I have just posted another podcast after a long hiatus. I’m starting my new season.
This one’s really just a brief introduction to what I’m hoping to accomplish with the blog, video, and the podcast. I’ll try to get another episode up later about Lent.
I have been trying to do some things to get in better shape over the last year. One thing I’ve found is that an activity tracker is great to help set a goal and make sure I am reaching it. I have used two different ones, and I thought it would be helpful if I wrote a bit about how they compared. I got the Garmin Vivosmart HR through a rewards program at my work, but I switched to the Fitbit Charge 2 after Christmas. I’ll mention that the Garmin is also available as the Vivosmart HR that also has GPS for those of you who are interested. However, I have never owned one of those, so I’ll be comparing the Vivosmart HR without GPS to the Charge 2.
The Garmin Vivosmart HR feels kind of like a plastic toy. The band is a kind of stretchy rubber, and it didn’t feel as good as the Fitbit on my wrist. The interface, however, is really nice. The screen is always on, and it’s a touchscreen that works like something I’d expect. To go from one screen to the next, just swipe the screen. There’s a backlight if needed, but I turned off the feature that had it come on when I lifted my wrist because it drained the battery too much.
The Garmin measured all the basics like steps taken, floors climbed, and “intensity minutes,” which is the time you spent doing exercise. The step goal started at 7500 steps and increased every time I made it and decreased when I didn’t. There were exercise modes, but they were limited to run, walk, cardio, and other. I liked up the MapMyFitness app from Under Armour, and it would sync the workouts. However, they all came through as generic workout, and I’d have to manually modify them in MapMyFitness. Like the Fitbit Charge 2, it includes a wrist heart rate monitor, but neither device is one that I’d trust to be spot on. Unlike the Fitbit, it actually has a screen where it would show weather from the smartphone. However, I was never sure how often it updated. The battery always seemed to last the five days claimed by Garmin.
When I had first heard of wrist notifications, I didn’t think they would be all that useful. However, the Garmin showed me otherwise. You can configure it to vibrate when you get a notification from your smartphone. However, with an iPhone, it had an all or nothing policy on it. Either I got every notification that came through your phone (including Facebook and the News app), or I didn’t get anything. Sometimes, the device would quit receiving notifications, and I’d have to turn it off and back on. The vibration was something I wouldn’t miss when it went off, but it was so loud that people around me could hear it buzzing. The device has a screen where you can go back and read missed alerts, but it wasn’t the easiest to use due to the small screen. Since I need an alarm on my watch, I was glad it had a silent alarm that is supposed to vibrate on my wrist and wake me up without waking up my wife. However, you are limited to one alarm at a time, and I like having multiple. Also, don’t forget the aforementioned loudness of the alert. I’m not so sure that the alarm always succeeded in not waking up my wife.
When I switched to the Fitbit Charge 2, I noticed right away that it had a more premium look to it, and the band was so much more comfortable on my wrist. The interface took a bit of getting used to. It’s not so much a touchscreen as a “tap screen,” or so I would call it. The display is not always on, so you have to lift your wrist, push the side button, or double-tap the screen to get it to come up. Once you do, if you configuredthe screen a certain way (you can customize it), you can see your steps and heart rate all at once on a well-lit screen. You can tap it to see other statistics. The button on the side lets you go through other menus. However, the lift to see the screen and the tap feature don’t work perfectly. It can be aggravating to have to tap the thing multiple times to get it to work.
Like the Garmin device, the Fitbit Charge 2 measures steps taken, floors climbed, and time spent in exercise. Exercise modes are available for several different exercises, from walking to lifting weights. However, I had to customize the device to get it to track my walking. You can include connected GPS to allow it to connect with your smartphone and map where you went. I use this every time I go for a walk. Both devices automatically detect a lengthy time period spent active, but only the Fitbit stores it in the main exercise part of the app where it’s easily found. The battery seems like it lasted longer than the rated five days, but it takes longer to charge (1 – 2 hours vs 30 minutes) than the Garmin’s battery. I tried to connect it to MapMyFitness twice, but it didn’t work. However, I found that I no longer need MapMyFitness because the Fitbit app does all that I need it to do.
In fact, the Fitbit app is a major strength of the Fitbit system. You can use it to track not only activity synced from the tracker, but it will track calorie intake, water drinking, and how many days a week you exercise. You can set individual goals for each. However, the step goal that it sets is always a static goal. It doesn’t adjust like the Garmin device does. The app is much nicer to use than the Garmin app. I liked how I could just use the device to start a workout, and I could get it into my phone in my workout history without ever having to actually interact with the phone. My iPhone 5S is rather old and getting slower, so this makes it faster for me to start my walk.
The Fitbit Charge 2 does have wrist alerts. Unlike the Garmin, they are limited to call, text, and calendar alerts. Also unlike the Garmin, you can choose to receive any, all, or none of the available types of alerts. If you only want phone call alerts, you can choose to only be alerted when you have a phone call. The Fitbit does have silent (vibrating) alarms as well, and you can set up to eight different ones. The vibration is more subtle than with the Garmin. This means that it won’t alert everyone around you, but it’s more likely that the alert will be missed. I’ve missed my alarm two or three times since I’ve had the Fitbit.
In the end, I’m still using the Fitbit Charge 2, and I like it better. Despite the fact that the tap interface of the Charge 2 isn’t as smooth as I’d like, the iPhone app, exercise tracking, multiple alarms, the ability to limit what alerts I get, and the comfort of the device on my wrist made me decide that it was a good decision to switch. The Garmin is now available at a lower price, and it’s a good option for people who don’t want to spend the extra money. If you are willing to spend the extra (about $50), I think the Fitbit gives a better experience, and I’d recommend it over the Garmin.
I’ve been looking for a compact camera to carry around with me, and at just the right time, Panasonic releases the GX850. I really like Panasonic’s cameras, and this is the second one for me. In fact, I decided I’d do a video review on my YouTube channel. I’ve included both sample video and photos from this camera so you can see how well it does. I think it does pretty well. It seems like it will be a great camera for vlogging, selfies, and travel. Oh, and it can even shoot 4K video in clips of up to 5 minutes long.
If you are interested in the camera, you can get it on Amazon by clicking this link for the black version or clicking this link for the black and silver version. You can also get the black one from Adorama here and the silver one here. As you can probably see, I have the black one.
UPDATE: I’m having to exchange the one I have. The touch screen quit responding within a week of my receiving it. I hope the new one won’t have this problem. The camera is actually quite usable without it, but I want to be able to use the touch focus. After only having it for about a week, it’s not going to be much fun not having it while I’m waiting for the online store to process my exchange.
UPDATE 2: I got my new one in, and it works well so far. I’ll update if I have another issue. I’m also now an Adorama affiliate, so I’ll be posting purchase links there.
I was all set to write about the March for Life. As I did this, I wanted to address something that comes across the debate all the time that makes no sense to me. A number of people, many of whom are either pro-abortion, or want to justify voting for a pro-abortion candidate (even if personally pro-life) will bring in their views on other social issues. Of course, there are other issues that are legitimate. Of course, we need to have support for mothers facing a difficult pregnancy before and after birth. However, if I have to choose between having legal abortion and more support for pregnant women or having abortion ended but not having it, I am choosing the latter. Saying that we should let the mother kill the child in the womb since that support may not be available is not even close to taking a moral high ground.
I hope that choice won’t be necessary though. If I listen to today’s politics, it almost seems like that is the choice we are given at the voting booth. However, I think there are good pregnancy centers that do provide support, and pro-life people support them out of their own pockets. Not all support has to come from tax dollars. Rather than go further, let me just link to the excellent article that addresses this better.
Well, anyway, the marches that took place in the past week have been crowded out of the news now by Trump’s recent executive order stopping people from certain countries from entering. I’ve read a lot of things written by people from different sides of the issue, and I do think the order was overall problematic. I’m very concerned about how innocent people are being affected by it. However, I’m not the expert on the potential dangers from those particular countries. Innocent people should not be affected, but we also can’t let political correctness keep us from recognizing real threats.
I do want to address an interesting phenomenon among the comments I have seen. Many of the people who are defending Trump would mention something along the same lines that Obama did. The response to this from others is that “just because Obama did it doesn’t make it right.” I think that misses the point. The last thing on earth that Trump defenders would want to convey is that something must be right because Obama did it.
The point they are trying to make is that no one seemed to worry about similar actions taken by Obama, but they demonized Trump for taking the actions that aren’t that far off from what Obama did. Do journalists have short memories? The mainstream media had made a big emotional drama over what Trump is doing, and I’m having a hard time figuring out if I can believe what they say or not. Is Trump really doing bad things, or is the mainstream media going crazy because there is someone in office whom they don’t like. I think his article sums up the issue better than I could.
Then there’s the firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates. She basically disobeyed the president’s order, whether rightly or wrongly. The media are making dramatic statements like “conform or you’re out” or saying that Yates was “treated like someone on The Apprentice.” The issue here is that, had the issue at hand been refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or to provide free contraception in accordance with the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, most of these same people would be saying things like “You can’t pick and choose which laws to obey.” or “Your job is to enforce the law.” So, now the liberals are basically admitting that there are laws that are unjust and therefore should not be followed.
Okay, so maybe this post was a bit winding Its trajectory. I guess this is what happens when I try to blog about news events, and then I get behind. I meant to post days ago but haven’t had the chance. Next post, I’ll try a technology topic instead.
Inauguration Day has come and gone now. Donald Trump has won in an election that was a pretty big upset. Now, he is officially the President of the United States. To be honest, I am much happier about him winning that I would have been about Hillary Clinton, and I am really glad Obama has left office. Still, I am not about to embrace Trump as the savior of our country. I do think there are valid concerns remaining about what he will do.
Clinton was guaranteed to continue the cultural revolution of Obama that would ensure that, ultimately, those who wish to live Christian morality would be reduced to second class citizens at best. I have seen things under Obama that I would have dismissed as paranoia when he first got elected. Just look at the this report from the US Civil Rights Commission (PDF file format) if you don’t believe me. If you think that Trump will do little to stop abortion, you may be right. The catch is that Clinton was guaranteed to work to promote the pro-abortion agenda, including appointing pro-abortion Supreme Court justices. However, one thing that remains to be seen is whether Trump will keep his promise and appoint a pro-life justice to the bench to replace Justice Scalia. Hopefully, he will do so soon, and, with it, work to protect human life. Hopefully, he will work to protect religious liberty even if he has no desire to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges.
This isn’t my only concern. On the day of his inauguration, President Trump signed an executive order which shows that he is serious about dismantling the Affordable Care Act. I do know that there are people who have benefitted greatly from having obtained coverage. I also think that having an insurance marketplace is a good idea. My concern is not so much about the law being repealed. It’s that the law will be repealed without something better to replace it. Mr. Trump sure seems to be in a hurry to dismantle it. This would leave people who do benefit without access to care, and that is not acceptable!
With that being said, I strongly believe that Obamacare will fail in the long run if left standing. We are already seeing premium increases and insurance companies exiting the markets because they were losing money. Eventually, it will become costly enough that it will no longer be affordable for anyone. Deductibles are also quite high, and this is a problem even for people with employer-based plans. I have heard a number of stories of people who have insurance struggling to get health care or having to choose between health care and other necessities because their deductibles are too high. Add to this the draconian contraceptive coverage mandate that would make it impossible for a Catholic like me to own a business and provide health insurance for employees. The fines for not providing free contraceptives were crippling and were many times higher than the fines for not providing coverage at all. We do need something better, and I hope we get it and not just a repeal. For the record, though, I believe that a single-payer program would be a disaster in this country.
Another concern that I have is how well he will handle immigration. I believe that the statements that he is racist, xenophobic, or even fascist are an exaggeration. I also don’t see anything wrong with building a wall to secure our border (though no one should expect Mexico to pay for it). However, those who are here should be treated with compassion, even if here illegally. Many are escaping a bad situation, and this needs to be considered. The way legal immigration is handled could use some work, too.
I could name other issues as well that I hope are not brushed aside. Knowing many of the comments be made, we have to wonder if he will get our country in big trouble. Regardless of what you think about the “women’s march” that is going on, I hope that you realize that his previous comments about women completely unacceptable. When confronted, I would rather he would have at least said that they don’t represent who he is today rather than having dismissed them as “locker room talk.” Even if he had, there would still be cause for concern.
All of this is written to remind everyone who supported Trump (or at least didn’t support Clinton) that legitimate issues exist. We can’t just ignore them and think everything will be ok. We can’t just declare victory even though one threat has been stopped. It’s time to keep praying. Pray for our president and our country!
A priest once observed made the observation of me that I use technology to simplify my life. Indeed, I do. I bought my first iPod because I didn’t want to carry around a bunch of CDs or mess with having to burn a collection (which is what I had just showed the priest). I got my first Palm device just for fun in 2003 (Wow, I’m dating myself!), but I quickly made use of it so that I didn’t have to keep up with contacts and notes on paper. I’ve read a number of parent and/or Catholic blogs that talk about the problems with technology use. I don’t see quite as much on how we can make good use of it.
So, I want to present four things that have helped me in the past year. These were not new this past year, but I just got to where I found a use for them. It’s kind of like the iPad, on which I am writing this, When I first learned of it, I didn’t think it would be helpful to me. Now, I hardly know what I did before I had it.
The first thing I’ll share is my secret to getting blog posts written because I love to share my “secrets” of his type. I am using an app called iA Writer. The app has been around, and I’ve had it for a few years. Last year, it got some major updates, including the ability to post to WordPress. It also has a new file view that lists all my compositions, and it has really good iCloud syncing. This means that I can start a post on my iPad while sitting up in bed, like I am as I write this sentence. Then, I can go up and continue on my iMac, and later I can make some final edits on the iPhone. The document is ready on any Apple device. I can also sync to Dropbox if I choose. It has been a few hours since I wrote the first draft on my iMac, and now I’m typing this sentence on my iMac. Once I am done, I can use any one of the devices to send the document to WordPress, where I can edit it further or just post it.
Second on my list is a fitness tracker. I have been using a Garmin Vivosmart HR but plan to switch to Fitbit. I used to wonder what was the point of these, but now I am trying to exercise and just be more physically active in general. The device gives me a good indication of how I have been doing on a particular day. The device also sets a goal for me to try and reach each day. This shows me how much I’ve been active lately and whether to keep going as I am or to make time for some extra physical activity. There’s an added bonus here, too. It gives me wrist notifications from my iPhone. At one time, I wondered what was the point of that as well, but I keep almost always my phone on vibrate and often cannot feel it in my pocket when it “rings.” The wrist notifications keep me from missing my wife’s calls and messages.
So, maybe you’d like to know why I am switching to Fitbit. There are a few reasons. First, the Fitbit iPhone app is better. It has a lot more useful tracking features and is more efficient to use. Second, the wrist notifications on the Garmin are an all-or-nothing thing. Either it gets every alert from my iPhone, or it gets nothing. I only want my calls and texts and maybe calendar notifications. I don’t need Facebook or YouTube alerts on my wrist. Fitbit lets me have only those alerts that I want. Third, the Fitbit allows me to set multiple alarms. The Garmin allows only one, and I have to set it to go off every day or every weekday. Finally, the Fitbit just looks better. I debated between the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Fitbit Blaze. I wanted to go with the Blaze but had concerns about its design quirks. For the Blaze, you have to remove the tracker from the band to charge, and the mechanism for doing so looks like it might not hold up over time. So, I’m going with the Charge 2. One tip is to look for one at allows you to change the band. These expensive trackers shouldn’t have to be replaced because the band wears out.
The third thing I have discovered is an app called Simplenote. I’m not sure how long it has been around, but I heard about it on someone’s YouTube. To be honest, it is mostly plain text with clunky markdown support. When you preview your markdown, line breaks get removed. It’s strength lies in the ability to sync very, very quickly and its compatibility with several platforms (Mac, iOS, Windows, Android, and Linux). Oh, and it’s free!
I mainly use Simplenote to store notes that I need on any device, but I found another use for it as well. Since my iMac is too old for the universal clipboard feature of MacOS Sierra, this becomes an easy way to copy text from one device to another. I paste from my iPhone into Simplenote, and it’s available on my Mac literally within seconds. I can then move the text wherever it needs to go on the Mac. Also, compatibility with multiple operating systems means that I can use it even if I completely change platforms in the future. Oh, and did I mention that it is free?
Well, my last pick is not free, and it’s actually pretty expensive for what it does. It has been around for years, but I have just started using it. It’s an app called Things. It has now become my main to do list. It has also helped me get things done that I have been forgetting about for a long time.
The beauty of the app is it’s organizational power. I can create a single task or a project with multiple sub tasks. However, unlike reminders, I can’t set it to send me a pop up at a certain time which I will then dismiss and forget about. Instead, it has a Today list that I check daily. When I create a task, I specify a due date, and then I tell it how many days before then to start showing in the today list. There is another list called Next that shows me all my pending tasks separated by an area of responsibility that I assign. If I don’t even want it to appear there because I can’t possibly do it yet (such as a car tag renewal that can only be done so many days in advance), I can put it on a Scheduled list and set a date for it to move to the Next list. There is also a Someday list for things that I hope to do but can’t now and an Inbox for things I want to categorize later.
It is now part of my morning routine to review the list with emphasis on the Today list. They have a syncing service, so it syncs between my Apple devices. The main downside of the app for me is that I had buy it separately for iPhone and iPad. The Mac app is quite expensive at $50, but many productivity apps are either just as expensive or require the purchase of a subscription for full features.
So, these are the tech picks that I have begun to use and found helpful. It’s now almost bedtime, and I am back on the iPad editing the final draft on my iPad using iA Writer. It’s time for me to post this. Then again, if you are reading this, I already did.
Note that the Amazon links are affiliate links. If you buy through them, I get a small commission, but you don’t pay more because of it. Other links are not affiliate links at this time.
We are nearing the end of the Octave of Christmas, and on January 1st we will celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The Church gives us the reading of the first chapter of the Gospel of John for the day. What struck me was something that I see as a reflection of the saddest aspect of human society. The Gospel mentions that the world was made through the Word who is Jesus Christ, but despite this, the world did not know him. He even came among his own people, but they did not receive him.
If anyone is considering what is the greatest problem facing our society today, I think the root of it is simple. Today, we live in a secular society. That is nothing really new. As far as I know, as long as the Church has existed, there have been both the temporal rulers of society, and the bishops in the Church. The problem today is actually called secularism. It’s the running of our society and the going about of our lives as though God did not exist or, if he does, as though he doesn’t really have any effect on our lives.
Some people treat the very thought of God with contempt. You can see this is the angry atheists of our day who have bought into the absurd notion that this entire universe came about by itself. It’s also visible among the media people who mock Christians. Others just don’t give God the time of day. They just go about their business every day without it ever having seemed to occur to them that there is a greater purpose beyond what they are doing every day. Concerns about what would be the will of God or whether a certain act is sinful give way to a supposed “real life.” Some such people have really never thought about the matter. Others assume that we really can’t know the truth, but somehow they insist that they know we cannot know the truth. They never bother to try and find out. Still others are actually people who say they believe, and even go to church, but their belief is superficial at best because it hardly weighs in on the decisions they make on a daily basis.
It has always seemed strange to me how someone can really say that they believe in God, but not be ready to base every aspect of their lives on what he has to say to us. This ain’t small potatoes! I also cannot fathom how anyone can just ignore the question of God entirely as it were of little matter. Don’t they need to find out the truth? The fact is that we are all going to die one day, and we will leave behind whatever we had on this earth. One may wish to spend life doing good for others, and indeed we should. However, everyone whom we have helped will die one day no matter how much good we have done for them. Then, how will we have helped them? The good we do must have behind it a greater purpose.
In society today, we as Christians, and especially Catholics (as we have the fullness of truth), have a mission. We must evangelize. The atheist, of course, needs to be evangelized, but he may actually be better off than the sleepers who don’t seem to think it matters. The atheists, at least, are actively arguing and perhaps could be convinced. However, many times the problem that causes unbelief is a moral problem. There is some sinful behavior that they aren’t willing to give up that is at the root of their unbelief, whether they understand it or not. Still, if it becomes know to us, helping them to see another way to live may be what is needed.
The people whom I really think will be harder to believe are what we may call the “sleepers.” They are the people who go through life without much thought of God, as though the question were a topic of interest to some like science fiction. Unlike the atheists, they have to be convinced that they need an answer in the first place. Such people may see very little wrong with their lives. Yet, God wants to call these people to himself as well. We must pray that they come to know him before it is too late.
I’ve never liked the saying that we should “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” Contrary to popular belief, St. Francis of Assisi did not say it. The saying can easily become an excuse not to preach the Gospel and not to use words when needed. However, we who follow Christ really do need to examine our lives. In a secularized society, we can easily fall into the trap of living at least some aspect of our lives as though God didn’t exist. Does Christ rule over everything . . . how we act, how we dress, how we run our businesses, how we raise and educate our kids, how we choose entertainment? We’ll never convince the world if we appear to be unconvinced. This doesn’t mean we wait until we are perfect to preach the Gospel or that we should appear perfect. This might actually discourage people who live troubled lives. Rather, we need to give God everything, and this also means that we need to learn to tell people about Christ, his Church, and his love for us.
Our societal problems won’t ultimately be solved by government leaders, though we do need good ones in office. They won’t be solved by some new product developed by a corporation, though they can be of assistance to us. They won’t be solved by education, though we need to be educated. They won’t even be solved by social justice and welfare programs, though we are obligated as Christians to help those in need. We must get to the root of everything, and to do so, we need to put everything under the reign of the King whose birth we celebrated almost a week ago.
When I was in kindergarten, way back in 1980, our teacher had us all make a Christmas card for a craft. She told us that we could choose to write either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” on the card. That was probably the first time I had heard the phrase “Happy Holidays.” It seemed strange to me then as a young child who hadn’t even been baptized at the time. It still seems strange to me now.
I don’t want to make some huge drama of it every time someone says “Happy Holidays.” I’ll have nothing to do with the ridiculous Starbucks cup controversy from last year. However, I am aware that many people, including devout Christians, don’t seem to think it matters at all. Truthfully, many people may just be saying what rolls off their tongue and not really thinking about it. The thing is that we really do need to think about it.
I’d go so far to say that anyone who is really offended by being wished a “Merry Christmas” is probably someone whom I would term a “professional offendee.” That’s the term I use to describe anyone who finds offensiveness to some group in way too many aspects of human speech (or in things like naming a sports team the “Braves”). Really, how I am going to react if someone tells me to have a Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? I celebrate neither, but I think getting upset about it would be a waste of my energy. It wouldn’t do me much good anyway. It seems that the move towards “inclusiveness” really means anything but Christianity. Did anyone hear about the suggestion from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville last year to make sure that holiday parties are not “Christmas parties but in disguise?”. I dare them to say that about a Hindu festival!
With that, I get into the precise problem. The “War on Christmas,” isn’t about people saying Happy Holidays. It’s rather more concerned with the ridiculous aversion that some have to mentioning Christmas or of specifically celebrating Christmas. A number of businesses who darn well know they are making great profits from the sales of Christmas gifts act as though they think we are just celebrating Generic Winter Holiday. You can see this list from the American Family Association. One street that I drive by frequently advertises “Holiday Trees.” What else are those being used for at this time of year? In a job I held, part of our orientation was a diversity class where we were to discuss how to plan an inoffensive “holiday” party. We had to have it in November so that it wouldn’t look like a Christmas party. Oh, the horrors of our party looking like a named holiday that even many non-Christians celebrate!
We who are Christians should not be ashamed to mention that we are celebrating the birth of Christ. Just as the winter solstice has passed and days are just starting to get longer, we celebrate the Light of the World coming to us. We need not be afraid to simple say “Merry Christmas” to those whom we see. We have something known and very real to celebrate.
So, to all who are reading, I wish you a Merry and Blessed Christmas!
In life, we know there are things for which we must prepare. If we are in school, we prepare for exams. If we want a good grade, we don’t write a term paper at the last minute. In the business world, we prepare for an important meeting, appointment, or presentation. Even a theatrical performance or a baseball or football game requires practice in order to prepare for the performance or game.
We in the Catholic Church don’t just carry out business as usual and then one day say “Oh, hey, it’s Christmas today” or “Oh, I guess today is Easter.” We have this season of Advent now to prepare us to celebrate the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. In a fairly short time, we will have the season of Lent to get us ready to celebrate Our Lord’s resurrection at Easter, or, really, the entire Paschal mystery in the Easter Triduum. Both seasons have a penitential aspect, with an emphasis on repentance of sins. We want to be holy in order to fully celebrate the great feast days. We don’t let these great and holy days sneak up on us.
When the day is over, we don’t just go right back to business as usual either. We celebrate the Octave of a Christmas and the Octave of Easter, and then we have a season in the Church afterward. In fact, the season of Easter is longer than Lent. We know that these days are not ordinary days in our lives. They are the celebration of the central events of our eternal salvation. The secular world, trapped in endless restlessness because its heart is not resting in God for whom we were made, just moves on.
Really, though, with the stores having Christmas stuff available just after Halloween, or even before, you’d have to live under a very heavy rock for Christmas to be able to sneak up on you. There will be plenty in the secular world – Christmas music, parties, gifts to buy. None of it is bad in and of itself. We just need to be careful not to be distracted from living the season of Advent for what it is.
Perhaps this Advent we can take a look at how we prepare for the daily things in life so that we live them out on purpose, and we live them for the purpose of serving God. If we don’t do some kind of preparation, we open ourselves to the possibility of just drifting along and/or being knocked in every direction like a pinball. How do we prepare ourselves for the day ahead of us?
Do we wake up promptly for our duties of the day? I can’t recommend the heroic minute enough. Do we pray in the morning and offer our day to God? Some people may do their daily prayer in the morning. For me, it’s the only time possible. Others may make a morning offering and save their main time with God for later.
There are a lot of moments while getting ready in the morning that you can stop to say a quick prayer. Take a look at Fr. Thomas Dailey’s excellent book Live Today Well for suggestions. This book has a lot of good rules to use for keeping the presence of God all day.
A particular area to look at is how we prepare ourselves for Sunday Mass. Is it the center of our Sunday, or is it just one more event on our agenda? Sunday Mass is the most important thing we do all week and needs to be treated that way. Do we pray about what we are to participate in? Do we make an effort to dress properly for it and arrive promptly (really, a few minutes early)? Do we keep reverential silence in the church before Mass starts? It is hard to keep little ones quiet, but I am really referring to not having unnecessary conversations in the church so that people can pray.
What are we doing in the morning before we head to Mass? God commanded a Sabbath rest on Sunday. We need not pray the whole time before or even a large part of it as we need to have breakfast, get dressed, and get to the church. Sometimes the kids don’t cooperate with keeping an atmosphere of preparation for Mass (or even getting there when we’d like). However, if we are conducting our usual business first and then rushing off to Mass, almost as though it’s an afterthought, something is really wrong. Also, what are we doing with the rest of Sunday? Remember the Sabbath rest, and beware of activities that interfere with the nature of Sunday. There are some things you may have to do because they are unavoidable or even because you enjoy them, and some jobs are essential (or people have no choice). However, there are a number of other things that can be avoided with, yes, you guessed it, appropriate preparation for Sunday.
All of this preparation can serve as a reminder to us that this life is a preparation for eternity. How we live now determines how we will be forever. It will determine whether we spend eternity forever in the presence of God in Heaven or separated from him in Hell. Even if we are saved, we won’t be all equal. Read Matthew 5:19 to hear what Jesus said about some being great and others least in the Kingdom. The sanctifying grace in our souls can be lost, but it can also be increased, making us able to experience more of the beatific vision. We need to strive to be as holy as we can be.
I’m writing this here in the Second Week of Advent. The reading from this past Sunday was about St. John the Baptist. He tells us to prepare the way of the Lord in a very certain way – by repenting of our sins. On Monday, the Gospel was about the man whose friends came through the roof of a house to bring him to Jesus, and the first thing that Jesus did, before healing him physically, was to forgive his sins. On Tuesday, he Gospel reading was about how there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 who have no need of repentance. Jesus said he did not want anyone to be lost. On Wednesday, Jesus told us to come to him and rest because his home is easy and his burden light.
In a world where many seem to think that the whole Gospel can be summed up by being completely nonjudgmental, talking about sin isn’t fashionable. However, sin is a real obstacle to being close to God. When we sin, we go against our very purpose in life and offend the one who is holding us in existence. It is a really heavy burden to carry. The good news is that God really wants to forgive our sins, not because they are no big deal. They are a huge deal. God wants to forgive because his love is great. I want to suggest that this Advent, in order to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, we need to go to Confession!
So you say … “I’ve done something that I could never tell to the priest.” Well, remember that the priest is there to represent Jesus and to forgive you in his name. Jesus already knows your sin. The priest is there to help bring to you the love and mercy of God in a tangible way. What seems like a big embarrassment to you is probably something he has dealt with many times, and he will be grateful for your courage in acknowledging what you have done so that he can bring you God’s mercy. Having to acknowledge the sin you committed can help you to see what love and mercy God is showing you and to love him in return.
So you say … “I keep confessing the same sins over and over again.” If that’s the case, then please don’t be discouraged. Would you rather be committing new and different sins all the time? Often times we do have things we struggle with for a long time and need to keep trying. Keep fighting the good fight. If you fail, hurry back to God and try again. The Sacrament will give you the grace to carry on the struggle, but do struggle against your sins. Never accept your sins as things that are just a part of you. Resolve to never commit them again, and if you do, know that God is full of mercy and compassion.
So you say … “I would only be confessing out of fear of Hell.” It turns out that if your motivation for being sorry for sin is fear of Hell, that is sufficient to receive forgiveness through the Sacrament. It’s actually called imperfect contrition or attrition. You can think of it as a good starting point, but of course, you want to grow into being sorry out of love for God. It may be that knowing that God loves you and has forgiven you is what will help you learn to truly detest having offended a good and loving God.
So you say … “I am not sorry for my sins.” Well, you may have me there, but first let me be sure. Being sorry for sin is first and foremost an act of the will. You choose to repent. This means that you can choose to be sorry for your sins even if you don’t feel the sorrow. Maybe your sorrow is weak, but it is there. The grace of God is at work, and so is his forgiveness. Just meditate on how much he loved and forgave you, and it can help bring you to a deeper sorrow.
However, if you are really not sorry for a mortal sin, then don’t go to Confession. The absolution won’t work, and you will commit a sacrilege. This has the effect of making you a worse sinner than you were before you entered the Confessional. However, let me remind you that only God can bring you true happiness in this life and the next. You may think you are enjoying the pleasure of your sin, but in fact it is placing a major obstacle between you and the source of your ultimate happiness and fulfillment. This obstacle, if not removed, will separate you from him for all eternity. Why remain there a moment longer? Be sorry for your sin, and turn back to God. Prepare the way for him to be in your heart.