Fonticulus Fides

Wednesday, December 31, 2003


Too tired & foggy to say anything other than good-bye to 2003 & wish you all great blessings throughout 2004...


Monday, December 29, 2003

Blessing of Households for Epiphany

We were running a bit late for Sunday Mass at our own parish yesterday, so we went to the neighboring one, where Mass started a half hour later. There was a bit in the bulletin about a traditional blessing for one's home on the occasion of the Epiphany, something about holy water and chalk.

I went to Catholic Online but didn't find any specifics. Can anybody clue me in on this?


Heartbreak & Holidays

Folks have been asking, as is customary, how our Christmas was. Well, it was a bittersweet mixture. On one hand, the joy of Christ's birth is -- or at least ought to be -- the blessing that outshines everything else the world has to offer. But this year, our private world was fraught with painful emotions.

My husband's great-uncle Jimmy died on the evening of the 23rd. His death was not entirely unexpected -- in fact, we were told that Christmas might be "on hold" if Uncle Jimmy took a turn for the worse, which would mean my husband's grandparents would certainly want to hurry to his bedside in Missouri. However, he left this life so quickly, there wasn't time to give his only surviving sister notice enough to drive down from Nebraska.

So, we gathered on Christmas Eve as planned, but Grandma was obviously distracted by her older brother's death. It's a strange thing, I have observed, when people suddenly become "the oldest" in their families. I imagine it must make one take stock in one's own life and, if they believe in Him, in their relationship with God.

As for the rest of the family, Uncle Jimmy's death was less of an issue, since he was a rather distant relative, both in geography and in regular contact. My husband's uncle John, I think, felt it more keenly than anybody other than Grandma, but John was close enough to Jimmy to have named his own son after him.

But that was not the darkest shadow over the family gathering. My husband's brother hosted the event, in the house he and his wife bought a month before she left him, which he's been renovating ever since. The renovation work is going well and the house is going to look fantastic when he's done. But everywhere was the mark of Heidi, making her absence and their situation more tangible. There were the three knitted stockings she'd hunted all over the city to find, slung carelessly over the knob to the front door instead of hanging properly off the fireplace mantle. The Christmas tree, laden with ornaments she'd chosen or made, or ornaments made by others for her or her and her husband. Many are tiny bicycles, commemorating the numerous bike rides they shared when they were dating and falling in love.

In the half-finished kitchen was the cooktop and other appliances Heidi chose, the hotpads she'd made, the dishes from their wedding registry. There were photos here and there -- many that she took herself (she's a great photographer) but none of her.

My brother-in-law maintained an even keel. Part of him, I know, was in deep pain. And the other part of him was glad to have his family around him, proud to open his home and serve as host despite the loss. Nobody sought to bring up the issue of their seperation and pending divorce, but when the matter was inadvertently broached, he didn't back away from it. He speaks of the issue realisticly and sticks a bit of wry humor in there when he sees folks grow uncomfortable.

But Madeline, their 3.5-year-old daughter -- that's where you feel the pain of Heidi's absense most. Like any other high-energy preschooler, Maddie directs her emotions into physical activity. More than once, she tried to physically tackle or otherwise control her older cousins (all boys -- Zooey and Chase are 4, Andrew is 6 and Branden is 8). And when that failed, she turned on Edyn, alternately snatching toys away from her, poking her with a broom, chasing her, knocking her over once and even spanning Edyn's neck with her hands in a choking action. Of course, every adult in the house had one eye on Maddie and all these altercations were quickly put to an end, then Maddie was gently redirected to an acceptable activity. But minutes later, she'd jump up and do the same sort of thing again.

It's not difficult to explain in a 3-yr-old. Where her life has become the chaotic transfer between dad and mom and grandparents multiple times a week, she wants to exhibit control over others, so she tried to do so with her cousins. And when that failed, the underlying feeling that she's being picked on or that all the "big people" in her life are messing things up and hurting her emotionally caused her to turn on her younger cousin.

She has to learn how to cope and develop the skills and emotional maturity to overcome the adversity she's subjected to now. But that will take years. She's only three after all.

The worst part, though, was when Madeline burned her finger (slightly) on the fireplace grill. I was talking to one of my husband's cousins when Maddie ran up to us, holding her finger with tears brimming out of her eyes. Jena asked what was wrong, and Maddie said she burned her finger and didn't know what to do. And you know, she didn't know what to do because when a 3-year-old gets an owie, she (or he) goes to Mommy. But Mommy wasn't there. Maddie wanted to cry, but not without the comfort of Mommy holding her and helping her cope. Maddie knew that she needed first aid, but didn't know where to get it without Mommy there. So she turned to the two females closest to her, and we helped her into the kitchen, where her dad took over.

There are kids all over the world who have lost their moms to accidents or illness and have to learn how to cope, how to adjust their needs to allow for Daddy to do what Mommy used to do.

But it's an awful thing when Mom just up and left. When Mom knows she's needed and wanted but has "other priorities now."

I find myself unable to reconcile the Heidi I knew for 7 years with the Heidi of today. I ache for my brother-in-law, I ache especially for Maddie. And I'm worried sick about Heidi herself. For as much pain and loss as she's caused her husband and child and the rest of the family, she stands to suffer so much more, with the way she is choosing to live. She needs to be rescued...but only the Garce of God could accomplish such a feat.


Frankly, I don't give a...

Rhett Butler
You are Rhett Butler. You refuse to change your
personality to appeal to the masses and cannot
stand the hypocrisy in society. You will do
anything in your power to make sure that you
get what you want.

Which Character from 'Gone With The Wind' are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thanks to Two Sleepy Mommies for the link. I think my results are pretty funny. I was all over the map on this quiz & couldn't guess where I'd end up.


Friday, December 26, 2003

The Best of Intentions

Well, during Advent, we had this little cardboard manger that Zooey and I made, and a bag full of strips of straw-colored tissue paper. And pretty much every night, we'd think about personal sacrifices that each of us had made and wrote them on paper strips to put in the manger for a "nice soft bed for Baby Jesus." Zooey really got into this...well, most days. He still had his typical 4-year-old boy days.

So Christmas morning, I was up before the others, and I fetched one of Edyn's baby dolls, swaddled it and laid it in the manger, then perched it on the fireplace hearth for the children to find when they got up.

Zooey slept in, what with the late family gathering on Christmas Eve. But Edyn (18 months next week) was up pretty close to her regular time. BOY, was she upset when she saw her dolly all tied up like that! She ran to the fireplace and rescued her "baby," ripping off the swaddling cloth much faster than it took me to put it on. And no amount of reasoning would lead her to let me swaddle up the baby again, just so Zooey could see it. In fact, it took a good half hour before she'd let me lay the baby in the manger again, sans swaddles. And then she only let it sit there for 30 seconds before she rescued it again. Just couldn't stand to see her baby lying in a cardboard bed, when she could carry it on her shoulder and pat it on the back.

So, I guess the attachment parenting stuff is just gets in the way of symbolic Christmas rituals.

When Zooey got up, I slipped the baby doll in the manger again, as Edyn was distracted with something else. But when I pointed it out to him, he said, "THAT's not Baby Jesus, Mom! That's just Edyn's doll..." At which point, she shrieked and ran over to rescue the baby again.

Oh, well, I tried.


Wednesday, December 24, 2003

A Glorious Christmas to You All!

My prayer is that everybody reading this today will have a meaningful and joyous celebration of the birth of our Savior today, tomorrow and onward to Ephiphany.


Monday, December 22, 2003


To Davey's Mommy (over at Chirp) and Davey's Daddy (at Honk!) and to Davey himself on the pending arrival of Davey's younger sibling sometime in the next 8-9 months. And prayers offered from here for all of you as well.

Chirp's template is down & comments are not functioning, but feel free to use my comments box, such as it is, to suggest alternative web handles for Davey's Mommy. Frankly, "Chirp" is so cute, I don't know why Mommy Chirp isn't on her list already...


My Uncle John's Christmas Story

I blogged about my paternal grandparents a long time ago, mentioning my uncle Johnny as a fist-fighting, cigarette smoking 6-year-old. Today, I want to share his Christmas story with you.

The bit about the fist fights and cigarettes is no exaggeration. Uncle Johnny was one of the toughest guys I ever knew. Johnny was a "bulldog-fireplug of a man," I used to hear folks say on the street. A good description. He was only five-foot-two-inches tall, but his shoulders and torso were broad and strong, and he had that bulldog look about him that told you not to mess with him or you’d be sorry. .

He was almost 100% Irish by decent, except for a bit of Cherokee blood that came to him from my grandmother. Like many other Irishmen, he had a terrible temper, a high tolerance for alcohol and a penchant for story telling. At family gatherings, I used to sit on the floor by his chair (on the beer can side, not the cigarette side – he always had both going) and listen to him tell stories until I was told to go play with the other children. Which now I think meant he’d had enough to drink, he was about to launch into fodder only suitable for adult ears. Tough as he was, Johnny always took care that we children didn’t hear what we shouldn’t.

Anyway, this is the story he told every Christmas when I was a little girl. I can’t attest to how truthful it is – Johnny being Johnny – but it’s a good story nonetheless.

Johnny’s trade was sheet-metal work. He started out as an apprentice when he was something like 14 – he was at his full height by then and had completed his eighth grade education. He enlisted in the Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor – he was only 17 but lied about his birth date in order to serve. He spent his time in the South Pacific, patching up boats as they floated and sending them back to the action, but he never saw any combat himself.

After the war, he returned to Chicago and continued his job as a sheet-metal worker. He joined the union (big union people, my dad’s family) and was guaranteed a steady income and a very nice pension, if he made it to full retirement age. Most sheet metal workers had to retire early because the work is so hard on the body. But my uncle was too tough to let history stop him – he was going to retire on a full pension, come what may.

Christmas Eve sometime in 1966 or 1967, Johnny pulled a second shift on the job site, counting on double pay (holiday rates) for a total of 16 hours. Four times the wage in just one day – Johnny couldn’t resist that. Just as his second shift was starting, it began to snow. Some of the other fellows who had agreed to work the double changed their minds. "It looks bad," they said, choosing to go home lest they get snowed in and miss Christmas with their families. Johnny stubbornly stayed on, with a handful of others. But they kept checking the weather and one by one, they all clocked out early.

Except Johnny. He stayed until the bell rang, hoping his foreman would reward him with an extra bonus.

When he finally left, there were 14 inches of new snow on the ground – thick, wet drifts, courtesy of Lake Michigan and a hefty wind. It took him almost half an hour to locate his little yellow Volkswagen Beetle under the drifts. Actually, it wasn’t his car, it was his college-age daughter’s. His car was sitting at home in the driveway, waiting for some sort of repair he hadn’t had time to take care of yet.

Using a shovel borrowed from the work site, Johnny dug the driver’s side and rear out of the drift and then started up the engine to let the car warm up while he shoveled out a path to the street. The Chicago street plows had been by several times already, so he figured once he got to the street and then on the Eisenhower Expressway, he wouldn’t have any trouble getting home.

It took a long time to dig a path to the street, but Johnny just whistled Christmas carols as he worked and thought about the best way to spend that extra money he had coming to him. A couple of times, he went back to the car to warm up a little, but all the Beetle could afford was shelter from the wind – the heater either was on the blink or just couldn’t compete with the outside temperatures.

Johnny finally started on his way shortly after midnight, Christmas morning. The little Volkswagen was surprisingly easy to handle in the snow, Johnny thought. He drove about three miles on city streets, then got up on the expressway and turned southwest, toward his home in the suburbs. The plows had been out on the Ike, too, but it was snowing harder than ever and the wind was blowing so bad, drifts were practically forming right before his eyes.

Then all of the sudden, the Volkswagen began to sputter. Johnny looked down at the gages and slapped himself on the forehead – he was out of gas. He’d let the car run the whole time he was shoveling and spent most of the little gas that was in the tank while it had been idling.

Johnny guided the car to the side of the road and weighed his options. He was about seven miles from home. The wind would be mostly at his back, but it was bitterly cold, and the snow was blinding. Johnny calculated that he might make it home walking, but it would take a good three hours. And he couldn’t risk frostbite on his toes or fingers – that would mean early retirement and losing his pension.

He thought about getting to a gas station, but he was at least three-quarters of a mile from the nearest exit, and then he wasn’t even sure how close any gas station would be to the off ramp, let alone one open at 1 a.m. on Christmas morning. Anyway, he only had a handful of change on him.

He was already feeling the cold. Johnny took off his gloves and blew on his fingers to warm them, stamping his feet on the floorboards to keep the blood flowing. He fished a cigarette out of his pocket, but his lighter was empty, so he couldn't smoke it.

Putting his gloves back on, he got out of the car to see if his daughter had any emergency supplies stashed in the trunk. He found the spare tire, a flashlight, and a flare, but no matches to light it...or a cigarette. No blanket, no food.

He pocketed the flashlight and slammed the trunk lid down. The snow was already starting to drift around the tires of the car. He took a handful of it and ate it to quell his thirst, then did 50 jumping jacks to warm himself up and climbed back into the car. He cracked the passenger-side window open a bit to allow for oxygen, and sat there, thinking.

His chances of another car passing him on the road weren’t good, and he knew it. He figured the snow couldn’t last more than a couple hours, so he’d better just wait it out.

He spent the time singing Christmas carols and mentally spending the extra earnings he was counting on. Every 20 minutes or so, he’d hop out of the car to do jumping jacks, clear the snow from the back tail lights – just in case somebody happened to drive by – eat a handful of snow, and climb back inside.

But he was mightily tired. A double shift, then all that shoveling. Johnny was finding it harder and harder to stay awake. He knew that if he fell asleep in the car, he’d die there. He slapped his forearms against his chest, stomped his feet, laid his cheek against the cold window, sang louder and louder…and still, he fell asleep.

* * * * *

In a tiny walk-up apartment nearby, a young couple was anxiously watching the snow and praying that it would stop. The woman’s belly was swollen with their firstborn, and the contractions had already started coming five minutes apart.

"We have to get you to the hospital," the husband said.

"We’ll never make it," she gasped between contractions.

"It’s five minutes on the Ike."

"Not in this blizzard!"

The husband jumped up, "Well, we have to do something," he said. He picked up the phone and dialed the operator.

"My wife is in labor, and we don’t think we can make it to the hospital," he said. "Can you get us an ambulance?"

The operator apologized. All the rescue vehicles were already out on calls. Soonest anybody could be there was an hour or two. "Fine," he said, "I’ll take her myself." The operator offered to call the hospital to say they were on the way, and he agreed, telling her the route he planned to take.

Grimly, the husband slammed the receiver back into its cradle and fetched coats and blankets. "We’re on our own," he told his wife, "and I am taking you to the hospital, now."

The poor woman huddled in the back seat, alternately terrified and stricken with labor pains. "Drive slowly," she begged. "Don’t get us killed." And then another pain would overtake her.

He drove carefully, easing onto the Eisenhower with his emergency lights flashing. The plows had given up, so the roads were worse than he thought. Five miles to the hospital, and he was sure it would take them at least a half-hour to get there.

Four miles to go. Every time his wife shrieked in the back seat, he jumped. But he set his jaw and kept right on going.

Three miles to go, and she cried out again, "Baby’s coming! Baby’s coming!"

He panicked, "Don’t let it!"

"I can’t help it! Stop the car, please, stop! Stop and help me!"

He pulled in behind a snowdrift, hoping that would block the wind. He had no idea what he was going to do – he didn’t know how to deliver a baby!

But as he climbed out of the car, he saw the flashing lights of a police car coming up behind him. The operator must have notified the police for them! He stepped out into lane, waving his arms. The squad car stopped alongside the couple’s vehicle and two cops jumped out.

"My wife is in the back seat, she’s having a baby!"

The husband opened the back door and climbed in behind his wife, while one cop went around to go to the other side. The officer slipped as he turned in front of the car, putting his hand out to the snowdrift to stop his fall. But it wasn’t a snowdrift, it was something solid, completely covered with snow.

It was uncle Johnny’s Volkswagen.

The cop called to his partner to check out the other car while he helped deliver the baby. Johnny was sound asleep and headed toward hypothermia. When they got him to the hospital, his body temperature was only 52 degrees, but there was no frost-bite, and he recovered completely, going on to be the first man ever to reach full pension retirement age from the Chicago Sheet Metal Workers Union.

"And that," Uncle Johnny would say to finish the story, "is how one Christmas morning, God used another newborn baby to save my life, after sending the Christ Child to save my soul."

This is our third Christmas without uncle Johnny here to tell the story. But I guess he’ll be spending the Holy Day singing "Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo" with the choirs of angels. He never could get enough of that song.

And now you know why.


Thursday, December 18, 2003

Delaying Motherhood

When I read that the first-time baby age for U.S. women was at an all-time high, I expected a number higher than 25. But I guess that's because I had my first at 34.

It wasn't all my fault that I waited so long. I didn't fall for Mr. Right until I was 29. And boy, is he ever Mr. Right! I'm so glad I held out for him, because parenting with anybody else would have been awful. Anyway, then we delayed parenting for a while after we were married while he went back to college to finally finish his degree and tried to get a band going (which would have made it big-time if not for a few unforeseen events). Then when we started actively trying to conceive a child, we had fertility problems, a tragedy that comes in something like 147 shades of emotional turmoil.

Zooey finally arrived when I was 34, just shy of the "you're a little old for this" mark. Now I'm 39 and expecting baby #3, and yeah, I'm feeling my age. Especially because I have premature arthritis. You know you're in bad shape when the discomfort wakes you up at 3 a.m. and you look at the clock and sincerely think, "Thank you, God, only three more hours and I can get out of bed." And then you do the same thing at 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., too.

Much better to put your body through this sort of work out while you're younger. But I barely had my head screwed on straight when I was 25. I'd only been a Christian for a week on my 25th birthday -- if I would have had a baby that year, I don't think I would have been a very good mother. 14 years of practice and I still have a lot to learn about Christianity and how it relates to parenthood.

Which is why I often pray that God will always "fill in the blanks" for my kids when I fail.


Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Am I the only person who finds this policy from French President Jacques Chirac a bit terrifying?


Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Please Pray...

...for our good friend Eric and his 2-year-old daughter Talia, both of whom have fallen ill to that nasty respitory flu that is going around. Eric is a diabetic, so his immune systems are constantly taxed as it is. Talia has always been a bit on the frail side and has regular occupational therapy for a swallowing disorder and severe reflux, which has always made it difficult for her to eat normally. She's been to the ER twice since coming down with this flu last week, and her parents are obviously anxious that she turns the corner soon.



I am the sonnet, never quickly thrilled;
Not prone to overstated gushing praise
Nor yet to seething rants and anger, filled
With overstretched opinions to rephrase;
But on the other hand, not fond of fools,
And thus, not fond of people, on the whole;
And holding to the sound and useful rules,
Not those that seek unjustified control.
I'm balanced, measured, sensible (at least,
I think I am, and usually I'm right);
And when more ostentatious types have ceased,
I'm still around, and doing, still, alright.
In short, I'm calm and rational and stable -
Or, well, I am, as much as I am able.
What Poetry Form Are You?

I actually love sonnets and long for the day when my poetic husband writes one for me. Although he's written two songs for me already, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

I am actually quite the dunderhead at poetry -- I've never really understood how anything more complicated than a Hallmark card comes together. My husband is a natural and thrives on rhythm, rhyme and structure. He wrote an amazing sestina in college about his aunt, who died from breast cancer at the all-too-young age of 45.

If you never had a hard-nosed poetry professor in college who made you write sestinas, it's a lyrical fixed form of poetry made up of six six-lined stanzas that usually don't rhyme, but the last words of each of the six lines are reused in different orders as the last words of each of the six lines in the following stanzas. And then it all finishes with a three-line stanza using the same six words as first-and/or-middle and end words. It's dizzyingly complicated for somebody like me.

If he gives me permission, I'll post his sestina here. It's really beautiful.

A vast number of St. Bloggers have linked to the poetry quiz, but I myself jumped over there from Scattershot Direct.


Friday, December 12, 2003

Question regarding Feast Days in Penitent Seasons

Okay, so we're in Advent, which is a penitent season. But there are a whole bunch of feast days, obviously, including last Monday's Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I understand that not all of the feast days are obligatory -- some folks feasted on St. Nicholas Day, some didn't. Some are feasting today for Our Lady of Guadelupe, some aren't.

So how does this work if a feast day comes up that you want to celebrate (patron saint, say) during a penitent season? Do you observe penitent practices except for the evening meal? Observe the feast all day and resume the penitent practices the next day?


Interesting conversation yesterday...

...With a young woman who identifies herself as Catholic, but believes she's better off interpretting the Bible for herself. Consequently, she's established her own moral code which differs from the Church's in quite a few significant areas. She's actually rather proud of her stance on premarital sex -- in a nutshell, it's "Just wait for Mr. Right and then you don't have to wait for the wedding."

I asked her many, many times what made her more qualified to interpret the Bible and establish rules for moral conduct than the Church, but she never answered. Though she did admit that she hadn't yet read the Bible cover to cover, only knew how to read in English, and wasn't all that clear on Catholic doctrine.

I listened to her sweet raptures of love and devotion for her current boyfriend who "will never cheat" and whom she loves so much, she would never marry another, even if he was suddenly killed tomorrow and it meant pining away for him for life. I listened to her tell me that "love is all that you need to keep a marriage alive" and refrained from laughing at her, even though I've been married for 9.5 years and I know better.

I suggested that these days of dating and engagment (whenever that happens) might be a good time for this young woman and her boyfriend to prove their faithfulness to the marital covenant by resisting their greatest temptation -- each other. How valuable such a gift would be to one another! She said she didn't get it.

She claims the best thing she can do is to follow her own heart. I pointed out that the Bible says "The heart is deceitful above all things." She accused me of wishing bad things on her, and I noted that all I wished for her was marital fidelity and everything she would need besides love to make her marriage last for life -- where those bad things?

She ended our conversation abruptly, calling me a know-it-all.

Well. I remember being in my early 20s and in love and thinking I knew what was best for me and not recognizing my own ignorance and lack of experience. It caused me a lot of pain in the end. I pray this girl will be spared the same level of pain.

I'm not surprised she discounted everything I had to say. After all, if a person rejects 2,000 years of wisdom held by the Catholic Church -- with years of "fruit-bearing" to prove its doctrines -- why would she listen to somebody like me?


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Please pray...

...for my brother-in-law. He is really struggling with depression and is beginning to despair about finding a job close to family. He's also thinking that he will have to sell the house they just bought last summer. He's been working so hard to renovate it and make it a home for his little girl, and now it looks like he will have to let it go unless a good job comes to him soon. Very soon.

His wife is reported to be dating somebody else. She started a job yesterday, so she's employed and he's not, which means he hopes to hold off on any legal steps regarding divorce and custody right now.

He's right -- if he's unemployed, she'd probably get custody, even though she doesn't have a permanent address, she abandoned both her husband and her child, and her behavior has been terribly erratic for the last five months. The courts here tend to favor mothers 15 to 1 in custody arrangments. We know of precious few fathers who have fought for primary custody and won, and in every case, there was an issue of the wife's arrest record or institutionalization in a mental health facility that went to the man's favor. Of course, we also know of some cases in which the wives gladly handed over the children to the father. But there's honestly no telling what Heidi would do if it came down to legalities. She's so very much not at all like she was even last spring, none of us can predict what she would want in terms of custody.

So, my brother-in-law needs a job, and he needs one soon. And it needs to be local, because if he has to move out of state, he's sure he won't get primary custody of his daughter. We're doing what we can to encourage him, but the poor guy is faced with such a huge multi-faceted crisis, our words bear little comfort.


Monday, December 08, 2003

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

My first, of course.

Just now back from noon Mass at our parish (well, I ate some lunch before logging on). I'd forgotten that the Bishop was celebrating noon Mass at St. Mary's today. It was packed, as usual on a Holy Day of Obligation. All the folks who work downtown crowd in there. Sr. Mary, who leads the choir, had to make due with a quartet today -- I don't know if the other choir members were ill or just unable to come to the noon Mass, but she did well with them. Very simple arrangements, sometimes with just two voices. It was humble, but a lovely effect, I thought.

The Bishop covered a lot of ground in his homily, as is his custom, I think. I haven't heard him speak all that often, but I'm always left with lots to think about. In fact, I started pondering what he said about Mary's grace, purity and humble devotion, and how these were virtues she prayed for us to share in, then suddenly realized I was missing the next thing the Bishop was trying to teach me.

He spoke about the things that Mary did and how they were all ordinary tasks like sweeping the floor and shopping for food or clothing. And how in doing these things quite literally for the Lord, she was fulfilling her vocation in profound ways. Then he reminded us not to be so concerned about how mundane our lives might seem, but to use every task before us as an opportunity to do our best for God.

I got lost in a train of thought over that part and again had to bring myself back into the homily, because the Bishop was talking about why the Church honors Mary. "Because God does," he said. "Christ needed a mother. And while on the Cross, He gave His mother to us, because we need her, too." He spoke some about how Mary prays for us, and what she seeks on our behalf.

Then he closed with a rejoiner that we should seek to be pure in our lives, "if not in absolute innocence," he said, "in repentance." He encouraged us to make our confessions regularly and to not neglect our daily prayers and other habits that train our souls to holiness.

It was probably one of the best homilies I have heard in my less-than-eight months as a Catholic. I know a lot of folks out there don't think too much of our Bishop here in southeastern Nebraska -- he's "too strict" or "too unyielding" or "a hardnose" -- but I hope the naysayers might get an opportunity to hear him speak sometime. I find him to be very inspiring. And also full of joy. You should have seen him outside on the sidewalk after Mass, greeting parishoners and blessing every child that came near him. He's really a very nice guy.

Anyway, I hope your day is filled with blessings!


Friday, December 05, 2003

Catholicism is Complicated!

Okay, you all know I'm still new at this but yowza! I have been researching ways to observe Advent, and I am completely overwhelmed at the vast number of options out there. I know, I know -- we don't have to do everything. But I keep coming across things that sound way cool, and I find myself disappointed that I won't be able to do very many of them.

Zooey had preschool snack duties today, and since tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day, we got permission to gussy up the snack a bit. Zooey wanted to bring raisin bread, which was fine by me. Although he wanted to bake from scratch and I just couldn't pull that off this week, so we settled for purchasing a couple of loaves.

We added one of these coloring pages to the mix, copying a brief story about St. Nicholas on the opposite side, as well as a short prayer that reads, "Dear God, thank you for Saint Nicholas. Let us always give the gift of kindness to others, as he did. Thank you for the gifts of love we receive from our families and friends. Amen." Then we stitched up a little sack from the sleeve of an old dark green t-shirt and filled it with one chocolate coin per child -- symbolizing the coins that St. Nicholas put in a trio of sisters' stockings in order to help out their needy family.

In fact, chocolate stuff is such a recurring theme in St. Nicholas celebrations that I have begun to wonder if he's not also the patron saint of chocolate?

All this came from the St. Nicholas Center on the web. While there, I also found a lot of recipes, including one for a raisin bread (it actually has chocolate chips in it, too!) called Biskkupsky Chelbicek, which I might make with Zooey tomorrow. (Scroll down a bit -- it's the second recipe.) There are many other cookie and candy recipes on the site as well. In fact, I'm a big fan of Dutch Letters -- basically flakey pastry filled with almonds and shaped like the letter S, and I was pleased to find out that this confection is actually a traditional St. Nicholas Day treat. Unfortunately, I do not have time to bake them, and the nearest bakery that I know carries Dutch Letters is all the way over in Iowa (and boy are they yummy). They'll ship, but I didn't know about them being related in St. Nicholas in time to order any.

I understand that tomorrow's evening meal ought to be something of a feast -- I may just add dessert to the menu, since we hardly ever include dessert with our regular suppers. And we'll hang up the stockings tonight, too, though I'm not at all prepared to fill them while the children sleep. For this year, anyway, we will stick to the Christmas morning tradition that both my family and my husband's family kept. Or maybe I'll put in a little treat for the children to find tomorrow and do the rest on Christmas morning.'s only 11:15 my time and I'm already behind for the day! Time to get Zooey from school and learn how his treat went over with the class...


Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Okay, I knew that the Von Trapp family commemorated in the musical The Sound of Music were real people with a real story to tell, but I never read any history of them.

Today, I stumbled upon Maria Von Trapp's writings on celebrating the Liturgical Year, and there is some great stuff in there!

Here's an excerpt:

This atmosphere of "hurry up, let's go" does not provide the
necessary leisure in which to anticipate and celebrate a feast. But as
soon as people stop celebrating they really do not live any more -- they are being lived, as it were. The alarming question arises: what is being done with all the time that is constantly being saved? We invent more machines and more gadgets, which will relieve us more and more from the work formerly done by our hands, our feet, our brain, and which will carry us in feverishly increasing speed -- where? Perhaps to the moon and other planets, but more probably to our final destruction.

Only the Church throws light onto the gloomy prospects of modern
man--Holy Mother Church--for she belongs, herself, to a realm that has its past and present in Time, but its future in the World Without End.

I wonder if I can find this in book form? Can't hang out on the net all day, reading Maria Von Trapp...


Monday, December 01, 2003

A Blessed Advent Season To You!

Our family observance is off to a good start, I think.

We modified a suggestion offered by Peony Moss meant to encourage self-sacrifice during the season: Saturday, I helped Zooey make a little manger out of a cardboard box. We cut strips of straw-colored tissue paper, and every time one of us makes a personal sacrifice for the sake of somebody else, we're putting a piece of tissue into the manger to create a "nice soft bed for Baby Jesus." The role of Newborn King will be played by one of Edyn's small baby dolls on Christmas morning.

Zooey caught onto the process readily on Sunday and by the end of the day, there were 11 strips of tissue paper in the cardboard manger. Not all earned by Zooey, either -- he was quick to point out when his dad got him a snack without being asked and a couple of other things. Even Edyn earned one "for giving Grandma back her toy car when she dropped it." (Okay, so Grandma dropped it on purpose, but Edyn did return it without prompting). I imagine the fun of it all will wear out in a day or two, but it sure was nice to see Zooey volunteering to help around the house and even wipe Edyn's nose.

We also lit the first candle of our new Advent wreath, using the directions, prayers and Scripture found in our weekly Diocese newspaper. We've actually had an Advent wreath for several years, but we just lit the candles, we didn't read any pertinent passages from the Bible or say any prayers. The new wreath is brass, purchased on sale a couple months ago. But it looks a little too austere, so I'm going to dig out the old one (jerry-rigged from four small candle bases, putty, a wooden disc and some pre-made faux pine "picks") and borrow the greenery off it to dress it up a bit.

I've begun work on a special project for Advent that I hope the Lord will bless me with time to finish. So far, it seems to be turning out well.

I have sketchy plans for a few other endeavors, too. We'll see how far I can get, though. You'd think at 7 months of pregnancy, the morning sickness would be over and done with, but I'm suffering a relapse today. Bleh...say, what's the theology of using morning sickness as a form of penance for Advent?