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This phrase makes me think of the animated movie Atlantis. In order to convince Milo, the scrawny bookworm to take the plunge and go on an expedition to discover the lost city, the financial backer Preston Whitmore says to him, “Atlantis is waiting.” This phrase always gets me, the excitement and anticipation. I wish someone would come around to each of us before a big decision and whisper with that same enthusiasm, “_____ is waiting.”
Friends, Advent is waiting. It’s only a few days away. Are you ready? Am I ready? It’s too bad we don’t have a Preston Whitmore who organizes our whole life ahead of our decisions so that the answer is obvious. What we can do, however, is take these opportunities the Church regularly builds into the liturgical year. Advent is the perfect time to step back, slow down and build momentum in our spiritual life.
This year’s Advent Journals are officially here! There are two different journals, both in pdf format. One narrows your focus to the 4 Sundays of Advent. Each day of the week you read one of the readings, and at the end of the week there are a few reflections. On Fridays, I’ve offered a few key themes and images found in the readings and expanded on their importance. On Saturday, inspired by the overall themes of the Sunday, there is a reflection on one of the aspects of Jesus. The Homily Notes space from last year is still there and can be used for additional note taking. Also, and this is so exciting, I figured out the booklet printing issue from last year so there are 2 versions of this journal, one in Booklet Format and one that is A5 size. If you print the A5 size at home you will need to cut the pages down after printing. If you choose the booklet be sure you select “booklet” or “book fold” in your printer’s settings.
Keep in mind that this journal is preparing for the upcoming Sunday of Advent, so it starts this coming Monday Nov. 25!
The second journal is a repeat from last year. I love using Lectio Divina for Advent. I’ve updated the dates and Scripture verses but the rest of the journal is much the same from last year. The last page is still blank if you would rather select your own Scripture verses. I did not do a booklet format for this journal because of all the writing space so there is only one version of the Lectio journal.
Remember, these journals are totally FREE for you to print, so you can grab both and see which works best for you. Or maybe you will find both inspirational. I’d love to hear which you chose and why. Feel free to share this post with anyone and everyone. It is my Advent gift to all of you.
A quick Google search will reveal a whole host of opinions and definitions of the miraculous journey that we call “Motherhood.” For some, motherhood is very specifically tied to the birth event of a child. For others, motherhood begins when that first kick is felt. Still others consider a broader perspective to include adoptive mothers, mother-like figures or even spiritual mothers.
With such definitions, it would appear at first glance that motherhood is yet another area of relativistic individualism – what’s true for me may or may not be true for you and that’s ok. When we go to the dictionary, things are even less helpful. “The state of being a mother” isn’t the most illustrated definition. When looking up simply “Mother” things do get a bit more definite: “a female parent,” “a woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother,” or “something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else; origin or source.”
While there is still room for interpretation in these selected definitions, we can begin to see the blurry outlines of who and what a mother is. A mother is typically a female person, though the final definition opens even this observation up to all people. A mother is a person who has some level of authority over others, especially a protective care or measure of control grounded in a relationship. The last definition is most interesting – origin or source. Let’s take a special look at this perspective and how it relates to the Church’s understanding of motherhood.
St. Julian of Norwich
St. Julian of Norwich was an anchoress and mystic who lived in the late 1300s. An anchoress was a woman who “anchored” herself to a specific church, living a life of cloister and prayer. She received a series of sixteen visions of Christ which she wrote about in her work, Revelations of Divine Love, and can still be read today. She developed a new understanding of Jesus’ identity – Jesus as Mother.
Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His Maternity starts And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us.
Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.
Here we find the maternity of Christ to fit perfectly with our modern definitions of a mother. Through Jesus we find our origin and in Jesus we are enveloped in protection and love.
Chiara Lubich is the founder of the Focolare Movement, a movement of laity and clergy which began during WWII. Focolare means “Work of Mary” and it is through Mary’s guidance Chiara explores what total union with God and one another looks like. Chiara’s theology of Mary is deeply intimate, resonating with both St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe, two of the greatest Marian theologians. Part of Chiara’s understandings revolve around Mary’s role as Jesus’ mother, and by spiritual extension our mother. We are Mary’s children and as such are called to emulate her example. What is her example? To bear Christ to the world.
Mary’s is Jesus’ mother. Her willing cooperation with the Holy Spirit brought Jesus, the Son of God, into human existence. We too are called to bring Christ into the world. The motherhood of Mary in union with the Holy Spirit, which brings forth Christ, is relived in the Church and in each of us. According to Lumen Gentium #65, whenever Christ is born in the hearts of the faithful, they are participating in the mystery of the Incarnation where Christ is “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin.” All Christians, no matter their gender, profession, or age are called to live this birthing every day.
When does motherhood begin?
After all this, we still may not be closer to answering the question, “When does motherhood begin?” However, I think we do have some clues about something broader, and perhaps more important. Like love, motherhood isn’t a feeling. Nor is it necessarily something outside your control. Motherhood, like love, is a choice. When does someone start to act as a mother, to be a mother? Based on the secular definitions and the reflections of Julian of Norwich and Chiara Lubich, it is when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves.
Consider it this way. A couple wishes to have a child. The couple has been struggling to conceive and they are seeking advice, tracking her cycles, practicing NFP, paying attention to risk factors and doing a series of tests to screen out any other potential inhibitors. They make lifestyle changes as recommended. The wife is taking prenatal vitamins, being mindful of any alcohol and taking extra care in her tracking. The husband is supportive, moderating his own alcohol intake in solidarity with his wife, he encourages her tracking and any dietary changes which may help their hopes for a child. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
What about the family who hopes to adopt? They pray every day, children and parents alike, for their hoped for child. They work together to make any necessary changes to their home for the preliminary inspections and requirements. They fill out paperwork, answer questions, take time off work for meetings and other important interactions in order to be accepted as a potential family. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
What about a person who volunteers their time with their parish’s youth group? They dedicated time each week to encouraging and mentoring the teenagers. They open their home to the group for a summer barbeque, travel to a religious site or pilgrimage with them, and even help coach a summer intramural volleyball team. Is this person practicing motherhood yet?
What about the child who sees another sad or hurt at the playground. Instead of walking past, they sit down and ask to play together. Are they practicing motherhood yet?
If motherhood, as I said earlier, is “when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves,” then the clear answer to the previous scenarios is “Yes!” All these examples, even the child, are moments of motherhood.
Chiara sums it up beautifully in a letter written in 1983:
“…Mothers only know how to love. It is typical of a mother to love her children as herself, because there’s something of herself in them. … We too can find something of ourselves in others. For we must see Jesus in ourselves and in every neighbor. What shall we do? With each neighbor, at home, at work, or on the street, with the people we talk; with those we speak to over the phone, or for whom we carry out our daily work – with every person we meet these days, we must think: “I must act as if I were his or her mother,” and act accordingly. Mothers are always serving, Mothers always find excuses for their children. Mothers are always full of hope.”
The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother – St. Therese of Lisieux
Happy Mother’s Day!
I’m so pleased to share with you all these Advent Journals. As you may have noticed, Advent is quickly approaching and there are so many wonderful resources available to help deepen and enrich your Advent experience.
For the past few years, I’ve noticed a need for Advent journals that cover a few bases. 1. They are Scripturally based 2. They are simple 3. They are not time consuming but still powerful 4. They are free. I have 2 different journals this year so be sure to read to the bottom to hear about both. One is based on lectio divina, the other is a deeper look at the 4 Sundays of Advent.
Lectio Divina Journal
In the journal I’ve highlighted one or two verses from the daily readings for reflection. There is space to prepare yourself for lectio and think about what’s going on in your life that day. What’s joyful, stressful, exciting or bothering you? Your lectio experience is colored by what’s happening in your life and it is good to take a moment to acknowledge what you are bringing to the table. There is also a place for your Word or phrase that has been highlighted during your reading as well as your prayerful response to God’s movements in your heart. Finally, there is room to think creatively about what God is calling you to do or change as inspired by the day’s prayer.
The journal includes an overview of what lectio divina is, how to pray it and why it’s such a rich experience of prayer. As I said, I have chosen one or two verses for your reflection. However, maybe you already have a habit of reading the daily readings. Maybe a different verse stood out to you. At the very end of the journal is a blank page. It has all the formatting and different writing spaces, but the Scripture portion is blank. You can use this page to write your own verses in.
Remember, this is completely free and is a pdf. So you can print the whole thing if you are going to use the verses I chose. Or you can print that last page 30 times and fill in your own verse every day. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed and already have a daily Advent devotional but want to give lectio divina a try – just print a week and see how it goes. Maybe every Sunday would work better. This is completely customizable to you.
4 Sundays of Advent Journal
This is the brand new journal and I’m so excited about. I was inspired by a few things. First by my long-term writing project on the Philippians 2 Christ hymn. In that project, I am doing a deep study of the hymn, looking at the historical, theological, ecclesial, and liturgical significance and why it is a piece of Scripture that we all should know inside and out. I was also inspired by Every Sacred Sunday and how their Mass journals encourage Catholics to spend quality time preparing for Mass. If you are looking for something long term to help you dig deeper into the Sunday readings all year long, I cannot recommend their journals enough.
My new Advent Journal works like this. The first and super important thing you need to know is that it starts on Nov. 26. Yes, that’s before Advent actually begins. But, if you are going to be preparing for the 4 Sundays of Advent, you’ve got to start before the first Sunday, right?
Ok, got that cleared up. Mondays we spend time with the First Reading. Tuesdays the Psalm. Wednesdays the Second Reading. Thursdays the Gospel. Each page has the reading as well as space for any notes, questions or insights you might have while reading. There is also space for a brief prayer or reflection on what you’ve read. Think of this as lectio divina lite.
Friday’s I offer a theological reflection on the readings. These include any historical information that is relevant, how the readings fit together, and what they can say to us today. It concludes with a quote from a saint that illuminates the overall theme of the Sunday.
Saturday encompasses how we can take what we’ve learned and grow in the week to come. I include another brief reflection, followed by questions or ideas meant to inspire you to apply the readings to your daily life and enhance your Advent experience.
Sunday is a simple page for homily notes or other reflections you have on these readings. Perhaps you have another Advent devotional you are doing side by side and want to write down a special quote or work through a new idea. Here is space to do it, especially in light of the Sunday readings.
I’m so excited for your Advent journey. It would be great to hear from you which journal you chose and why. I love feedback and want to keep developing these into quality, useful tools for you to deepen your relationship with God. Do please share with anyone you think would benefit from these journals.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus concretely defines who our neighbor is. Our neighbor is whoever needs our help, regardless of situation, status, skin color, or belief. Even more broadly, our neighbor is the Other, anyone who is outside of ourselves. Jesus’ ultimate example, which we are preparing to immerse ourselves in during this Lenten season, is His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Jesus’ sacrifice for us illuminates the essence of true love: willing the good of the other.
In these times of both intense closeness and intense separation due to COVID-19, I believe it would be helpful to pause and marvel at what we are achieving as a society.
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Happy St. Joseph’s Day! As COVID-19 continues to be our new best-not-best friend, I thought it might be good to talk about some other little friends that can live in your home who are much more fun to have around. I’m talking about wild yeast and yogurt cultures!
I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it, but I make our sandwich bread and when I have time, french bread, biscuits, etc. also. I have a wild yeast starter which is almost a year old. Yeast is a little like a pet. It needs food, water, time and attention. Some people even name theirs! Thanks to COVID-19, we all now have ample time and attention for a simple side project like bread making.
This is a fantastic project for elementary aged kids. All you need is flour, water, and time. Yeast is alive and able to be collected right in your own kitchen. Here’s the basic steps as an overview, but check the link for the exact measurements if you think this is something you’re family wants to try out.
**Some notes on the linked recipe: If you do not have pumpernickel flour (who does?) or (whole wheat flour, some of us maybe, but probably not all) you can totally start with all purpose flour. You also do not have to keep such a large quantity of starter around if you do not want to. I keep at most 1/2 cup at any given time. When I know I’m going to make bread soon, I take about half of what I have and “beef it up” over the course of a few days to increase it to the quantity required for the recipe, typically 1 full cup. The other half I feed and reserve in the refrigerator (this way I don’t have to repeat the unfortunate experience of killing my starter by flooding it with hot water. If I mess up what I have on the counter, I can always go back to the refrigerator for more) =)
- Day 1: In the morning combine flour and water in a clear plastic or glass container. I tend to use mason jars. Place mixture on the counter, preferably near some fruit but not necessary, and lightly cover with an unscrewed lid or clean dishcloth.
- Day 2: Discard about 1/3 of the mixture and feed with flour and water. Re-cover. In the evening before bed, discard again and feed. Begin looking for bubbles within the mixture, but do not be disappointed if there aren’t any yet. If there aren’t any bubbles, you can skip the evening feeding if you wish.
- Day 3: Repeat Day 2, looking throughout the day for any bubble action. Definitely feed in the evening. Bubbles = yeast presence
- Day 4: Repeat Day 3. There should be bubbles by now, but give it one more day if there aren’t.
- Day 5: It’s officially a starter! If you are seeing ample bubbling and are able to measure growth, you’re starter is ready for bread making.
Basic Sourdough Bread Making: All you need is flour, water, starter, a little salt, and time. Check out these simple loaves for your new bakers to try. Don’t be intimidated by the recipe. It is long, but the steps are simple and there’s some good science going on here. Plus, if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, wild yeast only does good things with a long, slow prove. You can totally leave this dough in the refrigerator overnight and come back to it in the morning, thus extending your science experiment and extending the life of the activity.
If you want to make sandwich bread, this is the recipe I use. An important note about this recipe: it requires a starter that has a 75% hydration. This means that instead of adding equal amounts of flour and water, the starter has 25% less water when fed. You can easily make this happen by splitting your starter into two jars – keep one at the 1:1 flour to water ratio, and the other adjust to a 1:.75 ratio. So, when I beef up a starter for bread, I feed it 3/4 cups of flour and 1/2 cup plus 2 T of water to make the whole cup of starter required for this recipe.
Moving on to yogurt! This one is newer for our family, we’ve only been making our own yogurt for about 4-6 months. While you can’t collect yogurt culture like you can wild yeast (at least, I haven’t tried to), after you have your first batch made you never have to buy yogurt again! Yogurt is created when bacteria ferments milk. The bacteria cause the lactose in milk to break down into lactic acid which gives the yogurt its characteristic texture and sour flavor. You can check out more here for your budding kitchen scientists.
The only special equipment you need for yogurt is a thermometer and a place to keep all the milk warm while the fermentation is happening. You also need one small carton of good quality yogurt. Check to make sure it has multiple kinds of cultures or bacteria so that you can give your yogurt a great start in life. After your first batch, always remember to reserve about 2 T to use as your starter culture for the next one. And time, of course, which we now have in abundance.
This recipe is exactly how I make our yogurt, minus one thing (incubation time. I’ll get to that), but you can also attempt it in a crock pot or instant pot with some simple googling. For the incubating, I store the milk in a large glass container, wrap it in a dish towel and then place it in one of our insulated lunch boxes. I happen to have a shelf above our water heater which also happens to be in the kitchen so I pop it up there and leave it, usually for a good 12-18 hours. I know this is longer than the recipe states, but I almost always prepare the yogurt in the afternoon and then don’t strain it until the following morning. Turns out fine every time. My kids like to eat it with honey and granola. We will also stir in jelly for a fruit-filled taste.
As I said in my last post, we have been asked to make some significant sacrifices. But just as necessity is the mother of invention, sacrifice provides the nourishment for growth. Or in this case, some deliciousness served with a side of science, togetherness, patience and purpose.
I can’t wait to hear what other kitchen creations you’re whipping up! If you need more ideas, here are a few other DIY recipes I use regularly.
Homemade Bisquick – This does make a lot. I halve the recipe if I know I don’t have room in the refrigerator or won’t be using it super often in the next few weeks.
Cheddar Biscuits – Using the homemade bisquick. If you don’t have buttermilk around, you can use the leftover whey from straining your brand new yogurt! Or if you didn’t strain the yogurt, or haven’t gotten around to it yet, you can pour 1 T less of milk and then add 1 T of white vinegar. Stir and let it sit for 5-7 minutes and viola! Buttermilk. Also, I usually skip the garlic butter on top because it’s kind of an excessive amount of butter, but every so often we indulge. It’s sooooo good.
Homemade Pie Crust – delicious for quiche, pie (of course!) or blind bake it and the fill it with pudding and fruit of your choice. The only thing about this recipe is that it will make 2 pie crusts. Which is great because if you’re doing an open faced pie you can freeze the other one! You can also use a pastry cutter or forks if you don’t have a food processor big enough to handle this amount of flour.
Chicken Noodle Soup from Scratch – my Grandma’s recipe. Can’t be beat and cheap because it uses a whole chicken vs chicken pieces. Pair with the above french bread. You can also do this in the crock pot, 8 hours on low is ideal. The chicken should fall straight off the bone.
Jesus told a parable about a merchant who found a pearl of great price. Overjoyed at this discovery, he sells all that he has in order to acquire it. This parable, and others similar to it, are part of a series of teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven. Even one small glimpse is worth sacrificing everything we have.
We are living in a turbulent time. In the midst of school suspensions, sporting events cancelled and family members in various stages of quarantine, it can be challenging to know where to turn next. These sacrifices we are making as a society weren’t voted on, and in most cases our opinion wasn’t sought out. And yet, the gift of sacrifice is waiting for us to make good use of it.
In the Christian tradition, the act of sacrifice is an act of life and love. Jesus Christ’s paramount example of selfless sacrifice on the cross is how God saves us from our sins and opens the gates of Heaven. We are called to participate in that same act when we offer our smaller, daily sacrifices with love for the good of others. Before a few weeks ago, these sacrifices might have included letting someone go before us, listening to a friend’s concerns for longer than we had anticipated, making someone else’s favorite meal instead of your own, etc.
Today, our sacrifices have gotten much larger. They now range to staying home from work, creatively stretching a bag of beans into multiple meals, monitoring toilet paper usage, cancelling our own events and celebrations, handling our children’s disappointment when their activities are cancelled and learning how to “do school” from home.
I think no matter what our situation, the biggest sacrifice we are being asked to make is one of time. Time is a tricky thing. There never seems to be enough, and at the same time (hehe, see what I did there?), we struggle when there is an abundance of it. We are each facing a unique situation which presents an undetermined amount of time that must be spent at home. When, in recent memory, have you been actually required to stay home? The last time you were grounded perhaps?
What an incredible gift this could turn out to be! What a pearl of great price to acquire! There are so many thing you could get done! In fact, I would challenge you to make a list, right now, of all the things you’ve been meaning to do and haven’t had or wanted to find time for. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Finished? Did you remember to switch out your winter and spring wardrobe? How about paint the back bedroom? Or finally organize the closet in your son or daughter’s room? Don’t forget scrubbing the crayon off the wall by your toddler’s crib from who knows how long ago (just me?).
Now, if you’re like me, you probably just got overwhelmed by all the “things” that need to get done. You’re list, though full of great tasks, is missing a critical element. The people who you will be spending this unstructured time with are more important than any to-do list. The people, be they big or small, young or old, are waiting for you to be present with them. They are waiting for your gift of time.
You have time to talk to your grandma on the phone for as long as you and she like. You have time to write the thank you notes from Christmas or a birthday. You have time to make home-made play dough, and then actually play with your kids with it. You have time to read that book, “Just one more time, please!” You have time to say a whole rosary, maybe even uninterrupted if you wake up early enough. You have time to teach your son or daughter to sew, whittle, crochet, garden, mow the lawn, clean the bathroom properly, take your pick! You have time to bake cookies (and then probably put them in the freezer), to celebrate a friend’s birthday after we all get to congregate more than 6ft from one another.
So step back and take another look at your list. Take a moment and close your eyes. The sacrifice of staying home could bring your family a pearl of great value. How do you hope to strengthen your relationships with the people in your home, family and community during this period at home? Pick one or two things that at the end of all this, you want to look back and say, “Wow, that was awesome. Without this concentrated time we never would have done x, or y, what a gift this time turned out to be.”
It’s not going to be easy. I’m not saying that every single moment of this time needs to be spent in togetherness. Be sure to carve out time for yourself, your own growth and mental health. Go for that run, read that book, swing on the swing, make a home altar and spend a period of time each day in silence. Whatever it is, your time together will be all the more fruitful if you are also taking the time to care for your wellbeing.
These sacrifices are challenging indeed. But as we go forward into this unknown territory, the landscape does not need to be as daunting as some might make it out to be. The light shines a bit brighter when we embrace our sacrifices and and discover the pearls God is waiting to shower upon us.