From Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB
The entry below was written by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, a well-known Catholic writer. Her reflections continue our November conversations on the need for contemplation.
A month of contemplation
The signal is clear: There is no time to sink into the quiet of fall that is promised with the coming of Thanksgiving. By the Friday morning that follows it, the raucousness of capitalist Christmas bursts suddenly upon us. The warning of autumn, with its browning of leaves and graying of skies, that life too, is susceptible to the wisdom of the seasons gets lost in the plastic world of limitless desire and limited resources. Shopping becomes what Advent is meant to be: the consuming preparation for one of the greatest feasts of the Christian year.
But commercialism is not the problem. We’re a consumer society whatever the season. The problem is that the lack of contemplative consideration that comes with Christmas consumerism too often drowns out the sounds of Advent and drains not only the feast but even, perhaps, the rest of the year of its meaning.
Lack of contemplation drowns Advent, and perhaps the rest of the year, of its meaning.
As a result we have managed to make Christmas an event, a passing fancy, an exhausting endurance exercise, stripped of reflection by the pressure of social protocols. But judging from the scripture of the season, Christmas is surely meant to be an attitude toward life, not a carnival. It is meant to be arrived at slowly and lived succulently. Christmas is not meant to be simply a day of celebration; it is meant to be a month of contemplation. But because Advent has been lost somewhere between the Thanksgiving turkey and pre-Christmas sales, we have lost one of the richest seasons of the year.
Advent is an excursion through scripture meant to give depth and emotional stability to the days for which there are no songs, no tinsel, no flashing lights to distract us from its raw, tart marrow. Unless we can reclaim Advent, the lack of it will show dearly in the way we go through the rest of life itself.
To read more of Sr. Joan's reflections, visit www.joanchittister.org
Contemplation is for Me?
Dowuring this month of November we are inviting families--mostly parents, but families, too--to enter into the naturally-contemplative season of autumn and winter.
To paraphrase Mary in Luke's Gospel, you might be wondering: “How can this be, since I have no time or idea how to contemplate?”
This year we are spending time with the theology, thought and prayer of St. Catherine of Siena and her Dominican heritage. At the center of the Dominican mission and ministry is Jesus, the Word of God, upon which we contemplate and that which we preach to others. We cannot give what we do not have, and we cannot speak the Word of peace, love, encouragement, strength or inspiration unless we have first contemplated it in our hearts and minds.
Christianity has its roots in the northern hemisphere, and many of our Christian feasts and celebrations have their origins in pagan rituals and celebrations. We do not know the date of Jesus' birth. However, we have chosen as a Church to celebrate it December 25. At the time of year when light is short and nights are long, we celebrate the coming into the world of the Light which is Jesus.
One of the great gifts of this timing is that autumn and winter are times of hibernation, times of slowing down, times when we naturally ponder the end of the year and the end times. The liturgical readings of November are full of the prophetic call to examine our lives and remember we wait, not just for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, but the coming of Christ at the end of time. During Advent, we are invited to heed the call, again, of the prophets to prepare the way for God both on earth and in our hearts. It is no accident that the liturgical color for Advent, as well as Lent, is purple. While the color purple is meant to be a penitential color, the purple of Advent is a little more blue, like the dark night sky, whereas the purple of Lent is tinged with red, like the blood shed for us.
If you jumped headlong into Black Friday, hit the 50% off sale at Hobby Lobby for Christmas decorations, or scoured the web for Cyber Monday, you're off and running for Christmas. All around us we are told to prepare for great joy and excitement, to banish sadness, disappointment and all things negative from our lives. THAT is what makes a good Christmas.
However, there is a wisdom they miss. Catherine of Siena spent two years in prayer in a tiny room almost the size of a closet. You could say she willingly entered into the darkness in order to find the Light. Before she could preach the Word--to her family, to her town, to the Popes (yes, BOTH of them!)--she had to hear the Word in silence.
To truly see the Light, to truly hear the Word, to truly know the Wisdom, we have to be willing to enter the darkness. All of the great spiritual writers of our Christian tradition tell us this. The big way we say this is that there is no resurrection without first death. There is no new life without letting go of the old one. There is no transformation without the tomb.
This darkening time of autumn and winter are a ready-made retreat time for us. It doesn't take that much more time and effort to gently add some contemplative prayer to our lives. During our November Family Faith sessions we are taking a few moments during the opening part of the session to quiet ourselves, breath deeply, and reflect upon images of Jesus--a bridge, a line from scripture. That same process can be repeated at home, in your car, during your lunch break. Once or twice a day of closing your eyes, slowing down, entering into the quiet of our hearts, calling to mind an image or phrase and simply being still are elements of contemplative prayer. There is no goal other than silence and stillness. There is nothing to achieve but a listening and restful heart. There is nothing to do but show up and be present to God who is with and within us.
Step-by-Step Guide for Busy Parents to Become Autumn Contemplatives
The night before
1. Decide where you are going to sit. Clear off the corner of a sofa. Take socks and backpacks off a chair.
2. Find a candle and lighter (if you're into candles), and have it ready near your seat.
3. Set the coffee maker (if you're into coffee) so it's ready to go first thing in the morning.
4. Choose something to "take to prayer." It could be an image, the liturgical readings for the next day, a line from scripture, or just silence.
5. Set your alarm to go off fifteen minutes earlier than usual.
In the morning
1. Wake up, find your slippers, turn on the coffee. (If necessary, let the dog out, feed the cat, etc.)
2. Pour a cup of coffee and grab that which you are "taking to prayer".
3. Sit down, close your eyes, and breathe. Just breathe and be still for a few moments. Call to mind the image you brought or slowly read the scripture quote. Allow it to rest in your heart and mind. Don't overthink it or analyze it. Just let it be.
4. Breathe a few more times and ask God what God might want you to hear or see in these quiet moments.
5. Thank God for this time together, and promise to do it again tomorrow!
6. Go about your day, holding these few minutes of quiet contemplation in your heart.
Some Resources to "take to prayer"
* A Child in Winter: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany with Caryll HouselanderThomas Hoffman, Editor
* Advent reflection booklets to be given out by St. Catherine's parish the first weekend of Advent.
* The readings of the day for Mass: www.usccb.org
In November, the Catholic Church remembers all those who have passed on into the next life. It is a tradition here at St. Catherine's to erect a special Altar of the Dead and place photos of loved ones on it, so that we can remember and pray for them during the month.
Everyone is invited to bring in photos of your loved dead to place on the altar. Please make sure each photo is labeled with a way to return the photo to you.
This blog is written by the Faith Formation staff, as well as other parishioners invited to reflect on topics of interest to our parish. It is called "Parish Voices" to remind us that all of us here at St. Catherine's are called to "Praise, Bless and Preach."