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Listing December - 2013
Thought for Today returns as normal on Monday Jan 13th 2014
'When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart and it is very easy to miss it.' ~Boris Pasternak

Christmas can best be described as a great moment. It stirs something special within all of us. Families have various traditions on Christmas Eve each one cherished and enjoyed. They are faithfully kept each year and collectively they make Christmas special. Today Christmas Eve many people will be on the road early to be home for Christmas. We celebrate the birth of Jesus each Christmas and everything evolves around this. It is indeed a great moment but its greatness can easily be missed. Why did God choose to come into this world just like one of us? Why did God choose a simple stable on the outskirts of a busy town? Why was it done quietly and without fuss? Nothing has changed for Christmas 2013. God still comes into our lives quietly and without fuss. We could so easily miss it. What a pity if we were to let such a great moment slip us by.
'Home is the nicest word there is.' ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

During the past few days we have all seen in the news and in the papers photos and clips of Christmas homecomings. Families wait at the airport arrivals hall waiting for their loved one to walk through the arrival door. Then there are emotional scenes, lots of hugs and kisses and just sheer delight to be home. There is no place like home at any time of the year and at Christmas home is the place we want to be. For many people home is good and its a place to relax and unwind. But for some families home can also be a sad, stressful and difficult place for lots of different reasons. For some who are homeless there is the ultimate loss of connection and belonging.

Jesus was born in a stable and as his first home it was far from perfect and ideal. But within that stable home he experienced much love from his parents, shepherds and others who may have visited. This Christmas we pray that our home will be a place of welcome, of rest, of peace and a place where we can just be. So often we fall well short. But like so many other homes no one gets it just right. But we certainly do our best to make it happen.
The following reflection is by Triona Doherty

We're almost there! The run-up to Christmas can sometimes feel like exactly that - a run, or even a marathon. No matter how much we try every year to pay attention to Advent and focus on the important things in our Christmas preparation, the last few days can pass in a bit of a blur. We want our Christmas dinner to be just right. We like to put a lot of thought and preparation into our gifts for loved ones. Many of us are on the move over these few days, perhaps visiting friends with cards and gifts and Christmas wishes, or preparing to return home to our families. There are parties, concerts and carol services.

This fourth Sunday of Advent is the perfect time for a time out. Today we find ourselves at the heart of the Christmas story. 'This how Jesus Christ came to be born,' the Gospel tells us. In the midst of the festive frenzy, it can be easy to lose sight of how our Advent preparation is going. Why not take the time for some quiet prayer today? Spend a few moments in silence reflecting on today's readings, get away from it all with a walk in the great outdoors, or take the younger members of the family to your local church to visit the crib. A pre-Christmas break can help focus your heart and mind. Perhaps it is a good time to remember the wise words of Max Ehrmann's Desiderata: 'Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.'
'There is light in the world, and it is us!' ~Eliezer Yudkowsky

Today (Dec 21st) is the winter solstice. Those lucky enough to get inside Newgrange, Co. Meath this morning will see an incredible sight but only if the sun shines at sunrise. It is a world historic site and the passage grave was constructed five thousand years ago. Above the entrance to the passage there is a small opening through which the sun shines at 8.54a.m on Dec 21st. Its rays penetrate some 50 feet into the inner chamber where the ashes of the dead were kept. It is an extraordinary construction that required painstaking and precise work. The people feared the darkest of days and thought the world was going to end. Building Newgrange instilled in them a great sense of hope and a reminder that in the darkest of corners light will always shine.

The same is so true of Christmas. Jesus is born into our world as a wonderful and inspiring light. The invitation is to allow Jesus to be born into those parts of our lives that need him the most. We all have dark corners in our lives. On our own the darkness could overwhelm us. Christmas is a reminder that we can't journey through life on our own. We need support, love, companionship, friendship, light, hope and so much more. That's why we make a special effort to reach out and include everyone at Christmas. The spirit of Christmas is meant to be alive every day of the year, not just on Christmas Day. Newgrange is an awesome spectacle. Christmas is equally an awesome event. We thank God for coming into our world to shatter all forms of darkness. We invite God's light to touch every aspect of our lives this Christmas.
'Believing in God makes you strong emotionally. It is the backbone of my life. You can take anything. Sometimes if you are feeling low, God gives you the ability to pull yourself together and get on with it.' ~Susan Boyle.

There is no underestimating the success of Susan Boyle. Her albums have sold millions and her voice just simply stands out as brilliant. She has recently spoken about having Asperger's but says it does not define her. She says "It's a condition I have to live with and work through but I feel more relaxed about myself. People will have a greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do."

Her faith means a lot to her and gives her courage and strength to face the challenges of life. She has a special connection with Bernadette of Lourdes, whom our Lady appeared to. Bernadette was always the underdog, the person who got laughed at because people didn't believe her. Susan Boyle experienced the same through much of her life but now she has proved everyone wrong. Her voice is her way of talking. It is her language and allows her to connect with so many through it. Despite having lots of money due to her success, she says that the main riches in her life are her family and also her faith which she describes as the backbone of her life.
I believe this Christmas.... ~Author Unknown

I believe that Christmas is more than just a time for parties and decorations; it is a time for remembering Christ and the difference his birth has made in our world and in our lives.

I believe there are gifts more important than the ones under the Christmas tree, the things we teach our children, the way we share ourselves with friends, and the industry with which we set about reshaping the world in our time.

I believe that the finest carols are often sung by the poorest voices; from hearts made warm by the wonder of the season.

I believe in the angel's message that we should not be afraid - that the Child of Bethlehem is able to overcome all anxieties and insecurities.

I believe in prayer and quietness as also a way of celebrating Christmas. This means that if I wait in silence I will experience the presence of the one born in the manger, for he lives today as surely as he lived then.

I believe in going away from Christmas as the wise men went: "another way." I want to be different when these days are past - more centered, more thoughtful and more caring. And I believe God will help me. Amen.
'Advent's intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.' ~former Pope Benedict

Our happiest memories of Christmas will often take us right back to our childhood. These happy memories are deeply ingrained in our memories and will never be erased. It might be the excitement of writing a letter to Santa, the excitement of finding out what Santa brought, visiting the crib in our local church, friends and relations calling over Christmas and beautiful food that simply tasted wonderful. These happy memories are sacred and precious. Most important they open doors of hope and remind us that there are some things in life that are still precious and special.

There is no perfect Christmas and all we can do with Christmas of 2013 is to do our best with it and we hope and pray that it will go well. Special and happy memories from a Christmas in the past can and are still made today. Some memories made this Christmas can often be unexpected and come unannounced. We welcome them in whatever way they come. I hope and pray that your Christmas this year will include some of these hope filled memories.
'Everyone wants to be happy and many are, thank God. It has been said that happiness is an inside job. Positively this means that our happiness comes from ourselves. We make ourselves happy or unhappy.' ~ Bill Cosgrove

This week marks the third week on our journey through Advent. On the Advent wreath a pink candle is lit to mark joys and blessings in our lives. Last Sunday was called 'Joyful Sunday' with the emphasis on an invitation to put the spotlight on our good news. This does not mean that we are part of some 'isolated happy club' or that we are insulated from the knocks of life. But it does recognise that happiness comes from within. It recognises that having lots of things does not guarantee happiness. It recognises that rushing through life without a definite sense of purpose eats up our energy. It recognises that there is no perfect Christmas but that somehow a baby born in a stable is our reason why, our key to happiness and our reason to keep going. What joy or blessing in your life can you celebrate this Christmas?
Another angle on Christmas...

In his book 'Christmas Spoken Here', John Killinger describes how one day he was staring through the window of a beautiful little Christmas shop. It was packed with Christmas items. There were elves, a colourful Santa, sleighs, reindeers, bells, trees and music boxes. There were candles, electric lights, angels, wise men, drummer boys, stars, snowmen and so much more. The little shop was bursting with Christmas. It was infectious. Down in the corner of the front door, where no one could miss it, was the neatest touch of all. It was a small sign that said: "Christmas Spoken Here". In the final run in to Christmas it could be easy to loose sight of what it's all about. But whenever we speak the language of "Christmas Spoken Here" we are in touch with the heart of it all. It is the language of love, a language that speaks about God who became a little child, born into our world, born into our darkness, our fears, our heartaches. Because of this child, we have a sense of purpose, hope, direction and meaning to all of life's complexities. May the language of "Christmas Spoken Here" be yours too in the coming days.
'The following reflection is by Triona Doherty

Las Posadas, from the Spanish word meaning 'shelter'or 'lodging', is an Advent tradition in parts of Central America. It starts tomorrow, December 16, and takes place over nine days until Christmas Eve. During the days, which symbolise the nine months of Mary's pregnancy, Mary and Joseph's search for a place to stay in Bethlehem is re-enacted. Participants process from house to house, being turned away by 'innkeeper' - before finally being welcomed in for a celebration and feast.

A special song is sung outside each house, the final verse of which includes the (translated) lyrics:
'Enter holy pilgrims' Tonight is for joy, for pleasure and rejoicing for tonight we will give lodging to the Mother of God the Son.' The custom really captures the drama and the joy of the Christmas story.

Today is known as Gaudete Sunday or 'Rejoice Sunday'. In our churches, the rose coloured candle is lit on the Advent wreath to symbolise joy. Today's readings bring out this sense of joyful anticipation of the Lord's coming. The people of Jesus' time would have been familiar with Isaiah 's talk of 'everlasting joy'. And Jesus tells us: 'Happy is the one who does not lose faith in me'. We have reason to be happy. Let us make this Gaudete Sunday a real celebration.
'I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess.' ~Pope Francis

Time Magazine has selected Pope Francis as its Person of the Year for 2013. They have said he has put a huge focus on compassion and also his role as a new voice of conscience has made him stand out. The managing editor of Time Magazine, Nancy Gibbs said: "What makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all. In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very centre of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalisation, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power. The world is getting smaller; individual voices are getting louder; technology is turning virtue viral, so his pulpit is visible to the ends of the earth. When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church. And yet in less than a year, he has done something remarkable: he has not changed the words, but he's changed the music."

It is clear that Pope Francis certainly is one of the good news stories of 2013. He has reenergised a static, tired and stale church. It is astounding the difference a good leader can make. We will soon be beginning a new year and I have no doubt that new shoots will continue to appear thanks to his influence. So we pray for Pope Francis this Christmas and we ask the Holy Spirit to continue to inspire, encourage and direct him as leader of our Church.
'Anyone can hide. Facing up to things and working through them, that's what makes you strong.' ~Sarah Dessen

Every person is a complex mixture of strengths and weaknesses, toughness and gentleness, many good points and some not so good. We are delicate and fragile. Yet we are also capable of showing remarkable resilience. Everyone's personal story, beliefs and viewpoints are so varied and different. As life is complex so are we. At the heart of the message of Christmas, God is present in the middle of all our complexities. Some think that God is the cause of these complexities but not so. God isn't present on the outskirts but right in the middle of whatever is going on for us. It may not be pretty, it may not be exciting, it may even be a huge struggle but that's where God wants to be. God isn't the cause of complexities but is most definitely the cause of a sense of purpose, hope, and a guiding force through these complexities. No wonder the Christmas story touches so many.
The following reflection was read during the 1st year Christmas Carol Service at Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig yesterday

'Jesus Is'

This Christmas Jesus is in every face, he is in every laugh, he is in every tear. Jesus is in every heart, he is at every Mass, he is present for every celebration.

Jesus is in every person, he is in the eyes of every young child, he is in he hurt and those who are lonely. Jesus is in every mind, he is in a new born baby and also with those who are dying.

This Christmas Jesus is in every smile, in every squeal of joy. He is in the beauty of nature and is present where ever we are. This Christmas Jesus is the reason why. Jesus is my friend, Jesus is our friend.
'By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The skies seem to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.' ~Thomas Merton

The scripture readings that have been selected during Advent and Christmas are full of meaning and symbolism. While they were written many years ago they still bring with them a meaning and relevance to the complex world we live in. One of the lines from Psalm 88 used during Advent is "I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord; through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth. Of this I am sure, that your love lasts for ever". The writer doesn't have all the answers but is at least certain that God is love and making a real and lasting difference. Other scripture readings talk about darkness, turmoil, confusion, despair, fear, depression, loneliness, pain, abandonment and uncertainty. But from all of this emerges light, hope, peace, certainty, healing, comfort, energy, new beginnings, relevance and meaning. These scripture readings are not fairytales or make believe stories. They are real and relevant. They also remind us just how important Christmas is on our own spiritual journey.
'I'm bored' is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you've seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly. The fact that you're alive is amazing, so you don't get to say 'I'm bored.' ~Louis C.K

Why are so many people seemingly bored these days? Technology has created endless possibilities. You can store thousands of songs into a tiny ipod. Mobile phones are internet linked with access to any information we want. Yet it seems we are bored. The underlying cause must be deeper. There seems to be little or no connection today with anything spiritual in our lives. Spirituality connects us with something deeper and lasting. But sadly it would seem we are losing that connection. We don't know how to feed our minds and hearts with something substantial. But it's not too late to find ways and means that will bring our lives some meaning and fulfilment. Am I bored with life? Am I looking for something deeper? What could work for me in finding it? Can I make a little room for God during these weeks of Advent?
In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judea and this was his message: 'Repent for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.' ~Matthew 3:1

John the Baptist has been described as a prophetic figure. Prophetic is a big word that we don't use much but it means someone special, someone who stands out, someone who doesn't go with the flow and someone willing to stand up for others. John the Baptist ticked all those boxes. We are told that people flocked towards him. His life and lifestyle spoke more powerfully than any words. Nelson Mandela whose life has touched so many was also a modern prophetic figure. He too spoke more powerfully than any words. He lived and embraced gospel values especially peace, healing, courage, light and hope. He was the difference for so many people and in that sense he was a modern prophetic figure. As we journey through Advent and towards Christmas we are encouraged to also be the difference, to do it in small little ways, to be willing to hold a light for someone and to stand up for what we really believe in.
Our reflection today is by Triona Doherty called 'The Simple Life.'

John the Baptist certainly grabs our attention, appearing in the desert in his garment of camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey. His language can be cryptic - he addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees as 'Brood of vipers', and speaks of trees and axes, winnowing fans and wheat. He is a peculiar mixture of signs and messages, even to the people of the time who were on the lookout for prophetic figures. Nowadays, John would cut an even more eccentric figure.

Sometimes a person's lifestyle can offer an even more powerful witness than their words. John's basic diet and dress suggest a lifestyle that is at once simple and radical, one which challenged the norms of the day. It all brings to mind another man who caught our attention with his simple lifestyle earlier this year. As soon as Pope Francis was elected, all the talk was of his modest living quarters as Bishop and his preference for public transport. He has made a point to continue this simple lifestyle as Pope. That a senior clergy man should choose to live a simple and ethical life should hardly come as a shock to the world. Yet there was a powerful witness in his actions.

While we might not be called to the desert life, we are challenged to examine our values and our relationship with material things - an apt message as we enter the most materialistic season of the year. John the Baptist's message can be summed up by the first word he speaks: repent. The Greek word for 'repentance' is metanoia, literally a change of heart.
There has been much said and written about Nelson Mandela since yesterday. His life has been an incredible influence on so many. He embodied the power of the human spirit and was living proof that the world can be transformed. He lived and embraced so many Gospel values like peace, love, courage, healing, determination, light, hope, endurance and much more. Rather than repeating much of what has been said about his life I am including some of his quotations that leave plenty food for thought:

"What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead." "I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."

"Religion is one of the most important forces in the world. Whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew, or a Hindu, religion is a great force, and it can help one have command of one's own morality, one's own behaviour, and one's own attitude."

"Our goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished"

"No one is born hating another person because of the colour of their skin, or their background, or their religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

"I am the captain of my soul."
'Believe in love. Believe in magic. Believe in Santa. Believe in others. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams. If you don't, who will?' ~Jon Bon Jovi

I was driving near the Jack Lynch tunnel earlier in the week and there was a huge advertising display board with a picture of a big smiling Santa. Next to Santa were the words "I believe in sharing". Today (Dec 6th ) is the feast of St Nicholas. He came from a wealthy family and decided to share all his money with the poor. He always did so quietly and without fuss. He would drop some gold coins down the chimney of those who were really poor. People wondered who the generous donor was. One day someone found out it was Nicholas. His name and fame began to spread to many countries and so Santa Claus as we know him today came into being. We give gifts at Christmas because we know deep within that it's good to express our love for those who are special and important to us. Thanks to Nicholas, Santa is alive and well. Our world would be such a darker place without his inspiring presence.
'We will spend most of eternity thanking God for those prayers of ours that God didn't answer!' ~C.S Lewis

It seems that many of our prayers are never answered. We have asked for genuine requests and much of them have been heartfelt. But on many occasions we find that the door is seemingly closed. We are encouraged by the words of Jesus, "Ask and you shall receive". But there are times when all our requests have been ignored and we do at times feel let down, hurt and even abandoned. Spiritual writers will answer by saying our prayers aren't answered because we asked for the wrong thing. They will also say that our prayer was answered but at a deeper level and only with time will be begin to understand that it was answered. But every prayer is a genuine attempt in making a connection with our loving God. Every time we pray we receive God's blessings. Even when our prayer seems shallow or desperate God extends a multitude of blessings. So in that sense prayer is not wasted, pointless or a meaningless exercise. As we journey towards Christmas our prayers are important and significant
'Never deprive someone of hope, it might be all they have.' H. Jackson Brown

The core values of Christianity are faith, hope and love. All else evolves from these three together and either of them can't work on their own. In working with young people about their faith and what it means to them, hope is a word that they often use. It is something they know is at the heart of everything they do or hope to do. We all know what hope is but where does it come from and how does it apply to our lives? The source of our hope is in God who simply loves us and who can do nothing else. It's about a God who never stops seeking us and who never gives up on us. St.Paul wrote a lot about this and described it in a lovely way by saying: "Hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been poured into our hearts." In a world that is often dominated by negative news and where good news is often squeezed out, we need to be people of hope. To be a person of hope requires great determination, courage, conviction and inner belief. It is a lifelong task beginning today as best we can.
'Our spiritual life does not set us apart as special. We take each day as it comes. Our spiritual journey rarely has landmark events or ground-breaking experiences. The insights we receive seem rather mundane, simple and commonsense.' ~Carolyn Humphreys

These coming weeks leading up to Christmas can be active and busy. There are lots of events and activities taking place. Some are energy sapping while others are completely energising. Advent focuses on what gives us energy and what helps us put the real focus on what Christmas is all about. What gives us energy these weeks will often seem mundane, simple, down to earth and certainly will not make headline news. And that's ok.

If we have high expectations and hoping for a perfect Christmas, then we are in for a big disappointment. It rarely happens. But if we can take each day as it comes. If we can embrace the ups and downs of each day, embrace its challenges and setbacks, embrace its energising moments and down to earth moments, then we are in a very good place. What are your expectations and hopes for the coming weeks of Advent? Are they unrealistically too high? Or are they at a much more relaxed and sensible level within our reach? Only we can answer that one for ourselves.
There are different versions of this reflection but this one is particularly nice and it is called 'I am Special'

I am special. Nobody has my smile. Nobody has my eyes, my nose, my hands, my voice. I am indeed special. No one can be found who has my handwriting. Nobody anywhere has my taste for food or music or art. No one sees things just as I do. In all my time there has been no one who laughs like me, no one who cries like me, no one who responds to any situation just as I would respond.

I am special. I am the only one in all of creation who has my set of abilities. Through all eternity no one will ever look, talk, walk or think like me. I am special and I am rare. In all rarity, I am of great rare value. Because of my great rare value, I need not attempt to imitate others. I will accept and yes even celebrate my differences. I am beginning to see that God made me special, for a very special purpose. God must have a job for me, that no one else can do it as I do. Out of all the billions of applicants, only one is qualified. Only one has the right combination of what it takes. That one is me. Why? Because I am special.
The following reflection is by Triona Doherty

'To you, my God, I lift my soul' - these are the very first words we hear this Advent, in the Entrance Antiphon of today's Mass.

The word Advent comes from the Latin 'adventus', meaning 'coming'. There is a sense of movement and anticipation. The tradition of the Advent calendar is one way to bring this movement to life. The Lord is coming. We are moving towards Christmas. We are lifting our souls towards God. And we are moving always towards the end times and the second coming, as Jesus himself reminds us in today's Gospel.
A couple of questions we could reflect on today: Why do we need this 'lead-in' time to Christmas? What are my hopes and goals for Advent? Where do I want to be in my faith journey, come Christmas day? American baseball legend Yogi Berra once said: 'If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.' If we decide we want to get somewhere, we have to take steps to get there - for example, when we decide on a particular career path we have to undertake the right training and experience. Perhaps this Advent we would like to spend more time in prayer, to be more patient, or to get involved in our local community. What is the point of Advent, if we don't end up somewhere different from where we started? There is a sense of anticipation in today's readings. Saint Paul tells us 'the night is almost over, it will be daylight soon.' We need to get moving.


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