Tuesday, December 20, 2016

'Tis the Season for "Making Memories"

Have you ever heard the story of St. Therese and her Christmas moment? She and her father and sisters had just returned from Midnight Mass and she was looking forward to checking out all the gifts left in her shoes by the hearth. As she went upstairs to put her hat away she overheard her father say, in an annoyed voice, "Well, fortunately, this will be the last year!" 

He was tired. He was weary of keeping up the little childish traditions.  

(Whenever I use an annoyed voice with my sweet kids I try to remember that Therese's father is a canonized saint!)

Needless to say, Therese was hurt, and felt tears come to her eyes. But she received a special grace that night that allowed her to put aside her own selfish feelings and turn them into joy and gratitude for her gifts. (The story, in her words is at the end of this post.)

What does that have to with Making Memories? 

First of all, it is interesting to note that the memory her father made about Christmas--one that stands out in her mind so much that it was written in the story of her life--is the night he complained about "making memories". 

I can so relate to this man sometimes. At this time of year it is so easy for me to get all caught up in the wonderful things other people do at Christmas time. It is on the blogs, and smeared all over Pinterest. It is in the commercials, the Christmas movies, even my own photos from previous years. 

And now that my kids are getting pretty big, I hear an idea for little kids and wish I had done that. There was a great one about revealing the truth about Santa Claus and I found myself wishing we had done Santa Claus so I could have had this great moment with my kids. I am sure they would be better people today if I had. Don't you think?

Suddenly, I am tired and cranky. And I begin to turn a little green, with yellowish eyes, and a weird hair thing going on on top. Like this......





Then he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming,

"I must find some way to keep Christmas from coming!


For, tomorrow, I know all the Who girls and boys
Will wake bright and early. They'll rush for their toys!



And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
There's one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!


Okay, maybe I am not that bad. I really love Christmas and would never wish it didn't come. And, for the most part, I enjoy every little thing that we do--our little family traditions. 

But sometimes I worry that I am Therese's father, speaking with annoyance, and making the wrong memory for my child. 

Yet, on closer examination...it wasn't his complaint that made the memory stick in Therese's mind, but the Grace of God that filled her heart. She remembers it as a moment of conversion. I am sure there were many Christmas's that her parents felt were beautifully done, picture perfect, and an amazing memory for her childhood. But this one makes it to the book.  

It was Almighty God, the perfect Father, who took her father's weakness and made into this great moment. Therese was prepared for the moment by the nurturing of her faith, bit by bit, through every day of her childhood. It was the things they always did that laid the groundwork. The everyday stuff. Prayer, Mass, striving for holiness, repentance and forgiveness, work, talking about God, reading about Him. 


Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.

Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!


And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say
That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!



Maybe, if I stop and think about the whole concept of "making memories", I can remind myself that when we live life in a way that orients us towards the Source of all happiness, and with an eye to the place in which memories do not need to be made, the place where all that is good will be present to us and nothing will be fleeting, no joy will escape our grasp into yesterday---in this way we let God make the memories.  

It seems to me that, after all, the memories that matter are not the ones that begin "Remember that time we....", but really those ones that begin "Remember when we always used to....". Those are formative. They make us who we are. 

My friend Susannah makes a good point in her post, sometimes all we need to do to "make memories" is to name the thing that we always do. Declare it the tradition. 
If you usually begin to decorate on Thanksgiving weekend, say that "It's Our Tradition to decorate on Thanksgiving weekend."  They will look forward to it and it will suddenly become even more wonderful.  If you typically have pancakes on Christmas morning, call them "The Christmas Pancakes" and voila!  Instant tradition. 
And then let those things we always do be the build up to the memory that God wants to create. Make it the soil into which he plants the seeds that beautify the soul, like little Therese. 







A Christmas Memory from St. Therese:
It was December 25, 1886, that I received the grace of leaving my childhood, in a word, the grace of my complete conversion. We had come back from Midnight Mass where I had the happiness of receiving the strong and powerful God. Upon arriving at Les Buissonnets, I used to love to take my shoes from the chimney corner and examine the presents in them; this old custom had given us so much joy in our youth that Céline wanted to continue treating me as a baby since I was the youngest in the family. Papa had always loved to see my happiness and listen to my cries of delight as I drew each surprise from the magic shoes, and my dear King’s gaiety increased my own happiness very much. However, Jesus desired to show me that I was to give up the defects of my childhood and so He withdrew its innocent pleasures. He permitted Papa, tired out after the Midnight Mass, to experience annoyance when seeing my shoes at the fireplace, and that he speak those words which pierced my heart: “Well, fortunately, this will be the last year!” I was going upstairs, at the time, to remove my hat, and Céline, knowing how sensitive I was and seeing the tears already glistening in my eyes, wanted to cry too, for she loved me very much and understood my grief. She said, “Oh, Thérèse, don’t go downstairs; it would cause you too much grief to look at your slippers right now!” But Thérèse was no longer the same; Jesus had changed her heart! Forcing back my tears, I descended the stairs rapidly; controlling the poundings of my heart, I took my slippers and placed them in front of Papa, and withdrew all the objects joyfully. I had the happy appearance of a Queen. Having regained his own cheerfulness, Papa was laughing; Céline believed it was all a dream! Fortunately, it was a sweet reality; Thérèse had discovered once again the strength of soul which she had lost at the age of four and a half, and she was to preserve it forever!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Stop Saying "This is What Christmas Is All About" ...unless it is

I've got a seasonal gripe. It might make me sound Grinchy, but I can't help it. 

I keep seeing Facebook posts with a dubious claim. Sometimes it is a touching story of generosity, sometimes a pretty song. Or maybe it is just a beautiful holiday scene. Whatever it is, it starts or ends with:

This is what Christmas is all about!

Sorry. No, it isn't.

It is all over TV this time of year. I watch way too many Hallmark movies, as I said before. And the main characters of these sappy holiday TV-movies are constantly coming to the brilliant realization that baking cookies with kids is what Christmas is all about. Or that old fashioned decorations is what its all about. Or having coffee with your estranged mother, brother, father, boyfriend. Sometimes it is working with the poor, or gathering with the community to save an historical building, or saving a dog from...whatever. 

Now, I am not personally against baking cookies (proof is in my freezer), nor am I against having coffee with anyone, estranged or not. And, of course, I am not against caring for the poor, or saving historical buildings. And I like dogs. Really, I do. Don't own one, but, you know, dogs are fine pets. I don't want anyone to think I am anti-dog.

However....none of these things are "what Christmas is all about". 

So now, forget all those other TV characters and listen to Linus. 



Actually, I think there is another TV star who said it even better. Venerable Fulton J Sheen tells us what Christmas is all about in his book Life of Christ

No worldly mind would ever have suspected 
THAT HE WHO COULD MAKE THE SUN WARM THE EARTH
would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; 
THAT HE WHO, IN THE LANGUAGE OF SCRIPTURES, COULD STOP THE TURNING ABOUT OF ARCTURUS 
would have His birthplace dictated by an imperial census; 
THAT HE, WHO CLOTHED THE FIELDS WITH GRASS,
would Himself be naked; 
THAT HE, FROM WHOSE HANDS CAME PLANETS AND WORLDS, 
would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle;
THAT THE FEET WHICH TROD THE EVERLASTING HILLS
would one day be too weak to walk; 
THAT THE ETERNAL WORD WOULD BE DUMB; 
that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes; 
THAT SALVATION 
would lie in a manger; 
THAT THE BIRD WHICH BUILT THE NEST 
would be hatched therein—
no one would have ever suspected 
THAT GOD COMING TO THIS EARTH 
would ever be so helpless. 

And that is precisely why so many miss Him.
DIVINITY IS ALWAYS WHERE ONE LEAST EXPECTS TO FIND IT.