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).
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.
This year we have a new tradition in the Spencer house:
The grass really took off this week in our miniature tomb and Calvary scene. Last Friday in my quick takes, there was no growth at all.
But besides this one new tradition, we have been sticking with our normal Holy Week things. Since M and I are both cradle Catholics, Holy Week traditions have been ingrained in us from our first years of life. We mostly have preserved the traditions from M’s side of the family. I started going to his house for Easter nine years ago in college and Holy Week just does not seem like Holy Week without certain things, like Greek kurulaikia and my mother-in-laws chocolate eggs. For Holy Thursday we always have manestra, a greek dish with orzo and lamb, that his mom taught us how to make. I went to the Triduum at M’s charismatic home parish in Ann Arbor, MI all through college and we made it back almost every year that we lived in Buffalo as well. Since we have been in Minnesota we have been going to our parish, St. Agnes, for the Triduum liturgies, which are beautiful as St. Agnes liturgies always are.
This year, Holy Week started off with a gorgeous Palm Sunday Sunrise, and me remembering to take the palms away from the children once we got through the procession, which meant normal Mass behavior instead of worse behavior.
Today, M helped me with the kurulaikia and the chocolate eggs, while our Triduum guests, my sister and her boyfriend, played with the children and colored in Stations of the Cross coloring sheets.
Tomorrow our plans are for my mom’s lentil soup for dinner, and Saturday is for coloring eggs. I am trying to keep all the important traditions but not overexert myself, because, well, third trimester plus guests, plus late nights for the children is a lot in itself. Sunday we are hosting the Wisconsin relatives, which should be lots of fun, because they are really awesome people.
My grandmother and grandfather (both deceased) in Rome early in their marriage. I love this picture of them.
To add to the rambling post, if you recall, today is the 10 year anniversary of Pope Saint John Paul II’s death. My grandmother also passed away on April 2 ten years ago, but she died in the morning. It is a somewhat bittersweet day today. And further, Good Friday is the liturgical anniversary of us finding out about our 7 week old unborn baby’s, John Paul, passing last Spring. But the great thing about the Triduum is that we celebrate the Resurrection every year as well. And remembering those who passed away this week, reminds us also of our Hope in the Resurrection. Oh, happy fault.
1. Do you ever feel like your child does not really have a birthday unless you tell the whole internet world? G turned six nearly two weeks ago, and I am finally sharing her birthday cake photo with you. It is not even a real birthday cake. It is a peanut-butter-chocolate-creamy-delicious pie that we bought from a family restaurant, because I was on my retreat until 5:35 PM the day of her birthday. But don’t worry, she had a wonderful birthday week complete with presents, her grandparents visiting, planning a pink party, and having seven little girls over for a pink cupcake and pink lemonade party. So, really it was a great birthday for a sixth year old.
2. Does my description of my week after my retreat give me a valid reason for not blogging for two weeks? I am going to say yes. And I promise that I have been writing, just not for the blog. I was doing things like getting my devotions for Blessed is She finished and working on a project reviewing some films (which is coming soon and should be great!). At any rate, life has been busy and being in the third trimester means that it takes more effort to think clearly.
3.When my parents came for the birthday girl they also brought me my dried bouquet from my wedding, which my long suffering sister has had in her bedroom (the one we shared) for nearly seven years. I am thinking that I should really spray it with something to preserve it better. The mantilla/scarf is on from Segovia, Spain where my friend C and I were coerced by street merchants into purchasing one each and the from whom the rest of our group escaped from down a cliff side. I have had it stored away for years, but it seemed like an appropriate item to display with the bouquet.
4. My Christmas gift from M arrived just in time for the Annunciation. It is the original memoir of Laura Ingalls Wilder written previous to her publication of the children’s novels. The reason it cams so late is that the small publishing house that produced it has had to do several printings to keep up with the demand. It is heavily annotated (I am only to her life at age 4), and it is interesting to see the historical facts along side what she fictionalized for the sake of make good novels. Also, it is a beautiful, very nice book, and very large as the cover is about 10×10 inches. It will hopefully provide a nice diversion for a month or so as we wait and prepare for baby.
5. Look, it snowed again. I believe the label for this is “spring snow.” I knew that highs in the 60s were too good to be true for mid-March in Minnesota. I told the kids that it would snow again. They stopped believing me, and then along came an Alberta Clipper on Sunday night with 3 inches of snow. The children were not entirely happy about it. They refused to play in it, except to search the yard for a rock for a project we made on Monday. However, it is still getting above freezing everyday, so I will take that.
6. On Monday, we made a Calvary and tomb centerpiece, and I really hope that the grass seed (which has been sitting in the garage for a year) will germinate and give us some pretty, green grass by Easter. Otherwise, we are going to have to get fresh grass seed for next year and try again then… The large rock to the right is blocking the entrance to the tomb.
All of the rooms at the retreat center were named after different titles of Our Lady. This was mine… yep… awesome.
7. The last quick takes I wrote were right before a 48 hour silent retreat I took run by the priests of Miles Christi based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. It was extremely intense, but also worth it. I highly recommend taking a retreat if you can with them (you can see where they offer them at this link). While they think it would be a good idea to go annually, I am thinking that it is going to have to be a “whenever the baby is weaned” sort of thing for me. And if you cannot afford it, put ten dollars in a jar every month for two years (or 2.50 a week) and then take the plunge. Seriously, guys and gals, it is worth it.
The kids have a cold over here, and as a result they have all been a little bit more cranky and screamy than normal. It has been pretty rough on all of us. I know it is just a cold. I do wish we could just have the sick people lay in bed for the duration like they did back in the day, but that does not normally work with little kids and why don’t we do that anymore?
Anyway, when I managed to get my pregnant self out of bed this morning to see M off to his last day at work for the semester, tried to sneak in coffee and breakfast before the kids woke up, and failed at that, I decided it was time to sit on the couch and look at the lit Christmas tree in the dark of the morning. So, G, L, and I put on some Nat King Cole, snuggled together and did just that. F somehow slept through it, so, she missed out.
Then I decided to do minimal school: G read us her reader from the library (Fred and Ted Go Camping), and then we had breakfast, and spent the rest of the morning making Christmas cookies.
Before cookie girls.
I don’t know if you have ever made cookies with a 5, 4, and 2 year old all wanting to help, but it is certainly interesting and a test of patience. This is actually an area I could do better as a mom. I would much rather do it all myself than have to guide children through “helping” me. I prefer not to do the activities that take a lot of time or make a huge mess, but I also realize that those are the kind of activities that they love. They are the ones that make me grow in patience, and they are the kind of ones that the kids will remember.
They will remember that I let them use crazy amounts of sprinkles on their Christmas cookies, even if I sent them out of the kitchen so I could sweep.
G will remember that I let her stand at the stove and melt chocolate in the double boiler, and L will remember that I let me form her own peanut buttery filling balls all by herself.
That is the recycling bin, not the trash can, I promise.
I write about these things because it reminds me that I need to do this more. Sometimes we just need to skip the mom’s group at church, stay home with our colds, and make cookies, no matter how big the mess. And the best part? When we were done making the cookies, the children played happily until lunchtime, without fighting, and giggled the whole way through lunch over silly things little girls say and think.
_______ Bonus Baby Bump picture (for my sister who asked):
On Sunday our pastor at St. Agnes promoted Advent booklets with family prayers that had been put together for the parishioners to take home and use. He emphasized the importance of our domestic church and keeping the liturgical seasons there as well. There are so many options for Advent and it might have to do with the overwhelming secularization of Advent with Christmas decor everywhere. We try to keep things simple at home and slowly get the house ready for Christmas. We start with the Advent essentials in out home, Advent wreath and Jesse Tree.
This is our Jesse Tree:
It sits on our family altar.
This little tree was M and my first Christmas tree, and when we moved into a house we decided to switch it to the Jesse Tree. I have been not very good at cross stitching our ornaments, so we mostly use our hand-drawn paper circle ornaments. Maybe that should be a goal for this pregnancy, to get them done… I grew up with the Jesse tree and always loved hearing the story of Salvation history from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ every day for all of Advent. I want this to be a part of my children’s experience of Advent as well. We take the readings from this book, The Jesse Tree: Story and Symbols of Advent. Under the tree we also have an empty manger to remind us of what we are waiting for in Advent, Jesus.
We have one main Advent wreath this year with beeswax candles:
We had fun rolling the sheets of wax into candles. These ones are only supposed to burn for 4 hours. Anyone know of longer burning beeswax Advent candles?
Since we do not always dine in the dining room, I set a small one up in the kitchen nook for use at breakfast, lunch, and dinners in the kitchen. My husband is casually into minimalist art, but he wishes we had just done rocks on a stick of bamboo.
Some have accused this of not being a wreath; they clearly do not understand minimalism.
I, also, put together a simple front door wreath which I will switch over to Christmas themed when the time is right.
The other daily thing we do for Advent is open the door on our little paper Advent calendar. I have seen many beautiful reusable calendars, but this is what we use for now.
Our church handed these out last year. I have no idea who made them.