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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?!”
“…”

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

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Baroncelli Polyptych (detail), Giotto

Continuing on the theme of being the last Catholic to discover all sorts of neat Catholic things: did you know that a prayer called the Regina Coeli is sung or recited in place of the Angelus during the Easter season, from Holy Saturday through Pentecost Sunday?

Regina Coeli
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom thou didst merit to bear in your womb, alleluia.
Has risen, as He promised, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

Let us pray.
O God, who through the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
gave rejoicing to the world,
grant, we pray, that through his Mother, the Virgin Mary,
we may obtain the joy of everlasting life.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

My three-year old and I tried it out a few days ago after lunch. I told him to say the “Alleluia!” part whenever I pointed to him. He couldn’t keep a straight face, which meant neither could I. We persevered through our giggles, got to the end, and managed to say the Regina Coeli for the First. Time. Ever. It was such great fun that he thought the moment warranted a high five. I thought so, too.

Sometimes we find ourselves in darkness. For whatever reason, whether it be sickness, ongoing personal tragedy, the mounting stress of holiday “responsibilities,” or maybe just plain old loneliness, this can be a difficult time of year. Sometimes the three purple candles and one pink candle just isn’t enough to dispel it. Or, if you’re house is already resplendant with shiny Christmas decorations and enough lights to make Toronto Hydro smile, or if you’re out and about in the brightly lit malls, all the lights might serve to create a stark, stark contrast with your personal difficulties.

If you’ve ever tried to comfort a hysterical and crying toddler, you might have said something like, “It’s ok. I’m here. It’s all good. I’m here. Nothing to be afraid of.” In the child’s misery, it takes them a while to feel your arms rocking them back and forth. It takes them a while to hear your voice. For what seems like forever, they are blind to you. But after a while, they do notice your presence. Sobs turn to sniffles, sniffles to steadier breathing. Their little body might relax against your arms and the darkness is dispelled.

For me, an old paperback entitled The Wonder of Guadalupe by Francis Johnston served as that motherly hug during the darker parts of this Advent season. I found myself reading about this fascinating miracle a few days after the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

ourladyofguadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe

“Listen and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son,” Our Lady says at some point to Juan Diego. “Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Our Lady, even tired and pregnant with Jesus, has room on her lap for me. (I can attest that there is room on the lap of even the most pregnant person for a sad, little person – maybe even two.) She has room on her lap for all who struggle with darkness. Even when we forget, blinded by our grief, she knows and will never tire of reminding us that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, who is the Light.

Sometimes it takes me a while to notice her presence. But it’s always better when I do. Better and a little bit brighter.

One doesn’t have to be particularly religious to have religious items randomly strewn all over one’s house – just messy. And we’re pretty messy. Although the mess isn’t particularly religious in nature (most of it is quite secular), some of it is beginning to loudly suggest that maybe I should try to say the Rosary. Today.

The loudest item is a pale blue pamphlet entitled “Pray the Rosary Daily”. It doesn’t get more direct than that. And when I see it, I usually haven’t said a Rosary… yet. I suspect that it floats around our house because it has these tiny, fascinating pictures depicting the Mysteries. It may have to do with the fact that six out of six of us have trouble putting things away. It may also be those Guardian Angels in cahoots with Our Lady. In any case, however it finds its way in the middle of the playroom floor, there it is. And it says Pray the Rosary Daily.

The second loudest items are actual Rosaries. One might think that these things should be the loudest item, but they don’t explicitly have the words Pray the Rosary Daily printed on them*. One might also wonder what these are doing on the playroom floor and not safely in the Rosaries box. Ask the two-year old.

Sometimes just looking around and taking in Totality of Our Mess is enough to compel me to sit down at the nearest seat and sigh wearily. It is those times that I usually find that I’ve sat down beside, look at that what a suprise, a Pray the Rosary Daily pamphlet AND a Rosary. How convenient.

*We might be on to something here. Remember the scene in Alice in Wonderland where she finds a bottle of liquid that said Drink me and a piece of cake that said Eat me? Wouldn’t it be a good idea if Rosaries came with some sort of tag that says Pray the Rosary Daily? How could I ignore such an item when I find it among the rain boots?


Our Lady of Perpetual Help

The other day, an old prayer card with a version of Our Lady of Perpetual Help surfaced from somewhere (likely a bookmark found by a toddler “reading” through the big people books). This was the prayer at the back of it:

Marie, ma chère Mère, j’aime cette photo de vous et de Jésus. J’aime la façon que vous tenez Jésus dans vos bras, car en même temps vous me regardez aussi. Je vous demande de me protéger ainsi que ma famille. Aidez-moi à être aimable avec les autres, à répondre généreusement aux demandes d’aide, et à toujours apprécier toutes les bonnes choses que je possède. Amen

French! How cool is that? According to our friends at translate.google.com, it means:

Mary, dear Mother, I love this picture of you and Jesus. I like the way you hold Jesus in your arms, at the same time as you look at me too. I ask you to protect me and my family. Help me to be nice to others, to respond generously to calls for help, and still enjoy all the good things I have. Amen

Isn’t that a simple and sweet prayer? I’m thinking of giving it to my seven-year old, who will be receiving her First Communion in the coming Easter season – a little gift from Our Lady for a very exciting occassion.

Another version
When searching for an image to share with you, I found this cute version from a seller at Etsy:


Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Flor Larios

Prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Mother of Perpetual Help, you have been blessed and favored by God. You became not only the Mother of the Redeemer, but the Mother of the redeemed as well. We come to you today as you loving children. Watch over us and take care of us. As you held the child Jesus in your loving arms, so take us in your arms. Be a mother ready at every moment to help us. For God who is mighty has done great things for you, and his mercy is from age to age on those who love him. Our greatest fear is that in time of temptation, we may fail to call out to you, and become lost children. Intercede for us, dear Mother, in obtaining pardon for our sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and the grace always to call upon you, Mother of Perpetual Help.

Trying to keep by Mary’s side as we face the Holy days ahead. These images of her and the child Jesus seem so far away from those of pain and suffering that we have been seeing during Lent. Keeping you and your family in my prayers during Holy Week.

In these images, faith and art combine so as to penetrate our heart and summon us to conversion.
– Pope Benedict XVI, after the Way of the Cross in Madrid, WYD 2011


Deposition by Rogier van der Wyden

Be sure to check out a larger version of this painting. The rest of the Holy Father’s address is also really worth reading. Or printing and leaving out on the kitchen table.


The school bus: our big yellow morning motivation

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a morning person. Before 8:30am, our house is like a circus. A slightly groggy circus. We can do bedtime prayers. We can do Grace before meals. We’ve even been known to say the Angelus now and then. But noticeably absent in our prayer toolbox was any sort of prayer to start the day. It occured to me that it was kind of weird to rush around the house in the morning, and completely ignore God, who was surely there, pouring out His graces to help us start the day.

An extra minute
It’s challenging to get out to the bus at this time of year, what with all the winter apparel. One particularly grumpy morning, after having wrestled particularly unwilling children into their stuff, I sat down on the foyer floor. I looked up at four pairs of eyes. I imagine that they were all waiting for me to say, Ok folks, let’s go to the bus. Instead of saying that, I looked at the stove clock and found that we were a minute early. And then, randomly, I said, Let’s say a Hail Mary. Confused, they obliged. Or rather, the older ones obliged. The younger ones did not run away. Then, I said Does any one have anything they want to ask Jesus for help today? And someone did, so they asked.

Children remember
Since that first day, the kids haven’t let me forget this little exercise. With their help, I’ve managed to keep faithful to a morning prayer for days and days, which is much better than never.

Say Good Morning to the bus driver
I try to remind the kids to say Good Morning to the bus driver, and not walk by him like he’s part of the bus. It’s tricky because, frankly, he does kind of blend in and they have so many other thoughts on their mind as they climb on. I suppose it’s even trickier to remember to say Good Morning to God, who is invisible. Thankfully, Mary has come to our rescue.

From Father Zimmer in this week’s bulletin:

October is the Month of the Rosary. Repetition and use is the best way for children to learn this wonderful meditation prayer. We challenge parents to pray a decade of the Rosary (Our Father, ten Hail Marys & Glory be) each and every day. Remember to connect the Rosary prayers with one of the Mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous or Glorious). Why not give each child a personal Rosary as a special October gift?

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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