Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Pope Benedict & Motherhood

I realize that putting a celibate man's name next to the word motherhood might seem a little dissonant at first, but hear me out. Watching the way Benedict is ending his reign as Pope has left me reflecting on the idea of vocations. At the end of the day, all vocations are the same at their core, they just have different outward expresses and challenges. For all of us, be we married, single, priests, religious, or even the Pope himself, our vocation is the deepest expression of our love for God lived out in the manner God has called us to live that love. Each vocation gives us opportunities for service, but comes with its own challenges. Each vocation requires us to give up some worldly kind of freedom for the sake of deep spiritual and emotional rewards. Each vocation within a specific outward vocation has its own nuances. Some priests are called to be Pastors, some teachers, others Bishops or even Pope, just to name a few. Even in the vocation of marriage there are connected vocations, such as whether we work or stay home, are blessed with children or not, etc. Although our specific vocations may differ, we have so much to learn from each other in how we deal with our challenges and flourish in our joys.

So as I sat, children all around me at a soul crushing 5:45am listening to the Pope share his final words of wisdom, I struggled to hear in his words some hope and guidance. My youngest daughter, who was the reason all the other kids were awake at that unseemly hour, was screeching in her exhausted rage as I leaned forward, feeling urgently the need to be part of this historical moment, but also to absorb as much parting wisdom from our dear Pope as I could. While I may have missed the bulk of what he said (and thank God for the modern age of the internet, I was able to read it later), what I did catch gave me a glimmer of hope in the midst of the child drama.

At times in our vocation, God is going to call us, invite us to cast our nets into the deep, to do something we believe so totally beyond our ability that we shrink in fear. As you may know, Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, was very reluctant to accept his election to the Papacy. He is a quiet man, very private, who was for many years before John Paul II passed away trying to retire, but JPII wouldn't accept his resignation. God had a plan bigger for him that he sought out or expected. In the end, the universal Church is now giving thanks for nearly 8 years of devoted service, not to mention a lifetime of service before that. We give thanks for his always saying "Yes", even when his own inclinations would have lead him to retreat many years before he became our Peter.

So how does this relate to motherhood, or specifically my motherhood? It starts with my initial belief of what my vocation was. I had been for many years sure that God was calling me to the desert, to the quiet devotion of religious life, even a cloistered religious life. I found that life so incredibly attractive, especially when I could pair it with my love of reading and theological studies. But God had a different plan. First He brought me a husband (just in time might I add), a man who respects my love of a simpler life, makes way for me to continue my intellectual pursuits, and supports me entirely in my desire to serve in the Church in whatever capacity I'm able. God took my expectations of how I would use my gifts, and turned them on their ear. Then He gave us a child, then children, then lots of children. I have always loved children, but the idea of my being a mother was laughable to me. I was sure even as a teen that while I had an infinite capacity for love, I am not so great with all the details necessary to keep a tiny baby alive, and then nurture that person into adulthood. But here I am, with my fifth baby on the way. There are still days when I'm overwhelmed and the worry of how I'm going to be who these wonderful little people need me to be. At every step on my journey, I've had moments where I've looked to the Lord and said "Okay, enough Lord! Please, don't ask any more. This is harder than I thought", but at each moment God asked a little more, and gave me what I needed to manage this new challenge.

Watching Pope Benedict give his final catechises to the crowd, now at the end of his worldly vocation, going off to the desert of cloistered life I'd once craved, I saw a man who had given everything to God. He never held himself back, not even when his health and will were failing in the face of demands greater than he believed he could endure. But he survived it all. He has come through at the end, visible proof that while God may take us and challenge us, stretch us, and even bend us when we make ourselves pliable to His will, He will never break us. Our God is so gentle with us, giving us everything we need to find fulfilment and joy in the face of challenges that we think are greater than we can manage. If we fall upon the mercy of God and strive to have a deep relationship of prayer always as our guide and foundation, we will find daily reward in our vocation.

So I add to my heavy list of thanks for our dear Pope for one more day: Thank you, Pope Benedict, for reminding me that even when I'm afraid, I can always trust my life to God, knowing that He will carry me through the challenges. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your faith. Thank you for loving us.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Community for Children

I grew up going to a Church that had a crying room. I have more than a few memories of my parents sneaking us to the little side room that was supposed to be sound proof, but really only dulled our screams a little. With the large glass window separating us from the congregation, anyone who was so inclined could still see my two older brothers brawling (because I was clearly perfect, the trip to the crying room rarely had anything to do with me) while my Mother's face did a fairly good impersonation of a teapot coming to a boil. Looking back, I'm pretty impressed my parents kept bringing us to Church. The crying room at my Church also had a little box of toys, which seemed a helpful tool to distract the toddler crowd, but when you had more than one little kid in the room, caused Mass to become the scene of an impromptu playdate, arguing over toys included.

When we got married and had our first child, one of the things we looked for in a Church was somewhere with a crying room, because I didn't like the idea of our baby disturbing anyone else's prayerful experience of Mass. So we tucked ourselves into the crying room every time she so much as squawked, making the awkward and I'm sure disruptive trek to the back with our overstuffed diaper bag, stroller and big carseat. (I laugh at all the gear I brought to Mass in retrospect. Nowadays I bring my diminutive purse with one solitary cloth prefold and a facecloth). I was still fighting my way through breastfeeding, so I liked the added protection of a separate room while I struggled with getting her to latch under a big heavy blanket (I had yet to discover nursing covers). The crying room was my own security blanket that I held on to, even later one when she was bottle fed and was very calm through the hour or so of Mass. I remember so clearly that one day as my husband and I left Mass, we realized that neither of us had heard the readings or the homily, and had only been a part of the congregation itself when we lined up to receive the Eucharist. The crying room had made it easy to let our attention wander, to get distracted by the goings on of all the other families (for better or for worse) and I for one had taken to chatting with the other frazzled mothers finding refuge in the crying room with us. We had created our own little community in the crying room, but it was nothing more than a playgroup. We had lost the point of why we were at Mass in the first place.

As we wandered from Church to Church after that, we found ourselves gradually edging our way into the community. If a Church didn't have a crying room, we'd sit at the very back so we could make a quick escape if one of the kids started acting wild. As our kids started getting used to the rhythm of Mass, which by the way got easier when the newest babies were right in the community from day one (well, day two, we had to be released from the hospital first), we starting slowly picking our pew further towards the front. When we joined our new parish community, we spent a few Masses at the back before we took the bold move to sit in one of the front pews (still conveniently located by the door to the hallway where the bathrooms are, because potty training waits for no one). At first it was hair raising for my husband and I. I couldn't help but feel like everyone was watching, and was very aware of the echo each little squeal from our kids made. Turns out, those watching eyes weren't judging. They were smiling with joy. Who doesn't love seeing a young family at Mass? And as for the noise, it turns out that even if everyone could hear the random things my kids would shout, the worst we'd get would be a chuckle from a parent who had graduated from this stage of parenthood.

As the months have passed, other families have started to sit around us, with their toddlers and babies. To some extent I think there's safety in numbers. When a kid loses their cool, there are so many of them in our part of the Church that no one besides us can tell who it is. Unlike the little community we made in the crying room almost 5 years ago, we are all sitting together trying to enjoy Mass, singing our hearts out, pointing our children to the action on the altar, and growing in faith together. Sure, there are times when the kids are goofing at each other or all the babies (and a few toddlers) start crying all at once, but instead of running away from the community of the Mass, we have solidarity as our kids become their own choir. We exchange our desperate looks, soothe them, soothe each other, and get back to the business of loving Jesus and giving that witness of love and devotion to our kids. Our kids are part of the community as much as we are, and while they may never remember when they joined the community, I pray they'll always feel safe and secure that they belong and that they are wanted. I know as a parent I've come a long way to realize that the kids weren't bothering anyone, and that we don't need to separate ourselves from the community, and that doing that was a disservice to us as parents, our children, and the great community who love seeing kids at Mass too. After all, Jesus said "let the little children come", He didn't say they had to be quiet once they got there, or that if they cried they should be put to the side in a little windowed room. He just say, let them come. The great commandment for us as parents is to bring them to Jesus and then teach them to love Him.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Baby 5: Week 28

How Far Along: 28 Weeks (12 weeks to go!)

How I'm Feeling: Dare I to say that I'm actually feeling a bit better. I have a little hanging on of a cold, but compared to last week I'm pretty pleased. The kids are all feeling better except for baby girl, but she had her 18 month needles on Friday so most of that is just normal immune reactions. I was able to be up enough to cook supper for a nice big crowd on Saturday to celebrate biggest boy's upcoming 4th birthday. I was completely wiped by the end, but the fact that I made it through all the cleaning and prep, the cooking, and still enjoyed the party is a good sign I'm on the mend. Despite the weird health I've been having cold and flu wise, I'm excited to say I have once again passed the gestational diabetes test and even, and this is the real shocker, have excellent blood iron levels. Baby is measuring one week ahead, which has been the norm for now 5 pregnancies as I have quite a tall uterus tucked into my long waist. His heartbeat is also nice and strong, and he's kicking day and night. All in all we're  both very healthy!

What I'm Thinking: My mind is on when our oldest boy arrived on the scene 4 years ago this Thursday. I remember how joyful and stress free his birth was, even though there was a huge snow storm coming and our oldest girl, who I missed terribly, was at home. Labour went swiftly and smoothly, and we were out by the next day. It was the day that I became the mother of a boy. The finest proof of that was that a mere hour after he was born he and his Dad watched their first hockey game together on a TV the nurse wheeled right into our delivery room. For my American friends, this is what passes as the highest care in Canada: Baby's born in a stress free environment, watching the Leafs win in your delivery room, followed by an early check-out to beat the inevitable snow fall. Everybody wins. I can only hope that this new baby, our third boy, will be lucky enough to have such an easy entry into our world.

What I Hope To Do Next Week: This week is biggest boy's birthday, so I suspect I'll spend most of the week getting ready for his big day. We'll also be bidding farewell to our Pope, and begin the agonising wait to see who is elected. Baby wise, I'm going to finish prepping his tiny diapers and washing up some baby clothes. I also have my bag to pack. Only 12 weeks to go!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Selling the Faith

So often as a Church we find ourselves struggling to figure out how to engage the people and either keep them or bring them back to Church. Everyone has an idea of how to modernize, tweak, or dress up our faith to make it more attractive. I heard on a radio show yesterday that an older man was even suggesting we abolish the Sacrament of Reconciliation as it was pushing the teenagers away. For those who have watched their congregation sizes gradually diminishing, it doesn't seem so far fetched that whatever we did to scare people away can be reversed, before we've disappeared entirely. And if we can't even get them in our pews, how are we going to sell them on the idea of vocations to priesthood and religious life?

I think the problem starts with the fact that the actual premise of why our numbers are dwindling is flawed. The idea that suddenly what had been doing before was not working because after nearly two thousand years we weren't hip or modern enough doesn't quite cut it. The reality of the matter is that the numbers in the pews of all ages started to drop when our society quietly shifted from an overtly Christian culture to something unmistakably more secular. Sure, there are some relics leftover to remind us of the sway Christianity once held on our nation, but they are there more for historical significance than spiritual feeling. Our pews, and in fact entire Churches, emptied out not with the young, but with their parents. Their parents had already lost the faith (or never had it) long before they forgot to bother to give Church a try. If these kids have been in Church, it was to get a few Sacraments and even then often out of habit because that's what one does. The Church itself hasn't changed, it's the culture that changed around us. The real problem is that for too long the Church has been happy to rely on the culture to fill our pews and to give Sacraments out realizing that many of these past two generations may never return for weekly Mass after they've got what they wanted from us.

So what should we do? Should we revolutionize our Church? Play pop music during Mass, let priests marry, ordain women priests, tell our nuns and monks to ditch their habits, change our tune on issues of sexual morality from artificial birth control, to premarital sex, to abortion, and follow the current movement of culture to become more relevant? That seems to be the siren call of some from within the Church and also from those who stand on the outside. After all, if practically all the other mainstream denominations have given up the ghost (and dare I say the Holy Spirit) on these issues, why shouldn't we? We clearly can't be complacent anymore, but the question remains as to what's the best action. In our think outside the box culture, changes of this nature seem the obvious choice from the outside, but if we look at our sister denominations, I think it's easy to see that all these changes, while temporarily very popular, aren't bringing sustainable growth. Those other denominations are struggling to stay relevant to the culture, but are still facing the same problems of dwindling numbers.

Change to match a culture so clearly at odds with our faith simply isn't worth it. In my view, too much would be lost for too little gain. It's still clear to me that there is some change needed, and it starts with Christ. Christianity is not a product to be packaged and sold to the masses. When we treat it like the next best thing that can be modified to make it more attractive, we see quickly that people will come through our doors, but won't stay for long. Christianity is not meant to be consumed, it is meant to consume us. Our faith is meant to be a life-changing gift. If we try to bend and stretch Christianity to suit us, like a branch, it will bend for so long and then snap, leaving us broken and bruised with no real truth and comfort to rely on. We need to stop being so busy trying to change Christ and His Gospel, and start letting Him change us. Once we're changed, our faith will shine out of us in a way that will make us a magnet to those living in darkness.

So perhaps the radical thing needed is not to change in all things but name, but to embrace the true core of Christianity: to be a follower of Christ. I'm not talking about superficial adherence to custom and blind acceptance of doctrine. I'm talking about passionate love for our Saviour, and a thirst to know everything we can about the faith and richness of tradition He has given to us through the Church. Souls aren't saved by the habit of attendance, they're saved by truly embracing Christ and falling so in love with Him that coming to the community of Church is the pinnacle of the week (or day). We can't sit idly by with our cool respect for our few passionate members. It's time for us to become a community of true Saints, striving in our weakness to give everything to God. If our faith and lives become authentic, then our faith will attract people. If we love our Church community, then when we invite people we can do so knowing that we aren't trying to yoke them with a heavy burden, but inviting them to accept a gift beyond compare. That's the kind of relevance we should be seeking, a relevance that speaks to hearts and minds, not to an increasingly alien culture.

Monday, 18 February 2013

My Conversion Story

I think it's fair to say every Christian has a conversion story. There are big conversions like Jen Fulwiller from Conversion Diary, who through long and patient journey moved from atheism all the way to being a Roman Catholic. Inspiring stuff that. There's other quieter stories of conversion we didn't know were happening until we look back and see a long line of little changes in our heart. Then somewhere in the middle there's me. People love hearing elements of my journey, what with the nunnery, marrying the former monk, and the having of many babies. That's all lovely to share, and seriously I will talk your ear off if you bring it up (you have been warned folks). But that's not really how it all started. This part of my life is the result of a few small choices and one big trip that changed everything for me. I've mentioned it in the past, but I felt it was finally time to tell more about my conversion.

To do that we have to start a ways back. My parents were and are good, Church-going folk. Regular attendees and devoted participants in whatever ministry they could manage over the years. By habit more than by force of desire, I grew up a well-educated, passionate young woman for whom attendance and participation in my Church community was as natural as breathing. I passed seamlessly from Baptism to First Communion to Confirmation (notice I skipped Reconciliation, I actually didn't receive that particular sacrament until I was in my late teens!). I gave the Church my time and passion, as I had the utmost respect for the morals and ethics I heard preached from the altar. I had a near encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, Catholic doctrine, and the Saints. But for my wannabe-Thomistic ways, I had none of the love or faith to make that knowledge useful.

When my Confirmation came about, we were required to do "service" work in our community, and having a love of music, I joyfully joined the choir, fitting in nicely with the all-ages crowd. As I rounded out my first year of service, my choir director let me know about a Church Choir camp. If only to have something to do and to learn some new music, I decided to go for it. Again, participation was one of my strong points. I had seldom had the classic camp experience, y'know, where you have a great time, eat food of variable quality due to its quantity, and then cried as I bid farewell to my new friends for life (which is actually true, I am still close friends with many of them!). I was confused and touched by the somewhat counter-cultural experience of faith I witnessed amongst many of my fellow campers. Kids my own age weren't talking about liturgical correctness and what songs were in the new hymnal (although I guess that would've been weird), they were talking about Jesus and their desire to give themselves to God. They prayed the rosary with our Bishop when he visited with joy and affection for Mary. I had arrived, rosary in hand, with no sweet clue as to how to use it except as a wall decoration (and once, as a necklace, which was quickly rebuked by my Father). The kids seemed to be living in a different world than me, and they were happy about it. Even though I had developed deep friendships with many of them, I felt like I had lost the plot. They were talking all about World Youth Day (what the heck is that I wondered?) and how they were busy fundraising and planning. I came home from camp for the first time aware that I had clearly missed some important piece in the puzzle for what Church was meant to be. So when the notice came out inviting more young people to sign up for a pilgrimage for World Youth Day in 2000 I decided to give it a try. It certainly didn't hurt that it was in Rome, which was on my short list of must see cities. So I started my small fundraising efforts with a tourist's intentions and the seed of curiosity planted in my heart at camp that year.

Suffice it to say my efforts to fundraise were half-hearted. How was I going to raise $5000 all on my own? No one else in my parish was going so I was going to have to be creative. Let's say I wasn't. I was pretty lazy to be honest. The trip sounded fun, but did I want to be stuck on a plane with a bunch of Jesus Freaks? I met a few of them in our preparation and while I liked them, I was again confused and a little put off by how much they talked about Jesus and seemed to worship the Pope. Seriously, why get so excited about an old man who already was having problems talking? Ugh. I was happy to let the fundraising slide and have that be my out. The curiosity from my summer camp had faded in the face of the day to day life of high school. So when I got hit by a car on my 16th birthday and survived with barely a scratch and was then awarded a settlement (against my will as I had no desire to sue the sweet man who accidentally hit me) that was just enough to pay for the trip, I had lost my out. The realization that I almost died fuelled my desire to live out a few of my dreams lest fate came back to finish me off. Sounds silly all these years later, but it was definitely part of my thought process.

So I left my small city for the impossible heat and crushing crowds of Rome with 81 other pilgrims (including a handful of priests and our Bishop) to meet the universal Church face to face. Culture shock doesn't even begin to describe my experience, and I'm not talking about Italy (although c'mon, who doesn't love all things Italian??). Everywhere I went there were roaming crowds of excited chanting young Catholics praising Jesus. In subway cars that made sardine cans look inviting, besides cute panini carts (I can still taste it now!), in the massive lines for the Coliseum, and, so it felt, around every street corner. None was more startling to me than when I met these enthusiastic young people completely silenced in the face of the Eucharist. My fake it 'til you make it Catholicism felt suddenly so empty in the face of their authentic and unencumbered devotion. I could play the part next to them, but I was so afraid of being caught in the lie that my faith was nothing more than the expression of custom and learning outside the context of real caring. I did my best to fit in while giving myself over to living behind the lens of my camera, photographing every building and Church we walked by like a good little photojournalist, with not an ounce of passion for much more than the architecture. I recall getting pretty upset on more than one occasion at a young priest who was in our group who kept taking pictures of me along our travels. I wasn't really part of this group of people. Sure, I'd love to feel the way they all did, but I didn't belong with them because I didn't really believe what they believed. Why document the little vacuum I was feeling with all those pictures and video? (I'm glad he did now of course!)

One of the turning points for me came when one of my new friends, a young man whose cabin was across from mine (he shared his with our photographer priest, another newly minted priest, and another young man), teased me for only taking pictures of places and not people, and especially not myself. He called me to account on the fact that I was willfully separating myself from the action around me, willfully denying that I could be part of the group. I doubt he even knew what that little comment meant in the moment. I had been playing my part well, saying all the right words, but I had held myself back from seeing the possibility of my life as one of these faithful young people. It took a little more coaxing, but one night without much fanfare, as I layed on the cabin's deck in my sleeping bag listening to the new (or dare I say baby?) priest snoring his way through the night, I gave in. I had a quiet chat with God, this stranger who had been persistently knocking at the door of my heart my whole life, but never more than that week. I told Him that if He wanted, He could have my life. That I wanted to have the faith that the people all around me had. That if He gave me even an ounce of their faith, I would hold on to it so tight nothing could take it from it. There was no lightning bolt, no burning bush, just a quiet whisper in my heart. God didn't need to say Yes to me, He'd said that before there was time. He was waiting for me to let Him in, and then gently at first, and then more and more as time went on, God came into my heart. I woke up the next day still confused, but a little more open.

By the time our pilgrimage was over, I had actually been given a pilgrim's heart. I left with a deep sense that God had a plan for my life and began on the long path to figure out what that was. As time went on and I sought to deepen my relationship with Christ, I am so grateful I have always had the backdrop of the Church to encourage and guide me. Every conversion I've had, and I've had so many over the years, has been joyfully in the arms of the Church, through the loving hands of the community God surrounds me with. God continues every day to seek out my empty places, and to fill them with His abundant love, through the grace of the Sacraments given me whenever I seek them out. If it weren't for the community of believers I met first at camp, then at WYD, then again through the Challenge retreats, the Franciscans, and now through my parish, I would never have opened my heart to Christ, and then continued to break open the door in my heart wider and wider.

Community in the Body of Christ

As we move forward in the Evangelization and Re-Evangelization of all people, part of the focus has been to change the focus of our Church's activities from filling an hour (or less) to fulfilling the hunger of the soul. For too long we have depended on a Christian culture to fill our pews, but once people were there all too often we simply filled their hour without filling their hearts. Our religious education programs came to the young with great intentions and trutful doctrine, but rarely achieved the level of evangelization possible as the hearts they reached out to were not fertile soil. Now we are left with several generations of people who barely know the basic fundamentals of their faith, have never experienced Christ in their lives, and who have no qualms ignoring the ethical and moral code of the Church.

With so many Catholic either only attending on Easter and Christmas (plus weddings, funerals and baptisms), we don't have time to preach even the most basic message of the Gospel, let alone the richness of its implications. Without the miracle of the Eucharist in the context of our beautiful and rich Sunday liturgy,  how can we expect our flock's hearts to be a fertile soil in which to plant the seeds of truth? The competing message from society, not to mention the 24/7 news media is present every moment of the day. As a Church we're lucky if we see people for an hour once a week. If know we are seeing people once a week or even once a month, the Mass is our only chance to reach out to people. At my parish, the level of care and devotion putting into making the Mass rich and engaging without sacrificing the dignity of the liturgy is impressive and worthy of praise. Our pastor gives incredible homilies, full of passion and truth, but does so in a way that engages both the churched and the un-churched. Every weekend I get the pleasure of being challenged by his clear and truthful message. He doesn't pander to anyone. He tells it like it is but in such a way that it gives his message more traction in the hearts of even the most obstinate. Besides the pastor, we are blessed with passionate ministry leaders who represent the best of our love of tradition while using a fresh voice to express it. A fine example is our 9am music ministry. We have a praise and worship band who sing authentic praise the God, but without the shallowness we sometimes experience from that style. They are as comfortable leading us in English as they are in Latin and Greek, singing a new song along with the songs gifted us by our millenia old tradition. By the time we reach the true pinnacle of the Mass, the Eucharist, our hearts are expanded, ready to be stretched and challenged even more by the real presence of Christ in His Body and Blood. As a faithful lover of the weekday Mass at our parish, whose austerity can be excused as it feeds the hunger of those who crave to always be near to the Eucharist and to be ever consumed by Christ as they consume Him, I can say in all honesty that even our beautiful weekday Mass can't compare to our Sunday celebration. For me, weekday Mass is there to sustain me, whereas Sunday Mass is there to fill me to overflowing, to build me up, to form me, and to bring me close to the full community of the Church universal. On Sunday, unlike any other day of the week, the worldwide Church joins together in harmony with the eternal celebration of Heaven. From our earthly perspective, it is the one day of the week that the Body of Christ is the most complete as the most of us are together through the Eucharist at once. It is the day that I feel the closest to my earthly and my Heavenly family. I feel the enormity of the faithful as I become my small part in the Body of Christ. I am drawn beyond my own weak personal faith into an experience of Heaven, which will be an eternal communion of the faithful.

I think the first answer to our problem of drawing people closer to Christ would be to first draw them closer to His Church. It is impossible to ignore the presence of Christ in His Body when we give our hearts over to Him at the Sunday Mass. A people who have their hunger fed at Sunday Mass become a people open to being formed by the Spirit to accept the full truth of the Gospel. While God speaks to us always in the silence of our hearts, He becomes present in the community of the faithful, through our presence and through His Most Holy Eucharist. We approach Him as individuals, but He draws us into Him and gives us Himself through our community. The authentic message of Christ is not to self-determine our beliefs in a vacuum, but to be attentive to the truths He has already revealed with clarity through the Gospel. He undeniably calls us to community, as we are reminded that "Wherever two or three of you are gathered in My name, I am there". Once our hearts become seeped in the unique joy and love we find through our community, then we will crave to know more and better the God who we meet at Mass. All the education and knowledge in the world will fail to fill us if we aren't first set ablaze with a passion for God and His Church, but once we have that passion, we will forever crave to know Him more and to love Him more.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Baby 5: Week 27

How Far Along: 27 Weeks (13 weeks to go!)

How I'm Feeling: Okay, brace yourself friends, because I'm going to whine for just a second... I'm sick AGAIN. What's up pregnant immune system? Alright, so that's no fun. The kids seem to have caught whatever this is as well (except for oldest boy who has the immune system of a horse!), so they've been taking it easy on me this week. It's good they're being nice to poor ole Mama as my joints are aching, especially my right knee (an old bugbear of mine from a car accident in High School). Pregnancy wise though I feel great. My belly is growing at a fair rate from what I can tell. I've achieved that glorious state of obviously pregnant and not just awkwardly carrying old postpartum baby weight all in front. Annnnnnnnnd baby boy is kicking all the time, night and day. My hubby says he can feel it from the outside, and I can actually see my belly twitch with the wild Chuck Norris style round-house kicks baby is practising in there.

What I'm Thinking: I'm bowled over that we only have 13 (or 15 as I tend to go late) weeks to go before we meet our newest boy. I've starting prepping his little diapers, and am starting to pull out some sweet little clothes we haven't seen since boy 2 was a baby. I'm glad he's so strong and active. I remember thinking our 4th baby was very calm, and it kind of freaked me out, but that's kind of her style now. She's a sweet little mellow lady (most of the time. Just don't take away her toy guys. Seriously. She will take you out). I know that this means our new little man is probably going to come out something of a wild child. Hopefully he'll be a good sleeper. Either way, in 13 weeks, give or take a few weeks, we're going to meet this boy and start getting to know him on the outside. Excuse me while I take a few minutes to totally freak out with both joy and terror that I'm not ready enough. Only 13 weeks left to get ready! Ahhhhh!

What I Hope To Do Next Week: I said last week I'd learn how to crochet, and I did. Kind of. My crocheting is pretty hideous. So I'm going to take my down time being sick and feeling gross to perfect the art so I can spend the next 13 weeks starting and restarting crochet projects for the kids, both the born and the not so born. Our oldest boy also has his birthday on the 28th, so there's a lot of planning to do for that

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Lent With Kids

For 5 long years I've struggled with how to do Lent with kids. I didn't want to confuse or overburden them with the idea of fasting when they were so young and didn't fully understand. I felt like I would simply be taking something away, without them being able to gain the spiritual fruits of their sacrifices. After watching them travel through Advent this time I realized I was looking at things all wrong. During Advent we treated that time of preparation as a gift and the kids ate it up. Instead of waking up one day and having it be Christmas, we had some build-up. While presents were a big deal in their minds, it was such a joy to see them make a space in their hearts for the Christ-child. When the congregation rang out the words of the Angels, "Glory to God in the highest!", the kids, after an entire Advent of preparing, were so full of joy I'm sure they out sang (or out shouted??) the choir.

So why can't we do that with Lent? Why can't we use these 40 days of Lent to make that space in their hearts a little bigger, a little deeper, a little broader? I remember last year on Good Friday we took the kids up to reverence the Cross. The three oldest had so much tenderness for Jesus. They asked me when we got back in the pew if we were kissing Jesus to make His boo-boos all better. My daughter, after I explained the crucifix was an image to remind us of how much Jesus loves us, said she wishes she could hug Jesus and kiss all His boo-boos better for real. They have hearts of such deep compassion and love for Christ, even if they don't understand all the theological realities yet.

After some discussion and prayer with my husband, we came upon an obvious idea for a fast for the kids, and honestly for me too. We decided to propose to the kids that they give up TV Monday to Saturday during Lent. It didn't take long for the three oldest, our real TV fiends, to jump on the idea. We had experimented with keeping the TV off a few weeks ago without anyone getting killed or even maimed. Because of that recent experience they knew that no TV didn't mean no fun. It meant more time to ask Mommy 2 million question, do art projects, lots of music and games, and play using their imagination in freedom instead of being weighed down by suggested concepts from their favourite shows. In addition to having the TV off, I'm going to make sure we take part of each day to pray together and to talk about what Easter is all about so that when we reach Easter Sunday they'll sing with their loudest voice their thanks and praise to Jesus, their friend and saviour. That will be a gift worth every moment of sacrifice and extra preparation I can muster for them. I'm sure there are days when I'm be tempted to let them tune in and tune out, but hopefully I'll be able to pray through it and instead tune them into the Spirit that is whispering mercy and hope in their tiny hearts.

My husband and I, besides giving up some of the usual suspects (fast food being a sore spot for our bodies, souls and budget), will be adding on special time for prayer together as a couple. We hope to join a novena for Pope Benedict XVI as he passes quietly into a life of prayer and contemplation, and for his successor, who will be passing from relative anonymity to become a faithful shepherd to over a billion Catholics. We also hope to complete a dedication to Christ through the Blessed Virgin Mary. My sincere hope is that our meagre efforts will bring us closer as a couple and a family, and that we will find ourselves closer to Christ as we weep at the foot of the Cross, wait in vigil by the tomb, and celebrate again the Resurrection. Tonight, let the imposition of the ashes on our foreheads be a reminder that we owe our life and breath to God, and let it be the beginning of our journey as a family to come closer to the heart of Christ.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Perspectives on the Papal Resignation

Just days ahead of Ash Wednesday, a surprise announcement has come out of the Vatican. To the shock of both clergy and Catholic faithful around the world, our dear Pope Benedict XVI, has announced his plans to abdicate the papacy on February 28th, 2013. It has been just shy of 600 years since a Pope has stepped down, making way for a new successor. Commonly, the Pope leaves office as he leaves this world.

As many will remember, the world watched as just over 8 years ago our beloved Pope John Paul II, a figure much loved and respected by Catholic and non-Catholics, gradually died before our very eyes from the complications of Parkinson's. His timely witness to the dignity of humanity even in death was at once heartbreaking and inspiring. As one of the millions of young people who saw John Paul II as a dear friend, watching his slow dignified decline through the lens of the media, I recall the deep respect he earned from me through his life and his death. When he finally passed into the hands of our Heavenly Father, my heart cried out "Well done, good and faithful servant!". My grief over the loss of a living Saint who had touched my own life in such a personal way was tempered by the knowledge that he was before the throne of God, being rewarded for his lifetime of suffering service.

When I heard the news today that Pope Benedict would be resigning, my brain ran through all the moments leading up to his election, from the death of his successor, the funeral Mass, the conclave and then the joy of seeing for the first time in my lifetime the white smoke floating over St. Peter's Basilica. Today I gladly have no grief in my heart as I had when Pope John Paul II passed away. We have before us a man who is not on death's door. Yes, he is frail at clearly at the beginning of the last decline before he finds his home in Heaven, but he leaves us with clear mind and sharp wits. I do feel lost knowing that in just over two weeks my Church will be without a spiritual leader, and that another successor of Peter who I have loved as family will be leaving us. I find great comfort that he will go to the life he has always wanted, a quiet life of prayer and writing. He is a man of incredible intellect with an easy and accessible style that can feel the soul without having to wade through too much jargon. I've enjoyed his books for nearly 15 years, and I look forward to reading the surely deeply spiritual works he will produce from his future life in a cloistered monastery. While he may not be acting as the successor of Peter anymore as of the end of this month, I know his legacy in the Church won't end as of March 1st. Beyond his own personal work, I think his huge legacy today has been the reminder that we have to always keep our hearts open to the will of God. This isn't about his frailty, his health, or his personal struggles. Today is about the fact that God has said that Benedict's mission in this world is now somewhere else. Just as John Paul II gave us the witness to the dignity of a natural death, Benedict leaves his role as Pontiff by giving us a witness to the fact that God always has a care and concern for us, and guides us on our path is we would remain open to his call. Jesus is reaching out to each of us with a plan for our ultimate good. I'm sure on the day of his election, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was filled with deep humility and was surely even shocked that he was elected, but he prayerfully accepted knowing God would support him and guide him through his years in the Papacy. Now, we see the fruitful continuation of that life of abundant prayer, that God would release him to a life of quiet piety, by invited Benedict through the silent whisper in his heart to accept a new call, even a call that would shock and surprise the Church he leads.

So we see our Pope as he follow God's plan for him, to leave the difficult call of the Papacy to the fruitful desert of the cloister, led always by prayer and closeness to Christ through his personal devotion. And he leaves me with an abiding feeling of hope. The Holy Spirit is working with great vigour in the Church. Already in the hearts of the Cardinals I trust that the Holy Spirit is planting a spirit of openness, and recognition of who it is God is calling next to wear the heavy mantle of the Papacy. As the Cardinals sit locked in conclave within the beautiful Sistine Chapel, I will be glued to my TV full of prayers for their weighty task, but I will also be full of excitement and expectation to see where God is leading us now. I know I will be spending my Lent offering special devotion for the man who God will call and our Cardinals will elect. The media has their idea and their spin on who would be the "right" choice in the eyes of the world, but I delight in knowing that the choice isn't up to us, it is up to God, who will use the Cardinals as willing instruments of His will. I will be praying for whomever God chooses that he find solace in his faith, and strength in the confidence God will show in him.

To Pope Benedict, I say "well done, thou good and faithful servant" just as I did to Pope John Paul II. I remain filled with the deepest gratitude for his long life of service. In leaving the role as Pope, he draws the eyes of the world on our Church, giving us a chance to share a witness to the joy of our faith and our love of the Church. May God bless all of us within the Church to be as good teachers as Pope Benedict has been, to share with clarity the truth of our faith and to inspire others with our steadfast love of God.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Baby 5: Week 26

How Far Along: 26 Weeks (14 weeks to go!)

How I'm Feeling: It's been snowing here, so I've been finding it tough to get out of the house too much these days. It's not that my belly is so huge that I can't get past the snow banks, but it sure is tough to push the tandem stroller on barely shovelled side walks. Excluding a few very necessary excursions, I've been doing my best to stay close to home. Other than that my husband has been driving us as he can. Baby boy is pushing up into my lungs, so I'm finding it tough to manage walking up and down the stairs too frequently. I'm also finding that the energy I was so enjoying is only coming in spurts now. When I've got it, I feel free. When I don't have the energy, I'm starving. Such is the life of pregnancy!

What I'm Thinking: Today I was at the Baptism for a friend's baby, and I was also fortunate the stand in as a sponsor for a young Mother who needed a faithful Catholic as a Godparent for her baby girl. This beautiful event reminded me that my baby boy is growing just below my heart, already a unique, unrepeatable person with his own soul breathed in by God. The responsibility to pray for him and bring him to God even now was a beautiful weight on my heart today. I feel so blessed that God has chosen to entrust us with five little souls to direct towards His endless love.
What I've Done This Week: I'm impressed that we managed to get through the weather bomb that hit the eastern seaboard without even losing our power. Beyond that, I've managed to cook meals for the whole family that everyone loved seven days in a row. In my exhausted pregnant mind, I'm winning. I also managed to get my testing done for gestational diabetes on Friday. Not my favourite thing in the world, but I'm happy I got it done. I bought some yarn at the craft store while I was waiting, and found time on Saturday to knit the little man a hat. My feeling of accomplishment is pretty high this week.
What I Hope To Do Next Week: Sounds silly, but beyond surviving, I'm hoping to learn how to crochet this week. I have quite a bit of yarn around that I'm hoping I can use to crochet a cute blanket for baby boy, and hopefully some cute items for the big brothers and sisters too.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

St. Valentine and his Day

I know a lot of people who have a beef with the commercialization of Christmas. Every holiday season we're inundated with images of a jolly old chap selling us Coca-Cola, every product imaginable, as well as an array of toys that defies my imagination. To some extent I expect it at Christmas these days. And if the birth of Christ is open game, I shouldn't be surprised by the sickeningly sweet shades of pink and red that are washing over the local stores. Not that they're just starting to spread. Most retail outlets had at least one Valentine's Day aisle while Christmas shopping was still in full force. It feels like a slow-spread disease, the symptoms of which are forced displays of affection, a blindness to any colour not in the family of red or pink, and high blood sugars from excessive chocolate consumption. While I'm sure a lot of folks aren't just making displays of affection for Valentine's Day and are daily making their significant others feel beloved, I wonder why it feels like the message is to absolutely spoil your partner or spouse for the one day, but not to focus on the other 364 days. Even if you are a spontaneous person who spoils your loved ones in unexpected ways and on any day, the expectations behind this singular day are so huge, how can even the most loving person manage to keep up? It seems, according to the media and consumer stores, that I'm supposed to be expecting spa packages, special meals, cards, gifts, special mementos and so much more from my husband. Apparently all that is required of me is that I show up to be loved, maybe get him a card, and watch some hockey. I feel like something's been lost in translation.

St. Valentine must be rolling his eyes up in Heaven. Here a was a man, a priest, who gave his life to God and to God's Church every day of his life up until the moment he was brutally martyred. He was a man of daily charity to those who relied on him to give them the Sacraments. St. Valentine is associated with romantic love because he risked his life to help couples celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage at a time when Christianity was prohibited in the Roman Empire. At any point he could have given up his clandestine works of devotion to his flock, but he continued on until he was arrested and martyred. To me, this seems so much at odds with the current incarnation of his feast day. Here's a man, a beautiful image of sacrificial love, whose feast day is being used for indulgence, selfish expectations, and excess. The couples for whom he risked his life to witness the Sacrament of their Marriage, must be up there in Heaven rolling their eyes too. They had to gather in secret locations away from the eyes of the Roman law to sanctify their union. I'm pretty sure the idea of chocolates and spa treatments seem empty next to the freedom to celebrate their faith in peace. I may be speaking out of turn, but I'm pretty sure these couples would be at Mass on February 14th, giving thanks to God for the priest who gave everything to God and to them.

All of this leads me to reflect that if we're going to set St. Valentine's day apart as a special day, it shouldn't be a day to celebrate saccharine emotional displays. It should be a day to emulate that sacrificial love that St. Valentine lived unto his own death. And like St. Valentine, it shouldn't just be on one day, it should be the act of every day. While I think it's always great to remind people around us that we love them, I think we should go well past just saying it, and prove it year round, by devoting small duties and prayers to ease their path and bring them closer to God. Through the daily administering of his duties, St. Valentine brought Christ to those around him. This St. Valentine's Day, perhaps what we could do for those we loved would be to pray for them, offer Mass, and instead of handing over our money to the stores for the sake of trinkets and foods, give our loved ones the gift of ourselves. Maybe that means sitting down and taking extra time to listen to them, or pray with them, or even letting them go and take a nap when they get home after a long day. All the things that society tells us will express our love will only last a day or two. The flowers will wilt, the chocolates will be eaten, the cards will find their way into the recycling, but the gift of yourself will build up your relationship in a truly lasting way that could snowball and improve your relationship for the rest of your lives together.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Baby 5: Week 25

How Far Along: 25 Weeks (15 weeks to go!)

How I'm Feeling: I'm pretty exhausted right now. Good old pregnancy insomnia is keeping me up at night. This isn't news to me, as around this time in every pregnancy my body starts training up for the marathon that is having a newborn in the house. Otherwise I'm feeling some very strong urges to nest and re-organize my entire house. My husband and I spent the better part of yesterday and today moving around furniture and cleaning up systematically. I'm so glad he's so willing to work with my craziness!

What I'm Thinking: With a mere 15 weeks left (or up to 17 weeks knowing me) I'm starting to get antsy. As per normal, I have a check list of things left to do. Literally. A check list. I kid you not that I'm already working on assembling my overnight bag. I've got my cute little newborn cloth diapers, all my biggest Mama needs, and some clothes ready to be put in my bag (which, I have decided in a moment of complete pregnant neurosis to wash to make sure it's pristine). I'm also getting ready to go nuts setting up the baby's room now that we know exactly what clothes need to be in the dresser.
What I've Done This Week: Like I said, Hubby and I went wild re-organizing the house to have it more ready for our growing family. I've also been doing my best to keep on top of all my regular housework, as I've been really letting it slide these past few months (years...).
What I Hope To Do Next Week:The only room left in real need to putting together is baby boy's room. All the furniture and loose ends need to be pulled out so we can finish prepping for the flooring. After that's down, I plan on going completely nuts arranging, re-arranging, and then re-arranging again all the furniture in the room. Plus, I can't wait to put all those cute little baby boy outfits in the drawers.