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 J├Ągerst├Ątter

Friday, December 28, 2007

Keeping a Catechist's Hopes Alive

Julie D. at Happy Catholic published this a few days ago. As a catechist, I have to say it brought tears to my eyes:

I had to revise my conversion story slightly. A specific part that I never spelled out is that Hannah came home and started pushing us to go to weekly Mass because her religion teacher in kindergarten, Mrs. McDaniel (a woman whose vocation clearly is to teach kindergarten, she is amazing), asked the children who went every week. She then told those who didn't raise their hands that they needed to go home and tell their parents they should be going to Mass every week. As we all know, Hannah went right home, obeyed orders, and ... well, the rest is history.

A couple of weeks ago I glimpsed Mrs. McDaniel at Mass as I sometimes do and realized that I never had thanked her. For her that was a routine part of teaching religion, but considering people's touchy feelings these days (yes, even at a Catholic school), I know that she was taking a risk in telling those little children to go home and push their parents to go to Mass. Of course, I am so very grateful that she did as it changed my life completely as well as that of our family.

You see, I tell my 7th grade CCD students much the same thing. I know there are many of them who miss Mass pretty regularly. Our textbook is very good (The Life of Grace, Faith and Life Series, Ignatius Press). It makes it clear that missing Mass is a serious sin unless there is a significant reason like severe illness or a local blizzard. The students are concerned because they have missed Mass and they don’t want to be in a state of sin. My response is to tell them that they have learned that missing Mass is a serious sin. They need to share this with their parents. If their parents still do not take them to Mass, then it is the sin of their parents when they do not go to Mass. However, if they sit silently and make no effort to encourage their parents to take them to Mass because they really don’t want to go to Mass, then that could be considered a sin on their part.

I have never gotten any feedback on these lessons. I don’t know if the students are really talking to their parents about Mass attendance. However, reading Julie’s story gives me hope. Maybe, one family will find the grace of regular Mass attendance because I gave a student the impetus to nudge his parents along. I really don’t need to hear that I actually did make a difference. I just like to read stories like Julie’s to keep me believing that it is possible to make a difference.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Cold Hard Facts about Financing a College Education

We got good news recently. My daughter received her acceptance to Rice University. This is a highly competitive process so she is thrilled to have gotten the nod. She will join her older brother there next fall. While my husband and I are thrilled since we both attended Rice as well, we are not overjoyed with the financial impact. Here is the deal. Sending two children to Rice will take up over half of our annual income. However, because we have been living frugally and saving for this expense since the children were born, we qualify for zero financial aid. That is nada, zippo, nothing. If we had skipped putting money into our nest egg and taken a few European vacations the picture would be very different. Like most other universities, Rice’s tuition has increased by a factor of twelve in the last 25 years. Rice’s tuition still falls below most other universities of its academic caliber. Still, I question how the income from these tuition increases has been managed. At this point, I think the tuition payments will be the last money I send to the school. They have seen the end of my contributions to the annual fund raising campaign. Our potential contributions to the school are going to replenish our retirement savings.

That is why this announcement by Harvard caught my eye.

The initiative appears to make Harvard’s aid to students with household incomes of $120,000 to $180,000 the most generous to be offered by any of the country’s elite private universities. Harvard will generally charge such students 10 percent of their family household income per year, substantially subsidizing the annual cost of more than $45,000.

I really appreciate this initiative because it bases financial need on the annual income and doesn’t punish families who live a modest lifestyle and save their pennies. And before anyone mentions it, I do know that perfectly good college educations are available for much less than $45,000 per year. My oldest attends Texas A&M and the cost there is less than half the cost of Rice. If we didn’t have the resources to send two kids to Rice without their graduating tens of thousands of dollars in debt, I would not even consider it. I am applauding my youngest’s fascination with Texas A&M since I am not sure the nest egg will hold out for a third child to go to Rice at the rate tuition is rising. I do not believe the benefits of a big-name-school diploma warrant mortgage-sized debt. Of course the irony is that once the savings are depleted, we will probably qualify for financial aid. Hopefully, more schools will follow Harvard’s lead and try to keep the tuition as a reasonable portion of annual income and not punish families that scrimp and save. If you have been socking money away for college understand that you will definitely be using it for college. Don't think there will be any left over for your retirement. That nest egg takes you out of the running for need based aid. Under the current system if you haven’t gotten around to saving for college, don’t worry. The FAFSA based system has money for you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Joyful Spirit in the Washington Post

The Washington Post continues to give good press coverage to traditional religious orders. Read this article about a group of cloistered nuns in Maryland. (You may have to register to read the whole article.)

"I feel we've gone way astray" on Christmas, Sister Clare Joseph said. "There's such consumerism in our society. Consumerism leads to . . . individualism, teaches our kids [to] demand and 'have to have this,' and 'I have to have this latest electronic,' and it's just a total rat race on where the thoughts are."

"I just want to tell people, 'Don't you realize God became a man? Do you realize how astonishing that is?' " she said. "I don't think people even think about that. . . . They're so intent on decorating their homes, and buying the latest, and giving more and better and prettier gifts, and then, on the flip side, wanting more and better and prettier gifts."

"And God became man!" she said. "Why? . . . Because He loves us so much. And I think that that is totally not in most people's purview at all . . . in our society."

Christmas is a Season, Not a Day

Don't forget that Christmas is a season, not just one day. I replaced my purple and pink candles in the Advent wreath with white candles. Now I have a Christmas wreath. We will light these candles at family meals throughout the Christmas season. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Joy To The World!

God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son so that we could have life through him. (1John 4:9)

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from my family to yours. I pray that your Christmas season is filled with blessings and grace.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Youthful Culture of Faith

I am one happy Catholic Mom! Both my college boys are home so we have a full house again. They each attend school some 1500 miles away from home so having them return is a treat. Today my husband and I had all of our children in the pew with us. My heart just sings when they are all in the pew or all at the dinner table.

Every Friday evening, my parish holds a Eucharistic Holy Hour. Confessions begin thirty minutes prior to the Holy Hour and continue until the lines are done. Usually we have one or two priests hearing confessions. This past Friday we had three priests and their lines were long. It took over an hour for the priests to finish.

My youngest son was one of the altar servers for this Holy Hour. My college boys came along since they had not yet been to confession during Advent. As I observed the lines, I noticed that my boys were not the only young men waiting to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There were probably at least fifteen young men ranging from late high school age to college age. How uplifting it is to see young men choosing to spend a Friday evening adoring Our Lord and receiving the sacramental grace of Confession. No doubt some of this was the result of a little parental prodding. But I still think we are very blessed that the parish provides the environment that such behavior is not extraordinary. It is very normal.

How did our parish cultivate this culture of faith among our young men? I don’t think there is a simple answer to this question. There are many factors that have come into play. Strong faith filled families and a supportive youth ministry are certainly significant influences. I wonder if having only male altar servers also contributes to the strengthening of the Catholic identity in these young men. We have two servers at each of two daily Masses and six altar servers at each of five weekend Masses. We also have two servers at the weekly Holy Hour. We have a corps of at least 125 servers. They vie for the privilege of serving at the Altar of Our Lord. Our priests provide catechesis to the altar servers at every opportunity and even hear their confessions after they have served at Mass. It creates a strong Catholic bond among our young men. They may be foes on the soccer field on Saturday afternoon, but on Sunday morning they are serving at the altar together.

I know that an all male altar server corps is not the norm around the country. Before I moved the Diocese of Arlington, I would have argued hard that it is only fair that girls get to be altar servers too. However, now that I have seen chivalrous, faithful culture that is created by having only young men serve at the altar, I have become a strong supporter of the all-male altar server policy. The Arlington Diocese recently relaxed its rules and allowed each pastor the discretion to allow girls to serve. I am very grateful that neither our past pastor nor our present pastor has changed our parish policy to allow female altar servers.

Lest you worry that the young ladies of our parish are ignored, we have created an organization known as Fiat for the girls. You can read a little about both our altar server program and Fiat here. We are so blessed to have such energetic priests who support these youth formation programs. I believe we will see the fruits of these efforts in the form of vocations for several generations. Certainly these programs foster the consideration of religious vocations by the current participants, but I also think such strong faith formation will greatly benefit the marital vocations as well. Strong faith filled marriages build strong faith filled families. From these families will come our future priests and consecrated religious.

O Emmanuel

For two days before Christmas:

O Emmanuel: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

(7:14). Remember “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”

For more information on the "O Antiphons" click here.

If you sang "O Come O Come Emmanuel" today, I hope you noticed that each of the verses represents one of the "O Antiphons".

Saturday, December 22, 2007

O Rex Gentium

For the third day before Christmas:

O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” Isaiah had prophesied, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (9:5), and “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (2:4) .

For more information on the "O Antiphons" see here.

Evangelizing at Christmas Mass

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has just released a new document on evangelization. I have not read the entire document, but the bottom line seems to be that we are called to evangelize. We are called to proclaim the Gospel. We are called to lead others to conversion.

With this attitude in mind, please remember that when you attend Mass on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you will be joined by multitudes of non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics who are compelled by something or someone to attend Mass on this day. You are the face of Catholicism they will remember. Did you smile and welcome them? Did you help them find the right page in the missal or hymnal? Did you exude joy that so many wanted to welcome the Incarnation of our Lord, or did you grumble that the church was too crowded and the parking lot too full?

Christmas Mass is one of your prime times to evangelize. However, it is your actions, not your words that will bring these souls back to the Church in January. Offer up any inconveniences they present at Christmas Mass and pray for the grace to be patient, gracious, and welcoming.

UPDATE: Welcome to all who are visiting my blog from Danielle Bean's blog. Thank you for stopping by. Please browse through my other entries and feel free to visit any time.

Friday, December 21, 2007

O Oriens

For the fourth day before Christmas:

O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1).

For more info on the "O Antiphons" click here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

An Unscheduled Item on the Agenda

Today was one of those days when my role as Mom and my training as a doctor intersect. My son hurt his foot playing soccer last night and by this morning I knew it was going to take an x-ray to assess the damage. Of course that meant a trip to the military emergency room. Anyone who has dealt with military medicine knows that you approach a situation like this with your guard up. (Anyone who favors a government run health system needs to talk to military dependents) The system is overwhelmed so by necessity it is looking for corners to cut. As a patient, you don’t want to be that corner.

After a considerable wait the triage nurse evaluated my son. Figuring he needed an x-ray, he started to type in the order. “Would you also order an x-ray of his uninjured foot for a comparison view?” I asked hopefully. He gave me this very quizzical look. I explained, “I am a doctor and have worked in emergency rooms for many years. This sort of foot injury in children is difficult to evaluate without a comparison view because the growth plates can be difficult to distinguish from fractures.” He then explained that his triage protocol did not allow him to order the comparison view. However, I guess I convinced him it might be a good idea since he took us right back to a room so a doctor could take a look at my son and make the call on what x-rays were needed. Soon we were off to radiology with orders for x-rays of both feet.

We waited. And waited. And waited. My son was x-rayed and we went back to the exam room. And waited. And waited. And waited. The doctor returned with the good news that the bones looked great. The radiologist was happy a comparison view had been ordered. My son just needed a firm bottomed “cast shoe” until the soft tissue injury healed. We waited for the technician to bring us the shoe and our discharge papers. And waited. And waited. Of course they didn’t have a cast shoe in my son’s size so we tried to make do with what they had. It actually caused his foot to hurt more so I told him to just switch back to his supportive running shoe. All in all it was a six-hour adventure to find out that the bones were okay and time would heal his wound. We were tired and hungry, but very grateful that the injury was minimal and should heal quickly. A crimp was put in my plans for grocery shopping and cookie baking, but I will catch up tomorrow. I have to fight the tendency to get all bent out of shape when my agenda is interrupted. I have to remember that my to-do list is just a suggestion. Divine Providence makes the final schedule.

O Clavis David

For the fifth day before Christmas:

O Clavis David: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” Isaiah had prophesied, AI will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (9:6).

For more info on the "O Antiphons" click here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Consider Yourself Warned

Periodically, I post a few words on the ongoing tribulations of the Episcopal Church. This church is on the verge of schism and if it does splinter, it is not clear exactly how the remaining fragments will line up. I don’t chronicle the tribulations of the Episcopalians with any sort of schadenfreude. Rather, I hope it serves as a warning. Prominent (albeit dissident) voices within the Catholic Church have looked longingly at the Episcopal Church and said, “Why can’t we be more like them?” Fr. Richard McBrien of Notre Dame and Sr. Joan Chittister are two that come to mind. In fact, almost everything published in the National Catholic Reporter probably falls into this category. What exactly are Fr. McBrien and Sr. Joan seeking?

Well we can begin with Bishop Shelby Spong, retired bishop of Newark. He was recently interviewed in Toledo.

The 76-year-old retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark is a theologian who believes the Bible is "time-bound and time-warped" by the first-century Jewish culture in which it was written. He is on a mission to change the way people look at the Bible and at Jesus, stating that he wants to "break Jesus out of the boundaries of antiquity and explain it in the 21st century."

Among his iconoclastic teachings, Bishop Spong believes that Jesus was not born of a virgin, never performed any miracles, and was not bodily resurrected from the grave. Yet he states that Jesus is "the defining God presence in a human being" and that Jesus "stands not only at the center of my faith, but also at the center of all that I am."

Read the entire interview if you like, but it is just more of this rejection of God as Divine Authority.

Then we have the Rev. Ann Fowler. She is an ordained Episcopal priest and ardent supporter of abortion. She just published an essay on why abortion is a perfectly acceptable moral choice.

At another point, a few years later, I did have an abortion. I was a single mother, working and pursuing a path to ordination in the Episcopal Church. The potential father was not someone I would have married; he would have been no better a candidate for fatherhood than my daughter's absent father. The timing was wrong, the man was wrong, and I easily, though not happily, made the decision to terminate the pregnancy.

I have not the slightest regret about either of these decisions, nor the slightest guilt. I felt sorrow and loss at the time of my abortion, but less so than when I'd miscarried some years earlier. Both of my choices, I believe, were right for me and my circumstances: morally correct in their context, practical, and fruitful in their outcomes.

Please note at the time she was studying to be an Episcopal priest she was sexually active with a man to whom she was not married and whom she would never consider marrying. While studying to become an Episcopal priest she ended the life of her unborn child. She states she feels absolutely no remorse or guilt for these actions. She feels very free to publicly relate these facts in her role as an Episcopal priest.

Do read the entire essay. It is rife with the moral relativism that Pope Benedict XVI warned against. It is this moral relativism that Fr. McBrien and Sr. Joan endorse. Be on guard and fervently pray sed libera nos a malo.

O Radix Jesse

For the sixth day before Christmas:

O Radix Jesse: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1), and A On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).

(For more info on the "O Antiphons" see here.)

Catholic Carnival 151

Catholic Carnival 151 is up at the Aussie Coffee Shop. (I am always up for a good cup of coffee!) Lots of great posts from both familiar favorite sites as well as some new blog sites to explore. This is a great way to wrap up Advent!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Maybe I shouldn't have called them Jesuits

I am not sure if yesterday’s seventh-grade CCD class was successful or not. This was our last session before Christmas break. There were no parties or celebrations since the entire diocese is trying to emphasize that Advent is a time of waiting and preparation and Christmas is a season not a day. We will have a Christmas party during the liturgical Christmas season. I didn’t think my students were up for a didactic lecture as they anticipated Christmas break. So I made a set of at least 75 “Jeopardy” style answers based on the lessons we have covered so far this year. I also included a few questions on saints I have mentioned in class. I divided the class into two teams by putting those with even birthdates on one side and those with odd birthdates on the other. The even birthdates were called the Franciscans and the odd birthdates were the Jesuits.

Let me tell you the Franciscans spanked the Jesuits. And it wasn’t just that they knew more. They cared more. This was an open book process so as I read the question the Franciscans were busily scouring their books for answers. The Jesuits had two students who tried very hard, but the rest were clearly uninterested and thought their ignorance was enormously entertaining.

So I guess I can conclude that seven Franciscans and two Jesuits actually learned something through the game last night. Five Jesuits had an alternative agenda. Hmmm…..That sounds far too much like the real state of Franciscans and Jesuits. I wonder if things would have worked out differently if I had named the teams Franciscans and Dominicans.

O Adonai

On the seventh day before Christmas:

O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.” (33:22).

(See here for more information on the Octave before Christmas "O Antiphons")

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Octave Before Christmas

O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

I mentioned that last week’s Catholic Carnival has a an outstanding post on the Liturgy of the Hours. I love the idea of a daily rhythm of prayer. I wish I could say that I followed this pattern regularly. I don’t. However, for the next week I am going to make an extra effort to participate in Vespers or evening prayer. Today we begin the “O Antiphons”.

The “O Antiphons” refer to the seven antiphons that are recited (or chanted) preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. They cover the special period of Advent preparation known as the Octave before Christmas, Dec. 17-23, with Dec. 24 being Christmas Eve and Vespers for that evening being for the Christmas Vigil.

The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the “O Antiphons” was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the “O Antiphons” have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.

The importance of “O Antiphons” is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah

So in keeping with my intent to truly celebrate Advent, I will try to mark the octave before Christmas with the “O Antiphons”.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Environmentalists Now View Humans as a Plague

I know I said this Advent has developed the theme of hope. Yet on the flip side, I am seeing more and more publicity given to those environmentalists who are truly hopeless. These are the folks who think humans are a pestilence and should be eliminated for the good of the planet. Take a look at Mark Steyn’s column for a rundown on this trend.

But here's something new that took hold in the year 2007: A radical antihumanism, long present just below the surface, bobbed up and became explicit and respectable. In Britain, the Optimum Population Trust said that "the biggest cause of climate change is climate changers – in other words, human beings," and professor John Guillebaud called on Britons to voluntarily reduce the number of children they have.

Last week, in the Medical Journal of Australia, Barry Walters went further: To hell with this wimp-o pantywaist "voluntary" child-reduction. Professor Walters wants a "carbon tax" on babies, with, conversely, "carbon credits" for those who undergo sterilization procedures. So that'd be great news for the female eco-activists recently profiled in London's Daily Mail who boast about how they'd had their tubes tied and babies aborted in order to save the planet. "Every person who is born," says Toni Vernelli, "produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases and adds to the problem of overpopulation." We are the pollution, and sterilization is the solution. The best way to bequeath a more sustainable environment to our children is not to have any.

What's the "pro-choice" line? "Every child should be wanted"? Not anymore. The progressive position has subtly evolved: Every child should be unwanted.

By the way, if you're looking for some last-minute stocking stuffers, Oxford University Press has published a book by professor David Benatar of the University of Cape Town called "Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence." The author "argues for the 'anti-natal' view – that it is always wrong to have children … . Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct." As does Alan Weisman's "The World Without Us" – which Publishers Weekly hails as "an enthralling tour of the world … anticipating, often poetically, what a planet without us would be like." It's a good thing it "anticipates" it poetically, because, once it happens, there will be no more poetry.

It is a profound tragedy that so many people cannot recognize the majesty that is humanity. We are created by God in the image of God. Each of us has an intrinsic dignity. How empty to live life in such a hopeless state that you can’t appreciate this distinctly human gift. I would recommend that instead of a copy of Professor Benatar’s book, you put a copy of Spe Salvi in the stockings.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Who's in Charge Here?

Thus he teaches us not to presume to plan our lives autonomously and with self interest, but to make room for the inscrutable will of God, who knows what is truly good for us.

--Pope Benedict XVI, The Apostles, discussing the Letter of St. James.

There is a lot of planning going on in my home. In the short term, I am planning for my next session of our parish group studying The Apostles. I am planning Monday’s 7th grade CCD lesson. I am planning Christmas dinner. I am planning on enjoying having my college sons home for Christmas break. Long-term plans are in the works too. My senior in high school is finalizing plans for college. My senior in college is finalizing plans for after graduation. Both my parents and my husband’s parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries this coming summer so plans for those festivities are in the works.

Amidst all this planning I need to read the quote above. “Make room for the inscrutable will of God who knows what is truly good for us.” I need to hear these words over and over. In spite of my best organizational efforts there will be unexpected twists, glitches, and deviations from our plans. There is no need for anxiety and angst over this. In the grand scheme of things, everything will run according to plan. It is just that it is God’s plan, not mine, that is running the show.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Offer it up!

40. I would like to add here another brief comment with some relevance for everyday living. There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practised today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ's great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves.--Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

I’ve been meaning to post on this since last weekend when I had my first, uninterrupted reading of the complete text of Spe Salvi. I have long heard and used the term “offer it up”. It is sort of Catholic-speak for “Suck it up!” But truly this is so much more than admonishment to quit whining. This is an invitation to actively and personally participate in the salvation of souls. Christ took on the sin and suffering of all of mankind in every age in order to redeem us and allow us to spend eternity with God in Heaven. He invites us to take up our own crosses and follow him. Some of our crosses are quite large: serious illnesses, tragedies, disasters. Some of our crosses are miniscule in comparison: an unkind word, a traffic jam, a delayed airplane, a computer glitch. Yet we can join both our sufferings and our annoyances with Christ’s sacrifice. Rather than lamenting our trials we can “offer them up”. They become an asset to Salvation History rather than a stumbling block to holiness.

The hard part for me is to graciously accept the trials in silence. I want everyone to know that idiot in the blue BMW cut me off on the Beltway. I want everyone to know the injustice I suffered while waiting in line at the post office. Now part of being a writer and being a blogger in particular is sharing life’s difficulties and dilemmas. I hope that when I criticize it is because I am seeking to educate and foster an improvement. If nothing good will come of my complaint, it is time to stay quiet and “offer it up”.

Cuddle up with Catholic Carnival 150

The forecast for this weekend looks like we could be snow or iced in. As long as we have electricity, I will take this time to pour a cup of coffee and settle into reading all the great Advent posts and links on Catholic Carnival 150. Take a special look at this great introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Revised Christmas List

Advent can actually be a very reflective season. Amidst the clutter of catalogues and glossy department store ads, unwritten Christmas cards, and unbaked cookies, there is a serene but firm little voice asking, “What really matters?” Gifts, cards, cookies, lights, and garland are all wonderful if they point us to the true meaning of Christmas. But if they become an end in and of themselves and distract us from the awesomeness of the Incarnation, it is time to let them go.

After nearly a quarter century of marriage, I have amassed quite an assortment of Christmas decorations. Every year I find “just one more thing” at the after Christmas sales. I am finally getting comfortable with the idea that not every decoration has to come out every year. Other than the nativity scene and the Advent wreath, all decorations are optional. So as Advent proceeds, I pull out something here and there. I don’t do an all out decorating blitz that dramatically transforms my home into the wonderland featured in Southern Living. Rather, my home evolves into Christmas. I also set an arbitrary deadline of December 20. If it is not out by then, it is not coming out.

I love baking Christmas cookies and my family loves eating Christmas cookies. Some years I have dozens and dozens of cookies in a wide assortment of flavors. Some years I can manage just a few sugar cookies. Yet, regardless of my Christmas cookie offerings, Christmas will still arrive and we will still celebrate the birth of our Savior. So I can’t let the “responsibility” to bake cookies become a burden. If it works out that we can celebrate Christmas with homemade sugar cookies, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, peanut butter Santa surprises and biscochitos, great! If not, that’s okay too. Christmas still comes.

Before I put all the Christmas fluff on my to-do list, I need to make sure I have put the really important things up top:

1. Go to confession—I need a clean soul to begin the new liturgical year.
2. Make time for daily prayer—Mass, a Rosary, an Advent meditation are all good options
3. Be a joyful witness of the Gospel—Who is going to believe we are celebrating the most joyful event in human history if Christmas makes me grouchy?
4. Remember both the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy—When I bring in the canned goods for the food bank, I must not forget to pray for the food recipients.

If I can get through these four items, then my heart will be prepared to sing “Joy to the World” on Christmas Day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A favorite book to read today

I just love Tomie dePaola books. Here is a perfect one to read with your children today!

A Blessed Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to You!

"Hear me and understand well, my son the least, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is 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."

These words have provided so much solace to me over the years. Sometimes, I just need to feel all wrapped up in Mary’s maternal love.

Read more about this apparition that brought a continent to Christ.

(By the way, the good folks at Trinity Communications who provide the outstanding content of the Catholic Culture web site linked above are holding their annual fund drive. Support them in their efforts to provide reliable, faithful, Catholic content on the web.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Make your prayer for vocations personal

A couple of weeks ago, my youngest was Confirmed. Bishop Loverde always seems to love these occasions. Even though Mass didn’t begin until 7:30pm on a school night and there were 120 young people waiting to receive the Sacrament, Bishop Loverde exuded joy. He really made us feel that there was absolutely nothing he would rather be doing more than offering this sacrament to our children. He also took absolute delight in the opportunity to offer basic catechesis and reminders on Catholic faith and morals. His words were directed to the Confirmands as well as their parents.

One topic Bishop Loverde made note of is vocations. He challenged the students to listen carefully to God’s call. He said he had no doubt that at least one of them would be called to the priesthood or to religious life. Then he turned to us parents and said we should make our prayer for vocations a bit more personal. Instead of just praying for vocations in general, we need to pray that if it be God’s will, one of our own children will hear the call to a religious vocation. That is a bit harder, isn’t it? Yet parental support for vocations is critical in allowing young people to respond to the call.

Argent offers a link to a very good talk about the role of Catholic families in nurturing vocations:

Catholic families need priests: to baptise their children, to provide Mass, to teach the faith (and enable catechists to do so). Priests come from families and good Catholic families are well-placed to provide the environment where a vocation from God can be listened to and followed. Plenty of priests come from non-Catholic or non-practising families but parents who love their Catholic faith often say how delighted they would be if one of their sons were to become a priest.

We must also care for the priests we have. The Vatican has launched a campaign of prayer for the spiritual revival among the world’s clergy.

The Vatican directive-- signed by Cardinal Claudio Hummes and Archbishop Mauro Piacenza: the prefect and secretary, respectively, of the Congregation for Clergy-- explains:

In order to continually maintain a greater awareness of the ontological link between the Eucharist and the Priesthood, and in order to recognize the special maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary for each Priest, it is our intention to bring about a connection between perpetual Eucharistic adoration for the reparation of faults and sanctification of priests.

The letter from the Congregation for Clergy is dated December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. In explaining their plan, Cardinal Hummes and Archbishop Piacenza make it clear that this was no coincidence, saying that the "intend in a very particular way to entrust all Priests to Mary, the Mother of the High and Eternal Priest."

During these very busy Advent and Christmas seasons, do not forget to offer prayers for your parish priests. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will guide their words and actions as they face the increased demands of the holiday. They will be the images of the Catholic Church that many lapsed Catholics see on Christmas Day. May the Holy Spirit inspire these shepherds to effectively reach out to these lost sheep.

Imagine this Christmas without a priest—without the Eucharist. Make sure you take time to thank your parish priest for his service. Encourage him in his ministry. Pray for all priests and religious. And pray that many others, including your own children, will consider the possibility that they are called to serve in a religious vocation.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I guess I missed the mid-life crisis

Want to get a response from your big brothers? Send them this picture with the caption, “Look what I got for Christmas!” As soon as this picture hit their cell phones they were calling to find out how their sister rated such a prize. Never fear. I did not buy my teenage daughter a car for Christmas, much less a Christmas red Mustang. I did let her pull her brothers’ chains a bit.

When we went to Memphis I arranged for a rental car. I requested one of the small compact cars along the line of the Chevy Cobalt. When I arrived at the Avis desk my express reservation was waiting. I quickly signed the papers and headed out to the assigned spot. Instead of the infinitely more practical compact model, I found this red Mustang. My daughter was giddy at the sight. I am not sure why I had been “upgraded” to this sporty ride, but since it wasn’t costing any more I figured we would enjoy the treat.

Let me tell you, I have now firmly concluded that my Mustang days are over. For fifteen years I drove a minivan. About three years ago I downsized to a Prius. I am very happy with my Prius. It is comfortable, practical, and a joy to drive. But maybe I needed a little adventure. Wouldn’t I be a cool mom cruising around in a car that made teens drool? I got into the Mustang and I felt like I was sitting six inches off the road. The car is heavy and drives like a truck. I was so embarrassed when I made a left turn out of the parking lot and the tires squealed as I burnt rubber. Who knew such a little pressure on the accelerator would produce so much power? Rather than being exhilarated by such horsepower, I was terrified. After a few trips to the soccer fields, I learned to moderate the acceleration, but I always felt like I was sitting on a rocket ready to launch. I guess if you are testosterone laden enough or young enough to enjoy the thrill of such uncertainty, this would be a fun car to drive. I, on the other hand, have obviously passed the state of living on the edge and prefer greater MPG’s to greater horsepower.

Therefore, much to the chagrin of my youngsters, a red Mustang will not be on my Christmas list this year or probably any other year. But maybe I’ll live a little dangerously and my next Prius will be red.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Blessed Feast Day to All

A blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception to all! We started our day here in Memphis with Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Germantown, TN. It is a lovely church and the Mass was beautiful. If our soccer schedule allows, we will be back this evening for the Sunday vigil Mass. If not, we'll make the 7:30 Mass tomorrow morning. Finding Mass while traveling has become a special part of our family faith journey. It really points out the universality of our faith.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Spe Salvi

I flew to Memphis this evening for another soccer tournament. Very pleasant, uneventful flight. I used the time to carefully read Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi. I can tell I will be reading it again and again. This document is incredible. I think it is even better than Deus Caritas Est. It offers so much practical advice. These are no ivory tower musings. Pope Benedict asks the question, “Is the Christian faith also for us today a life-changing and life-sustaining hope?” He then takes us step-wise through the logic to see that only through our Christian faith can we truly live with hope. He calls on Scripture as well as the works of St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, and Plato to illustrate his points. This work is a feast for the heart, mind, and soul. Put this on your must read list and savor it this Advent.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Hopeful Advent

God has a way of providing themes in my life, especially during significant liturgical seasons. I’ve noticed it most prominently in Lent. One year the topic of redemptive suffering just seems to surface over and over. The next year Lent will seem joyous with the contemplation of Mercy. This Advent the theme is Hope.

Pope Benedict ushered in this theme with his second encyclical, Spe Salvi..

1. “SPE SALVI facti sumus”—in hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.

Then I opened the to the first entry my new Advent and Christmas meditation book, Advent and Christmas Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton.

The Gift of Hope

It is currently said that hope goes with you, and lends to youth its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to you. Youth is pre-eminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged; God has kept that good wine until now. It is the from the backs of the elderly gentlemen that the wings of the butterfly should burst.

Two days ago I wandered over to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. With over seventy chapels in addition to the main church and the crypt church there is always room to explore. I found myself on the lower level in the Chapel of Our Lady of Hope.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Hope, dedicated May 29, 1994, is a gift of actor and comedian Bob Hope and his wife Dolores in memory of Mr. Hope's mother, Avis Townes Hope.

Tradition holds that Mary appeared to six small children in the sky over a barn in the village of Pontmain, France, Jan. 18, 1871. The children and the townspeople were troubled by the prospect of war. As Prussian troops drew closer, Mary instructed the children to pray fervently and assured them of an end to the conflict. Filled with confidence, the villagers gathered with their pastor in supplication at the site of the apparition. Three days after Mary's appearance, the opposing forces withdrew. A week later, the clash formally ended and all the villagers who had enlisted to fight returned safely. In 1900 a shrine church was consecrated in Pontmain, France and entrusted to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The devotion was introduced in the United States in 1953 by the Oblates, who established a similar shrine at their mission house along Lake Champlain in New York.

It is very easy to feel overwhelmed by the cultural forces that oppose our Faith. It is easy to get discouraged by the lack of fervor for the Faith that seems predominant in the pews. It is tempting to throw up my hands and say there are just not enough parents making the Faith a part of their family life. It is easy to worry about the choices my children are making as they sprout wings.

Yet it is hope that gives me the fortitude to stand up to the culture. It is hope that keeps me plugging away at adult religious education. It is hope that pushes me to me be the family faith cheerleader for other parents. It is hope that allows me to trust the values instilled in my children to carry them through their teen years and beyond. It is hope that gives me peace.

Again from Spe Salvi:

Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only “good news”—the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.

UPDATE: Jen continues my encounter with the theme of hope in her current post.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Where is Hubby?

What Husbands Wear When Their Wives Have Chores for Them

This showed up in my email inbox and I just had to share it. Fortunately, my couch doesn't offer such a convenient cover. Click on the picture if you need a closer look.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Catholic Carnival 147 starts your Advent

I know I am a couple of days late in posting this, but if you haven't made your way to this week's Catholic Carnival, head over there now. Jay at Living Catholicism has some great posts to get your Advent season of preparation going in the right direction.