Advent Wreath Link-Up at CatholicMom.com

Today I am linked up with the CatholicMom.com Advent Wreath Link-Up.  If you have a camera and a blog be sure to share your wreath with us.

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Our Advent Wreath is our first as a family.  My husband and I have been married for 3.5 years.  We bought a simple gold ringed wreath at our parish bookstore.  I then went to the Dollar Tree and purchased fake pine garland and some simple white poinsettia flowers that have a hint of glitter.  We have four purple candles this year because last year’s candles melted in the attic.  Walmart only had purple and no pink.  The white flowers symbolizes that Christmas is soon to come.  Although we wait in the violet of Advent, soon we will give way to liturgical white to celebrate The Nativity of Our Lord.

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Advent is a season that teaches me a lot.  I struggle, like many people, with wanting instant gratification.  Advent teaches us to wait, it teaches us patience.  Instead of rushing headlong into Christmas, we are told to become quiet, reflective, repentant, and expectant.  The Savior of the World is coming to us at Christmas, and he will come again.  It is not a day we check off of a list after hours of shopping.  Instead, it is the day God came to rescue us.  It is when the fullness of salvation story became clear.  It is also a season that lasts beyond December 25th.  We live the Incarnation each and every single day as followers of Christ.

May Our Lord bless you in the quiet of the Advent season and prepare your heart to receive Him at Christmas.

Second Sunday of Advent Reflection: Lonely vs Lowly

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Last night I went to the Saturday Vigil Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent. A part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist really struck me. I actually misheard our priest who has a Nigerian accent and that mishearing really hit me. During the anaphora, or Eucharistic Prayer, there is a portion in the preface that says, “For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh…” I actually heard it as “he assumed the loneliness of human flesh”. This mistake got me thinking.

All human beings experience loneliness. It can be loneliness because we are physically alone and have no one to turn to, it can be psychological because of mental illness or other struggles, or it can be a sense of abandonment during a difficult time. This abandonment creates a loneliness and a feeling of isolation from God. So I heard the priest wrong, but perhaps I didn’t. Perhaps I needed to think about the Incarnation in a new way.

Christ came and assumed our weak, human form, including our loneliness. He was completely alone and uttered his abandonment from the Cross. While he was God, he also felt our desolation. He knows what it is to be alone, and perhaps in my own struggles, I have forgotten that Christ truly understands my sufferings.

This is a difficult time of year for a lot of people. I think that we forget that fact in the busyness of the season. Many people struggle with depression, myself included, or are lonely this time of year, many are mourning the loss of loved ones. It is the darkest part of the year. It reminds us that we are truly alone in the final analysis. We have to make the final journey alone. Christ, while He was God, went to the Cross alone to show us the way.

It is important that we reach out to our brothers and sisters this time of year and all year long. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta warned us that there is a great loneliness and feeling of being unloved in the West. We must encourage and lift up those around us who struggle and who are alone. We are the Mystical Body of Christ, we are a community, we are an organism. When one part suffers the whole body suffers.

Do you pray for the lonely, depressed, mourning,, or struggling? Do you reach out to the people in your community who are mentally ill? Do you suffer from depression yourself? Consider Christ on the Cross. He knows your loneliness and pain. Meditate on how Christ took on our lowliness, but he too understands our loneliness.

There is something of this loneliness as we wait for Our Lord to come both at Christmas and in the Second Coming. We long for Him. ‘Our souls pine for him like a deer longs for streams of water’, to paraphrase the Psalmist. Advent reminds us that we are not home. We are not reunited with the one who created us. We must always keep in mind that we wait in “joyful hope” even in our struggles. So as we wait for brighter days and lighter burdens, remember that all things pass away, and Our Lord has come to save us. I pray Our Lord blesses you during this Advent season. St. Dymphna, pray for us.

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Saying “No” to Santa

I am going to open up this can of worms for the second year in a row. I am having an honest struggle with Santa Claus. I was raised with my parents doing Santa Claus. I can remember thinking that I heard sleigh bells when I was five years old, waiting in anticipation for Christmas morning. My parents did a great job of making Christmas a special time. That is why I am shocked that I am struggling with the decision to do Santa Claus or not. The Easter Bunny is already a big no for my husband and me.

Here’s my struggle. I believe that Santa Claus overshadows the birth of Jesus Christ in our culture. I also do not think that the Santa Claus of today is St. Nicholas, that heretic fighting, children loving, Bishop of the Church who spent time in prison for the Faith. A man living in the North Pole with a bunch of elves, who sometimes is an elf himself, is more like the story Twas’ the Night Before Christmas than St. Nicholas. I know there are people who would debate this with me, and I respect their opinion. I just don’t see the resemblance these days.

St. Nicholas, defender of the Faith.

St. Nicholas, defender of the Faith.
Anymore I associate rampant materialism with Santa Claus. A story that taught children basic morality has turned into a “give me stuff” mentality. It is no longer tell Santa the one thing you want for Christmas. It is now tell Santa everything you want for Christmas, so your parents can go trample one another on Black Thursday….Friday. Call me cynical. I know a lot of it is how you do it in your own family. There are plenty of Catholic families who do a nice temperate job with Santa Claus. That is great.
Does this really look like St. Nicholas?  Is Santa Claus serving Jesus Christ these days?
Does this really look like St. Nicholas? Is Santa Claus serving Jesus Christ these days?
Here is my biggest question: If we get the birth of Jesus Christ, Savior of the World on Christmas, then why do we need Santa Claus? I am a great lover of the Communion of Saints, by the way, but like I said, I barely see the resemblance between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. In fact, if Catholics are honest they will see that historically Santa Claus was created to deflect a Catholic Feast Day. I do not believe that the Protestants who created the character had the current Santa Claus in mind, though. He has evolved through story-telling in the elite quarters of the last couple of Centuries.
The interesting thing is that my Protestant friends are less likely to do Santa Claus in their home than Catholics. My Protestant friends outright condemn the materialism that Santa Claus has created and are vehemently opposed to lying to their children. I find Matt Fradd’s post, a Catholic apologist, on this is topic to reflect how I view the situation. He quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church on lying. I highly recommend you read his thoughts on Santa.
But, once again, my biggest struggle is that Jesus Christ should be enough. If we want to celebrate St. Nicholas, then December 6th is the best day to do it. That is what we do in our home. We remember the generosity of this great defender of the Faith by giving small gifts, oranges, and candy. In my mind the wonder and joy of Christmas, the “magic” if you will, should come from God, who created all things and became man to save us from sin and death. Like Matt Fradd said in his post, ‘if we are losing the magic of Christmas when Our Savior was born, then we are doing it wrong.’
The true joy, wonder, and awe comes into the world to save us.  That is Christmas!
The true joy, wonder, and awe comes into the world to save us. That is Christmas!
I am not condemning folks who do Santa Claus, so please do not misunderstand me. I am merely pointing out that some honest reflection should be in order. If you can balance Santa Claus and the birth of Christ in your family then that is wonderful. If you start to think about it and see that Santa is more important than Christ, then some changes should be made. If like me, you don’t see the need for Santa Claus and don’t like lying to your children, then consider getting rid of Santa and focusing on Jesus Christ. All joy stems from Him.
I have had some pretty nasty responses to my questioning Santa Claus. I have heard that I will ruin my daughter’s childhood, to I am committing the sin of scrupulosity, to I should just do Santa anyway. Well, I have to do things based on my informed conscience. I had this struggle last year, when our daughter was a one year old. I never thought I would be here, but then again, I never saw myself where I am spiritually either. My husband thinks that God has given me this struggle for a reason. Perhaps he wants me and my family to focus solely on Him during the Christmas season and that is why he has placed this in my heart. We honor St. Nicholas on his day, but focus on Jesus Christ on the Feast of the Nativity. We still exchange gifts to celebrate, but they are from us and our family. My husband wants us to do gifts on Epiphany. We are still debating that one.
My daughter will have plenty of wonder, joy, and “magic” in her childhood. She gets to celebrate throughout the year as we live the Church calendar. She gets two birthdays, her actual day of birth and her Baptism anniversary when she was made a new creation in Christ. She also gets to celebrate Easter, Marian Feast Days, and our family patron saints. She will be introduced to Narnia, Middle-Earth, A Wrinkle in Time, and other great works of fiction that will engage her imagination. There will be no shortage of awe in this home.
What are you thoughts? What do you do in your home? Do you live liturgically? Have you thought about getting rid of Santa? Please keep it charitable. Advent blessings!

Celebrating the Feast of Saint Nicholas-December 6th

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Today is the Feast Day of St. Nicholas.  Happy Feast Day!  We celebrate this feast in our family.  My husband and I decided to incorporate his childhood tradition of stockings on December 6th to our own family traditions.  We did stockings on Christmas morning in my family.

My husband and I want to live more liturgically, so this is a great opportunity to celebrate the actual St. Nicholas, minus the commercialism.  Let’s be honest, Santa Claus, does not much look like St. Nicholas these days.  I even have my doubts that they are the same.  I will write about that later.  When we think about it, how much do we actually know about this Fourth Century Bishop of Myra, from Asia Minor?  Much of what is known about him has become legend, but what we do know is that he was a great defender of the Faith, generous, charitable, he was imprisoned, and fought the Arian heresy that has denied the divinity of Christ for centuries.  The American version of Santa Claus was brought to North America by Dutch Protestants who had transformed him into a nordic magician of sorts.  Catholic feast days were not popular in the US and Reformation countries.
Since we are in the middle of Advent, the Feast of St. Nicholas is the one day we start gearing up for Christmas.  I slowly bring out Christmas decorations.  The Tree is still a week off for us.  I pulled out the Nativity Set without Jesus and the Wise Men.  I have purple bows outside and on our wreaths.  I make a nice meal, we even eat meat on Fridays.  Tonight I made a venison roast that we did not end up eating.  We made a last minute decision to go with some friends to the Christmas parade downtown.  Normally we would eat dinner and then exchange stockings.  We each get an ornament that has been selected by a member of the family.  We also have a little bit of candy, oranges, and a small gift.
Being Catholic is a celebration.  We get to celebrate Baptism anniversaries, patron saint feast days, as well as other feast days that are important for our family.  It is a great way to show our daughter that we are a joyful people.  We live carrying our Crosses, but there is so much to celebrate in the joy that is in Christ Jesus.  The ultimate battle was won in the Resurrection.  His saints show us the way to Him.  St. Nicholas walked the path of holiness before us.  There is much to learn by his example.
I highly recommend bringing this feast day into your home.  For my husband and me the whole Santa thing (the verdict is still out on whether we will even do Santa, leaning towards no) makes sense today and not on Christmas.  Christmas is about the God-Man who became a baby.  The Savior of the world coming to us.  There is nothing that can compare!  Advent blessings.
Do any of you have St. Nicholas Feast Day traditions?

An Advent Reflection: Are We Afraid of Silence?

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Are we afraid of silence?  Think about it.  The TV, radio, iPod, cell phone, game system, computer or other noise maker is always on.  We are enrapt in our car, at the store, in our homes.  We are distracted.  Christmas time is no exception.  It is busy and crazy.  We have parties to attend, gifts to buy, gifts to wrap, cards to write, cookies to bake, and plays to attend.  Plus, after all of that, we go to Mass.  Do you know what?  We don’t even like silence in the Mass anymore, even though it is just as important as the words.  The Mass is a prayer.  I can barely even get a prayer off after I receive Him in the Eucharist before music is blaring again.  We are afraid of silence.  It terrifies us.  Our society is obsessed with noise.

So, how do we slow down in the hustle and bustle of this season? How do we appreciate silence? First, we place Advent at the forefront right now.  It is not Christmas, yet.  Sure we still have to buy gifts, wrap, and write cards.  That is fine.  But, we should not be headlong into Christmas.  Advent is a time of silence.  A time of joyful hope.  December is a dark month.  It is the darkest month of the year.  In lighting candles on each Sunday of Advent, we are witnessing to the hope that comes in Our Savior: the Light.  We too wait for Him to come again, but we also wait, like the Israelites for his coming on Christmas.
Take some time to pray and reflect each day on what O Come, O Come Emmanuel truly means.  Light your Advent wreath and say a prayer, sing an Advent hymn, or enjoy the candle light.  Prayer does not have to come with words.  Sit and listen to God.  See what He is trying to tell you in the busyness of your day.
In this season of instant gratification, Christ is trying to teach us patience and hope.  It is in the waiting that our anticipation builds.  The real “magic” of Christmas does not come from reindeer, sleighs, and a man in a red suit who somewhat resembles St. Nicholas.  The real joy of Christmas comes from a child lying in a manger.  A child who, though is God, took on human flesh.  He came to rescue us from ourselves.
We are still waiting for His return.  We are waiting to be re-united with Him.  Advent reminds us of the deepest longings of our heart.  It reminds us that nothing in this life can fulfill us.  We only find joy and peace in Our Lord.  The greatest Christmas gift cannot be bought in a store.  The greatest gift was purchased at the price of God’s only Son, for our sake.  Even though we are enslaved by sin, Christ came to free us.  Shouldn’t we be giving Him more of our time?
Shut off the TV, computer, iPod, game system, or whatever else distracts you. Spend some time in silence.  Spend time contemplating what the coming of Our Savior means.  Pray about His sacrifice for all.  Imagine how the Israelites felt waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years.  We know that Christ comes at Christmas, but they waited ages for Him. Embrace the beautiful season of Advent.  I pray for Advent blessings on you and your family.

Advent Wreath Link Up at CatholicMom.com

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Do you love the season of Advent as much as I do?  Do you have a beautiful wreath to share?  Then join us over at CatholicMom.com next Monday, December 9th, 2013 for the Advent Wreath Link-Up.  Grab your camera and take a picture of your Advent wreath.  If you don’t have a blog send it to Sarah Reinard and she will get it posted with the rest of the pictures. Click on the picture above for full details. Have a very blessed Advent!

The Ugly Christmas Ornament Lesson

Once again my daughter is teaching me that the world does not revolve around me.  It is a very difficult lesson, one in which I sulk at times.  Give me a little bit of a break.  I have only been a parent for 2 years and was living blissfully unaware (okay..occasionally aware) of my selfish nature for 30 years prior.  Some of you may scoff and others will understand my story.

You see, each year since we have been dating, my husband and I have bought each other a Christmas ornament.  We only put those ornaments on our tree, and a few gold ball ornaments.  Michaela was added to the tradition when she was born.  We open our ornaments on the Feast of St. Nicholas (Dec 6th) and then set them aside until Gaudete Sunday.  It is little addition we made to that Feast Day in our home. So far, the ornament selections have been quite lovely.  I like the religious ornaments, but we do have some wintry ornaments as well.
Tonight my husband, daughter, and I decided to go to Walmart to try to find some purple Advent candles since ours melted in the attic over the summer.  We also thought we would see what kind of ornament we should get for Michaela.  We found 4 purple candles, they were out of pink.  My apologies to Gaudete Sunday.  The ornament selection did not leave much to be desired.  I was going to compromise on a Disney Princess ornament because it had Rapunzel on it, but then…my husband pulled out this:
This is going on my Christmas Tree.
This is going on my Christmas Tree. And, yes, the dog is wearing pink booties.
  Those of you have a toddler know what happened next.  She loved it!  It was the greatest ornament on  the planet.  Nothing could compare.  I tried.  I showed her the Disney Princess ornament.  She ignored it.  I tried a jingle-bell snowman.  It could not hold a candle to this gaudy pink dog.  I sighed.  My husband turned to me and said, “The ornaments are supposed to represent who she is right now.”  I knew he was right.  Her two favorite things right now are doggies and Pinkalicious.  It’s like Walmart knew this and made an ornament just for her, and other toddlers.
You would have had to know me before I got married.  I liked a matching Christmas Tree.  Something that was color coordinated and had beautiful ribbon swirling down the sides.  It was always topped with a beautiful angel.  This is one of those things I abandoned in favor of a new tradition with my husband.  However, it still sneaks out at times.  This being one of those times.  I now just admire those types of trees in my Southern Living magazine.
This is another great lesson that motherhood has taught me.  It just is not about me anymore.  It never really was actually.  Instead, it is about what makes my daughter happy.  If she selects an ugly ornament, it will be a story we can share later.  I will always remember this ornament and the Christmas she was 2 years old.  She will grow up way to fast.  I already have to catch my breath some days.
This experience also made me stop and wonder when I got so boring.  Childhood is such a magical time and I forget that sometimes.  It is a time when my daughter just knows what she likes and does not have the world telling her what to like.  It is a time of imagination, learning, and wonder.  It is a time for pink dogs and little girls who eat too many cupcakes and turn pink.
I may have grumbled in the store, but I will happily help her place this ornament on our Tree in the coming weeks.  It is hers and it will hold many memories.  And we can haul it out when she is a cranky teenager. I hope you are having a blessed Advent.
Two of my daughter's favorite things: pink and doggies.
Two of my daughter’s favorite things: pink and doggies.

 

What are some ornaments your kids have picked out that you have had to put on your Tree over the years?

 

P.S. We are really trying to live out Advent right now and minimize Christmas.  The Feast of St. Nicholas is Friday, so we wanted to be prepared.

Why I Veil: Advent Veiling Project

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Today I am linking up with the Advent Veil Project. I am really excited because I am pretty new to veiling and I love it. I started veiling on Holy Thursday 2013. It was never something I expected to do, in fact I had never seen anyone veil except when I went to Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Growing up in Montana, it just was no longer done.

When I met my husband and started joining him for Mass at his parish, we met a couple who were married in the Extraordinary Form and she veiled. It was foreign to me at first. They both received the Holy Eucharist kneeling on the stone floor, even when she was pregnant. Their piety impressed me. They were such humble and loving people. It was then that I felt a slight nudge to veil.

Alas, my husband and I left that lovely parish shortly after our wedding in order to move to Southwest Virginia. We had to search for a parish for months. I just like to say “the Spirit of Vatican II” was strong here, so we finally found our current parish 6 months after moving to the area.

I immediately joined the Sanctity of Life Committee and became friends with Christine, and I noticed that she veiled. She was the only woman in the entire parish who veiled regularly. I once again started to get a slow push, but put it on the back burner.

I had reservations about veiling. First off, my own pride. I was worried that I would be prideful and boast in my veil. The opposite has happened actually. Veiling reminds me that I am small before The Lord. It gives me a sense of reverence, especially when I go up to receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of my Savior.

Second, I was worried about what other people thought. This is also tied to pride. It is a deadly sin I am an unhappy fan of these days. I thought someone would say something nasty to me or people would not talk to me. That has happened to a friend of mine. In actuality not a single person as mentioned it. In fact, one woman asked me where I got my veil. I wear the Black Eternity Veil from Liturgical Time. Check out their giveaway this week! She ended up ordering one and wears it pretty regularly. There are actually at least 4 or 5 women who veil on a regular basis in our parish now. Many of them are my fellow Lay Dominicans (or in the process like me).

Third, I wanted to make sure that it was Christ who was calling me to veil. Earlier this year as I sat at Mass I felt a tremendous urge to veil. I felt like the Holy Spirit was no longer nudging, but kicking. So, I told my husband about my decision. It took him a little while to adjust, but now it is routine.

I could also give the theological or Scriptural reasons for veiling, but honestly, I believe that Christ called me to veil and I submitted. It is not required, nor do I believe that all women should have to veil, unless at an Extraordinary Form Mass. I feel extremely feminine in my veil. I feel a close connection to Our Lady as she is almost always depicted in statues or paintings with a head covering, which was the norm of that time.

If you are considering trying the veil, I say pray about it and then go for it. As Blessed John Paul II always said, “Be Not Afraid”. If you are called to veil, then it is a decision between you and God. It does not matter what anyone else thinks about your decision. That should not matter at all. I have been greatly blessed in the months that I have veiled so far. I cannot imagine not veiling now. I hope you have a very blessed Advent season.

Have you thought about veiling?

Liturgical New Year’s Resolutions

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Happy New Year! The Church has begun a new liturgical year. We are now into the First Week of Advent as we await the coming of our Savior. During Mass yesterday I started to think about how silly I think New Year’s Resolutions can be. They are yet another way to drive consumerism. It is the time of diet books and gym memberships. But, what about spiritual resolutions?

As Catholics, do we fully appreciate a New Year in the Church? We once again are waiting in joyful hope for Our Lord’s coming on the Feast of the Nativity. We are always waiting for Jesus’s Second Coming, but many of us do not think about it in our daily lives. That is one of the beautiful reminders we hear during Advent. Soon we will be in Lent and then the Sacred Triduum that leads us into the great Feast of Easter. The Church lives in a rhythm that follows the life of Christ. It teaches us how to fully live out our vocations.

As I sat in Mass thinking about a fresh start liturgically, it made me think about some spiritual resolutions for this coming year. Have you ever created resolutions for your spiritual life? The Year of Faith taught us to do this and Advent is a great time to start.

First, I want my husband and I to work on our prayer life as a family with our daughter. We used to be really good about a family Rosary in the evening, but the first couple of years of parenting have put that on the back burner. I now pray my daily Rosary on my own. Usually it is when I let Michaela play in the bathtub, during nap time, or walking around the yard as she plays. She sees me pray often throughout the day, but I want her to participate in prayer with Phil and me. It will also strengthen our marriage to pray together each day.

Second, I want to study more this year. I started reading Blessed John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope. It is amazing! It has been a few years since I have read any of his books, but it reminded me of just how much I want to learn and study.

Third, I want to get a regular prayer schedule going. When I try to fit in Lauds, Vespers, a Rosary, and Scripture, I inevitably end up forgetting about one of them. I need to set different parts of my day aside for each one. Obviously Lauds should be the first thing that I do in the morning. Perhaps read Scripture with lunch. Do Vespers before my husband gets home from work, and then we can all pray a Rosary together after dinner. It is definitely something that I want to work on this year. One of the many things I love about becoming a Dominican is its regimented prayer requirements. I need order so that I can achieve discipline.

What are some things that you would like to change spiritually in your life? Think of a few resolutions for you to live out in this liturgical year and remember to take some time to appreciate the beautiful season of Advent, even though Christmas is everywhere. God bless.