The Forced Gift – a guest post by Linda Berkery

MumsAlong with common autumn tasks — dragging out warm clothes, cleaning windows, planting mums — is my personal fall ritual. Every October, I review the year through photos and journals. Then, in the spirit of St. Therese, whose feast day starts my birthday month, I pray for one simple word to focus the days ahead. “Gracious”, “delight”, and “patience” once served.

The word “downsize” rises in my mind. It doesn’t take long to gaze through that lens.

I notice two long bathrobes hanging behind my bedroom door. Both are mine. One is a faded cobalt blue, threadbare on the cuffs and neck, but comfortable. I bought that robe many years ago to wear after giving birth. Memories fill the torn pockets, along with tissues that dried tears, a penny from the stairs, and ink stains.

The second robe, a lovely cranberry shade with satin braids at the collar, looks perfect. But it remains a stunning symbol of selfishness — a reminder of a motherhood tantrum.

160518-M46644LOne October when my children were young, my birthday fell on a Sunday. I anticipated homemade cards, sweets, and a gift — something small, but wrapped with love. I imagined a family party and chocolate cake after a nice Sunday brunch. But as the morning progressed and nothing was prepared, I reluctantly began cooking.

After lunch I pulled out a bit of ice-cream left at the bottom of a container, and jammed a candle in it. The children sang. I pouted. There should be cake. Why did I have to plan a celebration for myself?

I smiled at the gluey card from my little ones, the effort organized by my nine year old. There was nothing from my husband — he simply forgot. This was a new experience for me — my Continue reading

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Fasting as an act of love

FoF1cHaving just read a post about food, fasting, and mean abstinence over at Catholic Sensibility, I was reminded of this post. In fact I quoted a portion of it in a comment over there. This essay was posted on this blog in October 2012, but it was originally published early in Lent in 2008,  at The Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor. How I wish that I could tell you that I wrote this essay, but I did not. A friend wrote it, and he wished to remain anonymous when it was first published. I honor that anonymity once again as I repost the thought provoking essay here today.

images-1One thing that is on my mind is this… Many of us fast from meat and eat fish on Fridays during Lent. But is eating fish really eating simply these days? Honestly, I must admit to having eaten ahi tuna this past Friday; it was hardly a sacrifice. How can we approach the Lenten fast with a sense of solidarity with the poor? What about Lent with an inclination to reveal our own inner poverty? This post continues to give us a lot to think and pray about. Fasting does not have to mean food alone, although it helps to connect eating small simple meals and sharing what we don’t eat or spend with others in some way. But there are many ways to open space for God.  Ultimately we must discern, what is God asking of us through our sacrifice and our fast? Read our guest post today, our guest re-post, I should say and see what touches you. 

10_15_Teresa_of_ÁvilaHow can the simple, everyday task of eating become an act of compassion?
One of my favorite saints is Teresa of Avila. She was a typical teenager – she loved boys, clothes, flirting and rebelling. When she was 16, her father sent her to a convent because he thought she was out of control. At first she hated it but she grew to like it due to her growing love of God and the fact that the convent was less strict than her father.

When the time came for her to make a decision between marriage or the convent, Teresa had a difficult time choosing one over the other. She had watched a difficult marriage destroy her mother. On the other hand, being a nun didn’t seem like much fun. Religious life won out, according to Teresa, because it seemed the better place for one “so prone to sin.”

What I appreciate about Teresa is her sense of humor and how her religious sensibilities helped her find peace and meaning as she focused on and became reliant on God’s tender and merciful love. She had the ability to seize the moment and live it to the full. Never one to allow sin, gloom and despair to Continue reading

Where Are the Shepherds? A guest post from Shannon O’Donnell

Where Are the Shepherds? A guest post from Shannon O’Donnell

On Advent Sundays this year, I pondered the shepherds. At a funeral we sang, “Shepherd Me, O God. A homilist repeated the pope’s admonition that pastors should be shepherds who smell like their sheep. Our inner city parish is far from any sheep’s pasture, but I sit in the pew and I ponder shepherds.

donation-box-foodAs the gifts are prepared, young children converge on the basket before the altar. In their hands are peanut butter, soup, mac and cheese, packages of rice and noodles,. All of it goes into the basket, headed for the food bank.

Todd, a tall lanky dad, carries his not-yet-walking son on his shoulders. Connor tosses in a juice box with glee.

Food Collection basket_2Four-year-old Sean pulls his younger sister along. Together they stand before the basket. He’s holding a multipack of ramen noodles. Lily doesn’t want to let go of the box of crackers. He places the noodles in the basket, then steps back and points. She frowns. Sean pokes her shoulder. Lily leans over and at the very last moment, she lets go of the box. She raises her hands. Victory! They skip back to their parents on the sidelines.

Some approach like old-timers, well-practiced in the art of giving. Others need a guiding hand or verbal urging (“Come ON!”)

Later, lines for Commuion form and move.

sign-of-peace-600-400-300x200Brian shakes hands with every person he sees until his wife runs gentle interference. His Alzheimer’s is more pronounced these days. Jeanne and her mother gather up the grandchildren. Susan gets her mother’s walker in place. Michael’s mom wheels her laughing son forward. One of the L’Arche assistants leads Sherry from a pew, a familiar dance between them.

Where are the shepherds? They are all among us, watching their flocks, smelling like their sheep.

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1474562_10202284427985779_1840724417_nShannon O’Donnell is an author from Tacoma, WA. Her book, Save The Bones, is a deeply moving account about memory, Alzheimer’s disease, and her (now recently deceased) mother Marie Cain. Shannon also blogs about life as a Catholic jail chaplain at Finding Grace Within. It is an honor to welcome Shannon’s work to the blog today.

This post may have you scratching your head and wondering what it has to do with the Christmas season, and even more specifically, with the Holy Family. Shannon is looking back at Advent and wondering where the shepherds are now. When I read it, I thought about the less-than-perfect holy family that we all are when we are church together. And what better reminder is needed today and always?