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

Friday, July 6, 2012

Octopus vs. Chicken: Which is More Catholic?

Much to my wife's dismay, I have always wanted a pet octopus.  In her eyes, the octopus is slimy, alien and generally creepy. To me, they are fascinating animals with unusual intelligence and distinct playfulness.  One of my favorite octopus qualities is their ferocity.  They have, for instance, been filmed taking out sharks (see clip below).  Simultaneously they have a distinct sense of humor.  Sometimes, because baby octopuses are so difficult to identify, you are "unlucky" enough to get a blue ring octopus, which has one of the most lethal venoms in the world.  Fantastic!  So for years I have been daydreaming about having an octopus.  Should I name him Houdini (they are infamous escape artists - one reportedly made it all the way down the driveway to the mailbox before expiring) or Odysseus (the octopus was the tricky hero's totem)?

The simple truth, though, is that as the King Papa (the official title bestowed upon me by my three year old) I have to make careful decisions.  All projects of the kingdom are limited by at least two precious resources: time and money.  Given these unfortunate limitations, I have no doubt that it is my distinct responsibility to pursue those projects that most distinctly contribute to the Catholic kingdom and domestic church we are building.

No problem.  Based off of what I have discussed above, is not the octopus a most Catholic beast?  Besides the fact that all animals are Catholic, the octopus possesses come of the most important Catholic characteristics.

Still, I have to admit, perhaps my wife is right. I cannot help, even in the throes of my octopus research, to think that the chicken is an even more Catholic beast.  Firstly, the chicken is also fierce.  That seems like a fundamental contradiction but it is true. You know it if you've ever had one.

The Venomous Blue Ringed Octopus

More importantly however, having chickens and investing your time and money in this direction establishes a gift-structure within the familial domain.  As the family gives the chickens food, shelter and loving care, the chicken offers eggs, meat and the experience of this mutual generosity.  It is important, I think, to focus our energy, time and resources towards projects of parallel domestic wealth.  It isn't the case that you won't learn anything from the octopus.  I grew up in a home with salt water tanks, snakes, turtles, hedgehogs, parrots, etc.  You will learn something.  But frequently, these more exotic interests (all of which are also time-consuming and frequently expensive) simply do not offer the singular sort of benefit suggested above.  These sorts of pets end up being individualistically oriented and a bit more like science projects than enriching relations.

I tend to jump near obsessively into projects, but time has to be spent carefully in the Domestic Kingdom.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

HHS Mandate, The Fourth of July - A Time of Opportunity

I cannot tell you how excited I am about the position that Catholics are being put in today... most clearly by the HHS Mandate, but also by a near endless myriad of other issues that grow more fanged and poisonous with each passing month.

The time has finally come when Catholics may begin to realize that their increasing difficulties in today's culture are not, nor have they been, in a set of issues.  Our difficulty is on the level of ideology, of philosophical foundation.  We have been blissfully unconscious of this inconvenient fact.  But now it is foisted upon us.  Increasingly, as our culture, systems and government become more and more centralized (something which is certainly not antithetical to Catholicism in and of itself), we are forced to recognize that Catholic culture is in essential discord with this current central American identity and character.  We find ourselves being placed in a constructed, ironclad system to which we can only be acid.

Burning of St. Augustine's Church in the 1844 Philadelphia Bible Riots
Certainly the Founding Fathers would not see this as a strange turn of events.  As Samuel Adams said in 1768 "I did verily believe, as I do still, that much more is to be dreaded from the growth of popery in America, than from the Stamp Act, or any other acts destructive of civil rights."  Certainly Adams was not unique in holding this attitude and this is no doubt why Catholics were banned from voting in many of the colonies.  These were honest days.

But truly, has anything changed beyond the veil?

As John Locke teaches, and as the System we find ourselves in will no doubt begin more and more to assert, Catholics can never be trusted politically by a centralized secular nation.  Why?  Because we have outside (centralized) loyalties.

1.)  We are loyal to the Pope

2.)  We are loyal to Reality (which we posit we can know- a claim in and of itself revolutionary in today's society).

The government, the founding fathers, radical liberals are not wrong to see us as potentially dangerous.  They are quite correct.  Catholicism cannot, by essence of its nature, subscribe to Social Contract theories because, ironically, these inevitably lead to the de-sacralization of the human person, not to mention human culture.

So on this Fourth of July, 2012, I only want to say thank-you.  I would like to thank Almighty Providence for allowing centuries of persecution to begin to show themselves for what they are.  I would like to thank the government for being bold enough to persecute Catholics more honestly.

On this Fourth of July, 2012, I can only kneel down and be thankful for Catholicism.  Vivat Papa!

Long Live the Pope - A Traditional Hymn
Long live the Pope his praises sound again and yet again
His rule is over space and time his throne the hearts of men
All hail the Shepherd King of Rome the theme of loving song
Let all the earth his glory sing and heav'n the strain prolong.
Let all the earth his glory sing and heav'n the strain prolong.

Beleaguered by the foes of earth beset by hosts of hell.
He guards the loyal flock of Christ a watchful sentinel
And yet amid the din and strife the clash of mace and sword
He bears alone the shepherd staff this champion of the Lord.
He bears alone the shepherd staff this champion of the Lord.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hey, Parents - Leave Those Kids At Home: Part 2

Not as easy as it looks.
A few weeks ago we posted about the importance of bringing young children to Mass. As parents of two young children, we understand that this is easier said than done. It's difficult to remember your convictions about bringing your toddler to be in the Real Presence of Christ when she's squealing, squirming, or, at worst, screaming.

There is a temptation, after a particularly stressful streak of Sunday Mass experiences, to formulate ways to compromise with these tyrannical toddlers. The line of argument may start like this: "My toddler misbehaves at Mass. I want to continue bringing her to Mass because I think it is important. Perhaps if I compromise and bring some distractions to Mass, Sundays will be more bearable for all of us..."

The compromise may go further. Let's say you decide to make a "Mass goodie bag" for your toddler, with all her favorite toys. Dora dolls, Thomas trains, princess books, dinosaurs, SpongeBob, and all the other things kids like these days. You do it with your toddler to get her all excited about Mass. You designate it as "the Mass Bag" and explain that it's just for Sundays, which are special days after all.

Let's suppose this trick actually works. You never have another outburst during the Consecration. The goodie bag has the simultaneous benefits of allowing kids to be in the Lord's presence and maintaining quiet. Problem solved. In the words of Bob the Builder, "Can We Fix It???

The problem is, Bob and friends have nothing to do with the Mass. This is where we'd like to develop our previous post a bit more. It isn't just about bringing your children to Mass. The Mass is not playtime; it is an opportunity for catechesis (really!). As a commenter pointed out last time, toddlers are at an ideal age for religious instruction. They catch on to these things more than we adults might realize. The point of bringing children to Mass is not simply to teach them to behave and sit still for an extended period of time. It is to instruct them in the Faith and introduce them to Christ and His saints.

At the same time, we also feel that parents must meet their children where they are. We're not necessarily against the "Mass bag," as long as its contents are sacred and point children to Christ. At this stage, little ones learn primarily by touching and manipulating objects. Although we've seen families with 2-year-olds who can sit through Mass with no catechetical objects, our own children do best when they have a book to look through or other appropriate object. But it is important that the items we bring to Mass are a reminder of why we are there to begin with. Fun and quiet an activity as it may be, coloring a picture of the latest Disney princess does nothing to instruct our children in the Faith. It simply distracts them from their surroundings, and the Mass becomes mere background noise to their Disney fantasy world.

That being said, finding beautiful and sacred items for toddlers and preschoolers can be a challenge. We dislike the tendency to animate the truths of the Faith with cartoons and other "toddler friendly" products (although we do have a soft spot for Tomie dePaola). Why? Because toddlers really are capable of more. Beauty is a transcendental, and its universality does not exclude children in diapers.

We thought we'd share in this post some items that we've found, and would love any suggestions from our dear readers. After all, parental support is always welcome in these matters!

Images from "The Saving Name of God the Son"
  • Board Books (for children who revel in shredding paper): The Saving Name of God the Son, My Golden Book of Saints, My First Bible Stories (dePaola), Our Guardian Angels
  • Picture books with real paper: St. George and the Dragon, The Nativity (Ruth Sanderson), A is for Altar, B is for Bible,  Saints: Lives and Illuminations (Sanderson), Lucia, Saint of Light (Hyde), The Monk Who Grew Prayer, The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica, The Weight of a Mass, My Path to Heaven
  • Prayer Books/Bibles/Saint Books: The Young People's Book of Saints, Illustrated Catechism for Little Children, Jesus, Make Me Worthy, The Cathechism In Pictures...Pretty much anything from the FSSP Publishing Company!
  • Toys/Stickers/Coloring Books: We've really been impressed with these coloring books illustrated by Katherine Sotnik. There are several other options for coloring books at AquinasAndMore. Although there are Catholic lacing cards for sale on the Internet, it would be easy to make your own with sturdy cardboard and beautiful Catholic images from Christmas cards and calendars. Speaking of calendars, the Saints and Feasts Sticker Album at the FSSP's publisher also looks really beautiful. Building a collection of holy cards is another quiet way to teach your children about the Saints and give them something to do at Mass (our daughter loves sorting her holy cards into men/women/dragon slaying saints during the homily)

If you take time to look around online, you can find beautiful Catholic books and other products that are suitable for Mass. We are of the mind that beauty is the most important factor with young children. Although proper instruction is also key, we would prefer our preschooler page through a version of the Bible with beautiful illustrations to doctrinally-correct cartoon versions. We believe that exposing children to beauty at a young age is a crucial step in catechesis.

Our children are capable of sacred beauty. They are created to enjoy it in Heaven, and we parents should give them as much of a taste of it here on Earth as we can.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Family - University, Monastery, Kingdom

Mont Saint-Michel

Everybody knows what a family is, right?  After all, we have all come from a family and we all belong to one, in some manner.  A family is "people who live together."  That, at least, is the way that we are programmed to think of family.  Of course, this has led to so many of the issues that we find in contemporary society today.  I am not especially interested in engaging in an apologetics here.  The relevant contemporary issues should be pretty obvious, however, and keep them in mind (and please feel free to comment below).

Despite the fact that the family is something distinct, primordial  and fundamentally relevant to each one of us as human persons, we really do not know what it is.  This is unsettling and startling. I think there are two reason for this lack of a straightforward definition.  First, the family is mysterious because it is so rich and deep.  An inquiry into its depths is irretrievable.  Obviously, this is good.  However, there is another reason as well: modernity has cloaked the essence of what a family has traditionally been understood to be.  It has to.  It has no choice.  It could not function otherwise.  It would perish if the familial was re-realized.  Naturally, this is also to say that the family and thinking attentively about the family is revolutionary: a revolution back to nature and truth.

This reason, by the way, is why I am not interested in addressing apologetics here.  The problem comes before contemporary issues.  Today's issues are merely symptomatic of the deeper tension.

So then, what is a family?

The family is a university.  It is more of a university, in fact, than most "universities" out there.  Indeed, it should be the family which informs the universities of today.  The family is a true whole, composed of persons who are dedicated to knowing what is True, Good and Beautiful, together as a community.  In order to celebrate our families, we must take this task seriously.  This is why it is so important that we read to our children, that we read together as spouses.  We should also take on family projects together.  Aside from ensuring that our families have a liturgical topography to their year, we should also seek to build and grow together.  We should seek to learn a language together, study music, history, art etc.  Imagine each Sunday all listening to a period of music together, moving from period to period each week, following the history of music as a family.  Each member of the family would participate in their own appropriate way: the baby would listen, the children could talk about their experience of the music and the adults could make their own suitable contributions.  Of course, you could do this with any subject.  This would not be homeschooling, per se.  This would be living a rich communal life together, regardless of the children's ages or schooling arrangements.

The family is monastic.  In the same way that the university should stem from the family, it is the structure of the  family which should (and does) inform the monastic life.  This may seem odd.  The word "monasticism" actually implies solitude, after all, a singular experience of transcendence. And yet this experience always takes community. Genuine personhood is discovered in community.  The familial structure is the most basic example of personhood realized in community. This is why the family is the best analogy, one frequently used by the Fathers of the Church, for the Trinity.  Needless to say, the family needs to pray together (I would actually stress the importance of the Liturgy of the Hours as a top priority in this regard over even the Rosary, so do both).  On a larger scope, it is the responsibility of the family to follow the contours of the liturgical year.  This is not just church business, that we celebrate and are reminded of when we go to Mass.  Our families must be saturated by the liturgy in an organic manner.  We must eat, speak, act according to this Reality.  In the Middle Ages, people contemplated how the Christian should walk...we should have this same attitude.

The family is a kingdom.  Perhaps this truth of the family is most frequently forgotten.  We live in a culture without kings.  We may even have difficulty distinguishing between king and tyrant, though they are true opposites.  Meanwhile, we have high expectations of our fathers and husbands, though our expectations are utterly undefined and vague.  Fathers and husbands, by vocation, imitate Christ the King.  They must be kingly.  Wives and Mothers are queens and are called to possess all of the strength and grace that that position entails.  The family is political.  It is the fundamental political unit.  As such, it has a political sovereignty that must be protected and a political responsibility to the rest of culture and society.

Our families are the antidote to the society in which we live.  We will never overcome the enemy or prevail in our battles that we face in this culture as individuals.  Even before ourselves, we must look to our community, which, in a radical way, begins with our families.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Review: YOUCAT

I am naturally skeptical of the tendency to divide Catholic things (liturgy, books, prayers, etc.) into youth/teen/adult categories. While I appreciate the efforts to evangelize the youth and speak to them in a language they can understand, I also think that catering certain aspects of Catholicism (most notably, the Mass) to "special populations" like teenagers may strike some teens as condescending. It may also encourage unnecessary divisions between age groups. Even more important, it's easy to compromise important traditions and aspects of the Church's rich history when we try too hard to make Catholicism "relevant," to any group.

But that's another post. I only mention this to drive home the point that I was REALLY skeptical of the YOUCAT when it first came out, not only for that reason, but also due to several critical reviews I had already read. These criticisms made three basic arguments:
  1.  The YOUCAT's pictures are inappropriate.
  2.  The YOUCAT has quotes from questionable figures like Luther and other heretics/non-Catholics.
  3. The YOUCAT is downright heretical.
Suffice it to say that I was hesitant about this new text. I really only bought it because I belong to a  Catholic women's discussion group, and it was on the reading list. I'm very glad that I belong to said discussion group (and not just because of the good company). Reading the YOUCAT has been a refreshing reintroduction to Catholic teaching. I've found it to be a clear, concise, and engaging exposition of the basic tenets of our Faith, with quotes from Catholics and non-Catholics alike to bring those tenets to life. Personally, I like reading quotes from Luther and other figures, some of whom were not even Catholic. Take this one from Peter Sellers: "The closest thing to a father confessor is probably a bartender." If reading lines "like that" from people "like that" in a work of catechesis is offensive to you, the YOUCAT might not be the best choice for spiritual reading. Personally, I like it.

"They quoted me in the YOUCAT??!!"
 That being said, I don't like everything about the YOUCAT. The photos bring back horrible memories of those "GOD LOVES YOU" religion books from third grade. And the stick figure at the bottom corner of the page is perhaps not in the best taste (although he is entertaining). On a more general level, I do wish that the YOUCAT was not strictly marketed to youth, since I think adults could benefit from reading it just as much as teens and young adults - particularly Catholic adults who are in a period of religious struggle.

I haven't read the whole thing yet, and I certainly haven't dissected every theological argument presented. However, halfway in I can say that reading the YOUCAT has been a pleasant surprise, cheesy photos aside.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Catholics Are Strange

It struck me today, as it often does, how strange we Catholics are. We honor the bones and incorrupt bodies of long-dead saints; we receive the Body and Blood of God at Mass; we have weird devotions to several of that God's physical qualities, including the shoulder wound of Christ, his five wounds, and the Sacred Heart, which is the solemnity we celebrate today. Tomorrow we honor Mary's Immaculate Heart. We Catholics simply refuse to accept the tendency to dichotomize body and soul, as their unity is the very nature of the sacramentality that saturates our world.

Of course, the origin of all this strangeness is not ourselves. This is the way God has revealed Himself. How odd that the Creator would find it important to reveal something as seemingly insignificant as the sacred nature of His heart. That God should reveal Himself in such a way is strange - and wonderful in its strangeness. That the physical heart of Christ can be a means of drawing us closer to Him is remarkable and mysterious.

Someday we hope to honor this strange devotion by enthroning the Sacred Heart in our home. This is a beautiful custom that is especially appropriate for Catholic families. You can find more information at this website.

As the wonderful folks over at New Liturgical Movement note, the tradition of honoring the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart is an ancient one. God has always revealed Himself as having a heart, even before the coming of Christ. On these great feasts, we are thankful for our religion and all its strangeness, and pray that our own hearts may "burn within us."

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Family in a Specialized Culture

Frederick Cotman; "One of the Family"
"Do not be bullied out of your common sense by the specialist; two to one, he is a pedant."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

It seems pretty evident that the family is essentially counter-cultural in today's society.  This claim, if true, does not bode well for our culture, given that the family is the microcosm of society.  We all know what happens when a body's cells are in conflict with the body as a whole.

Here is just one example of this conflict on a basic level:

Engine problems? Call the auto specialist!
"Leave it to the experts" is a common mantra these days.  Images of a man desperately attempting to check a wild spray of water from the plumbing as the wife calls the plumber with a smile on her lips  come to mind. If something needs to be fixed, you take it to a specialist.  The car is taken to the auto shop, you call the plumber for the pipes, electricians deal with wiring, accountants with your money, lawyers with your legality, H&R Block with your taxes,  and the doctor with your well-being (usually universally). You send your children to public school for just the same reason.  If a criminal attacks you, call the police.

It is dangerous to try to do things that you are not "qualified" to do.  If you don't have a license or certificate, it is commonly thought that you cannot possibly do something in a safe and legitimate manner.  This is a very common attitude. Any other is thought to be purely irresponsible.  And indeed, should you trespass into the realm of specialties (everything is a specialty) for which you do not have some sort of license you are likely to be prosecuted or at least sued.

Complicated budgeting problems? Call the finance specialist!
But what is left to the father or mother of a family?  They don't have any legitimate expertise (or, therefore, soveregnty), over their finances, children, homes, and even their own persons (think self defense).  They cannot be anything more than facilitators in allowing a constellation of specialists help generate more strong individuals (not too many, mind you). These strong individuals can go on to be contributing (specialized) members of society. Of course, more often than not, permits, licenses, diplomas and certificates do not mean a thing about their recipient.  For a small fee, you can get many certificates for a variety of specialties.

Colicky newborn? Call the baby specialist!
What's really strange is that even parents are, in a certain way, expected to be specialists in their field. When we lived overseas in a college town without many married friends, we raised our daughter the way we thought was best, without the help or opinions of "specialists." Coincidentally, our parenting "style" included all of the fundamental elements of "attachment parenting" (now made even more famous by the recent article in the "Times"), including nursing "on demand" (what a horrible way to put it), and carrying our daughter in a sling. When we found ourselves in parenting circles, we were surprised and baffled to hear comments like, "Oh, so you like the Sears method," and "Ahhhh, the AP approach!" We scratched our heads and wondered why our parenting habits were associated with department stores and writing styles. We had no idea who Dr. Sears was, but as parents, it was assumed that we "specialized" in one parenting style or another, just like all helpless parents who need experts to tell them how to raise their children. Funnily enough, these styles themselves are often developed by parenting specialists with all the papers to prove their authority, from Dr. Sears to Dr. Ferber.

Trying to shed a few? Call a fitness specialist!
Society has always had (and needed) doctors, midwives, farmers, carpenters...But are these people only permitted to dwell in the confined sphere of their studies' focus?  And are we not also able to consider our health, make decisions about health without necessarily consulting or obeying our doctor?  Do we experience life in such a compartmentalized fashion?  Specialized movements are unhealthy and bad for the human person, a carpal tunnel syndrome of the soul.  Doctors should read philosophy.  Philosophers should study biology.  They don't need to get degrees in these other fields.  They need to study them to be more truly human and live a more authentically human life, to therefore be better doctors and philosophers.  We assume that our experts will be more knowledgeable if they focus only in one area.  But stepping back, how could this be?  Life is a whole.  Besides, a piece of paper is often easy to get, but it doesn't always ensure authority.

Don'y buy that beer until you've consulted a beer specialist!!
So why are these pieces of paper so important to society?  Often enough they have nothing to do with a deep and essential knowledge, a level of experience, an authentic wisdom or a superlative insight.  It's about protection.  They are paper shields for an overly developed, grotesque, overripe legal system.

The authentic family cannot function in such a system.  If it is fulfilling its function, it naturally resists it.

Why?  Because the family is a Whole, a Microcosm. We cannot be relegated to being secretaries for our families and our selves.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Anima Christi

The Institution of the Eucharist -Painting by Joos Van Wassenhove - 1475

The Anima Christi is my favorite prayer. I remember learning a sung version of it in 4th grade when my family lived in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our parish priest told us to always pray it after receiving Holy Communion, and it became a habit that lasted until today. This prayer has brought me much consolation, both during Mass and in my everyday life. It was played at our wedding and is imprinted in my mind forever.

No one really knows the origin of the Anima Christi, although it is commonly associated with St. Ignatius of Loyola, as he references it in the Spiritual Exercises. It is thought to have originated in medieval times, perhaps around 1300 A.D. Here it is, both in the original Latin and in translation: 

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise thee
Forever and ever.

Anima Christi, sanctifica me.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Iesu, exaudi me.
Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
Ne permittas me separari a te.
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
In hora mortis meae voca me.
Et iube me venire ad te,
Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te
in saecula saeculorum.


Monday, June 4, 2012

"Hey, Parents - Leave Those Kids At Home": On Children At Mass, Part 1

"Jesus and the Children," by Lucas the Elder Cranach
There seems to be a great deal of debate as to whether parents should bring their children to Mass. We've always found this to be a surprising discussion, but it does seem to generate a great deal of dialogue.  We've encountered arguments opposed to bringing children to Mass from the pulpit and on blogs, espoused by both priests and parents.  The intensity of these attitudes vary.  Many take a defensive position and merely describe leaving youngsters at home as a viable option.  Others take on an almost dogmatic tone. Our focus, our vocation, is the domestic church and the principle reason for this blog.  We wanted to explore this issue and also provide a bit of encouragement for those weary parents who do decide to take their children to Mass.

All of the arguments against bringing young children to Mass seem to assume two basic points: 1. The children do not know what is occurring, so it is unimportant for them to be there, or  2.  Children are distracting and therefore harm the environment for others.

"Christ and the Children,"by Franck Kirchbach
We'll begin with the first argument. How could a child know what is occurring at the sacrifice of the Mass?  For the sake of argument, let's say that we are speaking of younger children, a one-year-old for instance. While it may be true that the child cannot rattle off the doctrine of transubstantiation, we would still like to say that knowing is an activity which requires development and an engagement  with the object of knowledge.  In order for the activity of knowing to be realized (especially knowledge of something like transubstantiation), the object of knowledge must become familiar and intimate. We believe that this familiarization begins much younger than the "age of reason."  My one-year-old is a blossom of potential flowering realization. Simple actions like pointing to the Eucharist and whispering Christ's name in her ear can awaken the mystery of this knowledge.

But lets put even this aside and pretend she does not know and simply does not have the faculty to know what is occurring at the mass.

So what?

What is essential is that Christ is present in the Eucharist. He is not abstractly present; He is not symbolically present. He is there, in person, actively engaging the congregation, whether they are asleep or awake, distracted or deep in prayer, married or single, young or old. He is there whether we know it or not. Even if we assume, then, that the toddler cannot understand anything about the Mass, we still hold that it is good for them to be in the Real Presence of Christ. The absolute, physical presence of God has an impact on those present. We have witnessed this effect on atheists, Protestants, fallen away Catholics, ourselves, and our babies firsthand.

Crazy medieval people
This may sound superstitious and overly simplistic to the modern mind.  If we were to meet a nice medieval Catholic, no doubt we would dismiss them as being merely superstitious. We enlightened moderns know that the medieval Catholics (as well as many modern "cultural" Catholics), were nothing but naive and superstitious, whereas our religious practice is based primarily on knowledge and intention. Images of excessive flogging and fanatical plague victims come to mind. But we wonder sometimes whether the traditional Catholic was much more invested in the things themselves then we are.  Perhaps they were much more imbued with a sense of sacramentality, something that seems alien to the non-Catholic culture in which we find ourselves. We believe that children, perhaps even more than most adults, also have this gift and ability to grasp the sacramentality of the Mass, whether or not they are able to understand it theoretically (who really can, after all?)  

The second argument folks make is that children are distracting to neighbors. In fact, not only do children distract other members of the congregation, but they also distract their weary parents who, in order to be good parents, need that quiet time at Mass. We can sympathize with this point a great deal more than with the first argument (which seems to us to be simply dishonest).  Often enough, our children are fairy tale creatures, and their ways are inevitably loud and draw attention as we desperately attempt to tame the beast.

This argument loses a lot of its validity if you cede the first point.  If you agree that Christ's true presence must have an impact on your children, then what you are really saying here is that you value the impact that the Eucharist has on adults more than on children. In this scenario, leaving the kids at home would be to sacrifice the benefit of the child's Eucharistic encounter for the greater good of an hour of quiet, calm parental meditation on the mysteries of the Mass, without having to worry about restraining the toddler and maintaining a distraction-free atmosphere in the church.

"Christ Blessing the Children," by Nicolaes Maes
 Honestly, we think this second point reeks of a particular breed of clericalism.  In this view, families are merely visitors, outsiders to the Church.  The only beneficial way to encounter Christ's Mass is the way that priests and nuns do - individually and in absolute silence and lack of distraction.  The father who argues that it is important to for him to go to mass without the distraction of his child has missed the whole point.  His child (his family) is his vocation, this means, his path to God.  His covenant with God is his marriage.  He will gain no benefit as a father  if he tries to leave his family behind and pray like a priest.  His religious path is in celebration of his family. We are meant to encounter Christ personally, always in community, and the family is a vibrant, primordial and essential dimension of this community.

For those of you who are still with us, take this as an analogy:  I have often been frustrated when I try to exercise.  My two girls lay in wait for me to get in push-up position.  One of them gets on my back, the other one likes to slide under me and hang by my neck.  How much better a Papa would I be if, instead of wrestling them off and confining them to their room, I simply loved them and got an even better work out by exercising with the challenge they provide. If I saw their presence not merely as a burden to my own progress, but as an opportunity.

There are so many more reasons to bring your children to Mass - so they can hear the Word of God and have the prayers of the Mass engraved in their hearts, learn to sing at Church, see their parents praying together (or working together to do so!). One of our happiest moments as parents was when we overheard our oldest daughter "playing Mass" in the bathtub at the age of 2. And it isn't only beneficial for children. The adults in the congregation are also surrounded by Catholic families who give witness to the domestic church. At the same time, having quiet time with the Lord is important, and parents who feel a longing for that should find a way to work it into their life, whether that is by attending Adoration for an hour every week or by going to daily Mass without the children once in a while. However, we do believe that attending Sunday Mass together is fundamental to the domestic church.

Families who make the decision to go to Mass together need to know that what they are doing is important and worthy. During our two-year stay in Belgium, where the Catholic population is anything but vibrant, we witnessed firsthand the cold and empty Mass without any children, Sunday after Sunday, and it is anything but spiritually uplifting. Belgian Catholics would come up to us after Mass like we were celebrities and thank us over and over again for bring our noisy baby to Mass. The priests would beg us to sit in the front row next time. In a time in which so many Masses are void of children in so many countries, this entire movement is immensely baffling.Yes, it is hard to bring young children to Mass. But parents who feel in their hearts that it is the right thing should be encouraged to follow that desire.

"Christ Receiving the Children," by Sebastien Bourdon
Mass will never be the same after you have children. As parents, we can either accept that or fight it. It certainly isn't easy to bring young children to Mass. We find that the most important thing is to try to place yourself in their shoes and work with them where they are. It's hard to know how much to demand of a one-year-old, and we spend many Sundays taking turns walking the back of the church. When our oldest hit the age of two, it helped to have some religious books, lacing cards, stickers, and holy cards to help her get through Mass. But in the end, there is no magic trick. In those moments of desperate pacing and social anxiety, it helps to listen to the words of Christ Himself: "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will outline some practical strategies for attending Mass with toddlers without resorting to Dora the Explorer and Bob the Builder.