Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Welcome 2016

I know, it's early but I'll be hanging out with my family...not much time for blogging.

From today's first reading...perfect for a New Year's Resolution:
Do not love the world or the things of the world.
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world,
sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life,
is not from the Father but is from the world.
Yet the world and its enticement are passing away.
But whoever does the will of God remains forever. - 1 John

Praying that this new year will find us all striving to center our lives where they truly belong; on Christ. I've got a new helper...

We each make our way to Him in our own fashion...for me, Our Lady adoring her Son in the Most Holy Eucharist is perfect. You can find the planner HERE. They are fantastic (pick your own cover!) and you can get a meal planner added to the end. Perhaps this will be my year to be organized ;0)

Happy New Year everyone! We are blessed.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mercy and Correction

I took the older two with me to a funeral today. It was the father of a close acquaintance at our parish and it was nearby so we thought it would be a good thing to do. On the drive over, after finishing our rosary, I resisted turning on the radio/video and instead posed a challenge.

Since it's the Year of Mercy, I asked them to review the 14 (7 corporal/7 spiritual) works and see how many they are doing, how many they could do, and how many about which they had no clue. This was a good exercise because we found that, although we have the corporal close in memory and action, the middle spiritual works are easily forgotten...mostly because they are sometimes hard to practice.

I brought this up because I had been thinking about it, feeling called to it and last night found a nice group of activities from the Jesuits that show different ways we can live the works of mercy...this year and always.

When I feel "called" to something I always wait for the other shoe to drop. Sometimes it's a soft, fuzzy slipper that feels cozy and right. Often, it's more like a brand new leather shoe. Lovely to look at but hard to break in. The lesson I ultimately learn from the call usually involves more than a little bit of struggle. Our good deacon used a Flannery O'Connor quote in his sermon kind of fits here
“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”

Flannery O'Connor,
The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor
So, on we went. We agreed we were helping to Bury the Dead by attending the funeral and we had, just then, prayed a rosary for the living and the dead (I always start at the end of the list, don't you? ;0) ) Then there was our monthly visit to count as Visit the Imprisoned and Feed the Hungry. As a mom, it seems that and Giving Drink to the Thirsty and Clothing the Naked never really ends.

After a short discussion, we agreed that everyone in our home could work harder to Bear Wrongs Patiently and Forgive Offenses. Comfort the Afflicted also comes to mind as something that can be practiced often in our family unit. Instructing the Ignorant brought ideas such as teaching the younger ones about the faith and life in to be a good person and how to follow God.

Admonishing the Sinner took the longest to discuss. (I can feel a big penny loafer sitting just above my head) They didn't understand "admonish" so we looked it up.


1. warn or reprimand someone firmly.

"she admonished me for appearing at breakfast unshaven"

take to task, read the riot act to, rake/haul over the coals; 
     2. advise or urge (someone) earnestly.

"she admonished him to drink no more than one glass of wine"
I suggested that, perhaps, the Spiritual Works are referring more to #2. It is unfortunate that many people jump to #1 and that's probably why we're all kind of hesitant about the whole situation (me included, thus the penny loafer). I think if more people believed they were supposed to earnestly advise someone, they would respond more favorably (on both sides) than if there were to "read someone the riot act". I'm pretty sure Jesus wasn't shy about #2 while almost always avoiding #1 (you know, He did turn over a table or two).

The funeral was lovely and it was extra special for my daughter and me because of the presider. This lovely priest is old and slow and deliberate. He takes time to discuss important matters and likes to talk about anything and everything to anyone who will stop to listen. It's such an easy thing to become impatient when he is saying Mass. Today I was given the grace (because Grammy had the little ones) to just sit and listen and walk slowly with him through the beauty of the funeral liturgy. I even chuckled to myself when I closed my eyes as he said "Thrones and Dominations" (he says it every Mass) because I could just envision the Dominions smiling at that.
The "Dominions" (Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16) (lat. dominatio, plural dominationes, also translated from the Greek term kyriotētes, pl. of kyriotēs, as "Lordships") or "Dominations" are presented as the hierarchy of celestial beings "Lordships" in some English translations of the De Coelesti Hierarchia. The Dominions regulate the duties of lower angels. It is only with extreme rarity that the angelic lords make themselves physically known to humans.
The Dominions are believed to look like divinely beautiful humans with a pair of feathered wings, much like the common representation of angels, but they may be distinguished from other groups by wielding orbs of light fastened to the heads of their scepters or on the pommel of their swords
Is what the priest said incorrect? Of course. Can people get themselves all worked up because he said the wrong word? Yes. Still, this is an old man who has dedicated himself to bringing the Body and Blood of our Savior to people through the Mass Really. I think the angels can appreciate that a little more than the fact that he gets stuck on one word. They're like that. Being angels, in heaven, they're full of joy and don't tend to nit-pick everything.

So, in this Year of Mercy I'm going to try to be more like the angels in heaven. Close to God and not nit-picky (you know that phrase refers to picking lice nits out of someone's hair? don't be like that!).

If someone is taking the Eucharist to a home bound parishioner and decides to stop and talk to everyone on their way out, I'm just going to tell Jesus I love Him and ask His healing for the recipient. If I attend a wedding and the vows sound more like they came off a reality show than the norms for a Catholic wedding, I'm just going to ask the Blessed Mother to wrap the bride up in her mantle and lead her to the truth of being a wife in a sacramental marriage. If someone is sitting in church and speaking badly about someone or something...especially if they're doing it in direct sight of the Tabernacle? I'm walking away. Perhaps my flight will speak volumes and perhaps it won't. Hopefully the prayers I invoke while leaving, that God may open their eyes to the truth of their behavior, will help change the situation.

Ultimately, I'm not God. I sin nearly every hour of every day. There are sooooo many things that I do wrong. That doesn't mean, for even one moment, that I can't instruct someone who doesn't know what is correct in a certain situation or even "admonish" someone who is hurting themselves or someone else. I say that specifically because I don't want anyone to stop their loving correction and instruction of me because they are also a sinner. If you see me (or my children) doing wrong, it's the correct thing to point it out. If you find yourself unable to point it out in a loving and merciful way (this is why I walk away and pray sometimes) please at least ask God to open my eyes to the situation. I would like to believe that, as a community, we want what is best for one another. As I told my kids this morning, we tell them when they do something wrong because we want them to know that it's wrong and because, ultimately, we want to be with them in heaven. That takes a whole lot of correction and instruction (on both parts...just after that, my son reminded me I was a loving and merciful manner).

Thanks for listening. I passed up a chance to do a Spiritual Work of Mercy today and it's been troubling me. It helps to write it down. I will be praying that we can all be more merciful and earnest so that we might lovingly correct others when it's clearly needed. I think that would please God greatly...if we start helping one another grow closer to Him.

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”
Flannery O'Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor 

We are blessed.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Day of feasts...

Today was the Feast of the Holy Family. A great day to spend with family, immediate and extended, and listen to a new deacon preach. Our parish's "native son" is fresh in from Rome and did a lovely job...reminding us that, like our own families, we need to remember that the manger scene wasn't as perfect as many of the Christmas cards would make it out to be.

Yes, we try to present our best selves on our Christmas cards, blogs, etc., but it's important that everyone remember it's not the whole truth. I get caught up every once in a while, looking at a blog/Instagram/whatever and thinking about how shiny and perfect that person's life must be. Then I remember I know what that person's life is like...shiny sometimes and much-less-than-shiny at others.

The most important thing is to remember that God chose this place and time for His Incarnation. There is a point to that. He chose humility over grandness because we are to be humble in our desire to be like Him. The King of the Universe born in a stable? It does sound crazy...until you remember He chose it for Himself. He wants us to be like Him (see me leaving it at that? no rants today. You're welcome ;0) )

If you were to ask the deacon's godbrother, he would remind you that today is also his feast day. St. John, Pray for Us!

doughnuts for lunch dessert!

We also celebrated during this particular lunch because Blondie finally lost her first tooth! (naturally, you know, not broken out by the nasty St. Bernard sidewalk) It was with great joy and relief as the St. Apollonia letter was written five days ago when the wiggling first began (they love their holy cards!).

The bottom is new. The top is two years old.

The rest of the day was spent driving the back roads (the parkway is closed to blow up a bridge tomorrow) in the pouring rain (why don't we ever look at the forecast and plan accordingly) so that we could take my mom to deliver the Christmas wreath to my dad's grave. I thought it was a nice thing to do as we remembered the Holy Family in all of their joys and trial. A difficult journey made out of duty to and love of family. I'm beat but it's a good thing. Portfolios can wait for another day.

So, as we gather for our evening prayer for vocations around what has become our Holy Family shrine (thanks to my lovely friend for sending us the beautiful Holy Family that we don't have to pass on!) we will think of my mom and dad, and dh's family and all of the generations of family who have brought us to this place. As we look over and pray for the many nuns, priests, brothers, deacons and seminarians that we have recorded on our "vocations poster" we will give thanks to their families as well...for supporting their call to carry on the joy of the holy family by being extended family to those of us trying to follow Him. Their guidance is essential.

I love it!
Back to normal life tomorrow. It was a wonderful few days full of family time, prayer, and joy. May we (even in this dreadful weather...why can't it be snow?) continue to follow the Light of the World as we endeavor to shift our sights from the kingdom of this world to the manger...trying always to decrease as He will increase. In all things.

We are blessed.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve

Well, my day started out in a most un-Slovak way. I broke two major "Slovak rules for Christmas Eve"...1. Don't turn the lights on (DH offered to be the Shabbos Goy but it didn't really can't stop the kids once they're awake. They weren't raised with it so they don't know it. Confused? Read more HERE ) and 2. Don't spend any money. (I forgot all about batteries and, darn, some of these toys can't run themselves! Besides, it was too nice a day to stay inside. It was good to get out and walk - yes, I'm trying to embrace 65 degrees on Christmas...never, ever moving to Arizona).

I suppose that's not entirely true, I checked my email while I was waking up and realized I had a Christmas greeting from Fr. Peter. He wished us all a happy Christmas(Eve), said he was staying in Rome to celebrate the holidays and, oh, he was concelebrating Christmas Mass tonight with Pope Francis. Yes, there were about 250 priests/bishops/cardinals concelebrating but HE WAS ONE OF THEM!!! Exciting day for Siroke, I can tell you. Good day to be a Slovak ;0) What a blessing on Christmas Eve! (We watched but couldn't pick him out. I told DH we need a big screen. Didn't work. LOL)

The rest of the day went well. I've learned something from my dear friend who is an amazing artist. Kids like to make art/craft. I am very afraid of the whole process because I am stuck with second-grade talent and my kids are pretty much there with me. Still, I gave them each a job and they did wonderfully (no, I didn't count it as school...even though I could have).
We read the book Mary's Song and it had the most lovely pictures.

Slovak crest for later Vilija

Working hard on place mats and Christmas trees.
Dad was home early and we sat down to try (and fail) to find Fr. Peter at Mass but it was worth the time...Pope Francis had lovely things to say in his homily (GO HERE ). DH was marveling at St. Peter's.

Then, the grammy and auntie showed up and it was Vilija time! Real, live, true. I'm so happy we had pirogi or we all would have starved. I only made the pagach and we had soup. Oh well, it's good to fast a bit before feasting!

I did manage one tradition...all the kids had $100 and I had $200 cause, you know, mama has bigger bills ;0)

The ribbon started to burn so I guess Advent is officially over!

Soup all around! (except the German)
Well, like it or not, the St. Lucy wheat says it's Christmas.

Time to get everyone ready for bed (the kids serve 7 AM tomorrow), fill some stockings, place some mangers, and get to sleep. Even with the rocky days, it has been a blessed Advent. Full of faith, family and fun. Wishing you all the same in this Christmas season and always.

Joy to the World!

We are blessed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

He's coming!

Google claims "Tis the Season" today but I'm not sure to which season they are referring since the cutouts don't seem to point to any major celebration...thank goodness we don't depend on Google to guide us through life!

For those of us in the Christian camp...We were just at evening Mass (I thought they would be better behaved but it turns out they're just terrible little children sometimes, no matter what the sun/moon phase) and Father pointed out that, even though the Christmas liturgies will begin at 4 PM tomorrow, it's still the day before the day before Christmas! That's right, we have another entire day to wait and be still!

I was kind of happy the little people didn't want to wait until the last day to finish their preparations. They were good about completing some studies today and playing nicely together so that I could make a baked good for the final (and best/most authentic) vilija tomorrow night. That means tomorrow can be a true day of rest before the HUGE celebration! Perfect

 OK, pagach 101. Make the dough and roll it out...

Fill it with a delightful stuffing like sweetened rice ...
 Bundle it up, roll it out again, bake it on a stone...

Remove from the stone and wrap it in a damp towel. No idea why, but it's essential (the old green book says so!)

 Unwrap and brush with sweet cream and browned butter (in that order) then sprinkle with sugar

Cut with a pizza slicer and enjoy the yummy turned out well! I'm sure Bub was here guiding the rolling/baking/brushing. It's a wonderful feeling to carry on a tradition. I was blessed to spend enough time with her to see it made and have a hope of continuing on myself.

I like when the kids go into the other room and rumble around, making plans and carrying out their own activities. When I go searching later, I find all sorts of little pockets of creativity.

The kings who had been lost have found their star chart and seem to be back on track. (although the rumor is there is a dispute as to direction so it may take a few more days. lol)

The kids have read a few novels/articles that mention a family who has a parish priest or priest friend who comes to their home to serve Mass. They gave up on that and decided to do it themselves. I was pleased that they had a credence table (although they need a linen) and the presider was male (the females took the lector/cantor roles). 

I started making dinner and watched, for the second night in a row, the most beautiful sunset unfolding before my eyes. This made me smile thinking of my friend who used to share those sunsets but also reminded me that God is waiting for us as much as we are waiting for Him. We try to work our way through Advent, making preparations and offering our time and sacrifice to ready ourselves and He gives us so many little rewards along the way like children who spend the afternoon in imaginative play or a remarkable sunset. All thanks be to Him from whom these blessings flow!

last night's sunset

tonight's sunset
We ended the day by really making our "final" preparations; Mass and reconciliation. It was extra special because my mom was able to join us...something that doesn't happen often. I like it when the kids see other family members participating in the faith. I think it gets them even more excited.

Walking into Mass, we had one more of God's gifts (beautiful...even though it pales in comparison to the gifts we were given inside the building ;0) )
Not quite full...that will happen Christmas Day!

Happy last day of Advent tomorrow! We are blessed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Birthday Boy!

Today my middle child turns 7. I've said before we have a special bond...not sure if it's because he's named after my dad or we share a birthday month or because he's just a really cool little kid...regardless, it's a day to celebrate!

We always try to get to Mass as a family to celebrate birthdays. I can't think of a better tradition to help reinforce the "thanks to God for everything...first" than heading to the altar early in the morning. Today was a really early morning. We were in our raggedy glory. Yet, we were there, giving thanks and starting our day.

Breakfast followed at the diner next door. I don't like the food that much but the people who work there are exceptional. There are two women who are always more than kind to our rowdy group. I was blessed to have a day free from breakfast prep! (it's the small things sometimes).

Back to church we headed, this time to the small chapel that used to be used by the nuns in the convent. It's one of my very favorite places on the church campus. You can feel the years of prayer's small and quiet and lovely. We stopped to pick up the traveling Holy Family statue. It journeys from house to house so that families may take time out of their day to pray for vocations. It's a beautiful statue - St. Joseph watching over Jesus as he learned the vocation of carpentry and Our Lady looking on with a tray of sustenance...part of her motherly vocation. Can there be a better time to have these three join our home to celebrate the next week? What an extra blessing for the birthday boy!

DH took the older two for a day with Grammy and we got to work...a little Max and Ruby, a little decorating (this is the day we've picked to put the ornaments on the tree every year). They did a fantastic job and nothing is broken...bonus!

A quick game of hide the pickle at the end (I think it's silly but they love it) and up to rest while mom did her best to tidy up and pull together a cake. I say pull together because being a boy, especially this boy, it has to be meaningful.

Most female December babies would be happy enough with this...or a tree shape at the very most (I know because I was always happy with a festive, seasonal treat)

This guy needs some "extras" to make it his. I LOVE that little guy. He makes me laugh every time I look at him. 

The day ended with a lovely (read small) party of family and close friends. The gifts were well-chosen, the cake greatly appreciated and the ice cream hats were roundly applauded. I know what I love about this kid...he is grateful for what he is given. That's a fantastic quality.

Pottery Wheel = "My dream come true!"

Cardinals blanket - so exciting

Blanket that doubles as a parachute = added bonus

I think that's joy ;0)

The evening's entertainment consisted of opening some traditional British "crackers" (DH thought they were dessert...cutie) and trying to organize the whistle blowers into a tune. We made a good stab at "Good King Wenceslas" Aunt's idea. I love her.

Tiring, rewarding, lovely day to celebrate an equally lovely boy. I love you, middle child. You are God's special Christmas gift to us. We are so blessed by you.

Expressing Joy

We all do it differently...but we should, most definitely, all do it. Especially in these last excitement-filled days as we await the birth of Our Savior (and, as Bishop Barron would say, "'Our Savior' would imply we need to be saved from something.") Let's all ponder that for a bit, shall we?

We are blessed.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Prepping...vilija #2 tomorrow!

On the way out of Mass this morning, the boys spotted snowflakes. That fact, along with my family arriving this afternoon, is enough for the superintendent to call for a snow day. #homeschoolrules ;0)

Some days building brotherly bonds trumps multiplication.

Today's nutrition exploration? The Buddha hand. So cool and completely inedible (except for the zest) but nature's own room deodorizer. Smells like a citrus grove in here.

See? We did school anyway. That's how we roll.

Tomorrow is the 18th (wow) anniversary of my dad's death so, if you would, keep us in your prayer. It's always a bittersweet day for me. At least I get to spend it with my sibs this year.

We are blessed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Life, Love and Faith

It's been quite an adventurous two days. Driving home yesterday, in the pouring rain, I was reflecting on this life I've been attempting to lead: all the places it takes me and all the great reward I have been given.

As you know, Sunday was my birthday and St. Lucy day.

It's a good prayer. It reinforces my desire to do more living my faith out loud. I'm finding that when I am deliberate in making God first in my life (and that of my family) it becomes more habit and less odd (to us. There will always be people outside who think it strange). I would never have thought praying a rosary every day when we're in the car would be anything but shouted down and now the shouting is all about who gets what decade. The Holy Spirit can do amazing things with our paltry effort.

So, when I suggested that we take my birthday cake to Mr. Ray and have dessert when we delivered his meal, they (in their big way) made it a perfect evening. Blondie did her best to play the Swedish St. Lucy ;0) and we all celebrated with our favorite adopted grandpa. I like to think he was heartened by our including him in the celebration. I was grateful we were able to have that time together on my birthday. It was a gift to me.

St. Lucy and star boy knocking on the door ;0)

group hug :0)
After the end of my birthday fete, the kids and I headed to Hagerstown, MD to stay overnight. The drive was long and dark and I was half-way there thinking, does this really even matter? I knew it did or the Holy Spirit wouldn't have hammered it so hard the previous few days. You see, we were heading to the funeral (actually Celebration of Life) of my dear friend's brother. If you've been reading you know he was young and it was tragic. We left the hotel around 10 the following morning to make the remaining hour trip to the church.

This was the view for most of the hour-long trip. The picture doesn't come close to the amazing site we watched develop in front of us. I told the kids it was what I always imagined the Ascension looked like; Jesus rising up through the bank of clouds to the glorious gate of heaven. I was happy we drove through the night, I was happy we came. This was what I needed to confirm we were heading the right direction.

The celebration was lovely and a good exercise for my Catholic-centric kids. Meeting my friend's parents after learning about them and reading her mom's blog, was a great moment for me. I like meeting God-centered people. Witnessing their strength and humility that day was not really surprising. I suppose I imagined them in that way because their daughter is so strong in her faith. (as a silly aside...reading someone's blog then meeting them in reality can be a shock...I would never, ever have imagined her mom to have a Southern accent (duh me, she's from the South). ) The testimony from these two parents who had just tragically lost their child was so good for my kids to watch. Through tears they spoke of their understanding that he was theirs temporarily, loaned to their family by God. Their faith was inspiring. I was also glad to see my friend in person and give her a long-awaited hug. There are certain things that email/phone/etc. can't replace.

The ride after was interesting. I mentioned my "Catholic" kids. The discussion was something like this...
      "I saw a cross but not a crucifix" "Wasn't it cool that they put the song lyrics on the wall?" "There were no kneelers" "I saw collection baskets" (that last one was my little guy..he makes me laugh).

As I said, it was good to see how other religious traditions process death and it was wonderful for them to see the deep faith of this family. It is good for them to know early that being Catholic doesn't give you a corner on deep faith (it certainly doesn't insure it). No matter your creed, you can be a person for whom God is first, in every part of life.

Now I'm probably going to say something that sounds uppity Catholic and appears to rescind what I just said. That's not the intention so if you get that from reading it, you misread, try again ;0) Sometimes when I have a carb-loaded meal (as frequently enjoyed by DH "would you like goldfish with that soft pretzel sandwich?") I crave a salad in a very real way. Today, leaving the beautiful Celebration of Life, I craved a church with kneelers, Marian statues and Mass. So, we were off.

As I said, the kids are reasonably good sports about my pilgrim ways and they had a snack and a movie for the hour drive so we all arrived happy and ready to explore. How blessed we were that we happened to arrive during the 40th anniversary of the canonization of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton? We had enough time to explore the gallery before heading upstairs to the basilica for Mass (It was a really cool building). The extra bonus was that it is a location of a Jubilee Year of Mercy Holy Door. Extra blessings!

Our first Holy exciting!
The basilica was all I could have hoped for...the stained glass ringing the main church were all the Titles of Mary! Ahh, it's nice to travel but I love coming home.
"Queen of Martyrs" and "Refuge of Sinners"
After Mass, the rain was threatening and I was starting to feel tired but there was one more stop that I felt we needed to make. When we pulled up and saw this...
I knew it was the right decision. The National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes was like going back to Levoca but without the 12 hours of travel. What an amazing place! The kids and I walked down the walkway that housed the Stations of the Cross, saying a short prayer at each station (short...the rain was nearly upon us).
Heading back up the walkway to Our Lady
The Grotto was so beautiful, as they always are and, as always, it gave me a minute to blow a kiss to Saint Bernadette and ask her to pass it along to our little one.

Then, the excitement...the spring that runs under everything that is spouted and has been holy water that you can drink (no bathing, though...sign says! ug...who would?)

Yesterday was also the feast of St. John of the Cross. (We were blessed to be able to venerate his relic after Mass at the bascilica.) When I started writing this blog, I also found this quote.

It's also a good quote for me at the end of this particular journey. I doubt the world condemns (or much cares one way or another about) what I do but I do wonder what people think when they see us walking through a holy place, reciting the Divine Mercy chaplet or singing the Ave Maria with the bells.

This isn't a life I would have imagined two decades ago. I would have sent a card of sympathy to my friend and gone about my day. I would never have volunteered to cook a meal because I was "too busy". Vacations were times to get away from everything routine in life (including faith) and run to seek respite in corporal things.

Now, for better or worse, I have the grace to hear more of the whispers and I have learned that following, through love, will always come to good (even if I misunderstand the whisper at first!). God loves us so is good when we can show Him our love by treating his other creations with kindness and care.

Perhaps this week, as the craziness of the holiday ramps up, you can remember that God loves you the same, no matter how many presents are under the tree or cookies on the table and you can just sit back and say some prayers in thanksgiving to Him, who created all that is good. Sounds like a pretty nice birthday present.

We are blessed.