Tune for Tuesday

Or should it be Music Monday? Anyways…..

Blessings by Laurie Story

The last few years here at www (Wonderful World of Watkins) have been more dark than light, more struggles than successes but I know – I KNOW – that God has not abandoned us.

This song very eloquently says what I have felt – and still feel – many days…..what if my greatest disappointment is a revelation of God working in a new and wonderful way?

Are your jars running empty?

Six Stone Jars

 

Today’s reading, The Wedding Feast at Cana, is by far my very favorite gospel. Of course, there is each telling of the Passion, the many healings, the feeding of 5000 but Jesus’ first public miracle takes place at a wedding! With a simple request from his mother, a gentle “Do whatever He tells you’ to the servants and he ensures there is wine for all – ‘saving the best until last’.

This miracle is a reminder to all of anyone married that God is deeply invested in doing whatever He can to ensure that our marriages last!

In the past two weeks I have been in three different situations where marriages are collapsing – one appears to be ending after 22 years! Apparently, any requests for counseling are being refused, prayers seem to go unanswered, all seems lost.

My heart is breaking for all those involved; but in particular the children.

I am not making any judgements of those involved but marriages do not dissolve over a day, a week or even months. Marriages, like the wine at the wedding, are emptied of their grace and those involved just aren’t noticing or aren’t caring.

So, how are your jars holding up? If you were to think of the six stone jars as six areas of your marriage how are their levels?

One jar is for being a child of God – both of you. Are you making time to pray? Spending time reading the gospels? I’m not talking long Scripture studies but just a look at God’s word beyond Sunday Mass?

Speaking of Mass, one jar is your Catholic jar. Yes, being a Catholic is something special. Our marriages are a sacrament and as such God is seriously invested in its success and deeply grieved at any failure. Use the other sacraments such as the Eucharist and Confession to strengthen yourself and your marriage.

One jar is for being a spouse – Make time for being together!! Date – even it’s a free date sitting on the porch with a glass of lemonade. Talk about how you met, why you fell in love and what you are looking forward to. Being married for 5 years, 15 years or even over 30 like me doesn’t mean love fades, it can always, always get better.

One jar is for being a parent – Work as a team as you parent. I am writing this watching the Steelers lose to the Broncos so I am thinking football. Share the playbook – let your spouse in on the secrets you know about parenting. Work with your strengths, encourage each other on. You’re on the same team, so parent that way.

Jar #5  I reserve for teaching our children and leading them to Jesus. Deciding to homeschool and being an involved parent in either public or private school needs its own jar and its own grace. Regardless of your education choice – you remain the primary educator so do what you need to keep the jar full of grace.

Jar #6 – well, each family has their own jar that brings its own challenges. Chronic illness, special needs child, aging parents, unemployment? Each of us has something that risks draining our jars of grace, joy and hope if we aren’t careful.

Are any of these jars at risk of running dry? All of them?

Don’t worry, Mary is right there waiting for you to ask for help. Jesus is there to turn dregs back into wine. And remember – He always saves the best till last.

Dealing with Darkness

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Spiritual darkness is a reality – St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul and St. Teresa of Calcutta both wrote about the loss of solace from God. This lack can be anything from losing a feeling of comfort when you pray to dreading going to Mass because you ‘just don’t feel like it’ anymore.

And while we might want to be dismissive, we all know feelings have a way of waxing and waning to outright lying to us; feelings are real. Our child crying because of a broken balloon is to be consoled, not condemned. Of course, we know the limited life-span of a balloon but our 4 yr. old doesn’t and does not be told to “Grow up and get over it!”

The same is true for us adults – our feelings are a gift given to us from God. And like all gifts they need their proper place in our lives.

Think of it like this – a gift card from Macy’s cannot be used at McDonald’s. Both might be valuable to you in their own right and both can get you ‘stuff’ but that stuff is very different from each other and both have quite different values. The dress lasts longer and looks much more lovely on you than the double-cheeseburger.

Our feelings also have value but we need to use them in the right place and time and for the right purposes. Letting ourselves continue to have crying jags or temper tantrums over the broken balloons in our life would be childish. But, feeling sadness when life is difficult or when it seems as if God is not even listening to us should be attended to.

But how? First, know that our feelings have a way of distorting the truth. God is listening – He can’t help but listen to us as He made a covenant with us He cannot break. It’s impossible – absolutely impossible. God is always, always, ALWAYS there, even when we don’t feel Him.

Second, realize that darkness has a purpose.

For St. John, at one point he relates the darkness to the temporary blindness that occurs when we come inside from being outside on a bright day. We have all experienced this. Having seen the sun so clearly outside, our eyes seem to go blind when we go back into our homes. Watching this happen with little kids can be a bit funny as you watch them blink and blink or even cry out ‘I can’t see! I’ve gone blind!’. Soon enough, their pupils adjust and life is back to normal.

In St. John’s life, being so close to the Son of God, Jesus himself, can render us blind to just how close we are. We are so close, being held so tightly in his arms we are blinded to Him. He is there, closer than ever, but we just ‘can’t see’ Him.

Keep praying, keep talking, keep going to Mass despite your temporary blindness knowing that He is there holding you close.

Lastly, relate your darkness to other experiences that have a good ending – just as your darkness will (eventually).

Think of the familiar image of the light at the end of the tunnel – but know that some tunnels can be 30 miles long! There is a tunnel being created under the Swiss Alps, due to open this year, what will be just over 35 miles long! Imagine – that tunnel will keep you in dark for almost 40 minutes if you go about 60 mph. 40 minutes in the dark is more than this claustrophobic girl can take!

And tunnels always take you out of darkness – always, they have to, it is their design. They lead you from one point to another. From England to France in just 35 minutes via the Channel Tunnel – the Chunnel – which is approx. 31 miles long. From the land of the London Tower to the land of Eiffel Tower in just 35 minutes – imagine!

The creation of tunnels has helped man get under rivers and through mountains rather than the longer (and often more dangerous) over the land routes.

And think of treasure. Gold and diamonds, silver and opals. Gemstones of every kind are rarely found on the surface of the earth but must be brought out of the darkness of mines; some of which are miles deep. You can’t get to those treasures simply by wandering around in the sun. You have to dig deep and do some seriously hard work. But it is worth it in the end.

So, don’t give up. And, until the darkness is lifted use the light around you to remind you that God is there regardless of how you feel. Gaze at the candle on the altar, a lamp on the table next to you as your pray or the sunshine outside as you take a walk or play with your kids. Let those lights become the light of Christ in your life until your darkness ends. Your darkness is merely a tunnel to travel or a mine of treasures waiting to be found. You are closer to God than you know.

 

 

 

 

 

A Tune for Tuesday

music-dandelion

If your kids are like my kids they love music – all kinds of music. We had a small day of mourning yesterday at WWW (the Wonderful World of Watkins) with the news of the passing of David Bowie; they remember him as the Goblin King from Labyrinth.

So, I’d like to introduce all of you to an artist we have just been introduced to Jordan Feliz. We just enjoyed a mid-morning dance party listen to both Beloved and The River.

Enjoy – Beloved by Jordan Feliz

Resolutions Anyone?

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One suggestion – Daily Mass.

When I first began to homeschool over 20 years ago, there was a great deal of talk about the importance of attending daily Mass as a key to homeschooling success. I heard it at conferences, in talks with mentoring Moms and in many of the biographies of saints I began to read either on my own or with my children. Historically, daily Mass is a relatively ‘new’ practice in our Church, On Frequent and Daily Reception of Holy Communion.  So, those of us living in an age when it is so readily available (as well as a huge blessing) should take advantage of it as often as we can.

Way back then, I took this advice to heart and began to strive for daily Mass taking my kids along as often as I could. And over the 2 decades of homeschooling, I have continued to do so – to the best of my ability.

Of course, there have been days, weeks and even entire months where daily Mass just didn’t happen. The times of the church closest to us was really impossible to for my schedule, there was also – at times – being pregnant, morning sickness, a new baby, a cranky toddler or two or three, we all overslept, I had no car, no gas, we were on the road, or any and all of the above kept me home. BUT – I still desired daily Mass as it was a quiet, prayerful and grace-filled way to begin my day. Or interrupt it when I was able to go to a 12:15 pm Mass.

And, I have always gained something when I went. Even when I went with children in tow. Sometimes, I really ‘feel’ Jesus’ there, but most times I just am grateful to be present at a miracle. Every single time – a real, true miracle occurs as bread and wine is made into Jesus. And in this Year of Mercy, it is important to remember each of the seven works of mercy happen at Mass!

Instruction of the ignorant (which would be ME), as I hear the readings or a homily and the encouragement of the down-hearted (which would be ME again), and we are given both real food and real drink with Christ’s own Body and Blood. The Mass feeds us, admonishes us, encourages us, our sins are forgiven, we pray for both the living and the dead.

During this new year of 2016, if you don’t have Daily Mass as a part of your day, consider adding it. Take a look around your town and see if any of the churches have times that work. Perhaps there will be extra times given for Lent, and then later Advent. And, if your day does not give you an opening for Mass outside of your home (and I know that many days don’t, for many reasons, no apology is needed), can you watch the celebration of the Mass on EWTN (if you have cable)?

You can even watch Mass on-line over at CatholicTV

You can also add a spiritual communion prayer to your day. These short prayers provide you with the graces of the sacrament of Mass even though you can’t be there:

 

My Jesus,
I believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment
receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You.

Never permit me to be separated from You.

Amen.

Granted, getting more fit, watching calories and spending less time on-line when you are with your spouse or children are around are great ideas but having Jesus within you is an awesome idea!

 

American Catholic Saint Week!

 

 

This is one of my favorite weeks in the liturgical calendar, not only because it start a new week in a new year, but because it holds the feast day of threjohnneumanne saints of North America. Today is the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint of the USA. Tomorrow is the feast of St. John Neumann, the little bishop of Philadelphia who spoke twelve languages and started the 40-hours Adoration during a time of relentless persecution of Catholics and immigrants. (A great children’s book, Thomas Finds a Treasure, on sale this week!) January 6th is the feast of Bl. Andre Bassett, the Canadian Holy Cross brother who was so simple and saintly that his superiors said he was only fit be the porter. He joked, “They showed me the door and I stayed for 40 years!”

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, whose feast is today, is our Little Flowers patron saint of Perseverance (Wreath II), yet her virtues are innumerable. She endured the death of her husband, converted to Catholicism at a time in New York where most Catholics were poor immigrants. She followed through on her calling to form a truly American religious st-elizabeth-ann-seaton_vintage-illustration-sm-234x300order and began the order and a free school for girls in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She endured the death of several children to the “family disease” of consumption before succumbing to the deadly malady herself.

Yet, when I was researching my book, Kat Finds a Friend, a St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Story, the virtue that pours forth in Mother Seton’s words and actions was not just a plodding perseverance to do the will of God, but to do it with joy, with cheerfulness and with absolute charity. Mother Seton was the truest of friends even when many abandoned her. She was the gentlest of mothers, even when her sons turned their back on her. I tried to bring out those qualities in the book, which is perfect for ages 7 and up. But don’t stop there! There are lots of great resources about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and a great movie starring Kate Mulgrew, A Time for Miracles. (on sale now at Ignatius Press)

All week, Behold Publications will be selling all our American Historical Fiction books for only $5/each! Now is the time to celebrate your American Catholic Heritage!

Time to work on the edges and valleys in our lives

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Yesterday’s reading for the second Sunday in Advent from Baruch 5 says:

“For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,….”

As we reflect on this reading for the week, my parish priest recommended we take a look at those areas in our life that might need some leveling off or some filling up. Where are you rough at the edges and where are you soggy in the middle? If we are thinking of the peace the second week of Advent is striving to achieve, making sure we try to live peaceably is important. And our personalities might be anything but peaceful.

I love that analogy. I remember many years ago when my family size was requiring the doubling/tripling up of the bedrooms. We had a girls’ dorm (3 girls) and a boys’ dorm (2 boys). The kids didn’t seem to mind but I was wondering about it aloud to a friend who also had a large family. My own memories are of having a room of my own, despite being the 9th of ten. Would my own kids be lacking in any way by having to share?

My friend’s advice came by way of laughter, “Seriously?! You’re worried about your kids sharing a room?”

She reminded me that I only had my own room because I was in the middle of the six boys as my 3 sisters, all older, had moved out!

Sharing a room, she finished off, was where all of our kids rough spots are smoothed off. If fostered properly, the children might only need to act as sandpaper to each other – getting rid of the smallest bits of selfishness. But sometimes they can act as a wood scraper and really pull of some might be splinters of sin.

They can learn charity and patience with the younger sibling they are with; while the younger ones gain a confidant and role model with the older ones. The messy one learns to be a bit neater and the strictly clean one might learn to be more flexible. Thinking of Jesus’ life as a carpenter with his foster father, Joseph, helped the analogy lock in my mind. Sharing a room allows Jesus to put a little sandpaper on some parts of our personality and wood filler on others.

Time has proven her right. We now have six bedrooms with two people each. We have two rooms with children of similar ages (both girls) and two rooms with boys with an age gap of 5 years between each of the occupants. Another space is shared with two of my young adult daughters who are saving for their own place in the summer. And, of course, there is Matt and I.

And every day, this ‘forced’ sharing forces us to be a bit nicer, more patient. There are conversations late at night in all of rooms and sometimes harsh words, but each room is so full of love and laughter that those poorly chosen words and impatient tempers are easily forgiven and forgotten.

I’ve come to realize sharing rooms is one of the several keys to happiness in life. If we share when we are growing up, we are better fitted for sharing a dorm room in college, that first apartment and eventually, hopefully, a home with a spouse and children. Even God shares, after all. He is a Triune God, ready and willing to share the spotlight – His very self with His Son and the Holy Spirit. Sharing came with our creation…it is not good that we are alone.

In the spirit of the reading, my family took some time yesterday to talk about the rough edges that need to be smoothed out and places where we need to fill up. Matt and I (privately) talked to one of our children about their chronic lateness which is a problem for all of us and their new job. We took another one aside to discuss their need to parent everyone – even when I’m in the room! And, later, when we were alone Matt and I talked about how we were doing as a couple – just the two of us alone. We’re pretty good but both have areas that need improvement.

I’m grateful for the encouragement from our priest to do some personal inventory. Advent is the perfect time for that. We need to get ready to receive the Baby Jesus and we want His bed – our heart – to be as soft as possible. No rough edges, no splinters. No mountains of sin for Him to climb and no gorges of selfishness to fall into. Our job is to create as smooth a road in our lives as possible so we can get back to Him in heaven.

Paul assured us of his prayers for this effort in the second reading from Phillipians 1:

“And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.”

That will be my prayer for you and your family as well.

 

Jesus calling…

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How did you get here? In the Church, as a Catholic? Did someone call you or have you been here all along? Do you have any moments in your life when Jesus was there?

I have been thinking about these linked thoughts lately. Over the weekend one of my older kids asked if I could remember any special moments with Jesus. Did I have a time I could remember when I ‘just knew’ Jesus was there? And today is the feast of St. Andrew with the gospel, MT 4:18-22, telling of calling of both Andrew and Simon Peter and James and John, sons of Zebedee. Talk about a special moment with Jesus!

I am a cradle Catholic, the child of cradle Catholics, who were also Catholics and so on and so on. But I also have real moments in my life where I chose being a Catholic for myself. My parents did a great job raising me, but every one needs to choose their faith for themselves. I was able to go on several high school retreats where I was really impacted by the talks given, the time spent with God alone. And I was introduced to the charismatic movement through my parents own involvement who got to one of the very first conferences at Franciscan University.

BUT, I still tried not being a Catholic for a while in college (SUNY Geneseo), despite those Franciscan conferences. For the first time, I encountered Christians who told me Catholic were going to hell. Not that I really believed them, but with Sunday Mass coming sooooo early, missing Mass didn’t seem so hard or so bad.

This rebellion lasted a few months before I found myself at a daily Mass wondering why I ever stopped and I never looked back. I called Franciscan that same week and made arrangements to transfer.

I don’t recall hearing Jesus during this time but I certainly felt Him, felt His love for me the moment I found myself receiving Him for the first time in weeks. Why did I ever leave Him?

And over the years since then I have been blessed with real moments of both feeling Jesus and ‘hearing’ Him. Not actually His voice but His words through the gospels or through speakers, at retreats. Jesus called my name and by His own grace I answered.

Advent is a good time to reflect on how we got to where we are. It is important that we know our own story as we recall Jesus’ coming to earth. He chose to come. He left heaven for us. He left heaven for me. He left heaven for you.

He called Andrew, Peter, James and John and me and you. And now as adults we are helping Him call others – our children and the children of others. Is He also using you to call family members? Fellow workers? Is He using you as He used Andrew to get to Peter? That is how John’s gospel tells the story:

“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” John 1:40-42.

I will be praying for you this Advent that you hear Jesus’ call (for the first time, or again), so you know without a doubt how important you are to Him and how much He loves you.

 

Happy Feast of St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Gertrude the Great

Today is the feast of both St. Margaret of Scotland, our patroness of Initiative in Wreath Three and St. Gertrude the Great who is not one of our patroness’s, clearly an oversight on my part. Two amazing women who have much to teach us modern women!

Margaret of Scotland

Margaret reminds us, as our virtue does, that getting things started is a real charism most women have. We see things differently from men – not better, not worse – just differently and when we open our lives to Christ and pray to see things as He does, amazing things can happen.

Gertrude, a mystic, had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart and sought to see Jesus’ most Sacred Heart, and therefore Jesus in everything. Every person, every situation had Jesus hidden within.

Today would be a great day to take a look (pun intended) at how we see people and situations. How do we see ideas that enter our minds? Are some of those wonderings from God? Maybe it really is an inspiration from God to do something for Him or maybe just our minds wandering around?

I’m the first to admit that not every idea I have is a good one but others have turned out quite well, such as opening my heart and life to God’s plan for our family which has resulted in 11 pretty amazing kids!

And I also realize I often forget Christ is dwelling in everyone, regardless of how they look or how they act as St. Gertrude did. A rough ride on 95 has me thinking some drivers could not possible have Jesus in their lives, yet everyone does.

Christ might be shining clearly from their face or imprisoned within their hardened heart but He is there! It might be our act of kindness or words of encouragement that help someone continue to live Jesus or begin to soften their heart.

Perhaps you could pray to St. Margaret of Scotland to ask Christ to make clear an idea or path you are considering. Jesus gave her, along with her husband, Malcolm the grace and strength to bring monasteries to Scotland and help reform the liturgy as it was practiced there. What can she help you with today?

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St. Gertrude is also known for her strong devotion to the Holy Souls of Purgatory. Her prayer is said to release 10,000 souls! Saying this prayer today (or everyday) is surely a good work!

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen

Be assured of our prayers for you and your family as we strive to plant holiness in our families – one virtue at a time.

 

Jubilee Year of Mercy Begins Dec. 8th

mercifullikethefather“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes…” The Merchant of Venice, Portia, Act IV, Scene 1

 

With several of my children involved in theater, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to quote Portia above. We are soon to blessed as “him that takes….” Pope Francis has announced a Year of Mercy for the universal church beginning with opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica, December 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception. There is so much already written about the year that I risk being redundant. Check out these links: https://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2015/08/03/key-dates-for-the-year-of-mercy-unveiled  or http://www.im.va/content/gdm/en.html This is going to be great year for all of our members of our clubs. There is so much we can do for ourselves and others during this upcoming year. There are special days even set aside for young people – Jubilee for Youth, July 26-31, World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. While we highlight Mercy as a part of Wreath II, with a cream lily and St. Faustina, this year we will look to take advantage of all Pope Francis and our Church is preparing for us. I hope I am not the only one who is grateful for this year as the world is clearly in the need mercy and Pope Francis is answering that call. When I heard the announcement, I thought of Abraham beseeching God for the sake of ten good men in Sodom. Pope Francis is asking us to

stand with him and be the righteous people in an increasing evil world. The Pope is asking us to be instruments of mercy just as the Father is merciful to us and I know

the families of all of our clubs are eager to stand with him. Throughout the year, through this newsletter, our website blog, summer camps and other means, we will be bringing the Pope’s message to you. We will be giving you ideas for incorporating the Jubilee Year of Mercy in your meetings and families. We will be looking for you to share ideas with us for the website. It is time to get excited – mercy is coming our way. And I hope it does not drop like a gentle rain as Shakespeare suggests but rather that it floods our souls and very lives.

“Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself…”

To help celebrate and really know what it means to show mercy, we are sponsoring a Jubilee Year of Mercy Badge Contest! All kids ages 5 and up are welcome to submit their ideas for a unique Year of Mercy Badge that all Little Flowers, Blue Knights and other Behold Christ Clubs can earn. Download your official entry form and have your Catholic Club kids start designing today!