Friday, December 19, 2014

Nativity Scenes - My Own Collection

by M. J. Joachim

I’m not sure when or how it started, but over the years I’ve acquired quite the collection of nativity scenes. Most are gifts - for as long as I can remember, I’ve received at least one nativity scene as a gift at Christmas every year. 
For many years I’ve displayed these nativity scenes all throughout the house. Several are ornaments on the tree, a few are placed throughout my village set (also a gift I received), and one goes outside on display in the front yard. 

This year I decided to display the majority of my manger scenes on the piano. They come in all shapes and sizes. About four or five of them are music boxes. The little quilted one is one I designed and made myself. It’s completely hand stitched. I gave one to each of my three children many years ago. Since two of my kids still live at home, I get to display it with the others.

I’ve always enjoyed gazing at manger scenes and nativity sets. One year our family actually went to a live nativity presentation, complete with petting zoo. The kids were little and it was quite the adventure at the time. We also take evening rides strolling through neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights. I’m always happy to see so many manger scenes in people’s front yards. 

The artistry expressed in each individual nativity set intrigues and delights me. Look at St. Francis’s protective and caring observation of the child, Jesus. Mary’s expressions explore a wide range of emotions. Everything from prayerful to peaceful, joyful to tearful, tired, yet overcome with the thrill of becoming a mother…all the things every new mother feels, except Mary surely felt more as the Mother of our Savior.

The night must have been anything but silent, and yet, Silent Night fits the theme of it all perfectly.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

M. J. 

©2014 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: M. J. Joachim, Nativity Collection, ©2014 All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Away in a Manger - Nativity Scenes

by M. J. Joachim

One of the first Christmas songs I learned all the words to when I was little is Away in a Manger. I even learned to play it on the piano way back when. There’s something about this song that makes me sad, yet not in a bad way. Instead it gives me a sense of longing to cherish God in my heart, awaiting the day when I might one day be with Him in heaven. 

The lyrics of Away in a Manger speak to the true love God has for humanity, and even as a child, it was easy to understand how special the Christ child is. Nativity scenes take on new meaning when we look at them with the lyrics of Away in a Manger impressed on our hearts. Christmas is a solemn, joyful time, a time to reflect on the gift of love and the first gift of Christmas, the gift of Christ Himself to the world.

Thank you for visiting my blog today. 
Merry Christmas!

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved

Photo credits: Chapel of the Manger in the Grotto of the Nativity, GNU Free Documentation License; Botticelli Nativity (1445-1510), Columbia Museum of Art, PD-US; (altar) The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where Jesus was born, Darko Tepert Donatus, CCA-Share Alike 2.5 Generic License; Nativity scene in Austria, Haneburger, GNU Free Documentation License

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teaching Children about Faith

by M. J. Joachim

Children are very curious about life. They need to come to terms with the fact that there is something much bigger than you and I in this world. They want to respect the spiritual life, but sometimes they can't express their feelings about it.

Have you ever been asked why the sky is blue? Has your child ever brought a lizard to you, or tried to catch a butterfly? Perhaps your child has asked whether or not their dog will go to heaven. These are things that involve the spirit.

You can teach your child about spiritual matters in a variety of ways. Taking your child to church is not the only way to introduce them to God, if that is your goal for their spiritual success. If you do take your child to church, don't make it a lesson in staying quiet and being still. Church should be a positive experience, where they can interact with people of faith, who are developing a relationship with a loving creator. If you don't take your child to church, there are several things you can do to help them tap into their spiritual side.

Quiet Reflection

Peace comes to the spirit when we withdraw from the chatter of everyday life. Set aside a time for quietness in your home. Let your child experience stillness for the sake of stillness. Spend a few moments doing absolutely nothing, not even talking, during your busy time of day. Take time to focus on your soul out of importance, not necessity. Your child will learn valuable skills through this activity. Reflections from the spirit are very helpful when times are tough.

Get away from the rat race. Take a drive up to the mountains, far away from power poles, and speeding townspeople. Sit by a running creek, and just listen to the water. Look around, without saying a word, and point to the squirrel running up the tree. Hear the leaves and sticks as they crunch beneath your feet when you walk. Feel the cool, gentle breeze when you zip up your jacket to keep warm.

Laughing with Gusto

Laugh with your child for no particular reason at all. It's contagious, and it feels good. Our spirits are alive. They need to be expressed in each of our emotions. So go ahead, let out a great big belly laugh, and hug your child like there's no tomorrow.

Teaching your children about balance between physical, mental, heartfelt, and spiritual matters is the key in helping them develop a healthy life style. Most of the time, they learn the details from us, as they watch and imitate our actions. Once in a while, they try things on their own. We can feel confident that they will be okay, since we have laid a strong foundation for them.

See the Miracles

Small miracles happen every day. Tune in and share your mini miracle experiences with your child. Encourage your child to do the same. Tell the stories of your world around you through the eyes of faith and awe in what God has created. Share the joy of birds singing, clouds raining and leaves blowing in the wind.

Enjoy Family Love

Your child learns to love from everyone and everything around him. Love is the ultimate gift family members give to each other. True appreciation for each individual expresses the love of God on a very personal level. Even discipline can be handled with love, being less harsh and more educational.

Children are gifts given from God. They grow up to be adults who are also gifts to this world. At least we hope so anyway. Teaching children about faith means being faithful and true - to the gifts of the spirit, to each other, to our children and most especially to God himself.

Thanks so much for visiting my blog today. I’m very grateful that you’ve stopped by.

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: Fritz von Uhde (1848 - 1911), A Girl Comes to Christ, PD-US

Monday, December 15, 2014

Death and Loving Those in the World Beyond

by M. J. Joachim

Christians by definition believe in the hope of joining Jesus in heaven some day. We know there is life beyond the limits of the body, and that our souls continue living through the end of time. That’s why it’s so difficult for me to understand how some Christians fault catholics for believing in saints. Saints are people who have died, people who have gone before us and made their peace with God. Prayer is a form of communication with God and those who have gone before us.

We call children who die at a young age angels. We speak of talking to our loved ones after they have departed this earth. There’s nothing newsworthy about it. We talk to our deceased loved ones all the time. Most people are not virtuous or pure enough to make it into the realm of being called saints, but a few have paved the way, making it possible for us to revere them as role models we try to emulate them as best we can. This is not foolish behavior on our part, but rather normal, acceptable human behavior, just as is praying to God and listening to Him in our hearts.

When you pray, go to your inner room. Through prayer, we are invited to have a relationship with God from the very depths of our being. As we journey to our inner room, inviting God into our most intimate selves, we discover who we are called to be. We are saints in the making, people who love God, and desire to be one with Him.

Many of us have not accepted our true calling. Some of us will spend our entire life trying to live up to it. A few of us have been graced with the privilege of modeling it for the rest of society. These people, saints, deserve our respect and gratitude. They should rightfully take their place as friends who have helped us find our way.

When a loved one dies, we do not hide their pictures, and forget their existence. More often than not, we realize the impact they actually had on our lives. Sometimes this causes regret, or guilt to surface. Many times, it forces us to deal with subconscious emotions that have been buried deep within us for far too long. Healing becomes a necessity, as we make peace with the physical loss of someone who is dear to us.

We find ourselves thinking about our family member or friend. We wonder if they know we miss them. In the deepest part of ourselves, we realize that our relationship has changed, not ended. We wait with patience and longing for the day when we will meet again. We also talk to them when no one is around. We tell them our struggles and smile, offering them a share in our success. We keep them close to us, in the deepest part of our hearts, promising never to forget them.

Saints are included in our family of loved ones. They are people who have made a difference in our lives by the way they lived. They are people who have helped us achieve our goals of becoming better Christians. When we learn about their trials and challenges during their lives, we realize that we have a lot in common with them. An intimate relationship develops as we get to know them as real people.

Catholics don't really pray to saints. Catholics get to know saints, through desire, need or curiosity, and develop a relationship with them. We discover what we have in common with individual saints. We learn how they conquered weaknesses, or faced discrimination. We applaud their strengths, and find courage as we strive to become like them. We invite them to share in our struggles for the greater glory of God.

Saints are role models for the living. You don't have to be Catholic to learn from them, or ask for their help. Mother Teresa's picture did not get buried with her body. She lives on, and the people who get to know her are happier for it. Pope John Paul II will never be forgotten. He will continue to share the gifts he received from God with those who seek them. Saint Anthony is called upon by many to find a lost article from time to time. Saint Christopher is requested to help us travel safely. Faithful people are called upon in faith, not to dishonor God or take credit for His goodness, but to help us as we continue on our journey toward Him.

Advent is a time of preparation and opening our hearts up to the gifts God desires to share with us. As we participate in this Advent season and as Christmas rapidly approaches with the celebration of the Birth of Christ, may we too experience the miracle of the season and enjoy the love and deep longing Jesus has to be one with us, that we too may desire to be one with Him and all He has put into place here and in the world beyond.

I’m really glad you stopped by today. Your visits, comments and encouragement are very much appreciated. Thank you!

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: The Age of Augustus Birth of Christ, Jean-Leon Gerome (1952-54) Getty Center, Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication, Wmpearl

Thursday, December 11, 2014

God’s Love and the Price of Sin

by M. J. Joachim

God loves all people. That goes without saying for those who know Him. However, His love is dependent on our response to the love and grace we receive. St. Bonaventure, Doctor of the Catholic Church, states, “For some, it is not easy to be one’s true self. We would like to be our true self. However, many of us, and we won’t admit it, wear a mask and act contrary to the way God would have us act due to weakness and sin.”

Sin separates people from God. As much as He loves us, God never condones our sins. It is up to us to make atonement for them, not only because through our repentance, we are unified with God, but also because in doing so, we develop our friendship with Him. Friendship is a dynamic process, one that grows through different stages in our lives. Some friendships flourish for long periods of time. Others last but a moment.

So it is with our response to God’s love. We are loved by God without question, and that love intensifies, bearing fruit in our lives, if we nurture it. If, however, we turn away from God’s love, rejecting it to remain in our sinful ways, our friendship with God suffers appropriately.

Throughout the Bible, God speaks clearly about His attributes. He declares His sovereignty in Isaiah, and refers to His glory in Exodus. Mercy, goodness, and truth are referred to numerous times throughout the old and new testaments. Through it all, sin remains sin and is never dismissed. According to Daniel John Graham, author for the Christian Library, “We have rather badly misunderstood what the love of God is and to whom it is shown. We have told ourselves, our friends, and most particularly, our children that God wants us to be happy, to feel good and to have positive experiences. This borders upon blasphemy!”

The Bible speaks of God’s characteristics, and it also enlightens us about His love. Revelations 3:19 states, “Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest therefore and repent.” This passage indicates that God makes a choice, based on our acceptance (or refusal) of the gift of love offered. Further evidence of this can be found in Hebrews 12: 7 - 8, “Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as sons. For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons, but bastards.”

Even John weighs in on the controversy, “I am the vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” (John 15: 1 – 2)

Yes, God loves some more than others. That love is in direct proportion to our response to the gift of His love. Our choice to nurture or neglect our friendship with God is what’s at stake, not because God didn’t choose to love us, but because we chose not to love Him in return.

Wishing you only good things! Thanks so much for visiting, commenting and sharing this post today.

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: Cima da Conegliano (1460 - 1518), God the Father, Courtauld Institute of Art, PD-US

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Catholic Sacraments: Anointing the Sick

by M. J. Joachim

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call the presbyters of the Church and let them pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord," (James 5: 14-15). Wait, did Jesus say anyone? No, no that can't be what He meant. Catholics reserve sacraments for special occasions, right? Being sick is such an ordinary event, unless you are dying.
Catholics actually are invited to receive sacraments a lot more often than anyone realizes. There are four sacraments you are only supposed to receive once. Baptism and Confirmation are considered sacraments of initiation. Holy Orders and Matrimony are sacraments of commitment. The remaining three sacraments, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick are available for Catholics to receive more often.

While Holy Eucharist is considered a sacrament of initiation, after the special First Holy Communion Mass, the faithful are invited to receive Jesus in this sacrament daily. Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, both sacraments of healing, are available as often as necessary.

Sacraments are outward signs of grace offered to those who want them. Sacramentals, tangible items used to administer the sacraments, help strengthen and encourage the faithful in the reception of these sacraments. The sacramental used to anoint the sick is holy oil that has been blessed by the bishop.

Anointing of the Sick used to be performed only when a person was gravely ill or in danger of dying. Today, many catholic churches offer regular healing Masses. Those wishing to receive healing spiritually, physically, emotionally, or mentally, are invited to attend these services. At the proper time, prior to Eucharist, the priest takes oil and administers the sacrament with a prayer. He dips his thumb in the oil and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead and palms of the hands, invoking a special prayer. Participants respond in turn by saying, "Amen."

The gifts received through anointing are: strength through the grace of the Holy Spirit, closer union with the suffering Christ, contribution to the holiness of the Church, and preparation for the journey into everlasting life.

Anointing of the Sick does not guarantee miracles of healing. What it does promise is sufficient grace to accept God's will more than our own. It also gives us the ability to persevere during trials if we don't receive the type of healing we desire. It is to be understood that while sufficient grace is given, it is up to each individual to accept this grace fully and completely.

Catholics understand that sacraments are to be received while in a state of grace. This means that we should be reconciled to God, the Church, and our community prior to participating in the sacraments. Through the sacrament of Reconciliation, we ask for forgiveness, recognizing our offenses, and cleansing our souls. It is easier to benefit from the gifts of God (in the sacraments) if we are not weighed down with the sins of the world.

Jesus taught us to have compassion for each other. He healed many people who had physical problems including the blind man, the paralytic, and the woman with a hemorrhage. He also healed those with spiritual ailments. "When it was evening, they brought him many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick," (Matthew 8: 16)

All of these people went on the share the story of God's compassion for them. The Catholic Church also has compassion for those who suffer. Only God can heal them, or offer them eternal life, at the given time. The church offers outward signs of God's love through Anointing of the Sick. It offers peace and healing in acceptance of the words of Christ.

Thank you for visiting, commenting on and sharing Christian Catholic today. I truly appreciate your support of my work here.

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved Photo credit:  The Last Sacraments, Henry Mosier (1841 - 1920), PD-US