My husband and I are both passionate about raising loving, respectful kids whose strong relationships with Christ and His Church are lived out in their relationships and community. Sometimes, though, we disagree on our approach and I wonder if our different backgrounds have put us on completely different pages when it comes to reaching our parenting goals.
I’ve got advanced education in Pastoral Studies, Theology, and Teaching. My husband has advanced education in Administration, Teaching, and Social Studies.
I’m a cradle, Catholic-school girl Catholic. My husband is a convert.
There are times when I seriously challenge my husband to become more comfortable with and better understand the words, signs, and gestures of our faith. Sometimes he makes himself talk about (or listen to me talk with friends about) theology, Church doctrine, and what it means to be Catholic because I’ve shown him it’s an important conversation.
There are times when my husband seriously challenges me to remember that all those words, signs, and gestures mean nothing if we do not live as Christians in the real world. Sometimes I make myself to stop talking about theology, Church doctrine, and what it means to be Catholic because he’s shown me that it’s important to just be a Christian interacting with our world instead of talking about how Christianity interacts with our world.
There are lots of times I’m convinced he’s wrong. There are at least as many times he’s convinced that I’m wrong. Then there are those moments – those oh-so-precious moments when I’m missing the mark and he’s missing the mark, but together we are exactly right.
This week our 1st grade daughter was asked by her principal to represent her school by leading the pledge at the City Council meeting.
My response: I’m so proud of you! Because you are so kind and loving and respectful, you are showing people what it means to be a good Christian in our community, how to show Jesus’ love to everyone around you, and they are obviously noticing! What a great job!
My husband’s response: I’m so proud of you! Because you are so kind and loving and respectful, you are showing people what it means to be a good citizen in our community, how to make our world better, and they are obviously noticing! What a great job!
My daughter, who claims she wants to be either a teacher or a singer when she grows us, was instantly petrified. She didn’t want to do it – she was too nervous because she doesn’t think she knows the pledge well enough, she doesn’t know these people, and she doesn’t know what it’s going to be like.
I responded by telling her I think we should take a few days to pray about it first. I told her that sometimes doing good things and being a role model isn’t easy. We talked about how Mary said “yes” when God asked her to do something big even though she didn’t know a lot about what it was going to be.
So…she went to her dad and told him all the reasons she didn’t want to do it
My husband responded by telling her she should take a few days to think about it first. He told her that it would be a great chance for her to be an example for other kids in her school and that it would give the city leaders hope to see someone her age doing something so big. They talked about Rosa Parks and how little people can do big things that make them nervous if they do them by thinking about others instead of themselves.
My response wouldn’t have been right on its own – neither was my husband’s. But both of them together? We brought Church, State, and family together and I think all of us got a lesson from the ‘school of deeper humanity’…
2 wrong people + God = the right family.
Family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation.
There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise the many and varied forms of division in family life.
But, at the same time, every family is called by the God of peace to have the joyous and renewing experience of “reconciliation,” that is, communion reestablished, unity restored.
(Listen, I know that comparing standing up in front of the 6 people on our city council and reciting the pledge to Rosa Parks or, you know, the Mother of God is a little heavy handed and over the top, but it’s a pretty big deal to her! Plus, I am an English major and hyperbole is a legitimate way to prove a point!)
Blessing a home recognizes God’s goodness in providing for us a home to live in, invites God to be present within our home, and dedicates our home to God. A blessing isn’t a magic formula that makes our homes holy; our homes become holy because of how we act inside them. Rather, it asks for God’s protection over the mind, body, and soul of those who live there. This kind of blessings bestows what the Church calls actual grace — the divine energy which the soul needs in the countless emergencies and difficulties of our daily struggle with the devil, sin, and our own fallen nature.*
Having our home blessed helps draw us closer to God, to Whom it is dedicated; and acknowledges that our home does more than just benefit our bodies by providing the tangible things like warmth, heat, shelter, etc. A blessed home can benefit our souls as well.
The Feast of the Epiphany has, for centuries, been a traditional time for families to bless their homes. This tradition likely came about because the Three Wise Men visited the home that the Holy Family had established in Bethlehem (before the flight to Egypt – after which they settled in Nazareth). The visit from the Wise Men blessed the home of the Holy Family because they came in humility to honor and pay homage to the Christ Child and because they were the first to not only seek Jesus, but also to recognize Him as the Messiah.
The Epiphany home blessing tradition has been more popular in Europe than in the US, but many American Catholics have taken up the practice as well.
What you’ll need:
- Blessed Chalk**
- Your Home
- A person with spiritual authority over your home to lead***
- Incense (optional – frankincense would be ideal!)
How to do it:
- If you are choosing to use it, light the incense as a reminder of the gifts offered by the Three Wise Men.
- The leader should say the blessing. There are a variety of Epiphany home blessing ritual prayers available (here, here and here). Choose whichever one you like.
- Once the prayer is complete, the leader should use the chalk to write the following on the door (or door frame or lintel):
20 + C + M + B + 14
The three letters stand for the three kings who were traditionally known as Caspar, Melchoir, and Baltassar. (The initials, C, M, B, can also be interpreted as the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat” which means “Christ bless this house”.) The numbers are for the year.
- Go through the home and write the blessing formula over each door within the home – especially the threshold, the dining room, and the bedrooms.
- Gather as a family and discuss ways that you can seek and recognize God’s presence in your family and your home throughout the coming year!
** Chalk is customarily blessed on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. Your parish (or another parish in town) may provide blessed chalk after Masses this weekend. If not, you can always ask a priest to bless some chalk. The blessing can be found here.
*** Just as there is a spiritual hierarchy within the heavens (choirs of angels) and a spiritual hierarchy within the Church, there is a spiritual hierarchy within your home. Top down it would be: A priest or deacon of the parish you belong to, another priest or deacon, the father of the home, the mother of the home.
When I was a child, the magi’s story captured my imagination. I remember my parents drawing out the Christmas season through the Feast of the Epiphany. Presents stayed under the tree, decorations stayed up, the Christ candle at the center of the Advent wreath was lit, and even Christmas music echoed in the halls of our home all the way through January 5. Without fail on the day after Christmas, the wise men would begin their journey from the far east (sofa table) traveling a little each night while we slept as they made their way to Bethlehem (next to the fireplace).
My adult imagination was sparked in a whole new way as I read how the early Church fathers interpreted the magi story in light of Old Testament prophecy:
Justin cites Isaiah 8:4, where the prophet predicts that “before the child knows how to call ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.” For Justin, the magi were priests of an eastern cult and practitioners of magic and astrology. The wealth of Damascus and spoils of Samaria represented the sorcery and idol-worship that the pagan magi gave up when they worshiped Jesus. The magi’s visit to the crib was thus their moment of conversion and the renunciation of their misguided, idolatrous practices.*
According to Origen, after the star appeared to the magi, they noticed that their magic spells faltered and their power was sapped. Consulting their books, they discovered the prophecy of the oracle-reader Balaam, who saw a rising star “com[ing] out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17) that indicated the advent of a great ruler of Israel. The magi thus conjectured that this ruler had entered the world. So, the magi traveled to Judea to find this ruler, and based on their reading of Balaam’s prophecy, the appearance of the comet and their loss of strength, they determined that he must be superior to any ordinary human—that his nature must be both human and divine.*
Irenaeus of Lyons
According to Irenaeus, the magi offered Jesus myrrh (used for anointing corpses) to indicate that he was to die and be buried for the sake of mortal humans, gold because he was a king of an eternal kingdom, and frankincense (burnt on altars as divine offerings) because he was a god. As the first visitors to recognize who this newborn child was, and what his birth would mean to the whole world, the witness of the magi was not insignificant to these controversies. Their three gifts seemed to demonstrate their understanding of the three distinct persons who shared a single “nature” within the Trinity.*
The wise men did not simply seek Him, they were the first to recognize Jesus as messiah.
As the Magi strove to find the newborn king, may the Feast of the Epiphany find us not only seeking out Christ each day of our life, but actually recognizing Him as Priest, Prophet, King, and Messiah.
As the Magi renounced their magical idolatrous practices in the infant face of God incarnate, may we renounce whatever worldly idols have thickened the veil between us and Christ.
As the Magi blessed the Holy Family with their humility and homage, may our families be blessed humility and may we keep the adoration of Christ at the center of everything we do this year.
I want to be clear about something: I love Christmas. Everything to do with Christmas. I don’t care that the stores put out Christmas decorations in October because just seeing those aisles start to fill with twinkling lights, sparkling ornaments, and scented pine cones reminds me that my favorite time of year is approaching. I listen to Christmas music as soon as Thanksgiving is over because – hey, it takes me more than 4 weeks to prepare for the joy of the Incarnation, okay?
I need you to understand how much I love Christmas because then you can understand what a problem I’ve had this year.
Deep down this year, my heart just hasn’t been in it. Christmas has felt more like a to-do list than a celebration – a mental exercise requiring so much effort.
“The language of the Lord is the language of love and tenderness, of whispers and extreme simplicity…Usually, Christmas seems like a very noisy feast, but we can use a bit of silence to hear these words of love, closeness and tenderness.” – Pope Francis
Reflecting on that quote, I realized that my Christmas needs more softness and tenderness, more heart and less head, more ‘being’ and less ‘doing.’
Yesterday, snow covered roads meant my normally half hour commute home from work took an hour and a half. I had Christmas music on in the car and noticed lyrics to a one carol I had never noticed before:
Raise, raise the son on high
The virgin sings her lullaby
Joy, joy for Christ is born
The babe, the son of Mary
The First Christmas was a pretty noisy feast. Travel, crowds, gifts, visitors, animals, death threats, angels, dreams, songs, shepherds, even a drum set!
Yet, in the midst of it, there is a moment – just a moment – when all is calm. Mary and Joseph look lovingly over the sweet soft head of the newborn child. She sings a lullaby showering the soft baby skin in kisses. He gazes in adoration and awe at the gift and responsibility in front of him.
The night is silent, and before the choirs of angels, visiting shepherds, adoring Magi, and flight to Egypt, there is just the Holy Family hearing in the depths of their souls “the language of the Lord…the language of love and tenderness, of whispers and extreme simplicity.”
What Child is this? This, this is Christ the King. The King of Kings salvation brings. This is the God of the Universe who condescends in the greatest act of humility to be bound by human form. This is the Incarnation. The moment when God’s very Word – the same Word that, booming across the chaos, speaks creation into being – becomes tenderness, gentleness, and simplicity.
While the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous ‘condescension’ of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, “that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature.” (Dei Verbum, 13)
What Child is this? This is the Child who wants to be born again into our hearts this Christmas. My prayer for all of us is that we can find a moment of silence. Between the travels and visitors, the gifts and the music, let us all find a moment when all is calm and our hearts are bright with the love and tenderness of God’s great condescension.
What Child is this? This is Christ the Lord who desires to be born into the softest area of your heart this Christmas. May you find a moment of silence to ponder this mystery, holding all these things in your heart rather than your head. May your loving heart enthrone him.
I like Christmas Jesus best…
It’s that day. THE DAY when we make our obligatory list of “Things I’m Thankful For” and prepare to present it in front of family and friends around the Thanksgiving table. We all know how the list goes: air, family, friends, health, job, home, football, pumpkin pie (in whatever order is preferable to you), etc., etc. All great things to be thankful for and generally worth mentioning.
I’ve been meditating on the “what are you thankful for question” a bit more this year, though, because I feel like saying, “Duh” when all those general gifts are mentioned. OF COURSE I’m thankful for my family and children, the blessings we have in the form of good health and a job and home and all the extraneous things that make my life what it is. I try to daily live my life as a woman who is aware of my many, many blessings and who regularly tells God “thank you” for them.
But, why? Why do I try to live in this mindset (or, really, HEARTset)? What is it that I am truly the most thankful for that allows me to be a person of thanksgiving, of praise, with a grateful heart?
Read the rest of this entry
My kids have now reached the age at which we start having music fights in the car. Our travel playlist has become quite eclectic. For example, tonight we spent an hour in the car and our selections included:
- This summer’s VBS theme song (Stand Strong)
- Bon Jovi
- Billy Joel
- One Direction
- The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Theme Song
- Matt Maher
- Elton John
- Hakuna Matata
- Kenny Chesney
- Sidewalk Prophets, and
- What Does the Fox Say
One particular song that hit our playlist tonight was Billy Joel’s Summer, Highland Falls. The lyrics of this song are so moving and beautiful that when I was studying poetry in college, I wrote Billy Joel a letter thanking him for the way he was able to evoke such emotion by pairing beautiful imagery with haunting melodies.
“It was by music that the ancient kings gave elegant expression to their joy. By their armies and axes they gave the same to their anger.” – Confucius
Just to give you a brief example:
We are forced to recognize our inhumanity
Our reason co-exists with our insanity
And though we choose between reality and madness,
it’s either sadness or euphoria.
You can listen to the whole song here:
I suppose it’s no wonder that I started thinking about lyrics considering that tonight’s playlist moved us from Billy Joel’s poetic genius immediately into One Direction’s Best Song Ever.
The refrain to that song?
I think it went oh, oh, oh / I think it went yeah, yeah, yeah / I think it goes oh
To say that One Direction is no poetic genius is putting it mildly.
To be fair, I must admit that I sang the “oh, oh, oh” and “yeah, yeah, yeah” with just as much gusto as I did Summer, Highland Falls – and with significantly more dancing. By the time we got to What Does the Fox Say, I had hopped down from my mental soapbox and forgotten all about my concern for modern song lyrics. It could be that I was just too busy trying to make my kids laugh by imitating the CGI fox dance moves at the end of the song without sacrificing my driving.
“Music takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence, and whereto.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Then, I got home and found this gem on my Facebook feed:
I listened to these classic actors, with their rich voices, reciting such banal…well…crap… and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Hearing One Direction (and Miley, and that idiotic Chinese Food song) in that context brought the point slamming home again.
“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.” – Shinichi Suzuki
The songs whose lyrics are recited in that video (along with a thousand other modern pop and rock songs) make me want to laugh, dance, sing along, and bop my head. But while that makes those songs entertainment, I don’t know that it makes them music in the idealist sense.
“[Music is] the exaltation of the mind derived from things eternal bursting forth in sound.” -St. Thomas Aquinas
Truly good music has been a soundtrack of my life. From the heart swell that begins with the opening bars to “Over the Rainbow” to the short story revealed in Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” to the mind bending insanity of “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the tears that well up each time I hear the “Ave Maria” – in its purest and most ideal form, music evokes emotion.
I can’t say I get much emotion out of
“You a stupid hoe / You a / You a stupid hoe / (stupid, stupid)”
unless you count dismissive condescension as an emotion? (That was Nicki Minaj, btw.)
Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents. – Ludwig van Beethoven
Maybe (probably) I’m over thinking it – and I’m still going to sing along with “What Does the Fox Say” – but every time I do, I’m going to imagine Morgan Freeman…
I’m also going to try to be a little more deliberate about including some truly great music in the car’s playlist.
I don’t know when I started to realize that no matter how many and how often I made “plans” I made for my life, it would almost never go the way I envisioned it. When I look back, I can see how different things that happened in my life were dots that were going to connect me to another dot in a way that I hadn’t envisioned and never would’ve thought of.
The first place I can really remember it happening and changing the course of my “plans” was in high school. After two years of playing on the volleyball team (one of those years as varsity), I was unexpectedly cut altogether. I was devastated and had all my high school plans and dreams seemingly crushed.
But, that event led me to a new dot – going from running track in the spring to running track in the winter, too. Though I never really wanted to pursue track in college or try to make the Olympic team or anything like that, I ultimately had a much more successful career as a runner than I probably ever would’ve had as a volleyball player.
God knew what He was doing. Imagine that.
When I review my life thus far, I can now clearly see how things like that happened constantly, changing the course of my life and taking me in a new and better direction. Sometimes they were things I had no control over (like getting cut from a team), but often they were choices offered that I hadn’t considered, I ended up choosing, and that made all the difference. Read the rest of this entry