Saturday, November 30, 2019

Happy New (Liturgical) Year!

Happy New Year!  Is it just me, or is having Advent starting three days after Thanksgiving sending you into a bit of a tailspin?   I just feel like we should at least have all the turkey eaten before we bring out the Advent wreath, right?  But such is life when we mix the secular holidays with the liturgical season, I suppose.  Not that I have a real problem with that, of course.  It’s just more to celebrate!  But it does make this mom a little crazy, and last year’s week in between was awfully nice.  Thankfully, I can set up our Advent wreath pretty quickly, and the Thanksgiving leftovers will keep me from having to cook supper, so all in all, it’s probably not as bad as I’m making it out to be.

I haven’t blogged much this year, so I thought that maybe to close out this liturgical year, I’d share how our family celebrated it.  I always feel like I should be doing more with my family to celebrate various saints’ days, holy days, etc. but there is only so much time, and so I just try to pick and choose a few things each month.  Each year, however, I feel like I do a little more than the year before, and now that I’m looking back at some of the photos from our liturgical year, I realize that I did more than I’d thought, which I hope means that I’m creating a very Catholic home in which my children are learning the faith in fun and memorable ways.  I’m not sure if it is sticking with them or not, but I know that I’m enjoying it!  And maybe that’s the real reason I’m doing it.  Maybe it’s less for the kids and more for me, because I never received this kind of catechesis when I was a Catholic child.   As a first-generation post-Vatican II kid, I feel like I was deprived of a lot in regards to being catechized and understanding the meaning (and joy) in what our church does and teaches.  So, I am learning now right along with my children, and I can’t imagine doing things any differently.  Following the liturgical calendar has enriched our lives so much, and as Catholics living in the Bible belt, has especially helped us to feel connected to a larger Catholic community since where we live, we have none of that.

I must say, however, that I have to give Kendra Tierney and her blog and book most of the credit for getting me so far on this journey of living a life centered around the liturgical calendar.  Had I not found her blog a few years ago, I’d have had no idea where to start.  So thank you to her for being a shining example to me and so many other Catholic parents and teachers who are part of the same generation that I came from, growing up Catholic with no idea how to live that out on a daily basis, let alone pass it down to our kids.  There is no way to measure the difference that Kendra’s efforts have made for my family and hundreds, maybe thousands, of families now.  All we needed was a leader.

So, without further ramblings, here’s a little photo collage of how we spent our liturgical year, 2019. 


St. Nicholas Day.  This is a favorite. Our kids love it as much as Christmas day. 
They get candy and new shoes and sometimes new winter coats or pajamas. 
I'm always amazed that they love this day so much considering we give them just a few things.

For Marian feast days, we always try to get fresh flowers for "our mother" and say a rosary.
Sometimes, the flowers go outside around our outdoor statue of the Blessed Mother,
but when it is below freezing, I put them inside around this little statue.

Of course, we have a Christmas tree.  We put the tree up on Gaudete Sunday.
 This year, the boys decorated the tree all by themselves.  A first for them, and a win for mom!

Other things we did during Advent but not pictured are daily lighting of the Advent wreath after supper followed by Advent prayers.  We try to do "little gifts for Jesus" through Advent, being mindful of how we can "gift him" him love by loving others.  We hang lights in our home on the feast of St. Lucy and leave them up until Candlemas. And we always go to a Posada hosted by our Mexican friends, which is a definite highlight of our Advent season.


On Christmas day, we always have a birthday cake for Jesus and sing Happy Birthday to him.
 This year, I was told Jesus wanted German chocolate.  LOL!

After Christmas Day, we always take a few days off lessons and celebrate the Christmas octave.  We also try to do something extra fun and Christmasy during the 12 Days of Christmas.   For the feast of the Holy Family, we always go on a family hike, and for the feast of the Holy Innocents, we always visit the graves of our unborn babies.   To wrap up the Christmas celebrations, we have a big party on the Feast of the Epiphany, complete with a frantic search for gold (chocolate gold coins), a king cake, and the blessing of the home


We start February by celebrating Candlemas and putting all our candles out on the mantle and lighting them after sunset.  It is so pretty! We also take down our Christmas lights on Candlemas.  For St. Valentine's day this year, I made a vegan, gluten free raspberry and cashew creme sorbet. The kids loved it!  We also spent the first two weeks of February writing little love notes to each other and hanging them on the window, then when February 14 came around, we took them down and made little books for each member of the family out of them.  


We don't do much celebrating during Lent, of course.  The boys made little chains with 40 links, each with a special virtue to practice that day during the 40 days of Lent.  We did take a break though to celebrate Joah's baptism anniversary, and then a few days later, St. Joseph's day.  We wore red and enjoyed homemade pastries with whipped cream.


Easter! Mass followed by a feast at home and egg hunt always make our Easter Sunday a fun (and hectic) day!  We make a point of celebrating the entire octave of Easter too, by having dessert every day and eating steak on the Friday of the octave (we normally abstain from meat on Fridays).  Later during the Easter season, we had our own May crowning of the Blessed Mother in our yard, and managed to finally get an Easter family photo.  But best of all, during Easter, Joah received his First Holy Communion this year!


In June, we make a special treat to mark the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  The boys got a kick out of the bloody heart, as only boys would!  We also made some chocolate angels to surround it.  Then later that month, we made a trip to the University of Notre Dame so that our boys could experience a real Catholic wedding.  While traveling, we made a point of buying some special treats for John, who celebrated his name day on the Feast of  the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24th. 


The Feast of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary is also our son John's baptismal anniversary, so we were sure to make him a little treat and renew his/our baptismal promises that day.  Then, after mass, we all processed to this new little shrine across the street and watched our priest bless this statue.  Two weeks later, the statue was stolen, but by divine intervention, was returned to the church unharmed 10 days later!  Later in August, we celebrated Dominic's birthday and since he turned 3, he had a special blessing and party after mass the following Sunday, for his Presentation to Jesus (a Hispanic Catholic tradition). He looked so handsome!


The first couple of weeks of October are filled with so many great saint feast days and so we put out our statues and try to remember to ask them for their intercession. On October 2nd, we remember Dominic's baptism, and he loved the chocolate cake I made with little angels on it. Given all that happened during his birth, I just know that he has the best guardian angels watching over him and love that his baptismal anniversary falls on this special day.


For All Saints' Day, I went a little crazy.  This year, not only did the kids dress up as saints but Tom and I did as well.  And even my parents got into the act, dressing up as St. Isidore and St. Rita.  We wore our costumes to mass and then afterwards, hosted an All Saints' Day party at our house for the whole parish (which really isn't that many people).  It was a lot of work but worth it when I saw how much fun everyone was having and how it made the holy day extra special for everyone who participated. Which I think just proves that the greatest way to evangelize is to simply show enthusiasm!  

And that, in a nutshell, was our liturgical year.  I know I've forgotten a few other things but this is the gist of it.  I'm already looking forward to the year to come.  If you haven't incorporated a little liturgical living into your daily life, I really encourage you to give it a try.  And even if you don't have kids at home, I think it could still be fun!  Who doesn't like having a few more things to celebrate??   I hope you have a blessed new year to come!  Happy Adventing!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Too Good For Me

He was the guy my parents wanted me to marry.

Or at least, that’s how it came across.  We’d see him every Sunday, sitting in the front pew of the church, praying before mass.  My parents and I always arrived early, but he would always be there earlier.  I’d watch as he’d finish his prayers, always allowing time to spare to help set up the sanctuary and light the candles. Then, on his way back to the rear of the church, where he served as an usher and greeter, he’d walk past us and look at my parents, but never at me, and smile and say a quick hello.  

His name was Aaron, and he and I were both in our twenties at the time.  I had just graduated from college and was starting my career, and internally, fighting a crisis of faith as I tried to re-discover my Catholicism.  My parents and I had just recently split from the parish where I’d spent my formative years, now driving an hour to this new parish, in search of a more orthodox Catholicism. And it had left me feeling lost, and betrayed, and angry.  I wasn’t sure if I’d ever really, truly been a Catholic, and I was even less sure that I wanted to remain one.  So far, I hadn’t seen much of the Catholic Church that I liked.

My parents had transformed.  They were in love with this new-found faith that reminded my mother of her days as a child, when she used to pray the rosary and offer prayers in Latin.  My father was inspired by the priest at this new parish, who spoke clearly about church teachings and truths, and who took great pride in being a priest.  Coming from a parish that was completely controlled by women, my father responded to this man of God with admiration, and finally found the spiritual leader he’d been needing. But me, I was lost.  I looked around this new parish and I saw nothing that looked familiar let alone, made me feel like I belonged.  The kneelers, the crucifix, the gold chalices, the rosaries in the pews, the prayers we said, the incense, even the albs and vestments, so much of it was unfamiliar to me, even though I’d supposedly grown up “Catholic”.  And to add to the foreignness of it all, not another soul in that parish of two-hundred families was a young, single person in their twenties like me. 

Except for Aaron.

Of course, it didn’t take long for my parents (and others) to put two-and-two together.  Now completely immersed in this new, yet old, version of Catholicism, they wanted the same for their daughter, and that meant finding me a “good, Catholic man”.   Hints were dropped, even a “Young Catholic Singles” group was started at our parish, membership of two, Aaron and me.  He and I would chat, but his interest in being more than friends was nominal and was compounded by his shyness.  It was clear we had nothing in common, other than our faith, and I knew that getting to know him better would completely blow my cover.  He truly was a “good, Catholic man”, which meant he was too good for me.

We remained friendly.  As time went on, he’d make eye contact and give me a smile.  At one point, another young, single man began attending our church, increasing the membership of our singles group to three.  He was a drifter, riding into town on his motorcycle, full of charisma, and living in a local campground. He came to mass every Sunday too, and charmed the old ladies and seemed to have an eye on me. He called me one day, suggested we go horseback riding, and I took him up on the offer, and he gave me directions of where to meet him.  But those were the days before cell phones and internet, and I got his directions mixed-up, and ended up not being able to find the riding stables and so, returned home.  A few days later, I shared this story with Aaron, and I asked him point blank what he thought of this new guy in town.  In uncharacteristic cynicism, Aaron told me he didn’t think too highly of him and suggested that I keep my distance.  I took Aaron’s advice and a few weeks later, the drifter left town, never to be seen again.

I kept going to that church with my parents, and gradually my love of Catholicism grew as I educated myself about the church and learned more about the faith.  But as much as I learned from books, I learned also by observing Aaron and his devotion to the mass.  Once, after noticing that he had been absent for a series of Sundays, I asked about his whereabouts, knowing he would never miss mass without serious reasons.  It was then that I learned that Aaron had been accepted into the seminary.  Suddenly, it all made sense.  He wanted to be a priest.  Of course!  How did I not see that? 

A few months passed and one Sunday, Aaron was back, sitting in the front pew, saying his prayers.  He didn’t want to chat, but his smile remained.  I learned later that he’d left the seminary, but he would not share the reason, other than to say it was not the place for him and that he did not fit in.  I always saw him differently after that.  I always saw him as the priest he could’ve been.

Shortly after, I met my husband.  Much to my parents’ dismay, he wasn’t Catholic, but he was a good man, but not too good for me. We married, moved 500 miles away, and for fifteen years, I didn’t see or talk to Aaron again.

Five years ago, we moved our family back to Kentucky, back to my hometown.  The church I’d grown up in, the one my family had left twenty years earlier, had a new pastor now, and had changed for the better, so no longer did we have to drive an hour to mass, to Aaron’s church.  Our new routine was established as we settled into our homeschooling, homesteading lifestyle, and part of that routine included my weekly trip to the local grocery store on Saturday mornings, while my husband and kids stayed home and cleaned house.  It’s become one of my favorite parts of the week, these mornings away from “mom life”, when I can take my time shopping, and visit our local library to write, and enjoy peaceful, uninterrupted time.

And it was on one of those Saturday mornings a couple of years ago that I was pushing my cart through the meat department and noticed a middle-aged man dressed completely in black.  “He looks like a priest”, I thought to myself, although I knew that priests don’t hand out free samples of cheese dip and crackers at grocery stores.  As I approached, he turned toward me and began to offer me a free sample when we both recognized each other.  It was Aaron. 

Time had not been kind to him.  He’d gained a lot of weight.  His hair had thinned and turned grey and his color did not look good.  He was working what seemed to be a low-income job, and he commented that he had to travel a lot now, going to various groceries around the region, pushing free samples of processed food products, hoping to earn a bit of commission from his sales.  Often, when I’d see him, his mother, who’d been widowed shortly before I first met Aaron, would be with him, sitting next to his food kiosk, smiling at customers.  Except for his short time in the seminary, Aaron had always lived with her, taking it upon himself to be her caregiver after his father had died, and she came to work with him to pass the time.  We never spoke long, he still had a sense of shyness about him when we were together, but his meek smile would never fail, and I began to look forward to these short chats as I went about my Saturday morning shopping.  The last time we spoke, two weeks ago, he asked about my boys, my parents, and we spoke longer than we had in years.  He said he was going to drop by sometime to visit my parents and I encouraged him to do so.  For the first time, he didn’t seem shy or in a hurry.

Last Saturday, I again saw Aaron.  However, this time, we were not in a grocery store. This time, I was back in the church where we’d met, sitting in the pew where my parents and I had sat years ago, only this time, I was alone. And as always, Aaron was in the front of the church, close to the sanctuary, but this time, he was closer to Jesus than he’d ever been. Aaron had died that previous Thursday.  Just before he collapsed, he’d been helping the priest prepare for daily mass, and was standing in the sacristy, chatting and smiling as always, when a blood clot suddenly broke free and went straight to his lungs.

I sat in that pew last Saturday and I looked at Aaron lying in his coffin, rosary wrapped around his fingers.  I looked at his mother, who remained silent, stoic, solid.  I thought about how life is stranger than fiction, how the further I move away from certain things or certain people, God keeps putting them in my path.  I wondered why, after so many years, God had put Aaron back in my path.  It was too strange to be coincidence.

When the Gospel was read at Aaron’s funeral mass, it was the Gospel from Matthew, the Beatitudes.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit…, blessed are the meek…, blessed are the clean of heart….”.  The deacon reading it got choked up and had to pause.  I knew what he was thinking.  What we were all thinking.  Those beatitudes described Aaron perfectly.  He was all of them. 

I found myself wondering what would have been.  What would have been if I’d shown more interest in Aaron those many years ago?  What would have been if I’d taken my parents advice?  What would have been had he become a priest?  Did either of us, Aaron or myself, fulfill God’s will for our lives, or did we just find ourselves living a lesser version of it, still good, but not all that it could have been?  Did we allow ourselves to get sidelined by a world that whispered in our ears, “You are not good enough”?

Today, on this Saturday, I resumed my normal Saturday routine.  I pushed my grocery cart through the aisles and filled it with enough staples to get my family and myself through the coming week.  I missed that smile that I once looked for, but I found consolation in knowing Aaron is smiling at me now from heaven. By all reports, he was as close to a saint on earth as they get, even if his life didn’t turn out necessarily the way he, or even God, may have intended. Finally, for Aaron, God’s will can be done, without the interference of this broken world, and without all the lies and insecurities that we too often allow to get in God’s way.  Now, Aaron will now have the beautiful life that he always deserved.

Eternal rest, grant him, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed,
Through the mercy of God,
Rest in peace.  Amen.