Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Another sacrament celebrated—Praise God!

We celebrated Aidan's Confirmation last Wednesday! Aidan chose St Michael as his patron for Confirmation. Bishop Gregory John Hartmayer came to our parish and confirmed over forty people, and we knew from last year that he likes to have a little "chat" with each confirmand as he anoints him or her. We were sitting a little nervously while he questioned each person about his saint, or his sponsor, or some aspect of the faith that he is to have learned. We have studied our faith and go over the basics many times over as the children go through the years, but our bishop admitted he likes to try and "catch" them. He asked Aidan about—not St Michael, because there were at least two other Michaels before him—but who the other archangels were and what they did. Fortunately, Aidan sailed through his questions.

(Incidentally, having participated in, and witnessed, the process of Confirmation preparation and surrounding life factors for two different teenage children in back-to-back years has made me a proponent of celebrating Confirmation at an earlier age, as some dioceses do. Already having those sacramental graces while completing the ninth grade can only help!)

Before the anointing part of the Mass, the bishop gave a homily in which he said that the gift of the Holy Spirit he thought they would need most at this point in their lives is courage. Serendipitously, his sponsors (his grandparents) had chosen this as a Confirmation gift. 

They gave it to him at the reception, so we shared with the bishop. 

He appreciated the coincidence. 

Congratulations, my dear, sweet son! 

Come, Holy Spirit!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Devil's Finest Trick...

...is to persuade you that he does not exist.  - Charles Baudelaire

I'm tired right now, but I feel somewhat compelled to address the Harvard/Satanist issue, even if I have to cobble together others' better words on the subject.

Basically, some group calling themselves Satanists are advertising that they will hold a "black mass" for "educational purposes," that they will use a consecrated host but they don't want to offend anybody, and they miscommunicated and it won't be a consecrated host (why bother with that), not by their definition anyway, and no, not by other people's either. Elizabeth Scalia follows the story herehere, here, and here (so far) and keeps rounding up the reactions, including her own:

This is not quite what he had said to me, earlier, and it seems to me to be word-parsing that cannot be overlooked. Did he mean that while he, Lucien Greaves would not call the host consecrated, others would?
I’m not sure how any performance of a Black Mass would not be an ipso facto denigration of the Catholic religion. “Tolerance” and “Sensitivity” have become such tricky things.

Lots of obfuscation about — the Father of Lies likes to sow confusion.
A key aspect of this mess is that the people responsible for the event profess no particular belief in anything. This is just an academic exercise meant to broaden the mind beyond conventional ideas of religion or something. Callah at Barefoot and Pregnant describes the confusion and the danger:

And it makes it worse, somehow, that the people doing it aren’t actually Satanists, despite their name.
Greaves says his Satanism is “a metaphorical construct” meant to unshackle the world from belief in supernatural good or evil because belief has “led to horrible things” and “the idea of Satanists as deviants has never done the world any good.” 
I can’t help but think about the little girl in The Exorcist, who just thought she was playing a silly game.

.... I really worry about the other possibility…especially for young college kids going to see an “educational reenactment”. I’m glad they are not using a consecrated host, but I’m seriously confused about why they’re doing this at all. This idea of being a Satanist in order to “unshackle belief” or change the perception of Satanists as deviants makes zero sense to me. A Satanist is, by definition, a deviant-they are deviating from Christianity. There could be no Satanism if there wasn’t first a Christianity. It is a totally reactionary religion, born solely from the desire to deviate-to be deviant. The straight-laced sour-faced church ladies aren’t imposing some kind of artificial judgment upon Satanists because they’re different, or they wear black, or whatever. To be a Satanist is to deliberately choose evil over good, deviance over obedience. You can’t unshackle someone from a false perception if the perception is factually true.

And Tom McDonald takes it the next step:
The modern so-called Satanists who make all the noise are not really Satanists. They don’t actually believe in Satan. Most are atheists who couch their so-called “Satanism” in terms of resistance or philosophy. It’s not a religion, but a critique of religion, or somesuch blather. It’s all theater.


The problem, however, is that their deep ignorance and hatred has left them stumbling around in a very serious, very dark place.

And even though the Satanic Temple is a fraud, Satanism is quite real. It’s just that real Satanists don’t advertise the fact.

The Satanic Temple is saying they’re performing a black mass, about which they seem to know nothing, which makes its educational content precisely nil. At first, they said they were using a consecrated host, but then walked back that claim, possibly in response to the ensuing outrage.I do believe they intended to use a consecrated host, because in their first response they claimed they had one. I can’t imagine they care at all that desecration of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is wicked, offensive, and hurtful to millions of people. They want us to be hurt. That’s why they’re doing it: to wound people they do not even know, because in their philosophy we are beneath contempt, and because they don’t believe they’re actually doing anything at all. They obviously don’t believe in the Real Presence, so it’s a all a big lark to them, regardless of the good people who will weep at the very thought of it. They want those people to weep, and in this way they are truly doing the Devil’s work.

See, they may not believe in Satan, but Satan believes in them, and he knows Useful Idiots when he sees them.

Of course, being slippery is a characteristic of these Useful Idiots, people who want to be considered the forward-thinking, populist enlightened of society. Mark Shea calls them out for actually being "pantywaists passive aggressives" instead.
There’s something unique to our time about people who engage in obvious hatred of Catholics while wanting very much for people to like them and not feel offended. Man up, people! If you are going to spit in the eyes of God and your Catholic neighbor at *least* have the stones to not make mewling pleas to be liked for it.

And that's the part that scares me. I know people who, I am afraid, would fist-pump this kind of activity as a "super-awesome" way to fight the power. They think for themselves. They be the change.  But when it comes to actually talking about such things in substance, they cheerfully abstain from the drama—to each his own, that's your belief, it doesn't work for us. No need to argue about it. It's literally page one of Screwtape's playbook:

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary," "conventional" or "ruthless." Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.

Well, there's plenty of jargon surrounding this story. The best response is prayer, and Sherry brings that call to prayer home:

So if you'd like to join the blog rosary in this month of May for all those affected by even the intent to form a blasphemy on the Eucharist and the mass, post this picture on your blog and just leave a note in the com box. You can also pray anonymously, but I think knowing others are praying, that we are really a community of Catholics, who pray for those who hate the Eucharist, and who do not know what they are doing, and who are doing things which can destroy themselves, is a comfort and a good way to fight against the cackling devil and those who think this harmless. For some evils, the only recourse is prayer and fasting. This is one of those moments.

 I will reach out to those I know personally, because evil must be resisted and publically, by those who know it to be evil. Even if it is a hoax, those who presented it, need prayers. Even if it is stopped now that people in positions of authority know about it, these people need our prayers.

I do like this proposed response, too, from Pascual-Emmanuel Gobry, whom I've just recently started to read:

My suggestion would be, if this does go through, and if Christians want to respond somehow, to do it not with protests, but with standing outside and singing hymns–hymns of joy, and love, and mercy, and forgiveness. I’m serious. Bring tambourines. Dance. They who have eyes, they will see.

Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sometime Other Than Now

God bless Jennifer Fulwiler. She's obviously very excited to have her memoir, Something Other Than God, finally published. And she should be. Besides the universal fact that it's shake-the-world awesome to have a book published that you wrote with your own brain, Jennifer Fulwiler is one of the most insightful, funniest, most gracious and down-to-earth writers on the Internet. She's easy to read, but it's also so often edifying, or consoling, or enlightening to hear what she has to say about living, sharing, and deepening her love for God. I'm looking forward to reading her book (and I am shamelessly participating in a contest or two of hers).

I haven't received my copy yet, despite having preordered it—in the nick of time, I thought, to get it on her publication day, but no. I wasn't sure for a while when I would get around to buying it at first. I just knew that I would, and as soon as I saw it listed for preorder, I added it to my wish list of Catholic books. That list has so many coveted titles that if I tried to buy all of them at will, my family would go broke.* But as the buzz grew, I thought I'd just check out Amazon's "Look Inside" and read what I could. Believe it or not, I think what clinched it for me was Chapter 6. I love a good love story, and I got one page into the growing courtship of Jennifer and her husband Joe when the Amazon preview ended. It's like asking a friend, "So, how did you two meet?" and having all the other guests arrive before she finishes the story. So I decided to join this party.  Heh—true to form, I get to be a wallflower and watch all the others for a while. See you later, Jen, and congratulations!

*(These coveted titled are not even close to adequately represented. If you are a Catholic writer and your book is not on my list, it's likely an oversight I've been meaning to correct. Either that, or I just need an introducton. E-mail me. Seriously.)

Friday, April 25, 2014


...and Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking--strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of.—"The best fruit in England—every body's favourite--always wholesome.—These the finest beds and finest sorts.—Delightful to gather for one's self—the only way of really enjoying them.—Morning decidedly the best time—never tired ... cultivation-beds when to be renewed—gardeners thinking exactly different—no general rule—gardeners never to be put out of their way—delicious fruit—only too rich to be eaten much of—inferior to cherries—currants more refreshing—only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping—glaring sun—tired to death—could bear it no longer—must go and sit in the shade."
I always think of this scene in Emma when we pick strawberries, which is becoming a yearly thing for us. We haven't successfully grown more than a handful all of any given season yet, but there are two or three places close enough by where we can go to pick our own. 

Especially with as many pickers as we have (and we usually go with a group, too), it doesn't take long to pick all we can eat before they spoil, plus some to freeze or process. We went armed with bonnet and baskets, and everyone very enthusiastically dove into the task of finding the reddest, ripest strawberries they could find. (Except 2-year-old Anwen—she really liked the green ones.) 

Still, it doesn't take long for the little ones to get tired. And since I don't have canning down yet, I don't mind calling it quits as soon as everyone has one full basket, give or take. 

We've frozen about a fourth of the haul. Now I need to figure out what to do with the rest! What feast days are coming up?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Homeschooling: Doing It Right

Hey, Mom, you know that big scratch I got when I slid down a tree? 
"It looks like Alaska!"

Monday, March 10, 2014

An Online Daily Mass Schedule

My Lenten resolutions are nebulous—to do a little fasting and spend more time with the Lord.  But I think that works for me this year—there are many ways to pray, and if I dabble in several of them I'm bound to find that I have in fact shared more of my life and my heart with Him, and I may even form a new habit with the kids.

Here's one option, since I still have squirmy little ones who need some training on behaving in church: Mass online. It's certainly not the same as being there in person, but it has advantages. I can pick a time most convenient, explain or correct as loudly as I need to, even pause (if it's an uploaded version rather than streaming).

Here are a few options, in case you feel similarly inclined. All times are Eastern.

EWTN—8:00 AM (Live)
Catholic TV—9:30 (Live)
Daily Mass (YouTube channel)—about 11:00 AM
EWTN—12:00 PM
The Daily Mass—by 12:00 PM (requires you to submit e-mail)
EWTN—7:00 PM
EWTN—12:00 AM

More here

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Children's Stations

Yesterday we went to the Stations of the Cross. It was one of those things that I decided in the back of my mind that I need to do with the kids this Lent. We always seem to skid into one Friday Stations service in all of Lent (a few crucial minutes late, likely as not), and I felt that we were all missing something vital in our devotional lives not to put more emphasis on it. (I've been feeling similarly about daily Mass lately.)

So we went. When I take all the kids to church by myself, I count it as a success if most of us are present inside for most of the time, and nobody loses any bodily fluids in the pew. Today I was obliged to exit with both little girls right when the procession was closest to our pew. The two-year-old kept bowling her brother over going back and forth to the holy water font; and while I managed periodically to stave off the three-year-old's otherwise incessant whining by pointing out that everyone was looking at her (being in the direct line of vision between the entire congregation and the priestly procession), I could not stem the wails that followed her solid and self-inflicted blow to the head on the hymnal rack.

It was a relief to read Leila's words at Like Mother, Like Daughter about taking children to the Stations of the Cross.

Now, here’s the important part. You need to go there so that you can pray the Stations as your devotion. Not to “teach” the kids. They are coming along because they go places with you.

Will they be squirmy? Probably.

Will they slide under the pew and hit their heads on the rack that holds the missalettes and hymnals? Yes.

Will they have no clue as to what’s going on? Pretty much.

That’s okay. Little by little it will dawn on them. It may take years (and will certainly take years in the case of the one-year-old, of course).

The important thing is that they experience it as something outside of themselves, something about Jesus, something that inspires wonder precisely because it’s mysterious and desperately sad and also beautiful. They will sense a closeness to Jesus, if only through your own closeness.

That is living your Lent with them.

Don’t require affirmation from them. Don’t look for signs that they are getting it or experiencing wonder. Just live it.

Oh, Auntie Leila, you do know, don't you?

There are a lot of wonderful suggestions at the post for bringing this devotion to your children, and bringing them into it. I love a good new idea. I think I might plant a seed in one or two of them about building their own stations somewhere in the house or outside, let them "come up" with the notion and run with it.

I have some fine arts images of the Stations of the Cross that I can think up some uses for; and some of the fold-out miniature Stations printout activity that was available online a while ago. And when we came home, my seven-year-old asked if they could watch the Stations of the Cross for children that they remembered seeing some time ago.

I'm looking forward to this Lent, due in no small part to an eagerness to share with my family and witness their growing devotion, God bless their sweet hearts.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Renegade Poetry Friday

...in honor of my fifth-times-two child, who keeps us all busy. I haven't seen or done a Poetry Friday in a long time, but this well-known poem ebbs and flows in my insides, begging me to claim it.

“Song for a Fifth Child (The Value of Values) “
by Ruth Hulbert Hamilton

Mother, O Mother, come shake out your cloth!
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking!
Oh, I’ve grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullabye, rockabye, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Lullabye, rockabye, lullaby loo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo,
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my “Roo.”
(Lullabye, rockabye, lullaby loo).
The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs;
Dust, go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby,
And babies don’t keep.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow Day

Busy, busy, always busy here (for which we always welcome prayers) but at least today we're not going anywhere. Last night the snowfall, today the play. It started pretty early, since there is already a sign here and there of melting on the ground. Not that it's going anywhere with the temperature what it is, but the kids were anxious to be out there before breakfast. 

Right now everyone is back inside cozy and warm, although snowman-making is on the agenda for the afternoon. We might try our hand at some other fun stuff for indoors; I have always wanted a weather day to try these snow balls, and watching last night's snowfall inspired me to look up this pretty winter birch art project for the kids

This is actually last night's dinner, and I'll have to buy another slow cooker before I can make it again. Someone, ahem, left the insert on the stovetop last night, and someone, ahem, turned on the wrong burner this morning, and the result was a burning smell, then a crack and a pop, and a crock with the bottom broken right out. Fortunately we have leftovers. It's good for meatless Fridays, too.

Vegetarian Chili

One can black beans, rinsed and drained
One can of garbanzo beans or white navy beans, rinsed and drained
One can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 to 2 cans baked beans
One can of corn, rinsed and drained
One can of diced tomatoes
6 ounces of tomato sauce
2 ounces of tomato paste
Half cup diced green pepper
Half cup of diced onion
1 teaspoon (two cloves) minced garlic
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon oregano 
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon parsley

Throw it all in the slow cooker and cook on high for two hours or so, and serve with crackers or cornbread. Add in cooked rice, cheese, or both, if you want. You can even throw in a cup of rice while it's cooking, which will thicken up the chili somewhat. 

What cold-weather comfort foods do you serve on snowy days?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

First {phfr} of the year!

Happy New Year! Are you ready for a new start? We have our patron saints, and I have my resolutions made. I wish there was a generator for accountability partners. I could use one. 

But let me share with you a few moments from this baby year.  This is our church, in a picture taken with my iPhone's panoramic setting. I love using it, even if I haven't got used to it. Also, I think maybe some distortions are sort of built into it. The pews, for example, are not angled; that's just the result of me standing in one place and pivoting while I take the shot. 

Still, it's beautiful, isn't it?

And this is the pilgrimage replica of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, which came to our parish last weekend as part of the From Ocean to Ocean Pilgrimage. Fr. Peter West from Human Life International came and spoke about the icon and the pilgrimage during our Sunday masses, and after each mass people were invited to come up to venerate the icon, and take a holy card touched to it if so desired.

The original icon is said to have been "written" by St. Luke the Evangelist. I have been thinking a lot about such "original" images as the Shroud of Turin and the tilma with Our Lady of Guadalupe, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear that this image would be at our parish for the weekend. I'm still thinking about this one, and lately my thinking has remained deep in the realm of "pondering." But I might share some thoughts soon about images in your spiritual life.


What do you do when you're in the middle of a polar vortex and everyone comes down with sore throats and messy noses? Eat mint ice cream! 

It may seem like a strange choice to voluntarily eat a cold dessert with freezing temperatures outside, but thanks to the miracles of modern temperature control, at least it's easily done. Both the cold and the mint of the ice cream are soothing to suffering heads. You could even do a Little House thing and make your own, if you have the snow (we don't) and the flavoring. 


Dominic is the size of a two-year-old, but he hadn't eaten anything other than breast milk until two nights ago. (He's also trying to walk. Please.) He's gotten so that he's not sleeping through the night, or even longer than about ten minutes, without me nursing him (or at least beside him, fooling his unconscious little mind into thinking that he's still nursing). He's a bed hog, too, wanting the middle, or trying to go perpendicular and push someone off the bed. 

Jason and I made the decision to start him on solids to supplement our breastfeeding, so that we two adults could get some sleep. So this is his first time having solids—rice cereal, to be exact. (That doesn't count the times somebody lets him lick an apple or suck on an ice cube!) It seems to be helping.

Don't let the tongue fool you. He likes it. Babies are always funny when they eat. 

So that's life. As always, pretty and happy and funny and real are conflated, and it's wonderful that way. 

Read more at Like Mother, Like Daughter!

round button chicken

Friday, December 27, 2013

St. John's Love

December 27 is the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. I found out from this website about a merry tradition of blessing (and sharing) wine in his honor. It's not directly pertaining to the season, but I hear there aren't many better ways to make merry than opening up a bottle to pass around, right? I'm going to try and get a few blessed for the year, especially since I have a recipe for mulled wine I'm trying out this weekend. Read more about the blessing of the wine here at Catholic Culture.

Remember, it's still Christmas for three more weeks!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

May the astounding miracle of the Incarnation of the Word, come unto mankind as a sweet, helpless, lovable baby, break anew over you this holy and joyful season.

Merry Christmas from the Stallworths

Monday, December 23, 2013

O Emmanuel!

O Emmanuel, 
our King and Giver of Law: 
come to save us, Lord our God!

From the O Antiphons. More about the O Antiphons here.

More Advent songs here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

O Rex Gentium!

O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: 
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

From the O Antiphons. More about the O Antiphons here.

More Advent songs here.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

O Oriens!

O Radiant Dawn, 
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: 
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness 
and in the shadow of death.

From the O Antiphons. More about the O Antiphons here.

 More Advent songs here.

Friday, December 20, 2013

O Clavis David!

O Key of David, 
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: 
come and free the prisoners of darkness!  

From the O Antiphons. More about the O Antiphons here.

 More Advent songs here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Radix Jesse!

O Root of Jesse’s stem, 
sign of God’s love for all his people: 
come to save us without delay!

From the O Antiphons. More about the O Antiphons here.

I found this rendition at this post at Aleteia about Advent music. More Advent songs here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

O Adonai!

O Leader of the House of Israel, 
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: 
come to rescue us with your mighty power!

From the O Antiphons. More about the O Antiphons here.

 More Advent songs here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

O Sapientia!

O Wisdom of our God Most High, 
guiding creation with power and love: 
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

From the O Antiphons. More about the O Antiphons here.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Reading aloud on St Lucia's Day

Apparently, I have lost the will to blog.

First, Part 2 of the home atrium interview was supposed to be the last week. Then I promised it to you for Wednesday. But on Tuesday night Evernote ate it. Evernote never used to do this kind of thing to me, until the last time I updated it on my phone, which is probably not even the most recent update available. Anyway,  I considered just putting up the phone interview in its raw form (at least I still have that), but I just haven't been defeated enough to do that, or motivated enough to redo it. Yet.

Instead, though, here's a nice little surprise from Melissa Wiley. I had Hannah's Christmas on my Christmas wish list of books, after seeing it recommended, and also basically loving all of her Little House books. A week ago, though, after seeing the prices for a used copy, I took it off the list. I just didn't think it was going to happen. But today, voila!

She also posted an introduction to the interview, which you can also get to from her place, Here in the Bonny Glen. She sounds so cute! But while you're here, let me tell you: I added her video to my playlist of children's book read alouds—which is now all of five books long. Now, there are tons of great kids' book videos online, I know it. But after searching and adding the first four, I got overwhelmed thinking about the possibilities. Then I forgot, for a long time, that I even started the playlist.

So, tell me, and maybe leave me a link in the comments: do you have a favorite video of a children's book?

Monday, December 9, 2013

One Week into Advent

My birthday was over Thanksgiving weekend (my first 39th!) and it was lovely, as I shared with you. Well, I thought I shared, but I haven't been paying attention to the blog as much as I meant to (what else is new), and so the blog posts I thought up just kept racking up. I cheated and posted the one for the day after my birthday for that date, but the second part about the home atrium that was due for last week will go up tomorrow. I'll post others as I fix them into a shareable form, for which I have decided this one now (barely) qualifies. But real life will not relent in passing by, and we've been trying to catch it in moments like these

I was going to say something clever here, but the kids objected to it. 

and these

Christmas trees before the first Sunday of Advent? I didn't say anything. No grouchy humbug here.
Seriously, they were having too much fun on "vacation" with Daddy for me to think about being grumpy.
I think I'm getting better. 

and these

Playing with friends at Krystin's! Although this mesmerization of the crowd with a Christmas TV show, aside from being the only way to take a picture with almost everyone in the frame, was the best (only) picture I took.

and I don't always capture them on schedule

Ditto with our Advent wreath. It would break the week before Advent starts. We had a simple brass ring with the cups to hold four tapers, very easy, very decorable (is that a word? Does it mean what I think it means?), very popular. As in, they sell out fast at our parish's book store, and are not restocked until next year. Since I would be out of town the first Sunday of Advent, I knew I likely wasn't getting one from there. Ordering a new one online didn't work out as amoothly and quickly as I hoped, so this past week I improvised.

I'm calling it a wreath, but it's more like an Advent cloche. I already had the cake stand, the ivy, and the tea lights. I bought the colored tea light holders from Hobby Lobby, where I went hoping to find either a bona fide Advent wreath or something I could make into one. 

I also picked up other candles, including a three-count set of white pillars, one of which you see here as my Christmas candle. I used some beeswax to affix the candle cups onto the cake stand. 

A little plain, but I like the understated look of it.

Still, I knew I would miss my traditional arrangement, so I also decided to attempt one with some floral foam, more fake greenery, and long candles. In the whole store I couldn't put together a matching set of three purple candles and one pink (rose) candle. So I bought three "formal" candles and two "tapers." Oh, well—that first week candle is always gone by the end of Advent. We'll just burn it down and use the last taper as a spare.

Close enough!

Did I ever mention that Advent is my favorite season?

Hey! I'm in time for the Advent wreath link up!

Friday, November 29, 2013

A short, and uncharacteristic, appreciation of Facebook

One of the neat things about Facebook is that people remember your birthday who otherwise wouldn't. And some of them come out of the ether to wish you well even if they have not spoken two words to you (in person, Facebook, or otherwise) in years. 

And another neat thing about Facebook is that you may actually know something about what's going on in the lives of these far flung friends, even if you haven't said two words to them. Even if you have never actually met.

And the neat thing about sharing your birthday with Thanksgiving is that you're already primed to be celebratory and warm and fuzzy and just busting with good will toward the whole world, but especially everybody you encounter. (It's also nice to have holiday felicitations to offer people in return for their birthday greetings.)

So, I found myself grateful for and solicitous of everyone who came to my attention over the past few days for any reason. I found myself quite easily and naturally giving thanks for these people being in my life, and praying for little graces for them and whatever they might be facing, good or bad. Because everybody is facing something, but, thank God, he doesn't mean that we should have to face it alone. That's what it's all about, bearing each other's burdens, and rejoicing with those who rejoice, and interceding for one another so we can all have a share in that eternal "Thanksgiving" feast.

And although singing the praises of Facebook is not something I would normally do, I am thankful for Facebook making it possible in Little Ways like this to build up the Body of Christ.

And, by the way, Happy Advent!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Home Atrium: An Introduction

This is an interview I did a few years ago with Moira Farrell, the author of the Home Catechesis Manuals. It was meant to be a "Montessori/domestic church" article that ended up not happening. 

Back then I was just hearing on many of my favorite blogs about such things as atrium programs and Good Shepherd catechesis for children. I had to learn more, and as I did, I knew that there were many people who would be enriched by learning more about it, too. In fact, much of it, though it came to me sounding very formal and structured and "approved," is just a natural means of teaching children. Touching children's hearts means engaging their hands and their imaginations, and requires little more than intention. 

Although I've known that Moira has some wonderful insights to living the liturgical year with your kids at home, I never could decide how best to share them. Now we're coming up on a great time to begin putting some of the ideas she shares into action, so I'm posting it here as a two-part series. Part 1 today is our exchange by e-mail. We also talked on the phone, and I'll share that as Part 2 later.

Briefly, what is Montessori education? Why should Catholic parents be familiar with it?

A Montessori education is merely the type of education that embraces the learning process through the physical senses of the child. Although Maria Montessori is credited for discovering this method as the most natural and compatible with organic learning, the recognition of its truth is much more ancient. It was Thomas Aquinas who said, "Nothing is in the intellect which is not first in the senses." Beyond this discovery, Montessori further discovered several principles that, when implemented, enormously assisted children in their learning process. Some of these include creating a prepared environment, matchmaking meaningful exercises to meet a child's particular sensitivities, control of error within the design of the exercises, as well as the isolation of difficulty.

What is an atrium?

Atrium means "ante room" or "before room." Architectually speaking, it is the interior space before the church, where one enters in order to come into the church building itself. Montessori's idea of the atrium was symbolic of the environment in which a child dwells as he prepares to enter into his fuller sacramental life in God's Church. In this sense, that environment is chosen and designed by God to be the family, aptly called the domestic church.

Is a parish children's atrium a catechism program in itself, or does it support the program?

There is not a formula for an atrium—it is merely the name used for a particular space designated for the catechizing of children. The name was adopted and used by Sophia Cavalletti, who worked for 25 years with children, and wrote about her observations in working with them. Parishes who establish an atrium are usually implementing the programs and methods Cavalletti used, but there is not a hard and fast formula for making an atrium, and it does not necessarily need to be established within a church either.

What is a home atrium? What would it look like? How would it function?

The home atrium is the family—the domestic church. It looks like your home, and it functions like your everyday life.

What ages especially benefit from the kinds of activities presented? (How or why?)

The activities of the home atrium affect and benefit ALL of its members. Perhaps it is most surprising to see the smallest members become engaged and captivated, and remember things even when we were not aware they were listening. I have also been astonished by some of the things my older chldren have said. One such example was my son (who was 8 at the time) after reflecting on the event of the Last Supper, when he said, "So really, the Last Supper was all of the apostles' First Communion." Amen to that!

But the effects are not limited to just the little ones. In my own experience, the work of our home atrium has transformed ME, and has completely transformed the way I think about teaching the faith.

What kinds of activities lend themselves well to a home atrium?

The simplest activities can have the profoundest meaning, so I find the best ones are not complicated ones but are the ones that are easily adapted into family life. Lighting a candle, reading pieces of scripture, talking about the words of Jesus and the mystery inside a parable, telling a story with your own words, etc. Beyond that, I enjoy the process of preparation and letting the chldren help me. They love to take out the colored banners for the change of the liturgical seasons, to set up the Advent wreath, or to light the candles at prayer time. These things are very simple, but it is the meaning of these things we do that makes the work appealing.

What kinds of materials can a family make for themselves that are especially fruitful?

Frist are the things that benefit the whole family—materials that help the family celebrate the events and seasons of the liturgical year such as colored banners or drapes for the liturgical seasons, Advent wreaths, Jesse trees, a Christ Candle, an Easter Cross, etc. Second are things more directly for the children. These may include a miniature Mass kit, miniature priest vestments (if the children are boys), story boxes for the parables of Jesus, or a beautiful reading and prayer corner. But apart from these "things" it is important to note that it is not just the acquiring of objects that is important, but the acquiring of habits—and by this I mean the laying down of traditions for your domestic church, that is of the utmost importance here. For example, one of our traditions is to sing the seven verses of "O Come Emmanuel" when we light our Advent wreath. There is no cost here, but the habit is deeply ingrained, and even though I have the verses printed out, most of my children don't need to look at the page to sing them anymore, because we repeat them every year, during the four weeks of Advent.

What materials would you say are worthwhile to purchase, perhaps because they can't be effectively made at home? (A miniature Mass kit comes to mind, just as a possibility to throw out there...)

I have not found anything so far that I could not make on my own. I would only say that the making of things should be a labor of love, and if making some particular thing becomes a burden, maybe it's better to purchase that particular thing "ready made" instead.

Do kids seem to have a favorite type of presentation, or respond well to a particular story, devotion, etc?

In my experience, children respond very well to beauty. If your presentation contains beautiful objects, they will be captive. If your story is told beautifully, they will listen. If you give them a page to color with beautiful images, they will be eager to do their best to color it. Beauty comes from God, Who is the source for everything good and beautiful. Beauty speaks to children with or without words, and to adults as well.

Many parents may feel intimidated by the idea of taking on a large-scale or long-term project like this, or they may not be able immediately to afford (in money or time) to do much. If you could make only three recommendations for materials or presentations, what would they be? (or, what would be a bare minimum or a good start-up?) Why these?

I would start with the resources for the domestic church: colored drapes, Jesse Tree, Advent Wreath. I would make the Jesse Tree with the help of the children, and while working on the pieces I would share the stories behind the symbols. This preparation is a wonderful activity, and even if the results are less than perfect, the process is invaluable.

What kinds of successes have you seen with the use of a home atrium in passing on the faith to children?

One of the best places to see this result is in the organic creative processes of children. They will create and RE-create whatever it is that they love. Much like a 9-year-old girl will draw horses over and over and over again, what comes out of a child in terms of artwork is the result of an interior love and interest. My children have made Jesse Trees, nativity sets, O Antiphon symbols, miniature statues of many saints, scapulars, prayer books, and lots and lots of images of their favorite sacred symbols and icons. And they do these with great enthusiasm and interest.

Is there anything you would have parents watch for to gauge their success, or fine-tune their practices?

I would simply say "be an observer" and let their children lead them.


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