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Saint John Bosco, image from saintbosco.org

Much more difficult that remembering to read Bible stories,
much more difficult than finding Advent candles in storage,
much more difficult than teaching littles how to genuflect,
much, much more difficult…
(but maybe way, way more important)
… is being patient with my kids when they mess up.

I’m not talking about firm vs lax parenting, or having vs not having boundaries, or following through with proper consequences vs not. I’m talking about treating that little person with all the love that God has poured into me, with the patience and mercy that God has shown me, all the love that I am capable of giving, but really really not wanting to right this very minute. Not right now. Not while I’m so angry and frustrated and tired…

Sigh.

So many saints have, time and time again, reminded us that yelling in anger doesn’t really help a situation improve, doesn’t really motivate a little person (or any of us) to do better. In this post, Saint John Bosco reminds us that “there must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips.” It doesn’t help: the hostility, the contempt, the insults. And really, if others treated us that way, we would feel horrible. And it doesn’t help.

Among the more powerful ways I can bring my children to Jesus is to show them in my face, His face: just how much He loves them. When they see me controlling my temper, or apologizing when I cross the line, they remember. On the other hand, when they see that time and time again, that this is how Mama gets things done when it’s “important,” then I will find a ten-year old speaking to her baby brother that way, when it’s “important.” Unless I work hard to curb it in myself, I might find myself in a horrible household where yelling is the main mode of discourse: a situation that will partly be of my own making.

God calls us to treat the littlest as we would treat Him. I try and I pray. Maybe you can pray for me, too. It’s such a humiliating and slow process for my pride to take, but he promises he will help and I have hope that, in time, it will get better. My path is littered with His reminders and I will keep on trying.

Must remember, St. John Bosco says:
no hostility in our minds,
no contempt in our eyes,
no insult on our lips

Difficult, but worthwhile.

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Right before bedtime, after the kids are in pajamas and all the teeth have been brushed, there’s some time for reading books. Sometimes they choose. Sometimes we choose. While the reading kids are now off in their own corner with “big kid” books, the non-readers (or the not quite reading) are still willing to snuggle and listen to a story or two.

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Sometimes I choose this book. I say that I’m only going to read just one chapter.

Our Heavenly Father is actually a grade one religion textbook, from a series called “Faith and Life” that is popular with many homeschoolers. The kids don’t seem to mind, and I find that I can simply read it without having to paraphrase it to make it more engaging and understandable. The level works well for my current SK and grade one little persons. Each chapter is pretty short and is accompanied by a beautiful image.

Sometimes it’s the first time they’re hearing it, but sometimes the kids know the story already. Where did they learn it? From us, from school, from the nice people who run the Time with God programme at the parish, from Mass itself. It’s neat to see them get excited when they put it all together, all these great stories that form our faith from different parts of their life, from different people in they know.

“Read the next one!”
“You mean, ‘Please read the next one.’”
“Please read the next one?”
“For sure.”
“And the one after that?”
“Maybe.”

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Serpent and Forbidden Fruit, from TheBashfulDaisy

I found TheBashfulDaisy, another seller on Etsy, who is selling these cute Jesse Tree ornaments made out of clay.

On her description of the ornaments, she adds a few words about the Jesse Tree: “Today, the Jesse Tree has found renewed popularity. With an ornament and Scripture reading for each day of December, it vividly highlights God’s hand throughout the Old Testament as He made way for the coming Messiah.”

The story of Adam and Eve is so powerful that even the littlest of my children will start firmly and loudly and passionately warning Eve about the serpent’s evil intentions. It doesn’t ever work, and Eve and Adam ultimately end up disobeying their Creator. It doesn’t end there (thankfully) and God promises a Saviour and Redeemer, who “makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience, of Adam.” [from the Catechism. Read that bit when you have a moment. It’s cool.]

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Check out this Fra Angelico painting: with Adam and Eve on the left, sadly leaving the Garden of Eden, and the Angel Gabriel and Our Lady on the right (bonus points if you find the Holy Spirit), right in the middle of the line described in the Angelus, The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. And between these two events are all the people, famous and featured on the Jesse Tree or otherwise, waiting waiting waiting for God’s promised Messiah.

O Emmanuel, Jesus Christ,
desire of every nation,
Savior of all peoples,
come and dwell among us.
(the Advent Wreath prayer for the first week)

The season of Advent starts on Sunday, November 30. Hanging each of these ornaments (or even just thinking about hanging these ornaments) is helping me revisit Bible stories that I take for granted and discover layers of meaning that they have for me. It’s also a chance my husband and I have to share them with my children, during a season that’s perfect for that very thing: tracing through the great stories of the Bible in anticipation of Jesus’ birth.

Super duper good news: it’s not even Advent yet! This little-known often-overlooked liturgical season which helps us prepare for Christmas only starts on November 30 and continues until December 24, the day before Christmas. So, for the perennially-late and forever-procrastinating sorts like me, we’ve got TIME. I usually get hit by the reality of the Advent a few days before it starts, if I’m lucky. My hint is usually that the rest of the world gets into full Christmas mode and I think Ha! The radio stations are playing Christmas music and the malls are shiny and decorated… it must be… Advent! But since the malls and the radio stations are getting started earlier and earlier, it means that I get a bit more time.

Time to do what?

Well, at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ. Advent is the period of waiting and preparing that happens beforehand. Sometimes called “little Lent,” it is a time that involves increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

For us, the prayer part of Advent has involved three very old yet simple traditions: lighting candles of an Advent wreath each night at dinner along with a little prayer, and hanging an ornament on a Jesse tree (usually at night before bedtime) along with a little Bible story, and setting out the Nativity scene (without Jesus, because… he’s not there yet.).

Basically, I need to buy/make a wreath and four candles, and find the Jesse tree ornaments and the nativity scene somewhere in storage. Seems so simple…

Advent wreath. Image by Andrea Schaufler.
This is what we’re going for.

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This is usually what happens. No wreath. Candles don’t quite stay in candleholders. Fatter candles?

E for effort, I say. Also, I’ll need to hunt down the card that has the Advent prayers for when we’re lighting the candles of the wreath.

The ornaments of a Jesse Tree represent the descendants of Jesus form the Old and New Testaments. It’s such a great way to get familiar with the Bible characters and their stories.

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We made these simple Internet-downloaded and kid-coloured ornaments a few years ago. I’m sure these are somewhere. Probably near the Nativity scenes. Behind the sleeping bags? Beside bathing suits and flip-flops?

OR you could make your own felt ornaments.

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Or buy fancy ones from Etsy. At all price points. (from InspiredTraditions on Etsy)

Some kind people have put together the accompanying Bible readings to go along with each ornament here or here. Or sometimes we just use the Bible story books that we already have around. Or sometimes we just say, “This is Noah’s ark… ok, time for bed.”

It’s not yet Advent! There’s time!

Monsignor Zimmer recently mentioned genuflecting toward the Tabernacle, “the dwelling place of Jesus in our midst,” in one of the recent bulletins. He explains, “This simple gesture of putting the right knee to the floor is a sign of faith and respect for Christ present in the mystery of the Eucharist.”

1. Teach by example.
Our one-(almost-two)-year old, who we haven’t “taught” yet, who I supposed has just seen us all doing it, randomly drops to his knees with great vigour as soon as we enter the church doors. He does it without notice and I will suddenly feel a violent yank downward. I usually react by trying to yank him back up. He usually reacts by jumping downward again, this time with more feeling. Rinse, lather, repeat. One day, after watching our little dance, a kind gentleman pointed out, “He’s genuflecting!” Oh!

Some of the older kids will need reminding. Sometimes, just seeing you genuflecting is reminder enough, but other times…

2. Give a heads up.
In the car ride over? Maybe as you’re walking up the walkway before opening the doors? Or right when you enter? Again right before you leave? “Don’t forget to genuflect toward the Tabernacle!”

3. Talk about it.
Jesus, really present in the Eucharist, is the King of kings. These days, kings and queens find themselves in our lives through the fairy tales that we read. They come alive in the stories and I find that this is a good time to talk about the signs of respect that we pay to our Lord.

As far as I can tell, the habit of genuflecting, like any other habit we are trying to help our children form, may take years. Or rather, it seems to be taking years. I pray for the grace to be patient and hopeful.

The first reading from a beautiful funeral Mass at St. Clement on Tuesday was from the Book of Sirach, chapter two. I say spiritual faceplants, the Book of Sirach says crucible of humiliation.


My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
and do not be impetuous in time of adversity.
Cling to him, do not leave him,
that you may prosper in your last days.
Accept whatever happens to you;
in periods of humiliation be patient.
For in fire gold is tested,
and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust in God, and he will help you;
make your ways straight and hope in him.
You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy,
do not stray lest you fall.
You that fear the Lord, trust in him,
and your reward will not be lost.
You that fear the LORD, hope for good things,
for lasting joy and mercy.
Consider the generations long past and see:
has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken?
has anyone called upon him and been ignored?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
forgives sins and saves in time of trouble.
- Sirach 2:1-11

dirt

Sometimes I make a big mess of things. A really big mess. Sometimes the messes I make are the work of several awful days that finally pile up to create an overwhelming avalanche of terrible, and sometimes I do just one swift awful thing and them BAM. There I am, spiritually face down in the dirt, having failed the very people that God gave me to take care of. And when I’ve done something awful, I find it near impossible to get up and do the next thing. Unload the dishwasher. Say sorry. Anything. Move on and try again. I find it hard to do that. I’m just so awful, I think. I should just stop because I’m just going to keep doing awful things. There’s really no hope for me or for these sad people who need me.

Flashback to the mid-nineties…

During what may have been my last bike ride, my front wheel slipped on a steep bit of road and I flew off, head first. If it were one of those extreme sports competitions, I would have gotten all sorts of points for how high I was. I landed roughly on the dirt and gravel and when I finally stopped skidding, I lay there for a bit, face to the ground, dazed. I stayed there for a while, painfully covered in cuts and bruises.

Fast-forward again…

That’s what a spiritual faceplant feels like to me: humiliating and awful and you just don’t want to move. For a while. A long while. Everything hurts and maybe, maybe they’ll all just let you stay down here, in the dirt (or mud, if you’re crying).

After typing all that, I wish I had something profound and practical to share about what to do in these situations. Most times, and for longer than I would admit, for longer than I need, I just wallow. Feel bad for myself. And boy is it hard to do good things in this state. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, I remember to turn to God and say Help me, please! through my tears, or anger, or humiliation. I feel really silly saying that, if I really thought about it, thought back to all those really terrible times, God hasn’t failed me yet. All those moments have ultimately worked out for the good. God hasn’t failed me yet, and still I linger in the dirt before asking Him for help. Sometimes I don’t even remember to ask at all. He is all-merciful and all-powerful. And He loves me more than I can imagine. Even if I’m a very slow learner.

After the 9:00 a.m. Saturday Mass, while the Rosary is being recited and as the Confession line slowly grows then shrinks, I’ve noticed that there is always someone carefully going through the entire church, dusting.

It’s not a trivial task.

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It isn’t a small church.

Now, if you are the sort of person that has always existed in a dust-free house, dusting all the corners as often as needed like breathing (i.e. automatically and without fuss), then this might not be that big a deal. You might think, Of course someone dusts all of St. Clements! But to me, dusting is a recent discovery. The realization that it is possible to have a home that does not have a thick layer of dust on all of the infrequently-used surfaces (and some of the frequently-used ones) is new new new.

It was exciting to do it the first few times. Look at me! I’m dusting! Look at my house! It’s dust-free! But the 27th time? The 38th time? It was losing its excitement. (Isn’t that what housekeeping is all about? Excitement? Haha.)

As I watched that anonymous St. Clement parishoner carefully run the duster through the Stations, St. Michael, the Tabernacle, carefully, carefully working through all the nooks and crannies, I was inspired to take up my duster again, even without the initial enthusiasm. I suppose some of the more humble tasks associated with loving those placed in our care get to this point – where there is no more excitement. I am usually surprised that, when it fades, a different sort of fuel takes its place, allowing me to keep on keeping on. I have a sneaky suspicion that it is Grace.

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Things that one might do today for the greater glory of God:

1. Empty the dishwasher.

2. Take out the smelly garbage.

3. Cheerfully register for Fall extra-curriculars. Or cheerfully fail at registering for Fall extra-curriculars.

4. Not lose one’s temper at the child who tries to enter the refrigerator.

5. Not lose one’s temper at the child who is yelling at the other child trying to enter the refrigerator.

6. Smile at the neighbours walking their dogs, despite being shy.

7. Wash the school lunch thermos line-up before they get crusty.

8. Listen attentively to the after-school stories.

9. Make dinner.

10. De-crustify the high chair.

(As far as I can tell, in order to do something for the greater glory of God, one turns to God and says, “God? I think you would like me to do this and I’m doing this for your greater glory.” And I think there are bonus points if you really don’t want to do it.)

Good days, Bad days
Two days ago, I had one of those Terribly Bad Days. Or rather, my toddler had a Terribly Bad Day (reason: unknown) and there’s nothing like a tantrummy toddler to send your mood spiralling South. Nothing went right. By the end of the day, my nerves were a wreck and I was snarling at everyone. Blech. I went to bed with my eyes narrowed at God, praying, “God? Where are you? What are you thinking?” Yesterday, on the other hand: the sky was blue, the toddler was smiling (reason: unknown) and everything fell easily into place. Same me, same toddler, same God. Same God who loves me and my toddler more than I can ever imagine, as much two days ago as he did yesterday. Some days are good days, some days are bad days – and we keep on keeping on. Blest be the name of the Lord.

The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. -Deuteronomy 6:4-7

I love how it specifies when one should talk about this. You could make a little to-do list in your mind to make sure you’ve covered all your bases:

Have you talked about how the Lord our God is one Lord, and that you should love him with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might:

a) With your children?
b) When you’re sitting?
c) When you’re walking?
d) When you lie down?
e) When you rise?

And then, at some point, we could say: Check, check, check, check and check! Doesn’t everyone enjoy crossing things off lists?

Sometimes parties run late and sometimes you might find yourself ushering droopy toddlers or crazy wired toddlers from their carseats to their beds a bit after their usual bedtime. You’ve placed their tired bodies into pajamas and wrestled a toothbrush through their birthday cake-filled teeth. (Or not. Tomorrow morning might just be as good.) If they’re absolutely done, you carry them to bed, you might ask them to whisper, “Good night, Jesus.” as you point at the crucifix. Or you might say it, since they’re already asleep. Maybe they have been since the car.

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Maybe they’re still in their party clothes

But if they’re awake and have a bit left in them, you might sing just the refrain from this song, complete with actions. You might do this a few times, or more than a few times. When everyone learns it really well, you might try going faster and faster until you’re all giggling, or then slower and slower until it’s like a lullaby. Kind of like Taize, but for toddlers.

The Super Easy Lyrics
Jesus Christ,
You are my life!
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Jesus Christ,
You are my life!
You are my life!
Alleluia!

The Super Easy Actions
Jesus: Point to the middle of your palm (at Jesus’ wound)
Christ: Point to the middle of your other palm (at Jesus’ other wound)
You are: Point out with both hands
my: Point to yourself with both hands
life: Cross both hands over your heart
Alleluia: Trace enthusiastic circles, pointing upwards with both index fingers (i.e. Woohoo! Party!)

(Kind of like this, but the non-Lent version.)

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“What is this maternal love? It’s a love that sees beyond my failures and mistakes to the good in me. It’s a love that is able to see who I really am, and what I could be. It’s a love that is willing to sacrifice for me, so that, I, too, can come to believe that possibility. The experience of maternal, spiritual love cuts right through the subconscious fear that can lurk in hearts, that deep down, there is something un-loveable about me. Maternal love brings the other to life and sets him or her free to join the living chain of heroic love.”

“We’ve come to learn that this spiritual love is not about doing more but about allowing oneself to first be moved in delight by the good of the other, and then outwardly manifesting that delight. This idea can sound simple enough, but do we truly life in this way? Do we love like this? Are we open to receive another person, allowing our hearts to be moved by some goodness we see and notice in them – such as beauty, strength, vulnerability, generosity? And then do we mirror that back to them, before acting, giving advice or stepping in to help, so that they experience being confirmed in their own goodness?

The emphasis is so important, otherwise the other person may feel as if I love them only because I am good (or because I “have to” since I am his or her parent), and not because of any goodness I see within them that is moving me. It is the goodness of the other which is the cause of my delight.

This true affirmation of another is not always easy. It takes faith, courage and fortitude. Sometimes I have to work to let go of myself in order to be open to receive the other and allow my heart to be moved in delight. Sometimes I see the beauty, but it takes the other person a very long time to see what I’ve seen in them. It takes commitment to consistently look beyond repeated mistakes and to love another with constancy, perseverance, courage and delight. But it’s worth it.”

- Mother Agnes Mary, SV, Superior General of the Sisters of Life

(I randomly picked up a brochure from the Sisters of Life in Toronto from the lobby of the Newman Centre, at the heart of the University of Toronto, to pass the time. I read the letter at the front from Mother Agnes Mary, SV, their Superior General, and it was just too wonderful not to share. As a mom, it made me feel like a superhero, able to blast “right through the subconscious fear that can lurk in hearts, that deep down, there is something un-loveable” about them. Ka-POW! Pretty cool.)

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What a mess.

I’m a terrible baker. Actually, that might be overstating it, since I’m not a baker at all. At. All. The amount of times it occurs to me to take the trouble to bake is shamefully close to zero. I’m not sure why this is – maybe I never did it before I got married? I didn’t do well in Chemistry? I prefer a chicken leg to a piece of cake any day? My mother is an awesome baker? So many excuses, so little time.

The thing about kids – or, maybe my kids in particular – they seem to really enjoy the fruits of baking. To them, being given something freshly baked is one of the greatest acts of love they can ever imagine. I can’t wrap my mind around it. Let’s be honest: they wouldn’t sneeze at a lovely piece of Costco-bought pastry. But freshly baked? By a person that they know? Who will even let them help? And lick the bowl? And the spatula and the floor? That’s heaven on earth.

My husband bakes. And let’s the kids help. And lick things. And together they wait in front of the oven and watch the magic of baking soda and baking powder in action. I take pictures of them as they make memories together and then go away and hide.

I don’t know about you, but it’s been a tough Lent. Tough for all sorts of reasons but look:

jesus

There he is and he went through all sorts of tough and awful and heartbreaking things because he loves me so… I’m doing my best to hang in there. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. The stats are not so great.

So it occurs to me to Offer It All Up and make a Super Big Sacrifice and conjure up an Act of Love for my little people. It is Lent after all. I decide to make Banana Muffins. While the one-year old was napping of course (I’m not a saint yet – baby steps).

I toil. I lose a few years of my life stressing that the baby will wake up at the critical Spooning of the Batter into the Muffin Cups stage. I even Clean Up Afterwards. The smell of freshly baked muffins fill my house. My shoulders relax. Thank you, Jesus. I really needed that.

The school bus arrives and crew marches into my house. They smile when they notice the smell.

“MAMA! Did DADDY make muffins?!”
“No… I did.”
“Did Daddy HELP you?!”
“…”

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Our Lady of Sorrows. I can talk to her. She understands.

This was the hymn of the mid-morning prayer over at iBreviary. I had never heard it before and found this YouTube video to share with you.

At the parish
Kudos to the St. Clement School kids and their teachers and the folks at the parish office for putting together yet another powerful tableaux-style Stations of the Cross! You guys did such a good job! My husband only had to take the one-year old to the foyer (where he continued to compete with the presentation). The bigger little kids were enough engaged and were able to stay still and watch wide-eyed as Jesus carried his cross (“Is that really heavy, Mama?”). And afterwards?

One child: That was REALLY short, Mama. That was shorter than Mass!
Another child: That was WAY longer than Mass!
Another child: Was that a Mass? (Um, no.)

At home
At home, we’ve been trying the same format that we’ve been using for the past couple of years. We can only do about seven stations (max, sometimes much less) at one go before certain individuals get the giggles and then it’s over. Then we just start from where we left of when we get a chance again. One day, everyone will be so mature that we’ll get to the stations in the double digits… in one evening!

In other news
The one-year old is learning the Sign of the Cross! Right now it resembles Tarzan thumping his chest, but it’s PROGRESS.

tarzan

Maybe the baby is having a morning nap or just be happy to wiggle on a blanket for a few minutes. Maybe you’re between tasks at work. Maybe you’re in the middle of a task. Anyway, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, maybe you can take a tiny, little break. Maybe you can say the mid-morning prayer (I think it’s called Terce) with me? Five ten minutes. Tops.

We even have some options here…

This translation is from the the folks at iBreviary. (Whenever there’s a choice, look for the parts labeled “midmorning”)

or this one from the folks at Universalis.

In celebration of the fact that it’s warmish and no one had to wear snow pants this morning. Although some of us insisted in bringing their snow pants in a plastic bag, just in case. Because NO SNOW PANTS? That’s just weird…

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Christ in the Garden of Olives, Paul Gauguin

From the bulletin: On Friday, March 28th (tomorrow!), students from St. Clement Catholic School will present each of the 14 stations in tableau form. With the help of scripture and song they will lead us through the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection. A priest will be available to hear confessions immediately after Stations.

This annual parish event has become a bit of a family tradition for us. It’s nice for our little kids to have a special night out to see the St. Clement big kids present each of the stations, complete with costumes.

Since it’s Lent, we added this song to our bedtime prayers rotation, now complete with actions.

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Je-

photo 5
-sus,

photo 4
remember

photo 3
me

photo 2
when you come into your

photo 1
kingdom.

Repeat and repeat and repeat.

airlinesafetycard
We’ve all seen something like this, right? First put on your own oxygen mask, then place one on your children.

I suppose this would work well with Lent, too. Or even more generally, with living out the faith.

First, tend to my relationship with God,
then, worry about my children’s relationship with God.

Hmm… not that one should ever be worrying. A wise person once said to me, Try replacing the word ‘worry’ with the word ‘pray’.

Where does that bring us?

First, tend to my relationship with God,
then, pray about my children’s relationship with God.

Sounds good to me. It’s a good beginning, anyway.

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They really taste better than they look. At least, I really liked them. They go really well with steak, and if it’s Friday, thinking about the steak that you’re not having is really very Lenten. For Fridays, they would be a nice side to the standard macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, fish, or even with just crusty bread.

Preheat the oven to 450F. Slice tomatoes in half and arrange on a baking pan sliced-side up. Sprinkle a generous amount of Parmesan cheese, some oregano, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil on each of the tomato slices. Bake for 15 minutes.

I would say about 25% of the kids enjoyed it. Everyone else took the mandatory Dr. Seuss Try it, try it and you may, try it and you may I say bite. The practice of trying out strange new food without making faces and rude remarks is a difficult work in progress, but I imagine it’ll be worthwhile. It occurs that I could even throw in a smallish lesson on what offering it up means. Or not.

ALSO!
The “Lenten Resources” page is back! Check out the link above (beside “First Communion Preparation 2014″). Please feel free to comment if you have any resources you think would be good to add to the list.

What is this?

Here a volunteer parishoner at St. Clement shares her personal experiences as her young family tries to keep the Catholic faith alive in their homes, living out the promises of their Baptism. Thank you for stopping in and be sure to share some of your stories as well!

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