Liturgical Living: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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I am slowly starting to incorporate the liturgical calendar into our lives.  My husband and I did not grow up that way, so we are learning as we go.  Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Since I work in pro-life ministry and help women in crisis pregnancy, she is very dear to me as the Patroness of the Unborn, and the Americas.

 
For this Feast Day, I am going to make a Mexican (an American version, really) Taco Salad for dinner.  I like tailoring meals to feast days.  Perhaps I will cook more authentic meals once I get the hang of remembering certain feast days.  We will then read the story of St. Juan Diego (whose feast day is December 9th) and Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It is a beautiful story.  I actually have a friend who went to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on a pilgrimage this week.  What a blessing for her!
 
I will also dedicate my daily Rosary to her and to the protection of the unborn and healing for victims of abortion.
 
Since I am new to liturgical living, I will keep things simple.  Do you have traditions for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe?  I am always looking for ideas.  Advent blessings!  Our Lady of Guadalupe, ora pro nobis.

Small Success Thursdays at CatholicMom.com 12-12-13

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Today I am linked up over at CatholicMom.com’s Small Success Thursday.  Think about a few of your small successes for this week and share them with us.

My first success, and it is a big one in my book, is that I got the upstairs closet somewhat cleaned and organized.  You know that room or closet in your home that you chuck everything into and it looks like a bomb went off? Yeah, that was this closet.  It had been a disaster since we moved in to our new house in May of this year.  A couple of months ago we had a visiting priest come out and bless our house.  He was from Nigeria and he did the most direct and most enthusiastic blessing I have ever seen.  He called out any evil spirits or demons and asked Our Lord to come into our home.  It was great!  We followed him around the house praying the Our Father and Hail Mary.  Then we went upstairs.  I had forgotten about the closet.  He opened it. He blessed it and moved on.  I am sure he has seen worse, but I could not stop laughing from the embarrassment.  Well, you can actually walk inside the closet now.  Win!
Second, I made a commitment to myself to try to eat better and become more disciplined like I was when I was in the  Navy.  I decided to do Phase I of South Beach.  Fad diets don’t really work long-term, but the nice thing about this diet is that it helps you to get rid of sugar and simple carbohydrate cravings.  I kid you not.  After a week of doing it, someone could eat chocolate cake in front of me and I did not want any.  Not that I am going to give up chocolate cake or bread for the rest of my life.  I just eat too much of it and want to focus on temperance.  First, I cut the cravings and then I can focus on enjoying something occasionally.  I did great yesterday, today not as well, but I am going to keep  plugging away.  I have not gone running since September, so I am going to work in exercise again too.
Third, I am getting into a better rhythm with my Dominican prayer responsibilities.  I am finding Lauds and Vespers are much easier for me and a mid-day Rosary works well.  I work study in through out the day as the moment presents itself.  I am still a work in progress.  I missed my Rosary yesterday.  I am going to keep working on it with the intercession of Holy Father Dominic.  I will be received into the lay postulancy next month.  It is definitely a challenge with a toddler, but by Our Lord’s grace, I am making it work. Squee!
Advent blessings to you and yours.

Falling Short and Conquering Sin

I am having one of those days in Motherhood and as a Christian when “I do the very thing I hate” to quote Saint Paul.  I have allowed little things and my own failures drag me down.  That is what the Devil wants.  He would rather I wallow in self-pity rather than ask The Lord for the strength to keep moving forward.

 
I was watching Fr. Barron’s Catholicism series on prayer (episode 9) yesterday.  We own it thanks to my parents and their generous Christmas gift last year.  I pull it out a few times a year and watch an episode.  My daughter even knows who Fr. Barron is and watched part of it with me.  She would point to the screen and say “We watch Fr. Barron”.  I was so proud.  Anyway, I digressed a bit there.  In the episode on prayer, he talks about St. John of the Cross, that great mystic.  St. John of the Cross tells us that we must free ourselves from those things that enslave us so that we can be filled up by God.  He calls this process of emptying the dark night of the senses and then the dark night of the soul.  Both order us properly to God.  I don’t know about you, but I am in major need of proper ordering.
 
It got me thinking about how right now, I really need to work towards conquering my sensual addictions: mainly food and coffee.  I have lacked discipline in this regard since I left the Navy.  I am getting older and eating poorly impacts me physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Food and coffee are meant to be enjoyed.  They are gifts from God.  However, they are not supposed to enslave us.  When we say we “need” something every single day, we are enslaved by the thing, rather than being the master.  That is the point of Temperance.  We can enjoy something as it is, but we can take it or leave it.  We do not have to have it.  We can enjoy it in the moment and then move on.
 
So, I have decided to embark on a journey through battling those things that I am physically addicted to: bread, sugar, coffee.  It is not going to be fun.  I will have a caffeine headache for a few days and crave sugar like crazy. When I get up at 5am this coming Saturday to go to my Lay Dominican meeting I will really want a cup of coffee, or two.  This will be much harder than when I gave up Facebook.  But, the question I must start asking myself is: does this make me a saint?  Does overeating make me a saint? No.  Is not eating right good for my family? No.  It’s not about me!  I am still trying to drill that into my psyche.
 
When I don’t take care of myself, I end up in a cycle of self-loathing, which I then take out on my husband and daughter.  My husband can tell when I feel like a failure because I have a short temper.  The process of holiness is not about self-pity.  We should see our failings and then fall on God’s love and mercy, praying for help and grace.  On days I fall short, I have  tendency to let it get the better of me until I drag myself back to Confession.  Like Father told me in Confession this past Saturday, holiness is a one step at a time process.  It does not happen overnight. 
 
So say a prayer for me as I embark on a dark night of the senses.  Are there areas in your life that you need to free yourself from so that you can be more open to God?

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?