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Growing up Catholic, if I thought about the word “vocation” at all, it was in the context of a call to the priesthood.  We were encouraged to pray for more vocations because of the looming shortage of priests.

And this sense of vocation as a specifically religious phenomenon was in fact its original sense–not necessarily as a call (the word comes from the Latin for “to call”) to the priesthood exclusively but nevertheless a call from God.

More recently the term has been diluted to refer to one’s way of earning a living, which may in fact be a calling from God for some, to use the gifts and talents with which He has blessed them to serve a particular purpose, but which for others may be nothing more than a preference or an accident of fate.

But in the Catholic sense vocation means primarily your call to the married life, the single life, or the religious life.  Starting from the the basic premise that “all men are called to the same end: God himself” (CCC 1878), it is up to us to discern with God’s help to which of these states He is calling us.

CCC 1603 states that ” . . . the vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator.”  Marriage and motherhood is my vocation and I’ve never really doubted that even though at times I think somewhat longingly of how much easier I would find it to be holy if I were a cloistered nun.  From the time I was about 17 I fell in love with babies and I remember wondering how I could possibly stand having to wait years until I could have one of my own.  I loved shocking people with my declaration that my aim in attending a prestigious university was to find a husband.  I was only partly kidding, and I did it too.  I was married the summer after graduation and had a baby 18 months later.

I am a well-educated, extremely competent, intelligent woman, and my oldest son told me the other day that he had no doubt that I would have been a millionaire by now if I had chosen to pursue a career.  (I am NOT a millionaire, and we have struggled financially thanks to my remaining mostly unemployed.) But even though I’ve worked part-time outside the home and work at home now running my husband’s law practice, all I’ve ever really wanted was to have lots of children and be at home with them.  Even now with my youngest entering her teenage years I have no plans to embark on a career outside the home–after all, I’m expecting (and hoping) I will eventually need to be available to help care for grandchildren!

Yes, I am a writer and I LOVE to write more than just about anything, but writing (and any hobby) is an AVOCATION.  It’s our challenge to use our avocations, whatever they are, in service to our vocations.  It was instructive to me to discover that the derivation of avocation is from the Latin to call AWAY.  So if our avocations become a distraction from our vocation then it’s time to reevaluate.

If you believe God speaks to our hearts, even if not from openings in the clouds or burning bushes, then maybe you’ll believe He spoke to me the other day.    Everyone in the Catholic blogosphere is talking about their Saint of the Year, which you can randomly generate here.  I clicked and prayed, as I was advised to do, then clicked again . . . and got MARY.  Yes, that Mary.  I hope she will (of course I know she will) forgive me for being disappointed.  I mean, I know all about her already!  I wanted some obscure, interesting saint I could learn about, who would somehow mystically illuminate my path for the year.

So there’s also a word generator, where you can get a Word of the Year if you don’t want to pick one yourself.  So I clicked again and my word was . . . MOTHER.  OK, Holy Spirit, I see what you did there.  My mouth more or less dropped open.

So it looks like I’m supposed to be doubling down on that wife and mother vocation this year, and seeing how Mary can help me with that.  And who better, of course, than the young woman who accepted God’s extraordinary call and lived that vocation so fully and perfectly?

This post is part of the Catholic Women’s Blogger Network Blog Hop.  For more posts on the topic of Vocation, click the image below!

CWBN vocations

 

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It’s Christmas Eve!

In a time of year full of traditions, there is one I think I cherish the most, and it will happen this evening, after Mass and dinner out, when all my kids–even the adult ones–will gather in the living room before the tree to open one present each.

The tradition has its roots in my own childhood.  I don’t know where I got the idea that everyone should be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, but I convinced my mother that we, too, should adopt this custom.  And for the first few years, I can remember picking any present I wanted to, which usually meant the biggest one!

Somewhere along the way, our practice changed to opening a specific present that my mother chose, and it was always a chapter book.  The idea was that we would go up to bed and read a few chapters and it would help us fall asleep while waiting for Santa.

Emily was not quite a year old on her first Christmas, and I started the tradition immediately with a picture book I read to her before putting her to bed.   The following year I gave her a Christmas book by Tomie de Paola (described in more detail below).  This gave me the idea that going forward I would give only Christmas books.

As Christmases passed and our family grew, so too did our collection of Christmas picture books.  I started a couple of new traditions–reading a few stories every year in my children’s classrooms, having a bedtime story party for their classmates in our home.  Then our house burned down and we lost them all.  A sweet little girl in Lorelei’s class, remembering the party she had attended the year before, helped us repurchase our favorites, and six years later we again have a full box that we pull out every year.

It became increasingly difficult to find five good-quality Christmas books that we didn’t already have every year!  For awhile I tried buying the big kids chapter books but the Christmas offerings for adults weren’t quite on the same level as the picture books they had loved as children.  So last year I tweaked the tradition yet again, and began giving Emily, Jake, and Teddy each their own copy of one of our favorites for them to begin building their own Christmas library.

We began last year with The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, our all-time favorite that we read on Christmas Eve every year after we’ve finished the new books.  I cannot get through this sweet retelling of an old legend without crying.  It’s a very Catholic tale of conversion with some Franciscan brothers and a miracle included.

the clown of god

This year they will be receiving The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  This redemptive love story is beautifully illustrated and yes, it makes me cry too.

jonathan toomey

The Other Wise Man, a story written originally by Henry van Dyke and adapted for children by Pamela Kennedy, will probably be next year’s gift.  It’s the story of a fourth wise man who missed meeting Jesus in person because he was too busy helping others along the way.

The Other WIse Man

An Appalachian tale based on a true story, Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is another touching story about Christmas giving that ends with a tear-inducing twist.

silver packages

The four stories above were among the first Christmas books we collected and they continue to be favorites that the kids–yes, even the big ones–want to hear year after year.  But there have been a few gems that despite their more recent acquisition have captured a spot on our favorites list, like A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, a surprising tale in which a poor woman is repaid for her kindness by some very unexpected visitors.  This is a quirky, wordless story that will hold the attention of every age group.

small miracle

I’ll stop here, because five seems like a good number and then I can do this again next year.  Tell me about your favorites in the comments–and Merry Christmas!

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Catholic blogger fail confession time–we are not That Catholic Family that does a  morning blessing, says grace before every meal, and prays a nightly rosary.   Not even close.

It’s not that we haven’t had good intentions.  We’ve tried off and on over the many, many years (26 and counting, y’all) of having kids to come up with a family prayer routine that stuck.  But to everything there is a season, and some of our seasons have been more fruitful in this area than others.

Every morning, John prays with William in the car on the way to school.  And he did this with the big kids from the time they were little kids.  I love that he does this.  And right now we are rocking the family evening prayer because Advent.  But we need to do better and I found something that might help.

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Gracewatch Media has just published a lovely book by Jerry Windley-Daoust of Peanut Butter and GraceThe Catholic Family Book of Prayers is available for preview and/or purchase in a variety of formats right here.  I was provided with a free copy in exchange for my honest review, and I am going to cherish it always because it is a beautiful book that every Catholic family should have it their library.

Seriously, before I go any further I suggest you buy this book right now if you need a wedding gift, a new baby or baptism gift, or an RCIA gift (or of course a Christmas gift for the Catholic families you know!).

The book is aptly subtitled A Treasury of Prayers and Meditations for Families to Pray Together because it really is a treasure.  The content alone–basically every important Catholic prayer–would be enough to give it this status but this little volume packs in so much more:  illustrations varying in style but all beautiful, explanations of prayers and traditions along with support from the Catechism, suggestions of different ways to pray, and inspirational quotations on prayer from the saints are just some of what you will find within.

I hope this book will help me to continue our family’s evening prayer routine once Advent comes to a close.  Please do your family a favor and buy a copy!

the catholic family book of prayers

“The best form of prayer is one that . . . makes space for the presence of God within us.”

~ Saint Basil the Great

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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.

siena-sisters

blog hop death

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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.

baby william

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.

john koc.jpg

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

 

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I’m sitting here in my office working on bills as if it were any other Saturday even though a seismic shift occurred in my world less than 24 hours ago.  Because life does, in fact, go on.

Twenty-two-and-a-half years ago, give or take, we welcomed our third child.  This was our second baby in just over a year, and we brought him home to a 2.5 bedroom apartment and placed him in the cradle by our bed, which we hadn’t even bothered to put away between babies.

We named this 12 lb. bundle of joy Richard Theodore because I’d always wanted a boy I could call Teddy, and the name suited him well as he grew from big baby to roly-poly toddler who filled out 4T rompers by the time he was a year old.

Teddy and the Teletubbies 2

Teddy was my baby for six years.  I developed extremely toned biceps from toting around my 75 lb. four-year-old.  He was none too pleased about the arrival of his baby brother, but he was in kindergarten by then and already building a reputation as the smart, academic achiever that he would continue to be all the way through college.

Teddy Zorro Birthday 2

You know the rest of the story.  The days are long but the years are short and all that.

Teddy (or to use his preferred name, Theo) graduated from college in May.  Yesterday I dropped him off at the airport.  Now he’s in San Francisco, where he’ll start his first professional job on Monday.

Right now I feel like posting a comment on every baby picture I see on Facebook saying enjoy them while you can they grow so fast but that’s not a thing that anyone really understands or wants to hear when their kids are fretful infants or whining toddlers or stubborn preschoolers.  I’ve read many a thread and post complaining about the meddlesome old ladies who say those kinds of things.  But here’s the deal:  we aren’t trying to be bossy or irritating or to minimalize the work and stress of coping with small children–we just want you to realize what we didn’t; we want you to fully experience the joy of what you have, because we would give anything just to have one more day of it.

Because twenty-two-and-a-half years ago I brought a baby boy home from the hospital.

And just like that, he was gone.

Teddy Leaving for SF

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Our Notre Dame adventure is about to come to a close.  The day this is published, we will be in South Bend for Teddy’s graduation, and I’m sure there will be stories and adventures to share!

But before that, let’s go back to last February, to Junior Parents’ Weekend, which for some reason I did not write up at the time.

Many colleges have special weekends each year for families.  Spring Hill did, and I attended four Family Weekends, bringing along various family members each time.   Because Emily did not have a car and we had to pick her up for every vacation, our visits to Mobile were quite frequent, and we grew very familiar with and fond of the city.

Our Notre Dame experience has been different.  In contrast to the over 20 times one or the other of both of us drove back and forth to Mobile, we’ve been to Notre Dame maybe six times.

So JPW was a big deal.  It started off rockily, as we were a little late to the big dinner gathering Teddy’s friends and their families–three tables full of them, with Italian food served family style.

JPW 27JPW 28JPW 29 Afterwards, we headed to the Joyce Center for the Opening Gala, but we only milled around there for a bit because we were tired.

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The next morning we attended the Open House at the Business School (Teddy has double-majored in Political Science and Finance).

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We spent the rest of the day walking around campus and seeing sights.

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We’ve visited Notre Dame in summer, fall, and spring, and for this winter visit I was hoping to see some snow, but I suppose I should be grateful that it was unseasonably mild as you can see.

Notre Dame boasts its own art museum, the Snite Museum of Art.   We thought we were going in for a quick look but remained for some time, impressed by the size and quality of the collection.

Of course, I couldn’t pass up the chance to walk around one of the lakes with Teddy.

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There’s no such thing as a special weekend at a Catholic college without a special Mass, so next we headed back to the Joyce Center for Saturday evening services.

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Then it was just a short trip to another area of the building for the President’s Dinner.  Check out the Irish detailing on the dessert below!

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The REAL fun happened after the dinner and the speeches, when Teddy and a group of his friends hosted a party for us at one of their off-campus residences.  Some of dads in particular had a lot of fun reliving their misspent youths.  There was certainly much alcohol, and beer pong was played, but what I enjoyed much was talking to Teddy’s friends and renewing friendship with some of the moms I had met on my last visit.

It was a LATE night, and then there was brunch in the morning followed by the long drive home.  I can’t believe that it was more than a year ago already, but what is even more unbelievable is that Teddy’s four years at Notre Dame have gone by so quickly.

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