Sunday, December 21, 2014

What We Can Learn From the Benedictines

It was a mild December night in Minnesota as a hundred Catholic adults converged upon the beautiful house of a lovely young couple in order to meet a monk. They entered the house and, having been welcomed with a smile, dove right into the fudge and wine and entered into conversation with the other like-minded acquaintances present.

After and hour of socializing, the monk, Fr. Cassion Folsom, O.S.B., the founder and Prior of a new community of Benedictines, began to speak.
He told us about his order, which established themselves in a monastery in Norcia, Italy, the birth place of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, in 2000. Benedictines had been in Norcia for hundreds of years until they were suppressed by Napoleon in 1810. This group of monks has been growing well and is nearing 20 monks.

It is not a coincidence that the Benedictines are drawing new vocations. The work in which St. Benedict engaged, preserving the Church, community life, knowledge, and virtue, is a work that is again of immense importance today. Fr. Folsom shared this quotation from Alasdair Macintyre, from a book published in 1981, which is still relevant today:
“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are.
A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead — often not recognizing fully what they were doing — was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.
 If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope.
This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another — doubtless very different — St. Benedict.” (After Virtue, p. 263)
Macintyre and Prior Folsom both believe that people seeking to live virtuous lives need to build communities that foster their virtue. We need to do something now, while society deteriorates around us, to preserve all that is good in Western culture. Now maybe things are not as bad and secularized here as they are in parts of Europe, but the possibility is looming. We see the need for better local communities in recent events, such as the recent Michael Brown shooting and the reaction to it in Ferguson, Missouri. A good community preserves morals, teaches them to our children, and never stops seeking to become better.

Prior Folsom spoke of the importance of the pockets of Catholic community that we already have in the United States. We need to cling to them, be formed by them, and allow our wider communities to be transformed by them. Having a good Catholic community is more and more essential to being able to actually live a Catholic life in the modern world. It is also easy enough to find online community support, but the real, live, in-person community matters the most.

I don’t have a ton of practical advice on how to build community, but probably the best place to start is in your home life. Monks model for us a real community built on rules and a schedule that requires prayer, work, and community. When I first read the Rule of St. Benedict, I realized how helpful it was to planning a good family life. There is a beautiful book The Little Oratory that gives great advice on establishing a life of family prayer. The routine of family meals, family prayer, and extending hospitality to others are basics of community life that are not hard to incorporate.  We can imitate this in our own families, bring it to our community of friends, and to the wider communities we live in. We need to be making conscious efforts to bring the goodness of our Catholic communities to those around us. Transformations must begin at the most basic level. So, we must begin with ourselves, transforming our own minds and our own lives of virtue and then grow out from there.

Originally posted at Truth and Charity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Cookie Kind of Day

The kids have a cold over here, and as a result they have all been a little bit more cranky and screamy than normal. It has been pretty rough on all of us. I know it is just a cold. I do wish we could just have the sick people lay in bed for the duration like they did back in the day, but that does not normally work with little kids and why don't we do that anymore?

Anyway, when I managed to get my pregnant self out of bed this morning to see M off to his last day at work for the semester, tried to sneak in coffee and breakfast before the kids woke up, and failed at that, I decided it was time to sit on the couch and look at the lit Christmas tree in the dark of the morning. So, G, L, and I put on some Nat King Cole, snuggled together and did just that. F somehow slept through it, so, she missed out.

Then I decided to do minimal school: G read us her reader from the library (Fred and Ted Go Camping), and then we had breakfast, and spent the rest of the morning making Christmas cookies.
Before cookie girls.
I don't know if you have ever made cookies with a 5, 4, and 2 year old all wanting to help, but it is certainly interesting and a test of patience. This is actually an area I could do better as a mom. I would much rather do it all myself than have to guide children through "helping" me. I prefer not to do the activities that take a lot of time or make a huge mess, but I also realize that those are the kind of activities that they love. They are the ones that make me grow in patience, and they are the kind of ones that the kids will remember.

They will remember that I let them use crazy amounts of sprinkles on their Christmas cookies, even if I sent them out of the kitchen so I could sweep.
G will remember that I let her stand at the stove and melt chocolate in the double boiler, and L will remember that I let me form her own peanut buttery filling balls all by herself.

That is the recycling bin, not the trash can, I promise.
I write about these things because it reminds me that I need to do this more. Sometimes we just need to skip the mom's group at church, stay home with our colds, and make cookies, no matter how big the mess. And the best part? When we were done making the cookies, the children played happily until lunchtime, without fighting, and giggled the whole way through lunch over silly things little girls say and think.

Bonus Baby Bump picture (for my sister who asked):

16 weeks along.
I think I must be growing.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Friday, December 12

1. This is my first time linking up with the new hostess of the Seven Quick Takes, Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum. Last week quick takes did not happen, but I was on writing and publishing overload. I posted most things to my blog Facebook page, but in case you missed them, I will go ahead and link things here.

At Church POP:
10 Reasons Some Women are Wearing Veils in Church Again
12 Secular Christmas Songs that are Actually About Advent
The 20 Best Religious Advent Songs

At Crisis:
Popularity of the Latin Liturgy is Not Unfortunate

2. The reason I have not been writing this week is largely due to Jane Austen. I am using the pregnancy excuse to read all afternoon while the kids rest...
I always come back to Jane Austen and St. Francis de Sales. Pure insight into humanity.
3. I can't believe we did this, and I promise I am not an Advent sell out. My only defense is that it was St. Nicholas day, a party at M's work, and the kids wanted to see the "man dressed like St. Nicholas."

4. Someone turned four two weeks ago.
L had the time of her life at the crazy, bounce house filled, Christmas party last weekend. She may have also had a major emotional crash later that day... She also had a nice birthday after Thanksgiving with breakfast with Daddy, the science museum, and grandparents and an aunt visiting.

5. Here is a math problem for you: What do you get when you mix together 42 packets of Kool-Aid and 15 white silk scarves?

15 colorful play scarves! And if you want to know how I did this: I bought the scarves here, and used this and this tutorial. I managed to make them for 1/3 the cost of buying pre dyed play scarves. It took about 3 hours to do the whole thing: two evenings of dying and one of ironing.

6. Today is M's last day of classes for the semester, and finals are next week. While this means a lot of grading, it also means that his 6 week winter break has almost arrived! We will do the normal tour of the Midwest to see family, a lot of staying at home, home schooling, and M will do research, writing, and class prep.

7. Oh, Jane Austen is calling my name, do I have anything else to say?
Only that we have discovered a new to-us band. Gungor. We like their album Ghosts Upon the Earth the best and only a few songs from the other albums. This has been my favorite lately:

Friday, December 5, 2014

In Memory of Our John Paul

The plot where you are. Photo by Paul Hasser.
"I believe when they put [you] in the ground
I think they buried part of me
Because I've been searching, I've been looking all around
But I cannot find the heart of me, the heart of me"

-All That I Have Sown by Bebo Norman

My dear John Paul, I think I dreamt about you last night. Today was the day we thought you might come when we learned of your existence in March. We looked forward to this Advent with the hope of having you in our arms. And last night you were born in my dreams. You were born, and you were perfect. And I held you. But it was just a dream, you are not here on earth with us.

I delivered you already alone in basement bathroom on April 29 after you passed away and found your little body to bury in consecrated ground. The day you were buried was the day I planted the seeds in our garden, and oh what a harvest we had.

Your remains are in the ground in the sweet cemetery plot for miscarried and stillborn babies. We visited your grave to pray for you in November, but hope tells me that you are praying for us.

You have blessed our marriage and our family. Your existence, your passing, and your communion with God has been for us more that we could ever have imagined. You are a gift to us, and even though we do not have you in our arms, you are still a gift. Your father and I have grown closer yet because of you, our love and life together has been strengthened. Your sisters still think about you and talk about you. And your new younger sibling is growing well. But these things you all know, and you know that you have part of me with you always.

We love you.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Overcoming the Advent Grumpies...

Our Christmas Visitor by coblat123. In the Creative Commons.

My favorite Advent was the year my second was born. She was due the second week of December and I decided to do all of my shopping and card writing in November so that I could just rest and not worry about the physical Christmas preparations. The Saturday after Thanksgiving I decided that we had to finish everything for the baby even though we were still 12 days before the due date; I had a hunch. And sure enough, I woke up in labor at 4 am on the First Sunday of Advent. My daughter was born before dinnertime, and because I had been so well prepared, I spent all of Advent not worrying about the physical Christmas preparations and just contemplating Our Lady waiting for her newborn baby.

There was something nice about not being apart of the busyness normally associated with Advent. I sat on the couch, nursed my baby, read to my toddler, napped all the time, and watched it snow almost everyday that December in Buffalo, NY, and was readying my heart for Christmas day. I was free from the pre-Christmas craziness.

Without a due date to motivate myself to do things early, I am not usually done by Advent, but I do get most of the shopping and card writing done by the first week of Advent. I do not see it as getting caught up in Christmas early, but preparing for Christmas in all the many ways that we have to. We also have a number of family Advent traditions, such as the Jesse Tree, an Advent Wreath, an Advent calendar, and not decorating until closer to Christmas.

But how are we supposed to deal with the neighbor across the street who has a huge Santa Claus plastered across her door the day after Thanksgiving? Or the house with the lawn covered in light up residents of the North Pole by mid-November? Or the Christmas trees and lights all over stores with the blaring Christmas carols?

I used to be a huge grump about these things. I suppose one could call me an Advent purist. I still cringe a little thinking about putting up the tree on Gaudete Sunday, though my husband and I decided it would be best since we always travel over Christmas. I found myself not able to enjoy Christmas music when Christmas came because I spent all of Advent critical of the music being played. When I spent all of Advent not joyful, it made it hard to become joyful when Christmas arrived. Then my daughters started noticing decorated house and stores before Christmas, and I had to change my attitude.

I learned to not be so grumpy by explaining the early Christmas festivities of others to my children. When it came to music, we discovered some great Advent music, but also noticed the large number of secular Christmas music that is actually about wintery things and could be considered Advent songs themselves. Certain hymns I prefer to save for Christmas, but others I have given myself permission to enjoy in Advent. Christmas lights on houses we explain as people’s way of getting ready for Christmas. The lights can serve us as a reminder of what Advent it for, preparing for the light of Christ to come. I think that December 13, the Feast of St. Lucy whose name means “light” would be a good day to light ones lights. As for the stores and shopping, we just view everything as a way to prepare for Christmas. If stores did not have things up early, then we could not get ready in time. And sometimes we just explain that a lot of people do not wait for Christmas day to celebrate Christmas, but we do. We wait to celebrate birthdays and open birthday presents until the actual day, and we do the same for Jesus.

And then there is Santa Claus. My children just call him St. Nicholas. We do St. Nicholas day, but we don’t do Santa on Christmas. I know there are lots of opinions here, but we simply think the recent Santa Claus tradition to be unnecessary for us to celebrate Christmas seeing as it is a big detraction from Jesus’ birth. The presents on Christmas are in honor of the Christ child and the Jesus that dwells in each of us.  As for St. Nicholas day, my children put out their shoes on December 5, and eagerly look to see what we put in their shoes “in honor of St. Nicholas.” They do not care that we do not pretend that the small gifts and candy are brought by the great saint himself. We have traditions for other and feast days throughout the year, and St. Nicholas day has its own special tradition. They also know that some children think Santa comes of Christmas, but that does not change their enthusiasm for Christmas morning or presents.

I discovered that when I stopped being critical all of Advent that it made my Advent a more prayerful experience, and that sometimes the early Christmas music helped me experience the joy of Christmas day more fully. It is not everyday that we celebrate the anniversary of our God’s birth. Advent and Christmas are both beautiful seasons, and I love all of the decorations and lights. I am glad that I am able to appreciate them all more fully now.

Whether you are an Advent purist or not, grumpiness during Advent is never helpful. Don’t let the early secular Christmas be the Grinch that stole your Advent, just find a way to make it part of Advent, and you can enjoy the waiting and preparation that Advent really is about.

Originally published in full at Truth and Charity.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How We Do Advent in Our Domestic Church

On Sunday our pastor at St. Agnes promoted Advent booklets with family prayers that had been put together for the parishioners to take home and use. He emphasized the importance of our domestic church and keeping the liturgical seasons there as well. There are so many options for Advent and it might have to do with the overwhelming secularization of Advent with Christmas decor everywhere. We try to keep things simple at home and slowly get the house ready for Christmas. We start with the Advent essentials in out home, Advent wreath and Jesse Tree.

This is our Jesse Tree:

It sits on our family altar.
This little tree was M and my first Christmas tree, and when we moved into a house we decided to switch it to the Jesse Tree. I have been not very good at cross stitching our ornaments, so we mostly use our hand-drawn paper circle ornaments. Maybe that should be a goal for this pregnancy, to get them done... I grew up with the Jesse tree and always loved hearing the story of Salvation history from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ every day for all of Advent. I want this to be a part of my children's experience of Advent as well. We take the readings from this book, The Jesse Tree: Story and Symbols of Advent.

Under the tree we also have an empty manger to remind us of what we are waiting for in Advent, Jesus.

We have one main Advent wreath this year with beeswax candles:

We had fun rolling the sheets of wax into candles. These ones are only supposed to burn for 4 hours. Anyone know of longer burning beeswax Advent candles?
Since we do not always dine in the dining room, I set a small one up in the kitchen nook for use at breakfast, lunch, and dinners in the kitchen. My husband is casually into minimalist art, but he wishes we had just done rocks on a stick of bamboo.

Some have accused this of not being a wreath; they clearly do not understand minimalism.
I, also, put together a simple front door wreath which I will switch over to Christmas themed when the time is right.

The other daily thing we do for Advent is open the door on our little paper Advent calendar. I have seen many beautiful reusable calendars, but this is what we use for now.

Our church handed these out last year. I have no idea who made them.

What does your family do for Advent?
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