Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Nicholas

 

And if you live in the Watkins’ home, you know your stocking will be filled with treats and small gifts. I’ve written before about this family tradition that my Belgian grandparents brought over with them when they emigrated to New York. My father, himself a Nicholas, kept it alive and well in my own childhood home.

Wether you fill the stockings tonight or on Christmas Eve, remembering to tell the story of St. Nicholas goes way beyond his transformation into Santa Claus. His story reminds us that giving to others is a reflection of Christ Himself. Sharing never diminishes you; it only helps you grow in virtue, it helps you grow in love!

The St. Nicholas Center has everything you may need to pull off a visit tomorrow or plan one for Christmas Eve.

Happy Feast of St. Andrew – From the treasure chest that is our Faith

 

Our faith, traditions and history is a bottomless treasure chest and I never want to burden you with any expectation of  extra stuff to do in your busy life; especially now (check my post from yesterday). But I remain always eager to learn of Catholic traditions, prayers, etc. that I did not know about.

Did you know about the Prayer Of St. Andrew?

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment In which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires,
[here mention your request]
through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.

From EWTN we learn: “Beginning on St. Andrew the Apostle’s feast day, November 30, the following beautiful prayer is traditionally recited fifteen times a day until Christmas. This is a very meditative prayer that helps us increase our awareness of the real focus of Christmas and helps us prepare ourselves spiritually for His coming.”

Perhaps this small treasure will enrich your Advent!

 

 

 

Advent is on its way

 

While we may hope Advent is a remarkable, spiritual journey, Advent can sometimes fill us with more anxiety because it just so happens to fall right before Christmas; how bothersome.

And we know how crazy Christmas is – from the buying gifts or making plans to travel, what outfits should the kids to wear in the Christmas photo, which Mass to attend – Midnight Mass is absolutely lovely but why does it have to be scheduled so late at night? Where did I put Gramma’s antique ornaments, should I write a chatty Christmas letter for our cards or just send the card or maybe just a Christmas email or a FB post, why does my daughter think I’m wearing an ‘ugly sweater’ and why does Andy Williams think this is “most wonderful time of the year?” Arrgghh!

In other words, our Christmas season is in desperate need of some Advent – an arrival of someone important. A someone to make us stop for a moment, calm down, sit down and remember what Christmas is really all about. Happily, nothing makes us stop in tracks more than a baby. A baby! A baby, any baby, makes us smile and talk in a softer voice, albeit kinda of high, use a softer touch and get down right giddy. It’s a baby!

But this special baby’s coming was foretold centuries before it happened and it happened just as it was foretold.

Advent makes us recall – once again – that our salvation from sin came with the ‘yes’ of a gentle, young girl, unmarried yet betrothed. She spoke to an angel and an angel spoke to her courageous man. And a baby was born in the midst of their love and in the midst of a stable.

So, get some Advent into your Christmas. Wether you decide to do every single tradition from the Novena to the Immaculate Conception that begins today to Jesse Tree to St. Nicholas’ Day to St. Lucy’s Day to the O! Antiphons the last week before Christmas. Is it a chocolate filled Advent Calendar or a Lego Advent Calendar or the one you DIY’d just last week inspired by Pinterest?

What do you have planned for Advent? This year, the Watkins’ house has our Advent candles already waiting on the dining room table. We have been using the same candles for over three years as we were given our church’s huge pillar candles after one Advent season. Happily, I expect to use them for years and years to come.

We will fill our stockings for St. Nicholas on December 6th just as my father, Nicholas did. In his home, overseen by his Belgian parents, most if not all of his Christmas gifts were given on this day rather than Christmas Day. We also have a chocolate calendar waiting to be opened, a box full of Christmas books (both religious and secular) that we’ll read, one each night. I’m hoping to do the Jesse Tree in one fell swoop over Gaudete Sunday weekend and we have a Fontanini Advent Calendar we received as gift from one of my girl’s godparents we do along with a reading of the O Antiphons, from Dec. 17-23rd.

In other words – do something for Advent. Pick one or two or all of them. Maybe you want to give your children (and yourself) some new traditions. Advent should be time to stop and look at a beautiful baby. Pause to fill your souls with great soil to start off the new year. Resting during the Christmas rush to plant some spiritual seeds during this Advent will help some beautiful flowers bloom come 2018.

Need any help? Check out these sites and feel free to share your own either here or on our FB page:

St. Nicholas Center

O! Antiphons

Why Christmas

Jesse Tree Ornaments to Print

 

Happy Thanksgiving from our families to yours!

 

And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name,

make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;

let this be made known in all the earth.”  Isaiah 12:4-5

 

To all of You  – 

We want to send our prayers and hopes that your Thanksgiving is

full of family, friends, good memories, and good food. 

We are grateful for your friendship and your prayers for us.

May the angels watch over your travels!

-From All of Us 

Mary’s Presentation at the Temple – What can it mean for us?

Quite honestly, I cannot image leaving any of my children as depicted above. According to our tradition, Mary was left at the temple at the age of 5 or 6 (5 or 6!!). How can that be a good thing?

Leaving aside the cultural norms, religious expectations, the promise made by Anne and Joachim in thanksgiving for answered prayers – she was 5 or 6! Wow!

Art historians take notice of the look over her shoulder as a symbol of her leaving behind her former way of life and walking towards her future as the eventual Mother of God. Mary walked up the stairs without assistance, her hands pressed in prayer ready to prepare herself for her eventual Fiat.

But, it did happen and because of her strength and the strength of her parents, I am saved.

I know a bit of how this might have felt or happened as several of my children pursued and discerned possible religious vocations and were gone from my house for a few years. But they all have returned home as God called them to another life, a more ‘normal’ life as it were. As a result, I see them regularly.

What about Mary? Did Anne and Joachim see Mary at all as she grew up? Did a life in the temple mean a life in a cloister as it were?

And, today, now in 2017 what can Mary’s Presentation at the Temple mean for us?

Today, I am thinking about this from two different points of view:

1st things 1st – I am praying about what I should be leaving at the temple. Just as I am attached to my children – appropriate – I know I am overly attached to a few worldly things – inappropriate. What should I be leaving at the temple so I can focus on what God wants me to?

2nd things 2nd – I am putting myself in Mary’s shoes (which are way too big to fill) and walking myself to the temple hoping to offer myself to God for His service as best as I can – as a wife, mother, homeschooling, despite my MS or because of it. What will God do with me if I were to leave myself at the temple?

No answers yet; just the wondering. Either way, asking God and wanting God to take over more parts of your life, help you leave others behind is always a good thing. Always.

Walking away from Him or ignoring Him as He passes by – that’s never a good thing.

 

 

 

Time and Fr. Mike Schmitz from Ascension Presents (are you familiar with him?)

 

I suggest you make his acquaintance.

Here’s my newest favorite: Living the Present Moment, which turned out to be more powerful than I expected.

You see, I am trying to stop wasting time on the internet. You know how we can be – checking email 6x a day, the headlines just more time or FB, twitter or whatever draws us away from what we are supposed to be doing.  Don’t worry, I fully recognize the irony of writing this on the internet I am currently writing about avoiding but I know you understand my point. This is not the genuine seeking of information but the risky prowling about to see what’s new.

What I am talking about is the mindless rabbit hole of the internet which I do while I am doing something else – folding laundry, waiting for a child to be done with current homeschool ‘thing’, cooking dinner, even watching TV or a movie so it seems less a waste.

But, in truth, I do this, double duty as it were, only to lessen my guilt. After all, I know the risks. I know my cruising the internet is putting my eyes and soul at risk of reading offensive stories, seeing sin or reading an opinion which is not based on truth. And, before you know it, I’ve not wasted just the 15 minutes of folding one basket of clothes but an hour of seeing or hearing unnecessary stuff.

Now, I am trying to stop but I know (from past attempts) that my cold-turkey efforts have been miserable failures, so, I made a deal with myself (you know you can do that, don’t you? give yourself a better thing as you are trying to stop a different often more harmful thing).

Anyways, what I told myself is that if I am tempted to get on my computer when I know I shouldn’t, I can only look at ‘good stuff’ or listen to ‘good music’.

This bribery has led me to check out the headlines at the National Catholic Register over NBC News. My music is dictated by the Christian worship channel on Pandora or the great music list my son created for me at Spotify and Youtube is restricted to good channels such as learning a new crochet stitch, watching Chef John from allrecipes.com show off a new recipe or, even better, channels such as Bishop Barron or Ascension Presents’ Fr. Mike Schmitz.

As a result, when I was folding two baskets of laundry this morning, I watched the video linked up above which not only lead to me realizing how often I wish I was in a different season and how much I love Fr. deCaussade’s book (time to re-read it) but, most importantly, deciding to let God take more of your time does brings you rich rewards such as discovering this video which I really needed to hear this morning.

So, the next time you are looking to waste some time, consider checking it out.

 

Happy Feast of All Souls – Head to your nearest cemetery!

I have written several times of my love and devotion to the Holy Souls of Purgatory so it will come as no surprise that I want you to head to your nearest cemetery and take some time to say a few prayers on their behalf.

Wether you are remembering your own family and friends, or lifting the souls of those buried there, it is a long standing tradition in our faith to remember those who went on before us. There are great pieces on this tradition over at Catholic Answers or Catholic Gentlemen.

From over at Catholic Culture we find:

“Indulgenced Acts for the Poor Souls A partial indulgence can be obtained by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed, even if the prayer is only mental. One can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a cemetery each day between November 1 and November 8. These indulgences are applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.

A plenary indulgence, again applicable only the Souls in Purgatory, is also granted when the faithful piously visit a church or a public oratory on November 2. In visiting the church or oratory, it is required, that one Our Father and the Creed be recited.

A partial indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, can be obtained when the Eternal Rest (Requiem aeternam) is prayed. This can be prayed all year, but especially during the month of November:

Requiem aeternam dona ei (eis), Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei (eis). Requiescat (-ant) in pace Amen.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

You can take along the Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great who was told by our Lord that pious recitation would release 1,000 souls!

“Eternal Father,
I offer You 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,
for those in my own home,
and in my family. Amen.”

Please see if you can find the time – either today or in the next few days to visit a cemetery; after all you will certainly find yourself in one of them eventually and developing this habit in your children (and, hopefully, grandchildren) is a great way to be remembered long after you are gone.

 

You do know that it’s never to late to get started, don’t you?

Take inspiration from the workers in the vineyard – Matthew 20:1-16 – when the landowner went out not once, not twice but FIVE times to gather workers for the vineyard. He sought out workers throughout the day because there was more than enough work to be done. And the best part – each worker was paid the same amount regardless of when they started their work!

One of my favorite verses in Scripture comes with this reality:

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?

In other words, God is loving and generous to everyone willing to work in His vineyard regardless when they start. Too often, I doubt God’s generosity and believe Him to be stingy. He’s not – ever!

So, consider getting started, or restarting a Little Flowers, Blue Knights or another of our groups. Just because you didn’t started in August or September doesn’t mean you can’t get started now.

It is easy and flexible enough for you to jump right in and if you’ve done it before it will be even easier.

There’s work to be done in the vineyard for the Lord and our gardens of virtue are a wonderful training ground.

 

Have you had your mind blown recently?

“Mind blown” with the prerequisite hand motions exploding from your head is something you have probably seen or even done. We know what it means; a light bulb moment. Something we thought we knew is found out to be wrong. A truth we’ve long held sacred is discovered to be false. The reality of knowing that Han Solo really did shoot first or something just as earth-shattering.

Forgive my Star Wars geek-out but you understand what I am saying. Throughout our lives we will learn something new or gain a new insight into long held truths and often this will happen when we least expect it.

Such a thing happened to me just today. My mind was blown – a light arrived at just the right time.

I have been ever so slowly reading Fr. Jacques Phillipes, The Way of Trust and Love, A Retreat Guided by St. Therese of Lisieux

In the chapter on “Trusting More and More” he goes on for several pages about the simple truths of prayer – we are called to be faithful to it, change for us happens only over time, there are ups and downs, God is always present even when we don’t ‘feel’ him, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. Stuff I already knew (or thought I knew).

Then this very morning I read from St. Therese herself:

“I understand and I know from experience that “the kingdom of God is within us.”….I have never heard him speak, but I feel that he is in me, that at every moment he is guiding me, inspiring me with what I should say or do. Just when I need it, I discover lights that I had not seen before. It is not usually during my prayer that they are most abundant, but rather amidst my daily occupations.”

Fr. Phillipe then reflects, “This means that even if our prayer is a bit arid, we must never be discouraged. God deposits treasures secretly in our hearts for the time when we will need them. That’s logical. We don’t need great lights in prayer, we need them in making decisions and acting. In prayer it is enough for us to stay humbly in God’s presence.”

MIND BLOWN! OF COURSE, HE IS RIGHT! Why was I waiting for lights when the Light of the World is always there!

Oh, you have no idea how much time have I wasted in prayer, sitting frustrated and saddened with the cold shoulder I felt God was giving me. I would sit there, waiting for some great light, some amazing insight! And feel, hear, get nothing.

Now, of course, time in prayer is never wasted but too often I felt as if God wasn’t even listening to me, wasn’t even there and I left my prayer time feeling abandoned, neglected and painfully lonely.

On the other side, I cannot tell you the number of times I have been able to say just the right thing, at the right time to the person, the child, the friend in front of me that I had not expected to say or even knew I knew.

Now, I am no mystic but when I read this passage, I remembered a few of these moments and felt as if God was whispering, “See, I always see you there praying. I’ve been there all the time. As you pray, I plant the seeds I knew you would someday need.”

The truth I learned today, in a deeper way, is this – be faithful to prayer, each and every day; no matter the silence, the dryness or the loneliness. Pray, even just a bit, every day and know God is there pulling some weeds, planting some seeds and doing what He does best – waiting for a moment to surprise us. The light will come exactly when He wants it to, not when we think it should. He is after all, the light of the world!

 

 

Did you forget something? Do you need to be reminded?

More than once my kids have asked, “Mom, why do we repeat the gospels and readings at church? Why do we hear the same stories, again and again?”

My kids are not asking this with a sense of awe in their voices as they wonder about God’s perfect plan; not at all. Feel free to re-read the question and to insert a bit of sarcasm in your voice along with a splash of whine.

This question has come before, during and after Mass when my kids are letting the familiarity breeding contempt attitude towards our faith infect their thoughts and feelings.

And my answer to them has remained almost as predictable as those readings they are complaining about.

“I guess God knew we needed to hear these stories (or psalms or lessons) again and again because He knows, better than we do, that we too easily forget the important stuff. He also made His plan for salvation simple enough to be included in one book because we would never agree to read more!” (or something very similar)

In other words, God knows our faults – including inherent laziness and forgetfulness – and accommodated them. He loves us so much, He made sure everything we needed to get back to Him was there; even willing to repeat Himself again and again and again. Even on a cyclical basis of Years A, B and C.

He knows we forget how much He loves us and how much Jesus gave up to come save us. We need to hear the stories of Peter, Paul, Ruth, Naomi, and Jonah over and over. We need to be reminded that we are seeds on a pathway, grapes on a vine and the apple of His eye.

We repeat these stories not only because they are so good they deserve a good retelling every once in a while but because they each carry a truth we need to be reminded of.

Today’s Gospel has us being reminded that Jesus isn’t interested so much in how our house looks but how our souls are doing. Can you remember which story that might be?