Saturday, 30 June 2012

Spiritual Adoption

This week my husband and I got the inspiration to try and get a Pro-Life Holy Hour started in our parish. We basically want to get together once a month to pray before the Blessed Sacrament with music, the rosary, and some led reflections for unborn children at risk for abortion, as well as for their parents. When I shared this idea with our Parish Ministries Counsellor, she recommended I get in touch with a very involved member of our parish (who I already happen to know) who she thought could share some wisdom with us.

Long story short, this wonderful woman had lots of great wisdom. Ideas for getting our own Pro-Life Committee in our parish, and the things big and small we can do to share the message of the sanctity of Life. I have always been Pro-Life (ask my best friend growing up! Oh the debates we used to have!) and am myself the daughter of a woman who has chosen Life over her own health. When she was pregnant with me, my mother was told by her doctor that the pregnancy and particular delivery would be such a great risk, that she should abort the pregnancy. My mother refused, my father supported her whole heartedly, and around 9 months later I was born via a c-section. The doctors scrambled in teams to take care of both of us. It was touch and go for both of us. 30 years later I am pleased to say both my mother and I are in good health. By all rights I shouldn't be here, but because of my mother's courage in the face of the possibility of her own death here I am, the mother of 4 children of my own that I get to share with her. With that in mind, I have always felt called to speak up for the unborn with the courageouness of my mother's faith, witnessed to save my own life 30 years ago.

As I was speaking to the woman from our parish on the phone about ideas for the Pro-Life movement in our parish, I had my mother's faith and gift of my life to me very much on my heart. So, when my contact mentioned the idea of Spiritual Adoption to me, my heart leapt. Spiritual adoption is so simple: You choose to spiritually adopt a baby boy or girl at risk for abortion (not a baby you actually know) and for 9 months you pray a special prayer each day for your little adopted baby. When the 9 months are up, you then proceed to say a prayer of thanksgiving every day for the next 3 months. That makes up a full year of daily prayer for a child whose life hangs in the balance of someone else's choice. I have never been faced with the choice to choose between myself and my children, but I can make the choice here, today, to take totally on faith that I can give a little bit of myself every day to shower love and prayers on a baby who needs my motherly support. Another aspect is that you can name your baby. Oftentimes people who spiritually adopt a child choose to honour a family member who has passed or a favourite Saint. You can also choose when you start praying for a child to have it line up with a special birthday or holiday. The best part is that you can choose a new child every year. The woman I was speaking to on the phone has spiritually adopted 17 babies and could rattle off each of their names as easily as she could the names of her 7 birth children. While she doesn't have actual proof that her prayers have made a difference, I know she feels in her heart that each of those babies represents a real child whose mother, by the grace of God, chose Life for her child when abortion may have seemed better in the moment.

For any of you who feel called to Spiritual Adoption, here is the prayer written by Bishop Fulton Sheen:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of the unborn child that I have spiritually adopted, who is in danger of abortion.

Creamy Asparagus Soup

As we quickly approach my husband's surgery date, I'm working hard to keep this soup business exciting and delicious. This has been tough with the kids, who, although they LOVE soup, prefer thick, creamy soups. My attempt at cream of mushroom was ridiculously delicious. As in, go back and scrape the bottom of the pot for another bite. It tasted like buttery mushroom gravy soup. I kid you not! The only down side of this surprisingly gourmet soup was that my oldest son wanted nothing to do with it. He calmy sipped at the broth, while ignoring the mushrooms and meat I'd included. In retrospect I really should have blended the soup. I think the consistency would have been very pleasing and a little more like the canned soup I'm so fond of. I made a variation of this Broccoli and Three Cheese soup the other day and blended everything at the end. That soup was a huge hit! Going on the theory that creamy blended soups are easy favourites for my kids, our recipe for today is a creamy asparagus soup.

2 bunches of asparagus
8 medium potatoes
Bacon (I used bacon ends from the butcher, but you could use 8 rashers of cooked bacon, cut up)
4 cups soup stock or  broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cream (optional)

This recipe is ridiculously easy! First up I fried up my bacon ends and when they were cooked on all sides I tossed then in my crockpot with the pan drippings. Then I trimmed the ends of the asparagus and tossed off the stalky ends and then cut the asparagus into 1 inch pieces. I then peeled and diced the potatoes. After all that was in I mixed it around with my hands to make sure it was all even distributed in the pot. I added my salt and pepper and then poured the stock on top. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours. At the end you can add a cup of cream or milk to add a milky flavour, but I feel that that's not necessary. The creaminess of the soup really derives from the potatoes. When you're all done either (really really carefully!) use an immersion blender and mix it up, or do it in the small batches in your regular blender. This would taste perfect with some grated old cheddar sprinkled on top.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Novena for Expectant Families

In my group of friends, there seems to be an annual wave of babies. For the first time in almost 6 years, I am not part of that wave. As a thank you for all the prayers I have been blessed with over my four pregnancies, I had the inspiration to say a Novena for the nine days before each family's due date. After I hatched the plan, I got to the business of picking 9 different Saints (or pairs of Saints where that made sense) that I found myself drawn to and wrote out a special prayer beseeching their intercession. Each day, I will start off with an Our Father, then say the prayer for that specific day, then end with a Hail Mary and a Glory Be. I have included below the prayers that I wrote in the order in which I intend to pray them. The only prayer that I didn't write was the prayer for St. Gerard Majella, who had a beautiful one already!

1. St. Gerard Majella
O great Saint Gerard, beloved servant of Jesus Christ, perfect imitator of your meek and humble Savior, and devoted child of Mother of God, kindle within (mother's name) heart one spark of that heavenly fire of charity which glowed in your heart and made you an angel of love.

O glorious Saint Gerard, because when falsely accused of crime, you did bear, like your Divine Master, without murmur or complaint, the calumnies of wicked men, you have been raised up by God as the patron and protector of expectant mothers. Preserve (Mother’s name) from danger and from the excessive pains accompanying childbirth, and shield the child which she now carries, that it may see the light of day and receive the purifying and life-giving waters of baptism through Jesus Christ

We humbly pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.

2. St. Anne and St. Joachim
St. Anne and St. Joachim, who were chosen to raise her who was to become the Mother of God, we come to place (parents names/family’s name) under your special care. We entrust them and their unborn child to you. Look upon this growing family with the abundant love of a Grandparent and place them in the care of your Grandson, our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as you raised Mary to be a faithful woman and worthy Mother of our Lord, teach (parents names) the virtues of godly parenthood and faithful service.

We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

3. St. Joseph

St. Joseph, adoptive Father of our Saviour, guide and teach (father's name) to model his life after yours. Help him as he supports (mother's name) through her pregnancy and delivery. Just as you quietly supported Mary and Jesus through your daily devotion, let him be the foundation on which his family can always rely. May God, through your intercession, teach him how to lead his family into greater holiness by his example of prayer, devotion, and selflessness. Bless (father's name) as he prepares to welcome this child with great joy and love. Help him to always recognise that every child is a gift granted from God who we are charged to care for as dutifully as St. Joseph and Our Lady cared for the Word who became flesh before their eyes in the stable in Bethlehem.

We make this prayer through Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

4. St. Gianna Beretta Molla

St. Gianna, you gave your life for the sake of your child and became for all who hear your story a model of the sacrificing love of true parenthood. Draw (mother’s name) close to your motherly heart and whisper in her ear the wisdom of your abundant and endless love for your child. Embolden her heart to love her child without fear and to serve God through her witness of the daily love of her motherhood. Beseech our Heavenly Father, we pray, to bless (mother’s name) during this pregnancy and grant her a safe and healthy delivery.
We ask all this through Christ, who is Lord forever and ever. Amen.

5. St. Monica

St. Monica, mother of a great Saint, St. Augustine, help us to follow your example of constant motherly love and care. May God grant that the prayers we beseech for our children may, like yours, bring our precious and beloved children closer to the unending love of God. Draw this expectant mother into your heart and imbue her with the motherly virtues you lived unceasingly in your own life. Let her learn to rely fully on God in all her cares and concerns for her children throughout the years. We beseech you bring our pleas for (mother’s name) before the throne of God with the same devotion with which you prayed for your own child.
We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

6. Blessed John Paul II

Blessed John Paul II, we pray that through your intercession God will help (parents names) to teach their child about God’s love and salvation with the same fervour and humility that you did. We know you have a special care for all young people and their families, and so we entrust this young family to you, knowing you will intercede for them before our Holy Mother Mary and her Son, our Saviour.
We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

7. Blessed Zelie and Louis Martin

Blessed Zelie and Louis Martin, parents of the Little Flower, St. Therese de Lisieux, through your intercession may God grant (parents names) the patience and holiness to raise up their child(ren) to love God without reserve. Help (parents names) to follow your example of parenthood so that they may see their vocation as a married couple and as parents as an opportunity to grow closer to each other and to God. Help them to become an earthly image of Heavenly Love that their children will always desire to emulate in their own lives.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

8. Saint Elizabeth

St. Elizabeth, who against all odds became pregnant with a son in  your old age, John the Baptist, we beseech you to intercede on behalf of (mother's name). May her child, like your son, know from within the womb God's love and presence and once born become a messenger of God's Salvation. Fill (mother's name) with faith in God's Providence and trust in God's Will as she comes closer to meeting her new baby, now resting safely in her womb.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

9. Our Lady

O Mary, who was born to be the living tabernacle of our Lord's flesh, give (mother’s name) the desire to grow in the virtues of the motherhood you demonstrated so perfectly for us. Sweet Mother, who was chosen as the earthen vessel into which God poured His Divinity and became Man, aid (mother's name) to repeat your “Yes” as she accepts her call to motherhood. Help her to imitate your quiet devotion as she works every day to protect and grow the life growing within her womb. Mother most dear, we give (mother’s name) unto your care, trusting you will draw her up into your arms and lay all her cares before your Beloved Son.
We ask for your intercession in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Home made Cream of Mushroom Soup

Today my husband had his pre-op appointment for his surgery on July the 3rd. Because of his gastroparesis (aka paralysis of the stomach that means he can't digest food pretty much at all), the anaesthesiologist is concerned there may still be food left in his stomach on surgery day. They plan on giving him a general anaesthetic, which is dangerous if the person has any food in the stomach as they could aspirate it and silently choke to death. Cue my freaking out, wringing my hands, and general distress. On the advice of the staff at the hospital, we've evolved a plan to help him get adequate nutrition without having to live off drink supplements. It involves soup. Lots of soups. Delicious, home made soup. I've got a fairly good arsenal of soups at hand, but wanted to try something new. This afternoon I threw together this soup from scratch, based partially off a mushroom recipe that I fell in love with last week. Here's the run down:

1 container of fresh mushrooms (I used cremini because they're so creamy)
2 cups stock/broth (chicken, beef or vegetable)
2 cups milk or heavy cream
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons corn starch
Spices to taste (sage is nice as its earthiness pairs well with the mushrooms. I like basil as it adds a touch of sweetness)

This is so easy it's ridiculous. Melt your butter in a stock pot and then fry your mushroom up with some salt and pepper. Once the mushrooms are golden brown add in stock. In a separate container mix in one cup of milk with the corn starch and shake until the corn starch is completely absorbed. Stir that and the remaining milk into your pot. Take a taste of your soup to get a sense of how the spices are. Turn temperature down to medium low and let simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring every so often. When done, serve with some crusty bread. If you want you can also add in some bacon or ground meat to add extra protein to this meal.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Across the Divide

Tonight I had the great pleasure of attending a screening of the Salt and Light movie called Across the Divide. I can't say enough to really summarise it (you really ought to see it if you can), but it features the students and staff of Bethlehem University and its unique place in the middle of the conflict between Palestine and Israel. This documentary was educational, inspiring, and difficult. At the end of the documentary, as well as the discussion panel that followed, I was left with one overwhelming thought: The conflict in the Middle East will not be resolved by some sort of deus ex machina like in a play, it will be resolved by educating the youth and raising them up to be the leaders of their generation who have a thirst for peace.

During the question period, a woman asked what exactly the makers of the movie were doing to help resolve the conflict. The truth of the matter is that as a Church we can speak of peace ad justice, but we can't bring the people who really need to hear our message to the table. We also can't become another side in the conflict, waging a war with guns, bombs, and foot soldiers. Even if we had the manpower, the resources, and the skill to win a physical war, we as a Church are not called to that mission. As Jesus was in the garden about to be taken away to be tried and eventually crucified, Peter struck one of the soldiers with his sword. Rather than encouraging Peter to fight bravely for his faith by any means necessary, Jesus rebuked him and said that those who live by the sword die by the sword. Jesus didn't come to be a warrior, He came to be the Prince of Peace, and peace isn't found at the end of a sword.

As we read back through the Scriptures, we read of the longing for the Messiah, who will come and free God's people from slavery and oppression. It's understandable that over the ages the image of the Messiah became one of a warrior: Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Joshua and the Army bringing down the walls of Jericho, David and Goliath, and the list goes on... Our God is a God of action. He's changing regimes, taking down walls, freeing slaves. So then Jesus comes on the scene. Contrary to all expectations, He's not going to lead the Zealots to take out the Romans. At best He turns over the tables at the Temple and curses a fig tree. When questioned about paying taxes, He says to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. Insofar as a political, warrior Messiah is concerned, Jesus is an outright disappointment.

The truth of the matter is that Jesus didn't come to fix the complex political situation of the time. That isn't to say that He didn't come to wage a war, because He did. He came to wage a war within our own hearts and minds. He is fighting to change us, to make us more like Him, so that we can be His hands and feet to the rest of the world. In that light, we can look at the work of Bethlehem University as an essential work for peace in the Middle East. You might wonder how a University in the midst of so much turmoil can be an agent for peace. I think the most impressive aspect of this University's curriculum is that they require all of the student population, (which is 2/3rds Muslim and 1/3rd Christian) to take a course together on both the Christian and Muslim faiths as taught by a priest and an imam. In that setting both the Muslim and the Christian students get to learn, without propaganda or misunderstandings bred by lack of understanding, the fundamental aspects of each other's faith traditions. That knowledge, as well as the friendships they develop, makes it possible to remove the "us and them" mentality that is essential to any conflict.

One student at a time Bethlehem University is helping to raise up a new generation of young people armed with the understanding that the peace is possible. While they watch their leaders struggle, they have the memory of the peace that they lived on their campus. War found its way to their doorstep and beyond. There are holes in the walls of one of their buildings from direct missile hits. But within the minds of the students who learned alongside each other, the University is at its heart an oasis of peace. Just like Christ, they will overturn a few tables, but at the end of the day it will be their voices speaking an authentic message of peace and true justice that I hope will spread as they stand up to become the leaders of their generation. It may be hard to see the holiness in the Holy Land these days, but the Prince of Peace became flesh in Bethlehem, and out of the University founded in that Ancient town can come peace that will still speak to our hearts and minds today, as it is entrusted to these young people.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Raising Saints

I wrote a post a little while ago about the growing faith of my three oldest children. Knowing that they're our kids, my husband and I are rarely shocked by the sweet and faithful kids our things say. The truth of the matter is that their lives are deeply soaked in the stories of their faith, and everyday problems and duties are framed in light of service. (Or at least we're trying). Even now, the three oldest kids are watching the biographical film Therese, about one of my favourite Saints, St. Therese de Lisieux. They haven't yet asked to watch any of their other favourites, mostly from the Disney catalogue. My oldest daughter is especially in love with this movie, and keeps putting blankets on her head like a veil. The life of her faith, and that of her younger brothers, is growing before my eyes. We've started going to daily mass as we can, and I see through my own struggle to keep 4 little ones even mildly calm that somehow, some of this is getting through the fog of princesses and cowboys to have a firm place in their hearts.
This weekend was the first time my Dad was the Deacon at our regular Mass. He was ordained to the diaconate on the 8th at our Basilica, and even though it was a day of great spiritual joy, the Mass was later in the evening and the kids were tired and very cranky. A few days after his ordination, my eldest son was having a rough night, so I came in and cuddled with him in his bed for a few minutes in hopes of helping him relax. He and I got to talking, and something we ended up talking about Heaven. He really liked this idea and wanted to know what Heaven was. I told him that it was the place where we go when we die so we can be with Jesus. We talked about the fact that the people we loved who had died were in Heaven with Jesus. When I asked him what he thought Heaven was like, part of me expected him to say that it was like being on the playground all day or something sweet and childlike. To my surprise, he said: "Like Church for Poppi's ordination. (A pretty big word for a 3 year old!) We would have Jesus and our family. We would be happy. And we would eat cake and I would smile." This really warmed my heart. Of all the kids, he had been the wildest during the ordination, but through all his tiredness and crankiness, he had seen our time at the "big church" as something special, beautiful, and worth experiencing again. It was wonderful to see too that he felt Jesus was an important part of his Poppi's ordination.

Fast forward to this past weekend, we're sitting together, all in a good mood (shocking I know), attending my Dad's first Mass as a Deacon at our regular Sunday morning Mass. Even though I knew they didn't quite understand what Poppi was up to in the Sanctuary in that big green cape (aka dalmatic, haha), their eyes were on all the action more than ever before. While they were preparing the wine and bread to be consecrated, our oldest girl was watching intently. She turned and asked me what her Poppi was doing. I did my best to explain that he was helping prepare the wine and bread so that God could make it into his Body and Blood. She nodded sagely, noting that when Jesus was crucified he bled and it was sad. A few moments later, when the priest elevated the cup and recalled the words of Christ that before us was His blood given for us and our salvation, my sweet little 4 year old daughter turned to me in all earnestness and whispered: "Mommy, look at the cross. Look how Jesus is bleeding into the cup!" She then turned and stared intensely at the crucifix at the back of Sanctuary, which from her perspective was right above the uplifted chalice. I felt a shiver go through my whole body  and tears spring to my eyes. I wished in that moment I could see so clearly what she was seeing, that my faith was as innocent and fearless as hers. I know that if I saw what it was she was seeing, I might be nervous to share it with anyone, but with her childlike faith, she assumed this was normal, and needed to be shared. The rest of the Mass went on as normal, which its share of giggling, pushing, smiles and tears, but I was struck by the depth of her words. Even now I'm still in shock at what she said.

I know as my children get older, they faith will grow in some ways, and possibly wither in other ways. They will be taught by others to suppress their innocent belief in favour of greater understanding. In some ways, it will be wonderful to watch them grow in knowledge about the facts of their faith, but I pray that they will be the lucky ones who will be able to maintain their complete trust, innocence, and vision.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Natural Family (Un)Planning

Let me start his off by saying that I love Natural Family Planning, or NFP. Many of my friends are complete pros at using it, and I find myself in awe of their faith in action. That being said, I must confess we're not exactly the best with NFP. We've done the reading and figured out the rudimentary facts of how it works. I have been able to look at it objectively and see that it is a wonderful, natural and intelligent way of looking at the gift of our fertility. Subjectively, however, I just don't feel that it's right for our family. From before we got married, my husband and I have always felt moved to simply let things come as they will. Any attempt to plan has always led us into great spiritual frustration, which is fruitless for ourselves and our family as a whole. When we have simply lived our lives according to the daily movements of our spirits, we have felt closer to God and to each other. I believe that God inspired the good people who worked out the science of NFP for the sake of His people. He created each of us, and so I trust that He has a plan for each of our families in how we should approach our fertility.  In my heart of hearts, I believe that when He created my husband and I, He created us knowing we would be happier following the voice of our spirits instead of the signs of NFP.

I know that I will accept whatever God gives me. I know that this is the same for my friends who use NFP. Let me clarify that we're not going to go above and beyond to try to conceive 100 children or whatnot. Thus comes our ideology of Natural Family UnPlanning (which I will not abbreviate, as it doesn't have the same clean sounding name as NFP). Even that's a bit of a misnomer. I realise that while I may not be trying to plan my family according to my means, circumstances, and the calling in my hearts, I am depending entirely that God has a plan for our family which He is revealing as we continue on. I guess the difference is that we're completely handing over the control over the scheduling to God. A great example is that right now as we speak, I, for the first time since the 2nd month of our married life, am not pregnant. My body needed a break, and our growing family needed extra attention, so God has worked in His plan that I won't be pregnant for now. This means that, as my husband is suffering with some medical issues, I have been able to devote my love and energy on him without shortchanging our kids. If I was pregnant right now, I would, knowing my history of pregnancy, be overly tired and cranky (okay, I'm still be cranky) and probably increasing in width as I decreased in my ability to do the physical tasks needed to help him cope with these medical issues. God has blessed me with a lack of fertility right now. If He chooses to bless me with fertility later, I will embrace it, and any children that come from that.

As I went in to tuck my little monsters in to bed when I got home from grocery shopping, I was struck by the immensity of God's blessings. If we had used NFP to observe our fertility, I wonder if we would have each of them. The only time we actively tried to have a baby was with our first child, and that was because we felt so strongly called to have her at the time. After her birth we researched NFP, but dropped our books in favour of simply allowing whatever would happen to happen. With 4 little miracles in our 6 years of marriage, I feel that we made the right choice to trust our fertility to God in this way. He took our simple offering and, as He does with all things, has made something greater than we could have imagined. He made us a family. A big, noisy, very messy, blessed family. I have never, not even once, regretted any one of them, even when they're acting insane and I'm feeling like I'm the ringmaster of a three-ring (or is that a 4-ring?) circus gone awry. I'm left at the end of each day exhausted, a little relieved, and a whole lot of thankful for each of them (even the one who has recently taken to biting. Ouch!).

When we were Franciscans, our Superior taught us that the greatest calling of spiritual poverty was to be able to trust entirely in Providence. I guess a part of us never let go of that little lesson, tucked into every homily, every formation day, and every chat we had with him. We've never had to go begging on the street like our holy brothers and sisters, but God has made us the benefactors of His great and continuous Charity through the hands and hearts of so many friends, family and even strangers. Our children have always had a roof over their heads, we've always had transportation, and we've never lacked for food. While we may lack patience some days (and often are at the bare acceptable minimum of clean socks), we always have an overflowing store of love in such abundance that I can easily imagine God doubling our family and still having more. So long as we're called to live this way, I know we will continue to rest entirely on God's mercy, trusting as always that His plan for us is for our good.