Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Getting to Know the Saints

Going for a walk. A fitness walk. I reach the beginning-to-get-tired-and-breathless stage. I look at my watch. I think of how much further I have to go...distance-wise, time-wise.

I look ahead. Ah, at the top of the hill is a tree. Keep your eyes on that tree, Leonie. Move ahead, you can do it, you can make it up that oh so steep hill. Think only about the tree, the point in front.

This helps. This point of focus becomes my encourager. I keep going, focused on what is ahead, that shining beacon if you like. And the steep hill does not seem quite so steep after all.

My life is a little bit like that. Sometimes, a focus on what is ahead helps make the here and now easier, more pleasant, more do-able.

For me, some of those beacons of light are the saints.

Just like that tree, that point of hope, the stories of the lives of the saints, the writings of the saints, give me hope.

Just like that walker or runner a little ahead of me, he who is keeping faithful to the walk, who is not quitting and who, by his example, encourages me, urges me on, urges me to pace myself, who gives me inspiration to know I can do it, if he can I can, no quitting..so, too, the saints, in their lives, and their intercession, give me help, encouragement, inspiration.

The saints are models of a Christ-like life. They are models of what our lives could be...yes, models for me, that busy working and homeschooling mum, for my friend who works nights to support his family, for the lady from work who has worries about the care of her elderly mother, for that child who leads a full life, for that teen with his questions...

But even more than that, the saints can be friends.

Okay, right now, you are thinking...That's weird. Dead people as friends?

Well, yes. Just like when I read an excellent novel or series of novels (Laura and the statements of Ma from Little House on the Prairie will always stay with me) , watch a haunting spell binding movie ( I can never forget Meryl Streep as that nun in Doubt) , get enthralled by the television series Battlestar Galactica ( is there a bit of that troubled, female flyer Starbuck within me?)..just as I get involved in these characters, their language, their thoughts, so too I can get to know the saints, their writings, their thoughts, their struggles, their admonishments, their friendship.

Someone says something, and I think "Oh, like St Bonaventure." I feel like I know the saint, just a little, but a knowing nonetheless, from his writings.

So, I feel the friendship of the saints. They do not just serve a function in my life (St Jude , pray for me, St Anthony help me find that book)...they are people I come to know. The more one gets to know the saints, the more one feels that these men and women who are enjoying life with God are there for us, praying for us, wanting us to be sanctified, to live out our vocations.

However, as with any friend, one does not view the a saint from purely utilitarian viewpoint. In other words, we shouldn't see the saints just as intercessors, only as models and examples, just as someone who exists solely to encourage us as Christians.

By reading about the saints, by reading what the saints wrote and said, by praying to the saints, we can come to celebrate their lives. Celebrate their stories of their life on earth, their gift to God and to the Church. We can celebrate their diversity and the variety of gifts and lives they reveal in the kingdom of God.

That cloud of witnesses described by St Paul in Hebrews.

This has come to me gradually, this realization of the friendship of the saints, of the celebration of their lives, of how the saints were people like me, striving for holiness and being who they were.

Families, be who you are. Pope John Paul II.

I tend to think that I have to be someone else, that sainthood means being a certain kind of person. Well, it does...but it is a certain kind of person loving God and thus others and living this out in my own life and where God has put me in this world. Today. And tomorrow.

Holiness is not the luxury of a few. It is everyone's duty: yours and mine. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa.

When the alarm on my mobile phone goes off in the early morning (beep..beep, shut up!), I often start the day weary. I love my life (am I addicted to doing too much?) but I am sometimes just weary. Weary of the to do list, of trying to be a better wife and mother and friend and always failing miserably, weary of me.

I have two choices. I can continue to be weary and discouraged and realize that I will never be Mother Teresa. Or I can turn to Our Lord, in the Morning Prayer, in Mass, in my every day life. I can experience the presence of God in the Holy Eucharist, and in my life... Sometimes this might mean doing those big things in my life with love.... raising teenagers, serving my husband however bad at that I may be, being patient at home, in my vocation, for example. Sometimes, this might mean doing little things with love....biting my tongue, doing my jobs with a smile.

I am called to emulate those friends of mine, the saints. I am called to emulate Our Lord . I can discover paths to holiness, with the sacraments and on my journey to sanctity. But I have to do these things within my own unique vocation (Ouch!).

That is what the lives of the saints have taught me.

How gloriously different are the saints! C. S. Lewis.

How gloriously different. And, in my case, how weak. But it is in my weakness (do I have to finish that hill walk today?) that, with the power of Christ, I can be strong. I can look at the saints and their weaknesses, too, and like St Paul say that I am content, for whenever I am weak on my own, in human terms, then with Christ I am strong.

During this Christmas season, I have been doing fun workouts...dance, hi-low aerobics, singing my heart out while
working out ( Rio, Like A Virgin, Pump It). The music is like a grace that helps me to keep on working out, makes working out fun.

During Christmas, too, I have pondered the lives of the saints and particularly of Mary, Our Blessed Mother. A perfect example for a Catholic unschooling mother. She has become a friend, if you like, a mother. Knowing she is there, having a relationship with Our Mother, does make the daily life, well , I hesitate to say fun as in workout fun but more grace-filled. I see how Our Lady responded to God's invitation. I see how she lived in faith, how she persevered, how she loved.

How she loves.

How she helps us on our paths to sanctity, in our vocations.

Life with the saints. Never quitting.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A vocation to holiness

The priest, according to the magnificent definition given by St. Paul is indeed a man Ex hominibus assumptus, "taken from amongst men," yet pro hominibus constituitur in his quae sunt ad Deum, "ordained for men in the things that appertain to God": his office is not for human things, and things that pass away, however lofty and valuable these may seem; but for things divine and enduring. Ad Catholici Sacerdotii , Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on the Catholic Priesthood

Everyone in the Church, precisely because they are members, receive and thereby share in the common vocation to holiness. In the fullness of this title and on equal par with all other members of the Church, the lay faithful are called to holiness: "All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity". "All of Christ's followers are invited and bound to pursue holiness and the perfect fulfillment of their own state of life." Christifideles Laici , Pope John Paul II on the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World.

And so I read these statements, back to back. Compare and contrast, in my English teacher terms.

Ultimately, we are all called to holiness, aren't we? Lay people, even those of us very busy with temporal concerns. Priests, with their service, with the many demands made of each one, with their giving, with their humility, with their office for things divine and enduring.

But, as Hamlet would say, there's the rub.

For all of us, priests and laity alike, can be so taken up with the temporal society that we forget the spiritual realm. That we forget the call to holiness.

Parish life, family life, these are each a microcosm of the greater society. We bring ourselves to our parishes, to our families, don't we?

But the call for holiness means that though we may bring ourselves, we don't remain ourselves. We pray, we listen to Gods call, we use our hearts and our minds to reach out, to follow Mary and her fiat..and thus leave ourselves and our problems behind, as we serve Our Lord with love and humility.

This is especially important for we lay people, in our parish work and in our family life. Do we serve out of love or for personal gratification...or worse, for a sense of power?

Over biscuits and coffee this morning, I listened to a generous hearted woman. She shared her thoughts, her concerns, about parish life.

She serves. She serves well. She serves with love. And she does not seek public acknowledgement.

The same could not be said of some others in her parish.

And how much worse is it when a priest serves his parish, not with humility and not with a servant's heart but with a sense of his own assumed power, of jealousy, of almost political career advancement.

Harsh words indeed. Yet, if we are all called to holiness, we as lay people have a responsibility to pray and to work out our salvation, to paraphrase St Paul. But we also have a right to be assisted in this by our priests.

Now, each and every priest needs our prayers, needs our help. Each priest, too, is on a path to holiness.

But with this comes their responsibility to the faithful. For the parish is not the priest's own, he has not the right to follow his own inclinations. He has, instead, a responsibility to follow Church teaching, to administer his duties with love and concern and as a father with correction of the faithful as needed, to not create cliques and inner circles, to not run things for his own good and his own tastes.

For temporal things are temporal, are here today and gone tomorrow. Parish priests, really, are often here today and gone tomorrow..to another parish, another obligation. The faithful remain in the parish, praying, striving for holiness, praying for priests...hopefully,with the assistance and not the hindrance of the priest.

We priests have been consecrated in the Church for this specific ministry. We are called in various ways, to contribute, wherever Providence puts us, to the formation of the community of God's People. Our task ...is to tend the flock God entrusted to us, not by constraint but willingly, not as domineering over those in our charge, but by setting them an example (cf. 1 Pt 5: 2-3). (...) This is our way of holiness, which leads us to our ultimate meeting with the "supreme shepherd" in whose hands is the "crown of glory" (1 Pt 5: 4). This is our mission at the service of the Christian people. The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community, Congregation for the Clergy, 2002.

To serve. In a vocation of holiness.

Not by domineering.

And lay people, not by seeking to take on the substance of the ordained priesthood.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent contradictions

"At the beginning of a new yearly cycle, the liturgy invites the Church to renew her proclamation to all the peoples and sums it up in two words ‘God comes.’ These words, so concise, contain an ever new evocative power.The one true God, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,’ is not a God who is there in Heaven, unconcerned with us and our history, but he is the-God-who-comes. He is a Father who never stops thinking of us and, in the extreme respect of our freedom, desires to meet us and visit us; he wants to come, to dwell among us, to stay with us. ...God comes to save us." Pope Benedict XVI

In Advent as we prepare for Christmas, as we read of St John the Baptist preparing the way for the Messiah, we hear...what? Reflections on prayer? Reflections on how to prepare to remember Christ's coming as a little child and to remember that He will come again, for we know not when the hour is at hand? Reflections on drawing closer to Our Lord in Advent, in preparation for Christmas, in preparation for His second coming, in preparation for a renewal of faith and love and hope?

Well, yes, we do hear of preparing ourselves for Our Lord, we do hear of spiritual preparation and of sharing His Love with others.

Pope John Paul II in an address in Advent 2002 said, "The liturgy of Advent…helps us to understand fully the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, it is necessary to understand that the whole of our life must be an ‘advent,’ a vigilant awaiting of the final coming of Christ. To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously."

We hear how we should prepare, in Advent, through prayer and through living a quiet, hidden life, centred on God.

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has presented St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, as a model of recollection. St Joseph’s silence in the Gospel, the Holy Father said, "does not demonstrate an empty interior, but rather the fullness of faith that he carries in his heart. Let’s allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by the silence of St. Joseph!"

Silence "is so lacking in this world which is often too noisy, which is not favourable to recollection and listening to the voice of God," Pope Benedict XVI said. "In this time of preparation for Christmas, let us cultivate interior recollection so as to receive and keep Jesus in our lives."

The Holy Father has suggested that the faithful establish in these days "a kind of spiritual dialogue with St. Joseph so that he helps us live to the fullest this mystery of faith."

Advent, then, is a time for recollection, for prayer, for penance, for rejoicing, for preparation, for being with Our Lord and sharing this joy with others...family, friends, strangers.

On the other hand, we also hear voices of contradiction, voices calling us not to more prayer but to social action. Alone. Voices even denigrating spiritual preparation during Advent.

From secular sources, you say?

Or from some within the Church?

We hear that, when St John the Baptist sent his followers to Jesus, to discover the identity of Jesus, to establish to others that Jesus was the Messiah , Jesus' reply was about helping the blind see, the lepers be cleansed and so forth and that Jesus " did not say a word about people praying more..or making God the centre of their lives...The age of the Messiah does not concern religion in the traditional sense of the word. One knows that the Messiah has come because a real change has taken place in society, a change that involves a liberation of those who have always been cut off from the main branch of society."

And no, I didn't read this at heresy dotcom ( to steal a quote from a friend!).

I read this in what should be a reliable source for the faithful in our parishes..

And it is wrong.

Christ did indeed promise liberation, and at first His disciples thought He was to provide societal or temporal liberation, the liberation of revolutionaries. Instead, Christ brought about spiritual liberation..a transforming of self, a call to follow Him and Our God, a call for interioral and then exterioral change.

Christ's words echo the prophesies of Isaiah, words that gave the Israelites hope that their Messiah would come, words that showed without doubt that He was the much awaited Messiah. Prayer was not excluded. Prayer and adoration and transformation of self were givens.These words were signs of His identity, signs that should make those awaiting their Messiah, signs that should make us, fall on our knees and pray in adoration.

Christ comes.

The real change is that by His coming, we are given hope and life. We experience true, unconditional love ( He emptied himself, taking the form of a man) . We are transformed interiorly and this spiritual transformation effects a change in society, as we share His love with others.

The Holy Father, in reflecting on Advent said "With the angel’s greeting to Mary —‘kaire’ in the Greek, which means ‘be joyful’—the New Testament begins.We could say that the first word of the New Testament is ‘be joyful,’ ‘be happy,’ in other words, ‘joy.’ This is the true meaning of Christmas: God is near us, so near that He became a child."

The Holy Father then points out how "we realize that today’s world, where God is absent, is dominated by fear, by uncertainty." Nonetheless, " the words ‘be joyful because God is with you and with us,’ truly open a new time."

"Joy is the true gift of Christmas... We can communicate this joy simply: with a smile, a kind gesture, a little help, forgiveness. .…Let us pray that this presence of the liberating joy of God shines forth in our lives."

And yet we hear contradiction again. In that should-be but now shown to be not-so-reliable source.

"Jesus is the Messiah because those who are blind, crippled, diseased, and poor have been liberated from the things which make them the victims of injustice." Hmm, the Church states unequivocally that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity... and not because He was solely an agent of social justice.

Jesus accepted Peter's profession of faith, which acknowledged him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man.He unveiled the authentic content of his messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man "who came down from heaven", and in his redemptive mission as the suffering Servant: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Hence the true meaning of his kingship is revealed only when he is raised high on the cross. Only after his Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus' messianic kingship to the People of God: "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." Catechism of the Catholic Church, 440.

The CCC states that Christ was and is the long awaited Messiah, He is the anointed One.Yet we find contradiction again, in that local Catholic source.."We can turn the statement around to say that if the dregs of society do not experience liberation, then Jesus is not the Messiah."

No, we can't, I'm sorry. Not even metaphorically or for a literary, dramatic touch. Not when we are sharing Sunday Reflections for the faithful. If anything, these reflections need to be clear and unambiguous. The arena for theoretical and philosophical ruminations, for literary technique and analysis, is not a parish bulletin. It is the stuff of journals, of papers, of discussion forums.

Or even of blogs.

In Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, we should prepare.

Pray. Go to Mass. Go to Confession. Do penance. Do some extra spiritual reading. Celebrate and live the liturgical year.
Be faithful.
Love and share this love with others.

The message is simple.

Living the life is not so simple, in an often secularised world. And we, the faithful are helped to live the hidden life of adoring and serving Our Lord, where we are, by the sacraments, by God's Grace and by good teaching. And not by contradictions in what should be reliable Catholic sources.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Recalcitrant Mother's Prayer

Have you been indifferent to a choice?

I don't mean this in a negative way ( a who could care less way) but say it with a positive tone.

In praying about some recent events in our lives, I came to feel an indifference towards the result. Indifferent as in experiencing the inner, well, freedom I guess you would call it, to be open to God's will and wherever that may lead. To not put all my cares and wishes and hopes in one option. To say... Okay, God, I am happy with either choice, whatever is your will.

In Ignatian spirituality, to be indifferent means to choose the will of God rather than my own. To choose what will bring me closer to God.

Now, this indifference over a few recent situations doesn't mean that I am perfect spiritually. Or that I feel this indifference over everything. Far from it.

It shows, instead, the power and graces of prayer.

And of devotion to our Blessed Mother.

We are taught to love and say the Rosary with great devotion; let us be faithful to this our first love - for it will bring us closer to our Heavenly Mother.....Cling to the Rosary as the creeper clings to the tree... Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, her private writings.

I am finding that persistence in prayer slowly, gradually, changes me ...and my natural inclinations to be not-so-nice.

Well, I am sure that is obvious to most people but I have had to learn it the long way. To persevere in prayer regardless of feeling. To pray, even if prayer seems a penance, even if I would rather just get up and chat and talk. Or cry.

Prayer with perseverance means that I learn self control. Our Lady brings me to Her Son, but it comes with a cost. A little bit of dying to self. Of doing what I don't want. Of being nice when I don't want to be. Of being uncomfortable. Of praying through pain.

I want to smile at Jesus and so hide if possible the pain and darkness of my soul even to Him. Mother Teresa again.

Praying the Rosary, clinging to the Rosary, takes the focus off me and off what I want in a situation. Takes the focus off even my own prayer intentions. Gives me a vehicle to forget about me ( Deo Gratias) and to just be, with Our Lord and His Mother, in prayer. To offer this prayer, and the other Morning and Evening Prayers of the Divine Office, for others. And not for me.

It is not all about me. A real revelation.

The Divine Office, that and praying the Rosary, reminds me of this fact. These prayers unite my prayers with the community of believers. They are a discipline and a grace.

The Divine Office (or the Liturgy of the Hours) is the public, daily prayer of the Church. Jesus said to "Pray continually and never lose heart." ( Luke 18:1)

So, the Divine Office is the Church’s response of praying unceasingly throughout the day.

When I pray the Divine Office, I join with the Church in prayer. I participate in the prayer of Christ, in His prayer for the salvation of souls. I am not praying for myself and for my day but for the needs of others, of the family, of the world.

There are days when the psalms I pray might be expressing an emotion different from that which I am experiencing. But the prayers of the Divine Office, the intention of praying this, and of praying the Rosary, keep in my mind the thought that I, that we, are praying as a Church. As I pray, in communion with others praying these prayers throughout the world, the exact same prayers, not me-centred petitions or a shopping list of wishes, I am given the grace of truly praying in communion, of offering up the prayer of someone else who might be in great pain and sorrow, or of someone who might be giving praise to God.


So, perseverance in prayer has helped me, is helping me. And helps my family, for a mother and wife's prayer life is closely interwoven with the life and heart of the family.

I heard one writer, a mother, refer to praying the Divine Office as a "safety net" - the prayers catch you when you feel you are sinking, are falling, when things in the family are going right, when things in the family are less than right. Praying the Divine Office lets you fall, safely, in prayer, into the arms of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. With the rhythm of the prayers and of the liturgical seasons. With the familiarity of the Psalms. With perseverance and imperfection and with love.

I don 't always pray perfectly. I don't usually reach that point of (Jesuit described) indifference. I am often self centred. I have not reached spiritual perfection.

But prayer is teaching me many things. Is giving God's grace to my family. Is showing me Christ. Is uniting me with the Church, her liturgy, her prayers. Me, an often too busy, too sarcastic wife and mother. Who fails to think before she speaks and acts and then regrets her choice. Who is brought to her knees in prayer.

If prayer and perseverance in prayer can teach the recalcitrant me oh so many things, imagine how it helps my family, my friends, those other, more gentle mothering souls.

I am ready to accept whatever He gives and to give whatever He takes with a big smile. Mother Teresa.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Homily..A Fairy Tale

And so it comes time for the homily during a parish Sunday mass.

The congregation has heard the Word of God proclaimed.

Does Father walk to the ambo to deliver his homily?

As the faithful sit, waiting to hear an exposition, perhaps on the readings of the Sacred Scripture that day, they see Father moving away from the sanctuary, not towards the ambo but to the people.

Father then invites all the children present to come forward and sit on the steps of the sanctuary, in front of the altar, and therefore in front of the tabernacle, and Father wanders around, asking questions of the children, making a few jokes, having the congregation laugh, at his jokes and at the cuteness of the children.

A fairy tale perhaps?

I wish.

So why am I the stick-in-the-mud, the grumpy mother of seven who cringes at this style of homily? Why am I the lone wolf crying in the wilderness?

Why does it even matter?

It matters because it affects how and what we believe as Catholics. It matters because it, this style of homily, gathering children or lay people on the steps of the sanctuary, affects how we view the sacredness of the altar, the sacredness of Holy Mass, of where bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Our Lord. It matters because it affects how we view mass - mass centred on we the people or mass and thus adoration for and worship of God and therefore truly concerned for we human souls.
It matters because of taste, and style and reverence. If one wants cuteness and kitsch, one can turn on TV. If one wants worship and communion with other believers, if one wants lasting change in society as we claim Christ
as King, then our souls need to be fed within Holy Mass. Not entertained.

What does the General Instruction for the Roman Missal have to say about the homily within mass?

65. The homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.
66. The Homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.
There is to be a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with the participation of a congregation; it may not be omitted without a serious reason. It is recommended on other days, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter Season, as well as on other festive days and occasions when the people come to church in greater numbers.
After the homily a brief period of silence is appropriately observed.

Mmm. The homily is "necessary for nurturing Christian life"...not, then, for our entertainment or for the priest to gain popularity or even to make Mass more relevant for children. As a mother and a teacher, I know that children love to be challenged, not necessarily entertained. They will rise to the challenge of a homily pitched towards them yet still containing Truth and making them think. They, too, are tired of platitudes, of being fed dumbed-down material and deserve better...deserve to be shown, by the adults around them, and most especially by the priest, what it is that mass is all about. What it is that the Scripture passages tell us. What it means to be a Catholic child. How Christ loves us, appearing on our altars in the Eucharist. And how we love Him, by giving Him due worship and adoration. With reverence and without self-centredness.

"After the homily a brief period of silence is appropriately observed." How can we have silence after the homily when, indeed, we had no silence during the homily? When the homily consisted of questions and answers, a priest walking up and down, children laughing and fidgeting or, worse, looking bored, while sitting around or in front of the altar ? What was there to reflect upon? Any salient points that may have been made have become lost in the blur and noise of bodies, of movement, of distractions, of laughter, of cuteness.

Better to move straight on to parish notices. Just keep it moving along, in case we, the faithful, get bored or restless or have time to think or reflect or pray in silence.

Yes, better to move on, rather than have the faithful absorb the religion -and-popular-culture mix of sentiments that may be contained in the homily.

In the homily to be given, care is to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life’s events. Even so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents as a source. Redemptionis Sacramentum

So, if the story above was a fairy tale, a tale of a homily, how would it end? Now, this would not be a bitter, dark fairy tale. In this tale, a tale of a homily, we would see a moral.

The moral being that we, faithful and priest alike, see that abuses “contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament”.and " hinder the faithful from “re-living in a certain way the experience of the two disciples of Emmaus: ‘and their eyes were opened, and they recognized him’” ( Ibid). In my version of this fairy tale, we come to see that our internal disposition must affect our external actions. And vice verse. Even in liturgy. Even in homilies.

Or should I say especially in liturgy and in homilies?

The observance of the norms published by the authority of the Church requires conformity of thought and of word, of external action and of the application of the heart. ...The liturgical words and rites, moreover, are a faithful expression, matured over the centuries, of the understanding of Christ, and they teach us to think as he himself does; by conforming our minds to these words, we raise our hearts to the Lord. ( Redemptionis Sacramentum)

Monday, November 15, 2010

We need it because...

At Mass with a friend recently. On the way home, we talked about the new translation of the missal.

"Oh, I suppose we need a new translation," said my friend. "We get bored and don't pay attention to the old so something new is good."

I stopped.

I looked.

A trifle aghast.

And I said that this comment was exactly why we need the new translation..not because we need change but because we need to return to the use of more sacred language, not more innovations. We need a continuity with Tradition not a break from it. To paraphrase a homily I heard yesterday.

Okay, so what exactly do I mean?

The Holy Father describes this continuity...

The proper celebration of the Eucharist involves knowing, understanding and loving the Church’s liturgy in its concrete form. In the liturgy we pray with the faithful of every age -- the past, the present and the future are joined in one great chorus of prayer. As I can state from personal experience, it is inspiring to learn how it all developed, what a great experience of faith is reflected in the structure of the Mass, and how it has been shaped by the prayer of many generations. Pope Benedict XVI Letter To Seminarians.

We pray, we understand, we draw close to God and to the community of believers m
ore effectively when pray the liturgy within the living Tradition of the Church. We then live out our life in a spirit of Faith and in a spirit of prayer.

We do not need liturgy that is all about superficial emotions, feel good phrases or homilies; we do not need innovations, extraneous activities and words inserted in the rite, to help us pay attention. The liturgy itself, and our understanding of the liturgy, should help us to pay attention, to draw closer to God, in a spirit of adoring prayer.

One could say that we need the new translation of the missal in order to re-introduce all the faithful to the use of, the importance of, sacred language...and to thus use this introduction of the new translation as an effective means of liturgical formation. As we learn why we need the changes; as we learn of the changes; then we can also learn, and be instructed in, the sacred meaning of our Divine worship.

What an opportunity, for priest and faithful alike, to instruct, to learn. To know and understand the liturgy, the public worship of the Church. What an opportunity to place our liturgy within the history and Tradition of the Church, to continue to pray with the saints with a deeper understanding, to stand before God, adoring Him. not only with our feelings but with our entire self -- our intellect, our emotions, our love, our physical presence and internal and external actions.
As we understand the new translation of the missal and the changes, as we pray with more conscious intent, we will see development in our formation as Catholics. Formation, leaning closer to the will of God with understanding and knowledge, is a lifelong process. The work of both children and adults.

Why the need, for example, for change in the language used in the missal? Why the emphasis on sacred language? Bishop Peter Elliott, auxilary bishop of Melbourne, writes:

But do we need a new translation of the Mass in English? Is the text we currently use not good enough?

No, it is not good enough because it is not particularly good — and “good enough” is not the way to describe the language we should use in the worship of God. The time has come to change because what we are using is not only often inaccurate as a translation, but the style of English is rather dull, banal, lacking in the dignity of language for worship, more like the language of a homily than a prayer. Adoremus Bulletin, Why We Need the New Translation of the Mass

Think about this. Is good enough ever good enough, when we speak of our worship of Our Lord?

If we pray with dignity, if we use words and phrases of dignity, that is to say, sacred, set apart, different phrases and not colloquial phrases ( And with your spirit; through my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault), won't this change the way we respond? From the use of every day phrases ( and Mass sometimes seeming akin to a second rate TV performance) to a respectful. reverent, dignified celebration.

Why is this so important? Why should how we pray at mass make a difference to our Faith, to what we believe and to how we act? To our relationship with Our Lord?

Again, to quote the Holy Father, there is a connection between how we worship and what we believe. A deep connection between action and belief.

The genuine believer, in every age, experiences in the liturgy the presence, the primacy and the work of God. It is "veritatis splendor" ("Sacramentum Caritatis," No. 35), nuptial event, foretaste of the new and definitive city and participation in it; it is link of creation and of redemption, open heaven above the earth of men, passage from the world to God; it is Easter, in the Cross and in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; it is the soul of Christian life, called to follow, to reconciliation that moves to fraternal charity......... The correspondence of the prayer of the Church (lex orandi) with the rule of the faith (lex credendi) molds the thought and the feelings of the Christian community, giving shape to the Church, Body of Christ and Temple of the Spirit. No human word can do without time, even when, as in the case of the liturgy, it constitutes a window that open beyond time. Hence, to give voice to a perennially valid reality calls for the wise balance of continuity and novelty, of tradition and actualization.Pope Benedict XVI Message to Italian Bishops

The new translation of the missal, then, can be a time for Catholics to renew their Faith, to reinforce their belief, to be brought closer to God, to a more perfect adoration of God, to live their Faith with knowledge and understanding, to make a difference within the world. Through their prayerful participation in the celebration of Holy Mass, the Divine public prayer of the Church, with respect of rubrics and of sacred language.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Because...Unschooling Q & A

Some recent questions that I have received, about our unschooling homeschooling lifestyle. And some of my replies. Because there is never a new question or a dumb question and because blogging is all about sharing and because this blog reflects my unschooling mentality i.e. sharing bits and pieces.

What do you think are the positives of unschooling?

I guess I see some of the positives of unschooling to be rather nebulous, things like joy and an interest in learning; strong family ties; a sense of identity .Things that can’t always be measured but are with our kids for life – so, there is still that difference, for example, in my older sons, long term unschooling graduates.

In other words, you may not see the fruits of unschooling right now, this very minute, but instead catch glimpses of the fruits but over time. Just like the way our children grow. They seem to be little forever and then, one summer, we notice that they have shot up, their jeans are too short, their shirts too small , and we think, with wonder "How they have grown!" It is the same with unschooling. We worry today about that lazy son. about not enough reading and then, one day, we find a Shakespeare novel under a pillow ( "For night time reading, Mum") and a clean kitchen, cleaned by a son, upon your return from work. Maturity and growth.

Sometimes you don’t see quantifiable things – knowing history or art, for example – but you see, instead, their passions, how much the kids know about their passions – or simply, in the case of one of my sons who has no one passion, just a general happiness, a brightness and an interest in life.

But I see value in a classical education. How can I mesh this ideal with unschooling?

Can you let go of your agenda ( the classical education ) and see where God will take you and your children in learning? I think that is the first step to successful unschooling..no hidden agenda, trusting in a rich home and community experience, in your own influence, in living the Faith, in learning through life. For joy in life and learning, joy in adoring Our Lord, joy in family relationships has to come first, before we even talk about classical education or the tools for learning. We are more open to the goals of the education of "the free man" (to quote Plato and Aristotle) when we are in a healthy environment.

One can also strew a classical education rather than require a classical education. Via books, movies, excursions and outings, music, art, discussion. Living, eating, breathing the classics. Learning Latin or Greek yourself. Learning our prayers in Latin. Learning the Latin in Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Endless family discussions and debate and reference to logic. In other words, using the materials and resources of a classical education within your daily life and home.

One can also educate oneself classically – and then share this with the kids...as you share who you are.

A case in point here. Liturgy is my passion. I don’t teach the kids about liturgy but because I read about it, I blog about it, I talk about it, the kids end up knowing about liturgy. Recently , we had two priests over for a cup of tea. And, as often happens here, of late, we began discussing liturgy. The kids were strong in expressing viewpoints and discussing concepts and ideas – and one son said that this year, liturgy had become something of an interest for him too. Education via osmosis.

But I want my children to learn perseverance and self discipline and commitment.

In family life, especially within my larger than standard family, it is impossible not to learn self discipline and perseverance. We have to discipline ourselves to share, to take our turn, to pitch in and help with chores, to do something we don't want but which others want, to persevere through annoyance or irritability...and through the normal duties and strains and giving and taking that comes with the pleasures of family life.

Unschooling is not wrapping a child in a cocoon..it is opening the world to a child, sometimes warts and all...be it in family discussions on budgeting..or in volunteer work in our parishes or in the homeschool community, working with and rubbing shoulders with a myriad of people.

I have also found that one can pick just a single subject in which to learn perseverance ...and that academic discipline can be learned by consistently studying one subject formally, rather than "doing school" .... and we can leave the other subjects to life and strewing. Sometimes this single subject discipline has been Latin in our house, sometimes Kumon maths or English, sometimes Religion.

But my son's strength is maths but he is not interested in society and environment .

It helps me not to think of my kids in terms of education ( one son is into history, one doesn’t like writing, ) but in terms of virtues ( patience, prudence, fortitude, and so on ) and in terms of character traits ( friendly, quiet) and who they are right now as people. This kind of thought changes my mindset, away from school, and onto the idea of Charlotte Mason that children are born persons. Thinking of children as persons means we think of who they are and what they need; we encourage and acknowledge their input; we don't see them as blank slates on which to write.

Even at work, I see this in my students. I do not mould them; I work with them and guide and instruct and sometimes discipline. I get to know them as people, first.

So, how do we start unschooling?

My suggestion is to start unschooling by taking a vacation, a holiday – in your home, your suburb, your hometown. Act like you would on vacation – make yummy breakfasts, go for walks, play games, watch movies, cook, build Lego, go to museums and libraries, etc.

Don’t think in terms of education, just in terms of living and spending time - and keep a journal of what you do each day. I recently purchased a lovely 365 journal and I am writing brief notes of what we do, things we talk about and think about. It’s hard not to see learning after awhile.

The other thing we do is just celebrate the liturgical year together – you would be surprised how much fun, how much learning occurs just naturally through celebrating the liturgical year. For example, this week we talked about St Martin de Porres, and Peru and looked for Peruvian dessert recipes. We prayed the De Profundis for All Hallows Eve and had an All Hallows Eve party. We went to mass and learned about the history of All Saints and made Soul Cakes. We prayed for the dead on All Souls Day ( and read about horse racing for our Melbourne Cup lunch !) and we talked about St Charles Borromeo, his influence on Blessed John XXIII and about Milan and made Milanese pizza. Who needs school ? And doing activities like this is a good way to fill in that gap that sometimes seems to happen if you stop school and wonder what to do next, what are our passions, what do we do as unschoolers?

But I panic without school!

I used to read unschooling books or websites or blogs, every day. No kidding, this is what I used to do.. read a little bit of unschooling wisdom every day, to help me keep on track when, perhaps, the rest of the world thought I was crazy or lazy. I would pray, workout, read about unschooling each morning.

So is unschooling like unit studies or thematic units?

Well, in a rabbit trail kind of way. Not a full blown you must complete x and y integrated units method but more like..hey, this looks interesting, let's go....The latter describes our unschooling rabbit trails.

For example, it was Harry Potter week and I suggested we do some Harry Potter reading and movies and related activities from a unit study that I found free online. Last year, we were going on a beach holiday to Wollongong so I used some ideas from a homeschool Science blog re a shell project and we did that together. Last year, or the year before, we did the growing tomatoes thing from the Canadian Space project and the Journey North as a family. Earlier this year, we were into the 1980s because we like 1980s music and movies and we went several times to a back to the 1980s exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. So, I downloaded some teacher resources from the website and we chose some activities to do .

Then we had our whole Legally Blonde/romantic comedy genre study going...and now are into C.S Lewis: Voyage of the Dawn Treader ( new movie coming out); Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters. And unit study ideas from a study guide ...integrating subjects in a Choose Your Own Adventure fashion.

Can you see how unschooling flows from life, is life, is learning?

So, unschooling is...

Different for everyone.. we have always been very influenced by natural learning, unschooling, delight directed learning, John Holt. And I have found that each of my sons have grown more into self discipline and into academics and continue this interest and inner motivation at university and work.

Therefore, for us, unschooling has lead to more rigorous academics, to learning how to follow a path, to perseverance.

Of course, our family home and family culture has a role – strewing, chores, family life, valuing self discipline and academics, our values and Catholicism . But these are hard to separate from unschooling. And that really sums up unschooling..it is who we are...and it makes us into open books for our children.. avid learners at all ages.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


When your mind is full of Many Things, it helps to do cardio. And pray.


Yes, simple, mindless jogging and walking, so that as you move, as you develop a rhythm, you get an endorphin high ( that woo hoo feeling....would that all of life was lived on that high)....and you have time to pray.

I prayed my rosary each day this week while doing walking and jogging workouts.

Prayer without ceasing.

At the RCIA group , we talked about the Catholic Church, the faithful, the role of the laity. And thus of prayer.

The New Testament leaves us in no doubt that we should pray regularly. Our Lord taught, by word and example, that we should pray continually and never lose heart ( Luke 18:1). St Paul and other writers of the New Testament re-echo Our Lord's teaching that we must "pray constantly" (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:16)

For this reason, the public and communal prayer of the faithful has always been considered among the first duties of the Church. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that from the very beginning the baptised " remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers." ( Acts 2:42)

One thing I have learned is that prayer throughout the day sanctifies my day, makes me aware of God and helps me to worship Him throughout the day.

And so I pray the Divine Office, in the morning and in the evening. I pray at Mass. We pray the Angelus, and grace before meals as a family.

But more than this, I find that I can pray throughout my day, while involved in otherwise mindless tasks. That jogging and walking or junk mail delivery walking, for example.

We shared at the RCIA programme how to make a simple prayer part of our day, part of our activity.

A morning offering perhaps.


Yes, joy for me in spending that time in a fitness walk or jog, with Our Lord. Sometimes, I am passionate. I pour my thoughts and concerns for others into my rosary and into my walk/jog. Sometimes, I am dry and dusty. I meditate on the rosary in an almost mechanical rhythm , attuned to my feet jogging and or pattering in sequenced unison.

Regardless of feeling, I pray.

I join in with the centuries of Christians who have prayed the rosary and meditated on the mysteries of Christ's life. I pray because Our Lord, and the Church, has asked us to pray. I pray for others; I pray for joy, to be almost surprised by joy, as C. S. Lewis described. A sometimes uncetain joy, a joy not always felt, a joy that comes, sometimes, in the midst of pain or discomfort or sacrifice for others ( pain and sorrow in life, discomfort and sacrifice in the discipline of making myself get up early and workout and walk and jog and not think of Other Things, physical pain in that sometimes aching heel).

Joy and pain and prayer.

"If you are joyful, it will shine in your eyes and in your look, in your conversation and in your countenance. You will not be able to hide it because joy overflows.

Joy must be one of the pivots of our life. It is the token of a generous personality. Sometimes it is also a mantle that clothes a life of sacrifice and self-giving. A person who has this gift often reaches high summits. He or she is like a sun in a community.”
~ Mother Teresa

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What is a Catholic priest?

What is a Catholic priest?

And what do I, a laywoman and a convert, know of the priesthood?

Not a lot. But I am learning - through reading Church teaching, through books like In Good Company, The Priest Is Not His Own, Many Are Called. Through the encyclical Mediator Dei. Through St Paul's letter to the Hebrews. Through my dealings with priests - during Mass, before and after Mass, in parish life, as friends.

Why learn about the priesthood?

Because , "What is a priest! A man who holds the place of God -- a man who is invested with all the powers of God' ....St John Vianney .

Or, as Fr Hardon has said, "What is the Catholic Priesthood? The Catholic priesthood is that institution which is absolutely necessary for Christianity. That's a large statement that the Catholic priesthood is absolutely necessary for the Church. So that without the priesthood there would be no Christianity left on earth. Remove the priesthood and you remove the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the world. Remove the priesthood and you remove the sacrifice of the Mass from the world. Remove the priesthood and you remove Holy Communion from the world. Remove the priesthood and you remove the sacrament of reconciliation from a very sinful world. Remove the priesthood and you remove the sacrament of anointing from the world. Remove the priesthood and you remove the divinely assured teaching of God's revealed truth from the world. In a word without the priesthood Christianity would be a memory but no longer a reality. It would cease to exist on earth in this admittedly, difficult valley of tears".

I think there can be a tendency to see priests as administrators, as those who head a business (the parish) and administer the sacraments and pastoral life in a corporate fashion.

There can be a tendency to see the Church, the parish, as a numbers game - people in pews, money given in the collection.

Pope Benedict XVI, in this week's letter to seminarians, has warned against this style of thinking. The Holy Father has encouraged seminarians to put their relationship with Christ first; to do what is right, first

"It follows that the most important thing in our path towards priesthood and during the whole of our priestly lives is our personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ. The priest is not the leader of a sort of association whose membership he tries to maintain and expand."

And what can I, as a layperson, do to support priests? For, if there is no Church without our priests and sacraments, there lies a responsibility for all. For priests, to maintain their relationship with Christ, properly ordered, and then to serve. For laypeople, to pray and sacrifice for our priests, so they will be encouraged and supported in their vocations.

To pray and sacrifice for all priests and religious but most especially for those whom we know, for those in our parishes, for those from whom we have received the sacraments. For those whom we love, those orthodox self sacrificing, compassionate priests... and also for those priests who are, perhaps, misguided and who may be less of an example than they should.

And to pray and sacrifice for vocations to the priesthood and to religious life, so we may build up the Church as a shining star, an example, a beacon to our often secular world.