Friday, February 9, 2018

Ash Wednesday vs Valentine's Day: the February 14th Catholic Conundrum

Mailbag time!

The Question:
Hi Kendra, I was wondering if you were going to write a post about how Valentine’s Day is on Ash Wednesday & how you guys will address that at your house. My thought was to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day the day before like the vigil. But I’m having a hard time as to how best to explain that to my kids that are mostly still little (my oldest is 10 but has autism). I’d love to hear your thoughts on this if you have the chance. Thanks!

The Answer:
Hey Anna, I wasn't going to, baby George just started sleeping in his crib a couple nights ago and I'm knee-deep in wallpaper samples and paint chips, but yours isn't the only question I've gotten on the subject, so a quick type-it-out seems warranted.

Short answer, I think yours sounds like an excellent plan. Moving feast days when they conflict is a magisterium-approved solution. When St. Joseph's Day or the Solemnity of the Annunciation fall during Holy Week, we just move 'em and celebrate them another day, officially, as a whole Church. Our homeschool group is doing a Valentine's exchange on Friday (today). The husband and I will go out for dinner sometime this weekend to celebrate together. We'll let the kids open their cards from Gramma and exchange their own homemade Valentines and have their treats early. In our family, Fat Tuesday is always a much bigger deal than Valentine's Day, anyway.

We are fortunate to be in control of when our homeschool celebrations take place, and our kids who go to regular school attend a faithful Catholic school, so there won't be any conflict there. They'll also exchange school Valentines before Ash Wednesday.

But I know others aren't so lucky, and have kids who attend public school, or Catholic schools that aren't paying attention <le sigh>. And that's a big ol' bummer. Because on February 14th, Ash Wednesday must win.

I'm in no way against Valentine's Day as a fun, cute tradition. I'm a fan of any attempts to reclaim for Catholicism what has become a very secular celebration. I 💗 Catholic Valentines. But St. Valentine's Day definitely loses to Ash Wednesday. In fact, it already lost to the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius!

There is very little historical record about St. Valentine. All we know is his name, and that he was martyred and buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome on February 14th. Even his story in the 13th century Golden Legend, which is usually quite verbose,  is basically: "There was a knight named Valentine. He was arrested by the emperor and wouldn't apostatize. He healed the provost's blind daughter. Then the emperor lopped off his head. The End."

So, in the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar by Pope Paul VI, that emphasized saints who have a historical footprint, St. Valentine was left off. He's still a saint. We can still celebrate his feast day. But on the universal calendar, the day belongs to Sts. Cyril and Methodius (they seem like fun guys, no? 😐😐😄) . . .

about whom there is a great deal of historical record. They were brothers who lived in the ninth century. They were missionaries, theologians, and the apostles to the Slavs, translating the Bible and creating the cyrillic alphabet with which to do it. And St. Cyril died on February 14th, so they get the day. Except when it's Ash Wednesday, then they get bumped too.

Because, let's face it, Ash Wednesday is a BIG deal.

Before Pope Pope Paul VI issued Paenitemini in 1966, Catholics observed FIFTY-SIX days of required fasting each year: every day of Lent (excluding Sundays), four sets of three Ember Days, and the Vigils of Christmas, Pentecost, the Immaculate Conception, and All Saints’ Day. Since 1966, we observe . . . two: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

The rules are:
All Catholics from the completion of their twenty-first year to the beginning of their sixtieth year are bound to observe the Law of fast. . . . Only one full meal is allowed on a day of Fast. Two other meatless meals are permitted. These meals should be sufficient to maintain strength in accordance with each one's needs. Both of these meals, or collations, together, should not equal one full meal. . . .

Solid foods between meals is not permitted. Liquids, including coffee, tea, milk and fruit juices are allowed.  
In connection with problems arising from the Laws of Fast and Abstinence, a confessor or priest should be consulted. Dispensations may be granted for a serious reason concerning health or the ability to work.
Abstinence from meat on abstinence days is obligatory for Catholics aged fourteen to sixty. (But our whole family abstains from meat every Friday of the year, and the little kids don't even notice. It's the fifteen year old boy who suffers it!)

Even though none of my kids are bound by the fast, and most of them aren't even bound to the abstinence from meat, *I* am still bound to make sure that they know that Ash Wednesday is a penitential day: "As regards those of a lesser age, pastors of souls and parents should see to it with particular care that they are educated to a true sense of penitence."

Faces full of heart-shaped candy isn't going to do that.

So, if we were faced with the dilemma of secular Valentine's Day parties on Ash Wednesday itself, I would make a point of giving Ash Wednesday precedence. We would, of course, go to Mass and receive ashes. Everyone of every age in our family receives ashes (ashes are a sacramental rather than a sacrament, and so can be received by babies, the mentally disabled, and even non-Catholics). If I could keep my kids home from preschool or school that day, I would.

If I couldn't, I wouldn't sweat it for very little kids. For more mature little kids and all kids past the age of reason (First Communion age), if they needed to go to school, I'd make them a deal that we'd have plenty of treats and early Valentines on Fat Tuesday, and they could bring their school Valentine treats home and save them to eat on Sunday. But fasting from treats on Ash Wednesday seems like a given, even though it's not written in canon law.

I think it's GREAT to start kids early on the concept of OUR family culture. We do things differently because we're Catholic, but most importantly because we're Tierneys (and Tierneys are awesome). If we are to succeed in keeping our kids Catholic for their whole lives--the goal, obviously--they are going to have to do a LOT of things differently than the rest of society. Waiting to eat Valentine candy, or better yet, stuffing our faces on Fat Tuesday instead, is small potatoes. I trust my kids to handle it.

I'm sure each of us can figure out a way that works with our own family circumstances, to give Ash Wednesday the place it deserves.

Related reading . . .



And when you figure out when you're doing Valentine's Day, if you need some quick, Catholic, Valentines, there are free printables on the blog here:


And three sets in my Etsy shop, formatted for easy double-sided printing!

Happy feasting and fasting, y'all.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

How (and When) we Celebrate Epiphany, and Why This Christmas Card is Definitely Not Too Late

Today is January 6th, which is the traditional date of Epiphany, the day that the three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem, having followed the star to meet the baby Jesus. But for Western Catholics, we celebrate it tomorrow, on the Sunday after January 1st.

Liturgical nerd details to follow, feel free to skip these next two paragraphs if that's not you.

Before the 1969 liturgical calendar revisions, Christmas was an octave that went from December 25-January 1 (the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God), each day of Christmas was a solemnity, as is the case with the Easter octave. Christmastide went all the way to twelfth night, January 5th. January 6th was Epiphany, which was its own octave, and (until 1955) the celebration of Epiphany included the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. Epiphanytide lasted until Candlemas (the Feast of the Presentation) on February 2nd. After Candlemas, the holidays were considered over and it was time to prepare for Lent.

Now, in the Latin Church, Christmas is one Solemnity: December 25, and is an octave, but not an octave of solemnities. This is to preserve the celebrations of the liturgies of the feast days that fall during the octave: St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents. Under the new liturgical calendar, in order to emphasize Sunday and Solemnity Masses and the readings that go with them, those celebrations supercede lesser feast days. A saint's day that falls on a Sunday or during the Easter octave only gets bumped every seven years, since Easter moves, but those Christmas octave feasts would get bumped every year. (All it really means for us at home is no Christmas meat Friday. 😕) Epiphany is now celebrated on the Sunday after January 1st. Christmastide extends right past Epiphany to the Baptism of the Lord, which is its own feast day, the Sunday after Epiphany, or the Monday after Epiphany if Epiphany is celebrated on January 7th or 8th. The Christmas season ends with the Baptism of the Lord.

tl;dr: Epiphany is tomorrow and it's still Christmas until Monday!

Which is why it's totally fine that I'm sharing our Christmas card with you guys today. (Epiphany celebration details to follow). I did get them out in the mail before Christmas, them promptly got the flu, followed by a sinus infection and was basically out of commission from December 20th-31st. The rest of the family got the flu too, but not as badly. Fortunately we're all recovered now! Then, I finished our homeschool group yearbook (for 2016-2017 😬) and FINALLY got a chance to work on edits on the liturgical living in the home book. Whew. So no blogging. But now that's done so here's a wrap up of our year . . .

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s that time of year again! And what a crazy year it’s been. We’ve got a new baby and a new job in the family, and a lot of new paint on a very old house. We did some of the same stuff, like family trips to Disneyland and the national parks (this year was Arches, Yellowstone, and Sequoia) and never-before-done stuff like a depressed skull fracture and an ambulance ride. We keep it interesting.

Jack (15): He lost the sophomore class presidential election (as the incumbent) and declared, “I’m done with democracy.” He’s focusing his efforts instead on the St. Monica Academy baseball and JV basketball teams, the latter of which he has proclaimed himself captain. He was John Hancock in the school musical 1776 (we’ve since had to confiscate his gavel), and made the school honor roll every semester. And he received in the mail his US patent for the Boomerang Zip Line he invented with Grandad. He’s a (loveable) tyrant in general, but a big ol’ softy when it comes to his four-year-old sister Lulu -- the only person who really understands him. He’s currently working his way through the Improv comedy online driver’s ed program, and has an appointment to get his learner’s permit at 8:20am on December 26, the morning he turns fifteen and a half. Los Angeles drivers please take note. (Update: He got it! And he's been driving us pretty regularly and is terrific except for a tendency to drive too close to the parking lane, which MIGHT give me a heart attack.)

Betty (13): She is enjoying her first full year at SMA, especially English and math, and had her drawing of a partridge in a pear tree featured in the school Christmas concert program. She played on the volleyball team, made the school honor roll, and has Jack beat on citizenship awards, six to one. She loves baking and has become an accomplished cookie decorator. She doesn’t love laundry, but she’s pretty good at that too. She continues to be a big help to her mother, and has even added babywearing to her list of skills this time around. She’s a Hufflepuff through and through: friendly, loyal, and trustworthy. The word around school is that Betty has beautiful hair.

Bobby (12): He also likes SMA, and has claimed the positions of runner up class clown, and honorary bell choir captain. He continues to be our family class clown, but his jokes don’t really translate to Christmas card summary form. You kinda have to be there. He played on the flag football and basketball teams, and forgot his sweater for school Mass approximately twenty-seven times. He loves Narnia, and Middle Earth, and Hogwarts, and Galaxies Far Far Away. He is the proud owner of 150 carpenter ants, and 22 chickens. One of his favorite pastimes is getting bossed around by two-year-old Midge, who especially likes him to move her little stool and little chair (both) around at her direction during family rosaries. 

Gus (10): Gus is relishing his role as man of the house during the day, and is the first Tierney Family School student to figure out that if you just sit down and get your schoolwork done, there’s a whole rest of the day for doing whatever you want. Which turns out to be mostly melty-beads. Seriously, does anyone want some melty-bead creations? We have some. He and Bobby are altar servers at St. Therese, so now the rest of us can fit in one pew again. He got to go away to camp for the first time this summer, and subbed in on the SMA football team when they were short players. He was Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Mr. Fezziwig in A Christmas Carol. He’s taken up the mantle of Jack’s neighborhood trash can business, mostly to feed his melty-bead habit. He continues to charm his way out of trouble, most of the time. 

Anita (8): She knocked her front tooth clean out of her head for the second time in her life, this time on a zipline (but not JACK’S zipline which is fun and safe and please contact him if you’d like to market it for worldwide distribution). Fun fact: a knocked out tooth should be transported in milk. It seems to be reattaching, fingers-crossed, St. Apollonia pray for us. She played center on a flag football team with Frankie, and got to go head to head against him when she got pulled to the other team which was short players. She likes history and science and played a very convincing “evil unicorn” and “kid who goes to get the prize turkey for Scrooge.”

Frankie (6): On April 27th, Frankie was javelined in the forehead by a piece of ¾ inch pvc pipe, when he got in the middle of an ill-conceived game of pvc-spear-catch being played by his brothers. It just seemed like he’d need stitches until he became unresponsive in the ER waiting room, then had a grand mal seizure in the CT scanner. It turned out he had a depressed skull fracture. We were rushed in an ambulance from that hospital to one with a children’s trauma center. Jack was the man of the hour, filling out forms (albeit misspelling things like his brother’s name), turning on the ambulance siren, and being a great comfort to his mother. Family friends jumped into action to look after the other kids, and bring fast food burgers to us at the hospital. Jim left a meeting and got on a plane home. Grandparents left a formal dinner and rushed up the freeway. And after one touch-and-go night and a lot of stitches, he was back to his same old crazy self, with the addition of an exactly ¾ inch round scar on his forehead. He took one smell of Yellowstone National Park and re-christened it “Stinkostone.” He’s our best-ever first grade reader and is a completely self-taught bicycle-rider.

Lulu (4): Lulu continues to be pleased and delighted at life. She was super proud of her first practical joke, played on her beloved biggest brother: “Jack! I set the table, and gave you a LITTLE spoon.” If she could live anywhere in the world, it would be inside the Ariel ride at Disney California Adventure, which is her favorite, despite the fact that she’s never seen the movie. 

Midge (2): She really liked the buff-loes at Yellowstone and is pretty sure she saw one everywhere we just went. She loves snuggling her baby brother, bossing her big brothers, wearing her baby doll carrier, and taking pictures on her play phone: “‘MILE, you guys!” She asked for a red, a white, and a cranberry for Christmas. If anyone knows what she’s talking about, let us know ASAP. (Update: The husband bought her some Raspberry Zinger snack cakes and she declared them to be exactly what she always wanted.)

George (6 months): This yankee doodle dandy was born on the 4th of July, our first ten-pounder. He is named for two great great grandfathers, his grandad, a great uncle, a president, a saint, and a blessed. He’s maybe the most extroverted person I’ve ever met, and enjoys the company of all people, himself in the mirror, and any toy with a face. His favorite activities include sleeping on mom, preventing the same from working on the computer (hence the lateness of this Christmas card), and radiant gummy smiles that make it hard to be too frustrated with that other stuff.

Jim has an exciting new job as the C.O.O. of Exer More Than Urgent Care, a small but growing company here in the LA area. He waged a Quixotic war against pool algae and ants (not Bobby’s ants), drove 3500 miles in a thirty-nine foot RV, and was glad to leave the baby-delivering to the professionals this time around.

Kendra didn’t LOVE 2017, what with the Frankie thing, and some pregnancy-related health issues, and a painting-on-a-ladder-at-five-months-pregnant-related tailbone fracture. She spent a year writing a 700 page book about living the Catholic liturgical year in the home, and is currently in negotiations with George about being allowed some time to cut it down to more like 400 pages. It’s due to be published by Ignatius Press . . . sometime. She is very much looking forward to relinquishing some of her driving duties to Jack in 2018. (Update: DONE! At least for now. I cut it down to close to 400 pages and submitted it to my editor yesterday!!!!!)

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and officially extend each of you an invitation to visit and a place to stay. Especially if you’re handy with a paintbrush.

With love,
Jim, Kendra, Jack, Betty, Bobby, Gus, Anita, Frankie, Lulu, Midge, and George

And here's George's birth announcement, which went out with the Christmas card, which I think is totally legit.

And now on to Epiphany celebrations! Here's what we're doing:

1. Our Christmas decorations are still up! There are no official rules or mandates or anything, but it's Catholic tradition to leave Christmas decorations up until twelfth night at least. The Vatican Christmas tree stays up through the Baptism of the Lord. Since we're having a party tonight, and I missed so much of Christmas being sick, we're going to wait to take down the tree and the Christmas decorations until Monday. ( . . . or maybe next weekend?) The nativity sets stay out until Candlemas on February 2nd. Then they get put away along with all the various books and knick knacks that accidentally got left out when I put Christmas away the first time.

2. Tonight, we're hosting an international potluck dinner! The three Wise Men are traditionally understood to have come from different continents: Europe (Melchior), Asia (Caspar) and Africa (Balthasar), so our guests are bringing a favorite international food, egg rolls or empanadas or ravioli, or whatever so that our dinner spread will be as universal as our Catholic/catholic faith.

3. Tonight, the kids will put their shoes out by the front door, and leave some grass or lettuce out for the camels. The three Kings will leave a few little treats in the shoes: gold coins, maybe smarties because they're wise, or milky way bars because they look to the stars. The camels will eat their grass, and leave behind camel spit (which looks a lot like a beaten egg white).

4. Tomorrow, the kids will find the treats in their shoes, and the camel spit, and see that the travelling Wise Men have finally arrived at the nativity set, after spending the days since Christmas wandering around the house under the cover of night. (This is why it's nice to keep the nativity sets out until Candlemas, the Wise Men JUST got there!)

5. We'll have a King Cake. I like to use three packages of canned cinnamon roll dough, layer them in a bundt cake pan, top it with the frosting that comes in the package, and yellow, green, and purple sprinkles. When we had fewer people I used fewer packages of dough.

The period of ordinary time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday is King Cake season. You can have King Cake anytime during that period, but not before or after. And the rule is, if you find the baby Jesus in there (or bean or ring) you’re in charge of bringing the King Cake to the next gathering.

One of the kids will find the prize in the cake and get to be the King or Queen of Epiphany. They choose a consort (boys choose a queen to be the sub-ruler, girls choose a king), and if a preschooler finds the prize s/he chooses a regent to help rule. The King or Queen gets to pick our meals (from what we have in the house) and the activities and entertainment (within reason) and assign chores (without being a bully about it). And during meals, anytime the primary ruler takes a drink we all announce "The King is drinking! The King is drinking!" (or Queen) and everyone else takes a drink.

6. We'll Chalk the Door and do an Epiphany House Blessing! I use the instructions and prayer found here. Some parishes give out blessed chalk, or you can bring some yourself and ask Father to bless it after Mass, or the head of the household can bless it at home. Afterwards, just bury the extra chalk. Since it's blessed, it shouldn't go back into the chalk box.

7. We'll listen to this song. How is this the first year I've heard it?!?

And that's that! Merry Christmas and Happy Epiphany and Happy New Year! Here's hoping there's more blogging around here is 2018.


Friday, December 15, 2017

The Thomas Fire is Not Messing Around, Can You Help?

We are safe and sound, as is our home. It's never even been smokey here, despite us being just a few miles away from multiple raging wildfires. The Thomas Fire has been burning for ten days now. It's named for Thomas Aquinas College, and began near there. The campus was evacuated, and the students were housed in nearby homes. One family we know took in five young men from the school, then were themselves evacuated from their home as the fires spread to Ventura County.

The parents, Nathan and Jessica Haggard, found temporary housing for themselves and their eight kids. We took in the five TAC students, which included Nathan's younger brother. That very night, the Haggard's home burned to the ground.

This is their neighborhood, as houses were engulfed.

This is what their home looks like now.

And this is the Haggard family. They've got eight kids, who range in age from 2 to 15.

They are all safe and well and have a place to stay, but they've lost their home and everything in it. After MUCH badgering, Jessica was convinced to make a Christmas wish list on Amazon. I teared up a bit scrolling through it, because her kids are asking for the sweetest things, the most normal things, things my kids would want for Christmas. Plus church clothes, and white socks.

I know you guys. I know how awesome and generous you all are. And I know we can get them everything on this list. Even the laser tag guns you guys. I know it would mean so much to them.

Thank you!

Edited to add . . . YOU GUYS ARE AMAZING! Everything was gone in four hours! If you'd like to still contribute, you can select the option to view already purchased gists on the list, and get them a gift card.

Or you can donate to the Go Fund Me campaign created for them.

Or to the Go Fund Me campaign created for Ashley Iverson, widow of Cory Iverson, the firefighter who was killed fighting this fire. She is expecting their second daughter.

p.s. If you're doing the Nine Day Christmas Novena, it starts tomorrow!


Saturday, December 2, 2017

An Easy, No Mess, Kid-Friendly, Not-Crafty-Mom-Friendly, Last Minute Advent Wreath and a Guide to the Upcoming First Week of Advent

Advent starts tomorrow! And that means tonight is Catholic New Year's Eve, so break out the champagne!

If, like me, you are not quite ready to, um, get ready, I thought I'd share this quick and easy Advent Wreath that is our go-to every year now. 

We've had lots of different kinds of Advent Wreaths over the years, but I started making this one a few years back because the kids wanted to have one that we could keep lit during our school days, and regular taper candles burn down so quickly, and make it not unlikely that wreath branches, school papers, and toddlers will at some point during Advent . . . catch fire. 

Then I noticed these prayer candles! They make a quick, easy, pretty, real but less likely to burn the place down Advent Wreath.

Step 1: Get some jar candles. 

Ideally, three purple and one pink. But you can also get white, and tie ribbons around the jar, or paint the jar (but that's basically a REAL craft, and we're trying to avoid that, right? Right.).

Prayer candles are ubiquitous around here, and easily available in the Latin food section of most grocery stores. Also dollar stores, Walmart, Target, etc. They sell them at Target online as well. Aldi has the white ones.

If you can find them with no labels, you're in luck and can skip the next step.

2. Get the labels off.

Soak them for five minutes or so in COLD water. So you don't melt them.

Then using fingers and table knives, scrape the labels off.

Yes. Scraping pictures of Our Lady off DOES stress me out a tiny bit. I may have actually told Gus out loud to quit stabbing Our Lady in the face and just gently slide it off. But there's nothing officially inappropriate about removing a religious image from something. We just blow Our Lady, or whatever saint it is, a good bye kiss and git er done.

For the last bits of glue, steel wool works well.

3. Gather some evergreens.

There's a lot of symbolism involved in an Advent Wreath. The flames represent Christ as the light of the world, the four candles are the four weeks of Advent, and the four thousand years that the Chosen People waited for the Chosen One, the circle stands for eternity, as do evergreen plants. Pine cones and seed pods and berries represent new life in Christ.

So, we like to gather a selection of evergreens from our yard: rosemary, juniper, pines, whatever. We find as many little cones and seeds, and berries as we can and include those. If you don't have evergreens in the yard, you might be able to scrounge some from neighbors, or a park, or a local Christmas tree lot.

4. Arrange on a platter.

It's super fast to put together!

Just plunk down the candles, one, two, three, four, and arrange the greenery around them. This is something toddlers are great at helping with. I try to keep a semblance of a hole in the middle, for the circle-ness. 

5. Enjoy!

On the first Sunday of Advent, we bless the Advent Wreath with holy water. Then we say the Advent Wreath prayers for the first week each night of the week at dinner, or each morning before school if we won't all be home that evening. You can find the Advent Wreath Prayers here at Catholic Culture.

Using jar candles means our wreath lasts all season long, even burning it a couple hours a day. If we somehow burn through a candle or two early, I can just grab another one at the grocery store. And there's nothing to store (and FIND!) for next year. We just let the candles burn down to nothing on Christmas Eve and toss the jars (allowed even though they were blessed, because they have been used up).

Here's my first attempt at a how-to video. Note the super-professional portrait aspect ratio. Oops.

Stir Up Sunday

The first Sunday of Advent is also known as Stir Up Sunday, because the words of the old collect (preserved in our Advent Prayers for the week) are this:  O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come, That by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Through Christ our Lord.

The story goes that, as wives and cooks were in Mass, they'd hear the collect and be reminded that it was time to start the Christmas Puddings! I have never attempted a Christmas Pudding myself, but I do like to use Stir Up Sunday to make some loaves of quick breads like gingerbread or coffee cake that I can store in the freezer and give as gifts to our teachers and delivery guys. And I usually save a couple loaves for our Christmas Morning breakfast! There's one thing officially out of the way.

All the kids get to help with the stirring!

As Advent begins, we'll pull out our Christmas and Advent books, our Advent decorations, and our Advent calendars. We'll put the manger out for Straw for Baby Jesus.

And this week, we drew names among the kids for their Secret Santa partners. Rather than nine kids buying junk presents for each other, we have them each choose one sibling, and all Advent they do good deeds for that sibling and they buy one nice gift for that one sibling, to give on Christmas morning. They're still welcome to give homemade gifts to all their other siblings.

We also choose our saints for the year using Jen Fulwiler's Saint's Name Generator or by randomly flipping through our four volume copy of Butler's Lives of the Saints. (There's a shorter, modernized version too.)

First Week of Advent

Also coming up for the first week of Advent are the Feasts of St. Nicholas, St. Ambrose, the Immaculate Conception, and St. Juan Diego.

The kids will leave their shoes and letters to Santa out for St. Nicholas on the night before his feast day on December 6th. And in the morning they'll find some chocolate coins and a candy cane crozier, and a book or two.

On the feast of St. Ambrose, we'll usually do a candle craft of some sort, like these tissue paper candle transfers, or these pinecone fire starters, and we'll eat meat-free for the vigil of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

The Immaculate Conception is a Friday this year, and you know what THAT means!

This post has how we usually celebrate. We'll go to Mass and have an all white meal for the day, like this yummy no boil Chicken Alfredo Bake.

And Saturday is the feast of St. Juan Diego, which is an excellent excuse for a taco night and some Mexican Wedding Cookies.

If you'd like to keep up with the feasts, these are all marked on my liturgical year wall calendar, available as an immediate pdf download here

Or as a wall calendar here. I've discounted the calendar 15% on my end, and there's also a 20% discount on top of that available from the publisher with the code BOOKCALSAVE (all caps), the code is good through midnight December 4th. If you missed that code, check here for the most recent one.

The Month of the Immaculate Conception

In fact, this entire month is devoted to the Immaculate Conception (of Mary, not of Jesus). I'm excited this year to have the calendar images to remind me of the traditional monthly devotions. And if you're also playing along with the images on your phone home screen and lock screen, George says: It's time to switch to December!

If you didn't get the images in the bundle, they're available in my Etsy shop now

Have yourself a happy little Advent, everyone!

Related Reading . . . 



Friday, November 24, 2017

Do Catholics Need the Elf on the Shelf?

I had every intention of not wading into the Elf on the Shelf debate, because it's really not a matter of faith and morals, and is therefore something about which good Catholics are free to make their own choices, and follow their own consciences, and disagree. But it's been a while since we've dug into the mailbag around here, hasn't it?

I've only been asked if our family does the Elf on the Shelf a couple times, and I've just replied that we don't without going into a lot of detail about why. But in the most recent instance, the wording of the question really got me thinking about WHY we don't do Elf on the Shelf, even though I'm in general a proponent of quirky holiday fun and even of baptizing secular traditions.

The question:

We haven't really ever done much to observe Advent, but my kids are getting old enough to appreciate traditions, so I'm hoping to start some this year. They have friends who do the Elf on the Shelf, and so I looked it up. I can't quite put my finger on why, but the idea of an elf watching you and reporting back to Santa seems like it doesn't match up with Catholic Advent. Am I off base here? Will my kids be missing out on something fun? Do Catholics need the Elf on the Shelf? Is there something we could do instead?  -Angie

The Answer:

I love how you put this question, Angie. Because we don't do the Elf on the Shelf, but I've never taken the time to formulate exactly WHY. Your question really has the two reasons why. First: the Elf on the Shelf just doesn't quite line up with what we teach our children about the world and the saints and Christmas, and second: we Catholics have so many other fun things to do that we DON'T really need the Elf on the Shelf to have a fun and whimsical Christmas.

Back story: the Elf on the Shelf is an American pre-Christmas “tradition” developed in 2004 by a couple ladies who wanted to sell you a book. Now, as a lady who has appropriated/rediscovered/made up quite a few traditions myself, and who has written a book about them, that’s not necessarily a problem for me. But while our family liturgical year traditions, old and new, have their roots in our ancient Catholic faith and their goal is to entertain and catechize . . . the Elf on the Shelf is a spy and a tattletale, and his goal is to intimidate children into good behavior (and probably to get you to buy more elf stuff).

The idea is that you buy the picture book and the stuffed elf doll. You set him up somewhere in your house or classroom and each day he watches the kids to see if they’re being naughty, and each night he magically flies off to report to Santa on the day's doings. He flies back and hides in a new spot, and the kids look for him again each day. Perhaps because we live in a fallen world, he is often found making messes or engaging in acts of questionable taste. And then, of course, you post a photo of it on social media.

In any case, certainly parents and teachers who do the elf thing are just looking to enjoy an entertaining game with their kids in the lead up to Christmas. The elf reporting back to Santa is just an offshoot of the longstanding naughty and nice list. But in our house, that’s not what we emphasize about Santa. We emphasize that Santa, like God, wants us to be good, but we know that we very often are not as good as we mean to be. We need God’s radical mercy and the graces he bestows upon us, undeserved, through the sacraments. I see that reflected in Santa’s desire for our good behavior, but his generosity in spite of our failures.

Rather than some sort of secret police elf spying on them and reporting back to Santa, what my kids actually have is a guardian angel, assigned to each of them by God. That guardian angel functions pretty much in exactly the opposite way as the Elf on the Shelf. Rather than spying on us and ratting us out, our guardian angels guard us and protect us and advocate for us to God the Father.

To me, the Elf on the Shelf is a perfect example of a secular attempt to find the shared community fun of liturgical living. I get where it’s coming from, but it’s all skewed somehow.

In our home during Advent, we do an Advent wreath, and Advent calendars, and Straw for Baby Jesus, we celebrate the feast days of St. Ambrose, and St. Nicholas, and the Immaculate Conception, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Lucy, and we do a nine day Christmas Novena. It's PLENTY! I definitely don't need a whole month of trying to keep up the wacky antics of a snitch elf.

And, in fact, far from being a cultural secular tradition that Catholics might well want to grab up and baptize, the *secretly moving through the house at night* thing . .  is actually predated by a Catholic tradition that existed for generations before the Elf on the Shelf was a whole aisle in Walmart. In the 1955 book The Twelve Days of Christmas by Elsa Chaney, she suggests a tradition that was old then: "If the Wise Men are making their journey to Bethlehem through the house, their resting places may be fixed just before night prayers begin." (EWTN library)

So that's how WE do it. Once Advent is over, and Christmas has begun, we do the Traveling Wise Men.

Now, we don't know much about the Wise Men with any sort of historical accuracy. However, Catholic tradition is that there were three, and that they were kings from Asia, Africa, and Europe, and that they were called Sts. Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.

Despite what your kids might think if they've seen the movie The Star, it was a common ancient belief that a new star appeared at the time of a ruler’s birth (not before). St. Thomas Aquinas, among others, confirms as the traditional understanding of the Catholic Church, that the magi saw the star as it rose on the night of Jesus’ birth, began to follow it, and were able to travel quickly to their destination with Divine assistance (Summa Theologiae III q.36, a.6, ad 3). Tradition says they arrived on the thirteenth day, January 6th, when we celebrate Epiphany.

So, short story long, in the Catholic tradition, Wise Men depart not at the beginning of Advent, but upon the rising of the Star of Bethlehem. On Christmas Eve, when we put the baby Jesuses in the mangers of our nativity sets, we also put the Wise Men out, but a few feet away and facing in the opposite direction from the Holy Family. Each night, the Wise Men move (they’re following the star, so they prefer to travel by night) until they’ve circled the house (or the yard) and come back to arrive at the nativity set on the morning of Epiphany. Each day the kids get up and look for where the Wise Men have ended up. Occasionally, the Wise Men will forget to move during the night. This can be very troubling to the children. However, it just means that there must have been a sandstorm overnight, or one of the camels was sick, and usually they’ll manage to make their move during the day, but always when no one is watching. Some years there are more sandstorms than others, but, somehow, they always manage to reach their destination on time.

We have acquired quite a few nativity sets over the years. Not ALL the Wise Men get to make the journey. In our house, only the mantle set and the outdoor set move. If the kids want to know why, I just tell them that . . . . I don’t know why. But they are welcome to send their toy Wise Men on a journey if they’d like. Sometimes they do.

I really do enjoy our traveling Wise Men. It’s a fun family game, for a manageable time period. It has been practiced by Catholics for generations, allows us to learn a bit about the traditional Catholic understanding of the Wise Men, and is something that defines the days of Christmastide for us.

Speaking of Liturgical Living . . .

I've got a liturgical year wall calendar that features all the feasts and fasts of the Universal Calendar and then some, illustrated with images featuring the traditional Catholic monthly devotions. It's an easy visual way to bring liturgical living into your home.

As the Church year begins with December, so does the calendar. You get December 2017 through December 2018, thirteen months. Available for purchase here.

The publisher offers coupon codes, check for the most recent one here.

Or it's available as a pdf download here.

Oh, and getting Christmas shopping done before Advent is always a goal of mine. If it's a goal of yours too, I can help! Every downloadable image in my Printable Prayers shop is on sale for only $3, today through cyber Monday. I really never ever do sales, so grab this one while it's hot!

Related Reading . . .


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Five Ways My Phone is Helping Me Be a Better Catholic

Our phones, right? We use them for all the things, but also maybe feel like we shouldn't be? As much? Ever? I'm all for balance and temperance, but in our concern about the pitfalls of our phones, it's easy to lose sight of the GOOD that's to be had from those ubiquitous devices.

Here are five ways (plus a bonus) that my phone is helping me in my daily pursuit of a Caothic life amidst the bustle and distraction of kids and school and laundry and traffic.

1. The Angelus Alarm

I've been meaning to say the Angelus every day for the past five years or so, but since the church bells don't toll the Angelus around my house, I remembered to do it not nearly as often as I wanted to. I'd see it was almost noon, and mean to do it in a sec, then look at the clock again and realize it was after one and we were late for naps, and blah, blah, blah.

That totally changed for me a couple months ago when I FINALLY got a smart phone. I have the alarm set for noon every single day. And, since we all know that the phone is in charge and makes you stop whatever else you were doing to attend to it when it makes a noise . . . now the kids and I have an almost perfect track record of saying the Angelus. Bonus, I have it set to sound like church bells. So fun.

2. The Personal Liturgical Year Calendar

The first way we started observing the liturgical year in our home was the Three Special Days. It's been a devotion that has born so much fruit in our family. But HOW to remember three different days for eleven different people, in time to ask them what they'd like for dinner? iCal, that's how. I set up a calendar and entered each family member's birthday, baptism day, and name day, along with a reminder for two days ahead of time.

Once we were in the swing of that, I created another calendar with Holydays of Obligation, then Solemnities, then the fun feast days to which our family has a particular devotion, novenas we recite, etc., all in there recurring each year, with a reminder a couple days in advance.

It's a bit time consuming on the front end, but we've ended up with a perfect for us personalized liturgical year calendar. There are liturgical calendar apps, but in my experience they all have too few or too many feast days on there, and none have my kids' baptism dates.

3. Great Books (hands and eyes not required)

I used to read a TON, and I still love to read, but my season of life at the moment isn't all that conducive to cozying up with a book. But that doesn't mean I can't have great literature and the writings of the saints in my life. I've listened to hours and hours of really inspiring and edifying books lately, while painting the house, washing the dishes, folding laundry, and driving. Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc was my sewing companion last month. I'll even hit play on a random chapter of Introduction to the Devout Life or the Autobiography of Saint Therese while I'm getting dressed in the morning.

And speaking of dishes, I am a huge fan of the Fifteen Minute Rosary Companion podcast. A sit down family Rosary every night is our goal, but it's not always possible. Sometimes we need to combine tasks, and a dish-doing race against the Fifteen Minute Rosary clock is an excellent challenge.

4. Inspiring Emails

My two favorite daily Catholic emails come from Blessed is She and Read the Catechism in a Year. Blessed is She sends a link to the daily Mass readings, plus a devotion written to help process and implement those readings (some of those devotions are written by me!). Read the Catechism in a Year is an excellent way to do just what the title says. I did it a few years back, and am planning to start it up again in 2018.

Realistically, I won't get to them every single day, but SOME daily scripture and catechism reading is much MUCH better than none, and having them on my phone with a little unread blue dot or a little flagged orange dot is very motivational to me.

You can also sign up to receive new Catholic All Year blog posts via email, by subscribing over on the sidebar ---> If you're into that sort of thing.

5. Saintly Social Media

Social media has a reputation for being a combative and confrontational place. And I suppose that's for good reason. But I've been able to make it a happy place for me by curating pretty carefully who I'm hanging out with on social media. I unfollow but stay friends with acquaintances and extended family members who stress me out, I join groups of like minded folks with whom I can share Catholic fun, and ask Catholic questions, and I follow the pages of devout Catholic blogs and websites. However, if I wanted to actually be able to see the posts of the pages I chose to follow, I had to set up my feed according to these instructions.

Bonus . . .

6. While You Were Looking

I found out about the existence of traditional Catholic monthly devotions as I was researching my upcoming liturgical year in the home book, and I really loved the idea of focusing on ONE PARTICULAR important aspect of our faith each month. It feels so much more doable than just knowing that there are all these important devotions out there and feeling like I should be mindful of all of them, and so not actually being mindful of any of them.

As I was trying to figure out how to remind myself of the devotion of the month, I had the idea to create graphic images for each one. I incorporated them into my Liturgical Year Wall Calendar, (available for purchase as a pdf download here, or as a physical calendar here, check for current coupon codes from the publisher here), but then I realized . . . what's the first thing I look at when I wake up int he morning, and the last thing I look at before I go to sleep at night? It's usually my phone. I can bemoan that, or I can make it work for me! So, I created lock screen and home screen images for each of the monthly devotions.

They are 16:9 aspect ration to fit most all smart phones. I'm on my second month of using them on my own phone and they really have helped quickly recollect my thoughts to God and the devotion of the month each of the many, many times each day that I peek at my phone.

The images are also high resolution enough to be cropped and printed as 5x7, 10x13, or 12x18 prints.

The set of images is available here.

 Every downloadable image in my Printable Prayers shop is on sale for only $3, today through cyber Monday. I really never ever do sales, so grab this one while it's hot!

What apps or sites or practices do you use on your phone that are helping your faith life?