Friday, 14 July 2017

Book Review: A Priest Answers 27 Questions You Never Thought to Ask by Fr. Michael Kerper

Hello everyone! I hope you're all having a wonderful summer! We've been pretty busy on our little Green Gables on the Prairies (our house is old -- it was built around 1902 or something, and it's white with green trim, so I lovingly call it Green Gables after the famous house in L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, which is my favourite book in the world!). Swimming lessons are in full swing, and my eldest is also involved in a fun library reading challenge, and once a week she spends an hour at the library doing fun summer activities. I've been really enjoying gardening, and I'm also participating in a Bible study with a dear friend of mine. I'm also planning a fun-filled My Little Pony birthday party for my daughter, who is turning six next month.

When you add all that up to the desire to just kick back and relax in the summer, I haven't had much inclination to add anything else to my list. I currently freelance for the local paper, but I haven't submitted as much as I usually do, because I've been really enjoying my summer with my children. My daughter is going into Grade 1 in September, and then she'll be in school for the majority of the day from Monday to Friday, whereas in Kindergarten she only went every second day. Needless to say, I am happily enjoying spending time with her -- six year olds are a lot of fun -- and watching her spend time with her brother.

What does all this have to do with my latest book review? Well, I've had a lot of time to read this summer. When I'm not cooking, or cleaning, or doing laundry, or playing with my kids, I'm usually reading. I'm currently reading a delightful historical romance by Christian author Jen Turano, and I'm listening to a cozy, inter-war period mystery set in England in the form of audio book. I've also just finished a very delightful and insightful faith book.

This book is called A Priest Answers 27 Questions You Never Thought to Ask and is written by American priest Father Michael Kerper. I saw this book advertised from the Catholic Company, and it immediately piqued my interest. I held off from purchasing in on my Kindle for awhile, though, as I had enough books on the go. But about a week ago I finally got it, and I breezed through it in a few days. That's not to say there's not some very informative, educational content in it -- it's just that Father Kerper has such an easy-going, conversational writing style that it felt like I was there, having a cup of tea with him while he explained some interesting points of the faith to me.

I loved reading this book. A faith as rich in history and tradition as the Roman Catholic faith means that it's full of treasure troves of knowledge that can enrich our walk with Christ and better enable us to live out His love in our troubled world. Because ours is the true Church started by Christ Himself, and kept safe and authentic for us through apostolic tradition, it is a living faith, which unites its adherents -- those living and those who have gone before us, including angels, saints and our dearly departed. I think it would take me far more than a lifetime to discover all the joys that our faith has in store for us.

I've always had an inquisitive mind -- perhaps this is why I studied journalism in school. But I think, as humans, we all to some extent want to know the hows and whys of things -- just spending some time with my daughter proves this to me: she's constantly asking me questions that I do my best to answer, and when I don't know, we discover together. Recently, she wanted to know what a quail looked like, and how the pipes get water.

Father Kerper, in this wonderful book, answers many questions I'd always wondered about. For example, do we truly have guardian angels (yes!), what does the Church teach about ghosts, is cremation allowed for Roman Catholics, and much more. Father Kerper also explains to us how to show true charity and how to handle delicate faith situations with others. His book is divided into three parts: Part I: Fear, Trembling and Sweaty Hands: Our Life in the Church; Part 2: The New Evangelization and Old Neighbours: Our Life in the World; and Part 3: Baptize, Marry and Bury: Our Life in the World to Come.

I love reading books on my Kindle, because I can highlight sections of text and make my own notes about it. I want to share with you some quotes from this wonderful book that are really thought-provoking.

On fasting: "Obedience, of course, is not the problem. The real danger is a minimalist attitude that keeps a person from moving beyond mere external practices to a real change of heart. That's what God offers us: transformation. After all, Jesus came to give us abundant life, not an eternal parole from Hell."

"The free act of reducing, or totally eliminating, the consumption of food also fosters true humility by making us vividly aware of our total dependence on God."

On charity: ""Alms-giving that comes entirely from one's excess is nice, but true alms-giving should involve the diminishment and simplification of one's own lifestyle."

On plenary indulgences: "...God's punishments always emerge from his merciful love. As such, God's penalties act as 'medicine' to heal the self-inflicted wounds caused by personal sins, specifically the destruction of our friendship with God."

These are just tiny snippets from a truly wonderful book that can enliven our faith and make us feel blessed to be a part of God's plan.

What did I think of the book in general: I think I've already answered that: I loved it!

Is this a good book for Catholics: That goes without saying ;)

How much work is required for this book: None, for it's a complete pleasure and joy to read.

Overall score: 5/5. Pick up a copy today!

Friday, 7 July 2017

The Power of a Praying Parent: Book Review

It's my fist post in a long time! Things have been pretty busy. We had our family summer vacation in June, and shortly after that I came down with shingles -- I know, shingles at 30 years old!?

Thankfully, that's behind me. And today I finished one of the books I've been reading for the past few months -- The Power of a Praying Parent by Stormie Omartian. Back in early April, I reviewed one of her other books: The Power of a Praying Wife. I was impressed with it, and gave it a 4.5/5. How does this one stack up? Read on and see my rating at the end of the post.

What did I think of this book, in general? I liked this book. I didn't love it, like I did the wife book. But it was still good. Omartian is heavy on the whole "the Devil is out to get your children and it's a constant onslaught of dark forces" and that's a little much for me. I don't contend with the fact that Satan is real and he does have power in this world, and uses worldly situations to gain control of people's lives. I just don't really like fear-mongering. We should be praying for our children out of an overflowing love for them -- a love that wants to see the best for them. Is part of this fear? Sure. I mean, which one of us doesn't worry about our children, or feel anxious when we look at the world we are raising children in? But fear, for me, should't be the focus. Perhaps it's because I spent many years of my life battling anxiety, but I prefer to come at things from a different approach. I believe God has a plan for everyone, my children included, but praying for them is something important I can do for them to help them spiritually -- like bringing them to Mass, having them baptized, and when the time comes, enrolling them in catechism. I love my kids, and I want the best for them. I also know that prayer is powerful and real, so of course I pray for them.

What I did really like about this book was that it got very specific about how we can pray for the different aspects of our children's lives. So many times I pray, and I feel overwhelmed by all that I have to pray about. We know that the Spirit prays for us when we can't find the words, but it's always good to pray as much as we can and bring everything to God. There are many things that parents of young children don't think about -- but this book encourages the reader to lay a firm foundation of prayer, including praying for/against/about things that are many years into the future.

Is this a good book for Catholic parents? I feel like this book, like her other books, is quite distinctly Fundamentalist Christian. There are things that go against Church teachings -- things like assurance of salvation. But this is not a theological book. If a Catholic is firm in their faith and knowledge of the Scriptures and Church teaching, I see no problem with them reading this book for insight on how to become a better prayer warrior for their children.

How much work is required for this book? Not a lot. It's not a Bible study. You read a chapter, you pray. And repeat. You can take it further, if you want. I took notes on every chapter, and then when I finished the book I crafted a large "master" prayer for my children that covers everything in the book. Or, you could write out each prayer (or buy the prayer-only version of the book) and say one a day.

Overall score: 3.5/5. It's a worthwhile read, but heavy on some fear tactics.

Until next time, happy reading! May God bless you with a safe, happy and restful summer.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

In defense of stay-at-home mothers

If you look back in history to your mother's, or certainly your grandmother's generation, you will see something that, today, is becoming a very rare creature indeed: the stay-at-home mother. Back a few generations ago, it was completely normal, even expected, for a woman to stay at home with her children during their younger years. Now, such women are met with at worst contempt and judgement and usually at least a "What do you do all day?"

So, I'm here to answer that. I've been a stay-at-home mother (well, work-at-home mother is more appropriate, because caring for our children IS work! It's rewarding work, for sure, but don't doubt that it's work. If it's not work, why do people pay day care workers and babysitters?) since my daughter was born in 2011.

Thankfully, being Canadian, I was afforded a 12 month maternity leave. But once that maternity leave was up, I had a decision to make. Do I go back to work, and use the majority of my paycheque to put my daughter in day care? Or do I forfeit my career for the foreseeable future? Do I trade business for baby, money for memories, hustle and bustle for hugs and kisses?

It was a problem I wrestled with for a long time. It was a complex decision -- we don't live in a world where mothers normally stay at home any more. This is dependent on many factors, not least of which is the rising cost of living. It's hard to raise a family on one income, and even harder if you aren't willing to make sacrifices.

My husband was, at first, reluctant for me to stay at home with our daughter. He was raised by a strong, hard-working single mother who had no choice but to work. I, on the other hand, was blessed to have my mother stay at home while we were young and even into our younger years at school. We were coming from two totally different backgrounds and had two totally opposite perspectives.

In the end, we compromised -- I'd stay at home, but I had to earn money somehow. And since I had a background in working with children, I decided to open a home daycare. From the time my daughter was about a year old to when she was about three-and-a-half, I welcomed other children into my home, usually full-time from Monday to Friday. I usually had two extra children in addition to my own daughter to care for. Sometimes it was fun, but it was always, always hard work for very little pay. I can't say I loved it, but I did love the children I took in, and it did allow me to stay at home with my precious girl.

Once my son was born, I took time off and shut down my day care, and shortly after that we relocated. In our new town I thought about opening up a daycare again, but my heart really was not in it. My daughter was set to start school and I wanted her days home to be just our family. Thankfully, things fell into place and I found another way to earn money -- freelance writing. So things are going pretty well. I don't make a lot of money, but it's enough, along with my government child benefits that every Canadian mother gets, to help contribute to the household expenses, my children's education fund and my own purchases.

Despite the fact that motherhood, and being a caregiver, is hard work, many people still look askance at stay-at-home mothers. Especially in the feminist climate we're living in today, it can seem downright old-fashioned. People wonder what we do all day. Is it just making mac and cheese and watching cartoons? Is it playing and having fun and wearing pyjamas to the grocery store?

Maybe some days, but those days are few and far between. Here's a sample of what my day is like when it's just the kids and me. I'm using, for example, a day when I have both children, but when my daughter is in school, our day starts earlier and we have the school run to do in the morning and afternoon.

Between 7;30 and 8 a.m.: We wake up. Sure, this may seem like sleeping in, but when you consider that I'm usually up 3-4 times a night with a nursing toddler, it doesn't really feel like it. We cuddle in bed, I make sure they both take a morning pee, and then we head downstairs. They play and I make breakfast, after I've let the dogs out.

8;30 a.m.: breakfast time. My daughter is a good eater, but on any given day my son will either eat his meal with gusto (and plenty of mess) or turn his nose up at it and ask for "booboos". I clean up the breakfast, with help from my daughter, who also feeds the dogs and cat.

9:00 a.m.: this is usually when we read our faith books. We'll start with an opening prayer, and then we'll read a section from their children's Bible. Then, we read a section from "Tell Me About the Catholic Faith", the kid's edition. Then, we read my daughter's daily devotional, and finally we close with more prayers.

9:30 a.m.: the children play while I get some housework done: I try to start a load of laundry and fold what's in the dryer, sweep, and unload and reload the dishwasher.

10 a.m.: I try to do something fun with the kids, and usually that involves going outside. We'll either go for a bike ride, head to the park, walk to the library or meet up with a friend for a play date.

12;00 p.m.: by no we're usually back at home. I let the kids play or help me with making lunch. We eat lunch.

1:00 p.m.: quiet time. I usually try to get my son to nap, unless he's slept in extra-long. My daughter will read a book quietly while I put her brother down, and then I'll have her do a meditation. After that, we spend quality time together, either reading or playing with her toys or even baking. I might let her watch a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (her favourite show on Netflix!) while I try to put on another load of laundry, unload and reload the dishwasher, and make the beds (if I haven't done it yet). If it's the day to clean either of the bathrooms, I'll do this now. And then I'll sit down and relax a bit. I'll also read the daily Mass readings, if I didn't wake up before the kids to do it, and I'll read a chapter in the devotional I'm reading. I'll try to get some work done on a blog post or work on some freelancing.

2:30 p.m.: I wake up my son, who is usually grumpy and clingy for upwards of half an hour after waking up from a nap, bless him! So we'll snuggle and read books for a good twenty minutes to half an hour.

3:00 p.m.: we usually head back outside for some fun in the sun. The kids will run around the yard and discover worms and other creatures, or we'll go for another walk or bike ride, or we'll do some gardening. Sometimes I sit on the porch and read a novel for fun.

4:30 p.m.: we all head inside and I start cooking supper. They either help me cook, play, or if they're being kind of difficult and they haven't had a lot of TV earlier in the day, I'll put a half-hour show on for them. I like cooking -- I listen to a podcast and enjoy creating something healthy for my family.

5:00 p.m.: we eat dinner. I like to do this early, right at 5, so that we have time for an after-dinner walk. During dinner, my husband will not be home if he is working a day shift (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.). We talk about our day, and ask silly questions, "What's an animal that would be the hardest to carry in your backpack?".

5:30 p.m.: I clean up the kids, clean up the table and clean up the kitchen. Then, we head out the door for our after-dinner walk.

6:30 p.m.: bath time! My kids get plenty dirty throughout the day, and while in the winter I can get away with bathing them every second day (this really helps with my son's eczema as well), they need a bath every day in the warm months. I let them bathe together and play in the bath.

7:00 p.m.: I get them out of the bath, dry them and put them in their pyjamas. I get them an evening snack and they eat it while I read them a bedtime story and "Little Visits at Bedtime", a Catholic devotional I got for my daughter. Then we brush and floss teeth and say our evening prayers. Every night after prayers, I ask my daughter three questions: What are you thankful for? Why are you proud of yourself today? How were you brave today? Then, I bless her and wish her goodnight, and take my son downstairs so she can fall asleep.

From 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. (when hubby walks through the door), I hang out with my son downstairs. I'll play with him or read to him, or sometimes watch Coronation Street (if I'm lucky and he is happily playing independently).

8:15 p.m.: my hubby gets home. We greet each other and he holds our son, who is always excited to see him, as we fill each other in on our day. Then he heads upstairs to see if our daughter is sleeping, and if she's not, he cuddles her in her bed and they talk about her day for awhile.

Around 8;30 I go have either a bath or a shower, and after that get a meditation in. I'll try to spend some quiet time in prayer with God now, if I haven't done it earlier in the day. Then, my husband and I will relax and watch one of our favourite TV shows, a movie, or, if we're lucky and our son falls asleep around 9, we can even play cards (we like to play cribbage!). I head to bed around 10 p.m., and it all starts over again the next day!

It's a pretty full day of "work". I clean, cook, teach, supervise, care for and love my children. I get very few "breaks", but I don't mind. The children don't often thank me for what I do, though my daughter is learning to express gratitude now that she's getting older. Thankfully, my husband, who was once so recalcitrant for me to stay at home, now praises me, uplifts me and whole-heartedly supports what I do. He appreciates all the work I do with the children and the freelancing work I do to earn extra money. He also helps me out tremendously on his days off, and loves spending time with the kids. He doesn't shy away from housework, and ensures I have time to work or relax when he's home.

I may not be paid in money, but I am paid in memories. I'm paid in the satisfaction of knowing that I'm the one helping, teaching and guiding my children. I'm the one who is there for them if they scrape their knee, or if they're sad or scared. I'm the one who helps them unleash their creativity and their curiosity. I'm paid in their smiles, hugs and kisses, in the respect, love and support of my husband, and in the support I get from my own mother, who always helps me feel that what I do is of value.

Being a stay-at-home mother isn't easy. It can be lonely, it can be boring, and it can be extremely tiring. But those moments are far, far overshadowed by the joy, laughter and togetherness I get to share with my children. So the next time anyone asks a stay-at-home mother what she does all day, she can just smile, and think to herself, "Oh, if only you knew!"

Disclaimer: I'm not in any way judging any mothers who return to work after their maternity leave. Being a stay-at-home mother isn't the path for everyone. God calls us all to different things. One of the best mothers I know works away from home and puts her son in day care, but every moment she spends with him is so rich, and their bond is as close as mine to my own children. I wrote this because no one should feel guilty for the choices they make regarding how they spend their time -- whether they go back to work or elect to stay at home (which we should really call work from home). We need to support each other, and respect each other's decisions, even if they're not what we ourselves would do. Our differences are what allow us to learn from one anther, and it's my hope that all mothers -- stay-at-home, work-at-home, part-time or full-time workers -- can accept each other with no judgement or criticism. Instead, we should spend time together and see what we can learn from one another to help us on our individual journeys of motherhood.

photo credit: tais.pires <a href="">cor-2</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Thursday, 25 May 2017

On Suffering

The world seems like a dark place right now, despite the joy of the Easter season rounding out and Pentecost coming up. The recent terror attack in the Northern England city of Manchester on Mon., May 22 at an Ariana Grande concert has me feeling sad and teary when I read the news coverage. Twenty-two people lost their lives, may under the age of 18 and even one beautiful little eight-year-old girl. 59 are now facing the long road to recovery from injuries that are physical, emotional and, no doubt, mental. 

I also found out a few days ago about a tragic canoeing accident in the city that my husband and I lived in for eight years that claimed the lives of two fathers and two of their sons -- the youngest of whom was a six-year-old boy. 

It can be so hard at times like this not to feel anxious, depressed and even to have doubts about our faith. All of this is totally normal. Unfortunately, terror attacks have become more commonplace in our troubled world, and accidents are always a sad possibility in some situations. Still, it's not hard to end up feeling sad, drained and jaded sometimes.

I was talking to someone close to me not too long ago about how it can be so hard to see the suffering that goes on in the world. We oftentimes want to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are suffering, to share some of their pain. I know that any time I hear of tragedy striking young children, I can't help but ask God why He lets things like this happen. And why are some people so blessed and lucky -- like those of us living in a developed, peaceful nation who have plenty to eat and a roof over our heads, and so much more -- while others seem to live a life of non-stop suffering, like a refugee family facing danger every day, or the poorest of the poor in the back alley slums of third-world countries? What about people -- even children -- who suffer with illnesses of all kinds? 

Not too long ago I felt angry with God, wondering, if He is all-powerful, how He can allow sweet children to suffer and die. I told him, "Lord, I feel angry with You. I'm sorry I'm feeling like this, but I'm human and I can't help it. Why does this happen, Lord? Why can't you step in and perform some huge miracle, like I read about in the Bible? Why can't Jesus just return now and set things right?" 

I still don't know the answers to those questions. I likely never will -- not while I'm living on this earth, anyway. But my anger with God was fleeting and foolish. God is so far above me, and my understanding is a drop in the ocean compared to His. I've learned that when I don't understand, I just need to let go and rest in God's love.

Because even when we're angry with Him, He loves us. Even when we hurt Him, He cares. We may not understand the suffering in this world, but we do know this: God came into the world, in the form of His Son Jesus Christ, and he suffered terribly because of and for us. So He certainly cares, and certainly understands.

What does the Bible say about suffering? St. Paul reveals, in the Bible, the salvific meaning of suffering. We can unite ourselves to Christ through our suffering and also offer up that same suffering to Him, even though we may not ever understand it. 

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his suffering, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" -- Philippians 3:8-11

A wonderful article on the Catholic News Agency says that, according to St. Paul, suffering enters us into the mystery of Christ, and lets us participate in His Passion, which is necessary for our salvation.

In Krakow, Poland this past July, Pope Francis said,"By dying on the cross, He surrendered Himself into the hands of the Father, taking upon Himself and in Himself, with self-sacrificing love, the physical, moral and spiritual wounds of all humanity." 

So we can see that even though we may not understand our suffering, we know that Christ is with us throughout it all. Continuing to speak to the crowd of young people in Blonia Park, he talked about how some questions, like where God is when people suffer and die, or other tragedy strikes, cannot be answered. "We can only look to Jesus and ask him. And Jesus' answer is this: 'God is in them.' Jesus is in them; he suffers in them and deeply identifies with each of them. He is so closely united to them as to form with them, as it were, 'one body.'"

But going even farther than that, the Holy Father says that the only answer to evil is mercy -- and for us believers, that means "spiritual and corporal works of mercy". 

So how can we show mercy? How can each and every once of us bring more peace into this world and fight back the evil that threatens to win the day? It can seem daunting. I'd love to be able to do more charitably -- to give money on a regular basis to some good cause, but I'm not there right now. I am a stay-at-home mum, and while I do bring in some money from freelancing, my husband takes care of almost all of our expenses. We're also saving for our children's education. We give to our local parish each Sunday and make charitable donations every once in awhile, when we can. 

But mercy and charity aren't always about money. How often do you pray about the needs of the world, and not just your own needs and those of your family and inner circle? Prayer is so important, and it's something we can all do -- a spiritual work of mercy that can become a reality for all of us.

How else can we promote peace and mercy? Well, when you're waiting for the grocery clerk to bag your groceries, do you smile at them? Do you engage them in chit-chat and ask them how they're doing? Do you thank them? Do you go out of your way to try to brighten the day of everyone you come into contact with? Do you pour love into your spouse and your children, setting aside your stress and obligations?

It's something we should all be striving for. And above all, those of us who are lucky enough to be fathers and mothers, grandparents, teachers and anyone who plays a part in the life of a child? Well, we have a very high calling. We can do everything that's in our power to raise up a generation for Christ -- a generation of boys and girls, who will become men and women, who will shine like stars lighting up the night sky with their acts of love, devotion and peace. Our children can indeed change the world, but it's up to us to lay the foundation. 

photo credit: Aida diLeto Lundquist <a href="">WHY?</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Friday, 12 May 2017

Keeping Kids Catholic

Hey everyone! I hope you're all enjoying spring, whether you live up North like me, and are only now starting to have frost-free mornings, or whether you live in warmer climes and have been enjoying flowers and sunshine for a while already.

I've really fallen in love with gardening this year -- flower gardening, in particular. In the past, I've grown only vegetables. But this year, I'm not doing too much of that. Our new house (I still think of it as new even though this Canada Day -- July 1 for you non-Canadians! -- will mark the one year anniversary of our moving in) doesn't have a raised vegetable garden; that's something I'd like to do next year. My husband built me a raised garden bed in our old house, but this summer he's focused on building our fence and possibly a play structure for the children.

Considering we have two older but energetic dogs, and two young and extremely energetic children (including a toddler), I can see myself struggling to keep both the two-legged and four-legged creatures out of my front garden. So this year, I decided to do container gardening for my vegetables. Next year, hopefully we will have a specific part of our yard the dogs can go in when we're not outside with them, and hopefully by then my son will (at three) understand when I tell him not to go in the garden. But until then, I'm growing potatoes, sweet peas, carrots and lettuce in containers. I'm thinking of also buying a tomato plant, as we love Mediterranean cooking and I enjoy making my own pizza sauce!

As for flower gardening, I was lucky enough that the previous owner of our house left a plethora of flower pots and even hanging baskets for me to use! Our front wrap-around porch (one of the joys of buying a house built over 100 years ago) now has four hanging baskets adorning it, but I've yet to transplant my flowers into them (in my part of Canada it's not advised to leave plants out overnight until after Victoria Day). I can't wait!

So what does my ramble about gardening have to do with keeping kids Catholic? Well, part of the joy of gardening is watching your flowers and vegetables grow. You dream about what they'll look like, smell like, and what they'll produce. You nurture them by watering them, placing them in the sun, weeding them and encouraging them to grow. Some of us may even talk to our plants, like my favourite author, L. M. Montgomery (who wrote the Anne of Green Gables books) was known to do.

And isn't that what we also do with our children? We dream about what the future holds for them, we pray for them, we do our very best to give them an enriching environment that will be a good basis for their adult lives, and we also try to prune out any negative influences in their lives.

I was lucky enough to grow up Catholic, and I felt very close to Jesus and Mary as a child. My father was raised Catholic (he was an altar boy, and likes to joke about those days) and my mom had a Catholic mother and a father who later converted to Catholicism, and she herself converted when she married my dad.

We didn't always attend church faithfully, and we didn't celebrate saints days or anything like that, but you could still tell we were Catholic, and it's definitely something I felt rooted in growing up, despite my exploration of born-again Christianity during my teenage years.

I think, though, that it's going to be harder for parents of my generation to keep their kids Catholic in today's world. With what passes as feminism running things politically and socially (which is, unfortunately, not about putting women on equal footing with men but exalting them above them -- how does swapping one power group for another help society?), with loud, forceful support for abortion, it can seem daunting that we're trying to raise kids that will put Christ, and follow the Church's footsteps of putting others first, above the modern pursuit of pleasure, wealth and success at all costs.

And then there's also the fact that some of our children may be swayed by well-meaning friends to leave the Roman Catholic church for a more "modern" church -- one with worship bands, cool youth festivals and a chilled out atmosphere.

So what can we do, as parents, to root our children into our wonderful, ancient faith -- the one that was passed down for generations from Christ Himself? Well, for me, the answer lies in prayer and living out as best I can the beauty and tradition of our faith.

I always pray that my children will grow in faith and love of Christ, and that they'll be faithful Catholics. I pray that they will have good influences like friends, teachers and coaches who are Christian, but also ones that are Catholic Christians. I'm not by any means putting down our Protestant brothers and sisters -- some of my closest friends are from various Protestant denominations. But I'm also happy when my children can make friends with other Catholic families -- because it's more than a faith, it's a rich, beautiful culture.

And speaking of that rich, beautiful culture, how can we live it out? As Catholics, we know the beliefs and traditions that separates us from other Christians, but how do we show it? Well, I picked up the book The Catholic Catalogue by Melissa Musick and Anna Keating last year, and I love it! Thanks to this book, this past Advent and Christmas season was so special, and so Catholic! We had a manger scene, we gathered round the Advent wreath for vespers on a nightly basis, and we made Epiphany window stars.

This book also goes into the significance of different saints feast days, some of which we celebrate. We also celebrate anniversaries of our baptisms, first communions, confirmations, etc.

I'm always happy and eager to learn more about this beautiful Catholic faith, so I also read books about it for my own enrichment. And I'm going through the book Tell Me About the Catholic Faith: from the Bible to the Sacraments with my kids. We read it after we say our daily prayers and have read our daily Bible story.

We have several rosaries around the house, and one is a colourful one that is for my daughter. I have a pamphlet on how to pray the rosary with kids, and now that she's five (almost six!) this is something we're going to start doing together.

And the easiest way to keep our kids Catholic? Go to Mass! Make it a priority, and not just on Sunday -- if you can take your family to Mass sometime during the week, too, then that's even better! Read the Mass readings before you go to church, and discuss them as a family. Encourage your children to ask questions about the Mass, and about the faith in general. It's okay if you don't know all the answers -- I sure don't! You can make a journey of faith together, as a family. What an adventure!

And finally, release your children in prayer to God. Ask Him to guide them and grow them with deep roots in the faith. Ask our Blessed Mother to pray for them and keep special watch over them. Pick a patron saint for your family (ours is Pope Saint John Paul II). And pray that you can find a love and eagerness to learn about this amazing faith, because when your children see you excited about something, chances are they'll get excited about it too!

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) <a href="">Altar Servers-1-19</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

And Then There Were Nuns by Jane Christmas: Book Review

A few weeks ago my husband, children and I were on a walk to the park. On the way, I thought I'd stop in at the library and see if there was anything good to read. I perused the stacks a bit, but it wasn't until I went up to the front desk to check out my children's books that I noticed the book I would choose. It beckoned to me from the front display, where the librarian puts new books that have just arrived.

The title is what first drew my attention -- the book is called And Then There Were Nuns, by Jane Christmas. On the front cover, as you can see, is an illustration of several nuns. All but one of the nuns are in casual, practical shoes -- but one stands out: her feet, positioned shyly and somewhat coyly, in bright red kitten heels.

My interest was piqued, to say the least, even before I read the back. Catholic I may be, but the knowledge I have of nuns comes pretty much straight out of The Sound of Music. Here's a brief description of the book taken from Amazon:

Just as Jane Christmas decides to enter a convent in mid-life to find out whether she is “nun material”, her long-term partner Colin, suddenly springs a marriage proposal on her. Determined not to let her monastic dreams be sidelined, Christmas puts her engagement on hold and embarks on an extraordinary year long adventure to four convents—one in Canada and three in the UK.

In these communities of cloistered nuns and monks, she shares—and at times chafes and rails against—the silent, simple existence she has sought all of her life. Christmas takes this spiritual quest seriously, but her story is full of the candid insights, humorous social faux pas, profane outbursts, and epiphanies that make her books so relatable and popular. And Then There Were Nuns offers a seldom-seen look inside modern cloistered life, and it is sure to ruffle more than a few starched collars among the ecclesiastical set.

I pulled a Belle (off of Beauty & the Beast, obviously) and dug into the fist few pages while I walked the rest of the way to the park to meet up with my family. I was slightly put off by the fact that Christmas had been married twice before -- and was engaged a third time -- and yet was also considering cloistered life. But her writing style was so warm and confidential -- it felt like she was a more religious Bridget Jones.

It took me awhile to get into this book, but once I did, I could not put it down. My five-year-old would say, "Wow, Mummy, you're really into that book!" Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely an interactive, playful mother, but there are plenty of times my kids look at me and see me with my nose in a book. Better than a cell phone, at least (I hope!). But I was really drawn into Christmas' adventures in religious life.

This book is a lesson in expecting the unexpected -- just when you get used to thinking that Christmas is going through a woman's type of midlife crisis and you warm to her witty observations and slightly sarcastic tone, she drops bombshells on you. She writes in heart-wrenching detail about the time she was callously raped by a cold-hearted colleague, about disturbing (and supernatural?) experiences at various houses of religion, and even recounts a vision of the Lord Jesus.

Christmas was raised in a mixed Anglican-Roman Catholic household, but her writing makes it clear that she feels more at home in the Anglican tradition (though it does seem to frustrate her at times). She's also quiet liberal, and is a passionate advocate of Anglican women priests and even LGBT priests, so as a Catholic that doesn't really align with my view of religion, but then again, I didn't select the book as something that would grow my faith in God or help me on my walk with Christ (although in a way, it did end up doing just that) -- I read lots of those books, but this time I just wanted a fun, fascinating read. And that's what I got.

Though I may not agree with Christmas' theology or her politics, I can't help but really admiring her and liking her. I think if I ever got to meet her in person she's the kind of lady I'd really like to be friends with. She seems like a good mother, a loving partner, a great friend, and a woman who is constantly striving to give God the centre place in her life. Christmas' walk with God might not look typical, but therein lies the beauty. If you're looking for a nice summer read, and need a break from the chic-lit rom-coms, this is definitely for you.

I think I'll wrap up this review by explaining to you the biggest take-away I got from the book: the value of silence. I'm not a person who is usually comfortable with silence (unless I'm trying to sleep). I often listen to podcasts or music, and I think some of it comes from being a slightly anxious person -- if I don't fill the silence, my brain will -- and sometimes that's a recipe for worry. However, Christmas explains why silence is such an important part of the nuns' and monks' lives. She could not -- and nor could I -- live with that kind of silence on a daily basis, but she did learn that silence is necessary to hear God. We often pray, and have inner dialogue with God, but how often do we just let him talk to us? On our own, sitting quietly, or even while doing things like kneading bread or folding laundry. Christmas inspired me to be more open to silence, and what it can do for my prayer life.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Learning through the Letters: Romans

We're continuing today with my feature "Learning through the Letters", and this time I'm sharing verses from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, which he wrote before a visit he hoped to make to the church at Rome. Bible scholars agree that this letter holds St. Paul's most complete message.

In Romans 1:16-17, we hear quite clearly how powerful and necessary the gospel is to our walk with Christ: I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God's power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles. For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the scripture says, "The person who is put right with God through faith shall live." This verse is a great motivation for me to spend time daily in the Word and to teach my children how important it is to make time to read the Bible every day. It also makes me happy that we are living in a post-Vatican II world, where the Church puts great emphasis on the Bible.

Do you, my friend, pass judgement on others? You have no excuse at all, whoever you are. For when you judge others and then do the same things which they do, you condemn yourself. Romans 2:1 This is a good reminder. Which one of us doesn't fall victim to the sin of pride, or thinking we are better than others? Who doesn't sometimes judge others, even in small ways? This is a great reminder that it's not our place to judge anyone -- especially since we all sin in our own way.

I love the following verses on how we are put right with God: God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence. But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. God offered him, so that by his blood he should become the means by which people's sins are forgiven through their faith in him... Romans 3:21-25 This reminds me that the distinction between denominations is not the biggest thing there is -- Jesus Christ is. And while I believe the Roman Catholic Church is the true church that Christ started, I don't doubt for a moment that our Protestant brothers and sisters are pleasing God when they honour and praise Jesus Christ.

Abraham believed and hoped, even when there was no reason for hoping, and so became "the father of many nations." Just as the scripture says, "Your descendants will be as many as the stars." Romans 4:18 Imagine what God could accomplish in our lives if we open ourselves up to that kind of hope! Again, a few verses later, we read: His faith did not leave him, and he did not doubt God's promise; his faith filled him with power, and he gave praise to God. He was absolutely sure that God would be able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:20-21 

Because we all struggle with sin, I find these verses very encouraging and helpful in the battle with the enemy: Sin must no longer rule in your mortal bodies, so that you obey the desires of your natural self. Nor must you surrender any part of yourselves to sin to be used for wicked purposes. Instead, give yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes. Sin must not be your master; for you do not live under the law but under God's grace. Romans 6:12-14

When struggling with worry, anxiety and fear, I think this passage will be very helpful -- in fact, it is one of my favourites, another "life-verse": For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God's children and by the Spirit's power we cry out to God, "Father! my Father!" God's Spirit joins himself to our spirits to declare that we are God's children. Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; for if we share Christ's suffering, we will also share his glory. Romans 8:15-17 This is so wonderful -- to think, God joins his Spirit to our spirits! We are strong, not in and of ourselves, but of God! How's that for a reminder when your self-esteem is feeling taxed?

And for a supremely comforting verse, we read: We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 Not only is God working everything for our good, but He has an amazing purpose for each one of us! Again, I really feel like this verse would help a believer who struggles with low self-esteem, and which of us hasn't been there at one time or another?

Who, then, can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble do it, or hardship, or persecution or hunger or poverty or danger or death? As the scripture says, 'For your sake we are in danger of death at all times; we are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love; neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below -- there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 There is so much to unpack here! I really love these verses. I remember when I was around 17, and was really struggling with anxiety and panic, I posted the second part of this verse on  my wall. It really comforted me and helped me during that difficult time. These verses tell us that we have nothing to fear -- there is absolutely nothing in any shape or form that can take away God's love for us that Christ won. What amazing love!

So then, my friends, because of God's great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God -- what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 I find this really encouraging, because if we look at the world's standards of success and fulfillment, who could possibly measure up? On social media, on television, in magazines and all around us we are bombarded with images of people's "perfect" lives: and usually, they revolve around two things: sex and money. But that is not God's plan for us. And thank goodness -- because none of that can ever bring lasting peace or joy. Only God can do that.

Sometimes, I struggle with a low mood. It's not necessarily a sad feeling, just a blah feeling. It can be due to lack of sleep, my body's cycle, or stress. Sometimes, I can't find a reason for it. It can make it hard to be joyful in day to day living, but God always gets me through it. I find this verse particularly encouraging and uplifting in these times: Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. Romans 12:12 Again, this is a great reminder and a great antidote to what the media and society tells us -- that we must be strong and brilliant at all times, beautiful, witty, popular, successful and wealthy. That's not real life! We all have times of stress, times of sadness or anger. We all go through things that test us. And we must remember to actively seek out joy and seek out God, especially during times when joy is hard to feel! Praying at all times helps us to be patient, and gives us strength and comfort.

Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:18 I've been praying about this and trying to live it out lately -- and at first it can seem hard to try to make overtures of love and kindness to those who annoy us or who have even hurt us, but once you get into the swing of it, it really feels good -- regardless of how they react!

The night is nearly over, day is almost here. Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light. Romans 13:12 I love the vitality and hope that is so alive in this verse! We all struggle with sin, but every day we should strive to put it behind us and follow Christ.

So then, let us stop judging one another. Instead, you should decide never to do anything that would make others stumble or fall into sin. Romans 14:13 What a great reminder this is. My husband is always reminding me not to be judgmental of others, because he (rightly) believes that once I get into that habit of judging, I end up judging myself, and that never ends well. I also love how St. Paul tells us here that we need to be respectful of other believers and where they are at in their walk with Christ. Different people have different temptations, and different struggles with their faith. We should never challenge (in a negative way, or even in a positive way before they are ready) where they are at, but seek only to build them up.

So then, we must always aim at those things that bring peace and that help strengthen one another. Romans 14:19 This ties in well with Romans 14:13. We're human, so we can be contrary and irritable and argumentative. But God wants us to be more than that -- to be loving and kind and helpful with each other. Imagine if we all tried our very best to bring peace and strength to everyone we come into contact with each day. What would that look like? Maybe a smile, and a quick chat with the clerk at the grocery store or the teller at the bank? Maybe an extra cuddle with your child, and a heart to heart about just how special they are to you. Maybe it would mean doing something special and romantic for your spouse just out of sheer love for them. There are countless ways we can strive to build up the people in our lives.

We who are strong in the faith ought to help the weak carry their burdens. We should not please ourselves. Instead, we should all please other believers for their own good, in order to build them up in the faith. Romans 15:1-2 Again, St. Paul motivates his intended audience, and us too, to help those that are just starting out in the faith, or who are perhaps experiencing scrupulosity, doubt and fear. During one of the times I felt God calling me back to the Catholic church, I started out full of zeal and excitement, but I backed away fairly quickly because I was weak in my faith in God, and I got caught up in all the legality of religion. It ended up causing me a lot of anxiety and fear, and kept me from returning. Thankfully, God wrought peace in my heart and the next time he called me back, I listened and trusted, and my homecoming felt so right. I think if I had had a strong Catholic friend or mentor helping me, it wouldn't have taken me as long to get "home to Rome". So I hope that, one day, I can help other Catholics or lapsed Catholics or Christians who feel God's Holy Spirit calling them to the Church Christ established, and encourage them to embrace the fullness of it all.

May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 This is just so beautiful, and I want to write it out and put it somewhere I will see it often. God is our source of hope, and we need to open ourselves to His in-pouring of joy and peace in our lives by striving to be strong in our faith. And even when we don't feel strong in our faith, even when we experience doubts, we know that God is always working in us. We can offer up those doubts and negative feelings, fear and anxiety, or whatever it may be, and just tell God, "I trust You. I love You. Help me to love You and trust You more each day."

These are just my thoughts and musings on these Bible verses. I don't claim to be a Bible scholar or a theologian. I'm just a Catholic woman, trying to learn more about my true love, Jesus Christ! I hope that you are encouraged to delve into your own Bible, and see what God is trying to teach you! It's very possible and most likely that you will read the same verse as I did, and take away something entirely different from it -- this is why it is called the living Word of God -- it's mysterious, and miraculous, and oh so beautiful.

photo credit: Brian Koprowski <a href="">Are You Not Entertained?</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Learning through the Letters: Colossians

Ruins near the area of Colossae, in modern-day Turkey

This is my second blog post where I discuss the Bible verses that really spoke to me from one of the letters of the New Testament. My hope is that these verses might speak to someone else, and that I can encourage others to study the Word and pray over it, asking God to illuminate to them some truths that will help them grow in their walk in Christ. Keep in mind these are my own thoughts on the specific verses that jumped out at me -- I am in no way a Biblical scholar, and I am not trying to teach anybody -- just to encourage!

As Catholics, we sometimes don't pay as much attention to the Bible as our Protestant brothers and sisters, especially our evangelical family in Christ. Thankfully, many Catholics are now focusing on reading their Bible daily, and I am one of them! So without further ado, here is Learning through the Letters: Colossians.

St. Paul wrote this letter to the church located at Colossae, a town east of Ephesus in Asia minor. While he did not establish this church, St. Paul did send out workers to it, and so felt responsible for the believers there when he heard that false teachers had infiltrated their group. These false teachers were instructing the Christians at Colossae that to be fully saved they needed to worship spiritual rulers and authorities and had to observe strict rules about things like the food they ate.

The first verse that really spoke to me as I studied St. Paul's letter to the Colossians is Colossians 1:11-12: May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. 

There is so much in this verse to love! Where do we start? Let's work our way backwards this time. Isn't it wonderful to realize the truth that God has reserved our birthright that Christ guaranteed for us? That it is waiting for us in the "kingdom of light"? How encouraging and inspiring! Knowing that we have this amazing birthright waiting for us makes the trials of this world that much easier to bear.

Then, we see that St. Paul once again asks the believers to be joyful and thankful to the Father. Joy is such a huge part of the Christian life, but it can be hard to grab hold of in this day and age. We get busy, we get stressed, we get fearful and bitter. But if we can find ways to keep hold of the joy -- and, as St. Paul suggests, being grateful is a great way of doing this (by the way, therapists and psychologists will also attest to the power of gratitude to bring about happiness), we can truly live out the message of Christ.

And at the very start of the verse, St. Paul tells the believers to be strong -- but not with their own strength; with the strength that comes from the power of God, which will allow them to endure all things with patience. What are you going through right now? How is your patience being tested? When you remember that you, as a believer, have the strength of God on your side, you can let go and let God in trust and patience.

The next verse I really like serves as a reminder to those of us who have been on our walk with Christ for a long time. As a Catholic, I don't see myself as being "saved" or "born-again". I realize that with my baptism I was washed from original sin and incorporated into God's family, and that my salvation is an ongoing process, but all down to the grace of God. I feel like this verse backs that up: You must, of course, continue faithful on a firm and sure foundation, and must not allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel. Colossians 1:23

We all go through cycles in our life, and our faith life is no different. There are times when everyone feels like their spiritual life has become dry. But one person I once encountered on a Catholic forum online said that God values whatever fruit we offer up to Him -- even the fruit of spiritual dryness. Even if we feel like we're not in a place where we're making much progress in our walk with God, as long as we still have faith that He is on this walk with us -- as long as we don't remove ourselves from the path -- we can be confident that we are on our way to being ever closer to Him.

God's plan is to make known the secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. Colossians 1:27

Just pause and let that sink in for a bit. Read it again. Really savour it. Christ -- the Son of God, one part of the Holy Trinity, is in US! Just as we are -- despite our struggles and our sins. He is in our hearts...and we will all share in God's glory because of Him! How immense. What better motivation do we need to treat ourselves and each other with dignity, kindness and love?

Since you have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, live in union with him. Keep your roots deep in him, build your lives on him, and become stronger in your faith, as you were taught. And be filled with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:7

This is another life-verse for me. Just because, as a baptized Catholic, I've had my original sin washed away, that does not mean that I don't still struggle with sin itself. I've been praying that God would give me a true conviction in my heart for an aversion of anything I do that He does not approve of. In this way, I hope that I can live in true union with Christ and, as the beautiful imagery St. Paul uses in the above verse says, to keep my roots deep in Him, where they will be enriched and nourished by His love and sacrifice. How do I do this? Well, I go to Mass. I receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and I take part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I spend daily time in the Word and in prayer, and I ask the Blessed Mother and the saints to guide me along the way, and to pray that I am brought ever closer to Christ. And when we look at the richness of the Catholic faith -- of the many great examples that the saints and other believers have left us -- the guarantee that Christ would never leave our Church -- how can we not be filled with thanksgiving?

I was recently listening to some writings of Pope Francis in an audio book, and in it he talked about how we need to place lots of importance on remembering, honouring and living out our baptism. I think that the Holy Father's teachings fall exactly in line with this verse, Colossians 2:12: For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. But how can an infant who is baptized have faith, you may ask (if you are not Catholic, lol!). Faith is not of our own doing -- it is a gift from God, and He bestows it with love. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him.

There's a whole section in St. Paul's letters to the Colossians that deal with "the old life and the new". Here is what he has to say:

You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions, and greed (for greed is a form of idolatry). Because of such things God's anger will come upon those who do not obey them. Colossians 3:5. What more motivation do we need to put aside our old sinful natures? We will never achieve perfection, but that doesn't mean that we should tolerate sin in ourselves without constantly striving to be better.

Again, St. Paul writes, in Colossians 3:8-10: But now you must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings. No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self. This is the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself. I think it would really benefit me if I wrote this out and stuck it somewhere I often look -- near my calendar, or on my fridge, perhaps. If I read this daily, perhaps when my sinful nature takes over and I get frustrated, angry or bitter towards someone or something, I can guard myself against falling into such sinful patterns, and instead trust God to finish the good work He has started in me.

And, now that he's listed the things we should avoid, St. Paul goes on to describe the kind of attitude and behaviour we need to strive for in Colossians 3:12-14: You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So, then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity. This reads like a recipe, and perhaps it is: a recipe to encourage holiness in ourselves. This is how St. Paul wishes us to treat other believers, but what about non-believers? In Colossians 4:5-6: Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers, making good use of every opportunity you have. Your speech should always be pleasant and interesting, and you should know how to give the right answer to everyone.

St. Paul gives us a lot to think about, and a lot to strive for, in his letter to the Colossians. It can seem like a tall order at times, but not if we remember that God is always at work in us, to help us on our way.

photo credit: Panegyrics of Granovetter <a href="">5062</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Learning through the Letters: Philippians

Ruins in Macedonia, where the church of the Philippians originated

I've been making a point of trying to study the Word of God each day. I try to do it in the still, quiet of the morning before my kids wake up, but spring break and a bout of the stomach flu and a nasty chest cold hitting my kids hard has meant that this Lent, things have been kind of hectic. However, even if it can't be first thing in the morning, I still try to make time to study the Scripture daily.

I've been working my way through the letters of the New Testament. I read a chapter a day, and highlight or underline (if my son has stolen my highlighter again -- my fault for leaving it out, but he loves it!) verses that I feel I can learn a lot from. Eventually, I want to pick a few of these verses and memorize them, but I haven't gone that far yet. I will incorporate these verses into prayer, though.

The first letter I read through was St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, written to the first church that he established in Europe, in the Roman province of Macedonia. St. Paul wrote the letter while he was still in prison, and was at the time facing opposition of other Christians towards himself and also dealing with false teaching in the church at Philippi.

St. Paul wrote the letter to thank the Christians in Philippi for a gift they had sent him, and also included reassurance and encouragement for them. He encouraged them to have a humble, Christ-like attitude and spoke of how their salvation was a gift of God's grace received through faith and not the Jewish law.

Here are the verses that I felt spoke to me -- verses I felt moved by, or encouraged by or even challenged by. I'll include my thoughts, and how I incorporated them into my prayers.

I pray that your love will keep on growing more and more, together with true knowledge and perfect judgement, so that you will be able to choose what is best. Philippians 1:9-10 I really love this one, because who among us doesn't need more growth, more love and more perfect knowledge and judgement? I use this verse to pray that God will enable me to grow in the faith, and learn more about my faith, so that every decision and choice I make in this life will be rooted in the love and wisdom of God.

Don't be afraid of your enemies; always be courageous, and this will prove to them that they will lose and that you will win, because it is God who gives you the victory. Philippians 1:28 I've been struggling with some things, and yes, some people lately. And I also struggle with fear. I love this verse because it encourages me to be brave, and it gives me a reason to do so: I will win, because I have God on my side!

Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. Philippians 2:1. This is just the first half of verse one, but I really like it. No, I love it. When you're a person who struggles with fear and anxiety, this is truly encouraging. I may not be strong on my own, but I am strong in Christ. I need to remind myself of this. Also, how often do we look for comfort in places that we are not guaranteed to get it? But in Christ there is all the comfort we need, and we need to run to Him first above all others.

Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation, because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose. Philippians 2:12-13. This verse jumped out at me because it backs up the Catholic view of salvation -- not "once saved, always saved", but a process -- a lifelong journey. And God will never give up on us while we make that journey. Isn't that wonderful? I pray that God will keep working in me and that I can be willing and able to obey Him.

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God's perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life. Philippians 2:14-16. This was a very good reminder for me. I think I can often fall into an ungrateful rut, where everyday things annoy me. "First world problems", if you will. And I definitely get down when I think about the world we live in today and what our current generation is like. I myself have personal dealings with people that could not be more different from me in a spiritual way, people who can make life complicated. This reminds me that I'm not to argue with them or even complain about them, but instead must focus on my walk with God, so that I can be an example of Christ's love to them. Isn't it amazing that God trusts us with this responsibility? It's like a parent trusting their child with a responsibility that will help them grow.

This isn't an entire verse, but at the beginning of chapter 3, St. Paul tells the Christians at Philippi to "be joyful in your union with the Lord." Lately, when I go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest has reminded me of the importance of being joyful in my faith. This has been a theme that has been echoed to me -- in devotionals, in scripture verses, in books and elsewhere -- since Advent. I think that God is trying to tell me something -- and I'm listening! St. Paul repeats this again in Philippians 4:4, one of my favourite Bible verses ever: May you be joyful with your union in the Lord. I say it again: rejoice!

In the second part of Philippians 3:13, St. Paul says "the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead." This is so, so apt. All of us have things in our past that can drag us down, that the enemy can use against us to make us feel guilt or shame or fear or worry. St. Paul tells us not to take part in any of that, but to focus on the future -- to focus on Christ.

As a mother, I want to instill a gentle, loving attitude in my children, and I want to share this abundantly; I want them to share it with the world they live in, with animals and nature, with themselves, with their peers and friends and family and with strangers. So I try to heed St. Paul's advice when he says, in Philippians 4:5, Show a gentle attitude toward everyone.

I've said it before -- I'm a worrier. So I love the following verse: Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7. This is a life-verse for me: what I mean by that is, this is a verse that I absolutely need in my life. It hangs on a wall in my kitchen in the form of a decorative plaque I picked up at a second hand store. This verse breathes life and courage into me, because it is a promise from God to keep my heart and mind safe and to grant me peace. What an amazing Father!

Another life-verse (wow, the study of this chapter has been very fruitful for me!) follows shortly after: In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. Philippians 4:8. Do I ever relate to this one -- I sometimes let my thoughts run away with me, and when people who have a tendency to worry do that, it can get us into trouble. This verse reminds me that it's okay to filter what I allow in -- whether it be from the media or even from my own thoughts. I'd like some wall decor with this verse featured, as well!

The last two verses from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians that I highlighted are as follows: I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. Philippians 4:11. This is a great reminder that we don't need to keep striving for more success, more money and more...things. We can be happy with what we have, because when we have Christ, we have everything! I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me. Philippians 4:13. It's true -- in Christ we can face whatever happens! May He grant us the courage to realize that.

photo credit: Troels Myrup <a href="">Philippi</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Praying with the Pope: April Intentions

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

It's a new month -- April, the month of spring showers that will rinse away the dust and dirt and grime of the world and bring forth things that are green, growing and alive. It's a time the world seems young again, as new buds lay with their promise of beautiful greenery on the branches of the trees, as shoots of green grass spring up from the ground. We've seen plenty of robins in our yard, happy little fellows with beautiful red breasts hopping around looking for a snack. And the geese are back -- we've seen them flying in their V formation, back from warmer climes to enjoy their spring and summer here.

With all this new growth and promise, it seems completely appropriate that Pope Francis' prayer intentions for this month focus on young people. To be specific, the Apostleship of Prayer website notes the Holy Father's prayer intentions for April as follows:

That young people may respond generously to their vocations and seriously consider offering themselves to God in the priesthood or consecrated life.

I'm 30 now, so I don't think that counts as a youth anymore. I still feel pretty young -- and I guess I could still be considered a young-ish adult, but I'm certainly not a youth. In my mind, a youth is anyone from around the teenage years to around 25. And I think it's absolutely essential in the world we live in today that we pray for the people of this age group -- especially young Catholic men and women.

The world is an ever-changing place, and sometimes it can be frustrating seeing how far things are going, in the Western world at least, in the name of "progress" and political correctness. We are seeing huge changes in morality and what is acceptable and unacceptable as far as society's values go. It must be confusing, discouraging and scary for young people today.

But in the midst of all of the world's shifting fads and fashions and virtues, the word of God stands as truth. We need to cover all young people in prayer so that they can rise up as a generation blessed by the Lord. And we need to especially pray that young Catholic men and women can hearken to God's voice and clearly hear what He wants for them -- whether it is to enter the priesthood or consecrated life, whether it is a vocation to marriage and a family, or whatever path that God has chosen for them.

In a world that places less and less value on faith, where going to Mass is less a weekly event and more something that is done a few times a year, where praying the rosary is practically unheard of in anyone under the age of 60, we need to ensure we pass down the beauty and truth of our faith to the younger generations as much as we can. It's best to start young, when your children are small, but it's never to late to have an impact on the faith of the youth of today. And that starts with prayer.

I pray that young people the world over will experience a renewal of faith, a shifting of morality back to the Bible's teachings, and that the world will become a better place for it, where Christ is preached as the Saviour of the world, and where His Church is revived, renewed and refreshed. I pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to these young people and show them the path they are to follow. In Jesus' name.

photo credit: d_t_vos <a href="">On Request</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Book Review: The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian

So I finally finished what was supposed to be my February book of the month! Life got really busy, but I am so excited to write this book review!

Today I'm reviewing The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian. My general take on the book is that this is an amazing journey of prayer that can only bring growth to your marriage and your walk with God. I'm blessed to have a great marriage, but I still found that I had plenty to learn about how to truly be a good wife to my husband and an obedient daughter to God. This book taught me so much about prayer and about how important it should be in our lives. It was encouraging, uplifting, energizing and calming. I honestly feel like every wife -- whether she's been married two weeks, two years or two decades -- should read this book.

So, from a Catholic perspective, how do I find this book? Well, this is not a theological book. It's about how to pray for your husband. There are a few elements in it that are not aligned with Catholic teaching but run more parallel with the born-again Protestant sect of Christianity, but like I said, this book doesn't focus on theology, it focuses on prayer and being a godly wife. So, I don't see a problem with Catholic wives reading this book. Stormie makes it clear that divorce is not what God wants, but she also talks about how in some rare situations, it is may be an option. As a Catholic, I take that with a grain of salt and a viewpoint of love -- like I said, I have a great relationship, and I don't know what I'd do in someone else's shoes. Certainly, I believe marriage is for life and forever. I just don't want to judge others. But this book has so many good qualities that these tiny instances of shaky theology are worth overlooking. And trust me -- I don't say this lightly. I've given up on books by Christian authors before when their theology hasn't lined up with Church teaching.

How much work is required for this book? Well, it's not just a book to pick up and read at will. I personally took notes with each chapter about my own prayer strategy for my husband, and afterwards created a big "master prayer" for him out of my notes. At the end of every chapter is a prayer, as well, and these prayers are wonderful -- they cover all aspects of your husband's life and quote scripture as well. If you want, you could read through it and just say the suggested prayer at the end of each chapter. But I personally wanted to grab hold of all this insight this book gave me and use it to be a prayer warrior for my husband, so that's what I did. But this isn't an in-depth Bible study with homework to do, by any means.

In the end, I give The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian a 4.5/5. I am very happy with this book, and I've been raving about it to family and friends.

My book of the month for April is... The Power of a Praying Parent by Stormie Omartian. I'm only on the third chapter, and already I feel like I am learning so much. I can't wait to review this one for you when I'm done!

God bless you!

Monday, 6 March 2017

Mass Musings: Lenten Inspiration

So, how is your Lent going so far? Has it been a joy, or a struggle, or somewhere in between? Have you taken the time to go deeper into your faith?

Going into Lent, I kind of overloaded myself. I wanted to do all these things to become a better Catholic, and a better person. But one day, as I was driving to pick my daughter up from school, I was listening to The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM (Channel 129. I'm a big fan of Jennifer Fullwiler, Lino Rulli and Father Dave Dwyer!). I can't really remember which program I was listening to (I'm thinking maybe Gus Lloyd?) and the speaker was talking about how we don't do the three tenets of Lent -- fasting, prayer and almsgiving -- to make ourselves better, or to somehow make God love us more. God can't possibly love us any more than He already does! His love is so infinite, so unfathomably deep, that it's hard to understand. But the wonderful thing about His love is that it is a free gift -- we can't do anything to earn it.

No, Lent is not a time to polish ourselves and become all-star Catholics. It's a time to take a step back from the world, and a step into God. It's a time to prepare ourselves for the feast of remembrance of Christ's resurrection. It's a time to go deeper into the faith, and to take quiet time to really take stock of where we're at in our walk with God. By denying ourselves the luxuries of our cushy lives, even if it's just by giving up snacks or candy, and by extra prayer, perhaps even extra acts of mercy, we can put our priorities back in the order that God wants them to be in. What better way to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus than to strive to live lives that showcase his love to all?

I have a renewed love for the times of Lent and Advent. Both are quiet, introspective times where we can really be honest with ourselves, and honest with God, about what we need from Him. And He will always come to us when we first open ourselves to Him.

So what does all this have to do with the Mass readings from yesterday? Well, as much as we all know that Lent is an important time, it can be hard to really live it out. In the first reading, taken from Genesis 2 and 3, we see the story of how sin entered into the world, and entered into ourselves in the form of Adam and Eve's original sin. It's a sad story -- Adam and Eve were living in Paradise, but Satan tricked them into entering into temptation, and they had to leave the presence of God.

And yet, in the second reading, taken from Romans 5, we hear a hopeful message: But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And again: Just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all people, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all people.

That's some pretty inspiring stuff! What is inspiring, as well, is the story of Christ's temptation by Satan at the end of his forty days in the desert. Matthew 4:1-11 tell us how Satan tempted Jesus with food, with testing God and with power. What did Jesus say? He was hungry after not eating for forty days, he was thirsty beyond imagining, and so tired. But what did he say? "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" Then the devil left him, and suddenly Angels came and waited on him.

There have been many times in my life -- not just during Lent -- that I should have followed Jesus' example, and in the face of temptation, said, "Away with you, Satan!" There are times I wish I was more grounded in the Scripture, so that I, like Jesus, could refer to it when faced with my own struggles. I'm going to focus not so much on what I'm giving up this Lent, or what I feel like I should be doing, and focus more on grounding myself in the faith, so that I too can resist temptation and stand strong in God.

I hope you learn and grow a lot this Lent. Don't worry if you stumble and fall -- God sees your effort, and He loves you. Nothing you do can make Him love you any more or any less. In the middle of a season that can be quite sombre, that's something to celebrate.

photo credit: timbu <a href="">Sun & Sand</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Friday, 3 March 2017

Dealing with Overwhelm

Motherhood is an amazing journey -- it has its highs and its lows, its moments of pure joy and, on the other hand, pure frustration. One of the most difficult things you can experience as a mother is overwhelm.

What is overwhelm? Well, in my own personal history with it, it's when things in your life get so busy and crazy, and you've put so many expectations on yourself and your children, that you end up feeling like it's all just too much.

I recently went through a spell of overwhelm. My twenty-month-old is getting his two-year molars in, so he's not feeling the best. He's keeping me up a lot of the night to nurse, and he's going through a super clingy stage where even when I go upstairs for a few minutes, and he's safe with his dad and sister, he screams like I'm abandoning him for life! And my daughter is going through some issues of her own -- the normal five-year-old things that come up, like copping a bit of attitude and testing boundaries by arguing.

I'd taken the kids to visit my parents for two days, since my sister and her husband had also come in, and we hadn't seen them since before Christmas. The first day there, my sister, mom and I took my son for a shopping day at the mall. We left my daughter with her grandfather, who always does a great job of looking after her.

Needless to say, my son's teething and separation anxiety made the whole trip to the mall hurried, unpleasant and extremely frustrating. I couldn't even go into the change room, and leave him for a few seconds (just a few feet away) with my mom and sister, without him having a screaming fit. Shopping is usually so fun and relaxing for me, but not this time! My mom and sister did what they could to help with him, but I think we were all thankful when we were back at Grandma and Grandpa's.

The following day was more of the same. I was having issues with my daughter, in that she really wanted to go to McDonald's for lunch, whereas we all wanted to go somewhere we could sit down and relax and eat real food. Thank goodness that Lent is here, and we've given up sugar and fast food, because I really feel like I was starting to give in too much to childish whims and catering far too much to exactly what my daughter wanted instead of exercising my parental autonomy over her.

The next day, I took the kids to Mass for Ash Wednesday before heading home. All I can say is thank goodness that the church in my parent's town has a separate place for parents to take their children when they're feeling rambunctious, because it was not a very relaxing time.

By the time I got back home, I was feeling so overwhelmed. I was snapping at the kids and I, myself, was copping an extremely bad attitude (which in no way helped my daughter to have a good attitude of her own -- she learns from me, after all!). I was even grumpy with my husband, when all he was trying to do was help me get to a better place.

So, I took some time to myself. I read a post on a mommy blog that dealt with the feelings of overwhelm, and I realized it was all completely normal (which I knew deep down, but sometimes it's really helpful to hear it from someone else who has been there). And I prayed, and started to feel better.

Now that we're back home and back to a normal routine, I feel much better. I also feel better because every morning I am spending time with God in prayer. I really feel like this strengthens me for whatever challenges I may face at any time during my day and my parenting journey. And I feel really good that I took the time to apologize to my husband and my daughter. I explained to them that I was feeling overwhelmed, but that it wasn't right for me to take a bad attitude with them, and I promised to work hard to keep a kind and loving attitude even when frustrated.

My kids are still going through things -- as I am. My baby boy is still teething and waking up at all hours. Boo is still working on having a better attitude. But I am now in a much better place. I can now model a positive, kind attitude. My biggest takeaway from this is that I need to let go and let God. I can't do it all. When my kids are going through things, I need to take some other things off the table and be there for them -- they are my priority! If it means spending less time on my writing, or on keeping the house looking perfect, so be it. There will be plenty of time for that later.

Embrace the chaos, don't fight it. Nothing lasts forever -- not difficult stages kids go through, and not this blessed time being the mother of two little ones. They'll grow up before I know it, and I'll miss the chaos. So I'll embrace it now.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Praying with the Pope: March Intentions

It's that time again! A new month, a new chance to add our prayers to those of Pope Francis as he gives us one special intention to really focus on this month.

This March, the Holy Father will be praying especially for evangelization: specifically for persecuted Christians, that they "may be supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church." (taken from the Living with Christ Sunday Missal)

I ponder from time to time, not often enough, though, just how lucky I am to live where I do. My great-grandparents chose to emigrate from many places (Croatia, Germany, Scotland, Ireland) to Ontario, Canada. They could have chosen anywhere -- the United States, other parts of the Commonwealth, or other parts of North America. But they didn't -- they all chose Canada. I am so thankful for this -- thankful that I live in a country where I can go to Mass every Sunday and holy day, and openly practice my faith without fear of persecution or danger. I can pass the faith on to my children without worrying about whether they'll face dangerous repercussions for believing in the name of Christ.

But it's not so for every Christian. Sadly, in many places of the world, Christians are persecuted, suppressed, and put in grave danger just for their beliefs. It's mind-boggling to think that this still happens, in the year 2017! But as dangerous extremist groups like ISIS use their terrorizing, bullying tactics to push forward their toxic agenda, or groups like Boko Haram victimize the most innocent people, Christian persecution flourishes and continues in many parts of our world.

This month, let's unite with Pope Francis in prayer for these brave Christian men, women and children who put their faith before all else. Could we do the same? Let's also be generous in our giving -- to the Church, to charities that will help these people -- and let's be thankful that we are able to live out our faith without ramifications.