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More than Christmas, more even than Easter, Advent is my very favorite liturgical season.  Part of my affection for Advent stems from my beautiful memories of Catholic school celebrations, but I also love it for how simple it is to incorporate the celebration of this special season into daily life.

When I was very young, opening the doors on our Advent calendar each December morning before school was my earliest introduction to the season of Advent.  This is a delightful way to harness children’s anticipation of Christmas to teach a lesson of joyful and patient waiting.   Over the years there have been times we had a calendar for every kid ready to go on December 1, and other times we weren’t on the ball managed to find the very last available calendar a week into Advent.  This year I’ve got two all ready to go:  one scriptural retelling of the Christmas story that I bought at Catholic Door and one chocolate from Trader Joe’s.

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Another treasured tradition in our home is the decorating of the Jesse Tree.  I loved doing this every Advent morning when I was in grade school, and have enjoyed incorporating it into our family celebration.  We got our first set of ornaments at our church’s annual Advent workshop (another long-time tradition), and they were all the more treasured because they were colored by little hands.  When we lost them to fire, I found free printables online–there are many to choose from.  Or you could buy this beautiful set my friend Sara has made.

Most years we manage to have an Advent wreath.  The biggest challenge is having the right color of candles. (Note to self: check Amazon tomorrow for candles)   The next challenge is that we don’t eat dinner together every night, so some nights the candles don’t get lit.  But I like seeing them there just the same.

Probably our most important Advent tradition is what we DON’T do.  While the secular world and mostly Protestant East Tennessee are happily partying long before the guest of honor has even arrived, in our home we continue to wait.  No, we don’t bah humbug all the Christmas events happening outside our home–we go to the downtown tree lighting the day after Thanksgiving as well as many other fun local events that we look forward to year after year.  But at home things are different.

Right after Thanksgiving I remove the gourds and other harvest items from the mantel and put out simple votive lights.  Along with our Advent wreath, these will be our only seasonal decorations until about a week before Christmas, and the tree will go up later than that.  I may not hold off on the Christmas music quite that long, but for at least half the month we will be listening to Advent playlists.

We don’t do all these things every year.  Sometimes we fail at Advent rather spectacularly!  (The one we are the very best at is not putting up the decorations early!)

What about you?  How do you celebrate Advent?  For more ideas, click the picture below to read other posts in the Catholic Women’s Blogging Network blog hop.

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When I was given the chance to review Maria Morera Johnson’s book Super Girls and Halos: My Companions on the Quest for Truth, Justice, and Heroic Virtue I jumped at the opportunity.  Not only was I intrigued by the title, but who wouldn’t want to read a book by someone whose most recent prizewinning bestseller was entitled My Badass Book of Saints?

I wasn’t disappointed as the book lives up to its title.  It grabbed my attention right at the beginning when the author revealed one of her earliest heroes:  Lieutenant Nyota Uhura of the Starship Enterprise.  Anyone who knows me and my family knows how we feel about Star Trek.  I knew immediately that Mrs. Johnson and I were kindred spirits.

You will never read another book that explores saints and their virtues the way this one does.  Mrs. Johnson blends her personal stories and insights with tales of secular heroines and saints who together exemplify similar virtues.  The Cardinal Virtues of Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, and Temperance are revealed to the reader via the stories of such pop culture icons as Wonder Woman, Dana Scully, Hermione Granger, and Katniss Everdeen, along with the lives of saints like St. Clare of Assisi, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Cunegunde, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

These engaging stories are accompanied by explication of the virtues from The Catechism of the Catholic Church and steps for the reader to follow to strive to attain each of them.  And although readers will be learning a lot about saints and virtues, it will feel more like  listening to stories told by a friend.

In her introduction, Mrs. Johnson recounts a moving story of her father’s excitement while watching the first moon landing on television, and how he encouraged her to put her little hand on the screen so that she could touch the future.  She writes:  “My dad, who was my hero, had heroes of his own.  It was a small lesson with a big impact: grown-ups had heroes who were other grown-ups . . . today, grown-up me has lots of grown-up heroes.  I call them saints.”

Reading this book encouraged me to think about my own heroes, and specifically about the saints who have inspired me.  I was a little girl when I first read The Song of Bernadette.  Later I chose St. Bernadette to be my Confirmation saint.

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Bernadette Soubirous was a humble young woman, impoverished and uneducated, who did not aspire to renown.  She found within herself unexpected faith and courage after the Blessed Mother appeared to her.  Once these apparitions ended she was content to enter religious life and lived in seclusion until her painful death from bone cancer at 34.  She refused offers to travel to the miraculous spring at Lourdes, remembering Mary’s words to her: “I cannot promise you happiness in this world but only in the next.”  Unquestioning faith, obedience, and humility are virtues I have yet to achieve but hope to through her intercession and example.

Several bloggers received free copies of Super Girls and Halos from Ave Maria Press in exchange for honest reviews.  There are 15 stops on this blog tour, and a giveaway is part of the fun! Please click below to enter.

Super Girls and Halos Giveaway

To read more Super Girls and Halos Blog Tour posts, click below:

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Who are your secular heroes?  What about your Saint Super Girl?  I’d love to hear if you’d care to share in the comments!

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And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever. 

John 14:16

As I meditated on the concept of Comfort while preparing to write this post, I reflected that it’s a word that evokes strong feelings, and it comes with conflicting connotations in modern times.  We are urged to “get out of [our] comfort zones” on the one hand while we are bombarded with advertisements promising comfort through consumerism on the other.  Along with visions of stuffing ourselves with so-called comfort foods come images of a fat and lazy populace too comfortable and complacent to do anything.

And yet Jesus promises us comfort, so what did He mean?  If it’s something He wants to give us, how can it be bad?

Read the rest at Everyday Ediths!

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It's so strange that autumn is beautiful, yet everything is dying.- Unknown

As the year dies, it is only natural that our thoughts turn to musings on our own mortality.  For Catholics, Halloween is not only about pumpkins and trick-or-treating; it is the eve of the Feast of All Saints, followed immediately by the Feast of All Souls, days set aside for us to remember and pray for the dead.

As we get older it becomes harder to ignore the fact that every second that passes brings us that much closer to our own deaths.  Children, for whom time seems almost to stand still so that the time between Christmases feels infinite, usually don’t think about the inevitability of death as we do.

But children will encounter death, some sooner than others, and how we prepare them for this and help them deal with it when it comes is important.

There doesn’t have to be some big moment where you sit your kids down and explain death to them.  Better for it to be introduced early, before they can really comprehend it, as a natural process.  You can start with what your kids encounter as they play–dead insects.  If they’ve heard you talking about the fact that an insect is dead from infancy, they’ll always have at least a vague concept of what death is, which you can flesh out later when they have questions.  Tell them that the insect got tired and old and its body couldn’t work anymore, so it was time for it to die.

When they ask questions about their own eventual deaths or yours, it’s best to reassure them by saying that they–and you–are still very young and it will be a long time before you die.  There’s no need to muddy the waters at this point with discussions of death by accident or illness.  Sadly, there will no doubt come a time when you will have to answer those kinds of questions.

My children had their first close encounter with death when my grandmother died.  They were 16, 13, 12, six, and three at the time.  They knew Mima well so they were definitely affected by her death and I felt they should be a part of it.  We told the little ones that, like the insects, Mima was old and her body had worn out, but we also added that she had gone to Heaven to be with God as we all hope to one day. (I personally don’t think that it’s particularly necessary or useful to bring up the concept of Purgatory with little kids right when they are grieving the loss of a loved one.)

We took all the kids with us to the funeral home.  The open casket was at the far end of the room and we let the kids decide whether to approach.  Lorelei and her cousin Ella, who were three and five at the time, were interested and spent time looking at Mima.  William, who was six, did not want to look at her and stayed at the other end of the room.  The children also attended the funeral Mass and the graveside service.

It’s very important not to impose your own–or other people’s–expectations or interpretations on the grieving of children.  They may not look as upset as you think they should look, but don’t make assumptions.  When my dog was hit by a car when I was four, I was very upset, too upset to even talk about it.  I will never forget an adult making the comment that it didn’t seem like I cared very much.  So keep in mind that your children may need space to grieve, or they may need for you to draw them out so that they can express their feelings or ask questions.  I was very impressed by a friend whose husband died when their son was about ten years old.  He wanted to go sit with his friends at the funeral.  Some people might have insisted that he sit up front with the family but she gave him the space he needed and allowed him to find comfort with his friends.

Many children’s first experience with death is the loss of a pet.  My children experienced this for the first time a couple of years ago, when we had to put our elderly dog to sleep.  Lorelei and William accompanied me to the veterinarian and we all supported each other.  I was proud of how brave they were and how they comforted our dog through the process, constantly petting him and reassuring him with loving words.  When kids lose a pet they will almost certainly ask you if the pet will go to Heaven.  The best answer I’ve heard to that question is that when you go to Heaven and want your pet, he will be there.

Like everything else, children will learn more from your actions around death than your words.  Do you talk about how you miss those who have died, or do your avoid discussing uncomfortable feelings?  Do you pray for those who have died and encourage your children to join in? (That’s when you can explain about Purgatory!)  Do you lead by example by attending funerals of those you know whenever possible and encouraging your children to come when appropriate?

My grandfather died when I was 13, and his was the first funeral I ever attended.  For years I was uncomfortable with the whole idea of “viewing” the body, and dreaded going to funerals.  But forcing myself to attend many out of a sense of duty and obligation over the past several years changed my attitude.  In one tragic week several summers ago, a high school friend’s son committed suicide, the father of one of Teddy’s football teammates died in an accident, and the father of one of his classmates committed suicide.  I took Teddy to the funeral of one father, and he accompanied me to take food to the family of the other one.  Set an example for your children with your actions when death touches you, and encourage their participation, and they will internalize the value of these rituals and will not fear them.

This post is part of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network Bloghop.  For more writing on this topic, click below.

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“Blood is thicker than water,” was one of my maternal grandmother’s favorite sayings.  Family was everything to her.  She was extremely proud of her Southern and Irish roots, and often shared tales—possibly apocryphal—of the family history.  We are blessed to have many heirlooms and photographs that breathed life into her tales of those long-ago family members.  I never knew my great-grandmother, but I was brought up on stories about her beauty and grace.  I loved to admire her portrait, and to play under the intricately carved table that had come down to my grandmother through her, part of a set that’s been in the family longer than anyone can remember.

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I internalized the stories and the reverence for the past and felt its influence on the present.  And when I grew up I became interested in my father’s side of the family as well, and conducted lazy internet genealogy research to learn more.  I’ve built a family tree that goes back many generations on both sides, and have learned that my roots are not only Irish but English, Dutch, and German as well.

Family heritage encompasses many things.  Families pass down language–my Alabama roots are four generations back now but in my family we still use some expressions that are not native to East Tennessee.  Families pass down heirlooms like the table and chairs I mentioned, the prie-dieu on which my great-grandparents knelt to be married, the silver coffee and tea service.  Families pass down genetic material, as I think you can see in the comparison pictures of my youngest child and her great-great-great-great grandmother below.  And families pass down religion.

Read the rest at Everyday Ediths.

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I sat at my desk, head down, long hair hiding my face.  On the blue folder in front of me, in Catholic-school cursive, I wrote the word miserable over and over again, covering the folder in a graphite cri de couer, addressed to no one in particular.

I was in the 8th grade, and my best friend had—as I saw it–abandoned me.  The visceral memory of those friendless days still hurts, decades later.  Being friendless in grade school meant being picked last in gym class, going partnerless for class room activities, sitting alone at lunch.

I’d enjoyed the company of a succession of what they now call BFFs from the time I started Montessori school at three until that point.  I’d counted on having that one person who liked me best.  After that heartbreaking half year (until high school began and I landed in a close circle of friends), I never wanted to feel loneliness like that again.

Read the rest at Everyday Ediths!

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