Bible Verse for 2016

Last year I went big and went for John’s Gospel when I chose John 21: 15-19. The command to love Jesus by feeding His sheep struck true in many ways. It led me to more discussions with my children about God and their faith. It also led me to become a catechist. It was exciting to have a specific verse to guide me spiritually through my year so I decided to do it again.

This year I decided to go Old Testament with a verse that I was not familiar with that cried out to me in my prayers for the Syrian refugees and victims of the terror attacks in Paris, Lebanon and San Bernardino. It is a verse that in this jubilee year of mercy screams of mercy to me.

I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them.You will live in the land I gave to your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

–Ezekiel 36:25-28

Since those verses first cried out from Sacred Scripture at me, I was changed. I am still a work in progress, but God broke my stony heart wide open and slowly, grace is working it’s way in. And with grace, I have found mercy coming in as well. I cannot wait to see what change in my life this verse will bring for 2016.

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Christmas Day Mass…why didn’t I do this sooner?

Each holiday season, my husband and I pore over mass times at various parishes with the intensity of a CSI forensics team trying to find the magic time and location that will “work.” We have much to consider including time, location (we have always had parishes closer to us than ours), language and incense (on a crowded mass like Christmas, it pays not to have your asthmatic child suddenly become reactive).

This year, we looked in particular at the three parishes closest, ours, our “alternate” and third parish. The “alternate” had the bonus of a cry-room that the other two did not (in the case of a Shelby-related incident). My personal preference had always been a Christmas Eve mass. I’ll get into the reasons for that in a minute. The boys really wanted to go to our parish so that was my main focus.

Midnight mass, with my kiddos, would be our last choice under good circumstances (well, second to last after our previous–but no longer–last choice of Christmas Day mass). In the case of our parish, it would be impossible. The choir has a concert that begins at 11 pm, so we’d have to be there two hours before mass to get seats. Um, no thank you.

That left four masses, 2 at 4 pm (one in the sanctuary and one in the school gym) and 2 at 6 pm. The 4 pm was out although neither had incense because although they are not “children’s masses” that tends to be the crowd and it’s a miracle the fire marshal has never shown up. So we looked at 6 pm. I let out a big sigh when I realized that in the sanctuary there would be incense and in the gym…it was going to be in Spanish. I can do Spanish mass, my kids, would quickly lose interest.

That left us with just one option…Christmas Day.

As I said before, this has long been my last and least desirable option. There are a couple of reasons why that was. The first is that until this year, I never once had been to a Christmas Day mass. It just wasn’t part of how my family did things growing up. We went to evening mass or Midnight. And that leads to the second reason, the classic American habit of getting up and opening parents right away. I did it. My husband did it. And until this year, my kids did it.

So, Christmas Eve we watched Meet Me in St Louis and then I fell asleep with the boys watching A Christmas Story. And then on Christmas Day, Jeff woke up sick so Joseph and I headed to mass while he stayed home and cooked breakfast.

Best.decision.EVER.

First off, mass was no more crowded than a Sunday mass. Second, the people who were there, really wanted to be there. Finally, our day was much more relaxed starting with mass. We came home to a huge brunch and then afterward opened presents. I could not believe how much better the whole day was.

William did bug Jeff a little about opening presents but kids CAN wait. And the lack of stress factor on Christmas Eve was wonderful. I find it unusual when I hear friends say, “Christmas morning is a time for family.” Well, yes, it is, but it is also a time for Jesus and the whole family going to mass together (which wasn’t exactly what happened with us) and being with our brothers and sisters in Christ, well, that is the PERFECT time for family, it doesn’t HAVE to begin with ripping open presents and stockings!

So, there you have it. I’m converted. Christmas Day mass for our family it is!

Opening Our Hearts…And Our Pews

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to “that time of year.” We have four days til Christmas and three til Christmas Eve. And as good Catholics, we know that means going to mass. But here’s the thing, those not so good Catholics, the ones who never make it to Sunday mass, they know it too. And a lot of other Christians from denominations who do not have services, they know it as well.

So, it’s not at all uncommon to look around at mass on Christmas Eve and think, “Who are these people? I’ve never seen any of them before in my life? Well, maybe those people I saw last Christmas or maybe Easter…”

They’re usually referred to as CAPE Catholics or Christians meaning they show up to mass on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter. Sometimes only one of those three. And they fill up the parking lot and take all the seats and are majorly annoying. I know it, I’ve been there.

But something is bringing these people in. Could be guilt. Might be mom’s house rules. Curiosity. It really doesn’t matter. The point in they’re there. So while they are with us, this is our time to shine.

Two years ago on CBS Sunday Morning, contributor Bill Flanagan illustrated just how ugly things can get during this time:

http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf

Ladies and Gentlemen, don’t be “that couple” Flanagan describes in this piece.
These people we don’t know, who we’ve never seen before, they are coming. Nothing is going to stop them. And for that, let us be grateful and give praise and thanksgiving to our Savior whose birth we are there to celebrate. Whatever motivated them to show up, it’s our duty to make them feel welcome. Remember Jesus’ description of the Judgment of Nations in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew?
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, –Matthew 25:35
“…a stranger and you welcomed me,” it’s right there in the Gospel. We bring others to Christ through our actions as well as our prayers. This Christmas is a chance for them to see a glimpse into the fullness of Truth regardless of the hows or whys of them being with us. And seeing smiling, welcoming faces and hearing warm Christmas greetings and inviting handshakes at the Sign of Peace, might just encourage them to come back. The Body of Christ is not just for some, it is for all. And we have to do our part.
Our hearts should be open this Christmas season to those who are seeking. We will hear in Luke’s Gospel later in the year about the shepherd who had 99 of his sheep and still sought out that one who was lost. As you pray to open your heart to lost sheep who may show up in your parish, please keep your pews open as well. Jesus preached that parable to sinners and tax collectors Saint Luke tells us. Remember the words of Pope Francis, the Church is a Field Hospital, we have to reach the people where they are at be it in a soup kitchen, prison, or sitting next to us at Christmas. Let’s be truly ready to embrace our Lord by our welcoming embrace to those new, unexpected folks with us at the Supper of the Lamb.

 

A Saint for 2016

I have been a fan of Jennifer Fulwiler’s Saint Name Generator from the start when she created it because she writes code to relax. I’ve had some interesting patrons for coming years in the past and last year I went through five runs (because I have issues) before getting the saint I knew I was supposed to get (I pray hard before and during this process). And this year, well, first time was the charm. My patron saint of 2016 is….

Saint Juan Diego

Feast Day December 9

This past month, I have reflected often on the appearance of the Blessed Mother to a poor illiterate Indian in Mexico. This last month in particular I’ve felt a pull like never before to this particular Marian Apparition and as this year has come to a close, I have been reminded in many ways that God equips the called and chooses the most unlikely of vessels at times. I have also found myself drawn more and more closely to the Eucharist that Saint Juan Diego so revered and to Eucharistic adoration so I think this is the perfect patron to assist me further in my devotion, especially as my son will be making his First Holy Communion this year. I also look forward to drawing closer to the Blessed Mother through his intercession and guidance.

I like adopting saints for the rest of my family so here are those:

For Jeff I prayed that the Holy Spirit help assign him a patron who would help draw him closer to Christ and His Church and the Eucharist. The Holy Spirit decided not to make this one of those less than obvious choices. Jeff’s patron is…

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Feast Day August 28

Saint Augustine may have his work cut out for him but I believe he’s up to the intercessory challenge. (I will admit I laughed out loud when the saint came up…there was no subtlety in this choice!)

For Shelby I asked the Holy Spirit to guide to a saint for my girl who has enormous struggles at times but also great joy and who has as many strengths as challenges. Her patron of 2015 was Saint Courtney Lenaburg who is not canonized nor even beatified, but whose intercession I could not deny would happen and be meaningful in our lives. So, I was curious to see whom the Holy Spirit would think is up to the task in 2016. Shelby’s patron is…

Blessed Fra Angelico

Feast Day February 18

When the name first popped up I was reminded of my grandmother’s aunt Frances “Fra”(we pronounced it “fray”) Santa Lucia (yes, my grandmother’s maiden name is Santa Lucia and she’s Sicilian). I knew my great-great aunt Fra in my lifetime and I immediately knew that besides being Italian there was probably very little this Friar and my great-great aunt would have in common. He is a patron saint of artists which makes me smile because Shelby’s art teachers have always loved her and remarked on her talent in collage making and “ripped” abstract art. Perhaps this artist friar to the Pope will help us uncover even more talent!

Joseph is my boy of the scientific mind. He is a fact machine right now about dinosaurs and pre-historic times. He is also making his First Confession in January and his First Holy Communion in April. I asked the Holy Spirit to direct us to a saint with nods to science, facts but who would continue through his or her intercession to draw Joseph closer to Christ in the sacraments. Joseph’s patron for the year 2016 is…

Saint Luke

Feast Day October 18

Being the patron saint of doctors and surgeons, we definitely have the science part covered. And being that we are in Cycle C and are using Luke’s Gospel in mass, I can definitely see where this particular saint can draw Joseph closer to Christ for sure. Joseph was also born on the feast day of Saint Matthew, another Gospel author, so this seems fitting in that respect as well.

For William I prayed especially hard. William is such a sweet child and so loving but also plagued by anxiety and self-doubt, especially academically. He is very creative but struggles a bit when it comes to the basics in education and although he is exactly where he should be his confidence in his abilities is often lacking and he has true panic attacks regarding this. He even struggles to try because of this confidence issue. I really begged the Holy Spirit for a patron to help William (and his parents) navigate these on-going issues. William’s patron of 2016 is…

Saint Joseph Calasanz

Feast Day August 25

A saint I’d never heard of but who I saw immediately is the patron saint of schoolchildren. Good call, Holy Spirit. I have no doubt this is a great fit for my little worrier!

I am excited for all of our patrons and cannot wait to get 2016 started with them!

More Gaudete this week

Yesterday were the boys’ class Christmas parties. Now, I should explain that we live just an hour  north of where we lived last year. In the same state. And yet, most days, it seems like a world away.

In their classrooms, both boys had Christmas trees that, as a class, they decorated. William’s classroom had a Nativity scene in it (which I forgot to get a pic of). In art, the teacher taught Joseph’s class how to draw the North Star which she informed them tells us where true North is and which helped the Three Kings to find their way to Jesus. She actually used all those words. Joseph’s class learned about Befana and William’s class about Los Posadas. Did I mention my children attend public school? And they were encouraged to share about St Nicholas and how their family celebrates?

I arrived for William’s party first (it started earlier than Joseph’s but there was definite overlap). His teacher is on maternity leave but the long-term substitute who was there had the activities under control. Their first activity was to break a pinata. William wasn’t feeling well enough to rush the candy but he did take his swings.

That’s the traditional donkey pinata, William waiting with his class, William taking a swing and his little friend J helping Mrs Antinori, their substitute, swing (she broke the pinata open when all the kids had had a turn). It took a bit longer than expected for the kids to break the pinata so when it was done, I had to go to Joseph’s class.

In Joseph’s classroom the teacher just had food and it was very relaxed (keep his teacher in your prayers she is undergoing surgery today). She didn’t plan any activities because over the last couple of weeks the kids “applied for jobs” and “earned money” making various Christmas ornaments and decorations. They then used their “money” to shop with another classroom for  decorations. After their snack she allowed them to take home the extras they made. Parents and kids mingled and had a great time.

That’s their class Christmas tree and my “grinchy” boy eating a green cupcake.

I took the kids home after their parties (Shelby’s class has only five children and two are out of the room over half the day while another has been out with health issues, so her teacher did not have a formal party). The boys enjoyed telling each other about their respective parties.

When we got home we watched a movie my mom had sent for the kids entitled O Holy Night from Herald Kids. It features a Franciscan Friar, Brother Francis, who teaches about the events leading up to Jesus’ birth. While I think it was a little below Joseph’s “level” as it were, he said he did learn something…that the shepherds visited Jesus the night He was born but the Kings were not there that night. They both enjoyed it though. I really enjoyed how Biblical the re-telling of events was, particularly those surrounding the birth of John the Baptist and Joseph’s visit from Gabriel. Those are things I think tend to get swept up in the story but that are undoubtedly important.

Jeff had a meeting at school so we watched A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation before, during and after dinner.

Yesterday was probably our most joyful Advent day thus far. Which brings us to today. The last day before Christmas “break.” This day reminds me of endtimes. We used up all the lunch supplies packing. And because I didn’t feel like cooking either pancakes nor eggs, certain children ate Little Debbie snack cakes for breakfast. If that doesn’t shout “GAUDETE!” at you, I’m not sure what will.

Praying we find a tree…any tree at this point this weekend…and keep searching for that joy no matter what!

So, I truly agree with Matt Walsh on this…

If Christianity is comfortable…you’re doing it wrong. 

There, I said it. It’s not popular. Not in today’s world. And that’s the entire point.

I have been increasingly bothered by the way Christians in general treat this sacred time of Advent and Christmas. And in no way is that more evident, then how they treat worship, doctrine, dogma and community.

Last year, Kirk Cameron came out with this revolutionary idea of people attending church at Christmas. I, and I’m sure several other Catholics, got a little chuckle or even gave a side-long glance. We’ve been doing it all along. Instead of screaming at people who wish us a “Happy Holiday,” Catholics are required to keep Christ in Christmas by attending mass as a Holy Day of Obligation.

But to a trendy, hipster Christian, that “o” word, obligation, or the other one, obedience…man, that’s not hip, it’s not cool. Church on Christmas, that should be a choice, man. You’re family might have mentioned it’s Jesus’ birthday, that’s enough. That’s all you need…

Is it? Is it really? What if you forget? What if you have to get dressed and showered and leave your home and sit worship in communion with others? I mean, is it really so terrible?

I was countered by a Protestant friend on facebook that, “It’s not even a Church day!” This is of course in respect to the Third Commandment:

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

But I’ve recently heard that argument countered by the argument, “Well, isn’t every day the Lord’s Day?” Indeed it is. And it’s why the Catholic Church worldwide celebrates the sacrifice of the mass every day of the year except Good Friday (that explanation will have to wait for another time). And a few centuries ago, Catholics did begin every morning with mass. It’s where we get the term , “breakfast” from. It was the meal eaten after mass to “break the fast” prior to receiving the Body and Precious Blood of Christ.

Catholics are not required to attend daily mass, we’re only required to attend Sunday mass and those pesky Holy Days. All six of them. And some years one or more might happen on a Sunday, a two-for-one.

But it’s not cool to have obligations someone else sets for you…right? I’ve seen a disturbing trend in many local non-denom churches to occasionally cancel even Sunday services. Some even “take the holidays off.” From worship, praise, thanksgiving. From Jesus. And judging from friends’ posts in other parts of the country, this isn’t simply a local issue. But it’s cool because who doesn’t like to sleep in on a Sunday morning…am I right?

It’s comfortable to not think of your “personal relationship” with Jesus as an obligation or even a true relationship. I mean, we want Jesus to help us and give us stuff but what do we give Him in return?

When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he brings Peter, James and John and asks them to pray. He is devastated to come back and find them asleep. We all know His response:

“So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”–Matthew 26: 40-41

When I think of Holy Days or even Sundays, that first part of the response. Why are we fighting an insanely short amount of time? Why? Catholic or otherwise…what is more important than Jesus Christ. Can we not give Him who loves us so much He gave His only Son this little bit of time? Do we not call on Him “after hours” at 3 AM but we want to “take the holidays off?” Exactly what kind of relationship is this? It’s an abusive one and we are the abusers.

But even more striking is the second part of Jesus’ response to finding Peter and the sons of Zebedee asleep. When I consider the reasons people give for not attending mass or services at their church, I am baffled. Is it really a test for you to not sleep in? To not go to the beach? To arrive late to a birthday party? If that’s the case, I also encourage you to pray that you may not ever have to undergo a real test of your faith because the willing spirit will certainly be betrayed by the flesh.

But I think there are a couple of reasons people don’t show up for church that need to be addressed and called out for what they are.

The first reason is that they don’t like people. And by people that usually means the pastor or the fellow congregants. I’m an introvert. The Sign of Peace makes my skin crawl. And I’ve had my share of strange priests and music. But guess what, it’s not about the priest or the music all the time. It’s not about the crying babies at that one mass or the teens at another. It’s not about that Extraordinary minister of the Eucharist who gives you the stink eye because you wear pants. It’s about the Lamb of God and the Body of Christ. To put it bluntly:

parish clique

Enter a caption

So, on vacation, or missed mass at your parish, if you’re Catholic, there’s no excuse. And you aren’t there for social hour, you’re there for Him. And He welcomes everyone.

I think the reason for not going to church regularly across Christianity that gets my goat the most, is that it’s not interesting. And this goes back to the “cool” factor. Are you kidding me? Are we so entitled that we need to be constantly stimulated visually? That we need a certain type of music to “feel the praise?” I hear this from people who attend mega-churches all the time. “I just couldn’t go to mass anymore because it’s just so boring. It’s the same thing every week (clearly, honey, you are not paying attention to the readings or the homily) and the music isn’t lively enough.” When I think of these comments and my blood really starts to boil I think of the face of Jesus on the Crucifix and can’t help but think:

Saint Mark Chapel Crucifix Pic Monkey Gladiator

Jesus died that you might live and have eternal life. And that should be reason enough to stick your butt in a pew. Every.single.week. And on Holy Days. You are not a two-year-old even if texting and the web have given you the the attention span of one. If you need mass or services to be entertaining, welcome to the idol worship of self.

I realize I’m fighting an uphill battle here. I totally get that. Secularism, relativism and all kinds of BS have infiltrated people’s ideas of Christianity and made it seem like just saying you believe is enough. Or just being a nice person checks all the right boxes. You actually need to not be concerned with how awesome your church is and be able to obey and follow Christ and His commandments (which fyi: includes the Ten Commandments see:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 5:17-20).

So while I may not completely see eye to eye with Matt Walsh on a whole lot, if you’re feeling like Christianity is comfortable and easy, run like hell away from the place leading you to believe that.

Gaudete what?

Gaudete. Joy. I know I’m not alone when I say that this particular Gaudete Sunday is not as joyful as usual. At least, you’d get that impression in my house right now where I just sent both boys to bed over an hour early because they simply refused to stop the horseplay.

The day started well enough. The boys and I made it to mass which was not as crowded as usual. The sanctuary was decorated still for Our Lady of Guadalupe full of flowers and candles. It is also the feast day of the Patron Saint of my grandmother’s family…a Sicilian, her maiden name is Santa Lucia. So, I was full of hope.

During the homily William leaned over and told me he felt sick to his stomach. I sent him to the bathroom solo. He claims he did actually throw-up but seemed fine the rest of mass. Then, after we went up for Communion, Joseph whispered he felt sick. He couldn’t get out of our pew until the end of the line. We sit close to the front. Thankfully he did not throw up and just got a sip of water and a breath of fresh air. I think the unseasonably warm temps (in the mid-70s) and no AC in the church (turned off for the season) with the powerful fragrance of the beautiful flowers was the culprit.

After mass we venerated the image of Our Lady and left. We had to make a stop on the way home. At Wal-Mart.

See, this is what happened. My cousin sent me the recipe for one of the traditional treats my grandmother makes this time of year. (This was after she taunted me with pics of some fresh from my grandmother’s kitchen on facebook.) So when Jeff went grocery shopping yesterday, I sent him to get the ingredients we didn’t have. And I didn’t add cinnamon to the list because I mistakenly thought I’d seen it in the pantry. I didn’t, I saw cumin. No they cannot be substituted. And then when Jeff came home from our neighborhood grocery store he had more bad news: they didn’t have any molasses.

So, I had to make the stop. I warned the boys we were getting two things. And that was it. Don’t even ask me for anything. They did exceptionally well. It was a struggle especially since we had difficulty finding molasses there too. (They had exactly four bottles left in the entire store. We live in a huge area for retirees from the Northeast not to mention the military so this time of year, weird things like molasses run out as people make traditional favorites from other parts of the country. And the world.)

We made it home. Jeff is confident we will be able to get a tree next weekend. He is insistent we get a real tree this year. It did not inspire confidence in me that most of the tree places we passed were sold out today. Next weekend may also be hard to find an artificial tree if we cannot get a real one. I can do without a tree but I hate for the kids to be disappointed as they really enjoy having a tree. But Jeff is adamant. So, there you have it.  It was never an issue in years past when we had an artificial tree but our old tree was on it’s last legs so we got rid of it in our move. So, I’m all for waiting to put a tree up but it is kind of a problem if there is no tree.

After lunch, I needed to go to Jacksonville to get my work schedule for next week (after this week where I left work early one day to get a sick child and had to call out my other day for a different child). Jeff decided we could all go together, which I was game for. After my work, we took the kids to a pet store where they have puppies and kittens.

That was so sad to me to see how sad those animals were. There was a beagle puppy that Shelby kept her eyes on. She really misses Gilligan still. The boys really wanted to play with a French bulldog puppy but a lack of staff meant we couldn’t and they were disappointed. We also weren’t buying a puppy today, so, there was that too.

Then I made fudge. Today was too hot to make fudge. It never sets right in warm weather. And yeah, it bombed again. 😦

And after dinner, the boys just refused to calm down. William kept running into walls on purpose. Joseph was running around so much he was making himself cough. I couldn’t handle it anymore. They got sent to bed.

There was joy in today but it was kind of difficult to acknowledge at times. And as I’m finishing this post, Eddie Lacy was being interviewed after the Green Bay Packer’s win and gave God the credit for turning his game around by taking his playing time away in previous games. He said God took that away in order to teach him and help him. Suddenly, Gaudete Sunday seems joyful again. God definitely put struggles in front of me. He surely took away some of the pride in my fudge and the peace in my normal Sunday and filled it with loudness and confusion. I pray that like Eddie Lacy, I can joyfully realize God’s will and be thankful for it.