Monday, November 28, 2011

Celebrating Advent

       Last summer I asked our kids what their favorite liturgical season was.  Their answer, without hesitation, was, “Advent”.  My little Catholic heart was bursting with joy upon hearing their answer.  You see, my husband and I do a lot of extra things during the Advent season to TRY to keep our entire family’s focus on preparing for Jesus, rather than on the materialism and greed that penetrates so much of the culture.  
     When we first started all the extras our children (only 2 then) were ages 3 and 1.  The extras were anything but pleasant for us.  We were exhausted and family prayer time, which was already a daily struggle with the little ones, was now lengthened.  We persevered and pushed through those years, wondering why we were doing it at all. 
     Last Advent was, I think, our first glimpse at the beauty that was created out of our efforts.  The 3 and 1 year olds had grown into 8 and 6 year olds and now entered family prayer time with joy and anticipation.  Their attitudes shouted to our 2 year old that family prayer time was something very special and he, in turn, rather than being a challenge as they were at his age, eagerly participated in all of our little extras.  It was during Advent that we discovered that even though he could barely speak more than a few words, he loved to sing.  His sweet little “Rejoice!” echoed through our entire house as we sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" each night. 
     So hearing our children declare Advent their favorite liturgical season last summer, rather than a more typical response of Christmas or Easter, was a moment of triumph for me.  I know Holy Mother Church teaches us that Christmas trumps Advent and Easter trumps Christmas, but in a world filled with greed and a distorted view of the purpose of these holy days, I will delight in my children’s love of Advent! 
Below are some of (most of I think) the extra things we do to make Advent special.  The Catholic Church is so rich and beautiful, we are not only doing these little extras, but are also making sure to explain WHY we are doing them.  Advent could be called a season of story telling for us, as we are constantly talking about the traditions and meanings of the faith we are practicing.  We’re always looking for new ideas, so feel free to add your own traditions and ideas in the comment section below!  How about some Jesse Tree ideas????!!!!! 

-Before Advent begins we make our Advent wreath(s) out of play dough.  Just make the play dough using any recipe that will harden, decorate with greens, etc., and add candles!  The kids love to see their artwork aglow throughout the Advent season!

-On the first Sunday of Advent our Christmas tree goes up.  It is bare, except for lights.  An empty crib is placed beneath the tree, waiting for baby Jesus.  We will spend the entire Advent season preparing our tree for baby Jesus, just as we are preparing our hearts for Him.

-Each night we turn out all the lights in the house, and light the candle(s) on the Advent wreath.  We pray extra prayers together and sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  For those who may be interested, here is a link to the book we use: 

-After prayers each child gets to pick one ornament from the ornament tub to place on the tree.   Each day our tree looks a little more beautiful for Jesus.  By Christmas Eve, when He is placed in His crib underneath the tree, it is completely covered with ornaments.

-On years when there is not a curious baby in the house, we also place pieces of hay in the crib for Jesus, by performing acts of charity and sacrifices for Him throughout the day.

-We draw names at the beginning of Advent and try to be extra nice to that person throughout the Advent season.  The name drawn will also be the recipient of our Christmas gift exchange.

-We remember St. Nicholas, and in honor of him, the stockings are filled on December 6, and sometimes other days leading up to Christmas with small items.

-We try to keep gifts very minimal.  Jesus received 3, so each child receives one educational gift, one he/she needs, and one he/she just wants (the wants is purchased by the person who drew his/her name at the beginning of Advent).  When we talk about the gifts we always make sure to stress that the greatest gift any of us can ever receive is Jesus.

-The Advent Calendar:  Each day a door is opened on the advent calendar and the children get to add a piece to the nativity scene on the calendar board. 
Kurt Adler Wooden Nativity Advent Calendar with 24 Magnetic Figures

 This year we’ll be using our new Advent Ornament instead!

-Our Nativity starts with only the animals and the shepherds and sheep off in the distance.  As the weeks pass, the children have fun watching for Mary and Joseph to arrive, then baby Jesus, and finally the three Wise Men.

-This year we are adding to our traditions!  Our parish has handed out the Advent Challenge.  Each day we are to pray Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati’s “Prayer for the Courage to be Great” and pick a slip of paper from a small bag.  Each piece of paper has challenge to be completed.  Some examples are:  Attend an extra Mass during the week, or write a letter to someone pointing out their good qualities.  We are very excited to add this to our Advent traditions!  Here is the prayer:

‘Heavenly Father, Give me the courage to strive for the highest goals, to flee every temptation to be mediocre.  Enable me to aspire to greatness, as Bl. Pier Giorgio did, and to open my heart with joy to Your call to holiness.  Free me fear of failure.  I want to be, Lord, firmly and forever united to You.  Grant me the graces I ask You through Bl. Pier Giorgio’s intercession, by the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

Have a Blessed Advent everyone!  Don't forget to share your ideas and traditions below!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Guarding Our Senses

      We all know how powerful our senses are.  Smelling a certain smell or hearing a song can instantly transport our minds to another place and another time.  A few months ago, as I stood with my kids in the face painting line of a children’s tent, I heard the lyrics, “It’s a quarter after one, I’m a little drunk, and I need you now” sung on the karaoke machine.  I turned around to see several middle school girls having a great time being stars of the microphone.   I felt sick to my stomach.   I looked around.  Was I the only person in the tent who found it very disturbing to hear young girls singing about being drunk and “needing” a man?  Doesn’t anyone else hear what they are singing?  Sure they heard it, they were singing along.  

        Why then, did they not feel the same discomfort as I was feeling?  In a culture where we are constantly bombarded with what should be offensive to us, we very quickly and easily become desensitized.  What would have shocked generations before us, is now just a part of everyday life.  We walk through the mall and see giant posters of women dressed in nothing more than a skimpy pair of undergarments.  Commercials are laced with sexual innuendos.  Music, with distasteful lyrics is played virtually everywhere we go.  Most of the culture is so accustomed to seeing and hearing all of this garbage that we do not even notice how inappropriate it is.  We’ve been living in the stench so long, we can no longer smell it. 

       In our little Catholic Bubble, we try very hard to not only guard the senses of our children, but also our own.  When we first had children, we were not yet practicing the faith, yet I knew I did not want our daughter to hear most of the music we enjoyed listening to, nor did I want her little eyes exposed to the television shows we were watching.  As we learned more about the faith I started to question myself.  If I didn’t want her to see or hear something because it was garbage, what then would make it appropriate for me?  Would I be embarrassed if Jesus were sitting on the couch watching this with me?  Would I be comfortable singing these lyrics in church?  Over time we made changes.  We stopped watching most of our favorite shows and got rid of the majority of our music collections.  Does this mean we do not watch TV, or that we have no music?  Absolutely not (although many of our wise friends have pulled the plug and are still surviving)!  It simply means we monitor everything we see and hear. 

        The hardest part for me was the music.  I love music.   I love music to the point where I can say that for over half of my life, it was my god.  I spent hours in my room growing up listening to music.  I fell asleep listening to music, woke up listening to music, and spent my study halls writing my favorite lyrics in notebooks.  I prided myself on making the best mix tapes to listen to while cruising.  Music, for me, is more powerful than any smell, at taking me back to a certain place.  It was hard for me to let go of my attachment to all of this, but I knew it wasn’t good for my soul.  I would hear a few notes of AC/DC and I could taste the beer and feel the party.  So I got rid of the music.   I discovered a treasure of appropriate music.  Music that glorifies God.  Music that brings me closer to Him, rather than further away from Him.  Music that builds me up, instead of tearing me down.  Music I can pray to.

         It is this treasure I wish those young girls would find, because we need to guard our own senses and the senses of our children.  I don’t know who said this, but it is true: 

 "Our thoughts become our words.  Our words become our actions.  Our actions become our habits.  Our habits become our character.  Our character becomes our destiny."   

I will add to this that our thoughts are heavily influenced by our senses.  You get the picture.  Considering that our destiny is shaped by our character, habits, actions, words, and what we expose ourselves to, I pose the following question: 

Do we really want young girls (or anyone) singing about the pathetic false-love in Lady Antebellum’s (yes I did have to look it up) song? 

I say it would be far better for them to embrace the authentic love that penetrates the heart when listening to something like "Beautiful", by Mercy Me.