Grandparents are a Treasure

“Tell me about your grandmother,” the director of vocations for an East Coast diocese asks the young man sitting on the other side of his desk for his initial interview at the chancery. He leans back in his chair to enjoy the response, knowing already what it will be.

“Oh, she is the most incredible woman,” the young man instantly lights up. “My grandmother is really special to me, and she is so strong in her Catholic faith. In fact, I think I owe my vocation to the priesthood to her,” he reflects. The vocations director nods knowingly. Every candidate for the priesthood that has come into his office has said the same thing.

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Wine Out of Water

Photo: Courtesy Carrie Anderson

“We had been craving community at St. Monica [Parish on Mercer Island], just wanting some kind of couple’s group,” Bill recounted. “Father Freitag was talking about the dissolution of marriages. … Divorce after divorce. It was on his heart that we need prayers for these marriages, and they need help. So it was something that was on our heart,” he told me.

Inspired during eucharistic adoration together, Bill and Carrie Anderson gathered a group of six couples from the parish to meet regularly for dinner about two years ago. They share wine, laughter and fellowship. After dinner, they pray a rosary. They meet in the spirit of the wedding at Cana, as indicated by their name, WOW: Wine Out of Water. (see John 2:1-11)

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A Better Way to Care for Women’s Health

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Bella has painful and irregular periods.

Anna suffers from endometriosis.

Marylin deals with polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Pamela has acne.

They were all prescribed the birth control pill to control their symptoms.

But there is a better way! A way consistent with the dignity of women and authentic sexuality, a way that treats underlying causes and respects a woman’s total health, a way free of the Pill’s risks of depression, weight gain, nausea, cancer, blood clotting and early abortions.

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Godparents and Grandparents, Give Gifts that Grow Faith

Photo: Janis OlsonPhoto: Janis Olson

When I was a little girl visiting my wonderful Catholic grandmother in Edmonds, she would often send me home with the gift of a few volumes from Father Lawrence Lovasik’s Books of Saints series. I would pore over them, admiring the color illustrations of the holy men and women. I took note of their feast days and areas of patronage.

My grandma still never fails to give meaningful and beautiful Catholic gifts for all her family’s baptisms, first Communions and confirmations. These gifts have blessed our domestic church and inspired our spiritual life. With Easter, first Communion and Confirmation season upon us, I offer a collection of faith-building gift ideas for grandparents and godparents, aunties and uncles, catechists and parents.

The feasts and seasons of the church year provide a wealth of opportunities for godly gifts. Kate, our second daughter, often receives a religious, Christmas-themed picture book sometime between Advent and Epiphany from her faraway godparents. Our oldest daughter, Clare, received a Kurt Adler magnetic Nativity Advent calendar from her godparents when she was about 4 years old. It has become a treasured and Christ-centered part of our family’s annual Advent preparations. I try to give my own godchildren at least one faith-inspiring gift per year. One past gift, the picture book Brigid’s Cloak by Bryce Milligan, is equally appropriate for Christmas or for St. Brigid’s Feb. 1 feast day. Lives of the saints collections, like my grandma gave me, are great year-round.

Here are seven Easter gift ideas for the Catholic children in your life:

  1. Resurrection eggs make Jesus’ paschal mystery come alive for young children in a fun, hands-on way. Crafty grandparents or godparents could create their own set with directions from CatholicIcing.com. Ready-made sets are also available on Amazon.
  2. My favorite picture book for Lent and Easter is Peter’s First Easter by Walter Wangerin Jr. It is out of print, but you can find it used on Amazon.
  3. A home paschal candle makes a great gift or craft project to do with the Catholic children in your life. Make a cross on a white pillar candle with beads or a glue gun and rhinestones. Mark the five wounds of Christ by placing five red beads on the cross’s ends and center while praying: “By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us.” For directions for marking the Alpha and Omega as well as the calendar year numbers on your candle, check the Shower of Roses blog.
  4. A giant Lamb of God coloring poster from IlluminatedInk.com arrived in our mailbox one year from 5-year-old Beata’s godparents. The poster was a huge hit for the whole
    family — all the sisters had fun coloring it in together, and it adorned a bedroom door throughout the Easter season.
  5. A spiritual bouquet is an offering of prayer. In the Easter season, a single chaplet of Divine Mercy or the whole Novena of Divine Mercy would make a fitting gift presented with a lovely notecard describing the offering. Crafters could accompany the card with a bouquet of tissue-paper flowers to represent each prayer offered.
  6. Peg dolls for Passion Week. I’m thrilled to try CatholicIcing.com’s printable decoupage peg doll Passion Set this year as a gift to my own children. Little hands can use the dolls to act out the Stations of the Cross or the events of Holy Week (perhaps in a “Jerusalem” they build with wood blocks).
  7. Glory Stories CDs. These are family favorites! Each story features great voice acting, rich catechesis, background music from the saints’ cultural and historical settings, and a compelling, well-written script. The stories of Blessed Imelda, the patron saint of first communicants, St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, all available from HolyHeroes.com, are perfect for this time of the liturgical year.

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The Liturgy of the Hours in the Domestic Church

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shuttershock

After turning off the lights in the kids’ rooms at nighttime, Andrew Casad and his wife, Michelle, pray their own ad hoc version of the Liturgy of the Hours’ night prayer together with their school-aged children, Miriam and Joshua. It is the last thing they do together as a family before the children go to sleep. Andrew observed that he and Michelle found, accidentally, that this family prayer ritual “can create a sense of structure.” Night prayer imparts a peaceful, calming sense of closure to the end of the day. Continue reading “The Liturgy of the Hours in the Domestic Church”

Couple Prayer with Scripture

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shuttershock

Two couples share about the power of praying together with the word of God.

You never know when a tentative new habit of couple prayer will turn out to be a lifeline. A reader recently sent me the following:

“About a year ago, shortly after our 49th wedding anniversary, my husband and I began somewhat hesitantly to pray a kind of evening prayer together right after dinner, right at the dinner table and before cleaning up the kitchen. It proceeded in fits and starts until we found a way of making it feel right for us.

“In our case, that meant he would bring out his Bible and devotional book, an ecumenical one particularly good for a ‘mixed’ couple (he is Lutheran and I am Catholic). He would lead us in two or three brief readings of Scripture and meditations, which had impressed him in his own morning devotional time.

“We now make a few comments concerning how these readings speak to us or to our loved ones’ lives. And then, after the Our Father, prayed aloud together while he holds my hand, we pray spontaneously about what is most on our hearts. We end with the prayer, ‘… for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.’

“About nine months after beginning this evening prayer, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One day as we were beginning to cope with this storm, my husband turned to me and said, ‘How could we have gotten through this without our evening prayers, preparing us?’

“It is not too late, ever, for any couple to begin praying together, whether for the first time, or after many years of letting such a practice fall by the wayside. As an old saying goes, ‘Blessings abound’ when we take the time and make the effort.”

I am grateful to Joyce Crain for sharing her story. Joyce attends St. Francis Parish in Friday Harbor, and was featured in the very first issue of Northwest Catholic (“Faith on the Ferry,” September 2013). Joyce, our prayers are with you as you journey through chemo! How wonderful that this journey is now accompanied and supported through the daily practice of prayer with your husband.

Another couple from differing faith backgrounds also recently shared their story of Scripture-based couple prayer with me. Ray and Jackie Marsh have been married 33 years. Ray is Catholic and attends St. Monica Parish on Mercer Island. “Somewhere along the way,” he wrote, he and Jackie, who is Mormon, began reading Scripture every night and praying together after reading. “I believe that God has blessed our marriage because of our love for him and his holy word,” he affirmed. “We just needed to come together, pray and understand what God wants for our life.”

This prayer together has actually helped them find a place of unity in their spiritual life. Ray reflected, “We understand that our beliefs are different so we pray and read the Scriptures so we can at least be together in this.” Research seems to validate his experience; sociologists find that couples who pray or share devotions together experience greater happiness and satisfaction in their marriage, and this is especially a benefit when differences in faith could cause tension.

Praying with Scripture is a powerful way that married couples can pray together. A devotional aid can help, something like the Magnificat magazine or Together in Christ, which contains the daily readings from Mass. The beautiful lectio divinamethod can be adapted for couples (see “Lectio for Lovers” by Shawn Rain Chapman at atxcatholic.com), or you and your beloved can simply read a passage and share impromptu reflections and prayers from the heart, like Joyce and Brian or Jackie and Ray. Whichever way you do it, praying with the word of God will bring light to your mind, grace to your soul and strength to your marriage.

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The Challenges – and Blessings – of Bringing Kids to Mass

Photo composite: M. Laughlin/Shutterstock

Photo composite: M. Laughlin/Shutterstock

Six tips for heading off toddler terrorism in the pews

“My brother set the Advent wreath on fire.” Jennifer Fulwiler is a mom of six young children and the author of “Something Other Than God,” which chronicles her conversion from atheism to Catholicism. A year ago she invited her blog readers to share their worst experience taking children to Mass, and she received scores of stories in reply. Stories of toddler terrorism, untimely bodily emissions and utterly mortifying utterances, and yes, even a flaming Advent wreath. As I read through them, I was simultaneously reduced to helpless tears of laughter, bonded in warm and knowing camaraderie with all my fellow Catholic moms and dads in the trenches, and sighing in relief (at least my children have never run careening away from my grasp toward the altar during Mass — yet!).

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14) Jesus dearly wants children to grow up knowing that his church is their home. They belong, and it is a gift to have the little ones present among us.

We celebrate childhood in a special way during the Christmas season, when we worship God himself incarnate as a little child. Yet for all this, we can’t deny that taking children to Mass can be challenging. Here are some tips that might help:

1. Strive for a good night’s sleep. This goes for parents just as much as for the children. Sure, you may be tempted to stay up late Saturday night to watch a movie with your spouse, but if you have anyone under age 4 coming with you to church Sunday morning, you’re going to need all your energy and stamina for the wiggle fest of worship time!

2. Children’s physical prep. Rather than counting on that post-Mass doughnut, provide a real breakfast complete with protein and good fat to prevent crazy sugar spikes and dips. (Just remember to observe the hour-long fast before Communion, if your child is going to receive. With hour-long Sunday Masses, usually this is no problem.) Also try to manage a round of potty or diaper needs just before heading out the door.

3. Try a different Mass time. Perhaps attending the early Mass might catch your little ones before their activity levels have ramped up to full gear. Maybe the Saturday evening vigil Mass would work better. With children’s development changing year to year, it’s worth experimenting every so often to see if a different Mass time at your parish is a more peaceful fit for different ages and stages.

4. Try to arrive 15 minutes early. On the (admittedly rare!) occasions when my family has managed to follow this tip, brought to my attention by Jennifer Junkin of North American Martyrs Parish in Seattle, we have found that the extra time to settle in makes for a more peaceful and prayerful Mass experience. Listen to Msgr. Eugene Morris’ excellent advice to families in his May 28, 2014, radio show “How to Go to Mass” in the Catholic Answers Live archives.

5. Church clothes. Dressing in special clothes for church (or even just a dressier pair of shoes) conveys the idea that what we do at Mass is a different and more solemn activity than what we do in our everyday routine.

6. Bring inspiring Catholic books and soft toys. Pinterest, Etsy and the Catholic mom blogosphere are full of darling felt “quiet books” and Mass books to craft or buy. These would make excellent Christmas gifting ideas for parents, grandparents or godparents! St. Brigids Academy’s Homegrown Catholics website has a great roundup of links for printables, craft, toy and book ideas for all ages to help keep “quiet in the pew.” For older kids, Magnificat publishes a great weekly kids’ Mass guide called MagnifiKid!

God bless you all. And careful lighting that Advent wreath!

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Couple Prayer: The Ultimate Instant Messaging

Which of the following simple, free, daily activities will: 1) make God smile on you and send you powerful help, 2) connect you even more deeply and build spiritual intimacy with your spouse, and 3) dramatically reduce your odds of divorce?

A) Sit in the same room while you each interact with your respective smartphones.
B) Text each other sweet notes throughout the day.
C) Pick up the towels off the floor.
D) Pray together as a couple.

What did you pick? Let’s look at each possibility:
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A Spirituality for Singles

One of my favorite saints was a single laywoman known for her gorgeous hair. She was independent, passionate and completely transformed by Christ. She lived a rich life full of adventure, prayer and evangelization. Mary Magdalen never married or became a nun, but she lived a joyful life that was “single-hearted” for Christ.

More Catholics are single now than ever before, following national trends of adults marrying later, or not at all. In fact, for the first time in history, more singles than married folk head households in America.
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The Power of Couple Prayer

“Praying together is the most powerful predictor of marital happiness that researchers have yet discovered,” wrote the late sociologist Father Andrew Greeley.

One survey found that couples who prayed or read the Bible daily, in addition to weekly church attendance, divorced at a rate of less than 1 per 1,105 marriages. And while 60 percent of couples who pray together “sometimes” checked the box in a survey marked “our marriage is happy,” that number bumped up to 78 percent for those couples who pray together “a lot.” (All research is cited atcoupleprayer.com.) Couple prayer is a powerful means of drawing close to your spouse and blessing your marriage. But how do you do it? Continue reading “The Power of Couple Prayer”