Friday, December 16, 2011


The priest at St. Dominic’s observed last night at Mass that Advent is a penitential season.

I knew just what he meant.

I refer to the penance of bearing with my own shortcomings, chief among them trying to be all things to all people and sometimes ending up not being very much to myself or others. In order to be the right kind of martyr (which means “witness”), you have to stop being the wrong kind of martyr. I, for one, constantly have to discern between stretching myself as far as I can go, which I believe we are called to do, and contorting myself, which I don’t think we’re called to do. 

This has everything to do with the suffering of the world at large. Because we are called to love one another as he loved us, and Christ himself was always the right kind of martyr. He frequently told people who wanted to follow him, No, go along back home, you’ll bear more fruit there. He frequently ducked away from the crowds to go to a lonely place to pray.

My spiritual director tells me “You are never the person of last resort.” For us hyper-responsible or at least hyper-guilty types, that's a bitter pill to swallow.  

With all that, I have not, thank the Lord, "overdone" Christmas.

My holiday activities to date have comprised a Messiah sing-along, a tamale-making party, and a play. Other than that, I have steeped myself in Advent liturgy and prayer, trudged in the dark and the cold to Mass, and spent large parts it seems of every night awake on my bed , pondering the birth of Christ.

Wednesday afternoon I’m going to my friend Julia’s for tea and cookies, Christmas day I’m cooking for my friends. Other than that, I intend to spend the Fourth Week of Advent in as much silence and solitude as I can.

The Holy Family was born into darkness and exile and so it remains.

Thank you all for the light you bring to me.


  1. As a hermit I hear you loud and clear. It is true you cannot be all things to all people, but one tries to anyhow because of love. Yes, spend Advent 4 in solitude, it will embrace you with love beyond all understanding.

  2. You are never the person of last resort

    It helps me to read this, Heather. Several years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, I read a newspaper article about people who'd survived leaps from the Golden Gate Bridge - a small, select group.

    I was haunted by what one of them said. He'd walked across town to get to the bridge, and decided he'd cancel his dreadful mission if a single person smiled at him along the way. None did, so when he reached the bridge, he jumped.

    For several weeks after reading the article, I made sure to smile at every person I passed on the street. It was exhausting (I'm not a smiler) and not terribly rewarding, and eventually I stopped. The truth of the matter is that I hadn't been motivated by love, but by anxiety.

    I continue to make an effort to smile at people, but not as obsessively, and not because I fear any of them will kill themselves if I don't.

  3. Society certainly does not encourage a penitential Advent, with all of the merry making prior to Christmas. I think it would be great if we could go back to celebrating from 12/25 to 1/6. I have been thinking of moving in that direction, although I would get some nervous looks from my cookie loving husband if I waited until 12/25 to start baking the goodies! Listen for that small voice as you take your week of solitude.

  4. Not too much solitude, please, Heather. I visit here everyday (almost). You are a window into Beauty and sanity for me. Who else would tell me -- assuming I'd be willing to listen -- about Rosie Lee?
    Blessings ...

  5. How is it you so often write precisely what I am thinking/experiencing? Like this for example,

    "In particular, I refer to the penance of bearing with my own shortcomings, chief among them trying to be all things to all people and sometimes ending up not being very much to myself or others."

    You know where the psalmist (pretty sure it's David) who wrote about how his sin made his bones feel like they were wasting away inside him? Well, whether or not what you describe above is technically sin, and in it you describe my current (all right, for quite some time I've been in this) 'space', sinful or not it's makin' me waste away inside myself.

    Your book and one called A Priest's Life is Not His Own by Fulton Sheen (and no, I'm no priest, not of the dog-collar kind anyway) are heading with me into a silent retreat next week at a monastery in the USA. I'll eat, pray, work some, read some, draw some and shut-up a lot, enough, I hope, that I will hear from the Good God again and land with my feet on the ground such that I can head into the new year with greater clarity and be of greater worth to all, including to me.

  6. I wish I had you around as an every day influence, Heather! You bring what's real back in front of my eyes.
    Much love...

  7. All right, back with the post you inspired, you, you Heather you.

  8. The 17th begins the novena-till-Christmas in the Liturgy of the Hours. I am going to pray a special one this year for two intentions: first in thanksgiving for my life and love of friends and family; second that I might wake up more to what God wants of me. As you say, people-pleasing isn't it. God-pleasing! O, that I might find a loving tune to play for Him. I think of my shortcomings and how my fear that they will show hinders my service to Him and my fellows. Rum pumpum pum. Have a lovely quiet, Heather!

  9. Another reason why you are one of the few bloggers I still read.

  10. Also, folks, I'm gonna house-sit for a friend of mine in Palm Springs from Dec. 28th through Jan. 9th so will get to have a kind of "post-Christmas/reflection on the new year" retreat.

    Thank you all so much for "getting" this...Bill, that anecdote is priceless. The realization that I often say yes not out of generosity or charity but because I'm afraid if I don't say yes I won't be 'nice,' I wont' be kind, I will have forgotten that 'To whom much is given, much is expected,' that I won't be loved, that the other POOR person will be left high and dry...Yesterday I actually said "I'd rather not if you can make other arrangements" when asked if I could go several miles out of my way to pick up another dinner guest--and afterward felt almost sick! So engaging in "new behavior" doesn't always feel comfortable...I have chipped away at this tendency of mine for years and I am always getting fresh chances to chip again...because how can I have real human relationships, interactions, partnerships if they are based on some imaginary (on my part) straight-A report card?...

    Maybe the deeper issue, though, is trying to navigate "Christmas" in a culture that is so increasingly and so utterly devoid of remember that we really are called to be cognizant of and in a sense to bear the suffering of the whole world...and of course we can bear nothing without Christ...

  11. peace and love forever Heather..

  12. I hear you, Heather. A few weeks ago a friend emailed me and said that I don't have to over-extend myself. A situation occurred which if I did what the person wanted, would have cause a trunkload of resentments.

    Tough season for those of us who have lost a lot of family. But, a post from Heather helps.

    To comment further on the next post about Hitchens, he was provactive to be sure, and only God knows if he repented.( In the strictest Catholic sense of repenting.) Catholic-lite doesn't usually work for me; and I am not saint...


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