By Nina Abue
10th and last in series
This ornament, the Clock Shop, bears witness to the fact that each of us is bound by Time. This side of eternity, it is the clock that governs our days. Time, whether measured in days, nights, years, seasons or periods, is a constant in our lives. This is a reminder that, in fact, we only have so much time, and we should make use of it. Scripture tells us that "there is a time for everything," and this is certainly true in Vocations. Before a master clock maker can be a master, he or she must first learn. This is sometimes an issue we have today. We resist learning. We want the information and ability to do whatever it may be, right now. But that, of course, is absurd. A baby can't run before she can sit up. An acorn doesn't fall from the tree until the tree has finished being a sapling. Everything must go through a time of learning, and that learning is formative, if done well. The learner is changed through the process. This is the goal of Education in general - not just to amass general knowledge of "stuff," but to gain the wisdom and insight in how to use it. So not only does this ornament remind us that to live our Vocation, we must be aware that we only have a certain amount of Time to do it in, it also tells us that to live our Vocation well we must be prepared to move through Time in stages, learning and growing as we go.
By Nina Abue
8th in series
The Cinema conveys a very important aspect of the Village, of the community we are trying to create. It refers to the use of our imagination in telling the stories of our time. Every society, since humans began living in community, has used their imagination to tell stories in order to make sense of the world around them. The early mythologies of ancient people attest to this. Every culture, for example, has a Creation story. Many cultures linked their stories with large natural objects, such as giant rocks or waterfalls that were nearby, as a way to place themselves in context with the land.
We are certainly no different today. The popularity of Netflix, for example, easily shows that we are still a people who will listen to stories. And, just like other cultures, the stories we tell reflect how we see our world and ourselves in it. And granted, these stories are generally distressing, revealing a feeling at-large of a world out of control, overrun by zombies, or perpetually on the brink of an apocalypse, and sometimes even a world devoid of meaning and purpose. But I'm not sure that these feelings are so very different from those experienced by other cultures in other times. A reading of many of the Psalms, for example, shows the writer overwhelmed by terrible feelings of despair and fear. Really, the important thing to keep in mind when telling our stories is that our imagination is like all other faculties - it must be formed. A sloppy imagination will produce stories not worth telling, that don't reveal any true insight into our condition, nor point to an authentic way of dealing with it. Just because we can think up a story, doesn't mean it needs to be told. On the other hand, good stories should be explored, because they reveal a truth about the human condition. Of course, the greatest story ever told is the story of salvation. The proper use of our imagination helps us to unpack the Scripture stories, to understand how God worked in the ordinary lives of those people so that we can apply those same principles to our own lives. In the same way, a good movie can also help us understand the workings of grace, and the magic of ordinary days.
By Nina Abue
6th in series
Flowers, also, are another universal symbol. They represent the Virtues, in that certain flowers seem to manifest what the virtues would look like in flower form. For example, it's easy to see why the Marigold, from "Mary's Gold," is a symbol of humility. That makes sense to us, as it is a low growing plant with an herbal scent, and is not flashy or showy but rather hardy and humble. It happens to be one of my favorite flowers.
In Scripture, roses, and specifically the Rose of Sharon, is mentioned frequently and is usually attributed as a reference to the Virgin Mary, the New Eve who would give birth to New Life, Jesus. Since Mary often appears with roses in her major apparitions, this link to her seems borne out. For example, she has a yellow rose on each foot as Our Lady of Lourdes and roses figure significantly into the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And of course, let's not forget about the great prayer of Marian intercession - the rosary- literally "wreath of roses." Saints are often portrayed with specific flowers. St. Joseph and St. Anthony are usually depicted holding great white lilies, as a reference to their purity.
All this is really mostly common sense. Flowers are pleasing to look at, lovely to smell, and are generally uplifting. This general understanding of how creation reflects the Creator, God, is part of the Catholic understanding of creation as revelatory, as our primal language. Pope John Paul II commented that before the Fall, we could all "speak" the language of creation easily, ie. we all understood the meaning of flowers as symbols of the good, and as an example of God's sheer creativity and generosity. After the Fall, however, this language became garbled, so that now we have to work at understanding it. It often seems just out of grasp, just beyond the borders of what we can put into words. Still, it's worth contemplating the language of nature, and thinking about flowers, like this Flower Shop shows, is particularly pleasant. Just imagine a village, or a world, overflowing with an abundance of flowers is lived out - a world in which Virtues - kindness, patience, charity and all the others- is given as gift from person to person.
By Nina Abue
4th in series
Our Middle Schoolers just finished learning about the Four Marks of the Catholic Church - one, holy, catholic and apostolic. They were surprised to learn that the "catholic" mark means "universal" - for every person, in every time, in every culture, in every circumstance. That's quite a claim, and one that only God can make. Calling this ornament a "community" church reminds me of the catholic mark. Beyond being ecumenical, it reminds us that the church is for all people, and that no one culture or time period has the last word on what the church looks like in the world. Each culture has the right and obligation to make sure that what is best, true and good in their own culture is adequately and properly reflected in their church, in the community that worships, in those parts of church life that can be changed. As I write this, we've just finished our unit on The Church, so my mind is full of many, many things to say about who and what the Church is. Even in our presentations, there's so much to say and so little time to say it in! I think I'll end with this quote from the book Compassion, A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill and Douglas Morrison.
In the Christian community, we gather in the name of Christ and thus experience him in the midst of a suffering world. In community, we are no longer a mass of helpless individuals but are transformed into one people of God. In community, our lives become compassionate lives because in the way we live and work together, God's compassion becomes present in the midst of a broken world.
Here the deepest meaning of the compassionate life reveals itself. By our life together, we become participants in the divine compassion. Through this participation, we can take on the yoke and burden of Christ-which is all human pain in every time and place-while realizing that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. As long as we depend on our own limited resources, the world will frighten us and we will try to avoid the painful spots. But once we have become participants in God's compassion, we can enter deeply into the most hidden corners of the world and perform the same works Christ did; indeed, we may perform even greater works! (Jn 14:12)
That sounds like a pretty great job description for the Community Church.
By Nina Abue
9th in series
How necessary it is to have a Fire Station in the Village! More than just a contingency plan in case things go wrong, Fire Stations - and firefighters- represent the willingness to descend into the chaos of other people's lives. It represents the charitable reaction to the misfortune of others. This is a requirement for any and every Vocation, no matter what or where. But we have to be aware that as workers in the field, we are not called to be social workers, per se. Sometimes what is considered to be "social work" at large falls in line with building the Kingdom and sometimes it doesn't. In fact, Jesus himself told us that "the poor will always be with you." So, despite our best efforts, the poverty and misery in this world will never be fully eradicated. Then why bother? Because being willing to participate in the chaos of other's lives is the principle way in which we bring Christ to the world. Just as he left heaven and came into the messy world, we are also expected to jump in and get involved, to overcome our own inertia. But, as firefighters show, we don't "fight fire with fire." (Why would anyone want to make a fire bigger?) Water is required to put out fires, and large steady quantities of it. And Christ identified himself as the "living water." Living any and every Vocation authentically is always about being Christ in the world, and bringing his presence - the presence of freedom, peace, clarity and wisdom - into every situation so that, even if we are unable to fully quench a fire, at least we can help manage it.
By Nina Abue
7th in series
Schoolhouses are the archetypal symbol for learning. This is the place we enter in order to understand things that we did not know before. In a Christian context, learning is about understanding how God is in the world, who he is, what he has done, and how we are called to respond. Here it is important to point out that as Catholics, we do not check our intellect and reason at the door. The scientific method, for example, is used to understand the natural world by many faithful disciples. The Catholic Church is not opposed to evolution, as many documents have clearly stated. Reason and intellect is a gift, like all others, that should be used well to understand the world around us and serve humanity. Ultimately, what we are after is to figure out how to live in "the land flowing with milk and honey." This saying comes from Psalm 19, referring to following the laws of God. "They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb." The Psalmist presents the idea that it is willingly conforming to the laws of God that will make us happy, that will make the imaginary Christmas village a reality. Jesus emphasizes this as well, repeating that the first commandment is to love God, and from this love comes service to others. So whatever particular line of work you are called to labor in and to understand, the end goal should be to make sure that it is aligned with the laws of God.
Pope Francis says that lay people "participate, in their own way, in the priestly, prophetic and royal function of Christ himself, and are disciples of Christ who, by force of their baptism and their nature inserted ‘in the world,’ are called to animate every space, every activity, every human relation according to the spirit of the Gospel.”
2010 Lollipop Street
By Nina Abue
5th in series
This ornament symbolizes the heart of the Village - the home. It is a sweet little cottage, made out of gingerbread. Interestingly, gingerbread has been used as a mild form of medicine for centuries, used for upset stomachs and digestive health in general. Still today, ginger is one of the "go to" remedies for mild digestive issues, and even chronic stomach problems are often relieved by the use of fresh ginger and ginger teas. This is because ginger is considered to have anti-inflamatory properties that can sooth overactive bodily responses.
Let's look at that again, this time as a metaphor. Wouldn't it be great to live in a home that has anti-inflamatory responses, that can calm and soothe reactions to daily life? We see plenty of examples where the home is the opposite of this - where life is not sweet but is antagonistic. The life of the family portrayed in Malcolm in the Middle is a great example of a family in constant over-reaction mode. And I bet that most of us can think of a whole bunch of times when our family lives more closely resemble Malcolm's family than that of the Holy Family.
Part of the good news of the whole world being invited into a life of holy Vocations, though, is that we no longer have to only rely on whatever family behaviors we inherited from our grandparents or parents. Some people might have great memories of fantastic parents, but others drew the short straw and never experienced living a healthy family life. But, because we don't isolate ourselves from the workings of the Holy Spirit in other areas, today we can say that we are blessed to have resources that can help us change. I can't emphasize that enough. I truly do believe that the Holy Spirit has worked with those called to Vocation in counseling and family life. There are plenty of parenting classes available that can teach new models of relating to each other in respect, patience and love. I've benefitted from many of these classes myself (or rather, my family has benefitted!) and I have seen such positive results in other families who are willing to learn and change. Of course, true change is only possible in hearts that are open to God, so that's always a prerequisite. We don't check our reason or imagination at the door, but we do need to put away cynicism and hopelessness in order to receive new life.
This ornament reminds me of what it must have been like in the home of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the ultimate example of good parenting and happy family life. The happiness of the little gingerbread boy waving out the window, the soft glow of lights in the background and the twinkling Christmas tree remind us of the joy and beauty available in being part of God's family, and our call to live as a child of God.