23 November 2015
I love the first story we hear in this week's chapter, of the faith of the centurion whose servant Christ heals.
This Roman centurion, an occupying soldier of rank, was given the faith to recognize Jesus for who He is. For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers... He recognizes the divine authority of Christ, relating it to his own experience of being an authority figure: If he told someone to do something, they did it. Period. Immediately. No arguments. And he believes that Christ has that same manner of authority on a much larger scale, and is able to command obedience even over intangibles like illness.
I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof ... but say the word, and my servant shall be healed. Others throughout the Gospels profess their belief that Christ can heal them if He wishes, as the centurion does here. But more than that, he also clearly understands that, despite outward appearances, Christ so utterly "outranks" him that he is not even worthy to stand in His presence.
We echo these words of the centurion at each Mass: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed." Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea. And like Christ healed the centurion's servant despite his acknowledged unworthiness, so too does He come to us in Communion despite our unworthiness.
The concept of "unworthiness" resonates strongly with me, the being made aware of my sinfulness, of how my choices, actions, and words separate me from God. It's so easy to not think about it, to allow cooking and housework and messy diapers and whatever I last read or watched and the Thanksgiving and Advent to-do lists and the kid-created catastrophe of the moment and everything else all day long to quietly just kind of push the concept of "sin" to the back of my mind. And let me tell you, I'm definitely nowhere near holy enough that I always make the right choice that draws me closer to God, especially when I'm not even thinking about the possibility of any and every thing I do bringing me closer to or farther away from Him.
If I'm conscious of my unworthiness to receive Christ, it gives me the push to ask His mercy, to get to confession more frequently, to try to pray more throughout the days and ask for the help to do better. If I'm not made aware of it, none of those things happen. I need those reminders, and I so appreciate them!
17 November 2015
The Sermon on the Mount is really not a very comfortable thing to hear, if you keep reading past the beatitudes, is it? Woe to you who are filled, for you shall hunger... Woe to you who now laugh, for you shall mourn... This reading sounds a lot like Pope Francis' message of not just being comfortable where we are, rather reaching out to the poor and those that need our help.
Each November, our chiropractor encourages her patients to help those in need by offering a free adjustment to those who bring in a bag of nonperishable food to donate to the food bank. When I was there yesterday, they already had several tall stacks of boxes full of donated food!
Being comfortable. It seems to me that many, most, people aren't opposed to helping others, whether by donating money or food or other material goods or time/talent volunteering or whatnot: it's just that it's so easy to have it not even occur to us that there is anything we could or should be doing to help, if we're too comfortably ensconced in our own life, our own daily tasks and troubles. I was so grateful for the call from the receptionist, reminding me that I could donate food instead of paying for this month's visit. Oh, of course! Yes, definitely I want to donate food! That we're coming up on Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas... has been on my mind all the time lately, but it took that phone call to broaden my focus from what I'm doing for my family to include what our family can do for others.
And a part of me keeps trying to feel guilty over that fact, that I didn't think of giving to the food bank this month on my own, as it's colder and more people are looking to them for basics as well as holiday fare. But it doesn't matter, does it? "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful." (Luke 6:36) God showed me that mercy first, giving me a reminder when I needed it to look beyond my own immediate concerns to see the needs of others. It's how I respond to that merciful reminder that matters.
13 November 2015
It's winter for real now: we woke up to a negative temperature for the first time this morning. Nothing too terrible—I think it got up to 3 or 4 above in the middle of the day—but tomorrow evening, we're going to start tumbling into the 20s below. Brr! It's certainly not early for this kind of cold to be moving in, but the first real thermal drop of the winter is painful no matter when it comes.
Had a couple of "we live in Alaska" moments today: As we were heading to Mass this noon, a moose was trotting down the driveway fifty yards in front of us. Since it was moving away in the direction I needed to go, I slowly followed, but halfway down the driveway I noticed the much larger moose bedded down in the snow off in the trees to the side. We were now between the cow moose and her calf, and she was definitely bigger than the jeep. Lots of Hail Marys were said the rest of the way out to the road, please let us get out on the road without the cow coming after us! She didn't get up, thankfully.
The other bit of stereotypical Alaskan life was much less adrenalin-boosting. On the way to pick Matt up from work this evening, we passed a dog team on the bike/foot/etc trail along the side of the road. I know that a lot of people throughout the valley we live in have sled dogs, but this was one of the first times I'd seen any. It was a small team, only five or six dogs, but they could have been just a part of a larger kennel out for a training run. Little Bear was pretty excited to see them.
We have an amusing/frustrating history growing of Matt and my dad going out hunting but not catching sight of whatever they're after, and we at home seeing the same animal in the yard while they're gone. It happened during several moose and grouse hunting trips last year, and today would have been another instance: they were supposed to be out moose hunting today, but one of the snow machines was making a strange noise and they didn't quite trust it to take them all the way out and back. Hopefully the hunt won't close until they've had a chance to get out! The limit on this hunt is 30 moose and at least 8 have been taken so far; this cold will strengthen the ice on the rivers they have to cross to get to the hunt zone, but we hope it will also keep other potential hunters at home...
Our diving temperatures have reminded us of why we're having such a hard time finding a house—the place we're renting is kind of like Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way, aside from the shared walls. An attached garage, high enough in the hills to get the inversion, a fireplace: I'm almost certain that so far this winter, our heat has not kicked on at all. Will that change once we hit -20 F on Sunday? Unfortunately, the bedroom baseboards probably will overnight... The bedrooms are both on the same zone, which we keep at 65 because of Kit (and Little Bear's continued refusal to sleep under blankets. Seriously, child, you live in Alaska. Let me put quilts on your bed.) A good fire in the evenings will definitely keep the thermostat for the rest of the house from turning on the heat overnight, though.
No photos yet in this week's Takes... I was just flipping through my camera roll looking for photos of recent interesting things, and it appears that I haven't been taking many photos lately, but someone has. I give you, the last couple of weeks from Little Bear's angle:
Knuckles, her favorite food.
Special Car and Little Guy.
A lot of the time, he's just holding the button down to see the flash go off because he got ahold of my phone for 30 seconds—I deleted several hundred blurry photos just now—but some of the time, it sure looks like he's learning to actually take pictures more intentionally. All of the filters and cropping are his; I just watermarked and shrank them.
Here's the photographer himself, helping me prep a sweet dumpling squash for the oven this morning:
Have a good weekend! As always, lots more quick takes to check out over at This Ain't The Lyceum.
12 November 2015
I've been putting this off all week; I can't think of anything to say, because I don't have time to sit down and re-read the chapter several times and really think about it. Without realizing it, I guess I've been internalizing the idea that if I can't do it "right," going in depth, drawing something meaningful from the text the way my childless siblings can, it's not worth doing it at all.
That's not true, and I know it; God didn't put me here in this present role and state of life and then say, "And you're just going to have to choose between neglecting the children, and waiting until they are older to ever read Scripture." That's wildly irrational. God is perfectly rational, so that attitude can't be from Him. And if it's not from God, then I need to stop believing it and letting it affect my (lack of) approach to reading the Gospel. But it's hard.
In Luke 5 this week, which I finally read this afternoon while feeding the baby and building blocks with Little Bear, Christ calls Simon, John, James, and Levi. And they drop everything, their whole lives and jobs and everything, and follow Him. That's pretty discouraging! There's one part of me, and I'm not entirely sure if it's cynical or not, that is looking at their response to Christ's call and saying, "There's a reason Christ only chose men to be Apostles!" I couldn't physically leave behind my 'job,' my children rely on me for their survival. It rather stings to hear this radical physical sacrifice praised when it would be wrong, sinful, for me to emulate; it loops right back to that thought process that's kept me from even reading this week, that there's this important thing [following Christ/reflecting on Scripture] that I should do, and here's an outstanding example of how to do it [the apostles/my siblings], and I can't do it in a way even close to what they can, so what are my efforts worth compared to theirs?
God asks different things of different people. I think that's something I'm supposed to be learning here: When the Pharisees contrast the fasting habits of St John the Baptist's disciples with those of Christ's disciples, He doesn't say that either group is right or wrong, or even that one is fine but the other is better. He says that their circumstances are different, and so of course their actions look different. Once the Bridegroom was taken away from them, then Christ's disciples would fast. One day, I will no longer have any young children in the house, and then my life and prayer will look very different. And no matter how long it is until then, it's not going to feel like it was long enough, looking back, even if it seems to stretch on forever right now.
No more of this contrasting my own efforts with those of others. I'm not in their circumstances. My only question should be, What is God asking of me right now?
03 November 2015
The kids and I made it to Mass yesterday for All Souls Day. Getting out of the house was a circus, as usual, and I probably said "Stop doing X we're going to be late!!!" five million times. And it was snowing, not as heavily as it had been earlier that morning, but enough for me to keep the radio off and sternly warn Little Bear that the roads are slippery so do not fuss and distract Mama. We live a good 20 minutes from the church on clear roads, and by the time we were halfway there yesterday, I was definitely wondering whether it was actually important to be doing this... But we made it, a little bit early even.
And then, there was the homily. Father really didn't pull punches! We have a responsibility to pray for the dead, he stressed. To offer Masses for them. To pray for the repose of our ancestors. To visit cemeteries and pray for those buried there, especially those who have been forgotten. He talked about how Catholics in other countries gather in the cemeteries on All Souls' Day to tend grave sites and pray for all those buried there. The souls in purgatory need our prayers, and we have an obligation to pray for them.
Parents have a responsibility to pass on these traditions and the whole of Catholic culture to their children, he reiterated. If we don't teach them to pray for the souls in purgatory, if they don't see us praying for those who have died, then when we die they aren't going to pray for us. If we don't make the Faith the center of our lives, the rhythm we live by, why would they do so?
Visit a cemetery today, he instructed us. Bring your children. Say a rosary, or a decade of a rosary, or whatever prayers you can. Pray for the repose of those souls, even if you don't know any of them. Pray for all of the souls in purgatory.
Oh. Okay, going to Mass yesterday really was that important.
We'd already talked a couple of times over the course of the morning about All Saints and All Souls, how the saints are in heaven with God, and the souls in purgatory are people whom God is helping to become perfect so they can be saints in heaven too, so we pray for them that they will quickly become saints. I think that made sense to Little Bear; he explained it back to Matt after work yesterday evening. We stopped by a cemetery on our way home for supper, and Kit slept just long enough for us to get in a decade before she was very sure she needed to be done in her car seat, so we had to go home.
We've lost such a huge amount of tradition and Catholic day-to-day culture from just a few generations back, and it makes me so sad and frustrated. No one had ever told me before yesterday that we're supposed to visit cemeteries on All Souls Day! Why didn't they? Why didn't anyone I asked from my parents' generation know about it either? There's this huge body of cultural knowledge that I want to have, to form my kids in and build our family life around, and it seems like it should be all around us, but if I don't know what I'm looking for or even that I should be looking for something, it can be so hard to find. Sometimes it seems impossible, passing on a Catholic culture to our children, when we're still learning it ourselves. Thank heaven for the priests and laypeople who do have a solid knowledge of our traditions, and share them with the rest of us!
01 November 2015
Wow, I'm early with this this week for a change! The fourth chapter of Luke picks up right after Christ's baptism in the Jordan River, beginning with the temptation in the desert and following the early part of His public ministry. This passage jumped out at me as I was reading today:
What caught my attention was that Christ didn't contradict the devil's claims that all of the kingdoms of the world belong to him, and that he can give them to whomever he wishes. Nero, Diocletian, civilizations that practiced human sacrifice like Carthage or the Aztecs, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Hussein... It certainly has seemed, all through history, that some regimes have been diabolically inspired. But one name for the devil is the "father of lies," so is he here telling the truth, exaggerating, or out and out lying?
If all the earth and all the people in it belong to God, then "all the kingdoms of the world" can't literally belong to the devil. He is offering to give Christ what already belongs to Christ, and if it belongs to Christ, the devil doesn't have the ability to hand it out to anyone else. He does have some sway, though, given the fallen state of Man and our inclinations to sin: more obviously so in some "kingdoms" than others, but to a degree everywhere—the only people with perfectly pure, sinless hearts are in heaven.
Matt also pointed out that in context, no rebuttal of that point was strictly necessary. It didn't matter *what* He was offered, or whether the offer was valid or not: Christ was not going to agree to worship the devil. He didn't have to say "No, and that's not yours to offer anyway."
Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. That's going to be my verse to reflect on this week; goodness knows, I need to be reminded of it often enough. Not in a golden calf sort of way, but in every little instance when doing what I want to sounds easier or more enjoyable than doing what He's asking of me: choosing not to be "too tired" when Little Bear wants help building with blocks, bundling everyone in snow gear and going out to play even though it takes longer to get dressed/undressed than the kids will end up wanting to stay outside, putting celery in the soup because everyone else likes it better that way. Cultivating the domestic church is hardly glamorous! But it certainly does offer a lot of little opportunities to serve God by putting others first.
31 October 2015
Hallowtide, Hallowmas, whatever you like to call this three day span—Hallowe'en, All Saints, and All Souls—is upon us. While it's not my favorite liturgical season, that title being too close to call between Advent and Holy Week, I also particularly enjoy celebrating Hallowtide: We baked soul cakes (doughnuts) this afternoon to eat for breakfast tomorrow, Little Bear and Kit had fun at the Catholic Homeschoolers' All Saints party yesterday afternoon, and I love kicking off this month focused on the Communion of Saints with a chorus of For All The Saints on Hallowe'en evening, the traditional verses stuffed with references to our role here on earth as the Church Militant: "Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight," "fight as the saints who nobly fought of old," "when the strife is fierce, the warfare long / steals on the ear the distant triumph song," etc. Love that hymn!
And of course, there's the costumes. I love dressing up, always have, and was excited that having kids gave me an "excuse" to wear costumes for Hallowmas again. So far, though, Little Bear seems to have inherited his father's... lack of interest, shall we say, in dressing up. He did not want to wear a costume at the party yesterday, even though all of the other kids were costumed as well. Kit didn't even notice that she was wearing a costume, of course; hopefully she grows up to like them! Dressing as saints for All Saints parties wasn't really something I did until college, but a second reason for costumes in as many days, and a tactile way to have fun learning about saints? Sign me up!
For the All Saints party, Little Bear was St Juan Diego and Kit was Bl Monica Naisen, a martyr from Japan who was executed in 1629 for hiding a priest from the government's persecution. Little Bear's costume came together more easily than I expected: I cut one of Matt's old t-shirts down for the tilma, printed off a coloring page of Our Lady of Guadalupe, put it between the layers of the shirt, and used the lines as guides for the fabric paint.
Kit's costume was easy, a hand-me-down kimono from one of Matt's coworker's daughters. I had such fun getting their costumes together, and seeing all of the other kids dressed up!
Kit's idea of fun at the party was getting passed around between the other moms and older girls, and eventually falling asleep on someone else's shoulder while I was helping Little Bear decorate cookies in "St Elizabeth's Kitchen." They do such a good job of pulling together this party every year, and all of the kids had fun with games like "St Christopher's relay race," "walking the narrow path" along a balance beam, and rolling pumpkins in "St Isidore's pumpkin patch." The pumpkin-rolling was probably Little Bear's favorite; he wanted to do it all by himself, and got three of his five little pumpkins into the "goal."
I got a text this morning from my sister, a photo of easily a hundred doughnuts laid out in rows on the counter. "Have you made your soulcakes yet?" Little Bear thought that making doughnuts was an excellent idea, of course. Matt was by no means opposed to eating doughnuts, but wanted to know why, so we looked it up.
Modern doughnuts evolved from soul cakes, small sweet cakes that have been given out at Hallowtide for centuries to children and beggars who would go door-to-door singing some variation on this rhyme: "A soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake," promising to pray for the repose of the souls of the family's dead in thanks for the cake. From what I read, giving out soul cakes during Hallowtide was still common practice in some places less than 100 years ago. According to one legend, the doughnut shape with the hole in the middle was created to remind those singing for (and eating) soul cakes of eternity: a circle without a beginning or end, reminding us that those who have died are not gone.
So of course, I decided to make some. The only recipe I could find that didn't involve frying them *or* baking in special doughnut pans was this potato doughnut recipe from Taste of Home. I made it by hand instead of using a bread machine, and halved the recipe just in case it didn't work out well, but they came out fine! A little funny looking, which might have been avoidable if I'd used a real doughnut cutter instead of a canning jar lid and a knife, but they taste great. Frosting would have given them a smoother appearance, too, but after tasting one we decided that we liked the flavor and didn't want to drown them in frosting, so while they were still warm I just rubbed a little butter on the tops and sprinkled on a bit of granulated sugar.
Tonight Little Bear went trick-or-treating with some of my siblings, dressed as a baker in his youngest aunt's apron and poofy hat. Several of the houses they usually stop at didn't have anyone home tonight, so the bigger kids were disappointed, but Little Bear was pretty excited that there were people at four of the places they stopped, and they all gave him candy!
It was chilly enough (about 12 degrees F) that they didn't really mind coming back early. It's certainly not over-cold for this time of year—my dad was telling Matt and me about a Hallowe'en he remembers from when I was little that was -30 F!—but this weather still feels cold when it's the first time we've gotten even this low so far this winter. Once we hit -20 for the first time, coming back up above 0 will feel lovely again. Since we were all chilly tonight, though, and since the clocks turn back tonight so bedtime could be a little more flexible, Little Bear got to help Matt lay the fire before going to bed.
A happy very-nearly-All Saints Day to you! For more quick takes, head on over to This Ain't The Lyceum.