Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do you have a patron saint for the new year?

From my OSV Daily Take post today:

So I went ahead and gave the old Patron Saint Generator a spin over at Conversion Diary for a little New Year's fun with a spiritual twist. (Hat tip to The Anchoress for that one.) With the click of a button, a little prayer, and another click of a button, you can get yourself a personal patron saint. Sort of like a Catholic version of Spin the Bottle or Magic 8 Ball.

I clicked and prayed, hoping for some spectacular saint to show up in my queue. Drum roll, please...St. John Berchmans. Really? I have to admit that I was more than mildly disappointed at this turn of events, which is probably not the right attitude to have when seeking a patron saint. If not spectacular, I would have settled for a saint whose name I at least recognized. I was convinced that my 14-year-old son had transferred his energy to my pick by standing near me when I clicked and he was really meant to pull the patron saint of altar servers and young people. But, alas, my son tried again on his own and came up with Francis Xavier. We are apparently in need of Jesuit patron saints.

I went to St. John Berchmans' info page, and found this: "John Berchmans was not noted for extraordinary feats of holiness or austerity, nor did he found orders or churches or work flashy miracles." Come on, my son's pick of Francis Xavier was all about flashy: "The gift of tongues. Miracle worker. Raised people from the dead. Calmed storms. Prophet. Healer."

Then I continued reading the St. John Berchmans' bio and found the one line that seemed to make this saint a perfect pick for me after all: "The path to holiness can lie in the ordinary rather than the extraordinary."

Sigh. So that's it. Story of my life. Trying to work my way toward sainthood through the ordinary stuff of life. Okay, okay. I'll take it. Although I did spin a second time to get a backup patron saint and came up with John of the Cross. That's what I'm talking about. Darkness, struggle, mysticism. Surely that first spin was just a warm-up, right?

I'm going to head into the new year with an eye on St. John Berchmans to see what this saint might have to say to me, but I'm hedging my bets by keeping John of the Cross on the sidelines in case I need an alternate at any point, or, more likely, an extra. Can't have too many patron saints.

So give the Patron Saint Generator a spin and let us know which saint will be watching over you during the coming year. And if you get St. Francis of Assisi, I don't want to hear about it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve: Emerging into the light

"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it."
-- John 1:1-5

Those of you who are regulars here at NSS know that I've been in a dark spiritual place this Advent, kicking and silently screaming my way through the weeks. I wondered how I'd ever pull out of the funk before Christmas, or if I'd pull out of it at all. Despite my best efforts to stay right where I was, however, I found myself bubbling with excitement today, and not because of the presents or the tree or the big dinner plans. No, this was something totally other. This was God at work. Little by little today, I felt myself emerging from darkness into light, almost giddy with the reality of what we were about to celebrate.

As I sat at Mass tonight surrounded by my family, by many friends and acquaintances, by the beautiful lights and trees and Nativity scene, the joy and hope that had been lacking this season suddenly moved to the fore and filled my heart to overflowing. (A little like the Grinch when he realizes the Whos down in Whoville are still singing, sans presents or feast.)

"Joy to the World, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King." On this beautiful, silent night, my prayer for you is that the Christ whose birth we celebrate today will fill your days with light and life, hope and joy now and forever. And may we always remember (yours truly especially) that the darkness has not -- and will not ever -- overcome the Light.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent Week 4: the heart of darkness

We have been plunged this week into the deepest, darkest days of winter. Light is in short supply as we journey through the final days of Advent in anticipation of the birth of Light.

I have to be honest with you. I have been basking in the darkness this week, and not necessarily in a good way. Okay, in a bad way. God and I really haven't been on speaking terms lately, which wasn't God's idea but I'm still annoyed with Him over it. Yes, sometimes I treat God like a spouse, sibling, parent, child, depending on my mood. I get mad, I lash out, I talk too much, I don't talk at all, I yell. I figure God can take it. Then I wait and wait and wait for God to come around and make me see the light. But this week that hasn't been happening so much, and as we inch closer to Christmas I worry that everyone else will be singing Joy to the World while I'm still singing the spiritual blues. I keep waiting for a sign.

So I went to Mass on Sunday and again on Monday because Noah was serving, and I had to smile when I heard the same first reading from Isaiah both days. First the Lord says, "Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!" Right. Exactly That's the kind of sign I want. Then the other shoe drops when Isaiah says: "Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God?" Hmmm...Yes, I would say I have been wearying both people and God this week. Funny how that reading came up two days in a row, especially when I almost never go to daily Mass. For a brief moment I thought maybe this was the sign, but then I brushed it off and sunk back into the darkness to wait for a better sign.

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, when the winter solstice, full moon and total eclipse came together at once for the first time in 456 years, I pulled my coat on over my pajamas and stood in my driveway in my slippers at 3:12 a.m. hoping to see something spectacular. I looked up and saw nothing. Thick whitish-pinkish clouds moved by, making it impossible to see the moon covered in shadow. Ever so briefly a thought crossed my mind: I know the moon is there even though it's hidden from view. This is exactly how I feel spiritually right now. I desperately want to feel God's presence, to see God casting a shadow across my life, but I can't. And yet God is there behind the spiritual weather system that is wreaking havoc with me. But again I brushed it aside. Yeah, whatever. That's not a real sign.

Then last night I drove with a friend to an Advent prayer service where another friend was giving the Scripture reflection. Again I hoped that this would be the thing that would finally lift me out of my spiritual doldrums. We sang, we prayed, we watched the incense rise to the heavens amid flickering candles. Then my friend spoke about the reading from Song of Songs, reminding us that we are supposed to see God in the role of lover, a role that doesn't always feel comfortable even as it beckons us to meet our God in the most intimate way, turning over our hearts, our souls, our lives with a passion that burns bright enough to light up even the deepest winter darkness.

So maybe I'm not that far off base after all when I say I sometimes treat God like a spouse or child or sibling or parent. Because in all of those relationships beats the heart of true love, love that sometimes gets turned on its head when we are confused or frightened or angry or disappointed, but in the end remains true. And God patiently waits there, wondering if perhaps I'll ever get around to giving Him a sign instead of always expecting God to take the lead.

In reality, this week has been full of signs. Not the spectacular signs we see in the Old Testament or as we run through the Gospels this week of Mary and the Annunciation, Joseph and the angel in his dream, Elizabeth and her recognition of God's presence upon Mary's arrival. Now those are signs. My signs have been much more subtle -- the feeling of community among friends as we prayed together; the beautiful Christmas tree and strong smell of pine that took my breath away when I walked into my darkened, empty parish church, not realizing the decorating had begun; the moon hidden behind clouds on a starless winter night; the words of the prophets ringing true for me today as they rang true centuries ago; the friends who meet me for coffee or drive up for dinner and listen to my stories and my whining and love me just the same; the husband and children who bear my dark moods and spiritual angst amid their pre-Christmas joy, patiently waiting for me to come around and join them. Each one pours a little more light into my weary soul and reminds me that I should not wait for a sign; I should become a sign.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

To Rome, with love

Here's my little love letter to Rome, which appears (with my photos) in today's Albany Times Union:

When in Rome...

By Mary DeTurris Poust

From the moment my plane touched down in Rome, I was in love.Visiting the country where my grandfather was born was the fulfillment of a promise I'd made to myself. I was awed by the prospect of standing in St. Peter's Square, walking through the Coliseum and soaking in the artwork of Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Bernini as I wandered through churches and piazzas.

I had 10 days to explore Rome on my first visit to the Eternal City, a trip that involved a weeklong university seminar for journalists who cover the Catholic Church. Armed with my favorite guide books, an Italian phrase book and an appetite for adventure, I set out to make the city my own. But I quickly learned that without a willingness to think outside the tourist box, my pilgrimage could deteriorate into a parade of indistinguishable ancient churches and artistic masterpieces.

So how to experience Rome like a Roman? When my wristwatch stopped working on the first day of my visit, I took it as a sign:....continue reading HERE.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

O Adonai...

I have no words of wisdom, no inspiration to offer to you today. I'm still bumping into things in the spiritual darkness that has been my home for a week or so. I decided to let Amy Grant speak through her beautiful song instead.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Local goodies for last minute shoppers

Before I get started on local gift ideas, let me just say that I have not set foot in a mall this Christmas season, which is always my goal. I don't like malls any time, but I especially don't like them before Christmas. And I figure if I made it this far, I'm home free because there ain't no way I'm going to a mall or anywhere within a five mile radius of a mall in the coming week when all those crazy shoppers are fighting for parking spaces and sale items.

So...if you live in New York's Capital Region, it's just a short drive to my town where you can find lots of cool stuff without the nasty crowds. (And if you're not in this region, get creative and look for similar shops in small towns near you.)

First I'll start with food. Of course. In keeping with the theme of this blog, these suggestions won't just be any foods but food with a spiritual connection.

Trappist Preserves make a nice, yummy gift or stocking stuffer. Although you can always buy them online HERE, folks in Delmar can pick them up right at Hannaford. That's right, jelly and jams made by monks sitting on the shelf next to Smucker's. Whodda thunk? Chiara will accept no other jelly on her PB&J. She prefers seedless red raspberry, although they make loads of flavors, typical and not so typical -- like hot pepper mango jelly or Kadota fig preserves.

Cheesecake by the Nuns of New Skete is available in the refrigerated case at Delmar Marketplace, and word on the street is that it is unbelievably good. So this may be on my dessert list this year. This, too, is available through online orders (HERE) if you can't get to the store or want an unusual flavor, like Irish cream or Kahlua. Or if you just need regular cheesecake deliveries, no matter what the season. Yum.

Moving away from food but keeping in our spiritual mindset, just walk across the street and head to Peaceful Inspirations, where you will find so many cool things you won't be able to decide what to get. I have to restrain myself every time I'm in there or I would leave with arms loaded down with books and earrings and angels and wall hangings and incense. (For Facebook friends keeping score at home, this is where I purchased the myrrh incense I mentioned the other day.) One of my favorite items is a lotus candle holder (see photo at the top). They have them in so many beautiful colors and sizes, with stands or without. A really nice little gift for someone special. And they have tons of other things related to the spiritual quest, from meditation bells and Mala beads to books on Our Lady of Guadalupe and Celtic art to salt lamps and peace flags. And if you go there, you'll be right around the corner from Perfect Blend, where you can get a coffee and something delicious to eat. (No, I am not being paid to advertise for these places.)

Of course, I Love Books is right next door to Perfect Blend. See how many places you can go without ever moving your car? At I Love Books you will have your pick of wonderful merchandise, but be sure to stop by the Local Authors shelf where you can get my book, "Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship." (You can also get it online or wherever you buy your books.) Makes a great gift -- for a friend, obviously.

Leaving I Love Books, head back across the street to the Breathing Room, a little yoga place where you can buy gift certificates for classes, yoga equipment, CDs and more. Don't you feel more peaceful just thinking about it? Ooooommmmm.

Finally, if you are in the area tomorrow, Saturday, December 18, the Delmar Farmers Market will have its last day of the season inside the Bethlehem Central Middle School from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Hair of the Dog will be playing the entire time. Shopping and a show. For free. Can't beat that, can you? Lots of local vendors. Stop by, but bring your reusable bags and even your reusable coffee cup. Think green Christmas.

Anyone else around here have any good ideas to share? Please do so in the comment section. And remember, even if you don't live here, there are sure to be similar shops somewhere near you. Avoid the malls and the inherent headaches. Shop close to home.

Finding calm amid the chaos

I have heard from so many friends telling me that my previous post about my difficult third week of Advent rang true for them. Apparently a lot of us are feeling the same joylessness, the same darkness and confusion at a time that is supposed to be filled with light and hope.

Then today a Facebook friend in Italy posted a beautiful reflection on this very topic. I guess some things translate across oceans and continents.

The post is from a certain simplicity* (uncomplicated creative living) and it's just what I needed to hear, read, think about, absorb. I'll get you started here and then link to the blog, because you should go there today -- and any day you need a lift -- to hear lots of positive things with servings of Italy on the side.

From Diana Baur's post today:

The clutter, the discord and the difficulty are what produce the fertile ground of creativity.

On the day you decide to follow a creative path, you will have lesson after lesson handed to you. You will feel beaten, humbled, and alive. You will be aware of large churnings under the surface that no one can see or feel but you. You might smile at friends and family, talking to them about things you have always talked about, but inside you will be jumping hurdles, slaying dragons, praying for answers.

You will feel like you are running as hard as you can - in a bowl of mashed potatoes.

Your advances will be small, your badges earned. You will be a student for a very, very long time. You will wonder whether it was worth it. If you should not have just stayed where you were, in the land of mediocrity and perpetual indecision.

Continue reading...

Thank you, Diana, for giving me food for thought when I most needed to know I am not alone and I will move forward. Peace to everyone out there today who feels like they're running hard but standing still.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent, Week 3: Every rose has its thorn

I began this week basking in the glow of Gaudete Sunday. The thrill I get when it's time to light the pink, ahem, ROSE candle in the Advent wreath is a little ridiculous. It's just a candle, after all. And yet, I fully appreciate the placement of rose in the third week rather than the fourth. It's a little wake-up call, a sudden bright spot that urges us forward before it's too late.

My Gaudete spirit only increased when I went to a nursing home with my parish's youth ministry group last Sunday to sing carols and distribute little Christmas crafts. As we sang O Come All Ye Faithful, I spied a tiny woman hunched down in a wheelchair just to my right, singing away and smiling at me. She waved me over, and I tried to understand what she wanted me to do. Something with the Christmas craft. We tried to communicate in loud whispers so as not to disrupt the young girl reading from the Gospel of Luke, but I finally gave up and squatted down near her wheelchair to wait for a break in the show.

As I knelt there next to her, she leaned over from her chair and put her arm around me, squeezed my shoulder, and smiled. She did that at least three more times in the span of a few minutes. Talk about a bright spot in my week. When we finally managed to get back to the craft and what she wanted me to do, it became clear: She wanted me to have the Christmas decoration meant to hang on her door. After my futile attempts to make her keep it, I thanked her and took it home, promising myself I'd pray for Ruth whenever I saw it.

Then, due to the alignment -- or misalignment -- of a few events (too confusing to go into here), my rose-y spirit began to dampen and darken. Gone is the joy I had felt only days ago, gone is the hope that is supposed to be building with each day until it reaches its crescendo on Christmas, gone is my interest in or motivation for prayer. Zippo. Nada. Nothing. Darkness.

And so, during this season of dark and light, I find myself going in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Maybe it's meant to be this way. Maybe I'm supposed to experience the heart of John's Gospel in a real and felt way, knowing once and for all that the darkness can never overcome the light.

Rather than skipping through this week of Advent, I'm plodding and brooding and wishing the season would be over and done with. Then I stop and remember Ruth, smiling and singing from her wheelchair in a nursing home where life -- as pleasant as the staff tries to make it -- is difficult, at best. Every day. For Ruth and so many others like her -- my almost-98-year-old grandmother, for example -- life is never going to get easier at this point, and yet they carry on with the same determination and spirit that got them to this point.

I think Ruth was placed in my life last Sunday for a reason. When I find myself sinking into self-pity over my un-Christmasy feelings this week, I see her smiling face and feel her little squeeze around my shoulder and remember that light can come into our lives in the most unexpected ways and the most unlikely places. We just have to be willing to open the door to it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why Merton matters

Ever since I first came in contact with the writings of Thomas Merton some 25 years ago, he has spoken to me. I know I'm not alone there. Countless people of every faith and persuasion have found meaning in his writings and his life. Of course, others will counter that with claims that he was too flawed to be held up as a role model, or, dare I say, saint. But that's precisely why he's a great example.

I find comfort in the fact that he carried on, following his path toward God, even when he was thrown off course by his humanness. I look at Merton and see holiness wrapped in weakness, and isn't that where most of us are? We're all called to be saints, but oftentimes our humanity gets in the way. In Merton, we can see ourselves, trudging ever closer to God despite mistakes -- some of them pretty major -- and confusion and doubt.

Today, on the 42nd anniversary of his death by accidental electrocution in Bagkok, I am taking time to remember and reflect, but Merton is never far from my thoughts because so many of his words are constantly ringing in my ears.

Hanging next to my desk is this Merton quote from Thoughts in Solitude:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

See what I mean? Comforting and yet challenging. I read those words and think, "Oh, good, Merton had no idea where he was going either." Then I read a little more and think, "Oh, no, he trusted God completely. Can I do the same?" For me that's a saintly role model, reminding me that I'm not alone but pushing me to go beyond my typical response and reach for something deeper, truer.

A couple of years ago, I received a wonderful blessing in the form of a silent retreat called "Merton in the Mountains." By a lake in the low peaks of the Adirondacks I had one weekend of solitude and silence, a brief glimpse into Merton's way of life. It wasn't easy. In fact, it was downright difficult and more than a little frightening -- to give up my voice, to sit and wait for God while trying to throw off the monkeys of worry and doubt and pride and ambition. Merton knew those same feelings, and yet he continued to return to the silence, the solitude because that is where he knew he'd find God.

Another quote from Thoughts in Solitude:

To love solitude and to seek it does not mean constantly traveling from one geographic possibility to another. A man becomes a solitary at the moment when, no matter what may be his external surroundings, he is suddenly aware of his own inalienable solitude and sees that he will never be anything but solitary. From that moment on, solitude is not potential -- it is actual.
But perhaps the quote that always calls me back, the one that echoes in my head, is the quote below. It's a constant reminder of my inability to ever know God if I try to make him in my own image:

God approaches our minds by receding from them. We can never fully know Him if we think of Him as an object of capture, to be fenced in by the enclosure of our own ideas.

We know him better after our minds have let him go.

The Lord travels in all directions at once.

The Lord arrives from all directions at once.

Wherever we are, we find that He has just departed. Wherever we go, we discover that He has just arrived before us.
Merton reminds me that I still have a shot, even when I don't get it right on a pretty regular basis. Merton, with his beautiful and powerful words, gives me something to hold onto when God feels very far away.

Thomas Merton, pray for us.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent, Week 2: the waiting game

I am not a patient person. Not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I consider myself to be one of the most impatient people I know. If I start an exercise routine, I expect to see results the next day, or sooner. When I pray, I often do so with one eye half-open, as if to watch for some sort of lightning bolt answer that might come down from heaven right there on the spot. I don't like to wait. Ever. Or, almost ever. There is one exception to my inability to sit still and let things unfold as they should, and that one exception is Advent.

As others spin with frantic holiday energy -- buying gifts, baking cookies, singing carols, decorating trees -- I am quite content to ignore it all and simply wait. Which kind of makes the rest of my family a little crazy. They want singing Santas and twinkling lights, but our house is decidedly unfestive at this point. If you were to stop by, you might even wonder if we plan to celebrate Christmas at all, so barren are our table tops and windows and walls. The only signs of the season are Advent signs: a wreath on the kitchen table, a purple and pink paper chain hanging from a window, the Advent calendar on the hearth, and a little Advent tree that my grandmother gave me. There's something beautiful about the starkness of it all amid the abundance of Christmas that is so obvious everywhere else. And, despite my usual impatience, I have to admit that there's something wonderful about the anticipation that continues to build every day, that expectant feeling that recognizes that something amazing is just around the corner but the time is not quite right, our spirits not quite ripe.

I find that my willingness to wait becomes stronger with every passing year, much like my love for the Advent season itself. When I was young, I didn't feel a connection to the Advent season. I used to say I was a Lent person, always more comfortable in the desert than in the midst of a party. But then slowly, slowly, slowly I began to "get" Advent, which is a desert experience of a very different kind. Silence and darkness, waiting and watching, surrender and trust. This, too, is a time to pull away from the rest of the world and retreat to a quiet place where God might get a word in edgewise.

Of course, some of my pre-Christmas patience has a practical side as well. If I put up the tree on December 1, I know I'd be tired of it long before the big day finally arrived. And the last thing I want is to be ready to leave the party before the guest of honor arrives. Waiting makes the tree and all the trimmings seem that much more special to me, and I'm hoping that the feeling is beginning to trickle down to the kids.

This morning, when I said we'd probably put up the tree next weekend, Olivia jumped for joy. When I offered to put a few little snowmen decorations out after school today, Chiara could barely contain herself. Excitement is building little by little as we inch toward the main event, trying ever so hard to keep our focus on the constant light of Jesus and not on all those twinkling, temporary flashes around us.

Patient waiting...a pregnant pause, full of expectant joy, much a like a mother waiting for labor to begin. We are growing more ripe each day, more ready for what is to come. In the crisp, cold air we feel a warm glow that burns stronger and stronger each day, as our hearts cry out, Maranatha, "Our Lord, come."

Friday, December 3, 2010

From one spiritual friendship author to another

Sometimes the blog world and the world of Facebook just amaze me. That's how I "met" Dan Brennan, author of "Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women." In addition to posting a review of my book on his website (HERE), Dan posted the following review on Amazon. The best part (as far as I'm concerned) is that Dan is Protestant/Evangelical, confirming for me that my book is not limited to a Catholic audience (despite the word "Catholic" in the title.) Thanks for the kind words, Dan. Here's his Amazon review:

Five out of five stars
A Protestant's Thumbs up!
By Dan Brennan

This review is from: Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship (Paperback)

Since I have a passion for the subject of spiritual friendship, I was eager to get this book when I found out about it. I was not disappointed. Mary DeTurris Poust does a great job of translating the depth and passion of spiritual friendship in Catholic tradition as something good and beautiful for twenty-first century readers. As a Protestant/evangelical, I highly recommend this accessible book. When I was looking for resources on cross-gender friendship as I was writing my own book, I could hardly find any books or material written from an evangelical perspective. However, I did come across a reference to the friendship between St. Francis de Sales and St. Jeanne de Chantal. That discovery opened the doors for me to discover the rich history of spiritual friendships in Catholic Tradition.

Walking Together is a very good book that introduces us to that history and what spiritual friendship looks like in our superficial and shallow culture today. Poust does an excellent job of helping us understand the beauty of friendship love for us today. Something so beautiful requires nurturing, communication, transparency, and intentionality. Poust gets that. I recommend this book for all Christians who are hungering after something more deeper than what the media portrays in popular friendships.

Tune in today for a discussion on friendship

I will be a guest on "In the Heartland with Bishop Pates" of Des Moines at 10 a.m. CT today. You can catch the show live online at, or listen on KWKY 1150 AM in Des Moines and KVSS 102.7 FM in Omaha.

Also, for those of you looking to buy my new book "Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship," please let me know if you have trouble getting a copy. Word on the street is that smaller bookshops cannot get the books in stock because the larger distributors are back ordered. Folks in New York's Capital Region should contact me directly and I will get you books in time for Christmas. Other folks can send an email and we can work something out by mail.

Or visit the usual spots, including Amazon, and, of course, my publisher, Ave Maria Press. (B&N and Borders are back ordered at the moment.) And, remember, if all else fails, please contact me directly for signed copies.

UPDATED: Just found out that my book tops the list of Christmas gift suggestions over at The Anchoress. Plus lots of other friends have books on the list. Check it out HERE.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Join the Advent Conspiracy

Every Advent I set out with the best of intentions. I will pray more, and I will not allow the secular world's clarion call of "Buy, buy, buy" to drown out the less flashy but more important scriptural message of "Stay awake!" I vow not to go to shopping malls. I refuse to put up decorations too early. I take tags off the parish Giving Tree. I talk to the kids about asking for reasonable gifts and not expecting everything on their lists. But inevitably, by the time we're one week out from Christmas, I find we've blown our budget and bought way more than anyone needed -- or wanted, for that matter.

I just got off the phone with a friend and I talked about my issues with this season. Most people I know are almost done with their Christmas shopping. I haven't even started. So I told him, "Don't expect too much. I've decided I'm just not going to try that hard this year." I do not mean that in a Bah-Humbug! sort of way. I mean that I'm just not going to let worries over meaningless gifts that will probably get tossed in a closet become the focus of the next few weeks.

Then I saw the video clip above. (Big h/t to Mike Hayes over at Googling God for bringing this one to my attention.) It says it all. Watch it, and then join me in not trying so hard -- or spending so much -- this season.

And while you're at it, check out the second part of Patrice Athanasidy's Advent series over at Fathers for Good. Click HERE to read about how her family counters the focus on material stuff at Christmas.

Then click HERE to read Jesuit Father James Martin's post on Advent "desire" and how it's not all bad.