Sunday, February 19, 2012

lent 2012

I have no idea what went wrong - but it could NOT be fixed. 

Make few resolutions. Make specific resolutions. And fulfill them with the help of God.
-St Josemaria Escriva

With Lent nearly upon us, I presume there are people other than myself still scrambling around to firm up a solid plan for the next forty days. This year, I want to prepare myself well for Easter and help the youth make a good preparation and (for the first time really) to prepare Maria & Bernadette - as appropriate to the "under-five" crowd. 

In order to get some direction for myself and the girls group, I recently read The Way by St Josemaria, and in doing so, found an abundance of challenges - any one of which could provide the framework for fruitful Lenten plan of action (in conjunction with the traditional practices of prayer, fasting & almsgiving). Below, some of the possibilities:

For those of us who need help curbing our temper: 

Why lose your temper if, by losing it, you offend God, trouble your neighbor, give yourself a bad time...and in the end you have to set things aright anyway?  What you have just said, say it in another tone, without anger, and what you say will have more force...and above all, you won’t offend God.

10 Never reprimand anyone while you feel provoked...wait until the next day or even longer....You’ll gain more with an affectionate word than you ever would from three hours of quarreling. Control your temper.

For those of us who need to discipline our conversational lives

50  Curious and inquisitive, prying and nosey...instead of poking into other people’s lives, get to know what you really are yourself.

131 Never talk of impure things or events, not even to deplore them. It’s a subject that sticks more than tar. Change the conversation, or if that’s not possible, continue, but speaking of the need and beauty of holy purity - a virtue of those who know what their souls are worth.

173 The word you left unsaid, the joke you didn’t tell, the cheerful smile for those who bother you, that silence when you are unjustly accused, your kind conversation with those you find boring and tactless, the daily effort to overlook one irritating detail or another with those who live with you....this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification.

443 Don’t make negative criticism. If you can’t praise, say nothing

646 If you were more discreet, you would not have to suffer within yourself about the bad taste left by so many conversations.

674 Never give your opinion if you’re not asked for it.
444 Never speak badly of your brother, not even when you have plenty of reasons for doing so. [Tell your Father.] And tell no one else. 

For those of us who live under the same roof with someone who is not already a perfect saint

174 Don’t say: That person bothers me. Think: That person sanctifies me.

177 Don’t miss a chance to “give in” - it’s hard, but how pleasing in the eyes of God!

594 You’re not humble when you humble yourself, but when you are humbled by others and you bear it for Christ.

For spiritual Olympians: 

191 Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a set time, without granting a single moment to laziness.

662 You are unhappy? Think: there must be an obstacle between God and me. You will seldom be wrong.

672 You can be sure you’re a man of God if you can suffer injustice gladly and in silence.

681 Don't leave the table without having made some small mortification

772 Ask yourselves many times during the day: Am I doing at this moment what I ought to be doing?

943 Be careful in dealing with other people that you don’t make them feel like someone who once exclaimed (and not without reason): I’m fed up with these righteous characters!

Enough for the grown-ups - I already feel so overwhelmed I hardly know where to begin! But St Josemaria is the saint of do few things and do them well - not the patron of make sure you have every item on this list accomplished by Holy Saturday. Praise the Lord. 


Next I turned my attention to my kids. After a pretty thorough search for some family-friendly ideas, here are some of the ones that I found most appealing. My criteria was that the idea must help unfold the meaning of the season and be attractive to both myself and my children. 

On ASH WEDNESDAY, one book suggested taking little ones to a store and allowing them to choose an inexpensive little cactus. I really like that! Place it as the centerpiece of the dinner table for the whole of Lent and let it be a reminder and a conversation-starter: the thorns & pain of the upcoming Passion, the dryness and heat of the desert, Jesus' words - I thirst. (Secretly swap it for an Easter lily or some hyacinths on Holy Saturday night after the kids are asleep as a symbol of the delightful surprise of the first Resurrection morning). 
Another idea is to help very little children select an age appropriate "mortification". For very little ones, something as simple as packing away a favorite book or item of clothing for the duration of Lent allows them to enter gently into the spirit of discipline - and experience more fully the joy of Easter when the special item is returned. I think it is really important that this idea (and all the suggestions below) not be forced (-not on a child of any age) - they can be invited joyfully to participate, but should be left free to decline with no repercussions.  Maria is enthused about joining in this particular idea (actually, I think we are going to have to limit her to one item). Bernadette is not so interested. Joseph is oblivious. So be it. 

-Read aloud some illustrated children's books about the first Easter. Check the library/bookstore for very simple books for the youngest children & for deeper titles for "bigger little kids" (such as The Easter Story by Wildsmith & Peter's First Easter by Wangerin. Just a disclaimer - I've checked the Wildsmith book out of our library here and enjoyed it with my children - it reviews the major points of Holy Week as seen through the eyes of the donkey that carries Christ on Palm Sunday - and all this with striking gilded illustrations. I've not read or seen the Wangerin book personally, but have heard excellent things about it.)
-Read small bits of the gospel accounts of the Passion & discuss at dinner (or discuss a Station of the Cross)

Well, it falls during Lent. And as St. Josemaria states, "It is urgent that we strive to rechristianize popular celebrations and customs. It is urgent that public amusements should no longer be left to face the dilemma of being either overly-pious or pagan."

Now here is a "popular celebration" desperate to be rechristianized. So - while the world is planning to stay up late drinking green beer in raucous bars, my kids are going to wake up early and drink green juice and eat green muffins with some favorite Irish songs rocking in the background. And then we'll pray the Breastplate of St Patrick, parts of which are remarkably child-friendly! I can picture my girls having lots of fun acting this prayer out. I think this day also lends itself to a short, light discussion on how one person given over totally to Christ can affect an entire nation - and for generations, at that. A nicely illustrated children's book about St Patrick (and there are no shortage of these!) will fit perfectly into the shenanigans....

excerpts from The Breastplate of St Patrick

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.


Also falls during Lent. St Joseph: the family man, the worker, the provider & the protector of Mary & Jesus. St Joseph: humble and obedient, manly in suffering, the "strong silent type". I like the idea of having a fun family WORK project this day (either around the house or in service to others outside the immediate family). I also like that there is an Italian tradition of serving homemade cream puffs for dessert on St Joseph's Day. Who says the Irish have all the fun? My kids are half Irish, half Italian & heirs to the best of both worlds!  A beautifully illustrated book about St Joseph would fit perfectly on this feast, though these seem to be few and far between (but perhaps a nice entry on St Joseph in an attractively illustrated children's book of saints? If anyone can make a suggestion by way of the comment box, that would be great!) In the meantime, the 2006 film version of The Nativity Story features a beautiful portrayal of Joseph by Oscar Isaac. Even just a few clips off of YouTube could be helpful to a little one. 

Okay so one book I flipped through suggested having a Passover Seder based (loosely) on Jesus' Last Supper for dinner this night. I'm going to go for it.
The menu: 
served with bitter herbs (aka Salad) 
(unleavened bread)
(this is pretty much every bread I've ever attempted to bake myself)
 Grape Juice 

After dinner Richard will wash everyone's feet ( the girls are going to LOVE it!) Then, as a family, we will "keep watch with Him for one hour" - (we may have a very loose interpretation of "hour" as we see how the kids go) but we're thinking lots of praise songs and hymns, some appropriate children's books read aloud, and some vocal prayer interspersed throughout. 

Most sources I consulted urged that this be as quiet a day as possible (without becoming unrealistic about the ages and abilities of the children). Ditto for food/sweets with the kids, but avoiding these if possible during the hours Jesus was on the Cross (12-3pm). As almsgiving is also a holy priority in Lent, perhaps this solemn day could be an opportunity to present little ones with a designated sum of money and a short, preselected list of charities or persons in need. Young children might enjoy the chance to help choose the recipient for the alms given by the family. 

There are so many possibilities for starting or enhancing family traditions during this rich and important season - if anyone wishes to share some of the special things they do (or will do this year) to help their children celebrate Lent (as in: participate in and enjoy!), please do share in the comment box!  In keeping with the spirit of rechristianizing our culture without becoming "overly pious", we can help each other reclaim this holy season from the monopoly of bunnies and chocolate that have already been bombarding our families for weeks. Ideas for a balanced, joyful celebration of Easter could be shared as well. 

"Christ died for you.
 You...what should you do for Christ?"

"If one of my fellow men had died to save me from death....
[Yet] God died. And I remain indifferent."

                                                                   -St Josemaria

Thursday, February 2, 2012

giving thanks

A new school year has begun! The first term spans all of February through the end of March and will be the last full school term with the Sealys at the helm. Glen heads off to seminary early next week and James (who will inherit the helm) has already stepped into Glen's old place in the ministry. Our chosen theme this term is Give Thanks! We're bursting with plans and ideas. At this very moment Richard is kicking-off the year with an outdoor pool party (February is the hottest month in New Zealand - allegedly -but it's been a cool, crisp summer thus far).

In keeping with our theme, we'll be chatting about having an "attitude of gratitude" and will be exploring  the gracious art of expressing thanks. We'll be addressing tendencies towards complaining, comparing and criticizing. We'll focus on St Paul's frequent exhortations to give thanks in all circumstances. We'll reflect on the Eucharist as "thanks-giving". We'll each write a note of thanks to some person in our life who deserves our heartfelt gratitude  - but possibly has never received it.  And then we'll have An All-Out American Thanksgiving Feast. Most of the youth have never tasted pumpkin pie...but they're going to! (But only after they've enjoyed some turkey & stuffing.) To top it all off, the third annual SetFree national youth conference will coincide with the last weekend of the school term. It's going to be an intense couple of months!

On a more sombre note, my uncle passed away a few weeks ago and hearing accounts of his memorial service has given me occasion to wonder why it is that we wait until after a person is deceased to totally and publicly focus on their best qualities, their most admirable contributions and their finest moments. So I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly give thanks to the two people in life that we will soon be asking the youth to specially consider for an outpouring of gratitude: mother and father.

To My Father - thank you for instilling in me a positive work ethic. I didn't realize until I was very very grown up that not everyone enjoys working hard. My dad does. I do. He never once lectured or directed me to work hard at anything - neither academics, nor chores, nor part time jobs (not even when he was my boss and the success of some his goals depended partly on my willing commitment to excellent work). So there were no words that transmitted this virtue, only example. He works hard at his responsibilities and in so doing, gave me the unshakeable impression that it was the only decent thing to do with my responsibilities. This unspoken lesson has served me so well in every scholarly, professional and personal role I have ever held that it would be unforgivable to not offer him my most heartfelt thanks. Secondly, I have always - since earliest childhood - been floored by my father's ability to make tremendous sacrifice for others .... and not to seek (or even accept, really) recognition for those sacrifices.    I remember being amazed by it even as a tiny girl but as I got older I observed it more frequently and more deeply. I wish I had "caught" this quality of his as easily as I did the other! But it is my goal for life to grow in this ability and I have an amazing model to recall before my mind's eye. Some particular moments of my dad's quiet habit of self-sacrifice unraveled whole mysteries of life to me, helping me to grasp deeply that real love puts the "other" first, even at great cost to "self". They say you often subconsciously imagine God to be like your own dad. My dad truly revealed to me the sacrificial nature of Love. That's the whole key to accepting Christianity (to say nothing of living it).  And my dad showed me what that looks like, practically, in big ways and small ways, every day.

To My Mother - thank you for giving me such a well-rounded childhood. This is something that I was often most ungracious about as the child who would have preferred to be left alone to read - or play with her millipede farm. I certainly never recognized the volume of effort required by my mother's goal - or the importance of the endeavor - until becoming a parent myself. Now whenever I want to ensure that my own children are getting a well-rounded upbringing, I have only to imitate the educational and cultural experiences that characterized my early years. Those experiences made me capable of leading a richer life, enabled me to enjoy the legitimate pleasures of the world, freed me from certain types of fear and ignorance and rendered me capable and at ease in myriad situations. There were abundant outings to fine ballets and plays, to tent campsites and to tiny lakeside cabins. We visited museums and historical sites and attended sporting events. There were regular nature hikes, swim teams, piano lessons and horseback riding. We went downhill skiing and water skiing. I had laundry duties by age 11 and part-time jobs by age 15.  I was expected to shoulder reasonable but challenging financial responsibilities and academic standards from a relatively young age. (For this, I might have pitied myself then but I am well aware now of how it prepared me to be competent and confident in the real world.) Also we had lots and lots of pets. This perhaps was best of all, for I enjoyed those animals so much that nearly nothing in appreciation is gained in the looking back. Which bring me to the second thing that I appreciate much more now about my mother - her tolerance for the noise and chaos and mess that young children (and their pets) visit upon a home. There cannot be five cats, three (escaping) hamsters, a 120 pound Labrador, three children and an upcoming camping trip coexisting neatly and serenely under one roof. It is impossible. And most women would simply never put up with it. My mother's ease with the noise is as much a challenge to me as my father's ease with sacrifice. May I grow in both!