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="http://www.flickr.com/photos/27340278@N03/13177433523">Altar Servers-1-19</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(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.