Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Merry Christmas!  (And, yes, it is still Christmas!  We’re within the octave and the season goes until the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism in January.)

One of the special parts of this season is the carols.

Along with What Child is This? and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, a song which has more recently become one of my favorite Christmas carols is: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”

Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega;
He the source, the ending He,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see
evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessed,
when a virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bore the Savior of our race;
and the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him,
angel hosts, His praises sing,
pow’ers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
ev’ery voice in concert ring
evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father
and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and unwearied praises be:
honor, glory, and dominion,
and eternal victory
evermore and evermore!

The combination of a beautiful, almost haunting melody and profound, touching words is just about enough to give me chills.  I love to play it on the piano/organ.

This hymn originated as a poem, written by Spanish lawyer and statesman Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius shortly after the Council of Nicea.  It reinforces the truth of Christ’s divinity as the council had done.

The writer actually devoted the evening of his life to composing Christian poems.  (https://www.sermonwriter.com/hymn-stories/fathers-love-begotten)

There is a lot more to the history, but I won’t go into details here.

What I will say is that I hope it touches and inspires your heart to awe and praise as it has mine.

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It’s Christmas, But Do I Need this Gift?

Picture4There can be a temptation to become lax about receiving gifts as Sisters, a inclination to automatically accept and store away item received.

I realize, though, that a more careful reading of our directives should push me away from this.  I have accepted a life of poverty in imitation of Christ, born in a poor stable.  I have chosen to leave behind cultural tendencies to accumulate goods.

Our provincial directives as Dillingen Franciscans in the U.S. guide us:

  • Gifts– money or otherwise– are reported (shown) to the Superior.  If the Sister needs the gift, she asks for it; otherwise, she turns it in to a common fund…

Receiving gifts can almost become a bit of a burden.  It takes prayerful thought to decide: Do I really need this?  What should I do with it in light of my vows and our directives?

Sometimes, I have received things that neither I nor the ‘common fund’ are in need of.  What to do then?…stash it away in the common cupboard, I guess, until we come up with a worthy cause.  (Some such items have become prizes for our residents or gifts for the annual employee party.)

I am happy when a gift received is practical and is something for which I truly have a need.  Last evening was such a time.  I was given a box which had been hidden away, left by my parents at their last visit in late October.

I opened it, wondering what it might hold, and hoping it would not cause dilemmas delineated above.  To my delight, the box contained ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar and baking chips, all which I can certainly use for baking cookies with our residents.

In preparing to write this post, I searched our directives for occurrences of the word “gift.”  It was interesting how often, in fact, it was found.  Most of these instances, however, were in reference to non-material gifts.

We are to share the gifts God has given us.  Whatever I have, whether material, spiritual, or otherwise, I am to be thankful for and willingly share with others.

Here’s Hoping…

20171220_165734Advent, properly observed, is a season of hope.  We have not yet reached what we are waiting for.  It is not already Christmas (contrary to what the world around us seems to say so prominently).

In thinking about this, St. Paul’s words to the Philippians came to mind:

  • It is not that I have already taken hold of [the resurrection] or have already attained perfect maturity,* but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.

Today, on an afternoon in late Advent, I finally got around to getting some things taken care of; they had been on hold since I got back Sunday evening from a weekend retreat; I was needed to help fill in some extra hours at work these last days.

20171220_165454One of these ‘loose ends’ was getting my cherry pits planted.  I had soaked, cleaned, and refrigerated them midsummer for just such a day as this (They needed to go through a stratification process* of several weeks before planting).

*a chilling period, either by refrigeration or burial in the ground before winter

I thought it would be a fun little project for our residents to watch them grow.

I had been thinking of planting them for a little while now but lacked the little bit of potting soil required.

When I was in Hankinson, helping with the above-mentioned retreat, I was able to get some soil from one of our Sisters who does garden work.

Now, my little cherry pits are snugly tucked in their bed in hopes that one day they will peek their heads out and say: “We’re alive; we’re growing!”

At Advent, Christmas, and throughout the year, we can be people of hope, realizing that, with God’s help, we, too, are alive and growing.

O Antiphons @ St. Anne’s

Since 1980, the Sisters at St. Anne’s have been enhancing their commemoration of the final days of Advent by displaying “The O Antiphons,” beautifully calligraphed by Sr. Elaine.

At that time, before the advent of modern copy machines, a friend and supporter of St. Anne’s had them professionally re-produced/printed.

Before leaving for a weekend retreat I was asked to help with in Hankinson, I promised Sr. Elaine I would get her stand up from the basement, where it resides for over eleven months out of the year.

Sunday (yesterday) would be the first day of this beautiful liturgical tradition, and I would not be back in town until early evening.

We display these beautiful portrayals are displayed outside of our chapel.

In case you are not familiar with the “O Antiphons,” they are verses which we recite or sing for the gospel canticle during evening prayer as well as with the alleluia at Mass from December 17th through the 23rd.  On each of these days, we plead for Christ’s coming, invoking Him with a different title.  These are so beautiful and include: Wisdom, Leader of the House of Israel, Root of Jesse’s stem, Key of David, Radiant Dawn, King of all nations and keystone of the Church, and Emmanuel.

This tradition of using these antiphons on these final days before Christmas is very old.  We aren’t certain as to their exact origin, but references date back about 1,500 years!

The traditional hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” actually is based upon these beautiful, rich, and ancient texts.

Thank you, Sr. Elaine, for giving us such a beautiful visual presentation of them!

P1250024May these last days of Advent, in which we cry out “O come…” be a time when our hearts can be more prepared for the Advent that we seek.

Sr. Christina M. Neumann

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A New Jesse Tree

24993182_1720447627995118_8298437178454983058_nThis morning, I walked into the activity room here at St. Anne’s, only to find the branches from my inherited Jesse Tree sprawled out on one of the tables.

It was only about 8 in the morning but Shelly, our activity director was hard at work.

She was cutting out new branches to replace the old ones which she had noticed were faded.

Amidst teasing about the shade of green she was using, and whether or not to put on glitter, I found that she had bribery in mind.  She was “doing something nice for me,” knowing that she needed my help with a different project.

I assured her that I would have helped her with her task without any bribery (and I am sure she would have helped me without any ulterior motive either).

All that being said, the two of us worked together to get the new branches ready for the felt tree, where we would be putting them during our annual Jesse Tree service at Bible study.

This little service, commemorating many key parts of salvation history, is really quite nice.  In fact, we have decided to use it for our Wednesday evening community discussion night.

Sr. Christina M. Neumann, OSF

PS: Thank you, Shelly, for your horticultural contributions to our Bible Study!

“Fast Before the Feast”

burger-bunsThis afternoon, I was offered a fresh homemade bun by one of my co-workers (in my mind, these are much better than candy!)  Periodically, she likes to bake and we reap the benefits.

I had to decline, however, or postpone the enjoyment until suppertime.  Today is prescribed as a fast day in our community.  (We fast and abstain on the Vigils of St. Francis and the Immaculate Conception.)

This made me wonder how the tradition of “fast[ing] before the feast originated.  I tried to do a bit of research, but didn’t find a whole lot.

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops’ website, however, offered a little insight: “[T]he devout will find greater Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety, to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self-denial, penitential prayer and fasting.”

I had never seen this articulated so succinctly and clearly before.  It dawned on my, too, that we prepare to celebrate the Easter tridium and season by Lent, a time of fasting and penance.

I guess I could conclude, then, that denying myself the joy of a still-warm homemade bun, may help me find “greater Christian joy in the feast” of the Immaculate Conception tomorrow.  It is neat for me to see how our particular customs have roots in the heart of the Church’s piety.

Our society today is so prone to self-gratification, it seems.  It is good to have these prescriptions as reminders to us of the importance of self-denial (throughout the year).

Our Rule declares: “They should fast and always strive to be simple and humble especially before God.”  Could it be that there is a connection between the discipline of fasting and the interior disposition of simplicity and humility?

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Alma Redemptoris Mater: Loving Mother of the Redeemer

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Statue in our chapel

From now (actually this past Saturday evening) until February 2nd, I’ll be praying a beautiful Marian antiphon after Night Prayer.  It’s called Alma Redemptoris Mater (Latin words that begin the prayer).

This antiphon is about 1,000 years old and is actually mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

It goes as follows:

Loving Mother of the Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea, assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again. To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator, yet remained a virgin after as before. You who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting, have pity on us poor sinners.”

There is a lot here to think about.  One can go verse by verse and use it as a rich source for meditation.

Actually, St. John Paul II’s 1987 encyclical also refers to Mary as the Mother of the Redeemer.  Since it too, starts with these words (The Mother of the Redeemer), it shares a very similar title to this beautiful antiphon that I pretty much have memorized.

May the Mother of the Redeemer, gate of heaven and star of the sea, assist us in our weakness and bring us closer to our creator whom she bore.

Seasonal Struggles…Observing Advent

Our Franciscan Fiat

Advent is just around the corner!
img_0896This morning, I had to go to the basement to help unload boxes of donated items we’ll be putting on our rummage sale.  Then, I remembered: “I have to get the stand up for the advent wreath!”

I did this and returned to first floor in time to set up in chapel for our 9 a.m. Mass.

Afterword, when giving the receptionist her morning break, I could hear, of all things, Christmas music!

You might call me a bit of a ‘scrooge,’ I guess, but one thing that gets on my nerves every year is our society’s inability to WAIT!

We have Christmas movies, Christmas music, Christmas sales well over a month before the REAL Christmas season actually begins.

To me, it is so difficult to truly observe Advent, to wait and prepare for the joy of Christ’s coming.  I so wish our culture…

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Anticipating Advent

20170912_170538This morning, we’ll have to change over the missalettes in chapel; a new book starts at the beginning of the new liturgical year.

Later this afternoon, after completing my shift at the front desk, I’ll have to get our stand up from the basement, climb around in the sacristy (to get the Advent wreath and candles down from the closet cupboard), put out the new lectionary, and change the altar cloths.

Along with getting our chapel ready physically for a new season, I have to get ready mentally and spiritually as well.

I “snuck a peak’ at tomorrow’s responsorial psalm in preparation for leading it, and it’s a beauty: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”  It’s a familiar one I’ve heard since childhood, so it won’t need much practice.

Later, too, I hope to take the opportunity to prepare my heart for this season of watchfulness and preparation by heading over to St. Michael’s Church where confessions are heard at 4 p.m.

It’s a beautiful, yet busy time, as we prepare to prepare for Christ’s coming.

As we prepare to begin this new season, I’d like to close with the prayer from tomorrow’s Alleluia verse: “Show us Lord, your love; and grant us your salvation.”

We’ll need his love and salvation every day of the coming year.