Wondering About Baby Jesus?

I first seriously thought about devotion to baby Jesus when I traveled to Prague with a group of friends during the semester I studied at my school’s campus in Austria. The Infant of Prague can be found on a side altar in a church somewhere in the city. I was not even planning on going to Prague that weekend, but decided to join a group of friends last minute when my other plans fell through. When I found myself praying before the Infant dressed up in a shiny green vestment-like dress I was not really sure what to say or pray or why this devotion had been popular for hundreds of years.

Two years later I was living in a house in Steubenville, Ohio near my college campus with four young women who shared a devotion to baby Jesus and were in the same household (the Steubenville alternative to a sorority created to pray together in community based on a common spirituality). Their simple enthusiasm for the child Jesus taught me how I should have prayed that day in Prague. It was similar to the universal adoration shown to a newborn baby, except that it was combined with their love of God. In fact, it seemed to enhance their love of God in a way that I had never thought about.

How did the Shepherds feel before the Infant they knew to be their Savior and God? The Wise Men knew there was something special about the Infant King they came to adore. And Our Lady, Mary, must have felt such an overwhelming love for her own Son who was also her Lord and her God.

God chose to become man as a little baby, and it is awesome that we can still pray to Him as that child. The Church gives us the opportunity every Christmas, but we are not restricted to the season in our devotion to Him. What does a devotion to baby Jesus do for us as worshipers of God? Praying to the child Jesus helps us follow His call to simplicity to be like a little child. When we come and adore the divine child we open ourselves to have Wonder and to be transformed by it. Wonder is what a child has when she sees the moon in the sky during the day instead of at night, and children wonder at the snow covering the ground. Children marvel at all aspects of God’s creation from the smallest bug to the largest mountain. When we start to wonder again, especially towards God himself, we learn to wonder at all of His creation. And our wondering at God is a way of worshiping Him and it causes us to grow in our love of Him.

This Sunday is Epiphany when the three wise men came to adore the child Jesus in Bethlehem. If we join them with our hearts in traveling to wonder at the Infant King, we can grow in love of God this Christmas Season. O come, let us adore Him!

Originally posted on Truth and Charity.

The Call to be Outcasts: A Reflection on Les Misérables

I have not seen the new movie that came out on Christmas, and will probably not get a chance until it is on video or at the $2 theater in Minneapolis (when maybe I will be willing to leave the baby with a sitter). I have seen the musical performed live and have read the unabridged novel; this reflection is based more on the novel but does not depart from the plot of the musical.

While I can’t boast of fluency in French, I have read that “les misérables” translates into something like “the outcasts” or “the wretched ones” or “the miserables.” I want to focus on the “outcast” translation. If you look at each of the main characters, they are all outside of society: Jean Valjean the exconvict, Fantine the former mistress of a wealthy student who was left with an illicit child, Cosette the orphan child being raised by the exconvict, the Thenardier family who spend their whole lives stealing from people, Javert who is a police officer standing outside society to keep order, and Marius the orphan and republican student.

The character I am going to examine is Jean Valjean. He spent 19 years in jail regretting his small crime, and is filled with rage and hate. He encounters society’s terror of exconvicts when he is on parole when he is unable to find food or shelter; however, even after his conversion caused by the bishop’s kindness, he lives in fear of his former self. No matter how many good deeds he does and how virtuous he becomes, he is always aware of who he is, Jean Valjean the exconvict. It doesn’t matter that all he did was break a window and steal a loaf of bread when he was starving: he is an exconvict. As soon as people learn of his past, they fear him and think that there is no possible way that he can be good. Yet, when they do not know his identity as the exconvict, they recognize his saintly deeds and virtuous character.

There are several turning points in the story where Valjean struggles with choosing the morally right thing. If he follows his conscience, he will have to expose his past (and what he believes to be his true self) and be condemned by those who respect him; however, because of the influence of the bishop, he has been transformed and cannot disregard his conscience. It is not until the end of Valjean’s life that there is a person who is aware of both his criminal history and all the good he has done. This person recognizes that he is a saint.

Jean Valjean represents the life of a saint. He has a conversion, turns from his old life, never does a wrong thing again and is constantly running from his former sins. He seeks the life of virtue and union with God, but is always aware of his sinful nature. He constantly condemns himself when he is already good. He continues to find his weaknesses and overcome them until he has completely abandoned himself to the point of physical death. I think this is how we are called to overcome our sins, to become more and more selfless so that we completely lose ourselves in God. We need to be horrified at our ability to sin and our past sins. Fortunately, God is much more forgiving than society, and we must run to him. Valjean’s one flaw is his inability to accept forgiveness from God for his past sins, but in this he displays what it is to live a penitential life.

If we truly live the call to sainthood, we will be cast out of society like Jean Valjean. To seek be holy in a modern society is to be set apart a life of virtue and penance does not make sense without God. If we are truly seeking to be holy, we will be outcasts. This experience of being cast out of society is becoming more and more real for Catholic Christians in modern America. Being “set apart” is never easy, but with the grace of God it can and will be done. God will provide what we need to be sustained through the community of believers. Valjean says that love is what leads to human flourishing; without love the human soul dies, the human dies. So we must live the lives of saints with those whom we love and not fear the call to be outcasts.

Originally posted on Truth and Charity.

Seven Quicktakes-Dec. 7

1.  I caught a nasty head cold over the weekend and it makes me feel like I am a week post-partum instead of four. It is kind of annoying, but is forcing me to take it easy when I might normally try to get lots of things done. The baby also caught the cold, poor girl, and has been fussier because of it; it is her second cold since birth. We should have a Spring or Summer baby next, because this is not nice to a newborn. I am sure we will find a few more colds over our Christmas travels.

2. Here is what we did for St. Nicholas Day:

Just chocolate. The presents we save to celebrate the birth of Christ. You know. 
St. Nick also made it into the center of our Advent wreath, until someone decides to eat him.
3. This meme made me really happy:
From CatholicMemes.com

4. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when Our Lady was conceived without original sin. Dom Gueranger in his The Liturgical Year on the topic:

“The intention of the Church, in this feast, is not only to celebrate the anniversary of the happy moment in which began, in the womb of the pious Anne, the life of the ever-glorious Virgin Mary; but also to honour the sublime privilege, by which Mary was preserved from the original stain, which, by a sovereign and universal decree, is contracted by all the children of Adam the very moment they are conceived in their mother’s womb. The faith of the Catholic Church on the subject of the Conception of Mary is this: that at the very instant when God united the soul of Mary, which He had created, to the body which it was to animate, this ever-blessed soul did not only contract the stain, which at that same instant defiles  every human soul, but was filled with an immeasurable grace which rendered her, from that moment, the mirror of the sanctity of God Himself, as far as this is possible to a creature.” (p. 377-378, Vol. 1)

5. My second contribution to Truth and Charity was posted yesterday. Please support that great blog!

6. After going to story hour at the library today, I realize my almost four year old needs to learn classroom etiquette. They all thought it was cute, but she probably should not yell out in the middle of stories and wait for her turn in line. Oh the misfortunes of staying at home with mom… 😉

7. We have barely made a dent in our (20ish) freezer meals thanks to visitors after the baby and meals from friends. While I love to cook it is nice to not have to while the baby’s schedule is so unpredictable. I am really wanting her to be old enough to be on a regular sleep schedule, but I need to remember patience and appreciate the newborn qualities she has.

Head over to Jen for more quicktakes.

Losing Control: Trusting God and Those He Gives Us

When our newest addition was born four weeks ago, my parents came to help with the kids and house for a week, followed by my mother-in-law for another week. They took over many of my normal tasks so I could take care of the baby. And since they left, my husband, Mark, has been doing more than his fair share of the housework. The fact is that there is a lot more to do with a newborn around and for me, it is a lot harder to do my normal daily tasks. It has been difficult to let go of the way that I do things and just be thankful that others are serving me. I know it is a little over the top, but sometimes I just cannot be around when someone else is vacuuming for me; what if they use a different outlet than I do? (And seriously, I know I am not the only wife and mother who worries about these things.) Sometimes my anxiety causes me to wonder if it would be better for me to simply do the task myself than trust someone else to do it even though I truly need the help.
So what is going on? Why is it so hard to accept the aid and love of others? I have realized that as I have trouble trusting others to take care of things for me, I also have difficulty trusting God to care for me. I have found that when I am trusting God, I am happier, more peaceful, and more likely to trust as well. Further when I trust others to care for me, I have more trust in God.

In the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42), Mary spends her time listening to Jesus teach while her sister Martha is preparing food and laboring to serve Jesus and her guests. As a mother, my life is spent being Martha to my children and husband and anyone who comes to my home. Because of this it is hard for me to remember there are times that I am called to be like Mary and to be ministered to by Jesus, be it from others or in a few moments during the day I have to pray. Having three children, one of them a newborn, is teaching me again that I must lose control of things that are less important and to trust God and others. I know that being a parent is continually leading me to surrender my need to control details of life and of my children’s lives. I am learning the things that are important to take care of with precision and the things that do not need as much attention. While the cleaning is important, how it is done is not. While raising children to be independent is important, having to tuck them in multiple times at night is good and teaches them that they are loved. In losing this control, I am learning to be like Mary, to accept from God the love He is giving me, and to not be “anxious and troubled about many things.”

We are all called to learn to be like Mary, no matter what our vocation. Mary is traditionally as seen as representing the contemplative life and Martha the active life, but we are all called to be contemplative to whatever extent our duties in life allow us to be. This is how we learn a true love of God, in trusting Him and learning how to be loved. This is why it is so essential to give control to God, even when life is full of uncertainties. Saints are the people who face the trials of life knowing that God loves them and trusting and loving God through it all, and it is in the little matters of trust that we learn to trust in the great matters.

Originally posted on Truth and Charity.

New Things!

Shortly after having the baby I was invited to contribute to the blog Truth and Charity. After three weeks I have decided to join! The blog is run by a group of lay, Catholic writers who are unwaveringly faithful to the Magisterium. The mission of the blog is to illustrate what it is to live as a faithful Catholic in American society – the intersection of faith and life.

I am really excited to be joining the other awesome Catholic bloggers on the site! I will be posting there every Thursday, and will continue my writing here at Living with Lady Philosophy.