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.

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.

 

Kim and Kanye can name their baby whatever they want…and no, as a Catholic, it does not offend me

So, true story, last night I posted a link to this CNA article. It was a tongue in cheek story about Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West’s newborn son being named Saint and that he has no middle name so here are a few suggestions. Then I got a comment from a non-Catholic friend:

As a Catholic does the name feel like an insult? When I read his name the first time I couldn’t help but feel like it was a slap in the face to Catholics.

I shared the article to poke a little good natured fun with no malice intended so here comment struck me as odd. Here was my initial response:

Not in particular to me. People refer to others living and dead as “saints” that the Catholic church does not recognize as saints. Selma Blair, who is Jewish, gave her son the middle name Saint a few years back. I just think they happen to be enormously self-absorbed people and it would never occur to them what the word really means. Kim is a baptized Catholic and Robert Kardashian raised his children Catholic, but when her father died, her faith pretty much died as well. I’m sure to her, it’s the same as it is when your average non-Catholic Christian uses the word. There is lots more that I encounter in person on the daily being a Catholic in NC that insults me. I can’t let stuff like this bother me.

I’m not sure if she didn’t believe me or didn’t think that was a good enough explanation because this was her response:

I am not a religious person, however I respect everyone and their right to practice whatever they please. It feels disrespectful, self entitled, and self absorbed.

I decided to say one more thing and leave it at that:

I can appreciate righteous indignation and appreciate your feelings on this.

But the more I think about it. The less offended I am. And the more I question why anyone would get their panties in a wad over this situation.

First of all, let me just get this out there, they can name their kid anything they want. I am sure they are not the first to choose this name as I mentioned, Selma Blair used it as a middle name a few years back for her son.

Secondly, how can I think this is offensive when a personal friend named her son Messiah and non-Catholics misuse the term “saint” vs how Catholics define it on the daily. That’s some double standard that Kim and Kanye can’t name their baby this because they’re Kim and Kanye but my friend who’s nobody can name her baby Messiah or others name their child “Savior.” I’m not a Muslim and this isn’t shirk. And why can’t they use it as a name when I hear little old Baptist ladies use the term to define living people all the time?

And what about the rampant anti-Catholicism I encounter daily living in NC? We make up just at 10% of the state and that is after YEARS of  being only 2%. We are only as high as we are now because of immigration (legal or otherwise), military and retirees. Remember all those churches closing in the northeast…it’s because a ton of them are here now. I still hear regularly that the Church is the whore of Babylon and that Catholics are tainting the South of it’s purity and making it no longer the “Bible Belt” etc. If I can let most of that go and pray for those people, why in the world would a baby’s name get me upset?

And let’s not get started on the abuses within the Church that are offensive…let’s just say it’s hard for me to find offense with a baby’s name when there is so much more cleaning of my own house that needs to be done.

She nailed (and I mentioned) it when she said they were self-indulgent people. They are making themselves happy not trying to offend all the Catholics everywhere. It’s very sweet that she wants to be offended for me, but I’m more worried about Harvard sponsoring Black Masses and things like that. I can’t waste what precious little time God has given me on nonsense like this. Not when there are real things to be upset about.

If anything, things like this are smokescreens the devil throws up to throw us off our game. If we get so offended by what two celebrities name their son, we won’t be paying attention to things like laws that violate conscience or Black Masses or the destruction of Christian churches by ISIS.

Not even going to go to the “why are we so offended by everything” argument. (Rumor has it that Haley is going to cover that in the near future.)–Updated to add that Haley has now published that post.

So, there you have it. Kim and Kanye named their son Saint. Big whoop. Their kid, their name. And no, I’m not offended.

 

The Kind of Autism Stories We Should Be Telling…

If I were to log onto my personal facebook right now, not only would this story be trending…no less than 30 friends would have shared it to my timeline or tagged me in it.

I am used to being tagged in every single autism story in the news. The good, the bad and the ugly. I have gotten to the point where I simply delete the tag, ignore the post and move on. 99 times out of 100 I have seen it already. Perhaps the most difficult stories shared with me are not the ones about abusive teachers nor murderous parents, but the ones about savants. You know what savants are, right? Think Rain Man.

When the Night of Too Many Stars first aired it featured Jodi DiPiazza playing the piano and singing Firework with Katy Perry. A bio aired just before it that hinged on early intervention therapies and the progress DiPiazza had made. It is true that EI services are terribly necessary and valuable services, but that viral clip created the very incorrect assumption in the minds of many of my friends and family that DiPiazza’s story and progress were typical across the autism spectrum. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While early intervention does show progress virtually across the board, it does not always produce those kinds of results. And her prodigy abilities in music…those are extremely atypical. But that didn’t stop close to 50 people sharing it with me with comments that ranged from, “Look, Shelby will be able to do this someday!” to “what a shame Shelby didn’t get any early interventions! She could have been like this.” The sting has worn a little from those comments, but it still hurts. Not only did my child get early intervention starting at the same time DiPiazza did, she will never have prodigy like musical skills. Nor will she recreate the NY skyline after flying over it just one time.

So when I saw that a cake decorated by a Meijer employee with autism was trending on news sites, I almost didn’t click it for fear that it would be another savant artist in the medium of cake decorating. Then I did click and my heart sank even more when I saw the image of the cake with “Happy Birthday Mandy” scrawled on it in gel. For sure the customer who shared it was going to ridicule the employee and lambast Meijer for hiring her. And for whatever reason, I scrolled down and read.

The absolute kindness that Ms Aldrich showed and her insistence even before finding out the employee with autism wasn’t a bakery worker and wasn’t supposed to decorate cakes or even had autism was breathtaking. Where many (and I work in a grocery store so I see it in real life) would have pitched a fit, she had compassion and even found the cake itself humorous.

This is the kind of autism story we need to share. The stories of how the imperfections are clear, but the kindness and generosity of spirit shine through. This was a story of a woman of limited ability doing something to the best of her ability. And where many, heck most, would have been annoyed or angry, someone showed charity.

Shelby and I had an experience like this just before Thanksgiving. I went to the credit union to open an account and was forced to bring her with me. For Shelby, she sat reasonably well next to me in the customer service representative’s office. She was fidgety and bouncy and noisy. In fact in similar situations with the kids before, I was berated and told to control my child(ren) and that I was the embodiment of the problem with parents today because my kids aren’t miniature adults. Instead, the customer service rep complimented Shelby’s behavior and engaged her. When I mentioned autism in the conversation and Shelby’s inability to speak she said, “Well, she certainly can communicate! She just has her own way and it works just fine for her.” This woman wasn’t just saying the right things, she meant them. She saw that my child, even before knowing she had autism, was doing the best she could in the situation at hand she didn’t react in pity but kindness. She also didn’t ask what her special skill was.

The stories about positive every day interactions with individuals on the autism spectrum are so important for people to hear not only so they do not fear those with ASD but also so they can realize ASD individuals are more like us than we think. There is no need for pity.  More of us will be interacting with autistic individuals sooner than we think and these types of stories help teach all of us about the possibilities in these encounters.

Saint Nicholas vs Santa Claus…Jesus FTW

Let me just get it out there. My kids don’t believe in Santa Claus. We don’t “do” Santa. No, my kids aren’t deprived. Yes, Christmas is still a magically special time of year. My kids are NOT the spoil sports who tell other kids that Santa is not real. On the contrary, they know there will be very real consequences from Mom and Dad if they tell other kids that.

No, we don’t “believe” but we do “pretend to believe.” Danielle Bean gives a beautiful explanation of what exactly that is:

We enjoy pretending to believe in Santa, in much the same way we pretend to believe in Curious George, gnomes, or fairies. We tell their stories in great, magical detail. We discuss the logistics of Santa getting into a house with no chimney. We wonder about the number of elves he must employ and what Mrs. Claus might be cooking for his Christmas dinner. We love Santa.

Now if you scroll down far enough in that eight-year-old post in the comments, you’ll see one from someone you may know. Someone who at that point had very young children and whose child was not diagnosed with autism then. It’s been a long eight years since that post which sort of leaves it ambiguous but leaning toward Santa.

A year after that post, Shelby was diagnosed with autism and suddenly, this became an urgent matter. When consulting with other parents of older autistic children online and person we found a mixed bag. Children with autism have a tendency to be very literal. And it was the story of a family’s eight-year-old son climbing onto the roof and attempting to get in the chimney that pushed us over the edge into the “pretending to believe” category at the time. We didn’t know if Shelby’s diagnosis would prove to be higher functioning or not but we also had another child and baby on the way to consider.

And just because there is no “belief” in our home of Santa, doesn’t mean he’s shunned either. Like Danielle said, “We love Santa!” My kids are going to breakfast with Santa Sunday morning after mass at our parish on the feast of St Nicholas. And we have tentative plans to bring them to a McDonald’s to get their picture taken with Santa and Mrs Claus a week from today. It’s fun for them belief or not!

Has this stunted my children’s imagination? Not at all. Imaginative play is probably the type my boys excel at most. They weave stories about stuffed animals and dinosaur figures as naturally as any child. They create all kinds of reality-defying worlds in Minecraft. They role-play invented stories. For them, knowing the “truth” of Santa never put a damper on those things.

It also failed to strip Christmas of it’s “magic.” While I have issues with the term “magic” being used to describe Christmas (a post for another time), for my family the predominant images and focus of Christmas is Jesus. My parents raised four kids with a “belief” in Santa but the real prize Christmas morning, was being the kid chosen by my dad to make sure that Baby Jesus was in the manger and it was truly Christmas. My dad never failed to be amazed when whomever was chosen walked past the Christmas tree (that Santa had added tinsel and candy canes to during his visit), past the presents and the stockings to the creche and then delightedly turned and ran back to the stairs where the other three waited with our mom to announce, “He’s here! Jesus is in the manger!” My parents did “Santa” right by ensuring Jesus was the central focus of the season.

That centrality is what informed making Christmas even more special for my kids. We aren’t just exchanging presents, we’re recalling the presents the Three Kings brought to the baby Jesus. We aren’t just tearing open stockings, we recall the generosity of St Nicholas of Myra.

Ah…St Nicholas. Remember him? He was the bishop of  Myra in what is modern-day Turkey. He paid the dowries of three young women whose father’s solution to not being able to afford them was to hire them out as prostitutes. Legend also tells us that Saint Nicholas dropped money and possibly fruit (I’ve heard a version a couple of times that mentions dates and oranges) down the chimneys of poor familys where they landed in the stockings drying over the fire. Does any of that sound familiar? (He also punched a heretic in the face, but I don’t tell my boys that lest they equate that story with justification!)

There is a very heated debate about St Nicholas vs Santa Claus. I’ve met online and in person many the Catholic family who exclude the real St Nicholas for fear of diminishing “belief” in Santa Claus. I find this ludicrous. Sorry, but I do. You don’t need to celebrate St Nicholas Day (as our family does putting our shoes out for a very small treat) to let your children know about the real man. You also don’t have to play him down. In fact, most children are much older before they start connecting the dots. I certainly was.

This year, it’s a delicate subject for me as I am teaching faith formation to third graders. I have no idea what level of “belief” any of these kids has. And more importantly, how heavily invested their parents are in their “belief.” Regardless, I’ve been teaching the Communion of Saints and feast days and solemnities from day one and as such am not going to stop now, but I plan to simply talk about generosity with St Nicholas and tell the story of the stockings without connecting it at all to present day tradition. I am hopeful this will walk the line of truth to the real man while respecting the views of parents in individual families.

Third grade is on the cusp of many kids “figuring it out.” As it were. Since my kids are this age, I am keenly aware of that fact. My mother remembers figuring it out about that age. Jeff’s step-mother said she remembers Santa bringing clothes for her doll and she recognized the fabric as being in her mother’s sewing materials. She was about the same age as my students. My mom said one of the things that tipped her off even in Catholic school for much of her childhood was less fortunate children not getting much or anything.

Saint Paul says:

When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11

It’s a hard fact of parenthood that our kids grow up. And while I’m not going to tell my faith formation students that Santa isn’t real and my children are forbidden to burst another’s bubble…kids do in time figure it out. And yes, it’s a little bit sad that they are growing up and that little bits of innocence are gone but that’s life and we don’t get to keep them little forever.

A commenter on Danielle’s article above made this observation:

One thing that bothers me is that some parents I know as kids get older, like 8, 9 and 10 and figure it out and ask questions their parents still do not come out and tell them the truth. They have to weave some pretty elaborate lies to keep their kids believing. I feel like the magic is more important for the parent that [sic] the child in these cases. I wonder if the older kids who have really been duped for too long do feel betrayed.

I don’t believe that all children brought up believing in Santa will feel betrayed or question their faith. I didn’t. However, it certainly is possible and I have met adults (Catholic and otherwise) who did one or both of those things. And the situation the commenter above describes could certainly potentially lead to some mistrust on the part of the child. My mom remembers a friend’s parents who got on the roof and stamped “like reindeer” to keep the belief going past the expiration date. If what you’re doing sounds crazy and possibly physically dangerous…it probably is. If a child asks, in this case, honesty is probably going to be the best policy. If you are worried about younger siblings or other children being told, you can always tell them, “it’s fun for your little brother (sister etc) to believe in Santa still like it was for you at that age, so we shouldn’t announce this information to them just yet. And if they ask you, you can always tell them to come talk to me (or in the case of a friend, their parent) about it.”

At the end of the day, whether Santa or Saint Nicholas, Jesus is the reason for this season. As long as that’s where you fall, you’re good! If you need proof check out this amazing encounter between Jenny Uebbing of Mama Needs Coffee’s son and a library Santa.

We happened upon the jolly old elf and his missus in a lobby adjoining our favorite library over the weekend and he had real glitter in his realbeard and he told my kids that “every time a bell rings (shook silver sleigh bell at that point for emphasis) an angel gets it’s wings.” My 5 year old then told him he was “filling baby Jesus’ manger with pieces of straw earned for good deeds, so his bed would be soft and cozy” at which point Santa got teary eyed and leaned in real close and told my kids,

“He’s the reason I come, you know.”

Whatever is best for your family this season, is best for your family. It doesn’t matter what I or any other blogger or even your family members do…if it works in your house, it works as long as Jesus is there! We can be respectful of others’ traditions but that doesn’t mean we have to give up or undermine our own!

Links to learn about the Real Saint Nicholas:

St Nicholas Center

St Nicholas Profile on Catholic Online

Links from other Catholics who “do Santa”

Holly 

Michelle Arnold of Catholic Answers

Now Catholic, Leah Libresco was once an atheist and wrote this post during that time about Santa and lying to children. She points out some valid things about how religion as a cultural practice can be very dangerous and at the time she published it, I linked to it and her response was this post was more geared toward parents and families who attended church not out of belief but cultural norms. I have seen the dangers of that phenomenon first hand, so I find this read very informative. I am not including it to attack anyone but simply to advise to potential pitfalls! (Bonus: Jennifer Fulwiler comments on that post.)

Updated to add this:

this is David Sedaris’ hilarious experience describing the cultural icon the Easter Bunny to a class in France. NSFW or kids due to a bleeped out expletive at the very end. It has a poignant part about faith and belief, which I believe fits nicely into the idea that many families can be good Catholics AND do Santa!