Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz Jägerstätter

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It's An Opportunity!

I am just now catching up on my favorite blogs after Christmas activities and guests kept me from the computer for a while. Jimmy Akin has a lively discussion on why or why not we should get two-for-one credit by attending Mass on Sunday, Christmas Eve or Sunday, New Year's Eve.( The answer is we should be attending Mass twice on these weekends!) However, the comment below pushed my buttons!

Why do so many people make their best efforts to avoid going to

And why do we (including the Church!) use terms like "obligation"
when referring to the honor and privilege and celebration of Mass, as if
it is this terrible, awful burden that we must endure?
But the fact is,regardless of whatever terms the Church uses, you are not "obligated" to do anything with respect to God. Do whatever the hell you
feel like doing. You don't "have" to go to Mass both Sunday and Monday. Sit at home watching TV and drinking beer and eggnog if you want. Nobody is forcing you to do anything.

Now, of course, if you don't want to spend an hour or two with Jesus, if you don't want to receive Jesus' gift of His Body on the day of giving, you just may end up
finding out that, in the end, He won't oblige you to spend eternity with Him

If you love someone, of course you want to spend time with him or her, and you don't consider it an "obligation."

Exactly! As Catholics we can get so tied up over the rules that we develop a check-list mentality to our faith. We try to meet the minimum requirements to keep ourselves out of Hell. I heard a priest address this at one of the school Masses a couple of years ago and his analogy really resonated with me. Who sets out to be a "C" student? No one. We hope to be an "A" student, though sometimes, in spite of our best efforts we fall short. So why are we satisfied with being a "C" Catholic? Are we trying to just squeak by and get into Heaven by the skin of our teeth? Or are we trying to make the God's honor roll? This isn't meant to be a discussion of salvation by works vs grace. Rather this is a push for us to remember that just as we want to excel in our earthly endeavors we should want to excel in our spiritual endeavors as well. So get rid of the word obligation when thinking about your acts of faith. Consider New Years weekend as an opportunity for twice the grace!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Traveling again

We are off to another soccer tournament. This time it is in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. This is a huge college recruiting tournament so say a prayer that each girl shows her talents well. We are planning on attending St. Gregory Catholic Church Saturday evening. I'll give a full report when I return. In the meantime, enjoy the Christmas season. Remember we still have twelve days of Christmas to go!

The Gift

We attended Midnight Mass and with my parents joining us we filled up one of the pews. Having all of my children home and at Mass with me on Christmas is truly the greatest gift I received. As I looked at our clan in the pew I realized only my twelve-year-old really qualified as a kid. We are primarily a group of adults now. Some a bit on the younger side, and some a bit on the older side, but mostly grown up nonetheless. My daughter is pushing seventeen and taking on an adult perspective before my eyes. I consider it a great blessing they each still embrace our faith. I can only give credit to the Grace of God. I have done my best to share the faith but it is only through the Grace of God that they can claim this faith as their own. I’m not done yet and I know I have much time on my knees yet to go. I do pray daily that each of my children discerns God’s call and discovers his or her vocation. I also pray daily for the future spouse of any of my children who are called to the vocation of marriage. Since I don’t think any of my children are inclined to the idea of arranged marriages, prayer is my only alternative. (By the way, I am also continuing to pray for those of you who have requested my prayers as you search for a spouse!)

The focus on family at this time of year always has me reflecting on my own vocation as a wife and mother. I was single when I chose to be a physician. I really did love practicing medicine and taking care of patients. Yet the satisfaction of my career could not rival the rewards of being a mother to my children. This became very clear to me a couple of weeks ago. My youngest needed a couple of merit badges sewn on his sash and as usual I was getting it done just prior to the meeting. After I dropped him off at the Scout meeting I stopped by the grocery store. In the window of the dry cleaning store I saw two Girl Scout vests that had just had patches sewn on. I realized that a great deal of the tension I felt while working was due to my refusal to let go of a lot of little tasks that I viewed as motherly. I could have been much less stressed if I had paid a seamstress to sew on patches, purchased more pre-cooked dinners, and settled for store bought birthday cakes. But I wanted to be the one to sew on Boy Scout patches, cook dinner, bake birthday cakes and drive kids to soccer. I wanted to be the one to help with homework and make sure projects were completed. I never did figure out how to get home from work and still have enough brain cells to actively listen to the stories of the day’s events. My boys loved to give long detailed accounts of their recess football exploits. When I was working outside the home I struggled to enjoy these tales of athletic adventure. Fatigue left me numbed to their excitement.

This is not a state that I generalize to every mother. I just know that for me, my career asked me to sacrifice too much of my motherly vocation. Something had to give. I gradually cut back on working until I found myself home full time. I know not every woman has this luxury. I consider it a great blessing that I have been able to continue this through my children’s high school years. As I look at my children in the pew I can honestly say I have done my best to be worthy of such a gift.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

I was up early this morning—before sunrise. I had to get my turkey dressing into the crock pot so it will be ready for our midday Christmas dinner. We always do our big dinner on Christmas Eve. Today’s menu will be an encore presentation of Thanksgiving with the addition of a pecan pie.

With a house full of family it is hard to find a quiet moment and private space for reflection. But as I watch the sunlight creep over the horizon I can breathe deeply and remember the reason for our excitement. Christ, our Lord, became like one of us. Out of love, he humbled himself to become a man. Through his infinite love and mercy he redeemed us by the Cross and His resurrection. At the end of time He will come again to lead us into His eternal kingdom.

Therefore, today I will not fret about the consistency of the turkey dressing, the perfection of the table setting, or the decorative beauty of the wrapped presents. Food, decorations and presents do not exist as an end in themselves. They are merely sign posts reminding us of the true reason to celebrate.

Blessings to all as we joyfully proclaim the Incarnation and birth of Our Lord.

Friday, December 15, 2006

"O Come All Ye Faithful?"

Here is an interesting response to C and E Catholics
The Christmas rush has taken on a whole new meaning at St. Maur Parish, where tickets were issued to control crowd numbers at its annual Christmas Eve children's Mass.

Last year the children's Mass in Rush, in northern Dublin County, was so crowded that one girl fainted from the heat. Many were concerned about elderly people and young children forced to stand in the aisles.

The introduction of tickets for the Mass made national headlines at the end of November after some parishioners contacted RTE radio to complain that access to the Christmas Eve Mass was being limited to regular Mass attendees. They argued that Mass should always be open to all, whether they regularly attended church or only at Christmas and Easter.

Under the ticket distribution scheme devised by the parish council, tickets were available only from the sacristy after Saturday vigil and Sunday morning Masses the first weekend in December.

One of my seventh grade CCD students expressed his frustration with all these extra people at Christmas Mass. “They are sitting in my pew, they don’t know what to do, and they talk through the whole Mass”. Fair enough. Those of us who attend Mass every Sunday can feel quite inconvenienced by the sudden crowd. After all, where were these people during Ordinary Time or even Advent? They were hitting the snooze button while we were dragging ourselves out of bed to get to Mass.

But look at the opportunity for evangelization we have at Christmas and Easter. These are seeking souls. Do you think they will keep seeking from the Church if we glare at them as they squeeze into the pew? Welcome them. Smile. You know it is going to be crowded so arrive early and move to the center of the pew. No one enjoys climbing over a dozen knees to get to his place. Help them find their place in the hymnal or missal. I know the song says “O Come All Ye Faithful”, but a more accurate though admittedly less melodic phrase would be “O Come All Ye Who Seek To Be Faithful”.

Reach out to the “C&E” Catholics. Perhaps next Christmas they will feel like one of the regulars.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

O Christmas Tree

Don’t know how much blogging will occur over the next few weeks. Company arrives tomorrow. The tree is done. I didn’t get our entire ornament collection on its branches, but whatever didn’t make it this year will have to wait until next year’s tree. As I mentioned in the Christmas meme our tree decorations are a hodgepodge of knick knacks.

I will post again when I can. Right now it is time to restock the refrigerator. College boys will be home soon!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Our Mother

"Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who am your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything." (Blessed Mother’s words to Juan Diego)

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Being of Mexican American heritage, the vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe has always been part of my montage of Catholic images. Yet, I think it has only been in the last ten years that I have found a personal devotion to Mary under this title. Her words are so calming. Her perfect faith strengthens my own.

I really struggle at this time year. I can easily let the preparations for Christmas overwhelm the spirituality of the season. I need to throw myself into Blessed Mother’s arms and let her tell me, “There, there, it will be okay. My Son is with you. You don’t have to do Christmas cards, garlands, wreaths, and cookies. If they bring you closer to my Son, enjoy them. If not, let them go.”

I need the intensely maternal image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to nurture me as her child. Then I can turn to my own children, embrace them, and say “There, there, it will be okay. Christ is with you.”

Monday, December 11, 2006

Back from Memphis

I’ve just returned from a wonderful soccer weekend spent outside of Memphis. For you soccer parents out there, I highly recommend this tournament especially if your team is of the college recruiting age. The soccer complex was spectacular and we a great turnout of college coaches. For those of you not in the soccer world, colleges do not recruit soccer players from their high school teams as happens in other sports. The best soccer players play on club teams and travel to showcase tournaments. The college coaches attend these tournaments and recruit players there. Our girls won the tournament championship this weekend and got lots of looks from colleges so it was a very successful weekend.

As always, we found a local church and attended Mass on Sunday. Church of the Incarnation looked to be very close when I checked the online map. When we got to the hotel we found the hotel parking lot and the church parking lot were separated by only a thin strip of grass. Convenient indeed!

The parish has just completed their brand new sanctuary. It is lovely. The tabernacle is centrally located behind the altar. The celings are high with arched entrances and alcoves. A huge bay window to one side houses a beautiful statue of Blessed Mother. I noticed they are still collecting funds for an organ but are using a piano in the meantime. The adult choir was a very pleasing mixture of male and female voices. We opened with On Jordan’s Banks. Throughout the Mass the hymns were thoughtfully chosen to reinforce the Scriptures of the day. And not a Haugen or Haas or Shutte tune in the bunch!

After reading the amazing Mass stories on the blogosphere or after a visit to some of the parishes in the neighboring diocese, I feel like I must be living in an enclave of orthodoxy here in the Diocese of Arlington Virginia. Then I do a little traveling and find that more times than not, the Mass is very much in accord with the GIRM and the Eucharist is the center of the parish community. Have I just been lucky or do you find that to be true as well?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Blessed Feast Day to All!

A blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception to all!

I won't be blogging much for the next few days. I am off to Memphis for a soccer tournament. I haven't been to Mass in that diocese before. I will be attending Church of the Incarnation in Collierville. I'll tell you about it when I return.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas Meme

Argent tagged me for this Christmas meme:

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?
Okay, the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte is not a choice. In that case how about egg nog in my coffee?

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Santa’s are unwrapped. They are placed in a nice little pile with the stocking taken down from the mantle and placed on top. Since iPods etc. are getting so small, that pile is looking pretty tiny as they kids get older.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
White lights on the house, colored lights on the tree

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

5. When do you put your decorations up?
Advent wreath and nativity scene are up by the first Sunday of Advent. The rest continue through the next few weeks. But anything not done by one week before Christmas is not going to get done and we leave it at that.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Turkey dressing!

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
Going to Midnight Mass then going out to Denny's for breakfast then going home and opening presents then sleeping in! (This happened after we were all school age)

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I suspected for a while and then confronted my mother when I was about ten. She couldn’t bear to tell me so she just said, if you believe in Santa, there is a Santa. If you don’t believe, there isn’t one.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Not usually.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree
Hodgepodge of ornaments collected over the years. Thematic elements include an ever increasing collection of owls (Go Rice! They are playing in a bowl game for the first time since 1961!), an ever increasing collection of soccer players, daughter’s ever increasing collection of penguins, a smattering of Texas A&M ornaments courtesy of oldest son, and an assortment of vacation souveniers.

11. Snow? Love it or Dread it?
I’m dreamin’ of a white Christmas anywhere else but here!

12. Can you ice skate?
Can but prefer not to.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
I don’t think I want to name one in particular for fear of hurting the rest of my family. I will say they are always so diligent about finding something I will love.

14. What's the most exciting thing about the Holidays for you?
Anticipating having the whole family together including extended family. This is even more precious now that older children are in college.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
A properly made pumpkin pie, meaning a flavorful, tender homemade crust. No refrigerator crusts in this household.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Going to Midnight Mass.

17. What tops your tree?
A lighted star

18. Which do you prefer - giving or receiving?
Giving. I love to shop for others!

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
Silent night and Carol of the Bells

20. Candy canes?
I can do without them unless they are the soft peppermint kind.

Okay, I tag Michelle, Sarah, and Tony

Big Families are not just for Catholics

Argent offers this link that illustrates being open to God’s gift of children is not just a Catholic issue.

Many of our friends, for the most part Orthodox Jews like us, have similarly chosen to raise large families, sometimes with six, seven, even 10 or more children. To others, we must seem at best unbalanced, at worst irresponsible, for our choices - choices we regarded, and still regard, as entirely wise and proper.

The disapprovers are entitled to their opinion, of course. But it can become irksome when strangers, confronted with the sight of my beloved family, offer unsolicited judgments.

The smiles and even the pointing fingers don't bother me; I try to follow the Talmud's dictum to judge others favorably, to assume the best: here, that the smilers and pointers are happy for us.

But commentators like the fellow in the airport who snidely query-editorialized, "Catholic or careless?" leave very little room for good will. ("Jewish and caring," I responded; it was all I could summon at the moment.)

Like the author above, my husband and I have opened ourselves to the gift of life. God has blessed us with four children. Recently my husband attended our twenty-fifth year college reunion. Unfortunately, I couldn’t accompany him so he represented the two of us to our family and friends. My husband and I have more children than any of our circle of college contemporaries. We are also the only couple living on only one income. I cannot complain. I feel financially secure. Our lifestyle is extremely comfortable. It is definitely not lavish. If I am honest, I will admit I feel a twinge of envy when I hear of our friends and their economic wealth, exciting travels, and country club social life. We could have been there too. But if I continue to be honest, I know that the choices we made were the right ones. Would I really rather be jet-setting than attending soccer games? The sights of Europe cannot compare with my twelve-year-old’s eyes.

We Can Make You Talk!

Sarah at Another Day of Catholic Pondering has a cute post on rhetorical questions we ask our children. It made me think about the more serious questions I ask my teens to keep the lines of communication open. Sometimes the questions act like keys to open the doors to their thoughts, fears, and dreams.

I pick my kids up from school every day. They could ride the bus but they are the last stop on a very long bus route along a very winding road. Since they are prone to car sickness I spare them the unpleasant ride on most afternoons and have them home about twenty minutes earlier. This also gives me the opportunity to see them while the school experience is still at the forefront of their consciousness. This is the perfect time for getting them to talk. The first hour or so after school is prime time for finding out how things are really going. After that, the kids have shifted gears and information about school is less readily revealed. Even when I worked outside the home I tried to arrange my schedule to see them as soon as possible after school. (Kids, if you happen to be reading this blog, all tricks of the trade mentioned in the following paragraphs were done only out of love and concern for you!)

Every parenting expert tells you, “Don’t ask yes/no questions.” What then do you ask instead? I will admit that I usually greet my children with a “How was your day?” I get the predictable “Fine” in response. The key is to keep going. An elementary school teacher told me the first writing assignment of the year is always about pets. Children love to talk about pets. Teens love to talk about themselves, their friends, and the drama of their lives. Make mental notes of people they mention so you can ask about them again on another day. It shows your children you are really listening and makes them more likely to keep talking. Here are a few of my favorite conversation starters:

  • What was the most surprising thing that happened today?
  • What made you laugh today?
  • Who is your best teacher? Why?
  • I was reading an article about teenage stress. Among your friends, what do you think is the biggest cause of stress? (I use the “I read an article/heard a radio report/saw a television show” preface often) Also, by allowing them to attribute the response to generic “friends” it makes the question less threatening.
  • Which of your friends is the funniest/most serious/most unpredictable/etc?
  • My friend’s daughter is having a problem with (fill in the blank). What would you recommend?

Of course this is not a comprehensive list and of course you don’t ask these questions all at once. Sometimes, no questions are needed and conversation just flows. Having a few key questions in your parenting armamentarium keeps you ready for those times you need to kick start the process. And if occasionally your teen really needs silence, respect that. I know there are times I just need peace and quiet too.

Once your teens start talking, don’t forget to listen. Be an active listener. Affirm your understanding of their words. “So you think Mr. Brown’s class is so interesting because he uses lot of real life examples?” Ask for more details if they seem especially enthusiastic about a topic. Remember to keep your commentary and pontifications to a minimum. You are trying to find out what they are thinking. You already know what you are thinking. But if they give you an opportunity to give your opinion, don’t hesitate to do so honestly. Establish this habit of conversation with the easy topics and talking about the harder topics will go more smoothly.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas books for snuggling

We are a family of bibliophiles. I am always on a quest to increase the bookshelf space in our home. Our Christmas decorations reflect this. I have put a red metal sleigh in front of the living room fireplace and filled it with children’s Christmas books. This didn’t actually start out as a Christmas decoration. When my children were small there were picture books we would read together during Advent. I kept them in a decorative container in the family room. A few years ago I realized my kids had outgrown Christmas picture books but I couldn’t bear to leave these favorites packed away. So now they are out reminding us of happy times spent snuggling on the couch and listening to stories. But don’t think they will stay in that sleigh for long should I happen to have a young visitor who would enjoy them. ‘Tis the season for reading.

There are so many Christmas books published for children. Many have merchandise tie-ins. Of course I always found versions of the story of Jesus’ birth. But we had a few other favorites as well. I cannot count how many times I have read the Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. I once heard Garrison Keillor reading this story. His deep smooth voice was perfect for this story. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find this recording.

If you pick no other author, do read Tomie DePaola Christmas stories. The illustrations are beautiful and the stories perfectly capture the sentiments of the Christmas season. Merry Christmas, Strega Nona adeptly incorporates the season of Advent. I used this when my children were attending a small private secular school in California. (The Catholic school was full) The school had all kinds of holiday displays with a menorah for Jewish Hanukkah, and a crescent and star for Muslim Ramadan and posters about the Hindu Festival of Lights. Christmas was relegated to snowmen and evergreen trees. I couldn’t convince the administration to allow some of the more religiously connected icons of the season, but they did let me read Merry Christmas, Strega Nona and bring in our Advent Wreath. I guess since it involved the ritual lighting of candles it seemed like a diverse cultural experience.
Other Tomie DePaola books we have enjoyed are the Legend of the Poinsettia, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and The Night of the Posadas.

Children remember the evenings spent reading and rereading these stories far longer than the transient thrill of the latest electronics. Give your children the gift of your time.

Signs of Advent

Christmas decorations at our house do not change too much from year to year. I am not one to pick a different theme or color every year then decorate accordingly. Rather, our Christmas decorations are like old friends. We greet them during Advent and say good-bye after Epiphany. Every year we eagerly anticipate their arrival and the warm memories they carry.

The first thing to be displayed is our primary Nativity scene. I hesitate to call it part of the Christmas décor because it is so much more than an adornment for the season. It is our family catechesis of the Incarnation of Christ. I purchased the stable and Holy Family figures when my oldest was three. My criteria were it had to be durable enough to be around children, pretty to look at, and the baby Jesus had to come out of the manger since he would be absent from the scene until Christmas morning. I found this lovely set at the local Christian bookstore. I paid no attention to the brand name. Well, lo and behold, several years later I realized it was a Fontanini nativity set and with all the matching figurines available I could build the entire city of Bethlehem. I am such a sucker for collectibles. Since it has to fit on the dining room sideboard, I have shown some restraint in the addition of accessory pieces.

This display has been such a vital part of my children’s Christmases they have each indicated they must have similar sets when they have their own homes. So packed away are starter sets for each of my children to take with them when they leave home. I purchased brand new sets for each of my boys. However, Fontanini restyled the Holy Family a few years ago. My daughter could not bear to have a Mary and Joseph that did not look like the ones with which she has grown up. So I scoured eBay and found the old style figures. She is satisfied and I am thrilled the Nativity has made such an indelible impression on her memories of Christmas.

I did mention that this was our primary Nativity set. As I said, I am a sucker for collectibles and collections. Somehow my Christmas decorations have evolved into a collection of nativity scenes. Music boxes, snow globes, candle toppers, and candle holders all depict the birth of Christ.

A very sweet addition to this assortment is the very simple nativity scene my mother-in-law used during her own childhood.

I have some more thoughts about preparing my home for Christmas but they will have to wait until a later post. Until then, a Blessed Advent to all!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Celebrate December!

image source

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Nicholas. I am reminding you today in case you would like to have your children leave out their shoes tonight and find a little treat in them tomorrow morning. We started doing that about five years ago and it has become a treasured tradition. Read more about St. Nicholas here.

December is a treasure trove of feast days. Don’t forget that Friday, December 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation.

December 12 is one of my favorites, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Enjoy some Mexican Food and read the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Feast of St. Lucy on December 13 is traditionally celebrated by sharing sweets with friends and family so this is a good day to concentrate on holiday baking.

Make the effort to mark these feasts with your family and keep the Church as the center of this season of Advent. You will make many wonderful memories. The spiritual gifts you give your children by keeping them centered on Christ and His Church will be far greater than anything you can put underneath the Christmas tree.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Our Christmas Purple Cow

As I gradually bring out our Christmas decorations I am reminded of so many family memories. One tree ornament in particular brings back an episode in our family lore. When my daughter was around four years old we were scouring the Christmas tree farm for the perfect tree. She could not see much difference between one tree and another. So she piped up with the question, “What are we looking for?” My husband, not understanding that she was asking for the properties of a proper Christmas tree, thought it was too silly a question to respond with the obvious answer, “A Christmas tree” and answered instead, “A purple cow”. Well, she then went about dutifully checking each tree for a purple cow, thinking that once she found it we could wrap up this expedition and get back home to the warmth of a fire and hot chocolate. We did eventually settle on a tree and had a perfectly wonderful Christmas. The next year when we were again trying to pick out a tree and I noticed my daughter carefully peering between the branches. When asked about this, she explained she was trying to be the one to find the purple cow this year and choose our tree. I had to break the news to her that there was no purple cow but only a flippant response from Dad. She was crushed. I eventually found a whimsical cow ornament and painted it purple. Our Christmas tree now has a purple cow.

Children can be so literal sometimes. When another mother takes the same parenting approach on an issue as I do, I often say we went to the same “Mom School”. I just found out that until recently my youngest was under the impression there really was a “Mom School”. This is the same child that kept combing my hair in search of the “eyes in the back of my head” that he was certain existed.

During my own childhood I can remember my mother repeatedly saying “Men can’t tie bows”. This was her way of ensuring I asked her, not my father, to tie the sash on the back of my dresses. I was probably a teenager before it dawned on me that the entire male population was not incapable of tying bows. It was only my father who could not tie my little girl dress sash in a bow that met my mother’s approval.

All my children are now past the stage of a strictly concrete interpretation of language. They enjoy the nuances or the subtle humor of a clever twist of words. This makes for very enjoyable family conversations, but I will always remember fondly the times when a purple cow could be real.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Providential Advent Reading

Have you ever noticed that once learn a new word, you hear it everywhere? Or perhaps you become aware of a new model of car and you suddenly see it all over the roads. This also works with facts and ideas. When I was practicing medicine I was amazed how often I saw a patient with a medical condition I had just read about in a new journal. I know some of this is my consciousness of this condition had been raised by my reading so I was more sensitive to its presence. However, in some cases, I also think that Divine Providence was at work. My newly acquired knowledge was the answer to someone’s prayers.

I also see this phenomenon in my spiritual studies. Guy Selvester has a wonderful post on Advent at Shouts in the Piazza.

The word “Advent” means the arrival and we should use this all too brief four weeks to prepare not only for the commemoration of the Lord’s first arrival but for His continued arrival in our lives and in our hearts. In the Western Church it is separated into two stages. The first runs from December 3rd through December 16th. The second, from December 17th-24th focuses attention more on the feast of Christmas. The two prefaces of Advent used in the mass highlight each of the two stages.

Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season. Unfortunately, over the course of time much of the penitential character of the season has been lost. Nevertheless, the Church always encourages the use of acts of penance as a means of preparing for any great celebration. Just as anyone will clean their house in preparation for hosting a party or other large celebration so, too, should we spiritually clean house as we prepare to renew our celebration of the Incarnation.

…Likewise, altars and sanctuaries should NOT be decorated with flowers during Advent. That may not seem like such a big deal until you take into account the ramifications of such a custom with regards to weddings that may take place during Advent. In many churches weddings simply aren’t permitted in Advent. However, in places where they do occur the couple getting married needs to be catechized as to the character of the season and the limitations that will place on the liturgy celebrating their matrimony. Another exception to the custom concerning flowers takes place, again, on Gaudete Sunday. This day, which reminds us to rejoice in the midst of our preparations, serves the same function as the fourth Sunday of Lent, also known as Laetare Sunday. A genuine effort should be made to relax the penitential and anticipatory atmosphere in the liturgical celebrations of Gaudete Sunday. However, if the organ has been going full guns and there have been flowers all over the church throughout Advent then the exceptions for Gaudete Sunday become devoid of meaning and really almost comical.

This morning our young priest gave a rousing homily (At 7:30 in the morning it has to be a bit rousing) about the second coming of Christ and our need to prepare. I also noticed we had no flowers in the sanctuary. After reading Guy’s post I understand why this was so. Stapled to our bulletin this morning was a guide to confession with a very nice examination of conscience. I am sure this is the same pattern that has been present in my many past Advents. However, a little Providential reading has made me more receptive to the liturgical lessons of this Advent season. Do read Guy’s full post. I hope you find it as beneficial as I did.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Keeping Your Kids Catholic, Chapter Ten

Chapter nine is here.

The last chapter of Keeping Your Kids Catholic by Bert Ghezzi is tough. After everything we have done for nearly two decades, our children may still leave the faith. Our fledglings leave the nest and test their wings. Some fly straight and true and keep the vibrant fire of their faith ever burning. Others bob and weave a bit before they find their way. Unfortunately, some take off, head the wrong way, and never look back.

What do you do when children leave the faith?

After investing your heart and soul into building a Catholic family it can come as a devastating blow when one of your children says, “No Thanks”. But this faith we long to share with our children must be their faith. They must hear the call and respond “Yes, Lord”. We may have done everything within our power to point this child in the right direction, but in the end, it is his choice. God gave each of us free will. If each of us is capable of turning away from God who is all-knowing and all-loving, then it is understandable that a child is capable of turning away from an imperfect merely mortal parent. Yet just as God never stops loving us when we turn away from him, as a parent we never stop loving a wayward child.

First and foremost we pray for our children. For the ones that have strayed from the faith, we pray that like the prodigal son they will return. We also need to stay strong in our own faith. When someone we love and respect chooses to leave the Church, it can sow a seed of doubt in us. Rather than allow this seed to grow, we need to stand as a beacon of faith so when our children need to find their way home we will be there to guide them. It is easy to feel angry and betrayed. We need to resist the temptation to lash out, criticize or nag. Paul Lauer, a young man who left the faith but eventually returned, writes in this chapter:

I and others who have had a “miraculous conversion” were not converted because we were shown that what we were doing was wrong (nobody ever wants to hear that, eh?), but rather because we were shown that something more right. Instead of being forced to turn off to evil, we were invited to turn on to good.

He goes on to describe an important principle of reaching out to young people:

Young people have enough energy to climb tall mountains of faith, hope, and love. If all we offer them are little molehills, they’ll simply go elsewhere for their challenges.

So don’t water down your faith. If your grown children turn away from the Church, don’t try to make faith seem easy in the hopes of bringing them back. Instead, stand strong. Don’t pretend you approve of choices that run contrary to your Catholic virtues. Yet, don’t condemn either so that you leave the door open for conversion.

Hopefully, with much grace and prayer, the lessons learned in the first nine chapters of this book will lessen the likelihood of chapter ten’s scenarios. Our success as parents cannot be measured by the faith of our offspring. As Mother Teresa said, “God did not call me to be successful, but to be faithful.” I hope this book has helped you to become a more faithful parent.