It's a rare and special occasion when all 32 members of an extended family can be together. Thirty-one of us were present at a graduation party in May, many of the ladies reunited a few weeks later for great-grandchild #1's baby shower, and a family vacation saw us all reunited in the Wisconsin Dells last week. For some reason I really took notice of my aunts and uncles during those times. So many of the cousins are transitioning to adult life and experiencing growth and changes. Maybe because my perspective has changed, or because my parents' generation is also going through transitions, or maybe because of a combination of both - their words and actions struck me in ways I'd never noticed before.

The women in my family are home-makers - not in the sense that they're always at their house, but they're always making others feel at home. I was so impressed as my Aunt Cindy hosted a large group of women at the baby shower, providing food and facilitating games. She managed to make everyone feel welcome, even being attentive to Vanessa's mother-in-law, only present via Skype and watching through a laptop.

And then somehow, within 5 minutes of entering our condo in Wisconsin, Aunt Jenny had the kitchen stocked and organized, with snacks out on the table. I was amazed at the hospitality each of these women had even when they were so far away from their homes! They anticipated the little things all the way from seating arrangements to serving spoons.
The men in my family are spiritual leaders. Uncle David initiated scripture-reading and prayer over the 6 graduates (college & high-school) at the party. He invited others to give words to the graduates, and every single head of family spoke up. As I listened, I realized how easy it would have been for them to leave the "words" to their wives - most of whom did share eloquently. I realized how much easier it would be for them to let all the teenagers go back to goofing around and eating cupcakes. But their love for their children came through as they seized those moments to share the most important message of all - love God and follow him.

My grandpa asked each of his sons & sons-in-law to lead one night of family devotions during our vacation. Again, my dad and uncles took the opportunity to exhort and challenge us in our faith. My older cousin, the only one married so far, is quiet and reserved, but none the less a leader. He added his own exhortations, as the head of his own young family, for us cousins to marry a man or woman of God. There are so many other ways that these men are leaders, but I particularly respect the fact that they lead by speaking and praying.

It's a rare and special occasion when all 32 members of an extended family can be together. It's even more special when that family is held together by such faithful women and men.

See if you can pick up on the theme here.

"Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a set time, without granting a single minute to laziness. If with the help of God, you conquer yourself in the moment, you have accomplished a great deal for the rest of the day. It's so discouraging to find yourself beaten in the first skirmish." - St. Josemaria Escriva 

"Thus with the baggage of the world I was sweetly burdened, as one in slumber, and my musings on thee were like the efforts of those who desire to awake, but who are still overpowered with drowsiness and fall back into deep slumber. And as no one wishes to sleep forever (for all men rightly count waking better) -- yet a man will usually defer shaking off his drowsiness when there is a heavy lethargy in his limbs; and he is glad to sleep on even when his reason disapproves, and the hour for rising has struck -- so was I assured that it was much better for me to give myself up to thy love than to go on yielding myself to my own lust. Thy love satisfied and vanquished me; my lust pleased and fettered me. I had no answer to thy calling to me, "Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light." On all sides, thou didst show me that thy words are true, and I, convicted by the truth, had nothing at all to reply but the drawling and drowsy words: "Presently; see, presently. Leave me alone a little while." But "presently, presently," had no present; and my "leave me alone a little while" went on for a long while. In vain did I "delight in thy law in the inner man" while "another law in my members warred against the law of my mind and brought me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." For the law of sin is the tyranny of habit, by which the mind is drawn and held, even against its will. Yet it deserves to be so held because it so willingly falls into the habit. "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death" but thy grace alone, through Jesus Christ our Lord?"- St. Augustine

For the past month or so I've been reading this book over my bowl of granola and yogurt every morning. The biography is about St. John Bosco - the priest who worked with poor youth in the streets of Turin during the 19th century. As a first-year teacher, it's glaringly apparent to me every day how much I have yet to learn about God, life, work, people, and of course, especially children. Don Bosco has led me through some of those necessary lessons, and has given me an invaluable source of inspiration for my daily walk.

The first lesson comes from Don Bosco's tireless work for the kingdom of God. As a young seminarian, he wrote these resolutions:
-I shall be rigorous in the use of my time.
-When it is a question of saving souls, I shall suffer, work, and humble myself.
-Since work is a powerful weapon against the enemies of my soul, I shall not take more than five or six hours of sleep.
Not only did he live out these resolutions in the seminary, but through his whole ministry, so much so that at age 72, his doctor declared, "He is a man who is already dead from fatigue, but who continues to work day after day, eat little and live." This man understood the urgency of God's work, and how vastly superior God's eternal kingdom was to his own comfort and pleasure. As a single person living on my own for the first time, opportunities for self-indulgence abound. Hard enough as it already is to keep from centering life on oneself, the world is actively promoting the "me lifestyle." This saint reminds me of the grand picture - why we are really here on this earth - and how serving God and others is the most difficult, but only fulfilling path. Don Bosco took the word of God seriously by sowing acts of righteousness, and he reaped abundant fruit during his lifetime and still today through the Salesians.

The second lesson is that I should not be afraid to communicate that grand picture to others, even children. Don Bosco was chastised by many outsiders for the candid way he spoke to the boys at the oratory. He impressed upon them the gravity of their sin and necessity of frequent confession, often challenging them with questions such as,
"If you were to die tonight, what would happen to your soul?"
Through visions, Don Bosco often foresaw impending deaths. Gathering his boys, he would warn them one was to die soon, and pleaded with every one to commend their whole souls to God, confess their sins, and prepare for the hour of death. Some thought this was too harsh and morbid a tone to take with children, but Don Bosco knew that it was unjust to tell them otherwise. Through his intercession, my prayer is that in daily interactions with students, I will be able to see them as they are - eternal souls - and earnestly and lovingly tell them the truth.

And finally, a third thing I took from Give Me Souls, is renewed desire to hand over every one of my intentions and works to God's glory.
"If the work is for the glory of God, spend all you have and even borrow more. If it isn't, don't spend a cent, for Providence will not help you."
This book is scattered with miracle after miracle - all the different ways God provided for Don Bosco's efforts. I know that if I want my efforts to see success, I must submit them entirely under the will of the Father (which sometimes might mean changing the efforts entirely) before I get to see the marvels he's prepared!

The Greek word you see above is epiphaneia, meaning "manifestation" or "striking appearance." Today is Epiphany - a favorite holiday of mine ever since I experienced the epiphany that such a holiday existed. This day was one of the countless treasures added to my spiritual life when we entered the Catholic Church.

This year I learned something new about Epiphany. Not only is it a celebration of the magi's adoration, but according to the Catechism (#528), it also includes Jesus' baptism and first miracle at Cana - three key moments in Christ's life when his divinity was revealed. In meditating on these events, I tried to put myself in the place of those first eyewitnesses, and had a small epiphany of my own.

What were the witnesses doing when the "light broke upon them?" In the case of the magi, they were seeking. They watched for signs, and when they saw the star, they took a long, difficult journey to follow it. The witnesses at Jesus' baptism were coming to John the Baptist for repentance and purification from their sins, and the servants at Cana were standing ready to obey (even so strange a command as Jesus').

Hidden here is a lesson for the soul who desires to see Christ manifest. To whom does Christ reveal himself and in what circumstances? First, he makes himself known to those who seek. The wise men didn't know exactly where they would find the king or what he would be like, but they pursued what light they had from the star. Because of this, they were blessed with a greater Light. Today, many souls are timid. They don't make a pursuit because they don't know exactly where the journey will end, or they are afraid of where it will lead them. But just as God protected the magi from Herod, he will protect you; just as he gave his son to them as a human child, so he will give himself to you.

Second, Christ reveals himself to those who repent and come for baptism. At the Jordan, these were the people who heeded the voice crying in the wilderness, who acknowledged their sin and need for salvation. Not only did they see Jesus, but they heard the very voice of God coming down from Heaven. If you humbly approach the sacraments you will also see Jesus there and hear the words of God proclaimed through the Scripture.

Third, Christ reveals himself to obedient souls.The servants at Cana may not have understood why they were filling the jars with water, but they did it. They were probably afraid of the master's reaction when he tasted it, but they brought it to him. So you may be afraid to follow the command of Christ, but what marvels will be in store if you do!

Seek, repent, and obey and "the dawn from on high shall break upon you."

Newer Posts Older Posts Home