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.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Praise the LORD! 

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. 

Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. 

Full of honor and and majesty is his work; And his righteousness endures forever.

                    Psalm 111:1-3

Thursday, November 14, 2013

It's Autumn—Pretty Happy Funny Real

It's a beautiful fall, and it's finally turned cold around here. We had a beautiful day here two days ago, when the wind began to blow in earnest but the weather was still balmy and bright. The yellow hickory leaves rained thick and fast on top of us, like a golden snowfall.

This is the season when the world seems to spin faster even as nature is slowing down, people circle in and celebrate life and family and memory and now.

It suits me fine. I am feeling the need to draw inward and mull over my thoughts, even as the needs of the world around me are making themselves felt. Yes, needs, I hear you loud and clear. But first...

round button chicken

Just dropping in to celebrate a few of life's little joys.


My grandmother's funeral was November 2, appropriately. After attending the beautiful ceremony and visiting with family, we took the opportunity to stop at my grandfather's grave, which was in a different cemetery. You might not immediately think of visiting a cemetery on the side of a mountain at sunset as a joyful thing, but it was. We prayed and talked and gave thanks for the people God gives us.  The colors were beautiful—the lights and clouds in the sky slowly shifted, and the shadows fell down the slope, over the bright foliage of the trees so strikingly. 


Red velvet doughnuts from the local Daylight Donuts. 
Let me just say... these are something special.


Anwen is two now. This means she's loud at Mass, and impervious to requests that run counter to her own ideas. So this picture is from a bulletin board in the atrium at our parish (St. Joseph Catholic Church) to where we regularly remove. I should have gotten a photograph of the actual statue inside the church, but this is what she saw. Authenticity. And what is this a picture of? 

"Baby Jesus and Daddy Jesus!"

We could call this a parenting catechizing fail, but aren't we supposed to see Jesus in everybody? And don't the greatest saints model for us the imitation of Christ as the height of holiness? So I think I'll go with "toddler win" on this one.


Pluot cake a la mode!

I don't know, this seemed like my most likely candidate for "real," because I've given up on blogging anything in much of a timely fashion. This was from almost four weeks ago, when Deirdre blogged about the less-than-pleasing plums she bought that needed rescuing. I was in the exact same situation with some pluots that were part of our latest fruit binge. There aren't many fruits that I don't have a taste for, but these pluots...I don't know if it was this batch, or if I just don't care for pluots. I mean, they were okay. I just wasn't loving them. 

So I tried the remedy she tried (minus the spirits), and I'm happy to report that the linked, classic recipe for plum cake was such a success that I'm going to try them with the batch of blueberries I washed and then froze during blueberry season. (If you're going to freeze blueberries, don't wash them first—the skin turns tough. Speaking from experience here.)

Hop over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {phfr}. Maybe next time I'll get you some falling leaves!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

All Souls Day

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


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