When the books came in the mail, I stuck them up on my desk to look at later. The launch day was a few days away. I would have time to go through them. The days went by—full, fruitful, good days—days packed from beginning to end. And today on this launch day (I am such a procrastinator about promoting things…not my strength…), I began flipping through the women’s and children’s Advent devotionals for 2022.
“Peace Has A Name,” the cover proclaims, and we all know Whose Name.
The words brought back those sweet, calmer weeks last year that I worked on theological edits and tinkering in the chapter introductions with Blessed is She’s managing editor, Nell O’Leary. The truth it that I don’t like to crack my Advent journal open until Advent begins. I like to be surprised and drawn in by the book in the moment. And after looking at them in physical form, both the women’s and the children’s I have found myself longing for the peace they describe.
These books contain the foundation for a prayerful Advent spent in prayer contemplating the peace the Lord brings. There are beautiful Scripture selections, deep questions, and, everyone’s favorite, real stories from our writers—stories of how they found peace in hard moments.
Are you ready to join Blessed is She this Advent, to explore what it means to have inner peace?
An unusual icon hangs on the icon wall in my living room. It pictures some “pre-Christian philosophers” or “pathfinders of the way.” At the very front of the group of thinkers are St. Paul and St. Justin Martyr. St. Paul holds a scroll with words from Acts 17:23-24, when he preached to the Athenians about their altar to an unknown God, “Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since he is Lord of heaven and earth …” St. Justin’s scroll reads from his writings, “Come, be taught; become as I am, for I, too, was as ye are.” Behind St. Justin and St. Paul are The Sybil of Erythraea, Socrates, Plato, Solon, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Thucydides, Apollonios, and Homer, all of whom were philosophers or writers who discovered important truths that the Church has used in her theology.
St. Justin wrote to Greeks and Romans about how the Christians “teach the same things as the poets and philosophers whom you honor, and on other points are fuller and more divine in our teaching” (The First Apology, Chapter 20). It has been a long custom in Christianity to take what is true in the thought of a philosopher and in the traditions of a culture and to “baptize” it by drawing it into the tradition and truths of the Catholic Church. This adds to the fullness of our faith, especially as we acknowledge that God can choose to reveal truths to and work in the hearts of any of his human creatures. However, when we do this, we must do so cautiously and be careful to only accept what is actually true in these works.
One of the most striking passages in the Gospels is when Jesus’ disciples, upon hearing that marriage is not meant to end in divorce, muse, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” (Matthew 19:10). Jesus tells them, “Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given” (Matthew 19:11). The Church has taken nearly 2,000 years to understand more deeply what Christ meant when he said, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8). Now, this is not an essay on divorce and remarriage, but on the phrase “in the beginning it was not so.” Pope St. John Paul II helped the Church understand the great gift the Lord gave us by raising marriage to a sacrament and how we can, through grace, live free of the curse that was put between husbands and wives because of the Original Sin. Spouses married in the Church, to whom sacramental marriage has been given, can live as equals mutually submitting to the love given through the self-gift of each other. In the beginning this was so.
The Church illustrates, through its understanding of the complementarity of men and women, that there is something unique about being a woman, and something unique about being a man — and that the two sexes are equal.
Equality as human persons created in the image of God does not imply that men and women are the same. As John Paul II put it, “masculinity and femininity” are “two different ‘incarnations,’ that is, two ways in which the same human being, created ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:27), ‘is a body’” (Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 8:2).
One of the beautiful but more complicated aspects of Catholicism is the development of doctrine within the Tradition of the Church. Development of doctrine does not mean that the Church’s teaching changes, but that her understanding of particular truths deepens. Sometimes this means that an interpretation of Scripture reaches a new level of meaning.
The afternoon light lit up the stained glass in the dim church. I knelt in the pew gazing at our Blessed Lord in the monstrance with my heart thumping in prayer as my daughter was in the confessional opening herself up to the grace of the sacrament of penance for the first time. I prayed for this to be the beginning of a lifetime of going to receive this sacrament, one that we all need to receive regularly to grow in the life of virtue.
Over the years, I have learned to approach the care of the souls of each of my children as Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, did. Their daughter Celine, who became Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face, explained that at the birth of each child, which was always followed up within a day or two by the sacrament of baptism, St. Zélie would pray: “Lord, grant me the grace that this child may be consecrated to You, and that nothing may tarnish the purity of its soul. If ever it will be lost, I prefer that You should take it without delay” (The Mother of the Little Flower, p. 6). St. Zélie knew that children going to heaven is the most important thing that can ever happen to them.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that sacramental preparation begins in the home, stating, “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children,” and “Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years” (2223, 2226).
I stood with tears streaming down my face on the edge of a lake in Grand Tetons National Park late last summer in the only place where my phone had reception. I listened to my Catholic doctor explain the complicated process of making my womb a habitable place for a potential baby. Then came the agonizing days of discerning with my husband whether to proceed with treatment or just accept my health as it was. With four children on earth and three who passed during the first trimester of pregnancies, we already had much to be thankful for as parents. Further, this treatment could potentially cause more health problems.
We ended up deciding to try the treatment for several months — long enough to give it a chance to work, but not so long as to harm my own health long term. It seemed reasonable and felt right to give my body a chance to carry another child. However, we also acknowledged that my years of fertility might be prematurely over: my being able to bear another child might not be part of God’s plan.
On Good Friday my husband took the route home from church that leads us through downtown St. Paul, a route that is always leisurely on a Sunday morning. The reality of a world oblivious to the Triduum hit us as we encountered the busy Friday afternoon traffic. Then we saw him — a homeless man up ahead at the next traffic light. Liturgically, Christ had just died on the cross and was descending into hell, but in our current moment he was standing before us in the person of the homeless man.
“As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
I turned around and asked my daughter if we had any “blessing bags” left. A blessing bag is a collection of simple necessities we keep in our car to hand out to the homeless we encounter at street corners. We were out of blessing bags but had a box of granola bars. My husband rolled down the window and the man came over to us.
“I’m Josh! What are your names?” he asked cheerily. We told him our names and my husband offered Josh the food. He was delighted, and then he looked into the back of our van and saw the children.
“What a beautiful family!” he gushed. Then he addressed them, “You kids grow up helping people, okay?”
Lent is over now, and so is the Church’s focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but as Jesus said a few days before his death, “The poor you will always have with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:8). The poor still need the generosity of those who have more — and we, in fact, need them.
The subzero temperatures had restricted our homeschooling family to inside activities for over a week. Even our daily walk had been was reduced to pacing the finished basement or using a treadmill. This time of being restricted to our routine indoors, combined with a rereading of In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden, reminded me again of how our family life seems to run parallel to the life within a Benedictine monastery. I base this idea on the Rule of St. Benedict, conversations with a friend who is a monk, and Godden’s novel. (Godden’s content seems reliable as it matches the Rule for in her research she spent time living in Stanbrook Abbey in England and consulted with the nuns during her writing.)
The thing that stood out to me most in my comparison, however, was not the well laid out routine of a monastery and my home. It was instead the importance of peacefully embracing interruptions and the practice of using every slot of time, no matter how short, effectively in serving God. Flexibility in departure from routine is a place that I have long needed to grow, and it is the reliability of having interruptions that makes way for the need to use well every window of time.
“I am thirsty,” he says to me as I tuck him into bed. “These pants have a hole,” she informs me as she gets dressed. “I need a hug,” another child cries out as she deals with the consequences of her poor behavior.
Addressing these basic necessities of my children has been a part of my life for nearly 12 years, and I realized a few years into parenting how in my service to my family I am fulfilling the call to live out the works of mercy. However, the fact of my own children’s needs being daily met, reminds me that there are many people who do not have these most basic needs met — of food, drink, clothing, health care, and human sympathy and comfort.
In the encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII wrote about private ownership as the natural right of man. He further discussed how we should use our own possessions, quoting from St. Thomas Aquinas, “Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need” (RV 22). He said it was our duty, “not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity, to give what we have to others,” not of what we reasonably need to support ourselves, but of what we are able.
Lent is early this year–in just six weeks–and it is still Christmas now. But perhaps it feels as if it never ended from last year. Our lives are still turned upside-down. Our world is in turmoil. Perhaps you are dealing with life changes you were not expecting. On February 17, come join me in journeying through Lent with the Blessed is She Lent devotional, Set A Fire, narrated by Olivia Spears with reflections by Jenna Guizar, Tricia Tembreull, Elise Howe, Sarah Ortiz, Mary Catherine Craige, and Ginny Kubitz Moyer. This fire is not a physical one, but a spiritual one, where we will invite the Holy Spirit to enter into our Lenten observance and open up ourselves to His grace. We will be transformed. And maybe, maybe when Easter comes, even if the world is still crazy, our hearts will be resting more fully in His love.
There are a lot of awesome products this year to go with the grown up Lent book, such as the children’s Lent journal, for boys and girls. It follows along with the same scriptures and themes on each day; we will do it during our quiet family prayer time together while they pray at their level and I will at mine. My children delighted in the Advent journal for them, and my son can’t wait to cut out the paper dolls.
And the bundle this year has this sandalwood rose candle and this beautiful Holy Spirit necklace.