Advent Reflection Series #4

Where could you use simplicity in your life?

Usually, I try to keep things simple. I have a relatively new car with a lot of nice electronic features, but I don’t use any of them because they complicate things. If the car drives, it’s good enough. I don’t use any software beyond Microsoft Word while I’m writing because to learn it would be to make something that already works for me (a regular document) very complicated and therefore frustrating. At work, they’re trying to make us learn all these different editing software programs, and to be honest, I couldn’t care less because it makes my job more complicated. I don’t want to waste time checking behind the software to make sure it didn’t create errors.

But that’s not to say I couldn’t use even more simplicity. Right now I’m looking around the apartment, which is filled with baby stuff and Christmas stuff and writing stuff and books, and I’m getting overwhelmed because it’s a lot. Material things, as useful and as necessary as they are, tend to complicate, and I like as few of them as possible. If there are tons of things lying around, and my desk and counter and kitchen table and closet are cluttered, then my brain is cluttered too.

Too cluttered to fit God in.

I’ve always thought that God appeared to more people “back in the day” because their lives were simpler and they had more time, fewer “things,” and therefore more opportunity to encounter him. They could focus on God rather than figuring out the latest gadget or rushing to the store to buy a ton of Christmas presents that are ultimately unnecessary. Their minds were less cluttered. It’s almost the same way with people who have “simple” minds, like children. They are closer to God because their minds are uncomplicated by all the “stuff” in the world.

So as we get ready for Christmas, it might be better to take some time to de-clutter our minds… or de-clutter our spaces so we can de-clutter our minds. As one of the cards I got from a baby shower said, “Babies don’t take up mushroom.” Neither will the baby Jesus, so all we need is a little sliver of space. It might make all the difference.

Advent Reflection Series #2

Have you ever met Jesus?

Usually, I don’t like questions like this because I am reminded of the overzealous kids in the Campus Crusade for Christ back when I was in college. They’d approach you randomly while you were eating dinner in the dining hall by yourself and not wanting to be bothered, and they’d ask questions like, “Is Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Savior?” “Have you ever met Jesus?” “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” At the time, I didn’t know enough about being Catholic to try and turn the tables on them and respond in a Catholic way like, “Yes, I’ve met him. I encounter his True Presence every Sunday in the Body and Blood of Christ.”

If someone were to ask me one of those questions now, that’s exactly how I would answer. The Eucharist is a personal thing—actually, it’s as personal as you can get. Who else can say that they have encountered the risen Christ through his very real Body and Blood? Christ, King of the Universe, deigns to come down to earth every time there is a Mass and to dwell in our weak human bodies.

However, I think when Protestants refer to a “personal relationship” with Jesus, they mean praying to Jesus in one’s own words. I do agree that this aspect of the personal relationship is important. You can say all the rote prayers you want to, and pray the Rosary, and go to daily Mass, but if you don’t pray in your own words and really talk to Jesus, you’re missing something. The “personal” relationship is not there. Prayer is a personal thing. Many devotional practices can seem empty if you don’t talk to Jesus like a friend and let him know what is really in your heart.

Advent Reflection Series #1

Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic program is doing a series called “Best Advent Ever,” so for every day of Advent, you get a little inspiration in your email inbox, along with a reflection question. So the first question was…

What was the most important thing you did this year, and how did you prepare for it?

I was thinking, when I struggled to put my socks on this past Sunday, that it is the first Sunday of Advent and I am now a literal symbol of the season. I sympathize with Mary more than I ever did. Imagine being 13 or 14 years old and being told by an angel that your entire life is going to change if you only say “yes” to God without knowing what he has in store for you. Imagine going to the house of your relative who is way past childbearing years but is pregnant, just like you. Imagine having to ride on the back of a donkey while 9 months pregnant and about to give birth at any time.

And imagine going through the entire thing with none of the prenatal care, pain and discomfort relief, or medical knowledge that we have with pregnancies today. Nowadays, at least in the United States, very few women die in childbirth. Back then, I’m sure the percentage was much higher. Mary probably heard all kinds of terrible birth (and death) stories. It wasn’t like she could count on getting an epidural or having a C-section. All she had to go on was faith.

Anyway, back to the prompt. I suppose getting pregnant was the most important thing I did this year, although it was unintentional, and I’m preparing by organizing all the baby stuff people have been kind enough to give me. Also by trying not to read too many birth stories on the Internet and get all freaked out.

Honestly, I’ve been trying to mentally and spiritually prepare myself more than anything. Part of that is trying, like Mary, to go on faith. Even today, with all the medical enhancements and new technology, pregnancy and childbirth are still full of unknowns. It’s still up to God. The ob/gyn tells you to make a birth plan, but in the same breath, she also tells you to plan on discarding the plan. Don’t cling too tightly to it because anything could happen, and most of it is beyond anyone’s control. Similarly, parenting is full of unknowns. I can’t even begin to imagine these unknowns because I’m not there yet, and I want to at least get past the birth before I start thinking of that.

The same is true of anything else in life. The modern era makes us believe that we’re in control, or at least that we have more control than we had in the past, which is a lie. Rather, the modern era has created a neat little bubble, the interior of which contains very little room for pain, suffering, discomfort, and chaos. Everything within is scheduled, planned, and controlled so we are caught in a false sense of security. The slightest little upheaval that enters the bubble causes a great amount of stress.

So, in short, I am preparing for being unprepared, if that makes any sense. I need to control what little I can fit into my neat little bubble, and let God handle the rest.