Saturday, September 8, 2012

Maria Bambina

"She is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley. Through her birth the nature inherited from our first parents is changed."    
 ~St. Augustine of Hippo

“The Blessed Virgin is the spoiled child of the Blessed Trinity.
She knows no law. Everything yields to her in heaven and on earth.
The whole of heaven gazes on her with delight.
She plays before the ravished eyes of God himself.”
~Raissa Maritain

The feast of the Nativity of Our Lady is one of our favorites. It has, quite naturally, become one of the milestones of the liturgical year in our family. September is such a bittersweet month in the life of the Church; this week we celebrate the birth of the Blessed Mother, only to commemorate her seven sorrows a week from today. And, of course, between those two feasts we have the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on the 14th. 

What makes this day - and, in fact, the entire month - even more beautiful is the way it is gravitated by the change in seasons and the harvest. In France, the feast of the Nativity of Mary was celebrated by a blessing of grapes. In Austria, cattle and sheep were brought down from the hills in a festive caravan, to prepare for the cold winter months ahead.  September marks a period of transition, both in the patterns of the seasons and in the feasts we commemorate. In this month we remember the joyous event of the birth of the Theotokos, but we do not forget the tears she shed and the sword that pierced her heart. 

This year we celebrated Mary's birthday by planting seeds for the fall. We also started this lovely novena from the Maria Bambina website:

 Holy Child Mary of the royal house of David, Queen of the angels,
Mother of grace and love, I greet you with all my heart.
Obtain for me the grace to love the Lord faithfully during
all the days of my life. Obtain for me, too, a great devotion
to you, who are the first creature of God's love.
Hail Mary, full of grace................
O heavenly Child Mary, who like a pure dove was born
immaculate and beautiful, true prodigy of the wisdom of
God, my soul rejoices in you. Oh! Do help me to preserve
the angelic virtue of purity at the cost of any sacrifice.
Hail Mary, full of grace................
Hail, lovely and holy Child, spiritual garden of delight, where,
on the day of the Incarnation, the tree of life was planted,
assist me to avoid the poisonous fruit of vanity and pleasures of the world.
Help me to engraft into my soul the thoughts, feelings,
and virtues of your divine Son.
Hail Mary, full of grace................
Hail, admirable Child Mary, Mystical Rose, closed garden,
open only to the heavenly Spouse. O Lily of paradise,
make me love the humble and hidden life;
let the heavenly Spouse find the gate of my heart always open
to the loving calls of His graces and inspiration.
Hail Mary, full of grace................
Holy Child Mary, mystical dawn, gate of heaven,
you are my trust and hope.
O powerful advocate, from your cradle stretch out your hand,
support me on the path of life.
Make me serve God with ardor and
constancy until death and so reach an eternity with you.
Hail Mary, full of grace................


Blessed Child Mary, destined to be the Mother of God and our loving Mother, by the heavenly graces you lavish upon us, mercifully listen to my supplications. In the needs which press upon me from every side and especially in my present tribulation, I place all my trust in you.

O holy Child, by the privileges granted to you alone and by the merits which you have acquired, show that the source of spiritual favors and the continuous benefits which you dispense are inexhaustible, because your power with the Heart of God is unlimited.

Deign through the immense profusion of graces with which the Most High has enriched you from the first moment of your Immaculate Conception, grant me, O Celestial Child, my petition, and I shall eternally praise the goodness of your Immaculate Heart.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Blackberry Liqeuer for an Archangel

September is an exciting time of the year because it marks an important moment in the domestic church of preparation.  We anticipate many monumental feasts at this time of year, not least of which is the great feast of Christmas itself.  As such, we will be publishing a series of recipes throughout September.

Of course, on September 29 is Michaelmas.  Traditionally, an essential ingredient in foodstuffs of this particular feast is the blackberry.  As the story goes, when Michael cast Lucifer down to earth, the Enemy fell into a blackberry bush.  Blackberries were to be consumed on the feast day and forbidden thereafter.  We think it is quite providential that Lucifer was cast into a berry bush that just happens  to be in season this time of year.

This year, please join us in making a blackberry liqueur for this special traditional feast day.  The making of liqueurs is a surprisingly simple process.  We make a great number of liqueurs throughout the year, and I must say that it is immensely satisfying making something that is easily comparable with store-bought products but for a fraction of the price.  You name the liqueur, you can almost certainly make it at home!

Blackberry Liqueur Recipe


1.)  3 cups of 80 proof vodka
2.)  3 cups of blackberries
3.)  1 Cup of Sugar
4.)  1 Cup of Water

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan, and heat slowly, stirring regularly.  When the sugar is completely dissolved, cool to room temperature.  You have just made simple syrup.

Place the syrup, vodka and blackberries in a large mason jar (or the like).  Do not cut or crush the berries and do not stir the mixture!  Put the jar aside in a cool dark environment for 10-12 days.

After this infusion period, strain the berries out of the liqueur.  Do not crush them!  Next, strain the berries through a coriander, then a fine mesh strainer and finally through stocking fabric.

The liqueur is now ready to be drunk, but it will certainly increase in quality with age.  Age it in a cool dark environment until Michaelmas.  Slainte mhathe!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Great Lady

It's fascinating that in our "enlightened" age, devoid of kings and queens and even disparaging of anything remotely "royal," not one but two royal titles have been given to Christ and His Mother. Here is a brief excerpt from "Ad Caeli Reginam," or "On Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary," by Pope Pius XII. Queen of Heaven, pray for us!
 "Besides, the Blessed Virgin possessed, after 
Christ, not only the highest degree of excellence and perfection, but also a share in that influence by which He, her Son and our Redeemer, is rightly said to reign over the minds and wills of men. For if through His Humanity the divine Word performs miracles and gives graces, if He uses His Sacraments and Saints as instruments for the salvation of men, why should He not make use of the role and work of His most holy Mother in imparting to us the fruits of redemption? "With a heart that is truly a mother's," to quote again Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, "does she approach the problem of our salvation, and is solicitous for the whole human race; made Queen of heaven and earth by the Lord, exalted above all choirs of angels and saints, and standing at the right hand of her only a Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she intercedes powerfully for us with a mother's prayers, obtains what she seeks, and cannot be refused." On this point another of Our Predecessors of happy memory, Leo XIII, has said that an "almost immeasurable" power has been given Mary in the distribution of graces; St. Pius X adds that she fills this office "as by the right of a mother." Let all Christians, therefore, glory in being subjects of the Virgin Mother of God, who, while wielding royal power, is on fire with a mother's love."
Ave Regina Caelorum
Hail, O Queen of Heaven enthroned.
Hail, by angels mistress owned.
Root of Jesse, Gate of Morn
Whence the world's true light was born:

Glorious Virgin, Joy to thee,
Loveliest whom in heaven they see;
Fairest thou, where all are fair,
Plead with Christ our souls to spare.

V. Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin.
R. Give me strength against thine enemies.

Let us pray: We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to assist our infirmity: that like as we do now commemorate Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, Mother of God; so by the help of her intercession we may die to our former sins and rise again to newness of life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Why I Don't Miss My Maiden Name

As summer concludes, love is in the air. My husband is away right now at a family wedding, my brother ties the knot in a little more than a month, and mu husband and I just celebrated our five-year anniversary last week. Matrimony is on my mind.

I never would have imagined ten years ago that I would be where I am now - happily married with two lovely children. My ambition was to travel the world (by myself), get a decent education (by myself), and start a successful career (probably by myself...although at that point I would be a bit flexible, seeing as I would be about 30 or so). Now, four years shy of 30 and five years into my marriage, I can only thank my Creator. Because what really fueled my desire to be "by myself" was a despair that I would ever find someone.

During this period of despair, I also pledged that I would never change my maiden name. To do so would be to turn my back on my identity and passively lean on my husband's. We modern women must protect ourselves from the onslaught of chauvinism, after all. And, as stated by the Lucy Stone League:

"This tradition of name-abandonement by women is so much a part of U.S. culture that few recognize it for what it is: a powerful instance of sex discrimination which has a major effect on women."

Major effect, indeed. I find myself signing my letters not only with my husband's last name, but also his first (preceded by the archaic "Mrs."). The Lucy Stone League continues:

 "When girls are growing up, they see what they have to look forward to: the abandonment of their identity into the identity of another... The message to mothers is: 'Your name is not important. Your family history is not important." Of course, their children see the same message, 'I have my father's name because my mother's pre-marriage name is not important.'"

I, too, once felt this sentiment. It's hard for me to put my finger on the exact moment it changed. But it wasn't hard for me to choose to change my maiden name. Part of that was because I had finally found a man whose name I wanted to take - for me, this was a sign of utmost respect. But mostly, I realized that taking my husband's name was not to denounce my previous identity, but rather to enrich it.

Lucy Stone had one thing right: names are not indifferent. To take another man's family name is momentous. However, as Catholics our names are fluid and dynamic. The transition from one surname to another is not simply a loss of identity; it is a deepening of that identity. In the case of marriage, this deepening is directly tied to the other - to my husband. The decision to take his name was simultaneously a commitment to discovering the truth about myself, my place in the world, and most importantly, my vocation as wife and mother.

So why do women have to change their names and not men? Isn't this an obvious example of gender discrimination? I suppose it could be seen that way, assuming that your husband, society, or some other outside entity forced you to change your name, simply because you were a woman. I felt no such pressure. I wanted to change my name, to make my unity with my husband concrete and undeniable. I think there is something in women that longs for that metamorphosis. As much as I loved my maiden name, I don't miss it.

That being said, it certainly isn't arbitrary that the woman takes the man's name. This is an immense topic that really requires an entire Socratic dialogue (and we know those Greeks were long-winded). Unfortunately,  it's bedtime for me. In the meantime, I  leave you with this snippet (seemingly unrelated, but truly pertinent) from one of G.K Chesteron's essays on the nature of domesticity, or what we moderns call "gender roles":

Modern women defend their office with all the fierceness of domesticity. They fight for desk and typewriter as for hearth and home, and develop a sort of wolfish wifehood on behalf of the invisible head of the firm. That is why they do office work so well; and that is why they ought not to do it. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

And the Two Will Become One Flesh

If I learned one thing about philosophers during my academic adventures, it's that they have an uncanny ability to find profundity in seemingly ordinary aspects of human existence. From Aristotle's examination of the parts of animals to Heidegger's essays on technology, the philosopher refuses to be satisfied with what first strikes the eye, insisting on a deeper inquiry. This tendency can be exhausting and even mundane when pursued for its own sake. But every so often, the philosopher hits on a bedrock of truth.

Yesterday as I observed my one-year-old playing with her hands (she is especially fascinated with her hands and feet right now), I was reminded of one such insight that I found particularly intriguing in grad school. In his famous work Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty uses the example of two hands touching to illustrate sensory experience:

When I press my two hands together, it is not a matter of two sensations felt together as one perceives two objects placed side by side, but an ambiguous set-up in which both hands can alternate the rĂ´les of ‘touching’ and being ‘touched.’
 Several phenomenologists (a fancy term used to designate philosophers that belong to this particular school of thought) used this example to illustrate the way in which human beings struggle to obtain a purely subjective or objective perspective. It is impossible to say, when the two hands touch, which hand touches which. The two are entangled and intertwined in such a way that the border itself becomes ambiguous. The hands sense and are sensed simultaneously. This ambiguity is of prime importance for phenomenology.

As I watched my toddler attempt to tickle her own palm (she just doesn't quite get that you can't tickle yourself), I was struck with the thought that this ambiguity extends into the realm of the domestic church - of the family.  In previous posts, my husband and I have spoken against the idea that each family member is an isolated individual, a self-sustaining unit that is simply part of a well-oiled machine that is known as a "family." In order for there to be any change in the contemporary notions of what it is to be a family, this fundamental assumption must change. A family is not simply the sum of its individual parts.

Like the example of the hands, the relation of each family member to the next is not crystal clear. Although we can certainly distinguish certain roles and tendencies for each family member, it is not clear that each exists apart from the other. In reality, the members of the family are always "touching," to use the example of the two hands. They sustain each other, conflict with each other, perhaps even repulse each other...but they are always and everywhere in relation.

The funny thing about the example of the hands is that it presupposes a human being with two hands who passes judgment on the sensory contact. The person whose hands touch each other has a strange ability to feel that movement "from inside," if you will, and pass judgement on that feeling. When you touch your hands together, you feel the pressure on each fingertip, the transfer of weight from one to another. The border is always there, though it is always ambiguous.

If only we could feel our families "from inside." We might see that we are not as isolated as we believe. So often we view a husband and wife as two unique individuals with their own individual rights, and so forth. In this view, the idea of "becoming one flesh" is simply that: a lovely idea, but not a concrete reality. If only we could feel that border between man and wife, mother and daughter, father and son, from the inside. We might see that our personal "bubbles" are only a product of self will.

Interestingly, for Catholics the prayer position is one in which the hands are intertwined. May it remind us that we do not exist for ourselves, by ourselves, or from ourselves.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mara's Musings - Honey: The Kingly Preservative

Note: We are blessed to have many friends and family members who share our fascination with Catholic traditions and their application in the domestic church. Here is the first of (hopefully) many posts from one of them, our lovely sister Mara. Check back for more of "Mara's Musings" on Mondays!

Recently, we were speaking with Mara, who is particularly fond of the honeybee, and were impressed by her ambition to someday become a beekeeper.  Honey and bees are fundamental symbols within Christianity and paganism.  Honey represents both the sweetness of life and its preservation.  The bee is the diligent warrior-worker who strives to bring sweetness into the world through community. We were excited to hear Mara talk so passionately about the subject matter and asked if she could share some of her thoughts about honey, bees, and their place in the domestic church on Forgotten Altars. 

A drop of honey catches more flies than a barrel of vinegar. ~ Old Proverb   
Honey is older than human civilization. It has been used through the centuries for ritual as well as practical purposes. For example, if you seal and store honey it will last forever because it is a natural preservative, which is why it was used to embalm dead bodies. The kings of Sparta were embalmed in honey, and Alexander the Great was laid in a golden coffin filled with white honey. Honey was also used in Egyptian coffins as well to prevent bacterial growth. It's not only fit for kings; honey has been used as a folk remedy for ages to lower a fever, ward off snake bites, relieve aches and pains and get rid of hay fever. 
Bee's Buried with Childeric

“The bee is more honored than other animals, not because it labors, but because it labors for others”  ~St. John Chrysostom     

There are many more things I could tell you about honey, and there is a wealth of information out there if you want to learn more about how to make or use it. But how does this relate to the domestic church? The most important thing for us as Catholics is the symbolism of the worker bee. The worker bees are a symbol of the religious men and women in the church. Like the worker bees we need to work unceasingly for our hive (the church), obeying our superiors and, most importantly, our Queen. We, like the bee, would scatter without our Queen. We need to be like the warrior bee as well by defending our hive, even if it means dying in the process.         

He who deals with honey will sometimes be licking his fingers. ~ Old Proverb    

That being said, part of being Catholic is also enjoying the good fruit of the earth. While doing my research I happened to run into a scripture cake. Scripture cakes date back to the colonial days. It is a riddle cake to test the cook's familiarity with the Bible. The cook is not given the list of ingredients, but has to look them up based on corresponding Scripture passages. As an example, in Samuel 14:29 it says “See how my eyes have become bright, because I tasted a little of this honey.” By reading this passage the cook knows to add honey in the amount designated in the recipe. This is a great family activity - and the results are delicious!

Scripture Cake
(Don't cheat! Look up the ingredients before you read the instructions below:)

 4 1/2 cups – 1 Kings 4:22                              
1/2 teaspoon – Leviticus 2:13
2 tablespoons- Amos 4:5                              
1/2 teaspoon- Chronicles 9:9                   
1/2 cup- Judges 5:25                              
1 1/3 cups- 1 Samuel 14:29                         
6- Jeremiah 17:11                                        
2 tablespoons- Judges 4:19
2 cups- Nahum 3:12                                      
1 1/2 cups-Numbers 17:8                          
2 cups- 1 Samuel 30:12   

Now proceed with the recipe...

 Sift together the flour, salt ,baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon each of
of cinnamon, mace, cloves, allspice, and ginger. Set aside.

Beat the butter until creamy. Stir in the honey. Then beat in the eggs,
one at a time. Add the milk. Mix well. Stir in the flour mixture.

Chop the figs. Toss them with 1 tablespoon of flour until they are
lightly coated all over. Add the figs, almonds, and raisins to the batter. Stir well.
Butter a 10 inch round pan with removable sides. Dust it with flour. Pour in the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes clean, about 2 hours. Cool completely and enjoy.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Tolkien on the Eucharist

"Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death. By the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste -or foretaste- of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires.

The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.

Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children - from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn - open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand - after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come."

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien