Catholic Exchange: Preparing Our Hearts and Minds for Advent

This Sunday the Church begins her new liturgical year with the season of Advent. In the hustle and bustle of the secular Christmas season, it is an often-overlooked season. It is a time when the Church calls us as our Mother to enter into the silence and hope of waiting. Many of us live in cultures of instant gratification, so Advent is rich in spiritual truths. Christmas trees, elves, lights, and holiday decorations seem to show up in stores earlier and earlier. The day after Halloween gave way to Christmas. Here in the U.S., the cultural preparations for Christmas in previous years typically start the day after Thanksgiving, but now Thanksgiving seems to be absorbed into the frenzy of Christmas. It can be difficult during this busy time of year to enter into Advent, but a well observed Advent will deepen our joy at Christmas.

Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Homily at First Vespers of Advent, November 28, 2009

The season of Advent coincides with the darkest and busiest time of year. This is appropriate as it reminds us of the world after the Fall, which groaned in anticipation of the coming Savior. We are blessed to live in the world in light of the Paschal Mystery, but the Church calls us to meditate upon the centuries of waiting for the coming of the Savior. The darkness of this time of year reminds us of the darkness of sin and death. The People of God waited centuries to be redeemed and for the renewal of the world, often they fell into sin and temptation, further demonstrating the need for salvation.

We too are waiting. We are waiting for the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ. As we wait we run the risk of giving into false idols and worldly goods even after our Baptism. The very same temptations that faced God’s People throughout salvation history are temptations we battle through our Fallen nature. The Paschal Mystery has renewed the earth and we are now propelling forward towards the end of time and the new Heaven and new earth, but for now we must battle sin and constantly turn to God for assistance. Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but also in waiting in alertness for the Second Coming of Our Lord. Advent is a time to look at ourselves and ask if we are truly prepared in heart and mind for the Incarnation. If Christ came again in glory today, would I be ready? Am I a saint?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Seek St. Jude’s Intercession in Suffering and Desperate Times

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Apostle St. Jude (as well as St. Simon). The biographical information on St. Jude is scarce. We know that he was selected as one of the Twelve by Jesus. Tradition holds that he preached the Good News throughout the Middle East. He was martyred around 65 A.D. in Beirut in the Roman Province of Syria. At some point after his martyrdom, St. Jude’s remains were moved to the crypt beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

St. Jude is known as the patron saint of desperate or hopeless causes. This devotion and title began shortly after his martyrdom when many people reported powerful intercessions from him after visiting his remains. He was given the title ‘The Saint for the Hopeless and Despaired’ by many. St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Bernard reported visions from God in which He told them to accept St. Jude as the patron saint of the impossible. This tradition continues to this day.

St. Jude is a saint many Catholics are familiar with to some extent. He is commonly depicted in Catholic art and when a difficult situation arises many people seek St. Jude’s intercession. St. Jude Children’s Hospital is a prime example of seeking his great intercession for children desperately ill with cancer and other terminal illnesses. I have heard his name mentioned in prayer more than once as I pray at our local abortion clinic with 40 Days for Life.

Desperate and difficult situations are a part of the human experience. In times of great trial, we often need friends to show us the way, to guide us, and help us. The Communion of Saints is filled with men and women who are examples to us of how to live, but also in how to reach out in times of need. They are friends cheering us on as we persevere on the path to holiness.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Living as a Resurrection People

It is now the Octave of Easter. We will celebrate Easter Sunday for eight days and the Easter season for fifty days. It is Easter, not Christmas, which are the highest, holiest, and most important days of the year. Without the Resurrection and the Paschal Mystery of Our Lord there would be no Church and there would be no Christians. Jesus would have been a failed religious leader with some interesting insights, but he would still be in the tomb and we would still be in the darkness of sin and death without the Resurrection. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI put it in the second part of his book on Jesus Christ, “The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead.” It is precisely those people who deny the Resurrection and look to Jesus as some kind of guru who have completely lost the mystery and truth of the Christian message. The Resurrection is everything for the Christian, without it we would be nothing.

Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind. Then he becomes the criterion on which we can rely. For then God has truly revealed himself.

Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, 242.

During this Easter season we should meditate on this great mystery and truth of our Faith. Do we truly believe that Jesus Christ, who gave himself in total love and obedience to the Father for us, rose from the dead? Christ asks us this question over and over again throughout our lives as we make choices and battle along the path to holiness. Do we testify that Jesus is Lord? Is he the Lord of our lives? The entire Easter season is about us celebrating that Jesus is risen and is the Lord of all.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Liturgical Living Made Simple: Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. My husband and I love the Rosary, but I must confess, we are still implementing a family Rosary at night with our 4 year old daughter. It’s a struggle for her to sit still for five minutes, let alone 20-25 minutes. We have gone through periods of praying it each day and periods where we haven’t. It is a definite goal for our family to pray the Rosary daily. It is a beautiful prayer and meditation on the life of Christ through Mary.  I am a huge proponent of the Rosary.

I kept our liturgical celebration simple. I decorated our table with a statue I have of Jesus and another of Our Lady. I don’t have any depictions of Our Lady of the Rosary at this point. I then pulled out a couple of our Rosaries and put them out along with flowers; blue in honor of Our Mother. I explained the feast to my 4 year old while we ate dinner. I made an Israeli Spiced Chicken. I got the idea from this recipe. I didn’t actually grill the chicken. I roasted organic boneless chicken thighs, but I used the marinade in the recipe. It was so delicious! I also made a pearl cous cous salad with tomatoes, bell pepper, and parsley with lemon and olive oil. I sprinkled goat cheese on top, which added a rich creaminess. I didn’t make a dessert. We are trying to eat healthier, so I save desserts for our really big feast days. Pinterest is a great place to find recipes from around the world to use for various feast days. Next week is the feast of St. John Paul II, so I will be searching for Polish recipes. When my husband gets home tonight we will pray the Rosary as a family. It is a quiet, beautiful, and simple celebration of the gift of the Rosary and Our Heavenly Mother.

I am new to liturgical living, so I like to keep it simple, but allow it to guide the rhythms of our family. There is no reason for us to make liturgical living complicated. We can live the calendar of the Church without feeling like we need to be able to provide a huge celebration for each day. Pick a few a month that are special for your family and decide how you want to celebrate that saint or feast day. I like making an ethnic meal, occasionally making a fun dessert, doing a craft if I can find one or have the time, and decorating our kitchen table with flowers and whatever items I have around. You can also print out pictures for each feast day. Find what works for you and your family. No matter what it is a tremendous blessing to live with the rhythms of the Church. Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary! Mother Mary, ora pro nobis.

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Liturgical Living Made Simple: Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux

I am focusing on bringing the liturgical calendar into our daily lives and family. It has been a goal of mine for some time, but I didn’t pursue it in earnest for a variety of reasons. This week really began my focus on celebrating feasts that are important to our family, so this week we have in different ways celebrated the Feast of the Holy Archangels, St. Therese, and tomorrow the Holy Guardian Angels. I am not a particularly crafty person, so I like to keep things simple, but beautiful. I do enjoy cooking, so I have found some great recipes to help me. I also don’t want to do a dessert for every feast day. For a week like this, that would have been three different desserts. Instead I chose to reserve a special dessert for my daughter’s feast day on Tuesday and the other two feasts do an easy craft and a dinner that focuses on the saint.

For today’s Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, I made the French dish, Venison Bourguignon. More specifically I made this recipe. It was out of this world good. I have been slowly sipping a glass of the dry red wine I used in the recipe. The meat was tender and the sauce tasted like wine, herbs, and meat. I have been to Paris and I had forgotten just how good French food really is to eat. It was a fantastic way to celebrate and savor. St. Therese is one of my patronesses and you can read about her in my article over at Catholic Exchange for today. She teaches me to how to offer my daily life to God as a sacrifice of love.

In choosing to live the rhythms of the Church I am better able to focus my family in our vocation and journey towards Heaven. Instead of being so focused on this world, stepping into the liturgical calendar reminds us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on with their prayers. They want us to get to know them, befriend them, and rely on them for prayers much like we rely on our friends on this side of Eternity. If you haven’t tried celebrating feast days outside of Christmas and Easter, I recommend adding a few celebrations to your family’s calendar. Choose your family’s patrons and patronesses or saints who have really helped you on the journey. There are so many saints on the calendar that it is hard to celebrate all of them. I look at the calendar each month and choose which ones to celebrate. Next week we will have a Middle Eastern dinner in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Like I said, I am not one of those awesome Pinterest moms who can carve Our Lady out of butter. I keep it pretty simple and my 4 year old daughter is not ready for complex crafts anyway. Today we made paper roses,which you can find here. They are super easy to make and really pretty. Even someone as inept as I am can make them. My only tip is not to wrap them too tight or they will not look like a rose. I learned that the hard way.

Here are a few pictures from our St. Therese Feast. I decorate our table with flowers and pictures of St. Therese and our statue of Christ. Tomorrow I will change the images out for some I have found of Guardian Angels and make a Spaghetti Squash Pad Tai. The squash will be “angel hair” in place of rice noodles. We grow spaghetti squash in our garden have tons of them right now. God bless.

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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.

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!