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman or His Needs/Her Needs by Willard Harley; watch relationship videos e.g. Hidden Keyes to Loving Relationships Gary Smalley; attend a marriage workshop sponsored by a nearby church or therapy group (look for The Marriage Tune-up in late January, sponsored by yours truly); and/or attend a retreat e.g. Marriage Encounter.

And if there are deep hurts in the marriage, and/or your relationship is spiraling out of control, DO NOT DESPAIR!  There is help.  Marriage counseling is effective with a well-trained counselor.  I recommend a counselor trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy.  Find one near you by going on-line to http://www.iceeft.com/

 THIS IS IMPORTANT:  DO NOT LET INSURANCE RESTRICTIONS OR THE COST OF MARRIAGE WORKSHOPS, RETREATS, AND/OR COUNSELING DRIVE YOUR DECISION TO GET HELP.  You spend money on sports events, vacations, hunting trips, new cars, and dinner out.  Find the therapist that is best for you even if he or she is not on your insurance plan.  The therapist can give you a receipt that you can submit for reimbursement.  And truly, the cost is worth the outcome – a successful marriage!

Please post your comments.

 

Dec 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas, the man behind the Claus

Posted December 5th, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

nicholasIs there any figure, real or imagined, better known than Santa Claus? How western culture created the mythical figure of Santa Claus from the fourth century historical figure of Nicholas, disciple of Jesus and Bishop of Myra, is very interesting.  You can read about it on Wikipedia.   I think it is so important that we Christians recover the real “St. Nick” so that we enjoy the Santa Claus story for what it is but not give it too much power over our lives.  What power does Santa Claus have over our lives?  The power to make us and our children consumers.

This is especially important as we end the Jubilee Year of Mercy on December 8.  Santa Claus will never lead us to mercy; St. Nicholas will.

December 6 is the Feast of St. Nicholas.  Read the following comparison between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus.  Afterwards, plan a fun celebration on Sunday with your family to honor the memory of the holy man Nicholas who truly kept Christmas every day of the year through prayer, celebration of the Sacraments, community, and caring for children and the poor.

  • Santa wants your credit card; Nicholas wants your heart.nicholas-home-1
  • Santa will turn you into a consumer; Nicholas will help you be a servant.
  • Santa is a whimsical tale of a fat old elf who gives toys to boys and girls who have been good; St. Nicholas helped children escape from poverty and slavery.
  • Santa reminds us to give presents; Nicholas reminds us to give ourselves.
  • Santa is controlled by the department store; Nicholas was led by the Spirit.
  • Santa is a man dressed in a costume; Nicholas was a Bishop who cared for his people.
  • Santa reminds us to follow the Christmas sales; Nicholas reminds us to follow Jesus.
  • Santa promises us happiness through gift-giving; Nicholas reminds us that happiness is the fruit of a faithful life.
  • Santa is a fun story to read to children on Christmas Eve; Nicholas was a man of great compassion and mercy, who sold his possessions and gave the money to the poor so that he could freely do God’s will.
  • Santa has nothing to do with Jesus, the God-Man, whose birth is celebrated on Christmas Day. Nicholas’ life only makes sense because of his love and commitment to Jesus, the God-Man, whose birth is celebrated on Christmas Day.

NicholasA prayer to St. Nicholas:

St. Nicholas, pray for us during this special Advent season, beginning the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Pray that we can enjoy the holiday season without getting caught up in the anxiety and stress of its commercialism and materialism.  Help us to know the love of God in Jesus and share that love with all we meet, especially with children, and with those who are poor and elderly.  Pray that we will be instruments of mercy and tenderness throughout the Jubilee year.

Amen.

WAIT, AMERICA, CHRISTMAS ISN’T UNTIL DECEMBER 25!!

Posted November 22nd, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

woman thoughtful“Americans simply do not know how to wait!” lamented     a good friend of mine, Betty Jo (BJ) Levad, former RCIA director at Holy Family Church, Yakima.  We were discussing the upcoming season of Advent.  BJ is right!

  • We celebrate the Super Bowl with all the hype and parties BEFORE the big game.
  • A blockbuster movie comes out, and we have to get into the midnight showing to see it at the earliest possible moment (Fontana kids, do you remember going to the midnight showing of Star Wars, The Phantom Menace?).
  • Couples who co-habit cannot wait for marriage before they live together.  Whatever it is they want from one another, they want it NOW, and they will decide on the commitment, the children, and the church later.
  • And Americans can’t wait for Christmas to celebrate Christmas. We begin with Black Friday, the day  after Thanksgiving, and squeeze in as much music, shopping, old movies, visiting, Salvation Army      donations, concerts, cooking, and gift-giving as   possible up to December 25.  When Christmas Day is over, we heave a huge sigh of relief.

AGH! We need Advent because  Advent teaches us how to wait!

The Christian community, Catholics and Protestants alike, have it right, and American culture has it wrong, in delaying the celebration of Christmas for four weeks to observe Advent.  Advent sets us on the right path by calling us to watch, pray, serve the poor, and WAIT.

taizeWhat is “Advent waiting” for?  To create space  within our hearts as individuals and as a community of faith for Jesus, and all that Jesus is about, to be born anew, both in our hearts and in our actions.  In Advent we get in touch with that ancient longing for a messiah to bring peace and justice to our sick and wounded world.

But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,  and from his roots a bud shall blossom…  Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat;  The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them...The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain;  for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as  water covers the sea.

We Christians know that the longed-for Messiah has come in Jesus, and yet we still have a sick and wounded world.   For some incomprehensible reason, God decided to entrust the restoration of the world, begun in Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, to all of us folks who claim to follow him.  Advent is our annual season of  reflection prior to celebrating the birth of Jesus to make sure that our hearts and minds are being guided by the Star of Bethlehem rather than by Madison Avenue.

advent-wreathIn a sick and wounded world, I need the season of Advent.  Advent calls me to prayer; Advent reminds me that what I really want in life is to draw close to God and be a power of love in the world.  I long to live life with a great freedom from my sins, biases, prejudices, fears, and material attachments that keep me from being the loving person and active citizen that I want to be.

But Advent does not simply call me as a person.  It calls “us” as a people of faith to step away from commercial and materialistic observances of Christmas to participate in the Church’s annual retreat.  Advent is a communal retreat.

Christmas Eve is coming; Advent is upon us.  We Americans need Advent to teach us how to wait and to   create space for God to be born in our lives through    Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I DISLIKE CROWDS, BUT WENT TO WORLD YOUTH DAY ANYWAY!

Posted November 15th, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew
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By Michaela Kearns

wyd-2016This summer I was given an opportunity that I will never forget.  I was invited to sing in a choir at World Youth Day (WYD) in Krakow, Poland.  I had never previously desired to attend WYD because I don’t prefer crowds.  However, when asked if I would like to sing for the daily English Masses, I couldn’t resist!  The choir was made up of about 30 young adults from cities all over the U.S. (New York, Chicago, Seattle, Salt Lake City, etc.).  The connecting factor for all of us was a young Polish Dominican priest, Fr. Lukasz Misko, who was the music organizer for these Masses and has been the pastor at various Catholic Newman Centers in the U.S.

Our WYD choir experience began with a music workshop at a retreat center outside of Krakow.  As we arrived, Fr. Lukasz reminded us that our mission during the coming week was not just musical, but was also spiritual.  That being said, we embarked on two intensive and incredibly fun days learning over 100 pages of music, praying Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and daily Mass, and exchanging stories and laughter during our fantastic Polish meals and small bits of free time.  By mid-day Monday we were ready to head to the city center, knowing each other much better than when we started and ready to sing!

wyd-michaela

I’m on the second row, second from the left.

Although it is called World Youth Day, the actual event takes place over 5 days.  On Tuesday, everyone arrives.  Wednesday through Saturday, mornings start with Mass followed by Catechism (offered in different languages at different locations), and days end with larger group events each evening.  Sunday morning closes WYD with one large papal Mass.  As a choir, our days began at 8:30 am with a music rehearsal until Mass at 11 am.  We usually finished Mass around 1:30 pm, and we were then free to attend the larger gatherings or explore other activities around Krakow.   Some highlights of what filled our evenings were touring Auschwitz, visiting the Dominican priory and other churches around Krakow, attending the welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis, praying at the memorial sites of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina, and joining 2 million others in a pilgrimage to the Saturday night prayer vigil and Sunday Mass that closed our time with each other and the Pope.

holocaustThe theme of WYD this year was mercy.  A particularly profound experience for me around this theme was the visit to Auschwitz.  I barely have words to describe what it was like to be on the grounds of this WWII concentration camp.  However, I can say that by the end of our tour the depth of sadness, horror, and sickness of this place overwhelmed me.  The reminder it is of the capacity humans have to be horrible to each other felt almost insurmountably hopeless.  I felt rage and fear in my bones so that I couldn’t speak.  And then… I remembered that what brought me to this place was a Christian gathering, with the theme of forgiveness and mercy nonetheless.   This realization turned my thoughts to this God I believe in who, in the face of humanity at its worst, offers mercy.  Yes, justice, but also mercy.  This thought profoundly opened my heart to how enormous the love of God is.  It broke me open.  I don’t love that big.  I don’t know if I ever can.  But my God does.  How do I start?

wyd-choir

You can’t see me, but I was a cantor for one of the Masses in English.

In the last few years, I have begun to question the validity and beliefs of my traditional Catholic faith. I hear it criticized often, and I get busy and fill my days and thoughts with other things.  This trip, however, shifted something for me.  The tone, from start to finish, was one of gathering with reverence and joy as we looked together to God.  Being around others who want to pray and who believe in the power of God helped me remember the reason I believe: God’s love transforms.  In the words of Pope Francis, “My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, of the eternal ‘more’.  Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease.  Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths.  To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy.” 

So, despite my dislike for crowds, I would choose to be part of this crowd all over again.  After spending time with them, I feel renewed in the desire to entrust myself completely to this God I know who is more loving, merciful, generous, and good than I can even understand.

Here’s a link to some of the sacred music that was sung at WYD.

Music: https://soundcloud.com/gouzentastic/sets/music-of-world-youth-day-krakow-2016

 

 

 

Tis the season to indulge fa la la la la la la la la.

Posted November 4th, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

grandma-reindeerBy Robert Fontana

Tis the season to indulge fa la la la la la la la la.  Eat and watch your stomach bulge fa la la la…

Rob       AGH!  God save us from the coming madness!  I know it’s only November, but I don’t think I can handle another Christmas.  MULTI-COLORED LIGHTS!   AWFUL MUSIC (Grandma got hit by a reindeer, who thought of that?)!       ENDLESS COMMERCIALS TO BUY THIS AND THAT…

God      Rob, okay,dude, lighten up…deep breaths…that’s it…breathe in peace…breathe out that holiday demon that has you by the throat..  (I begin to sob.)  That’s it, get rid of that ugly old thing that wants to ruin your Christmas.

Rob      God, you said a “holiday demon?”  I’ve never heard of such a thing.

God     Oh yeah, that Satan is a cunning fella.  He tries to ruin everyone’s Christmas through glitter and glamour, noise and toys, business to exhaustion, and indulge, indulge, indulge.  He makes it all look pretty and enticing, and folks like you WANT IT ALL, and off you go like a kid who has free rein in a candy shop.

Do you remember when you and your brother found that gallon of ice cream in your mom’s freezer and, being the only ones home, you ate it ALL up??  (I nod my head “yes.”).  Well, how did you feel?

Rob     Like I wanted to throw up.  In fact, I think I did throw up.  I never did that again.

 

God     Yeah, well that’s pretty much how most people feel after Christmas is over, especially the moms and dads.  Ichristmas-party know I hear their prayers.  “Oh, God, please don’t let me do this next year!”  But next year comes and the holiday demon turns on those lights, dangles out a new toy, and “Pow!” Good people are hooked and off they bound into the season of indulgence.  I’m not against having fun, after all, I created it. But what people put themselves through year after year under the influence of the holiday demon literally makes them sick.

Rob     God…it sounds hopeless.  The holiday demon is in charge.  He’s so powerful.  We’re doomed…

God     Whoa, dude!  Now stop your whining.  YOU ARE NOT POWERLESS OVER THE HOLIDAY DEMON!  Stop your sniffling; stand up straight.  You have the Gospels!  You have the beautiful day of Thanksgiving and the Advent season!  You have the community of faith, and YOU HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT!

nativityThe holiday demon is a coward who shrinks before the power that you have at your fingertips.  USE THE POWER THAT YOU HAVE TO TRANSFORM THE SEASON OF INDULGENCE TO THE SEASON OF SELF-GIVING LOVE.  That’s what Christmas is all about, isn’t it?

Rob      Okay, God, thanks for the pep talk.  I needed it.  Holiday demon, season of indulgence, bring it on.  Here I come!

Dear Friends, USE THE POWER THAT YOU HAVE TO TRANSFROM THE advent-wreathSEASON OF SELF-INDULGENCE TO THE SEASON OF SELF-GIVING LOVE.  Plan now how you are going to transform the secular winter holiday “season of indulgence” into the faith community’s season of Christmas. Here are some tips: do Advent with your kids and grandkids (they love lighting candles); pray daily; reach out to the elderly and poor; and fast from some favorite item of “indulgence,” e.g. chocolate.  Make Christmas a season, not just a day, e.g. put your tree up close to Christmas, save out a   present for family members to be shared on Epiphany (Jan 6) when you take down your tree.

 

No mystics, no saints, only lovers

Posted October 28th, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

Robert loveI did not think that I had such a huge ego nor that I was ambitious.  But the last 10 years, which have been some of the most difficult years of my life, have exposed my ego-driven ambition, from my young adult years when I was striving for sainthood, to my later-life ambition of becoming a mystic.  Imagine that: being “ego-driven” to being a saint!  What these difficult years have exposed are my capacity for outrage and anger; my attachments to my will, my way of seeing things, and my worldview; and how little wisdom, insight, and love I actually possess.

In my early years of pursuit of sainthood, I struggled to be like saints Francis and Clare of Assisi and blessed Dorothy Day, hoping that I could match their capacity for simple living and embracing the poor.  My problem was that I wanted to be them, and wasn’t looking at who I was.  I learned that I was not very good at living simply, and that I didn’t like hanging out with the so-called “poor” who smoked, drank, begged from the street corners, swore like drill sergeants, couldn’t hold a job, and would not turn off the T.V.

I gradually let go of the idea of being a saint and slowly attached myself to the idea of becoming a mystic.  I would cultivate a life of prayer through daily periods of silence that would help me carry an awareness of God’s love throughout my day.  I worked on paying attention to what was beautiful in the world around me.  I cultivated a commitment to not let any person, place, or thing rob me of my joy.  There has been some good fruit from this; but it’s too private a spirituality, too cut-off from the awful suffering around me.  Furthermore, what is the goal of a mystic?  Is it union with God?  The older I get, the more I am aware of my limitations, biases, and sins.  I’m glad that God is working from his end on being united with me because my meager efforts seem weak and inconclusive.  I can’t always tell that I am growing in this relationship.

As I thought about the challenges in the last 10 years and how I am neither even close to being a saint, nor very much of a mystic, I came to some insights and wrote a letter to Jesus that I share with you.

Jesus, Beloved One.  Beloved of the Father, Beloved of the Church, and Beloved of me.  I had thought years ago thatDSCF3721 I wanted to be a saint who would lead others to sainthood.  And I wanted to be a mystic who could lead others into mysticism.  Now I see that both of these are ego-driven illusions.  All that is important, and even possible, is to be a lover… a lover of Jesus, and a lover like Jesus, as I am able, with my gifts and many limitations, within the circumstances of my life.   

The question which confronts me is, “What does love ask of me in this situation, with this person?”  What does love look like in listening to a woman whose grandchild, a tiny baby, is in the hospital, suffering seizures?  What does love look like when I get yet one more appeal to help the refugees in Syria?  What does love look like in providing for Lori’s and my future?  Jesus, Beloved One, I don’t know if I will ever be a saint or a mystic.  What does that matter anyway?  But with your help, I can be a person guided by love. 

If Francis and Clare and Dorothy Day were saints (and mystics), it was not because they set out with the primary goal of becoming a saint, as I had once done.  They set out to be lovers, lovers of Jesus, and lovers like Jesus, as best they could within the circumstances of their lives.  Of course, all of this is quite clear in the Scriptures.  If I had not been trying so hard to being a saint and/or mystic, I might have caught on to this truth earlier:

“If I have the faith to move mountains and do not love, I am nothing,”  (1 Cor 13:2 ); and,

“The only thing that counts is faith working through love,” (Gal 5:6); and lastly:

“Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest is love.”  (1 Cor 13:13)

Please post your comments.

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36351703 - mechanic lying and working under car at the repair garage

Couples, if you live in Washington state, come to the “Marriage Tune-up,” Sunday, November 13.  You bring your car in every 4,000 miles for an oil change, and every 7,000 miles to rotate the tires and every…well, you get the message.  When did you last take time to “tune-up” your marriage?  At the “Marriage Tune-up,” you will talk with your spouse about your life together, strengthen communication skills, and learn an effective problem solving method that strengthens love and minimizes arguments. Join the “marriage mechanic”, Marriage and Family Therapist Robert Fontana, on Sunday, November 13, 12:30-4:30 p.m. in the Parish Center for the “Marriage Tune-up.”

You will leave in time for the Seahawks game with your marriage running better than ever!

Cost: $25 a couple.  To Register:  Call Robert at 206-651-5058 or email him at workonyourmarriage@gmail.com.