My Sunday Best: Advent II

“Pray the our hearts may be the crib Our Lady chooses for her Baby.”
St Teresa of Calcutta

Repent. Empty your arms. Let go of all the other things and pray that your heart is filled with Christ.

These words of the priest today reminded me of this beautiful Mother Teresa quote I came across earlier this week.

We had our first snow this past weekend. The kids went outside every few hours and enjoyed it, but sadly there wasn’t much.

I’m getting out my old winter standby clothes I’ve had for years. Theresa’s new purple dress is much prettier!

Bit late, but I’m linking up with Rosie!

My Sunday Best: Advent Begins

“Advent is here. What a marvelous time in which to renew your desire, your nostalgia, your real longing for Christ to come — for him to come every day to your soul in the Eucharist. The Church encourages us: He is about to arrive!” 
-St. Josemaria Escriva

This first Sunday of Advent found my hiding in my room, stuffing myself with the kids’ St. Nicholas Day chocolate.

Our daughters.  WAIT!  The last one’s not ours!!!

Not the peace day of joyful preparation that I had planned.  We went to my parents’ house on Saturday to enjoy the downtown Christkindlmarkt with them.  By 7 o’clock I was too tired to make the hour and a half drive home (hubby stayed home to write papers), so we stayed overnight.  Meaning we had to drive home this morning, get ready for church, and attend a later Mass.  The whole day was thrown off and the girls were extremely whiny and grumpy in church.

 

A frustrating fact of life with kids is that out of the ordinary days, when they get to do lots of fun stuff, tend to lead to overtired and grumpy children, and miserable parents.  The kids did have lots of fun yesterday, especially enjoying the magic show and Irish dancers performance.  Today, though, was rough.

Nonetheless, we made it to Mass for the First Sunday of Advent. (Time to wear my old purple dress, the Advent and winter standby.)  We lit the first candle of the Advent wreath. (When I realized that although I bought candles last year, I had no idea where they were after the move, thank goodness for Amazon Prime, that delivered them this morning to my doorstep.)  My mom passed on our hand sewn Nativity Advent calendar, which I’m excited to share with my own children this year.  We decorated the tree and watched Rudolph.

Hopefully, these are the memories that my children will remember; not the frazzled and stressed mother, who would dearly love the gift of a few quiet hours to herself.

I’ve been thinking of this post all day, ever since I was hiding in my room with chocolate Santas.  I kept thinking I should find some lesson in the day, a way this First Sunday of Advent was somehow an adequate beginning of the Advent season.  But it wasn’t.  I kinda blew it.  But maybe that is the lesson.  Humility.  On my own, I cannot prepare and persevere patiently for our Savior’s birth.  Today was a reminder of how much I need Jesus this Advent season.  Only He can prepare my heart, and bring the peace that will allow me to patiently and joyful celebrate the season of His birth.

Check out the other Advent posts over on Rosie’s blog!

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The Lost Art of the RSVP

With the holidays upon us, I have had occasion to experience anew a baffling and troubling habit of our society.  I am calling it the “lost art of the RSVP.”

Let’s set the scene.  A mom of several children decides to host a Christmas party for the other moms and kids they know.  She enjoys parties and isn’t doing it out of a sense of obligation or pressure.  She creates and hands out printed invitations for a weekday afternoon, a time likely to be less busy than a night or weekend.  Then she plans a menu, simple food but with lots of kids you have to make plenty.  She prepares a few activities to keep the kids busy, and of course, spends hours cleaning her house.

She puts an RSVP date on the invitation, but as that date draws near, she has only heard from two or three women.  At least one of those says “maybe.”  Eventually, she starts texting the other invites, asking if they are coming.  “We’ll try” is the most common response, followed by no response at all.  A couple of people explain their families long list of foods they don’t eat, starting with refined sugar, and suggest they can’t come unless you have gluten free/paleo/vegetarian options.  After several days of cleaning, baking and preparing for this party, with her kids excited too, the day arrives.

One person is on time.  Two more are late.  The rest, who said “probably” or “maybe” or even “yes”, don’t show up.  They don’t text that day or anytime afterwards.  Later, the hostess might find out they were shopping, or at the park.  While it was nice to have those few guests over, it was hardly the party she spent so much time, energy and even money, planning.  It was just a glorified play date, with lots of left-over food.  Not to mention all the special foods she prepared for those with special requests, several of whom didn’t show up anyway.

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Inviting a person to one’s home should be an occasion for generous and joyful hospitality and fellowship, an enjoyable holiday experience to bless one’s friends, where we request the pleasure of another’s company.  Instead, inviting others to our home has become an “option if nothing better comes along,” an occasion where attending becomes a favor to the hostess.  Often she must pursue the guests for responses, and almost beg some to come so that there’s more than one person coming, so that all her hard work and generosity will be worth it.  All this, because she wishes to bless those around her.

What has happened to the beauty of hospitality?  Why is it that opening our home to others, instead of being met with gratitude, has become on occasion for neglect, rudeness, thoughtlessness, and downright rejection?  Why are we so unwilling to respond politely and to commit wholeheartedly, and instead hold out for something better?  Why are people too busy to enjoy each other’s presence, but instead prioritize only themselves, or default to whatever requires little effort?

These situations happen all throughout the year, and have become so common that they are made light of.  What used to be common courtesy has apparently become an extraordinary act of virtue, which few seem to practice.  But why does this happen?  All the time, I hear people, especially moms, complain that they are lonely, isolated, friendless.  Yet when offered hospitality and friendship, they don’t have time for it.  Many don’t even have time politely decline.

In our modern age, when répondez s’il vous plaît requires no more than a quick text message, why do so few extend this common courtesy to others?  Everyone’s lives are “so busy,” and people are quick to complain when they are not “treated well,” but where is the respect for other’s time and feelings?  Sadly, this lack of manners and kindness cannot be blamed on secular culture, as everyone I know who has done this to me has been a Christian.

This Advent and Christmas season, let’s try to practice the “art of the RSVP.”  Let us see invitations for what they are: an act of generous hospitality on the part of another.  Let’s try to respond promptly and politely, either yes or no, not maybe.  Let our yes be a commitment (barring sickness, etc.), and let us do our best to arrive on time to events.  If you feel lonely or isolated, take advantage of opportunities for fellowship!  Be open to friendship and then cultivate those relationships that attract you.  Reciprocate hospitality.

Finally (I say this for myself more than anyone) let us have the courage to continue offering, to continuing being vulnerable and opening our hearts and home for hospitality.  Each of us has much to give, but in the giving we leave ourselves open for rejection and pain.  So let’s pray for the grace to keep trying, to keep seeking until we find others who wish to build a community based on courtesy, generosity, and gratitude.

Matthew 22:1- 10 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

 

 

 

Everyday Gratitude: wk. 10 {Thanksgiving Edition}

“Let us remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm, and look forward to the future with confidence.”
Pope St. John Paul the Great

At Mass on Thanksgiving day, our pastor mentioned the above quote from St. John Paul II. Certainly, it sums up very well what our Thanksgiving should look like. I have been thinking a lot about gratitude this month, and trying to remember my blessings, be happy and content in the present, and look forward to the future with great trust in the Providence of God. Ironically, I realized it’s been three weeks since I recorded my every gratitude. So here’s a few things I’ve been particularly grateful for this past month, though not necessarily in chronological order.

Dear Lord, I praise and thank you:

  • For the kids being all better after two weeks of a nasty virus. We had to stay home, and the Cecilia wasn’t sleeping well, and Grace was getting very antsy and wanting to get out and see her friends.
  • For a warm, snug house as the weather turns colder. Cozy blankets, and snuggle time.
  • For hosting Thanksgiving in our own home. And lots of help doing so from hubby, who cleaned the house, set the table and carved the turkey 🙂
  • For pleasant, sunny days, and the chance to be outside, take walks and go to the playground.
  • For our first hike since last spring, when we explored the Chancellorsville Battlefield.

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  • or the opportunity to pray for the Holy Souls this month in a special way.
  • For an almost six year old daughter, who keeps us amused by her constant chatter, and who has become an incredible helper, always willing to lend a had and do some clean-up. She even begged to clean the bathroom one day!
  • Raking leaves and the sweet smell of falling leaves and pine needles. There’s a lot of trees in our yard and we raked an enormous leaf pile, which the girls loved!

  • Making my first fresh flower arrangement for the church altar! I put it in front but it was moved in front of Our Lady 🙂 So blessed to be using my floral skills this way!
  • Freshly painted shutters for the house, changing the way the whole front looks! Great to be adding some *curb appeal* and looking forward to decorating for Christmas.

  • Checking out historic homes near our house, which had beautiful grounds to walk around. It’s a fun way to get out instead of going to a playground.
  • Christmas cards are almost done! Grace put on the stamps, return address labels, and then stuffed and sealed the envelopes! I cannot believe what an awesome helper she has become.
  • Walking through downtown to see the Christmas lights and displays. We love the town here because it’s so old fashioned and pretty.
  • Looking through pictures of the last month, I remember that at the beginning of November, Bobby and I were invited to a Gala to benefit the charitable outreaches of the OB/GYN I go to.  It’s an a great, pro-life practice, and we had a wonderful night out with dinner, live auction and dancing.

  • Gracie helped me plants 60 flower bulbs in the front yard.  Hopefully lots will bloom in the spring!
  • Solemnity of Christ the King and the end of the liturgical year. I love Advent, and I’m looking forward to it. Since it’s so short this year, I feel like this week is a bonus week to get ready *before Advent* instead of scrambling right after Thanksgiving.

My Sunday Best: Christ the King

Did you know its new years eve? The liturgical year ends this week as we prepare for the First Sunday of Advent.  The hymns for Christ the King Sunday are some of my favorites, especially “Crown Him With Many Crowns” and “To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King.”  The choir even sang the Byrd “Ave Verum” at Communion, which was a special treat.  The one thing I missed was the “O Rex Gloriae” motet, a postlude staple at Christendom.  The Mass felt incomplete without it.  (Kidding.  But it is sung after almost every Mass at Christendom and I miss hearing it.)

The girls were excited to start wearing their special Christmas dresses today, and I just love how beautiful Grace looks!  The other girls were napping but they looked so cute too 😉  Although Advent doesn’t start for another week, we unpacked decorations today and its nice to feel like we have a “head start.”

Yesterday, we strolled downtown and enjoyed the window displays and Christmas decorations.  This was a light store; it was very bright and glittery, and they were selling stunningly ornate Santas and other Christmas decorations, which all sparkled and glittered.  Amazing.  The kids (ok, all of us) also love the shop with the five cat residents 🙂

I also completed most of my Christmas shopping online this weekend, which is a wonderful feeling, and I’ll be sending out my Christmas cards this week!  Advent and Christmas are my favorite time of year, but first we’ll be celebrating Grace’s sixth birthday on Tuesday!  Stay tuned for her special birthday post!

Happy I remembered to get a picture today, so I could link up with Rosie on this beautiful solemnity.

 

To Fail, Or Not To Fail

Recently, the topic of failure has captured my attention.  At my Bible study group this week, reading about Rachel and Leah, we talked about fear and failure.  Fear of failure, rejection, loneliness, lack of whatever, etc. As a society, “failure” has become one of the worst evils, even a sin (right up there with intolerance).  Success has become a god.  If a person is not “successful,” whether in terms of money, production, usefulness, achievements or physical attractiveness, then they lack dignity in our world.  They may be rejected, criticized, marginalized, determined to have “less value.”  But right now, I’m not considering the grave evils and problems arising from how we treat persons.  I wish to take a look at the concept of failure, as it affects our everyday lives, even if we don’t take it to the extreme of moral relativists.

Failure constitutes a very real part of each person’s life.  Past generations probably knew this better, because they had less illusions of control than modern men.  When livelihood depended on weather and the success of crops or the flourishing of animals, things ultimately out of our control, people could not see every failure as “their fault.”  Tragic, certainly, when your entire harvest is wiped out by grasshoppers.  But your “fault”?  Of course not; people knew they couldn’t control the insects.

But now, we think we are in control.  Because food, clothes and shelter are readily available, regardless of weather or working conditions (I am talking about first world countries, of course) we think we have control over our lives.  When huge, devastating storms come, I don’t think its God’s judgement, but it is a reminder of God’s power, and the fact that human are NOT in control.  A hurricane can wipe out everything, regardless of what we have or what we do.  I think its important to stress it isn’t one person’s or even group of people’s “fault”.  But it is a call to see that we can only depend on God, and with His help, and the solidarity of other people, life can go on.

However, in every day life, when hurricanes don’t bring devastation, we are often saved from our failures, in another harmful habit of modern society.  Much, much too often, a person is “saved” from their failures by their parents, or the government.  I am constantly amazed how many people are saved from the consequences of their actions, and the entitlement and indolence that results from it.

Friends, we need to learn how to fail.  I write this for myself, first of all.  I need to learn how to fail.  First of all, to not live my life in fear of failure.  In one of the first Emily P. Freeman podcasts I listened to, she spoke about considering, before a difficult decision, “am I being led by love or pushed by fear?”  If I am making decisions based on fear of failure, that usually translates to fear of the difficult, fear that something that will push me, make me uncomfortable, maybe make me grow….  There is a quote from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that I keep coming back to,  “the world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”  But what sort of “greatness” does the Holy Father mean?  Money, worldly success, power?  Of course not.  He means spiritual greatness, a greatness of spirit overflowing with charity and the presence of God, a witness to the world of self-sacrificing love.

But how do we grow in love, selflessness, compassion?  Through suffering.  Through failure.  In her book Cultivate, Lara Casey writes that
“I was too afraid to plant anything from seeds at first.  I feared I would mess up                    and everything in my garden would die.  And I believed the lie that if I couldn’t do it perfectly, I wasn’t going to do it at all.
I was conditioned to think that messes were bad and doing it perfectly the first                    time was good.  To me, there was no in-between.”

We are so caught up in making the “right” decision, “right” because it will lead to success.  So concerned about the outcome and forgetting that the experience, the journey,  the work, may be most important.  Because if our ultimate goal is Heaven, suffering, failures, and set backs are the path to get their.  Undoubtedly, the fact that a life of failure in the eyes of the world can result in eternal life, is a mystery, a paradox.  A truth hard to wrap our minds around.  If I am seeking God’s will, and doing God’s will, I may very well fail, in the eyes of the world.  I may not be thin, wealthy, powerful, influential, or even particularly well liked by many people.  But if I am doing God’s will, it doesn’t matter.

On the other hand, worldly failure can also make room for a more quiet and humble sort of success, even on earth.  A woman might give up her job to stay home with her children, a man might give up a promotion at work so he can spend weekends with his family.  A person might give up a lucrative job to be a missionary, or teach in a Catholic school, or work with the poor.  A man might live his life for the Church, as a priest.  A woman might consecrate herself to God alone, to save many souls.

Success should only be measured through the eyes of God, but only He knows all outcomes and results.  Only He can judge how successful we have been with the life He has given us.  Maybe we should be less concerned with results and more concerned with living life, and striving to serve Him in the moment, instead of looking ahead to a big goal we want to accomplish.  Because if that goal is getting ourselves and others to Heaven, we can hardly judge our success while still on earth.

And when through our own fault, or perhaps no fault of our own, we experience failure, and that failure brings suffering, maybe we can try to look past the failure to a good, even an eternal good, that results.  To see even the suffering as a kind of paradoxical success, for it has brought us to the foot of the Cross.Crucifiction_icon

Everyday Gratitude: wk. 8

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or what you will drink,
or about your body, what you will wear….

Look at the birds of the air;
they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them……
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
they neither toil nor spin,  
yet I tell you,
even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these……
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Matthew 6:25-33

In the latest copy of Imprint, (a publication of the Sisters of Life) I read a striking article on prayer, particularly what they called “praise prayer.”  The article states “praising Jesus for everything says, ‘Jesus, I trust and know you will bring a greater good out of this situation than any I could possible create or imagine.  Your plans are more beautiful than mine.  You have the big picture.  You see all things with an eternal perspective.  I trust you and I thank you.’  Let Jesus work it out…. If you think you can’t get beyond a trial, pray these words again and again.  He slowly takes over and brings peace.  Be patient.”

I feel that this simple, yet profound suggestion, challenges us to go deeper in prayers of gratitude, to actually praise the Lord for everything!  It almost seems silly, like saying something absurd, yet it is the way of the saints, so here’s my best shot…

  • Praise you, Lord, for a blessed pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  The children were (relatively) good for a Holy Hour and Mass, the music was beautiful, and Theresa especially loved praying at the individual Marian shrines.  There was also a new Rosary garden with a large, beautiful depiction of Our Lady of Fatima and the three children, where we said the Rosary and the kids could run around.  (It is entirely fenced it!)
  • I praise you, Lord, for the odd and initially unpleasant experience of glimpsing my former boss during the Mass.  We parted on extremely bad terms, and I struggled awhile with forgiveness and charity towards him.  At first, I was irritated that I would be reminded of such unpleasantness during this pilgrimage, but as a prayed for peace, I realized that God gave me the grace to see him and know I had forgiven, moved on, and no longer harbor resentment.  I was able to pray for him.  That, truly, is a profound grace.
  • I praise you, Lord, for the child screaming and crying every night, even as a write.  She is strong, healthy and talking amazingly well for almost 20 months, and this is part of her development.  I praise You for the opportunities for extreme patience, perseverance and humility as I am nightly deprived of sleep (after enjoying several weeks of her sleeping through the night).
  • I praise you, Lord, for the opportunity to stay home with my children and educate them myself, enjoying the milestones, little moments, and beginning of the education adventure.  Although this involves far more of a sacrifice than I realized it would (since I cannot easily find a job and work outside the home), I do love being with these little girls.
  • I praise you, Lord, for the good you will bring out of the financial and marital difficulties I am experiencing.  I trust that You not only can but will care for our daily needs and bring good out of the situation.
  • I praise you, Lord, for the beauty of these autumn days- blue sky, the scent of fallen leaves and pine needles, the subdued colors of the the fall leaves, the song of birds in the many trees surrounding our home, and the clear, dry air, so rare in Virginia!
  • I praise you, Lord, that my husband can easily take sick days when myself and the kid are sick, to stay home and help me get better.
  • I praise you, Lord, for new friendship, very dear friends of many years, new opportunities, and the chance to grow, chance, learn and discover who You call me to be.
  • I praise you, Lord, that somehow I have been finding more time to read again.  Indeed, all year long I have been able to read several books a month.
  • I praise you, Lord, “O Beauty ever ancient and ever new,” for a life filled with beauty and blessings, especially the gift of my Catholic Faith, and the treasures of the traditions, Traditions, writings of the saints, gifts of the Spirit and very real grace of the Sacraments.

Mary, most holy, Mother of the Church and my Mother, purify the praise of my heart and let it be a pure offering of love to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Mary Catherine, pray for us.