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-

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-sus,

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remember

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me

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when you come into your

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kingdom.

Repeat and repeat and repeat.

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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.

It was after bedtime. My dramatic five-year old was surrounded by the clothes of the day and the pajamas she was supposed to get into. She threw her arms wide apart and exclaimed, “Mama! I am going to clean the whole house for you. That will be so hard. The WHOLE house!”

Just to give you an idea of what inspired her big plans, this was similar to what we might have looked like at the time:

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The ceramic frog is shocked, SHOCKED at the amount of dirty dishes left in the sink and on the counter…

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When it gets warmer, we’ll be able to wear these off-season shoes. Meanwhile, we’ll just use them to decorate the dining room…

So, yes. She may have been onto to something. But…

“For sure, when it’s time to clean the whole house, you can do it for me. Right now, I need you to get into your pajamas.”

She was tired. It was late. She wanted to clean the whole house and it wasn’t going to happen right at that moment. She was probably cold, too, since her pajamas were still there on the floor. She was disappointed. I was not very gentle. There were a few tears.

Sometimes, I’m on top of my temper and manage to stay patient and gentle. Other times, not so much. It’s tough. It’s always something at bedtime. They’re tired. I’m tired. It’s easy to slip into a habit of putting them to bed on a sour note, having witnessed dreary reruns of nobody’s favourite, Mama Loses Her Temper.

Sigh.

Jesus, I didn’t do so great tonight. Please bless my little family. Please give me the grace to love my children more, to know what to do. If I get to have the gift of tomorrow, please shine your light on these foggy bits and help me remember you right when trouble brews.

God loves our children more than we can ever imagine, and our journey (complete with slip-ups) is part of their journey. We pray and resolve to do better, resolve to be readier for the craziness that bedtime brings. And try again tomorrow.

And maybe walk into that little girl’s room after lights out for one last kiss and whisper, “I love you. I’m sorry I lost my temper.”

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His Eminence, Thomas Cardinal Collins, at the ordination of Deacon Neiman D’Souza at St. Clement Parish, October 2013.

During his homily at Deacon Neiman D’Souza’s ordination in October of last year, Cardinal Collins presented an image that has stuck with me. He spoke of being a feather on the breath of God. I don’t remember who he attributed it to, but I remember thinking That is SO COOL! A feather! Imagine being so light that you can just go where God wants you to go, when he wants you to go there.

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At every moment, with great ease, doing God’s will.

The thing is, most of the time, I feel more like this:

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A sack of potatoes.

If you sometimes feel the same way, take heart, my fellow sacks of potatoes. God’s breath is capable of sending even the most sluggish of us into graceful aerobatics, if that is his will. We just need to ask for help. Ask and ask and ask. God, please help. Please help, please help, please help.

I peeked at next Sunday’s reading and it will be the Baptism of our Lord, which means it will be the end of the Christmas season, which means I can STILL wish you a merry, merry Christmas! I hope this rare post finds you and your family warm and peaceful, and ready to hit the ground running in this New Year. Here are a few photos of our home this Christmas, taken close-up so that you don’t see the mess (that can be a different post).

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The candles are not purple and pink anymore!

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There’s a pretty tree in the living room,

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With a warmly dressed angel on top.

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The Wise Men obscure the unfinished Jesse tree and arrived last weekend to welcome…

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… the baby Jesus, our Lord and Saviour!

You are in our prayers, dear St. Clement families (and other readers, far and near)! God bless you!

Last Sunday, the first reading was from Isaiah 11: 1-10. Inspired by this beautiful passage, we present our humble photographic series entitled Isaiah 11, brought to you by the plastic animal suitcase.

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The plastic animal suitcase.

ISAIAH 11: 1 – 10
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

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We couldn’t find a wolf, but here is a sabre-toothed lion with a lamb. Equally impressive.

and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

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Leopard: check. Kid: nope. But apparently, both goats and llamas are even-toed ungulates.

and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

isaiah_bearlionfatling
At the time of publication, we weren’t sure what a fatling was. The octopus was the fattest animal we had.

and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

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Lions and cows and bears, oh my!

8 The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

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Hard to believe, but there are no snakes or any snake-like animals in the plastic animal suitcase. This is as close as we could get going further afoot to the puzzles drawer.

9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.

Sometimes, it feels as if the world is saying Hurry up! Advent says, slow down. Although it seems as if the world is in full Deck the Halls mode, Advent says, let’s keep it simple. Although it takes some doing to guide the mood away from frazzled and stressed to calm and quiet, it really is worth it. Advent involves low-key and simple traditions that serve to gently turn our heads towards an empty manger, our hearts towards Someone who is coming again.

I am often tempted to turn Advent (and Christmas, for that matter) into a big Pinterest-worthy extravaganza. It usually doesn’t work. I suspect that the Holy Spirit is reminding me that, at its heart, Advent is about making room in my heart for Jesus who is coming. Making room implies less, not more. Less stuff, less things on the schedule. Less means that I might hear voice calling out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord! Make his paths straight!’

The Advent Wreath

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[left] November 30; [right] December 1; Sigh. Candles don’t usually fit into candle-holders, right? For now, the only one that needs to be standing is the first week.

The candles of an Advent Wreath are a beautiful and quiet way to mark the days leading up to Christmas. Last year, we made a super cool Advent wreath made out of everyone’s hands traced and cut out of green paper. I had great hopes for making a similar one this year, every since the lady at the local religious goods store upsold me some Advent candles a full TWO WEEKS before the season started. I had so much time! Well, here we are, a week into Advent, and I believe we’ve cut out a grand total of five hands. Not quite enough to make a wreath. We may give up and try to purchase one. Or not. The kids are so awe-inspired by lit candles that they may not remember/notice that there was actually no wreath beneath them in 2013.

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Given the baby crawling around enthusiastically foiling our craft attempts, this was a big accomplishment.

Sometimes, the prayer that we use when we light the Advent candle before saying Grace is not handy (read: lost) and we’ve adopted a new tradition of singing the refrain of O Come Divine Messiah. Short and sweet.

The Jesse Tree

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They’re not lost!

Because our nine-year old is a gift, she’s taken it upon herself to keep this tradition going, despite her parents’ lack of involvement. (God gave her to us first because he thought we would need someone that came pre-parented as our first born.) On the first Sunday of Advent, we all read the Creation Story and ceremoniously placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil on the lowest branch of the Jesse Tree. Our evenings since then have been more than a little hectic and I noticed today that she’s put up the the next few symbols (Noah = the ark, Abraham = a tent, Isaac = a ram, Jacob = a ladder). The ladder symbol is on the tree but do the little kids remember who Jacob is? Probably not. Hopefully we will get a moment to address that at some point, before they leave home.

The Nativity Sets

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The pretty one out of reach

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The Toddler-friendly one on the living room floor

Both the ceramic Baby Jesus and the plastic one are hidden away. I hope I remember where I placed them in time for Christmas.

Here’s wishing you a calm and quiet Advent. Or even small bits of calm and quiet in Advent, whatever you can scrounge together during what can be an intensely busy time. We do what we can. God really does give us what we need when we need it and he has our families, yours and mine, in his loving heart.

The lovely folks over at SaintlySages have been doing a series of posts on kindness from Frederick William Faber’s Kindness. This often-tired sometimes-tending-to-grumpy mama appreciates the heads up as we head into the craziness of the school year, when there is a temptation to steam-roll over our kids as we Try To Get Things Done Just Put Your Shoes On Fer Cryin’ Out Loud. Got to remember to do things kindly. Even if we’re late. Even when we’ve made a big mess. Even if the baby is crying. Jesus, please, please help me be kind.

“Here is a grand material for sanctification. Nevertheless, such materials are hard to work up in practice. It is weary work cleaning old bricks to build a new house with. These are difficulties, but we have got to reach heaven, and must push on.”

Yes. Sigh. We must push on.

A quick search revealed that Father Faber’s book is available online (see right margin for links to various formats). I will add reading it to my list.

This is the Summer during which we’ve gone from a Not Yet Reading family to a Most of Us Can Read sort of family. Our eldest has been reading for a few years now, but there’s something about having two of the kids reading. Suddenly, there’s someone to share the stories, the wonder, the jokes, the scary bits. It’s brought dinner discussions to a whole new level. (Not that the previous level has disappeared. Some of us are still learning that when the food enters our mouths no one needs to see it again.)

bigkidbooks

We’ve been so excited about this new phenomenon that we’ve been collecting all the “big kid” books (i.e. books with not that many pictures and very many words) on a special shelf. In particular, I wanted to share a few of the faith-themed books that we’ve been enjoying.

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Now You Can Read Bible Stories
We received this set of books many years ago, before any of the kids could read. I suppose these aren’t really “big kid” books but I find both readers and the “read-to” crowd really enjoy these. I think the readers like the independence of getting to sit and very, very slo-o-o-wly absorb the story at their own pace, complete with daydreams and distractions – facilitated by fantastic retro-vintage illustrations. I personally like them since I find that I don’t have to paraphrase the stories on the fly so much to make them make sense.

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Saint Catherine Laboure: Mary’s Messenger
This book begins with the story of the young Catherine who loses her mother early in life and turns to Our Lady. One of our kids’ Godmothers gave us this book and it continues to fascinate our children. I believe that it might be a combination of the carefully rendered watercolour illustrations that they just pore over and the wonderful storytelling (and story). For whatever reason, this is a well-loved little book at our house.

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Once Upon a Time Saints
I researched and read a number of reviews online and chose this book as an introduction to the lives of the saints. The stories are lively and really do bring the saints to life. I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was to read through the various stories – the author really has a gift. From the number of times that I’ve had to remind someone to put it away, it seems as if others do as well.

I’m learning that, especially in the long, hazy days of Summer, if you have it around, they might read it. Purchasing used books online and from the neighbourhood thrift stores can makes the process a bit more affordable. Watching the kids curl up and read is a delight.

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The taps are shiny because cleaning the bathroom sink is not my chore.

At some point, early in Summer, my husband scribbled the Morning Offering onto a piece of recycling and taped in underneath the bathroom mirror, above the sink. He got this idea at his mum’s house, where there is a nicely framed version affixed onto the wall of their main washroom, also within view of anyone brushing their teeth.

Our humble version is now water and toothpaste-stained, crumpled and almost falling off. But BOY is it ever a hard-working piece of paper. It’s RIGHT THERE. You would have to awkwardly avert your eyes to not see it. Every single person who can read in our house (which is now more than 50% of us!) is now more likely to remember to say this prayer as they start their day.

O JESUS, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings,
all that this day may bring,
be they good or bad: for the love of God,
for the conversion of sinners, and
in reparation for all the sins committed
against the Sacred Heart and
the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

It’s the sort of prayer that really helps me get into the right frame of mind. I can’t be all “Whoa! Sufferings?! Who said anything about sufferings?!” since I explicitly offered them up to Jesus, as I was brushing my teeth. I also offered some prayers and works, so it would be good to have some of those in the day, too.

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One of the highlights of our Summer break

The joys are bonus.

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Screen shots from the “Daily Catholic” app for Android

After finding the Liturgy of the Hours online, I was very excited to find out how easy it is to access the prayers on my smartphone. My husband and I found Daily Catholic for our Android phone, but a quick search on your own flavour of smartphone will reveal many other apps designed to bring you “richest single prayer resource of the Christian Church” with a tap of your finger.

The Daily Catholic mobile app is described as “a daily companion for a Catholic faithful” and features a Saint of the Day, quotes from the saints, Universalis Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass readings, as well as Vatican and FIDES News.

Now, when I find myself with a few minutes to spare, sitting somewhere close to my phone that is not lost, it’s like a nudge from the Holy Spirit. Pray without ceasing.

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Image from St. Clement Parish 2012 Summer Camp “Operation Overboard”

From the lovely folks at the parish office:

Once again this year St. Clement Parish is hosting a Summer Camp for Kids. Children ages 5 – 12 years old are invited to join us for fun, games, music, prayer and faith-based fun. The camp runs Monday to Friday, August 19 – 23, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Registration Fee: $40 per child. Pick up an early registration form in the church lobby after Mass. Volunteers please call Susan Ciufo at the parish office.

Our kids always have a great time so make sure you remember to grab a registration form when you find yourself in the parish foyer.

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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