Saturday, January 29, 2011

Custody of the eyes

Custody of the eyes.

A traditional, even old fashioned term for being careful about what you look at, what you gaze upon, what you see, what you watch.

For we can be formed, we can be tempted, by what we see. And so we should exercise care in this area. As in others.

We should especially practice custody of the eyes during Holy Mass. Looking at Our Lord, praying, following the prayers in our missals, rather than looking at our friends, the priest, the altar servers, the hairstyles, the shoes.... Or is that only me?

So that our focus is Our Lord, our exterior dispositions mirroring our interior dispositions.

If custody of the eyes can seem to be an old fashioned term in our modern life, custody of the eyes in mass can seem to be even more unusual.

It is, however, important. Especially for priests. Because it can be disconcerting to have Father wandering around during his homily, doing the whole Jerry Springer Q & A thing, being a showman, looking at me in the eyes. Straight in the eyes. Repeatedly.

Disconcerting, not confronting. Disconcerting because it takes our eyes and our focus off Our Lord and onto Father and his, well, often, um...platitudes. Makes mass seem less of a sacrifice and less centred on worshipping God and more centred on man... On entertainment... Not on adoring God but almost on adoring ourselves....and Father.

When priests practice custody of the eyes during mass, they are less likely to try to engage we laypeople with looks and jokes and are more likely to celebrate Holy Mass with reverence.. That ars celebrandi. Celebrating Holy Mass in the spirit of truth and beauty...I have been privileged to participate in Holy Masses celebrated this way.

And one could almost say that this can be an argument for Mass celebrated ad orientem as opposed to versus populum.... For when Father faces the people, and does not practice custody of the eyes, laypeople become used to gazing at Father and his expressions and his idiosyncrasies ... At, for example, the Pater Noster. It has become common in many of the masses that I pray at, for Father to look at the congregation and smile and try to include all with a sweeping glance when he is, in fact, addressing Our Lord. And thus, Father's focus ( and subsequently our focus ) should be looking upon Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament . "Deliver us Lord from every evil...."

Remembering custody of the eyes might prevent that other common practice at some of the masses in which I pray... Father walking around at the sign of peace, shaking hands with the congregation in the first few pews, even while we intone the Agnus Dei and while Jesus is on the altar, almost being ignored during the supposed bonhomie of certain, selected parishioners shaking hands with Father.

So what are we to do? We need to encourage a return to the practice of custody of the eyes, especially during mass, for laypeople and priest alike.

Perhaps we laity need to lead the way, by praying during mass, concentrating on Our Lord, not expecting entertainment and not engaging in the whole dialogue talk show style homily. And thanking Father for mass, not for the joke.

And perhaps priests can be encouraged with further formation, to celebrate Holy Mass as Mother Church describes. To think less of themselves and of being a popular showman, less of bottoms on seats, and more of their relationship with God and the salvation of the souls in their care ( to paraphrase the Holy Father's Letter to Seminarians, 2010).

We could all simply begin with a return to the practice of custody of the eyes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The "that's that" for mothers

Remembering St Angela Merici. And "Because of Winn Dixie."

St Angela, a Third Order Franciscan, founder of the Ursulines, a strong believer in the value of education. Especially in the education of girls.

The saint believed that problems in the family, disruption in the family unit, led to problems in society. And thus, St Angela wrote, the role of the Christian mother is of great importance. Educate young girls, possible future mothers, and you educate families and society.

St Angela went so far as to say that there was a lack of Christian mothers, dedicated to their vocation.

Sharing this information with my sons, on the feast day of St Angela Merici, I was inspired to look at my life, at my own vocation , my own mothering.

And the words of St John Bosco came to my mind. Love what they, the children love, and they will come to love what you love... Our Lord, the Church, the Faith.

With this is the realism of life with teens and young adults , a tumult of arranging appointments and work and mass and study and housework and friends and technology and family time and living the liturgical year and rituals and rhythms and plan B and O and Z.

The realism of failings and imperfections, especially my imperfections and failings.

But I come back to St John Bosco's emphasis on love. To love my vocation and to love my family. As much as I, with my logic, can love. That imperfect love.

And so I think of the movie and book Because of Winn Dixie, and of little Opal learning to love . And to let go.

Because that is part of mothering. Loving. And letting go.

Gloria: Listen... Opal... you cannot hold onto anything that wants to go. Do you understand what I'm sayin'? You just got to love it while you got it, and that's that.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How do you know I am who I am?

That almost sounds like a line from a Dr Seuss book. How do you know I am who I am?

Today I bought a classic Little Golden Book. Nurse Nancy. Retro story and illustrations, from 1952.

I was buying books for Kumon and I just couldn't reisist buying this picture book for me.

How do we readers, especially younger readers, of this Little Golden book , know that Nancy is a Nurse?

Because she wears a nurse's uniform. The uniform makes it clear to others that Nancy is a nurse, one to call on for a particular duty, one wth a special vocation or calling from God.

We know who she is, we know of her vocation.

My wedding ring serves a similar role in my life. When I travel for work, it is not unknown for me to go to the bar with other workers, for drinks after conference sessions . We talk. I meet others. We laugh. We have a good time. And I am free to be friendly with members of the opposite sex, and they are free to be friendly with me, to drink and laugh and talk, without misunderstanding, because my wedding ring says it all. Tells of my vocation to marriage and to motherhood.And thus we avoid any ( far fetched, but possible) misunderstanding.

The ring is a visible sign of who I am, of my vocation.

And so today I met a nun. A nun who, unlike Nurse Nancy , unlike this married homeschooling mother, gave no visible indication of her vocation, of being a nun, a religious sister, of being consecrated, of being set apart and living a chaste life for Our Lord.

In fact, Sister wore more makeup, more hair product, more colour than I.

And , frankly, this is misleading. For a nun is espoused to Our Lord, and the wearing of the habit reminds both religious and lay people alike that there is a Heaven, that we are striving for Heaven, that this person has made a commitment, a commitment to Our Lord, to the Church, to a way of life.

A habit is a reminder of who the religious Sister is...first and foremost a nun. A Sister.

And those of you who have seen Elivs Presley's A Change of Habit, that fun sixties movie with Mary Tyler Moore, are aware of the dangers of nuns foregoing the wearing of the habit. No visible
reminder of consecration can build familiarity and forgetfulness of one's role and of one's vocation.

Dr Seuss was right. Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

If you are you, if I am I, the we should not be afraid to let the world know our vocation.

In the words of Pope John Paul II... The Church must always seek to make her presence visible in everyday life, especially in contemporary culture, which is often very secularized and yet sensitive to the language of signs. In this regard the Church has a right to expect a significant contribution from consecrated persons, called as they are in every situation to bear clear witness that they belong to Christ.
Since the habit is a sign of consecration, poverty and membership in a particular Religious family, I join the Fathers of the Synod in strongly recommending to men and women religious that they wear their proper habit, suitably adapted to the conditions of time and place.(Vita Consecrata )

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Homeschooling on a Sunday

And continuing that homeschooling fashion theme..this is what this homeschool mum wore today, here getting heels on for Sunday Mass, coffee with friends from the parish and family time....

...including making dinner for St Vincent, a Spanish inspired dinner from Saints at the Dinner Table.

Figuratively speaking

The reading at mass. About Our Lord calling the apostles to their vocation , and they left their nets to follow Him.

It was mentioned that the nets were figurative nets , that is to say, not real fishing nets but nets of hatred, unforgiveness, selfishness. The kind of nets in which we humans become ensnared.

Well, no. Yes, we humans do become ensnared in these kinds of nets and perhaps the disciples were experiencing these human problems. But the nets were real nets. These were real fishermen, called to leave their fisherman work and follow Christ.

As we are called, to follow Christ.

And if we are talking about nets, well, how about leaving behind the net of sloppy liturgy? How about celebrating Holy Mass as the rubrics describe, so that priest and faithful alike are given opportunity to be Christ-centred, to receive the Eucharist with reflection, to be in communion with Our Lord and thus follow Him in our vocations.

Because if the liturgy, the sacred arts, are not important why has the Church devoted her energy, her resources , her time, her priests and religious, to ensuring the perfection of the Divine Liturgy, of her public worship, if not to give God due worship and to help the formation and beliefs and lives of the faithful?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Today in homeschooling fashion...

I found a lovely blog the other day. A week in pictures . Of long skirts every day. Of how this homeschooler goes about her busy week, looks gorgeous and feminine, and never wears jeans.

Now, I am not a member of the no jeans long skirt homeschooler club. I do wear skirts more than jeans and rarely wear long skirts. And I don't look gorgeous. But I thought it would be fun to do homeschooler mums and clothing posts.

So this is today, clothing for mass, appointments, grocery shopping. And dinner at the beach. On a hot Saturday.

Friday, January 21, 2011

And so...

I'm off to do unschooling.

Do unschooling, I hear you say? Is unschooling something you do or something you live?

I am not sure, having unschooled forever, ever since I read Teach Your Own, as a young mum of (then) three, with occasional forays into doing school like Charlotte Mason or that classical model. Well, even after all these years of unschoolng, I am not sure what it is.

Pretty weird, huh? Pretty unschool-ish?

All I know is that we unschool. We learn, live our life. We inspire, we sometimes require. We achieve educational outcomes. We achieve life.

And so, I'm off to do unschooling. Having talked about St Fabian and liturgy ( lex orandi, lex credendi), having read about St Sebastion and celebrations in Kerala, India ( hey, we met a priest this week, one who grew up in Kerala) , having looked at the saints book while making and drinking tea and seeing St Agnes ( horrible painting chosen for the saint, a martyr, a virgin)..having done all these things, we are unschooling by cooking to celebrate the liturgical year.

Curry for St Sebastian.

And toasted cinnamon donuts with ice cream for St Agnes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Strewing nooks.

Strewing. As in leaving around inspiring materials, new arrangements, anything to spark an interest, and exposure, to new ideas and activities, or to re-kindle an interest in old things, old pastimes, old interests. For ourselves, our children, our friends.

An integral part of unschooling.

Lisa has pix on her blog, of her recent unschooling strewing. And so I thought..yes. I'll play!

Here are some of our recent strewing nooks.

Nooks?, you say. A small corner, alcove, or recess, a hidden or secluded spot, a retreat. .

Even the definition sounds cosy.

The cookbook nook...our three new cookbooks on display, for perusing, for reading for cooking!

Our new journaling nook, complete with journals and gel pens. Feel like writing, anyone? The old fashioned way? No Tumblr, Facebook, or Blogger (although this nook exists on the computer tables in the dining room).

The "Look at me! Interesting books to read!"nook..on display in the sitting room/pool room. Who can resist a peek?

And the tea and saints nook, an alcove in the kitchen. As one makes tea ( a recurrent pastime in this house), as one washes up, one sees the saint for the day..and glorious artwork.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Daybook. 2011 Version.

I haven't done a daybook for awhile. Not since May 2010 . in fact. .

Where I was thinking about..." this article by Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, on the dangers of pornography. Excellent article. "The claim that pornography "enriches" relationships mocks those whose marriages and families it has destroyed."


I have been flicking through the posts of The Daybook blog..and thought..yes. my blog is due...for another post...and another daybook.


If Possible.

Outside my window... Dark, almost midnight.

I am thinking... I'm going to be soo tired tomorrow!

I am thankful for... Facebook. Texts. Blogs. Hey, I know the dangers. But I see the connections, too,

I am wearing... A short black dress. What I wore to mass tonight . Gold sandals. Minimalist jewellery.

I am remembering... Friends. And how I have learned to let myself be vulnerable. Not the really Bad Thing I thought it would be.

I am going... To not worry about getting everything done on tomorrow's To Do list. It's not possible. Dear God, please help me do what is the most important. ( And urgent).

I am currently reading... "Winning After Losing...Keep Off the Weight You've Lost - Forever." by Stacey Halprin

I am hoping... For more time to read. And write.

On my mind... Mother Teresa. Read her journals.

Noticing that... ~We are back into the habit of doing our Kumon Maths. Daily. Regularly.

Pondering these words... Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus. (Mother Teresa)

In the kitchen... Leftovers. Planning a hot rum cheesecake for St Francis de Sales. Loving my tea and coffee and saints nook.

Around the house... Searching a rhythm for Daily Clean..amidst all my have-tos.

One of my favourite things ..Right now? Two things, okay? My Jillian Michaels workouts. And my Breviary.

Picture thought I am Sharing...The chocolate fondue with fresh fruit, I made this on Sunday.....

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Revisiting Words. Revisiting C.S Lewis

Revisiting words. Words or mottoes or themes for the year.

I've been doing this since the late 1990s. Choosing a word, a phrase, a motto, for the year. In place of New Year's resolutions. To guide. To make me think. To set the tone. For the year. For me. For my life.

Sometimes, the word just comes to me. Like last year's word. Coping.

Sometimes the word(s) need a lot of thought and prayer. Like the year I had People First....I can be task oriented, you know! Or ~ Like A Sunflower.

Explain that one!

Sometimes, too, the word has a special meaning for me at that time, reflecting a current interest or current reading or current experience. Like the year I took one of Billy Blank's ( Taebo workout guy) maxims and made it my own - Every Day Above Ground Is A Blessed Day. And ~Never Give Up. Or a verse from Scripture - "I will walk within my house with a perfect heart."

Before New Years, I went out for coffee with three other homeschool mums. One mum has known me a long time, over the years, through newsletter exchanges and then the internet. We finally met in real life when I moved to Sydney in 2005.

And she asked - "What is your word for the coming year? Do you still do those words?"

The others looked at me quizzically and thus I explained these words. The importance of words in our lives, especially for a booky, writing sort of person like me. The power of words. The influence of words.

And how words can shape our thoughts and thus our lives.

So, yes, I still do those words.

Do they make my life better? Do they make me better? Do they make me a better Christian, wife, mother, worker, homeschooler, friend, person?

I don't know. And, no, not on their own. I can, however, only think of how, perhaps, who I am may be worse, may be the real, yucky inside me, if I didn't have these words to guide my life.

I am reminded of C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, where he writes of "Nice People or New Man." We do not know the state of others' souls; we do not know what we are without God so, even if we are not-always-so-nice when we know God, it does not mean that we should give up. That Christianity fails. That we shouldn't strive to be nice. We should. With His Grace. Using tools like my Words. And offering it all in prayer.

"But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world - and might even be more difficult to save. For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of a man. "

So, those words, chosen in prayer each year, written into my diary each year, offered in prayer each year, help make me nicer. Heaven as a goal, not niceness. But a little bit of niceness goes a long way! That new kind of man, with the grace of God and the help of the sacraments and that word.

That word, the one I see when I open my diary each day and each week and check what-I-have-to-do. What things the family has to do. All under the banner of the word(s) for the year.

So, you ask, what is the word for this year.

I mentioned it in another post.

A name. A phrase. Influenced by my pre-Christmas reading.

Mother Teresa. In other words, dying to self. And serving with a smile. Regardless.

From Mere Christianity again..." But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away blindly so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self...will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him."

This thought tempers our words, our resolutions, doesn't it? And thus my word for this year is a reminder that it is not really about the words or about me. It is about Him.

Mother Teresa.

And the inspiring words for the year that my homeschooling friends have chosen and shared, over that coffee, also remind me that it is not about us.

Quite liberating.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Contemplation... A New Years Resolution

Is it possible to be both contemplative and go-go-go?

Are they mutually exclusive ?

I tend to have an attraction to contemplative prayer, to be,  in my very imperfect way, with God, in prayer. Being inspired by St Teresa of Avila amongst others. Her "Interior Castle."

My vocation and my personality, however , can seem to be the antithesis of contemplation.

So what do mothers and wives, working mothers , Homeschooling mothers, volunteering wives, we home managers... do? 

In other words, how do we live balanced lives. For life should be lived on a fairly even keel. Yes , I can be a person of highs and lows. That makes life interesting. But there shouldn't be Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde highs and lows. People , our husbands, our children , our friends , our colleagues , our fellow parishioners expect that even keel. That balanced life.

And our spiritual life , our interior life of contemplation, should reflect this. Loving Our Lord and being faithful and then serving with a smile reflects our joy of contemplative prayer . Regardless of current , perhaps passing, emotions. Even regardless of feelings in prayer.

Mother Teresa, in fact. 

(My words or motto for this year. But that's another post)

How do we do this? It has been said of me that I work hard, I play hard, I pray hard.

But to keep that even keel, to serve Our Lord and others, I need the grace of God.

An excellent, inspiring homily that I heard yesterday , in Epiphany-tide , addressed this. Reflecting on the First Letter of St John, on love. If we abide with God, if God abides with us , we should share His grace and love , with love, ourselves.

As Father said , we may not like our neighbour, we do not even have to, but we do have to love him as Christ loves. Perhaps showing this love simply by praying for another.

In a similar fashion , we may not like some of those tasks on a mother and wife's to do list. We can, however , still execute them with love.

Perhaps contemplation in action.

Sometimes in prayer I feel like I  am somewhere else ( a Battlestar Galactica cylon experience for sure ! )

The trick for me to learn is to take that experience of being caught up with Our Lord, that joy, that peace, that lack of tiredness, into all the other spheres of my life .

Except it is not really a trick, is it? It is a knack, a skill, a grace that many mothers and wives possess and develop . Bringing God's love to those around them, in their daily tasks. In that tidying up. In going to work when tired . In offering up that criticism and answering with a smile. Even when , especially when, we don't feel like it . Even when, especially when, we lose that other world feeling in prayer and experience dry toast in our prayer life.

Especially then. 

Ask Mother Teresa.

January is a month of resolutions. Those New Years resolutions. And so, maybe, a mother and wife's resolution can be that even keel, that sharing God's love, that contemplation in action.

I think it is possible . Not on our own strength but with the grace of God. 

I perused self help books  at Borders yesterday. In that effort to balance my life , to be better, to think of my motto or words for the year (think New Years resolutions). Most of the advice was  superficial or anecdotal or, worse , bringing ideas of corporate goals and action plans and strategies into our families and personal lives.

And later, when praying the Evening Office, when thinking about the masses I had prayed at on our holiday , the homilies I had heard, the books I had read on break ( Mother Teresa, celebrating the liturgical year ), I realized that the ultimate self help books for we wives and mothers are our spiritual lives ... Our contemplation in prayer , in the Rosary and in the Divine Office, our experience of God in Holy Mass, our listening and learning, our daily offerings, our reading of the saints, our living the liturgical year.

These can help us reach that even keel, that contemplation , that loving of others.

So maybe contemplation and go-go-go can walk together , in our vocations.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Lowest Common Denominators

I teach mathematics. Do you remember the lowest common denominator? The least but common multiple for a set of denominators.

There is s trend in society, in communities and, yes, in churches for the theory of lowest common denominator to apply. Standards and tastes and habits drop to the lowest standard acceptable to most, to the most common amount of people.

You know , we humans can have a bit of a tendency to be lazy or to take the easy way out , to want to be entertained. Sometimes we want a challenge and sometimes we just want to go with the flow. Whatever!

Which is why society at large and the church in particular provides guidelines, laws, practices, to help is do that which is right. To help us rise out of ourselves and be our better selves . To think . To be more altruistic. To live the life of free men, in a democratic society , to not give in to carnal desires.

But, of course, there is also that tendency for the lowest common denominator to come to the fore .Pleasing the majority of people by giving them what they appear to want, what is easiest , to keep them happy.

The trouble with the use of the lowest common denominator theory , applied in this way and outside mathematics , is that it becomes self fulfilling. In other words, once we give people the lowest common denominator in, say, entertainment for example, because it's easier and cheaper to produce a reality TV show, to provide teasing sex scenes, well providing this lowest common denominator in entertainment , means that the appetite for this type of entertainment is fed. We want more, we come to expect this, we can no longer , generally, be bothered to make an effort for a TV show or a book that requires mental effort, that makes us think .

The same happens in our churches when it comes to liturgy. If we feed people jokes during mass, if we see the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a vehicle for the show man priest to air his talents, if we make people laugh and chat and never question themselves ...well, here too, we find that the lowest common denominator means that people forget the real purpose in coming to mass, in adoring God. They come instead to be entertained ..." I wait for the joke at the end of mass." And so the faithful miss the opportunity to really hear the word of God, to really hear Church teaching , to adore Our Lord and really be with him upon receiving Him in the Eucharist .

Just as tastes in TV can sink to that lowest common denominator, so that people say they don't understand Shakespeare and don't want to make an effort to do so, so tastes in liturgy can be formed, for the good or for other , by the priest's respect for the liturgy and it's rubrics . If the faithful are given that lowest common denominator, that pandering to self and jokes and not worship , then they do not want to make an effort to pray and pay attention in reverent masses. Where is the joke? That was boring!

The lowest common denominator in liturgy is, in fact, a disservice to the faithful ... They miss out on the opportunity to enjoy Our Lord, to be comforted, to be challenged, to be given hope, to be given a chance to step out of the everydayness of life.

And it does a disservice to the Church and society as a whole.

And to the next parish priest , faithful to Church teaching on liturgy , who tries to encourage the faithful to worship , to pray, to believe as the Church wishes. The lower appetites have been fed and it is hard to exhort the faithful then to make an effort , to active participation .

But not impossible. Deo Gratias.