Counting Blessings: On Giving Thanks in Difficult Circumstances

Whenever I think about gratitude, I always come back to one Bible verse:  “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)
I first heard this verse a long time ago, and it wasn’t at Mass or in religion class.  I was ten years old, and for our reading class everyone was supposed to adapt a scene from a favorite book into a play.  I attempted a scene from The Hobbit, and it was a failure.  But my best friend chose a scene from Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, a book which I would go on to read several times.  She asked me to appear in her scene, playing Corrie’s sister, Betsie.
You can read the rest here.

Waiting for Christmas: Advent Traditions My Family Loves

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 open on December 1, and other times we weren’t on the ball and managed to find the very last available calendar a week into Advent.  This year I’ve got two all ready to go:  a scriptural retelling of the Christmas story that I bought at Catholic Door and a chocolate one 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!)
I’ve written a LOT of posts about Advent, if you’d like to check them out:
Christmastime Is Here . . . NOT
One Year Later
So This Is Christmas
Signs of the Season
Signs of the Season II
Countdown to Christmas
More Advent Memories
How to Celebrate Advent When Everyone Thinks It’s Already Christmas
Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree
That Time I Did Not Advent Right
Advent Memories
Tragedy and Traditions
O Come O Come Emmanuel
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.
cwbn advent
 

Super Girls and Halos: A Review

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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!

The True Meaning of Comfort

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!

Talking about Death with Children

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.
siena-sisters
blog hop death

Catholic Heritage

“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.
Mary Becker Hagan
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.

Finding Faithful Friends

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!

Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Go

Mary, My Mother: Quotations and Images

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A couple of years ago I started creating quotation images of the Blessed Mother to share on my blog’s Facebook page during the month of May.  I’ve been meaning to gather them into one post, and this month’s CWBN blog hop, with a theme of Mary, My Mother, is the perfect occasion for that.
All the photographs are mine, taken with my iPhone.
ve Maria, gratia plena!
This was taken at the grotto at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama.  My oldest child, Emily, graduated in 2013.
Do not marvel at the novelty of the thing, if a Virgin gives birth to God.- Saint Jerome
This comes from the grotto at the University of Notre Dame.  Our middle son, Teddy, graduated in May 2017.  Some day I hope I can return to Lourdes to take some pictures of the original grotto.  The ones I took with my little Kodak camera in 1984 aren’t up to my current standards. 😉
Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you.
This statue is in the flowerbed in front of our house.  For some reason, my younger kids think that Mary likes to be decorated with lots and lots of handmade rosaries.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy word.
We are not parishioners at All Saints, which is the closest church to our home, but we do enjoy walking there.  This statue is in their Marian garden right along the walking trail.
Bring flowers of the fairest, bring flowers of the rarest . . .
Another shot of our statue, which was originally a housewarming gift when we moved into our second home in December 2001.
“In trial or difficulty I have recourse to Mother Mary, whose glance alone is enough to dissipate every fear.”--Saint Therese of Lisieux
The picture in this photograph hangs in the art museum on the Notre Dame campus.
Always stay close to this Heavenly Mother.- St. Padre Pio
Emily gave me this icon for Christmas a couple of years ago.  I can’t even describe how much I love it.
Dear
We don’t have that sweet little kitten anymore, but the statue was one of the few things that survived our house fire in 2001.  It was far enough away from the house not to suffer any damage.
Do whatever He tells you.
This hangs on a wall in the student center at Notre Dame.
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope.
I took this one in the garden of a downtown Dallas church when I was visiting my sister there.
Let us run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.--Saint Francis de Sales
This picture of Lorelei and William was taken in our church basement many years ago when they were participating in a play during the annual Advent Workshop.
My soul magnifies the Lord.
Late summer in my garden.
Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”--Saint Maximilian Kolbe
This statue is also located in the art museum at Notre Dame.
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May
The statue of the Blessed Mother at my own parish, Immaculate Conception, relocated from her usual spot for the annual May Crowning.
-She is more Mother than Queen.---Saint Therese of Lisieux
A detail from another picture from Notre Dame’s museum.
What a joy to remember that Mary is our Mother!- St. Therese de Lisieux
This is another view of the statue in the Marian garden at All Saints.
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I love this picture because of the icicles and snow, which I don’t often get a chance to photograph.
Let us then cast ourselves at the feet of this good Mother . . .- St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Another shot of Notre Dame’s grotto.  Don’t miss it if you ever visit the campus.
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And finally, one last look at Our Lady of Spring Hill.
I will update this post as I create new images.  Do you have any special quotations about Mary that you would suggest?
This post is part of the CWBN Siena Sisters Blog Hop.  Please click the image below for more posts about Mary, My Mother.
siena-sisters
Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Go
And if you’ve scrolled down this far, here’s a video version!

Keeping Kids Catholic

When I was a little girl, I hated going to Mass.
My father wasn’t Catholic, and we all know how hard it is to take little kids to Mass.  So for the first six years of my life, I mostly stayed home on Sundays with Daddy.  Sometimes we’d drop my mother off and then go out for waffles at Krystal, or drive around the cones in the parking lot, or visit the Torchbearer statue.  Other times we’d stay home and watch Rocky and Bullwinkle.  Either option was way more fun than church, in my opinion, and I was resentful when it came time to prepare for First Communion when I was told I’d have to attend regularly from then on while my sister got to be the one to stay home and have fun.
So the very first thing I resolved upon having children is that they would attend Mass every Sunday from babyhood on up.  That way, I reasoned, they would be used to it and accept it as just what you do on a Sunday.
We followed through with this, starting about two weeks after each one was born and dressing them in a special “first day at church” outfit that was my husband’s when he was a baby.
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But we didn’t want to be the folks who just showed up for one hour on Sunday.  We wanted our kids to feel like a part of the community.  I joined–and later ran–the weekly Moms’ Group, which we attended weekly from the time I was expecting Jake until Teddy started kindergarten.  So my kids had friends to visit with at church on Sunday, just like I did.  We attended every parish social event.  John became very involved in the Knights of Columbus and our kids came along to Masses and picnics and even conventions.
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When it was time for school we enrolled them in the same parochial school I attended.  With an occasional break for homeschooling, my first three kids were in Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, receiving an excellent religious education, making mostly Catholic friends, and benefiting from the intertwining of Catholic values into every aspect of the school day.
Kids in uniform with baby William
But we didn’t leave religion for school and Sundays! I minored in Theology at Georgetown and our family thrives on continued education, conversation, and debate.  So we discussed the faith, explained it, answered questions.  We owned and used a Catechism.  We talked frequently about the importance of faith in daily life, and how our values should impact the way we live in the world.    I chaired the Deanery Respect Life Committee and wrote for the Catholic press.  John rose in the KOC ranks.  Both of us served long terms on our parish council. And our kids heard about it all.
We said morning prayers and prayers before meals.  We had an Advent wreath and a Jesse Tree.  Our house was Catholic in appearance, with religious pictures and statues in almost every room, complete with a kitchen Madonna on the window sill and a picture of Mary hanging laundry next to the washing machine.
In short, we took the job of raising Catholic kids very seriously indeed.  I grew up hearing about “fallen away” Catholics.  I knew big Catholic families where one of the kids had stopped going to Mass.  I often wondered what had gone wrong with those kids, since personally I could no more imagine leaving Catholicism intentionally than I could imagine willfully ceasing to breathe.
So there you have my tips for raising Catholic kids.  I suppose I could have done more, but most of my child rearing happened before I discovered the Catholic blogosphere.  I thought rigorously celebrating Advent was pretty hard core.  I didn’t know anyone who had in-home rituals for celebrating every liturgical feast.  If I’d known about those celebrations, I would probably have incorporated some of that into our family’s life as well.
Honestly, I’ve written this post in my head for months, ever since I knew this topic was on the CWBN agenda, and I’ve been dreading it.  Because today I have five kids, aged 12, 16, 22, 23, and 26.  From my own experience and that of others I know that young adults are not always regular in their practice of the faith of their youth, for whatever reasons.  Typically this resolves itself after marriage and children if not before.  But without going into great detail because at this age their stories are not mine to tell, there is a real possibility that despite all this Catholic upbringing at least one of my kids will be in that “fallen away” camp, and I won’t pretend that doesn’t break my heart.
Whatever happens, I’m confident that many Catholic values are imprinted on the hearts of my children and that they possess a Catholic worldview whether they realize it or not.
Click below for more personal stories on keeping kids Catholic from the other ladies of the Catholic Women’s Blogging Network.
keeping our kids Catholic