What a beautiful, 'hour and moment' of Christmas Eve Mass last night was!
And we at least get 8 more nights of potent moments as part of the Christmas octave, and 12 if you're going by Christmastide! ;-)
That 'hour and moment' is too much to take in, all in one night, for us mere mortals. I'm so very grateful for octaves, tides, and seasons in our liturgical year to give us time to unpack, diver deeper, and savor the mysteries of our beautiful redemption!
We relive that 'hour and moment' in every Mass! (You can literally think, 'Merry Christmas' every Mass!)
It also beautifully ties in with the image of placing tender new shoots of Christmas Wheat near Jesus in our manger scenes. It's that poignant and sober reminder that our redemption was bought at a price, reflecting the length of Love's desire at hold nothing back, even being willing to be ground like wheat for us.
So, for those of us who have a hard time letting go of praying this beautiful Novena prayer, you don't have to! I usually taper down with at least one a day during Christmastide, and think of it often at Mass or during Adoration, or when I'm outside late at night and admiring the beauty of a dark starry sky. All those moments are linked for me to the mystery of the Incarnation and are great occasions to recite this prayer. (I recently heard it was a favorite of Blessed Solanus Casey's too, and that he said it daily!)
May we never tire of the wonderment and awe of that 'hour and moment'. May we even return there often in our prayer giving thanks to God our Father for His wondrous gift of Love in Jesus, through Mary.
While my Christmas Novena site starts winding down for the season until next Advent, to follow more of my work throughout the year on art and prayer, visit my new site FortheLoveofBeauty.com.
One thing that always struck me as odd though was seeing a patch of grass in a Croatian nativity scene.
I never saw that in the regular 'American' churches. After seeing it appear each year in our local Croatian church and realizing it wasn't an accident, but rather something intentional that someone meant to include as part of the crèche scene, and even placed very near the infant Jesus, I finally asked my mother what it was. She said very matter-of-factly "It's Christmas wheat, St. Lucy's Christmas wheat." "But why, it doesn't fit", I thought, having never seen it elsewhere. Again, so matter-of-factly, like it was common knowledge, she said "it symbolizes Jesus, He is the "new wheat".
I think I was breathless. I thought to myself, how can I have gone this long and not have known about that? My brain and heart were exploding. What a beautiful symbol that foreshadows both the Cross, in the crushing of the wheat to make bread, and Eucharistic bread for our spiritual food and His continued presence for us on Earth.
The Cross and Christ's Eucharistic Body, represented in tender, new, spring green, shoots of wheat grass, were so powerful to contemplate next to the infant Jesus as part of the Nativity scene.
A scene that we display habitually each year to remind us of His birth, but perhaps without directly linking the fact He came to save us through dying on the cross, and was crushed, ground like wheat, for our inequities. The juxtaposition of tender, vulnerable baby Jesus, and tender, vulnerable crucified Christ is arresting, but kindly veiled in the form of tender spring wheat. It points us to the direction of Good Friday without directly taking us there just yet.
We can also ponder that the wheat will be made into food for us, as a taste of heaven, through His Body in the Eucharist. It is fitting, as well, to note that Bethlehem, Christ's birthplace, actually means 'house of bread'. The image of wheat is beautifully reinforced in the name of that 'little town'.
So, why Saint Lucy? My mother explained (yes, very plainly), her feast day, Dec. 13th is about the two week mark before Christmas and the seeds are planted then so that the new shoots have enough time to grow to at least a few inches tall. Not sure if there's anything more to it than that.
From then on I was hooked and committed to hunting down winter wheat seeds each year and growing them myself and placing them at every image of Jesus in my house. I also loved finding new people to introduce to this super sweet, but rich in meaning, Croatian cultural tradition.
But it got better.
I was gut struck by the poverty of my humble gift, merely wheat. It would never be anything more than wheat -from my hands. Yet, he as a priest can take that wheat, and through the sacred words of Consecration, transform it into the very Body of Christ, that little baby we venerate in those nativity scenes.
I gave a priest simple wheat, merely the symbol of Jesus and he gives me back the actual Body of Jesus, under the appearance of wheat in the Eucharist.
What an uneven exchange!
If the priest eats my wheat, nothing changes in him, yet the Bread of Life he gives me divinizes me.
Is this not how we need to view the spiritual life and our relationship with Christ?
I, in my own mere mortal self, have nothing, and can be nothing without Him. His very Spirit is keeping me in existence with every breath I take. Without His Life, I have no life.
So, what can I possibly give Jesus as a gift?
Just myself, as I am.
I have no merit, really, that was not somehow His to begin with. He wants me to see myself as simple, limited wheat. Limited, which is my actual human nature, and then hand that limited nature back over to Him, so that he can make me divine. It's a daily miracle that I didn't merit, and yet, He freely gives it.
And even more surprisingly, more divine grace is given to us the more we see ourselves as merely plain, limited wheat. It's our awareness of our limitation that creates the space for the grace. The greater the awareness, the greater the grace.
As St. Paul says, "I boast in my weakness... for when I am weak, I am strong". [2 Cor 12:10]
My takeaway from that Christmas day was: come as you are and be eager to surrender the poverty within you.
There is no shame or weakness in acknowledging the poverty within me, it's actually what He wants from me.
It is precisely why He came. He wants to take and transform our poverty. It's the very reason why we celebrate the nativity of Jesus.
I don't need to prove myself worthy before I let myself come to Him, whether to the stable or to the Cross. I can never 'make myself' worthy. That's what He does.
He came in that blessed 'hour and moment' so that He can take us one day into His very flesh, nice and secure, as He returns us to the Father.
That's what I saw in the Christmas wheat.
Like the boy with five loaves and two fish, it's a humbling, uneven exchange.
*I have since learned that other European countries as well have a tradition of planting Christmas wheat with variations of meaning and interesting stories of miraculous events associated with it. If this was part of your Christmas tradition, please do share your stories!
Tips on How to Grow your own Christmas Wheat
2020 St. Nicholas - Our Lady of Guadalupe GIVEAWAY! Win this beautiful Saint Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer Beads Bracelet!
(*UPDATE* We have a WINNER for the Guadalupe inspired beads on Our Lady of Guadalupe!
And a consolation bonus for the non winners. ;-) Just those who entered have been emailed. Check your inbox/spam folder. Winner needs to respond to email within 48 hours to claim prize. (And she has! ) Thank you to those participating in this year's giveaway and for the feedback provided!
Happy feast day and Congratulations to the winner!
Even though St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6th, falls on the 2nd Sunday of Advent this year, and we loose the the feast, we're still having our annual St. Nicholas - Our Lady of Guadalupe GIVEAWAY! It's now a tradition!
These are the beads set that inspired it all! Read more about the meaning of this design!
Here's how to enter!
The Rules for St. Nicholas Day GIVEAWAY are:
**Optional, after entering the Giveaway via the form below, to increase your chances by one additional entry, state your favorite St. Andrew Christmas Novena prayer beads design from our shop in the comments either on this blog post or on the Giveaway post on the Facebook page. The names and emails would need to match the official entry form submission below in order to be counted twice. I would love to hear what your favorite prayer beads design is, especially as I plan to make new ones soon. (Want to know more about the inspiration behind the designs? See my explanations of the symbols I used for these prayer beads.)
Good Luck and Happy St. Nicholas Day! Do share with your friends!
Submissions for 2020 are now closed. Do come back next year!
Subscribe to the newsletter below in the footer to be reminded of next year's GIVEAWAY
and for the start of the 2021 Novena.
By entering, I accept that I will be notified by Christmas Novena/For the Love of Beauty, LLC of my possible win and seasonal Saint Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer related reminders. Your address will NEVER be sold or shared.
New chaplet bead designs have arrived!
Excited to introduce these chaplets, for those who may like the circular-rotating-through-the-beads feel while praying, but do not need to wear them all day like the stretch bracelets.
These chaplet beads are strung on a very sturdy, yet very flexible wire, and can be kept in your pocket. Great for use by men and women. (Make note: these are not bracelets and are not meant to be worn.)
Let's meet them...
The blue beads are made of 10mm Sodalite and have a very substantial weight and feel to them. Each bead is faceted for subtle flickers of light and display a unique blend of sapphire, cobalt, and white tones that suggest a deep swirling midnight sky and royal blue for Our Lady. Imagine holding Mary's hand while you're praying with them. The bright silver colored hematite spacers reflect the brightness of the star that illuminated that holy night sky.
The update new stock of 10mm Bethlehem Olive Wood beads comes personally from my Bethlehem supplier of Olive Wood, so you can be sure your purchase goes to supporting the few remaining struggling Christian families in the Holy Land. Each bead has rich color, and is hand sealed in olive oil to bring out the varying grain patterns that beautifully reflect the aged olive wood. These beads were designed to evoke the humble strength of St. Joseph the carpenter, caring for Our Lady as they journey towards Bethlehem illuminated by the star, as well as a foreshadowing of the cross of Christ.
The updated 8mm Amethyst beads have new spacer beads this year: silver colored faceted Preciosa Czech crystal that evoke a sparkly starry night sky against a deep purple semi-precious gemstone that matches the violet color of the liturgical season and the priests vestments at Mass. This is the smallest of the chaplets if you're needing something easy to carry.
Each chaplet features a very solid sterling silver medal (with a nice weight to it) of the Holy Family beneath the Star of Bethlehem that is reached at the end of the 15 prayers of the novena. The medal also nicely matches the companion prayer card.
Do you have a favorite?
Hello Christmas Novena family!!
Seasonal sales of the St. Andrew Christmas Novena prayer beads have begun early and I am already busy restocking, with some new items being added soon!
Be sure to subscribe to the newsletter below and follow our Facebook page for announcements of new arrivals and seasonal updates, along with our St. Nicholas Giveaway information!
What a year we've had, and it's not over!
All the more reason to do whatever we can to stay in the calm presence of Our Lord through intentional prayer and frequent use of sacramentals, that help us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus!
The St. Andrew Christmas Novena prayer, that starts November 30th and lasts all Advent long, is a beautiful means to do that!
Let us never forget that Our Lord and Our Lady are always close and ready to supply us with whatever grace we need for every trial, no matter how big or even how small.
We just have to ask for their help.
Jesus, I trust in you!
It's always a good idea to 'get ready for Advent' (and not just Christmas) by planning now for some intentional ways to clear the deck for some extra silence and prayer time in December.
What are some things you can do, or habits you can pick up, to carve out some quiet time this Advent?
The Rules for St. Nicholas Day GIVEAWAY are:
Enter your first and last name and valid email in the form below. This is necessary in order to contact the winner and coordinate shipping.
Giveaway, in honor of St. Nicholas, will be open for entries from Dec 6 through to Dec 12, the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, at midnight HST.
**Optional, after entering the Giveaway via the form below, to increase your chances by one additional entry, state your favorite St. Andrew Christmas Novena prayer beads design from our shop in the comments either on this blog post or on the Giveaway post on the Facebook page. The names and/or emails would need to match the official entry form submission in order to be counted twice. I would love to hear what your favorite prayer beads design is, especially as I plan to make new ones soon. Want to know more about the inspiration behind the designs? See my explanations of the symbols I used for these prayer beads.
Giveaway open only for entrants with valid USA mailing addresses for shipping purposes.
The winner of the bracelet, that honors Our Lady of Guadalupe's sign of roses, will be announced on Dec 13, St Lucy's day. The winner will receive an email informing them of their win and must respond via email within 48 hours to claim their prize. Be sure to check your spam folder for email from Christmas Novena!
Shipping will be within 1-2 days of hearing from the winner and will be shipped for free via USPS Priority Mail.
Good Luck and Happy St. Nicholas Day! Do share with your friends!
UPDATE: We have a winner! Congrats to Cindy!
***Bonus $7 SAVINGS open to all within USA: Use COUPON code: HILLTOP while supplies last. However, NO purchase is necessary to enter giveaway. This is just an extra offer in case you didn't win, but would still like to get in on a deal for yourself, or gift prayer beads to a loved one for Christmas. Browse prayer beads here. So that you can be St Nicholas for someone else, your $7 savings will be matched and donated to Hilltop Children's House, that provides beautiful Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and Montessori programs for the very diverse and often distressed neighborhoods of Steubenville, Ohio.
Yes, enter me for a chance to win a
Saint Andrew Christmas Novena
Giveaway is now closed for 2019
See you next year!
By entering, I accept that I will be notified by Christmas Novena/For the Love of Beauty, LLC of my possible win and annual Saint Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer related reminders. Your address will NEVER be sold or shared.
I have often been intrigued by different representations of the nativity star, particularly between the European nativity scene (often called the presepe or presepio by the Italians) and depictions more commonly found in the United States.
In Europe today, the version of the star of Bethlehem most often appears a comet streaking across the sky. (This is most likely due to paintings of the nativity by the Italian artist Giotto where he likely was painting Halley's Comet that had recently appeared in the sky in the 1300's.* It would have been very striking and still fresh in their minds, and so a logical visual to meditate on linking their seeking hearts and minds with that of the Magi.) In America, the nativity star most often appears as stationary star or north star with it's tail pointing straight down.
With a fondness for the 'star in motion' version, I chose the European version of the star for the majority of my prayer beads, perhaps subconsciously. Later, a dear friend (named Maria, providentially, and runs an amazing Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program!) explained to me as she teaches her students that the comet star, which is in motion, is the Advent star precisely because it is moving and leading us towards Bethlehem, so it is a fitting visual while praying this novena. The stationary star means it's already Christmas.
What a great way to enter deeper into the symbolism of both the star in motion and the star that 'stopped and stayed'. "After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was." [Mt 2:9 NAB]
So, while we are in Advent and praying the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena, let us focus on the 'star' that is guiding us to Bethlehem. Let's be intentional about what and who are our 'stars' or lights that guide us are, and not be fooled by all things that are shinny and distracting us from staying on the most direct route to Bethlehem.
Let us practice periods of silence to attune our ears to listen for the angels singing 'Glory to God in the Highest'.
Today, we providentially have the Feast of St. Andrew that kicks off this beautiful season prayer. In today's gospel, after we hear the invitational words of Jesus to follow Him, Andrew left his fisherman's nets and followed. Let St. Andrew also be another light and an example this Advent of how to 'drop our nets' to follow Christ and even invite others along on this journey of seeking out the Christ Child.
As always though, the brightest light that leads us to Christ is the queen of all the saints, Mary, our mother, who is often referred to as a star (as in the Stella Maris). We have no surer guide than that of whom the Christ Child was born.
We providentially have two feast days of Mary during Advent to help us be reminded of her role in salvation history: the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, and Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec 12. These feasts remind us that she was both chosen to be the Mother of God and our mother.
Let us take her hand on this journey to Bethlehem, that she knows so well, where we are sure to meet Jesus face to face, first as a small defenseless child in the manger, and then as He comes to us each day in the Eucharist as a defenseless piece of humble bread, so that we may be forever united to Him.
Join me in praying this special novena (traditionally prayed 15 times a day, but not necessarily all at once) all Advent long.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel!
For daily reminders of this prayer on Facebook, like and follow the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena and Prayer Beads page.
Have a Blessed Advent!
*A very interesting read on how Western artists were likely influenced by the appearance of Halley's Comet in 1301.
First Sunday of Advent tip - if you have a wreath or circular display of candles, light the purple candle 'opposite' the pink one, in order for the progression of time to look accurate!
It takes almost a Herculean commitment to really enter into the season of Advent well, and so it seems there needs to be a time of preparation for the 'season of preparation'.
November would be a good time to prepare for the season of Advent. Not just looking for the Advent wreath or Jesse Tree ornaments (as I remind myself now to go look for them!) or do a deep clean of the house and rid it of clutter, (yes, I really need to do that too!) but to spiritually prepare for the battle for the senses that will come bombarding in once the turkey leftovers are put away.
Amidst the worldly noise and distractions, there are even, at times, well intentioned religious themed events, like Christmas caroling and parties during Advent, that only add to the busyness of a season that would better be focused on fostering stillness and prayer.
Advent well spent would be an intentional time of quiet preparation with focused joyful anticipation for the most incredible moment in human history, when God becomes man, born of a woman, in the dead quiet of a piecing cold night.
Be distracted or exhausted with too many events and we miss how quietly and humbly Christ slips into time so He can dwell, unassumingly, on our side of the veil.
"Be still and know that I am God" [Ps 46:11 NAB] would be a great verse to mediate on daily or use as an examination of conscience.
If we have a hard time being still and quiet, what is it that robs us of our stillness, our inner peace? What do the intrusive thoughts that repeatedly barge in tell us about what preoccupies us? What is our interior clutter that we should get rid of? Often little addictions can run wild while seemingly undetected and may need to be confessed or dealt with in other deliberate ways.
The seemingly harmless preoccupations or addictions we let ourselves fall into, whether it's a compulsion to check smart phones, reaching for comfort foods or drink, addictive thinking or behaviors, constant activity... pick your poison of distraction, we all pretty much do all of these to varying degrees.
They only ultimately serve to distract us from some pain or void that we resist acknowledging and bringing to the light, so that we can let God heal and fill us with Himself. We often hear that God alone can truly satisfy us, yet why are we still so willing to be distracted?
It may be a lack of will to really dig deep and rid ourselves of the spiritual clutter. But in a way, we could also be unknowingly intoxicated on these cheap poisons, so much so that we don't even realize there is something better that will truly satisfy us and consequently don't give God the room to do His work.
Which is why I love Advent and the St. Andrew Christmas Novena so much!
Advent is a time set aside specifically to spiritually declutter and prepare to receive the Christ Child, and the poetic repetition of the Advent-long Christmas novena prayer drills that 'hour and moment' of His coming into the forefront of my mind. There's no guessing what I'm clearing the cobwebs out for.
Intentionally creating this focus and stillness in my daily life allows for more interior space for Christ to pierce through that veil, 'at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold' and enter more deeply into my life.
When I give Him more space in my interior life, He crowds out the need for those distracting poisons. I give Christ permission to reign when I give Him the space to do so.
Which is why it is so fitting that the last Sunday before Advent is the feast of Christ the King, a great preview and goal for Who to focus on during Advent.
We can also take as role models those who witnessed Christ's coming in person. The simple life of the poor shepherds sleeping in the field and keeping watch by night could see and hear uninhibited the angels message of the Savior's birth. Those who had extraordinary means, the Magi, traveled great distances to seek out the birth of a great King who was foretold by following the star. The key to finding the Christ Child is in the disposition of the heart as being free from clutter and oriented towards God, regardless of external means, as we see in both the shepherds and Wisemen.
Another reason why I love Advent so much is that it's essentially a mini retreat for refocusing on what our actual daily life is about, a joyful anticipation and preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. Advent is in a way our everyday season of life. We just set aside a specific time of year to remind ourselves that we need to be ready to receive Christ when he comes again.
Let's be intentional then, and prepare for Advent with a commitment to fostering stillness, prayer, and removing clutter from our souls, so we can better hear the angels announcing the good news, that today for us, in the city of David is born a savior, who is Christ the Lord!
Learn more about the St. Andrew Christmas Novena prayer that is prayed all Advent long and its meaning.
To purchase prayer cards or prayer beads for this novena visit the shop.
I find that there are usually two kinds of people, those who love this unique novena (that it's even their all-time favorite!) and those who have never heard of it. Would love to hear your experience!
Now you can purchase prayer cards separately, as a single card, or in quantities of 50 or 100 for convenient price breaks. (Contact me if your quantity is not available.)
Sharing a prayer card is a perfect way to introduce this novena to friends, prayer groups, or parishes.
Visit the Shop for details.
The Rules for St Nicholas Day GIVEAWAY are:
Enter your name and valid email in the form below. This is necessary in order to contact the winner and coordinate shipping.
Giveaway, in honor of St Nicholas, will be open for entries from Dec 6 through to Dec 12, the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, at midnight HST.
**Optional, after entering the Giveaway via the form below, to increase your chances by one additional entry, state your favorite prayer beads product in the comments either on this blog post or on the Giveaway post on the Facebook page. The names and/or emails would need to match the official entry form submission in order to be counted twice. I would love to hear what your favorite prayer beads design is. Want to know more about the inspiration behind the designs? See my explanations of the symbols I used for these prayer beads.
Giveaway open only for entrants with valid USA mailing addresses for shipping purposes.
***Bonus $7 SAVINGS open to all within USA: Use COUPON code: HILLTOP while supplies last, from Dec 6 through to Dec 13, the Feast of St. Lucy. However, NO purchase is necessary to enter giveaway. This is just an extra offer in case you didn't win, but would still like to get in on a deal for yourself, or gift some prayer beads to a loved one for Christmas. Browse prayer beads here. So that you can be St Nicholas for someone else, your $7 savings will be donated to Hilltop Children's House, that provides beautiful Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and Montessori programs for inner city kids in Ohio.
The winner of the bracelet, that honors Our Lady of Guadalupe's sign of roses, will be announced on Dec 13, St Lucy's day. The winner will receive an email informing them of their win and must respond via email within 48 hours to claim their prize.
Shipping will be within 1-2 days of announcing the winner and will be shipped for free via USPS Priority Mail.
Good Luck and Happy St Nicholas Day! Do share with your friends!
Update Dec 13:
***We have a winner! Check your emails! Name will be announced once the prize has been claimed. Must respond to email within 48 hours of announcement email having been sent.
Entries are now closed for 2018.
Christmas Novena and Advent Updates
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