Since making the decision to take Vince to Mass with me, I've gotten to see a much calmer side to him. Ha.
This weekend, he was gold for me. I was surprised, because he'll typically wanna get down and run around the cry room. Since we were the only family in there, he didn't have any bad examples to follow, so he calmly sat in my lap the entire time and watched the Mass unfold quietly. He didn't even want to read his books!
When I'd hold him in my arms during those parts where we stand, he happily played with my hair / veil, or he'd simply put his arms around my neck and lay his head on my shoulder. I could've snuggled him happily forever!
During the Offertory, we had a few folks come back to use the bathroom (which is in the cry room). Vince simply waved and said "Hi!" to everyone, but remained content in my arms. There was one little girl, probably about 6 years old, who entered with her family. She skitted all over the place and eventually hurt herself while her father tended the younger sister in the bathroom. I thought for sure Vincent was going to fight to get down and run with her, but to my happy surprise, he didn't! Soon they left and we were left to ourselves again.
For Communion, I led Vince to Father's line. We could've gone to the deacon's line (which was closer), but now that I've got Vince, I want the added bonus of his special blessing over Vincent. Until he's able to receive Communion himself, I want Vincent to understand that the Communion line is a special blessing, even for him. Vincent patiently walked up the aisle with me, beaming at everyone, calling out the occasional "Hi!" During his blessing, he smiled up at Father while trying to grab the altar server's robe. Ha ha.
Anyway, upon settling back into our seat, I kissed Vincent. It's something that I've done ever since reading about Little Nellie Organ, who wished that her "Mudder" would kiss her upon coming from Communion so she could pay reverence to the Holy Sacrament. Little Nellie, for those unfamiliar with her saintly story, was only 4 years old at the time of her 1st Communion. In fact, it was through Nellie that Pope St Pius X received the signal he was waiting for to drop the age of 1st Communicants!
Upon completion of Mass, I led Vincent to the back door, crossing the center aisle. As always, I genuflected and said to Vincent, "Say 'bye-bye' to Jesus! 'Bye, bye Jesus! I love you!'"
No sooner did I make that motion than Vincent, himself, stooped to the floor saying "Bye bye." Granted, he didn't genuflect, but he attempted to follow my lead, and it made me so proud of him. :) Our kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for, as I'm quickly learning. Ha ha ha. He's such a blessing, this one!
So yesterday was the feast of the Immaculate Conception. My regular church didn't have a mass that I was able to attend, so I checked out a neighboring church that I had found on the way to my son's daycare. I'd been eyeing it for some time now, curious to know what the inside looked like (because the outside was unique to me). Also, since it's dedicated to the Blessed Mother, I felt her feast day was the best time to find myself there.
I am so glad I did! It is a beautiful church! Truth be told, it is very small and has more of a "modern" feel (something I don't typically like, but can appreciate when it's done tastefully). The artwork was beautiful, and their statues were different from those I'm used to seeing. For instance, as opposed to Our Lady of Grace (typically the version of the Blessed Mother seen on her side of the church), there was a large state of Our Lady cradling Baby Jesus. Actually, if you take the following two pictures and combine their poses, then add infinitely more beauty, you've got the statue I'm referring to.
Anyway, aside from absolutely loving that statue of Our Lady (so maternal towards and adoring of that angelic little God-Child she held in her arms), I really liked the statue of her Assumption that was used during the Mass. Again, it was as if a painting were somehow sculpted into life so realistic she was!
The Stations of the Cross were full (though muted) colored, large and adorning the walls. A few smaller statues of St. Rita, St. Joseph, and St. Anthony were present. A beautifuly little Infant of Prague held Vincent's attention for much of the Mass. Finally, and MOST exciting for me, was the Adoration Chapel in the back of the Church. An ADORATION CHAPEL!!!
I didn't think I had one anywhere near me!!! BUT I DO! I almost cried!
Again, truth be told, I was emotional anyway. It's a feast of thanksgiving for Our Lady - a gift I am endlessly grateful for. I realized it was fitting this feast is during Advent. The coming of Our Lady marked a true Advent of sorts. With the Mother of God on her way into the world, Jesus was not far behind. God is certainly a Master of time, right? :) I smiled at that realization.
This Mass also made my heart sing due to the love the priest had for Our Lady. He used much Latin in the Mass (something new for me, but I loved it!), and he spared nothing in his homily lauding this gift of the Blessed Mother. He praised her with such fondness, such gratitude, such conviction that folks were in the pews nodding their heads in agreement. When he solicited a Hail Mary at the close of the homily, folks really put their heart into the salutation. It is a true blessing to partake of a Mass with so loving and charismatic a priest.
Because of the feast, the priest also chose to distribute Communion under both species! BOTH! I haven't been so privileged in years. I hadn't realized that until last night. Also, I noted that Father relegated the two EMs to the chalice, only allowing himself and the deacon to distribute the Hosts. I LOVE THIS GUY!
I took Vince up during the Eucharist and Father was kind enough to impart a blessing. I then moved to take my place in the chalice line. I was the last person there, and luckily there was just enough left for me to partake of. Vincent was gold the entire time, and I almost cried again from feeling so honored to have been graced with such a gift. I said to Our Lady "This is YOUR feast day, and here I am getting all the gifts!"
An adoration chapel close to home, a traditional, Marian priest who truly teaches when he preaches, the Eucharist under BOTH species, and a son who was beyond exemplary for the first time during a Mass... I was beyond grateful!
I can't wait to take advantage of that chapel now. Goodness... I could even go for a half hour during lunch it's so close!
Anyway, what a wonderful celebration of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception. I truly hope all of you who practice enjoyed a similarly beautiful experience!
So to break in my brand new Kindle Touch, I purchased a book by Rebecca Springer entitled Within Heaven's Gates. Springer claimed to have visited Heaven during a severe illness and documented her experience through this book, originally entitled Intra Muros or My Dream of Heaven.
Truth be told, her story is amazing. There is an authentic feel to her descriptions, though I was struck by a few curiosities. I'll handle those shortly. First, however, the positives!
Springer has a gift for description. Even when attempting to explain the unfathomable, she takes care to break down lofty images into manageable portions. Though relying heavily on flowery language, it doesn't seem tedious or superfluous. One gets the impression that every page really is a prayer of thanksgiving and awe, beckoning the reader to hope for the possibility that her descriptions are, in fact, what await us upon death. This sincerity of conviction is what makes this book so captivating and comforting.
Next, her understanding of Heaven is truly wonderful. Mansions built by the loving hands of God through each of our loved ones dot the perfect landscape. Holy lakes and rivers that souls truly cleanse and refresh themselves in, the companionship of angelic choirs, the incomprehensible, but much appreciated movement of Divine Will that all creatures happily submit to without hesitation... it is utopia. However, souls aren't all just running around, blissfully aimless. Life, indeed, continues on - preachers still preach (Martin Luther and John Wesley are mentioned), great authors still write, and missionaries still teach others the greater mysteries of Christ. Families joyfully reunite, friends share memories of their "earth lives" and seeming strangers rejoice in the surprising moments on earth that led to their meeting in Heaven.
I admit to, myself, longing to know this place for myself... to see and feel and experience these emotional and spiritual highs with my own loved ones.
Wonderful were her dealings with Jesus. Though she didn't detail much of their conversations, she was specific in her emotional and spiritual reactions to Him. Each time Christ makes Himself present... it's as if even through her words the pages (er, my Kindle?) would light up. Incredible.
Some things I was surprised with, however...
There was no mention of Our Lady. I noticed that almost immediately because I was awaiting this woman's reaction to the Blessed Mother (she is Methodist). Considering how much "time" she spent in Heaven, I figured there'd be a meeting somewhere along the line between her and the Blessed Mother.
There was no mention of guardian angels, either. Sure, angels would crop up now and again during particular passages, but no mention was made of personal guardian angels. Her brother-in-law, Frank, seemed to act as her guardian angel much of the time, but I don't think that was her purpose in explaining him in such a way.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that even from her own writings, a visit by the Blessed Mother may not have been a "reward" her soul was ready to receive at that point. Being a Methodist, her views on the Blessed Mother probably weren't very fleshed out. As a result, it isn't surprising that Mary wouldn't pop into her spiritual journey "so soon upon arrival" when there were other things God may have wanted her to understand first... especially if she were to be tasked with explaining Heaven to those of us still on earth.
As for guardian angels, I really don't know.
Would I recommend this book? I already have. Ha ha. Also, I'll be seeing my mother this weekend, and I'll be sharing it with her Kindle so she's able to read it as well. The views expressed within the pages are very Christian and very much in line with what the Church teaches. Many of the souls in Springer's book do exactly what St. Therese of Lisieux said when she wrote "I will spend my heaven in doing good upon earth."
All in all, it was a quick and beautiful read. My heart felt lifted upon completion, and my soul longed more deeply for that which we lost through sin. Any book that can do that gets an A+ from me. :)
I cannot properly describe the depths of pride and tenderness I have for my class. I really can't. Their behavior Tuesday night astonished me.
Let me back up a bit.
Last week I had hoped to spend the entire class teaching them about Eucharistic Adoration (in preparation for last night). A scheduling conflict forced the entire Religious Education department to set aside lesson plans in lieu of Christmas Pageant practice.
As a result, I was left with 15 minutes of class time with which to impart to them the importance and value of this gift. After that, we had to make our way across the lot to the Church where Father Piotr patiently awaited our arrival so we could begin.
As my children found their seats at the start of class, they found their "prayer packets" waiting for them on their desks. I explained that they were my personal "Thank You" for their stellar and exemplary behavior during last week's rehearsal. I explained their uses and advised them to keep their Divine Praises handy for Benediction later on. Finally, I gave myself a few moments to delve into the purpose and privilege of Eucharistic Adoration.
A couple children thought the Eucharist was a representation of Christ... simply a symbol of His Sacrifice. Sadly, many adults misunderstand this as well, so I did my best to correct that. Next, I then asked them to really think about what it would be like to see God face to Face. What would they say to Him? What would they feel like? Would they want to hug Him? Would they want to ask Him questions?
They came up with some wonderful responses, all of which provided meditative materials for their first Holy Hour. Finally, when questions were answered and my points were made, we quickly made our way into the church. Upon seeing my class seated, Fr. Piotr began.
Oh, to see my class willingly take part in this expression of love! They participated in the prayers, listened patiently as Father lead us in meditative thanksgiving, sang the two hymns slated for the evening, and knelt upright in their pews, looking nowhere but upon the monstrance and our God encased within.
When it was time to relax in our seats to contemplate Christ through personal prayer, my class continued their participation. Each of them could be seen paging through their new Pieta books. One boy, in particular, almost brought tears to my eyes. He was repeatedly blessing himself, over and over. It took me a second to realize why he was doing that - he was praying the Prayer Against Storms. I actually do the same thing when I pray that prayer because of the little crosses that follow each line. I was never sure if that meant to bless myself or not, so I always figure "better safe than sorry" and bless myself. He was doing the same thing! My heart just about burst I was so proud of his humble effort to ask God's assistance with the horrible weather we were having that night.
Another young man had his hands folded in prayer for most of the time. As he knelt and looked upon the Host, his expression was... I don't know. I can't even describe it. This particular child is special, indeed. In my heart I can't help but wonder if I'm not looking at a little priest-in-waiting. His grasp of things theological astounds me. His questions are astute and his understanding of the answers speedy. Even with that knowledge, however, I was floored by his piety during Adoration.
One of my young ladies, too, made me smile (truthfully, all of them did!). Normally one of my "rougher" children (not abrasive or rude... just more willing to test the waters), she was surprisingly willing to let her guard down and emphatically take part in the prayers. You see, in the beginning of the school year, I had to address this very issue with her. She was too "cool" to pray. Prayer was something the other kids did... not her. Prayer - at least of the public, communal variety - was embarrassing.
Instead of singling her out, the class and I had the following discussion:
"Do you think Jesus is your friend?"
"Do you talk to your friends?"
"Would you ever be embarrassed to talk to a friend?"
"Is prayer a way we can talk to Jesus?"
"And Jesus is your friend, right?"
"So why are some of you embarrassed to talk to your friend, Jesus, through prayer? Don't you think that hurts His feelings? Please don't ever let me see any of you refuse to pray because it is embarrassing."
After that, I never had a problem with her participating with the class. However, I didn't expect her to participate with such gusto at Adoration. It truly touched me to see her kneeling with her Pieta book, looking for prayers and then casting her eyes upon the Host as she completed them.
At one point, another class came in to take part. They were loud... very loud... and I was surprised to see that only two or three of my students turned to see the racket. The rest simply continued on in their private conversations with Jesus. Again... I was astonished by their maturity and gentle love. I doubt even they realize just how astonishing they were!
The other class left within minutes of entering. I don't know if it's due to the teacher's time restraint or realization that the class was unprepared for the privilege, but I think the congregation felt relieved at the return of peace. I couldn't help but wonder what Jesus felt like as He watched those students leave after having spent only a few moments there. No doubt He was somewhat hurt by their lack of reverence, but even a parent who is upset by a child's actions doesn't want to love them any less.
Anyway, upon completion of the Holy Hour (which also completed my class time), my class stood up and exited their pews, each one genuflecting towards the tabernacle, where they now understood God reposed. As we made our way to the back of the church, another parishioner commented on how well-behaved and prayerful they were. I positively beamed for them, and graciously thanked her for complimenting them in such a way. A few of them smiled, too, proud, I think, to have been commended in such a way.
Oh my... I am so beyond grateful for that experience. How kind of God to grant me such a special group of kids. I am beyond blessed. I really hope they understand just how much I appreciate them. May God grant me the grace to repay their kindness (and His) by continuing to help them develop spiritually. Oh, that I may help them love Him more!
Some of you know I'm a big fan of Richard Wurmbrand, a Christian pastor who spent years building up the underground church in Romania, enduring imprisonment and countless tortures. Ever since reading his book, Tortured for Christ, I've been subscribed to a monthly newsletter called "Voice of the Martyrs." The newsletter, put out by an organization of the same name, details VOM's efforts to assist other Christians who are being (or have been) persecuted.
Reading the articles is always difficult. I don't feel it fair to ignore the plight of my fellow Christians, however, so I muster the courage to read on. Countless stories of families being torn apart, illegal imprisonment, careless legal systems, and ruthless persecution overflow from the pages. However, something deeper holds those stories together - Love. Even in the face of such incredible circumstances, these people share such a true and unshakable love of Christ that I am repeatedly amazed. I have learned so much from their steady, courageous examples. They understand the message of love and forgiveness better than I ever could. I am humbled by their strength, and their child-like acceptance of God's Will in all things.
Anyway, with those stories in mind, I knelt down to offer a Divine Mercy chaplet for them before bed. As I prayed the Our Father, I felt my normal twinge at "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
You see, ever since I understood that phrase to mean "Forgive us to the same measure we forgive others" I've added a mental prayer in addition to that. I'll typically ask that God will give me the strength to forgive others to the extent that He forgives. I fully understand that my ability to forgive is incredibly handicapped. I'm much better at being holding grudges or even stamping my spiritual feet in defiance of responsibility. However, each time I pray the Our Father, I note my failings and ask God to teach me the proper road of forgiveness, understanding that this road is what leads me to being forgiven, myself.
That all being said, I had an epiphany last night. Instead of my normal "God, help me to forgive like you forgive" mental note, I was thinking of those tortured families who freely offered forgiveness to their captors. As a result, my prayers slightly changed. My mind added, "God, forgive the torturers their trespasses as those persecuted Christians have forgiven them... and help me to offer that same forgiveness for love of You."
That's when I had my little epiphany. The Our Father is a collective prayer using the words "us," "our," we" and "those." It is inclusive not just of ourselves, but of all people - past, present and future. And since Jesus, Himself, gave us this prayer, we know that He, too, included Himself by first stating "Our Father."
Oh my goodness! This part of the prayer isn't just asking God's forgiveness of daily offenses. This prayer is asking God to collectively forgive all humanity as humanity collectively forgives one another. Since God is within all of us, we each offer one another the chance for His Forgiveness if only we'd open ourselves up to it. Jesus, Himself part of the collective, offered perfect forgiveness. Through Him and with Him we ask God for the chance to be forgiven in the same perfect way that He forgave.
How awesome is that?!
The Our Father, already an awesome prayer, totally just went up a few more notches in my book. The Holy Spirit has been kind to me. :)
Here is the prayer packet that my kids are getting on Tuesday. I'm quite pleased with the fact that they all came in on time. I also included a print-out of the Divine Praises (clipped to the inside cover of the Pieta Book). I'm hoping Father can bless the medals on Tuesday night. Yay!
I know, I know - kind of strange to have a picture of the Passion up during Advent, but my experience this week brought me to meet this painting for the first time (well, a reproduction, anyway). I'd never seen it before. It's called Señor de los Milagros de Nazarenas (or its English title Lord of Miracles).
Anyway, the reason I came across it was my cold. I was miserably sick this weekend, and Sunday morning seemed to be the worst of it. I knew there was no way I'd be able to get to Mass feeling like a ton of bricks was repeatedly smashing down over me. So I stayed in bed, offering the gross feelings for whatever intentions God deemed necessary.
By mid-afternoon, I was feeling substantially better, so I mentioned to John that I might attempt going to Mass in the evening. St. Williams, about 45 minutes from me, had an 8pm Mass on Sunday night. So I hopped into my car and made my way into NE Philadelphia. I arrived early enough to say my Divine Mercy chaplet and take a gander at the changes that've been made since my last visit. The church, itself, is still the same, but I noted their new collection of artwork. The above picture was among those new items.
In addition to seeing beautiful artwork, I was privileged to hear a wonderful homily from their new pastor. Apparently he'd locked himself out of the rectory on Saturday (after hearing the 1st Penances of children at another parish!). Being home alone with no access to a phone or spare key, he was forced to take refuge from the cold in the church. He spent the next 2+ hours meditating on the meaning of advent, his own preparedness for Christ, and quite probably how to ensure he'd never get locked out of the rectory again. Ha.
He made a good point, though. In being locked out of the rectory, he wondered what he'd do if he were to be locked out of Heaven. He acknowledged his lack of perfection, and thus acknowledged his need for advent matches everyone else. Advent, though a time of anticipation, is not JUST about waiting. It's also about preparing for Christ as John the Baptist so eloquently exemplified. Preparing through repentance and a dedication to changing one's life is our surest bet to making our souls ready to accept the gift that is Christ.
Also, the fact that he surmised that his 2 hour stint in the church was really a gift that seemed, at first, like an annoyance lifted my heart. This priest obviously strove to see Christ in everything... "annoyances" included. :) It made me happy to again realize that we've been blessed with an abundance of graces through our priests. It didn't hurt that he would stop Mass at each "change" to remind us of the new language, having us repeat those prayers that we'd stumble over patiently... like a conscientious teacher. :)
All in all, me missing Mass at my own parish enabled me to attend this Mass in Philly and I am eternally grateful for such a blessing. :) I hope everyone else had such a wonderful Sunday!
So I have no voice. I haven't had much of a voice since Thursday night. At first, I was pretty sure I was given this annoyance as punishment for being a little uncharitable in my opinions of a certain someone. In fact, I'm still relatively sure that had something to do with my gentle reminder to hold my tongue when I don't have something nice to say...
However, as is true of our Lord, nothing is all brimstone and irritation. I feel as though I've learned a few lessons through this frustrating silence.
The first, of course, is to use my tongue for charity, not negativity. Regardless of the fact that my irritation was justified, I had no right to speak out in such annoyance against someone.
Secondly, I took some "creative" parenting techniques out for a spin. Since I wasn't able to correct Vincent verbally for things like screaming in a restaurant, trying to dismember our Christmas tree, or jumping on the couch, I had to rely on angry stares and repeat physical restraint (picking him up and placing his butt on the floor every time he attempted to "power bomb" onto the couch). I exercised much more patience than I think I normally would simply because I knew frustration would be pointless as I couldn't give him a stern "VINCENT!" anyway. Heh.
Finally, and most meaningful to me was my lesson in loneliness. I've read time and again that feeling abandoned is when we are most like Christ. I never understood how Jesus could feel abandoned, especially when He, as God, fully knew that His Father would never, ever abandon Him. Even saints, who have been told by Jesus, "When you feel most alone, it is then that I am closest to you" had their bouts with loneliness and abandonment.
For as much as I tried to grasp that, it didn't make sense. I didn't understand how it could be possible to feel abandoned when you KNEW God was with you.
Well, I understood this weekend, at least to a tiny extent.
Having been under intense emotional and psychological pressure in recent months, I relied heavily on a dear friend of mine to buoy me through the storm I find myself in. Normally I'd have at least 2 or 3 "hands on deck" to help steer me through the desolation, but through circumstances that were decreed by God, I was simply meant to go this one (mostly) alone.
This weekend, as I readied myself to endure whatever tsunamis were headed my way, I was given the grace of unloading some baggage to my best friend who I hadn't really spoken to for the last few months. Mind you, we've talked, but Thursday evening was the first time I caught her up-to-speed on all the fun. I think God knew what was in store for me this weekend and allowed me this much-needed respite.
However, when the tsunami hit Friday, I was without voice and no means to communicate with anyone. My best friend was in the middle of having her wisdom teeth out (hope you're feeling better, BTW!), and my spiritual director... the one I've been relying so heavily on these last few months... isn't the type for e-mails, texts or chat. I understood, even in that moment of desperation, that God wanted me to feel alone. Well, not exactly alone. God was being a bit selfish, I think. :)
He knows how heavily I've been relying on these two people. I think that He wanted to remind me that first and foremost, I should turn to Him with my problems. Sure, I offer Him the nod of "Okay, you take this since I don't know what to do with it" prayers, but when I'm feeling really down and out, I call one of them to "make me feel better." I rely on THEM instead of on HIM.
I've noticed myself doing that for the last few weeks. Instead of turning to Him in prayer, I turn to my cell phone in an attempt to gain a break from the burden I carry. While I understand that God works through people, I should never substitute people for God. To an extent, I know I was doing that, and I think this was God's gentle way of reminding me Who exactly the Source of rest is. Ha.
It worked. My silence afforded me ample opportunity to rely more heavily on God through prayer. So, yes... I guess now I do understand (again, to a small extent) the importance of abandonment and loneliness, and how those feelings do lead us to be closer to Christ.
Seriously - this is adorable. :) I love improv, and I love surprises. This is the best of both worlds, plus it's adorable, adorable, adorable. :)
I realize it's not Saint Patrick's Day, but I couldn't find any other picture that expressed exactly how I feel right now.
I figured out the perfect gifts for my CCD class, and they're going to arrive in time for Adoration this week!!!
So yes, I am doing a jig. I'm doing several jigs. My jigs are doing jigs.
I was so ridiculously proud of them for how they behaved themselves in the Church that I wanted to make their first Adoration experience extra special. I couldn't quite think of how to do. Suddenly, my phone started ringing. I reached down into my purse to grab it, but for some reason, it wasn't in its normal side pocket (I'm nerdily organized like that). Instead, it was in the back pocket where I keep my prayer book.
The call ended up being a fluke (my name is not Martin and I do not need a rental truck), but I think that wrong number was meant to answer my query. Since I had to reach into my "prayer book pocket" I inevitably brushed against my Pieta Book (by far my most favorite, well worn and trusted prayer book ever).
So, as you probably guessed, I went ahead and purchased more than a dozen Pieta Books. However, upon entering the site, I saw a sale on Benedictine medals as well. Jackpot!!!
I am so excited for my class now! I cannot wait to arrange their little prayer packets atop their desks for immediate use at Adoration. I sincerely hope they get as much mileage out of theirs as I do mine. I'm going to ask our wonderful pastor to bless the medals as well.
How nice was the Holy Spirit to place that idea into my mind? Apparently He's a big fan of the Pieta Book, too. Ha ha ha. No doubt, considering how many beautiful prayers and meditations are contained within its pages.
For those of you unfamiliar with this incredible prayer booklet, may I direct your attention to this site which has many excerpts from it. If you'd like to purchase a copy for yourself, feel free to pick up a copy for yourself for a mere $2.50 here. Doubtful you could spend a better buck and a half!
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