It is now the heart of the winter. I, for one, enjoy the winter. I find the snow and the cold exciting, I enjoy getting out to ice skate and play hockey, I like the beauty of a soft snowfall, I get excited when my nostrils freeze together (well, maybe not that part). However, I realize that there are those who do not enjoy winter as much as I do, and thus they like to escape to warmer climates. Many couples will get away for a few months and there are families that travel during spring break. As a society, we travel quite a bit.
One temptation that can occur when we travel is to forget about the importance of prayer. Because we are out of our usual setting or away from our routines, we can be tempted to miss the prayer that needs to be a part of our lives, even when we are away from our homes.
The reality is that God is everywhere and God’s love is everywhere for us. We need to respond to that love in prayer. So here are a few suggestions for continuing to pray while you travel.
First, remember that traveling with others is a great time to pray together. We often pray alone, but when we are traveling, we typically travel with others. This is a great time to practice praying with other people. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am” (Matt 18:20). We have been designed to pray together. It can be a simple prayer each morning as your start your day or a prayer to St. Christopher for safe travelers (he is the patron Saint of travellers). Regardless of how you do it, it is good to pray together.
Second, schedule time for mass. Vacation from work is not a vacation from God or His call for us to attend mass. It is essential for us as Catholics to attend mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation. So when you travel, look up the local Catholic churches and their mass times. If you do not know how to find the parishes, you are in luck: www.masstimes.org is an incredible website that will help you find masses using the zip code or address. If you use your cell phone, you need only push the button and it will use the GPS to find your location and the closest churches and their mass times.
Finally, bring your rosary. I travel with my rosary and it is a beautiful simple prayer that you carry in your pocket. It has even been cleared by TSA on all of my air travels. When you are on the plane, put away your electronics for just a few minutes and pray the rosary. If you have forgotten your rosary, good news: God gave you ten fingers and you pray the rosary that way! The rosary is the traveling prayer. It is also a good reminder to pray when you keep it in your pocket. You may put your hand in your pocket looking for your keys and you feel your rosary: That might be God reminding you to pray that day.
People enjoy traveling and it is easier than ever for us to explore this amazing world that God has given to us. As we travel creation, let us not forget the Creator and make time for prayer.
In the Catholic faith, we have seasons, just like the season of the weather. The year begins with the season of Advent, followed by Christmas. We then move into Ordinary time which is broken up by Lent and Easter. Then we return to Ordinary time.
Last weekend brought the Christmas season to a close with and began Ordinary time. Each of these seasons has a purpose or a focus. For example, Advent is a time to prepare for receiving Jesus into our lives. Christmas is a season where we recognize the union of God with ourselves. Lent is the Season of penance and Easter is a season for celebrating Jesus victory over sin and death.
The question that some may ask is: What is the focus of Ordinary time? I often look at Ordinary time a season where we ought to be getting better at doing the “ordinary” things of our Catholic faith.
Have you ever noticed how many professionals say they are “practicing” their work? For example, a doctor “practices” medicine. Or a lawyer “practices” law. This indicates that they are always striving to be better at their work. They never view themselves as having perfected it and never want decline. They always want to be better and every day is an opportunity to improve.
This is the attitude we ought to have toward our faith, particularly in Ordinary time. This season of Ordinary time is a when we ought to be striving to improve ourselves spiritually. We should begin by asking the question: Where do I need to improve as a disciple of Jesus Christ? We ought not only focus on which sins should we strive to eliminate, but also where should we grow? Perhaps we need to grow in our prayer life, both in time and in quality of our prayer. Maybe we need to be more generous with our resources. Possibly we need to be better at our vocation to marriage and the family life.
I will recommend two books to help during this Ordinary time. The first is An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Frances de Sales. This is a collection of letters that St. Frances de Sales wrote to a cousin on how to grow in the spiritual life. The second book is the Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters are fictional letters written from one demon to another demon on how to prevent humans from being good disciples of Jesus Christ.
However you choose to enter into Ordinary time, do not miss the opportunity to “practice” your faith well and always improve on building your relationship with Jesus Christ.
I remember when I was growing up, there was a plaque on the wall of my bedroom that stated my birthday, my height and weight at birth and the date of my baptism: December 31st, 1980 at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Maplewood, MN. I do not remember who made the plaque, but I remember that for my parents, the date of my baptism was very important. It was only when I became older and understood what baptism was really all about that I grasped why it was such an important date for my parents and especially for myself.
We celebrate our birthdays because they are a recognition when we entered into the world. It is a great day for us to remember and recall. We mark our birthdays by celebrations, friends, cake and songs.
And when we think about what happens at baptism, ought we not to have the same level of celebration, if not even a greater celebration! Baptism is our spiritual birthday! It is the day where the grace of God’s divine love was poured into our hearts in a new way and we are “birthed” into the life of the Church, into this new family where we call each other “brothers and sisters in Christ” and we now address God as “Father.” Just as our physical life was a pure gift from our parents, our spiritual life is a gift from God and ought to be recognized as such.
Pope Francis recently said of our baptisms, “Sometimes it’s something we don’t remember but a way we can definitely remember it and incorporate it into our lives is to celebrate the date of our baptism...it's the date of our rebirth as children of God.” He even gave all of us the “homework” of finding the date of our baptism within one week...and I echo that challenge to you...if you do not know it, find the date of your baptism and then, celebrate it with great joy, because it was on that day that the Holy Spirit washed you free of original sin; it was on that day that you were received into the Body of Christ, the Church; it was on that day that you were able to call God “Father” for the first time; it was on that day that the grace and mercy of God poured into your heart in a definitive and transformative way.
Our birthdays are special and for us as Catholics our spiritual birthdays are joyous occasions. Let us celebrate the anniversary of our baptisms with great joy because it is through this sacrament that we become children of God.
Homily homework question: What insect did Fr. Gjengdahl reference in his homily to describe baptism and how did this relate to baptism?
There is a long tradition in the Catholic faith of a blessing of houses on or around the feast of the Epiphany using blessed chalk. It is more common in Europe than in the United States, however this practice is growing. It is a way to offer a blessing for each person who passes through the door in the the household, just as the magi were welcomed into the manger. The tradition of using chalk had perhaps begun as a symbol of the frankincense incense brought by the magi for the child Jesus. You can use the chalk that you receive at mass to perform this blessing. NB: The chalk is blessed and thus should not be used for decorations on the sidewalk, but rather, just as with any blessed item, it should either be buried or burned for proper disposal.
Here’s a suggested format for the blessing:
(All make the Sign of the Cross)
Leader: “Peace be to this house and to all who dwell here, in the name of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.
Reader: When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
The word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God (Using chalk, write on the outside of your house or inside above the front main entrance, above or next to an entrance on the door frame):
+20 + C + M + B 19+
All: Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who live here and all who visit. May we be blessed with health, kindness of heart, gentleness and the keeping of your law. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our love for each other may go out to all. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr Nathan LaLiberte