Sunday, December 31, 2006

St. Joseph and Fathers

I love to listen to Christian preachers on the radio the way some people love to listen to secular talk radio. Since I live in East Tennessee, there are ample opportunities for this, one of the blessings of living in this beautiful and still boldly christian state. Sometimes I find myself arguing out loud with them in the car. I’ve actually been at stoplights where the people in the car next to mine have stared at me with their mouths open. Yes, that’s me waving my hands in the air and ranting out loud. Luckily, there are kids in the backseat, so I don’t look too crazy.

I love to listen to preachers because sometimes they actually get it right. Unfortunately, more often than not they get it wrong. Take St. Joseph, for instance. I was listening to a preacher on Christmas talk about the Nativity story, how Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for the census and how poor Joseph spent all day trying to find shelter for his very pregnant wife and how poor Mary was so uncomfortable. This particular preacher really brought the whole experience into human terms, noting that they were far from their home and friends and familiar sights, that the city was crowded with people from all over also there for the census, and how the manger in which Jesus was born really wasn’t much more than a cold, dark and wet cave, and not the warm, fire-lit, hay strewn barn that we mostly see depicted. I cheered with admiration when he noted how the last thing you would want to do in a cave with no ventilation is build a fire, so that the fire that warmed them must have been at the entrance and that the ground was muddy and hard-packed by animals’ hooves and covered in things much more unpleasant than mud. I thought of how any man would feel very ashamed at not having been able to secure better digs for Mary, and how Mary needed him so much, and how the two of them together, in their poor and beautiful and mysterious way welcomed the Savoir of Mankind into the world that night. It was all very meditative and moving and then suddenly came to a screeching halt, like the needle-drag on those old vinyl records, when he spoke about their ages.

We know that Mary was a virgin about the age of 14 years when the angel Gabriel appeared to her at the annunciation. The preacher waxed about wondering how it must of felt, to be a young girl of 14 years of age, to be visited by such glory. And then he wondered how Joseph, a kid of about 15 or 16 years of age might have felt…and that’s when I nearly coughed up my Starbucks.

While it is true that we don’t have the ages of Joseph and Mary included in the canonical scriptures, we do have the non-canonical books which state that Mary was of 14 years of age and that Joseph was an older man, had already been married, whose wife had died. The children from this marriage are indeed the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ referred to in the bible. As Catholics we are not called to view these non-canonical books as scripture, however from a historical viewpoint they are the oldest and most reliable accounting of the details of Mary and Joseph’s ages at the time of Christ’s birth. Why is this such a big deal to me? Because as Mary is a role model for any Christian woman, Christian men can and should be looking to St. Joseph as a perfect example of a Christian man and father. To say he was only a kid of 15 or 16 is inaccurate. Which leads me to a second point…

Somewhere in the last generation or so, we seem to have misplaced fathers. Speaking as a woman, I should clarify that and say that we have, in our misguided attempts at so-called “equal rights” and the advent of the sexual revolution, we have basically told fathers that they aren’t needed anymore, and that they aren’t necessary. We have pushed away the vital role of fatherhood, and having been pushed away and labeled as unnecessary, I believe a lot of men are lost as to what their roles are in the family. I learned most of what it means to be a woman from the woman that raised me. Is it wrong to say that most men learn what it means to be a man from their own fathers? If so, what of the man who’s father was absent from the home and was afforded no good male role model? Society will tell you that fathers are an extra, a bonus if you will. I read a statistic recently that stated 80 percent of inner-city children live in a household where the father is absent. It is no great exaggeration to say that we are a fatherless generation.

Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary, a virgin who remained a virgin throughout her entire life. From a secular standpoint, Joseph was not “needed” for conception or for marital union, but only served as bread-winner. In reality, the Holy Spirit brought forth Christ’s deity, the Virgin Mary his physical humanity, but St. Joseph taught Jesus the nuts and bolts of being a man and living and interacting with other men in the world. He was vital, and so are today’s fathers. This great and godly vocation, which mirrors God’s Fatherhood to us, serves as protector, spiritual director and partner. God elevated the role of father by charging St. Joseph with the loving care of His Son and His spouse. We as women have been arrogant in our belief that we can and should be mothers AND fathers to our children, which is evident in the cycle of fatherless boys who in turn become absent fathers themselves.

You will find a real man at True Knights .

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Pray As You Go

Be sure to check out Pray As You Go offered by Jesuit Media Initiatives from The Jesuits in Britain . Since I am one of the 3 people left in the world who don't currently own an MP3 player and I am using that archaic form of internet connectivity known as "dial-up", I haven't downloaded their 10-12 minute daily devotions but will be able to soon. In the meantime, maybe someone can let me know if they used and enjoyed it. Sounds like a wonderful resource for those of us wanting more prayer time in our busy lives.

Things I Have Learned Over Christmas Living With 2 Toddlers

Hell hath no fury, or adhesive properties, like 2-day old, once sodden cheerios dried to a shiny shellac finish on fleece pajamas.

When Christmas shopping, here is always someone to hold the door open for me with a smile when they see us coming with the big double stroller. In contrast, waitresses see me coming with my double stroller and immediately burst into tears. Small children want to climb on. Sometimes, I end up at the car with an extra child who is attempting to stow away.

No matter how beautifully decorated the Christmas tree is, how gorgeous the ornaments or how intriguingly placed the lights on it are, it will still end up barricaded in the corner behind the couch and 2 chairs because toddlers want to climb it.

Never wear a white shirt to a pizza place with toddlers learning to eat with their hands. All you are is a big hankie.

Hey, I am as mindful of my kid’s safety as the next mom. But seriously, sometimes I’d like to kill the person responsible for the five-point harness on car seats. When it is 8 pm my kids turn into loud, whiny, wriggly octopuses with the strength of 10 men. Strapping them into a car seat with five straps is like trying to pin down a 747 in mid take-off with a spatula.

To a child under 2, Santa Claus has about as much appeal as going to the dentist for root canal work.

Yes, it is true: You can spend a million dollars on every bright, loud, colorful and educational toy on the planet and toddlers will still be more intrigued and get more fun out of banging a metal mixing bowl on the floor- while chewing on the wrapping paper your gorgeous and expensive educational toy came in.

No matter how I try, I will probably never instill fear into them like the sight of my vacuum cleaner does. I’m hoping this lasts until they are 18.

If given the choice between your scrumptious, family recipe, takes-5-hours-to-make-and-has-25-ingredients, home baked upside down apple crispy Christmas muffins and cheese, the toddler will choose the cheese. Don’t let it hurt your feelings. They like wrapping paper too.

Late Christmas Carnival....

Yikes! I am still groggy from the nog, and forgot to post that the 99th Catholic Carnival has been up at Pondering the Word.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Get Nogged... Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering where you will find this week's Catholic Carnival. Enjoy!

Friday, December 08, 2006

2007 Saint of the Year Devotion

I am honored to be chosen this year by St. Agnes. My daughter has been chosen by St. Agatha. I see these two young virgin martyrs as sisters, even though the common blood they share is martyrdom and not familial. Historically, they were born about 150 years apart, and both had promised their virginity to Christ as young girls, only to be thrown into brothels so that they would renounce their chastity. Both were cruelly tortured and killed, St. Agatha having had her breasts mutilated and then rolled onto live coals.

These two ancient saints remind me of a third, who will most likely never be recognized by the Catholic Church but who I feel is just as worthy of reverence. Her name is Marian Fisher and she was Amish. You may remember reading about her just recently, one of 5 little Amish girls who were killed when a deranged man broke into their little schoolhouse, bound them and shot them to death. Marian Fisher was 13 years old. One of the surviving girls recounted how, when bound by this “outsider” waving a gun and threatening her, Marian Fisher told him to “shoot me and leave the other ones loose.” I am still astounded at her bravery and her willingness to give her life for the sake of the other girls in the schoolhouse. I am sure she is a saint and embodies the spirit of St. Agatha and St. Agnes, who at about the same tender age braved death to protect their virginity and in fidelity to Christ. “No greater love have a man than this: than to lay down his life for the sake of his friends.” I pray through the intercession of these saints that I am fortified to defend my faith, even unto death.

My son was chosen by the Archangel Raphael, whose name means “God has healed”. My son’s name, Jaden, comes from the Hebrew Jadon, which means “God has heard”. God indeed has heard and has healed me these past two years, with the birth of my beautiful twins. I have included the Litany to St. Raphael in my daily prayers.

Thanks to Moneybags for this 2007 Saint of the Year Devotion. If you haven’t already, take a minute to participate at A Catholic Life .

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This week's Catholic Carnival... up at Kicking Over My Traces . Lots of good schtuff this time around,including these tasty bits:

Chore Time by lovely Sarah at Just Another Day Of Catholic Pondering about feeding sheep and other medatative things.

Saint Of The Year Devotion by Moneybags at A Catholic Life . Send in your info and get one while they're hot!

Hope by Steve Bogner over at Catholicism, Holiness and Spirituality . Short but sweet and a much needed reminder that hope is ...well, much needed!

The Seven Habits of Faith by John Gedbaw at A Grain of Wheat is a great post on how to take a "Faith Inventory" to help your faith grow daily.

Funky's wife, Stuff over at Ales Rarus writes about The Vocation of Marriage and Parenthood. I like her "the more, the merrier" ideas about kids. Now, if I could just get the marriage part right....

Herb Ely writes about On Distractions in Prayer: Advice From The Hasidic Jewish Tradition . I love to read about the Baal Shem, a way-holy Jewish dude who began the Hasidic Jewish tradition in the first place. I've gained a lot in my Catholic journey reading about his life and his writings...hope you do too.

And oh my, I have discovered the beautiful Kitchen Madonna and her tasty blog! Please read KM Beef Stew Recipe... and take some time to browse around. Her delightful kitchen is a yummy place to warm up this season.

All the posts are worth a read, these are just some I've read today. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Thinking About Bosoms

Lately, I’ve been thinking about bosoms. Now, before you get all bent out of shape and decide to tattle on me to Sister Mary Martha, I’m not thinking about them in the lecherous sense. After all, I have a bosom myself. So does the patriarch Abraham, as we read in Luke 16. So does my grandmother, Helen.

My grandmother is going to be 92 years old this March. When I think about the sheer amount of years she has lived, and how many beginnings and endings she has known in her lifetime, my mind boggles. Born in 1915, she has been witness to more advancements in technology than in any other period in our history. She has seen the Great Depression, 2 World Wars, the birth of the television and the first man on the moon, just to name a few. After raising her own two sons, she also raised me from birth. If you ask her how she is feeling on any given day, she will tell you, with a tired smile, that “the old, gray mare aint what she used to be”. Although her body is arthritic and stiff, and her parts are getting rusty, her mind remains sharp and her memory solid. Although she may not be able to remember what she had for breakfast by dinnertime, she can remember things like being a child in the 20’s growing up in Chicago, her first date with my grandpa, her marriage at 19 (they eloped at St. Peter’s in downtown Chicago in defiance of her family!) and the birth of her kids. She is an amazing lady.

This little woman who now barely stands 4 and one half feet tall is a giant in my eyes. She has taught me most of what I know about real love. I suppose a better way of putting it might be that I believe in love and know that it does exist because of the example of my grandmother.

She herself was raised by her grandparents, a Scottish grandfather and an Irish grandmother. She has an entire laundry list of “old wives tales” and sayings that are a mix of Scottish, Irish and Catholic, Pre-Vatican II family superstitions. For example, I am 36 years old and still cannot put a pair of shoes on a table for fear of bringing bad luck into the house. If your right palm itches, scratch it on wood and put it in your pocket and you’ll be sure to receive money from someone that day. Ignore it if it is your left hand; you will just wind up with a kiss from a fool. And always, always pray to St. Anthony for any lost item and he will help you find it in no time.

Although my grandmother has always been petite, I can remember crawling into her lap and resting my head on her chest, which was always warm and ample and comfortable. My grandmother carried everything, from money, to tissues, to safety pins, in her brassiere, affectionately referred to as her “bosom”. I remember being a teenager and searching for a pencil and being absolutely astonished to watch her pull one out from that amazing place where she stored all the little necessities of life. I remember being embarrassed beyond words when, one morning going to school she safety-pinned a dear 5 dollar bill for a field trip on the inside of my own pre-teen brassiere so that I wouldn’t lose it and bursting into tears when the teacher asked me to turn it in. How to retrieve it in front the class and especially mean old Tony Lupee who would no doubt tease me mercilessly about it for the rest of 8th grade and possibly my entire life?????

When I was very small, she would lay me down for a nap with her in her bed and pull from her bosom a rosary and teach me to say the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary” and my guardian angel prayer. She kept bobby pins there for my hair, which was always a mess of curls and frizz. She kept phone numbers and shoelaces in her bosom and quarters there too and would always slip me one in church before mass to light a candle for my poor dead mother’s soul. As I grew older I started to wonder why she bothered with a purse at all. She had absolutely no qualms about slipping her hand into the neck of her blouse to retrieve whatever it was she needed. By the time I came into her life she had become such a pro at it so that if you blinked you missed it entirely and before you could say “Gram, I need a….” , there she was holding whatever it was out to you with a smile.

Love is like that in my opinion. It anticipates its beloved’s needs and adorns itself accordingly. It keeps the interests of the loved one close to its heart.

Now that we live across the country from one another, I find that she can still anticipate when I am feeling overwhelmed by life, or in need of an “I love you”. She always seems to call exactly at the right moment, to give me comfort and a reality check in the process. And there always seems to be an envelope from her in my mailbox with a few bucks in it, when a few bucks are hard to come by. I am saddened and humbled to realize that not everyone is so fortunate to have been raised by someone who truly loves them.

In the bible, we read about Abraham’s Bosom, that lovely place where Lazarus, after a life of misery and pain, is carried to by the angels. In contrast, there is a rich man who is “buried in hell” after death. It is this same Bosom which Augustine, in his eloquent and charming way, writes of with regard to his friend Nebridius “Whom, not long after our conversion and regeneration by Thy Baptism, being also a faithful member of the Church Catholic, and serving Thee in perfect chastity and continence amongst his people in Africa, his whole house having through him first been made Christian, didst Thou release from the flesh; and now he lives in Abraham's bosom. Whatever that be, which is signified by that bosom, there lives my Nebridius, my sweet friend, and Thy child, O Lord, adopted of a freed man: there he liveth. For what other place is there for such a soul?”

My babies love to be held against my chest and I love to hold them there. Now as we enter Advent, I think of Our Lady cradling the baby Jesus to her bosom on that Holy Night when she and St. Joseph had the beautiful and mysterious privilege of adoring Him all to themselves for a short time. Before the shepherds and the wise men came to worship Him, before His presentation, His growth, His ministry and His destiny were fulfilled, they held them to their chests in the quiet and safety of the manger. Before anything, He was placed in the heart of a family and given parents to love Him.

This Christmas (and truly at all times) we should pray specifically for families and that for children who are unloved and unwanted. We should see in every person the child they once were, and know that they have a Father in heaven who, regardless of their state in life or even their cooperation with His grace, loves them beyond our understanding and desires to cradle us all to His Sacred Heart. This includes the criminal, the hedonist, the sourpuss, the liar, thief and the depraved one. One day, that person’s Father will take an accounting of how you loved His child on earth.