The Joys of January: Week One
Who says January brings the blues? Through the eyes of Faith, you’ll find as many reasons to feast in January as in December. Like turning out the lights on a glow-in-the-dark object, January has December’s romantic afterglow. The Joys of January are hidden treasures, like Christ’s childhood. Catholicism offers a feast of excuses to celebrate January. St. Agnes parishioners have a bonus: Our patroness’ feast falls on January 21st. Yes, we’ll celebrate after the Noon Mass that day. Come on down. Bring family. Bring friends. Bring neighbors. Here are some tips to keep the Christmas afterglow shining through January’s cold nights:
1. Keep the Christmas tree, wreaths and lights up until the Feast of the Presentation (February 2nd). Even if the tree has to come down because it’s too dry, keep as many tokens of Christmas up as possible. These things remind us that Christ the Light has come into the darkness.
2. Keep the crèche or manger scene up until the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Also, play a Christmas carol each day until February 2nd.
3. Set up Seven Candles on a table in your house, like the lampstands in the Book of Revelation. You can use a menorah or candelabra. Place a picture or statue of Jesus by the Seven Candles. When you set it up, read Chapter One in the Book of Revelation. Starting on Sunday of each week of January, until the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, follow this routine: (1) light a candle each day, so that by Saturday all the candles are lit, (2) listen to or sing a Christmas carol, (3) read the Gospel from that day’s Mass or something about the saint of the day (if there is one), (4) raise a toast, saying, “To our health, and to Paradise at the End of our days.” Here’s one way to do it:*
a. Sundays (Candle 1): O’ Holy Night. Fresh grapefruit with Chambord.
b. Mondays (Candles 1 & 2): O’ Come All Ye Faithful. Dissolve sugar in an ounce of warm water in a cocktail glass (simple syrup). Add 5-6 dashes of Angostura bitters, an ounce of fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, diced cantaloupe, bourbon and ice.
c. Tuesdays (Candles 1-3): Silent Night. Port and candied pecans.
d. Wednesdays (Candles 1-4): What Child Is This. Raspberry tarts, chocolates and Burgundy.
e. Thursdays (Candles 1-5): The Seven Joys of Mary. Blueberry tarts, chocolates and hot saki.
f. Fridays (Candles 1-6): Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Moscato and apple strudel.
g. Saturdays (Candles 1-7): I Saw Three Ships. Fresh pineapple juice and rum with a chocolate éclair.
h. Start all over again on Sunday.
*I just made this up.
To get started, here are some reflections from the feasts of Week One. Read them aloud after you light the candles. When you read, don’t say, “This is above my head” or “I don’t get it.” Don’t go to work on the readings. Let them go to work on you. Just read, make your toast and enjoy. To our health! And to Paradise at the End of our days!
January 1st: Mother of God. A word from St. Bernard (12th century):
You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us. The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life… Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word. Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.
January 2nd: Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen. From Gregory:
Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it. I was not alone at that time in my regard for my friend, the great Basil. I knew his irreproachable conduct, and the maturity and wisdom of his conversation. I sought to persuade others, to whom he was less well known, to have the same regard for him. Many fell immediately under his spell, for they had already heard of him by reputation and hearsay… Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we
shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper... Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong… But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.
January 3rd: The Most Holy Name of Jesus. From St. Paul:
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others (Philippians 2:1-4).
January 4th: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. From one of her letters:
What are our real trials? By what name shall we call them? One cuts herself out a cross of pride; another, one of causeless discontent; another, one of restless impatience or peevish fretfulness. But is the whole any better than children's play if looked at with the common eye of faith? Yet we know certainly that our God calls us to a holy life, that he gives us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty. But we lack courage to keep a continual watch over nature, and therefore, year after year, with our thousand graces, multiplied resolutions, and fair promises, we run around in a circle of misery and imperfections. After a long time in the service of God, we come nearly to the point from whence we set out, and perhaps with even less ardor for penance and mortification than when we began our consecration to him. You are now in your first setout. Be above the vain fears of nature and efforts of your enemy. You are children of eternity. Your immortal crown awaits you, and the best of Fathers waits there to reward your duty and love. You may indeed sow here in tears, but you may be sure there to reap in joy.
January 5th: St. John Neumann (Bishop of Philadelphia, 1852-1860). From his letter to Cardinal Barnabo:
When the care of temporal things weighed upon my mind and it seemed to me that my character was little suited for the very cultured world of Philadelphia, I made known to my fellow bishops during the Baltimore council of 1858 that it seemed opportune to me to request my translation to one or the other see that was to be erected (namely in the City of Pottsville or in Wilmington, North Carolina). But to give up the episcopal career never entered my mind, although I was conscious of my unworthiness and ineptitude… For a long time I have doubted what should be done… Although my [another bishop] has proposed to me that he would take the new see if it is erected, I have thought it much more opportune and I have asked the Fathers that he be appointed to the See of Philadelphia, since he is much more highly endowed with facility and alacrity concerning the administration of temporal things. Indeed, I am much more accustomed to the country, and will be able to care for the people and faithful living in the mountains, in the coal mines and on the farms, since I would be among them… I desire nothing but to fulfill the wish of the Holy Father whatever it may be.
January 6th: St. André Besette. Collect from the Mass of St. Andre:
Let us Pray. Lord our God, friend of the lowly, who gave your servant, Saint André Bessette, a great devotion to Saint Joseph and a special commitment to the poor and afflicted, help us through his intercession to follow his example of prayer and love and so come to share with him in your glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.