Wednesday, December 30, 2015

7 Catholic New Year's Resolutions

The New Year is upon us - and with its coming brings New Year's resolutions - we are all familiar with them; we have all made them; we have all broken them by January 7...The media is replete with lists of the most popular resolutions which can usually be broken down into three categories: losing, quitting, and saving - as in weight, smoking/drinking, and money. It is a rare exception that a New Year's Resolution involves our ultimate and final goal of this life - eternal happiness with the Lord in the next.  Don't get me wrong - I am not suggesting that you cease making the "losing, quitting, saving" resolutions - just that you consider adding a resolution or two that will impact your life for all eternity.

Here are 7 Catholic resolutions for the New Year to consider:

1. Go to Daily Mass one extra day per week. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Lumen Gentium, describes the Eucharist as "the source and suumit of the Christian life" and states that "the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily." If you are not already a Daily Mass attendee, resolve to attend just one more Mass each week.

2. Add a new prayer to your prayer routine.  For me, this year, I am planning to embrace the discipline of doing Morning prayer and Evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours each day. However, there are so many ways of incorporating more prayer in your life: Daily Mass, the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Noon-time  Angelus- the list is endless. Make a commitment today that will be achievable - even if the only commitment you are able to make is to pray one single Our Father each day.

3. Read the scriptures. The Bible is the living word of God and spending just 10 minutes a day reading it will change your life. If you are new to reading the Bible - begin with the Gospel of John and commit to reading for 10 minutes. If you are already a regular scripture-reader, pick a book that you are not as familiar with and begin reading it. More ambitious? Check out this daily reading plan which will help you read the entire Bible in one year.

4. Begin a spiritual journal. Keeping a spiritual journal has been one of the most fruitful practices I have ever adopted. I journal my prayers, struggles, scriptures or quotes that have inspired me, petitions, thanksgiving for blessings and more. My journal is a concrete expression of my prayer time and provides a great tool for being honest in my prayer time. Reflecting upon my completed journals allows me to see how the Lord has moved in my life over a period of time. Looking for more tips about journaling?  Read 7 Lessons From Keeping a Spiritual Journal, grab a notebook and pen and being your love letter to the Lord this year!

5. Forgive. Holding a grudge? Resenting someone who has hurt you? Angry and upset about the way your parents/husband/children/friends/boss/etc. treat you? Holding on to unforgiveness is hurting only one person - you.  This New Year - resolve to forgive those who have hurt you. Spend some time in prayer and ask the Lord for the grace to extend forgiveness.  Remember that Jesus forgave from the Cross- it is difficult to withhold forgiveness when you meditate on the crucifixion scene. A great way to start is to write a letter to the person who has hurt you (you don't have to actually send it). In the letter, be specific about what you are forgiving that person for. When you have completed the letter, place the person in the Lord's hands and let them go.

6. Go to confession. Confession is tough stuff - it is not easy to sit before another person and plainly state, without excuses, all your failings, weaknesses and shortcomings. I spent 20 long, dark years away from Confession and can personally attest that it is an incredibly powerful Sacrament and the grace that is available through it to bring healing, freedom and wholeness is immeasurable. Do not be afraid to go to confession - even the Pope does it. If you have been away from the Sacrament for awhile, ask a friend to go with you. Find a priest that you think you would be comfortable with and explain that you are unfamiliar/uncomfortable/uneasy or just plain afraid - he can help with the mechanics of the Sacrament. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind your sins and then jump in with both feet. You will be relieved, elated, and joyful afterwards. Don't wait - the Lord's mercy is the most amazing gift!

7. Make friends with a saint. Ever been asked by a non-Catholic: "Why do you pray to a statue?"  The Communion of Saints is a gift and a mystery that have nothing to do with praying to statues and everything to do with being part of a family that spans the boundaries of time and space. The saints are role models for living lives according to God's plan and powerful intercessors before the throne of the Lord in heaven. This year, resolve to learn about one new saint in a deep way - read their writings, watch videos about their lives, strive to identify and imitate their heroic virtue, and pray to them for their intercession.

Don't forget to ask for the Lord's grace and blessings as you embark on these resolutions - it is impossible to make spiritual progress on our own and the good news is that we have an arsenal of grace that the Lord desires to give to us to help us! 

Read related posts here:
What's the Big Deal About the Pope Going to Confession?
Why Do You Pray to a Statue?
The Angelus: Domestic Church Style
7 Lessons From Keeping a Spiritual Journal


Visit the lovely hosts of #WorthRevist: Elizabeth at Theology is a Verb
and Allison at Reconciled to You.

For more 7 Quick Takes Visit "This Ain't the Lyceum"
 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas From Saints 365

I have always had a love/hate relationship with Christmas.  All the anticipation and preparation seems to be unwrapped, eaten and over in a flash and all that is left the day after Christmas is a mess of strewn gifts, bits of wrapping paper and indigestion. What should just be the beginning of the season of Christmas often leaves me with a vague sadness and a feeling that there must be something more....
 
The reality is that no worldly preparation for Christmas can ever exceed the meticulous preparation God the Father undertook to prepare the world for the gift of Jesus, born in the flesh.  For over two millennium the Lord prepared the hearts of the people of Israel to receive their Messiah, gradually revealing Himself, his love, and his plan for our salvation. 
 
The gift of our Lord and Savior is not something we can unwrap in an instance.  It is not a gift that we may use for a time and wear out or discard.  It is not a gift that brings disappointment.  The gift of Jesus' birth meets our deepest needs. 
 
 
 
As Saint John Paul II describes so perfectly, the gift of Jesus' birth meets all of our longings for "freedom and peace."  Rather than imposing an additional burden on us, Christmas offers us relief from the "burden of sin", the weight of which we all struggle under. Finally, the "Word made flesh" is the source of all of our hope. 
 
This Christmas, after the seven fishes are eaten, the gifts opened and the family gone home, what remains in my heart is a deep gratitude to the Lord for entering the mess of this world, of my world and the words that are on my lips are not ones of exhaustion and melancholy but the joyful song of the angels: "Glory to God in the Highest".
 
A blessed Christmas to all.
 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

The headlines on the news scream disaster, struggle, violence, and hatred.  The world stage is filled with uncertainty and anxiety about the future. Innocent people are slaughtered mercilessly; politicians rage at each other, and even the church seems filled with discord and division. Temptations to fear and despair close in from every side.

I worry about the future. I worry about the world my children are growing up in. I wonder what type of society they will raise their own children in. I pray for our safety and our security. Most of all I pray for peace. 

This Christmas, I find that it is the hauntingly beautiful ancient hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" that whispers peace and comfort into my anxious heart.



It's full lyrics read:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
 
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
 
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
 
At His feet the six wing├Ęd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

In meditating upon this hymn, which dates back as early as the third century, I find myself comforted once again by the mystery of the Incarnation of the Lord - the mystery of Christmas. It is in this mystery that the Lord descends to become one of us, in order that "the power of hell may vanish".  The Holy Family is not alone in that cave in Bethlehem - they are surrounded by the hosts of angels who are prostrate before the King of Kings. Those same angels surround every altar at every Mass worshipping the Lord as he makes himself our "heavenly food". The Lord has not abandoned or forsaken us - he remains with us, truly  present in the Eucharist.

The opening stanza invites us to "keep silence and ponder nothing earthly minded." This Christmas, instead of focusing my attention on the wind and the waves which seem to threaten the world, I will instead turn my gaze in silence to the Lord who is really present in the Blessed Sacrament, as present as he was in the manger 2000 years ago.  It is in Him that I place my trust and it is with the angels that I will join my voice of worship and sing: "Alleluia Alleluia Alleluia, Lord Most High."


Click below for a  beautiful arrangement of this hymn:

 

Friday, December 18, 2015

7 Simple Ways to Share Christ This Christmas

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” With these memorable words, Charles Dickens has captured the sentiment of every enthusiastic Catholic evangelist regarding Christmas. On the one hand, Christmas is an evangelist’s dream – a time of joy and hope , with an abundance of opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a weary world. On the other hand, Christmas can be an evangelist’s worst nightmare – a time of stress and struggle, when it seems like the world in general and the people around one’s own dining room table in particular, are indifferent or openly hostile to all things related to Christ.

Here are seven simple tips for sharing Christ this Christmas with your family, friends, co-workers and even the guy who just cut you off in the parking lot on the way to Midnight Mass.

1.       Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.  In other words, don’t let the hustle and bustle of the season overwhelm you to the point that you shelve your own prayer life. In order to share our faith, we need to be living our faith in an active and intentional way. Be sure to pray daily, get to confession and Mass and spend time soaking in the Real Presence of Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration. Fortifying ourselves spiritually will give us the strength and the tools to fortify others.

2.       Smile.  Sounds too easy, right? Wrong.  A smile transmits the joy that we experience in our hearts.  A simple smile is a welcoming invitation.  Pope Francis speaks often of the joy of the Lord and the importance of radiating that joy to others.  He plainly stated in a homily on May 10, 2013:  “Sometimes these melancholic Christians' faces have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life.” This Christmas, let your smile bring the joy of the Christ to all those you meet.

3.       Let your Christmas card do the talking.  Take advantage of the lowly Christmas card and turn it into an evangelization tool.  Send a religious Christmas card which boldly states the reason for the season and include in it a handwritten, sincere note to the recipient.  In these days of text messages and Instagram posts, a handwritten note is a rarity and can be a great source of encouragement and joy for the recipient.  Pray a Hail Mary for each person as you write out your cards and let your note be an expression of your love and prayers.

4.       Bear wrongs patiently. One of the corporal works of mercy, bearing wrongs patiently  is sometimes the best way to be Christ-like in a challenging situation.  Christmas can be full of difficult people, operating under stressful circumstances.  Instead of letting emotions rule the day, ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to let both little and not so little wrongs  go.  Forgive the person from your heart and offer up any injustices you have experienced for the salvation of souls.

5.       Use “I” statements.  Your office Christmas party or family dinner is not the time to fine tune your preaching career or put the finishing touches on your latest theological treatise. Instead, the best way to share your faith is to share your testimony.  St. Peter tells us “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1Pet 3:15-6)  Share what the Lord is doing in your life in simple, “non-church” language.  Use “I” statements when you speak . For example “I was really touched at a Women’s Conference I just went to at my church” or “I felt so much peace this week after I went to confession.”  These first person statements can plant the seeds of faith in the person you are talking to without putting them on the defensive. 

6.       Serve others.  St. Paul tells us that in the Incarnation Jesus himself “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7) One of the best ways to share Christ with others is to imitate him. Christmas provides lots of opportunities to serve others. Local nursing homes and soup kitchens are always looking for volunteers to help.  If time is short, consider making a donation of money or gifts to help those in need. Finally, don’t miss out on the opportunities in your own home to serve – doing household chores and the “work” of holiday celebrations with a cheerful disposition is a great demonstration of a servant’s heart – the heart of Christ.

7.       Extend an invitation. The power of a simple, personal invitation is greatly underestimated. This Christmas, plan to invite at least one person to go to Mass, Adoration or Confession with  you. Don’t be discouraged if you get turned down – that invitation will not be in vain, and that person may respond to you at a later date.

Finally, don’t stress out that you haven’t converted the world (or even grumpy Uncle Charlie) by the Epiphany. St. Paul in 1 Cor 3:6 tells us “I planted, Appolos watered, but God gave the growth.” All our prayers, acts of love, and witnesses to the Gospel  plant seeds in the hearts of the recipients.  How and when those seeds sprout is in the hands of the Lord himself and we can rest comfortably in that knowledge.
Most of all this Christmas, let us rejoice in the Lord for the gift of salvation that we celebrate!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

O Holy Night

O Holy Night is my favorite Christmas Carol. The lyrics are rich in meaning and so many of them have provided much thought for meditation and spiritual journaling. Here are five facts, images and inspirations from the song. (Feel free to pin and share the images!)

-1-
The book, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas ,  provides some fascinating facts about the song, O Holy Night, including the fact that it was the very first song ever to be broadcast over the radio waves on Christmas Eve 1906, launching a completely new platform for music to be transmitted and enjoyed.  What an amazing experience it must have been to have heard this beautiful hymn on the air waves for the very first time.  Just another miracle of Christmas. Let us pray that all radio transmissions give glory to God the way the very first one did!


-2-

"Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth." For many, Christmas can be a time of sorrow and loneliness - a time when the smiles and happiness of others can serve as a magnifying glass on one's own struggles. The promise that Christ brings with his incarnation is to show us our own worth.  It is only in Christ, that we can truly understand our dignity and value as the sons and daughters of the most high. John 3:16 reminds us that "God so loved the world that he sent is only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." This Christmas, meditate on this verse from the song and allow the Lord to speak the truth of your soul's worth to you. 


-3-
"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn." What promise this line from the song provides.  The hope that the incarnation of the Lord brings should give us a thrill!  In his birth, our weary world experiences the promise of salvation, redemption and the "freedom of the children of God" (Rom 8:21)  This Christmas, open your hearts to experience this "thrill of hope" in a new and powerful way.  Ask the Lord to reveal to you how his incarnation has changed not only the world but you personally.  


-4-

"Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother and in his name all oppression shall cease." In Luke 4:18, Jesus takes up the scroll of Isaiah and proclaims: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." The Lord Jesus is still in the business of breaking the chains that bind us - chains of sin, unforgiveness, bitterness and addiction. If you are struggling with the chains in your life, I highly recommend Neal Lozano's book Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance .



-5-

Josh Groban's rendition of O Holy Night is one of my personal favorite versions of the song and here it is set to video accompanied by images from the movie The Nativity Story.




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Monday, December 14, 2015

What Prayer Does Not Dare To Ask

A few Sundays ago, the opening prayer (known as the collect) really hit me between the eyes.  Ever have that experience?  It was as if the words of the prayer seemed louder and clearer than normal. They stopped me in my tracks and after Mass I googled them to read them again.  Here is what the prayer said:



So many parts of the prayer struck me, but in particular the lines "to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare ask" touched my heart in a deep way.

What, exactly, does my conscience dread, I asked myself?  What makes approaching the confessional so challenging sometimes?  What am I afraid of?  Shame? Vulnerability? The truth that I am fallible, fallen and, most often, frustrated? 

What does my prayer dare not ask?  Why, in fact, if I place all my trust in the goodness and kindness of God the Father, am I still hesitant to ask for anything?  I watch my children confidently ask my husband for whatever they desire, no matter how outlandish the request and I long for that degree of trust in my relationship with the Lord. 

What is it in me that prefers to hang on to the false beatitude that says "blessed are they who ask for nothing for they will not be disappointed", instead of the true ones that demand full and unwavering surrender to the Lord?

I know I am not alone in these thoughts - my suspicion is that they are rather universal - after all, their sentiments have made it into the opening prayer of the entire Church.  My comfort comes in the reassurance provided by the opening lines of the prayer: "Almighty and ever living God, who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and desires of those who entreat you..."

The Lord's generosity outmatches my hesitation.  His words speak gently into my stubborn silence.  His unconditional love surpasses my sin. He longs to give far more than I can ever hope to desire. 

For that greatness of mercy, I am grateful. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

7 Reasons Why I Love Gaudete Sunday


The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon at Mass which proclaims:
 
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!"

which reads in Latin as "Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete." (Sounds so cool in Latin doesn't it?)

Here are 7 reasons why I love Gaudete Sunday:

1. It's our family's personal feast day. Our last name is Gaudino - which derives from the Latin word gaudium which means joy, and so we feel a personal connection to Gaudete Sunday and the spirit of joy and rejoicing in the Lord which it exudes!

2. Everyone wears pink. Ok, alright, don't get huffy on me now - I know the technical, liturgical name for the color of the vestments the priest wears is rose, but pink by any other name is still pink!

3. It's a break from the penances of Advent. (Can anyone say unlimited dessert?). Advent is a penitential season, similar to that of Lent - a season of prayer, repentance, fasting and preparation. Like its counterpart Laudare Sunday in Lent, Gaudete Sunday offers us a respite from the rigors of the penitential season - a time to rejoice and celebrate!

4. It reminds us that joy can co-exist with struggle and suffering. Situated in the midst of a penitential season, Gaudete Sunday is a reminder that joy can be found even in the midst of struggle and pain. The Nativity of the Lord is a perfect example of this reality. To say that Jesus was born in less than desirable circumstances is an understatement. His was not the birth experience most of us Moms dream of. Yet, despite the dire surroundings, joy filled that manager in Bethlehem in a way that we can scarcely imagine. This Gaudete Sunday, ask the Lord for the grace to see beyond the struggles in your life to the joy that only He can bring.

5. The readings are full of joy. Listen to the words of the first reading from the book of Isaiah: "I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation." What a powerful proclamation of the reality of saving power of Jesus! Say this passage out loud every morning for the remainder of Advent - let it's words seep into your heart and transform your life.

6. Christmas is getting closer!  Gaudete Sunday marks the beginning of the final preparations for Christmas - in my house the excitement in the air (especially in my children) is palpable. It is traditionally the day we put up our Christmas tree and begin wrapping gifts, baking cookies and gearing up towards the celebrations we will have with family and friends.

7. It's my birthday! Ok, so the way the church calendar works, Gaudete Sunday isn't always celebrated on my birthday, but this year it is!  Double blessings! Thank you Lord for the gift of life - help me to surrender that gift fully to you this year. May your light shine ever more brightly through my life in this year ahead.

For more quick takes head on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.
For more posts on celebrating the 3rd Week of Advent visit the Catholic Bloggers Network or Day by Day in Our World

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Quotes From St. Francis Xavier

On December 3, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Francis Xavier, patron saint of missionaries. St. Francis Xavier was a Jesuit missionary best known for the thousands of people he brought to conversion and Baptism in India and Japan. In a letter he wrote from the missionary fields in India, he described the amount of people he Baptized in vivid language:
"As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms."

Here's an interesting fact about St. Francis Xavier that I found in Saints for Young Readers for Every Day, Vol. 2: July-December : Pope Gregory XV canonized St. Francis Xavier in 1622 along with Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri and Isidore the Farmer.  WOW!  What a lineup!  I can only imagine the graces that must have flowed at that Canonization. Thank you Lord for your saints!

The book also describes St. Francis Xavier's heroism and determination to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ using these powerful "tools": his gentle polite ways and his prayers. Double WOW!  There are lots of times I think that I don't have the right "tools" to spread the Gospel even in my small corner of the world. That fact is, we cannot underestimate the effectiveness our faith, virtue and prayers can have in any evangelization effort - even those that occur around our kitchen table! We too can be a powerful missionary like St. Francis Xavier if we, like him, abandon ourselves completely to the Lord with faithful, simplel trust.

Below are 5 quotes from St. Francis Xavier which touched me:

-1-
 As a parent, the wisdom of these words St. Francis Xavier's words really struck me - trying to correct my children when we are at odds with one another is an exercise in frustration and futility. It is far easier to calmly discuss behavior that needs to change when the environment is one of love, trust and peace.  
-2-
When trying to evangelize, no tool is more effective than that of personal witness.  Humbly sharing our own struggles which have been overcome by God's great love and mercy can soften even the hardest and most stubborn of hearts.  People can argue with points of doctrine, but no one can argue with a personal testimony!


-3-
These words, written in a letter by St. Francis Xavier, lament the lack of educated missionaries willing to use their gifts to teach the multitudes in India about Christ and the Christian faith. In the letter, St. Francis Xavier spoke of wanting to go to the Universities of Europe and challenge those in attendance as to what the purpose of all their learning was. I was so convicted by these words - which echo the Lord's words to use the gift and talents God has blessed us with in the service of the Gospel.

-4-
Powerful words about the primacy of our intention, motive and level of faith in the Lord when we come to serve him. 



-5-
These words were spoken by St. Francis Xavier immediately prior to his death, while gazing at a crucifix:




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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Top Ten!


 
 

Top ten things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving:

1. Our Lord Jesus Christ, for calling me out of darkness and into his marvelous light! (1 Peter 2:9)

2. The freedoms we enjoy in this country, especially the freedom to worship our God in peace and security.

3. My husband who works tirelessly to support, protect and care for us!  He is truly a reflection of God the Father to me and our children and I know I don't express my gratitude often enough.

4. My children whose presence brings me the greatest joy and reminds me every day of God's love, goodness and mercy.

5. My parents, grandparents, and my brother and sister who have taught me the meaning of family and have dealt with me during the good, the bad and the ugly. 

6. Books, books and more books. Oh how I love books!  Thank you Lord for the gift of books (and progressive eye-glasses which enable me to read all those books.)

7. Wine - one of the greatest pleasures God has ever created and the perfect remedy for long homeschooling days.

8. And speaking of homeschooling - I am grateful for other homeschooling families who walk this crazy walk with us and understand like no other the struggles and victories of this life.

9. 65 degree Thanksgiving days - praying they last long into winter. 

10. Thanksgiving and all its trimmings - how great is this holiday - no gifts, no decorations, a midweek day off and lots of food and family! 

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving? 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

7 Ways to Celebrate Advent With Your Family

Patient waiting.

These two little words most accurately describe the tone and theme of the season of Advent.

Patient waiting.

No two words in the English language are more incompatible with young children.

How do those of us with young children help them to celebrate the beautiful season of Advent without being overrun by the mad rush to Christmas morning?  Here are 7 ideas that our family has used to  make the celebration of the season of Advent a Christ-centered, prayerful and fun-filled family affair.

1. Advent Prayer Chain
As a child I loved making paper chains - I think they appealed to the independent streak in me as I liked the idea that I could assemble what I considered to be a beautiful garland all on my own. That appeal has crossed over into my adult life and one of my favorite Advent family traditions is the paper-prayer chain. The kids and I assemble our chain together. As we create the purple and pink chain links, we write the name of a person (living or deceased) or a particular prayer intention on the inside of each link. Once the chain is fully assembled we have a link for each day of Advent.Every day, we remove one link and remember the person or intention on that day's link in a special way in our prayers. Here is a picture of this year's prayer chain handing on our mantle:



2. Lighting the Advent Wreath
I have fond memories of lighting the Advent wreath each night at dinner as a child. It was so exciting as the weeks progressed and the purple candle from the first week grew shorter and shorter. Christmas was coming. Our family has continued the tradition. When the kids were small we lit the Advent wreath in the morning -  in fact, when they were toddlers, we sometimes lit the Advent wreath several times per day - they loved it so much. Now we have set aside time each evening before bed to light the Advent wreath, sing the first verse of O, Come O Come Emmanuel and read from our Advent devotional. This year we are reading Advent and Christmas With the Saints. Here's a picture of our Advent Wreath - we have been using this makeshift Advent wreath with pillar candles since before our children were born - at the rate we are going the candles will last for another 25 years!



3. Family Blessings Journal
I found the idea for a Family Blessings Journal in this book :Advent in the Home: Activities for Families. Using cardstock and some decorative stickers, I made a book for each week of Advent. For each day, every member of the family will share and write down the individual blessing we are most grateful for. I am looking forward to learning more about my husband and children and growing together as a family in gratitude towards the Lord. My prayer is that these journals will become a yearly tradition and a treasured keepsake that we can look back on each year. Here are some pictures of our newly minted Family Blessings Journals:









4. Advent Daily Read-Aloud
Jessica at Shower of Roses inspired me several years ago with her gorgeous Advent book basket -I imagined the joy my children would experience seeing a big basket of beautifully wrapped purple and pink books. The book basket did not disappoint and when my daughter saw this year's books all wrapped and ready to go - she jumped up and down and said "Mommy I can't wait for Advent!" The book basket consists of Advent and Christmas stories - both faith-based and secular. We unwrap the book of the day, snuggle on the couch and read it together every morning. Each year we add new books and weed out the ones that the kids have outgrown. Here's a picture of this year's book basket:



 For a listing of books in our Advent Book Basket click here.


5. Holy Heroes Advent Adventures
The Holy Heroes FREE Advent Adventures are videos delivered daily to your email. The kids (and I) love watching the Holy Heroes kids learn about Advent through reflections on the Sunday scriptures, the Jesse Tree, the rosary and more. This year we also bought the companion activity guide which we plan to use along with the video each day. For those of you fellow homeschoolers - we shelve our regular religion books during Advent and use our Advent devotions instead for our religious instruction.


6. Nativity Jigsaw Puzzle
Advent is all about patient waiting and what better way to combat the culture of instant gratification than through the assembly of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. I see so many parallels to the discipline, patience and perseverance required to complete a jigsaw puzzle and the spiritual journey to Bethlehem we should all be taking during Advent. Advent is a season to slowly and patiently, with time and sometimes frustrating effort, prepare our hearts for the Nativity of the Lord.

Pick up your own No Room at The Inn 1000 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle here.


7. Family Movie Night
Advent and Christmas can be a busy and hectic time and while we enjoy parties, celebrations and family gatherings, it is a pleasure to crash on the couch and relax in our pj's watching a Christmas movie (or 2).   Some faith-based selections in our queue this season are The Nativity StoryMary of Nazareth and The Star of Bethlehem.  Of course, we love revisiting some old favorites that capture the Spirit of Christmas such as It's a Wonderful Life  and  Miracle on 34th Street (honestly we enjoy both the original 1947 version and the 1994 version). 

Read related posts here:
Keeping Christ in Advent: 7 Ways to a Peaceful December
Christmas Gift Ideas For Kids: Catholic Style

I'm participating in #/WorthRevisit Wednesday's with this post. 
For more awesome #WorthRevisit posts, head over to the lovely hostesses' Allison Gingras at Reconciled to You and Elizabeth Reardon at Theology is a Verb.


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Please note that this post contains Affiliate Links - which basically means that if you click and shop
through any of the Amazon or Lighthouse links, my domestic church will receive a small commission.
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Friday, November 20, 2015

Our Advent Book List

Years ago, Jessica at Shower of Roses inspired me with her gorgeous Advent book basket -I imagined the joy my children would experience seeing a big basket of beautifully wrapped purple and pink books. The book basket did not disappoint and when my daughter saw this year's books all wrapped and ready to go - she jumped up and down and said "Mommy I can't wait for Advent!"  We unwrap the book of the day, snuggle on the couch and read it together every morning. Each year we add new books and weed out the ones that the kids have outgrown. Here's a picture our book basket:

 
 
Although Advent begins on November 29 - we begin reading from our book list on December 1:
 
December 1: While not an overt Christmas book, Neal Lozano's beautiful book Will You Bless Me? recounts the story of the Annunciation through the Epiphany as told by the Blessed Mother to the Child Jesus. It is a beautiful introduction to the gift of blessing your children. 
 
December 2: In honor of the lighting of the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center, we read The Carpenter's Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree
 
December 3: Written in 1957, The Story of Holly and Ivy, is a classic Christmas tale of hope and miracles. It is a favorite of mine and one that brings me to tears everytime I read it (much to my children's chagrin).
 
December 4: Who doesn't love "All the Who's in Whoville" and the slimy green Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!   - a family fav indeed.
 
December 5: The True Story of Santa Claus contains the story of St. Nicholas as told by "Santa Claus" as well as a few pages of facts at the end of the book about the life this special saint who's feast we celebrate on December 6.
 
December 6: The Miracle of St. Nicholas   is a moving story of the faith and devotion of a Russian village who kept the fires of faith burning during 60 long years without the celebration of the Eucharist.
 
December 7: There are very few Christmas books which focus on St. Joseph and so we have really enjoyed this relatively new addition to our reading list: Father and Son: A Nativity Story
 
December 8: I love the beautiful, heart warming depiction of the Nativity Scene in Max Lucado's The Crippled Lamb, and the encouraging message that each of us has a role to play in God's plan.
 
December 9: Another non-traditional Christmas book that has been a favorite of ours for years is The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale
 
December 10: The Christmas Candle reminds me so much of Dicken's A Christmas Carol - in the total transformation of its protagonist from a bitter miser into a generous giver. Powerful, but may be a little on the dark side for very young children. 
 
December 11: Gearing up for the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we enjoy this classic Mexican tale:The Legend of the Poinsettia
 
December 12: Tomie de Paola's The Lady of Guadalupe is our Go-to book to celebrate her Feast Day.
 
December 13: Lucia: Saint of Light explains not only the story of St. Lucy, whose feast is celebrated on the 13th of December, but also the traditional Swedish celebrations which accompany her feast day.
 
December 14:The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is a tale of love, fidelity and sacrifice - another tear-jerker for me.
 
December 15: We typically put up our Christmas Tree in mid-December, making it the perfect day to read more about the history of the tradition of decorating an evergreen tree at Christmas inThe Legend of the Christmas Tree
 
December 16: Our multi-cultural parish is hosting a traditional Las Posadas procession this Advent and we are so excited to participate in something we have only read about before in Tomie de Paola's book: The Night of Las Posadas
 
December 17: Since they were born, we have always limited the amount of gifts we give our children to three - the same as Jesus received.  Jennie Bishop, the author of The Princess and the Kiss: A Story of God's Gift of Purity really oudid herself with the exquisite book: The Three Gifts of Christmas.   The book provides a timeless lesson on the axiom "It is better to give than to receive."
 
December 18: I fear our children are outgrowing Tomie De Paola's Story of the Three Wise Kings and this may be the last year it makes its way into our book basket, but I still enjoy the story of the Epiphany. 
 
December 19: In keeping with the theme of the Epiphany, we really enjoy this sweet story: Small Camel Follows the Star
 
December 20: The Gift of the Magi is another tear-jerker and a lovely story not only about the true meaning of giving gifts at Christmas, but also a testament to type of sacrifices loving husbands and wives make for each other.
 

December 21: Another heartwarming story about the transformation that can be wrought by Christmas love is The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. A little on the long side - this book can easily be stretched out over two - three days. 

December 22: A fictional book loosely based on the actual Christmas Truce of 1914,Christmas in the Trenches is a story about a moment unity and peace, in the midst of division and war.

December 23:The Polar Express  is still running after 30 years and we are still loving riding on it each year!

December 24: The classic Christmas Eve book:The Night Before Christmas  completes our book list - and while it is not a religious book, we enjoy the poem and the anticipation of the festivities of Christmas Even dinner with family and the celebration of  Midnight Mass at our Parish. 

What are your favorite Christmas read-alouds?  Share them in the Comments below!

Please note that this post contains Affiliate Links - which basically means that if you click and shop 
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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Home to Me

Memories of my Grandmother's house powerfully evoke all five of my senses. I can still hear the creak of the linoleum steps beneath my feet as I would ascend to her second floor apartment, the smell of simmering marinara sauce or some other Italian comfort food wafting to meet my nose.  Her greeting was always the same: a tight, warm embrace in her sturdy Sicilian arms followed by the lilt of her broken English: "Deborina...how's my beautiful granddaughter".  And the tastes... Dinner at Grandma's was always a feast for the palate.  She could transform a head of iceburg lettuce, a slab of mozzarella and a dash of oil and vinegar into the most magically delicious salad I have ever eaten.


This hung above my Grandmother's stove and now hangs above mine.

I have the greatest memories of the days and nights spent as a child at her home: from sleepovers when I was allowed to stay up late and watch episodes of the Love Boat and Fantasy Island while she snored on the couch next to me to the sounds and smells of her frying meatballs on Sunday mornings. As a teen, when my parents drove me nuts for no other reason than they were my parents, I would escape to my Grandmother's house. All my fittings for my wedding dress were done with me perched precariously atop her kitchen table, and her adept seamstress hands pinning and repining. When I finally had my own children, I soaked up her parenting wisdom (my favorite quote: "The mother is the doctor.")  and delighted in the love she showered on her great-grandchildren. 

Nothing in my Grandmother's house ever changed. Growing up on a small, remote island off the coast of Sicily and arriving in the United States as an immigrant in the midst of the Great Depression gave her a natural detachment from material things. It wasn't that she didn't like nice things - her home was meticulously, albeit simply, furnished. It was just that she saw no reason to replace something that was still perfectly useful. The result was that her home remained exactly the same year after year, until she passed away at nearly 99 years old. It was that unchanging quality that I missed the most after her death. Life at Grandma's house was like her love- stable, steady, rock-solid and unchanging.

I was well into my forties when she died, but her death rocked me as if I were a child. Reminders from well-meaning friends of the length and beauty of her life offered me little consolation. I missed her presence in my life: I missed her hugs, I missed her voice, I missed her meatballs and I missed the home that I considered one of the happiest places on earth.

A few months after her death I sat in my Spiritual Director's office and cried my heart out to him. He patiently listened as I sobbed though my grief. When he finally spoke, he gently suggested that I was looking for my grandmother in all the wrong places. Instead of longing for her presence in the past, in the flesh, in her home - he proposed that I seek her instead where she was to be found: in the Lord, in the Spirit, in heaven. He asked me to pray for the grace to release her in this life, so that I might discover her in a new way.  Finally, he gave me this quote, which has sustained and consoled me ever since: "Those who die in grace go no further from us than God, and God is very near."

I turned over that quote in my mind for many months. I have come to appreciate the truth in its words. I thought that what I missed the most about my Grandmother was the permanence of her home and all that represented to me. What I have discovered is that her home was just a dwelling for her love, and that remains alive, well and exactly as it always was: stable, steady, rock-solid and unchanging.
 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Keeping Christ in Advent: 7 Ways to Prepare for a Peaceful December

After reading this post where I lamented my inability in previous years to stay focused spiritually during Advent, a dear friend of mine suggested that I compile a list of practical ways to get ahead of the busywork that needs to happen in order to prepare for Christmas, so that we have the time to be free to really enter fully into the Season of Advent. I am so grateful for her suggestion, because it has given me a good reason to get all these things on my list done - nothing like a little accountability to get the ball rolling! My goal is to have these tasks completed before the first Sunday of Advent, which will be celebrated this year on November 30.

1. Prepare for Advent first. 
For the past several years, the order of my planning and preparation goes like this: Thanksgiving, December festivities (all those parties, concerts, shopping trips and other things happen in December), Christmas, Advent.  See anything wrong with this picture?  I sure do. In my world, Advent has become an afterthought - something that I scramble to focus on around the time we light the pink candle. Here's a few ideas to prepare, in advance, for Advent. 
  • Get out your Advent wreath and make sure that you have fresh candles - If you need them you can get some here...Mega Candles - Unscented 10" Advent Taper Candle, Set of 4.
  • Have on hand a daily devotional that you can use for prayer during the Advent Season. I am planning to use Advent and Christmas With the Saints (Advent and Christmas Wisdom). I love this series, which contains volumes for Advent from St. Padre Pio, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, GK Chesterton, St. Augustine and more. 
  • Make a plan with your family to set aside time each day to light the Advent Wreath and spend time together in prayer. Pick a time that works for all of you - it could be dinnertime, or first thing in the morning, or right before bedtime. Advent is a penitential season, so this may require a sacrifice to fit in. However, as with all sacrifices, God will not be outdone in generosity and the blessings will flow. 

2. Purge.
One of the things I dread most about Christmas is the influx of new stuff that invades my house. While I am immensely grateful for the generosity of friends and family, I stress every year about where to put new toys, new clothes, new ornaments and that new 17 Piece Nativity Cookie Cutter Bake Set that I just had to buy.....

This year I am resolving to spend the next few weeks of November purging the house of old toys, clothes which have been outgrown or worn-out, kitchen gadgets that never get used, broken ornaments, used books, dusty trinkets and more. You name it -it's going. Advent begins the new year in the Church and I am aiming for it to begin a new, tidier, more organized year in my home. 

3. Make a list, check it twice and get it done.
As a wife and Mom, the list of things that need to get done to prepare for Christmas seems endless and seriously overwhelming - especially when you have left the majority of it until mid-December.  Here's a Christmas to-do list that I am aiming to finish prior to the first Sunday of Advent. Everyone's list is unique, so I encourage you to make your own and knock the items off as early as possible!
  • Buy, write, address, stamp and seal Christmas cards - I won't mail them till Dec. 20 but I sure don't want to be addressing envelopes that day. 
  • Send Christmas wish lists to grandparents and family of the kids sizes, likes and dislikes and any banned gift items (please Auntie, no Electronic Voice Transformer this year)
  • Pick up Christmas outfits and pj's for the kids and for yourself and hubby too! 
  • Buy all Christmas gifts - including a few spare gifts (I am thinking of mugs stuffed with Hershey kisses) for those unexpected, unplanned, or (heaven forbid) forgotten people. 
  • Stock up on wrapping paper, labels, tape and bows. 
  • Wrap a few gifts each day, as opposed to power-wrapping for 8 hours straight. 
  • Plan ahead for Christmas cooking and baking - making as few trips to the grocery store as possible - better yet, find a grocery store which delivers and save yourself the trip. 
  • Cook and freeze as many healthy meals as possible. 

4. Plan to try a new Christ-centered activity.
Advent is a special time in the life of the church and most parishes offer wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth during this season including Advent missions, penance services, concerts of sacred music, evenings of lessons and carols and more. Before Advent even begins, scout out an event sponsored by your parish, a neighboring parish or Diocese that you believe will help you focus on spiritually preparing yourself and your family for Christmas and put it on the calendar.

5. Just say no.
December brings with it a flood of invitations and opportunities for celebrations. While those are generally all fun and festive times, they can also easily and quickly lead to burnout, exhaustion and in some cases, depression. It really is OK to say no to holiday events and even to certain "traditions." Pick an evening in November and sit down with your spouse, a calendar and a glass of wine if you think it will help and plan out what events you will attend and what you will not. Having a united front, well in advance, is essential to winning the battle for time in the month of December and will help to eliminate a lot of stress, hurt feelings and arguments.

6. Keep it Healthy
My December diet consists of the following 5 food groups:
  1. Cookies
  2. Eggnog
  3. Wine
  4. Holiday dinners - Italian style 
  5. Holiday leftovers - Italian style
If I graphed my December sleep and exercise schedule, in comparison with my stress levels, you would see one soar while the other two plummet.  Folks, this is not good news. This year I am determined to be kind to myself by making a concerted effort to eat right, exercise, sleep and stay sane. How will I accomplish such an amazing feat? I have no clue. I certainly can't give up the eggnog or the cookies.... In all seriousness, like everything else, my plan is to schedule in time for exercise and to cook ahead as many healthy meals as possible. As for the lack of sleep, I am hoping that keeping our schedule manageable and completing the majority of Christmas errands ahead of time will minimize the late nights. 

7. Offer it up.
December stress happens - to some extent it is unavoidable. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around last year my behavior more closely resembled Attila the Hun than any great saint. If you find yourself getting tired, grouchy and just plain Scroogeish, take a deep breath, find a quiet spot, meditate on the blessed peace and silence that must have accompanied the Lord's birth and offer all your struggles up to Him. Pray for those who do not yet know the name of Jesus; pray for the person who is bugging you the most at that moment; pray that the world experiences the peace that the Savior brings. In the end, there is no such thing as the perfect Christmas celebration - only the perfect Christ. Let's all keep calm and focus on Him this Advent.

Read related posts here:
7 Ways to Celebrate Advent With Your Family
Our Advent Book List
Christmas Gift Ideas For Kids: Catholic Style


Head on over to This Ain't the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.


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Please note that this post contains Affiliate Links - which basically means that if you click and shop
through any of the Amazon or Lighthouse links, my domestic church will receive a small commission.
Woo-hoo! We greatly appreciate the support!