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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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