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.)

flowersfromscarborough

“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.)

mess
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?!”
“…”

09_sep_ladyofsorrows
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…

1-Gauguin-Christ-in-the-Garden-of-Olives
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.

photo (6)
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.

photo (5)

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:

photo 1
The ceramic frog is shocked, SHOCKED at the amount of dirty dishes left in the sink and on the counter…

photo 2
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.”

10842374915_a93534d06b (1)
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.

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

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

potatoes
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.

christmas2013-3
The Wise Men obscure the unfinished Jesse tree and arrived last weekend to welcome…

christmas2013-4
… 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.

isaiah_plasticanimalbin
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,

isaiah_lambsabretoothtiger
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,

isaiah_jaguarllama
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.

isaiah_bearcowlion
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.

isaiah_childsnake
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.

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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