An Easter People

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I love our Church, and that we are an Easter people. Christ is risen! Alleluia!

The last several months have been both wonderful and challenging for our family. Our life is in transition as we prepare for our daughter, Claire, to graduate from high school and head off to college, and for our son, Patrick, to enter high school this fall.

After 18 years of being at home — first with babies, then with small children, then while homeschooling children through middle school — I will no longer have anyone in the house during the day. Facing this changing reality has been hard.

In saying this, I recognize that my upcoming changes are minor challenges compared to the significant struggles of others.

Many people I love have gone through enormous trials and tremendous suffering this past year. In all of this, Christ asks us to trust in Him. Sometimes this is hard. I have moments where I feel overwhelmed, and anxious about what the future holds. Then, through God’s infinite grace, I have an experience which reminds me that Christ is in charge, and that good can emerge out of tragedy and suffering.

A few years ago, David and I traveled to the big island of Hawaii. While visiting Volcanoes National Park, we saw sections of the park where lava had covered everything in its path — roads, hills, trees, and even highway signs. As I walked on thick layers of black rock, I was struck by something incredible: shooting up from cracks in the black lava were small plants. Life had found a way. To me, this represented hope — that even in the midst of destruction and desolation can come beauty, goodness, and new life!

DSC_0266We never know what God is up to. He is a God of surprises. Just like the surprise of green plants bursting through hard, black volcanic rock, He is working out goodness and hope in the midst of blackness and hardness of our lives. Christ is planting His grace, peace, and hope in our souls so that we, too, can burst through and be a witness of His great love to the world.

Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Easter proclamation spreads throughout the world with the joyful song of the Alleluia. Let us sing it with our lips, and let us sing it above all with our hearts and our lives.”

May you all embrace this Easter joy, knowing that Christ has an incredible plan for your lives!

Christ is risen. Alleluia!

With great joy,
Margaret

(VIDEO) Saint James, Pray for Us!

Since the Feast of St. James is on July 25th, I thought I would share this video.

Last summer, our family walked over 100 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago (“The Way” of St. James) in Spain. We finished our trek in Santiago, at the Cathedral of St. James, where St. James is buried. You can see our arrival at the Cathedral starting at around 25:22.

A highlight of our time there was experiencing the swinging of the massive incense thurible, the botafumeiro. You can see that part of the video starting at around 27:48. Enjoy!

Bags of Blessings

The Feast of St. Nicholas is fast approaching on December 6th. While reflecting upon this great and joyful saint, I was reminded of what a generous man he truly was.

As Christians, we are all called to give to others in need.

When my children were very young I was talking to a priest who told me he carried around bags with different food items in his car. As he drove around town, he would see someone who was hungry, and would give them a bag filled with food and water.

I tried to think about how we, as a family with small children, could incorporate this same idea. I wanted the children to have an active role in the process, so here’s what we came up with …

Patrick with two of the bags we made for those in need

Patrick with two of the bags we made for those in need

Claire and Patrick decided to use brown lunch bags and decorate them with assorted stickers and drawings. They wrote encouraging messages like, “God bless you” and “We are praying for you.” Next, they filled the bags with food items (that didn’t require refrigeration) like apples, granola bars, Vienna sausages, cheese crackers or peanut butter crackers, and water. Then the bags were kept in our family minivan, so that whenever we are driving around town and see someone in need, we can roll down the window and give them a bag of food.

It is a simple idea, but one that has made our children much more aware of those who are truly in need. This activity has also sparked some great conversations about how we are called to treat others. The greatest blessing has been to see smiles on the faces of those who are hungry.

Like St. Nicholas, we all can be gift givers to those in need.

Have a blessed Advent!

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” — Matthew 25:37

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

September is upon us!

With it comes many wonderful feast days to celebrate in the Catholic Church. One such day is September 14 — The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast day commemorates the recovery of the cross, which had been discovered by St. Helena, but had been taken out of Jerusalem by the Persians. In 629 A.D. Emperor Heralius brought the cross back to Jerusalem.

One way to remember this special feast day is to us a cross cookie cutter (which you should be able to find at a Hobby Lobby or other craft store) to make cross cookies. After baking the cookies, frost them all with red icing except one — use white icing on that cross.

After the frosting dries, put each cross cookie in a separate ziploc bag. Hide the bags all over your house and play a game with your younger children. The first one to find the white cookie wins! Of course they all get to partake in eating the tasty treats.

While enjoying the cookies, talk about this special feast day and what Christ did for us on the cross. How great is His love that He would die so we could have eternal life!

Another way to celebrate is to make a cross out of items you have around your house. We used some wooden crosses, poster board, pastels, glitter, and tiny colored rocks that were perfect for creating our cross.

This is our cross:

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Older children can do research on different ways the cross has been depicted for Christians around the world and throughout history. Here’s a great web site for this:

http://www.planetgast.net/symbols/crosses/crosses.html

Have your child draw or make one of the crosses shown on that site. Write a paragraph about the cross he/she made. Use facts from the above site and find other resources online for additional information. Have your child make an oral presentation to the family displaying the cross and sharing what was learned.

Another great resource to learn about this feast day is:

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2014-09-14

We adore You O Christ and we praise You,
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.

Awesome Advent

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Click the image to download the Advent Resources document

I just received a note from a friend who said that a document I e-mailed last year was helping her family’s Advent preparations this year.

As we approach the beginning of the Advent season, I thought I would post that resource here on Growing Saints:

Advent Ideas & Resources

This PDF document is a list of ideas and books (along with links directly to the referenced resources) that can help your family celebrate this beautiful liturgical season at home.

How blessed we are to be part of the Catholic Church, which is rooted in scripture and rich in tradition! Enjoy this time of year as we — and the little saints we are entrusted with growing — prepare for the birth of our Savior, Christ Jesus.

A Thankful Tree

A Thankful Tree

A Thankful Tree is a great way to thank God for our daily blessings

November is the perfect time to “grow” a Thankful Tree in your house! With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I wanted to share a way to help your children appreciate the many gifts God gives them daily.

This idea, shared with me years ago by a friend, has become a November tradition in our home.

  1. Find a printable fall leaf template on the internet, like this one.
  2. Print out the template, and on the top of each leaf, write: “I am thankful for:”
  3. Make copies of the template so the leaves are on colored paper (red, yellow, and orange). I use three different shapes of leaves, but you could use only one or two if that is easier.
  4. Cut out the leaves and punch a hole in the top of each leaf. Put an 8-inch piece of yarn or string through the hole and tie it so that the leaf can be hung on your Thankful Tree.
  5. Find a branch in your yard or somewhere nearby that will be good for hanging your leaves. Place it in a pot with dirt.
  6. Every day during the month of November (it’s not too late to get started now) each family member can choose a leaf and write what he/she is thankful for that day. Younger children can tell you what they would like written on their leaves.
  7. Read your leaves to each other (we do this right after dinner) and then hang them on the tree.
Leaves for the Thankful Tree

Leaves for the Thankful Tree, printed out on different colors of paper

It is also a good idea to have extra leaves on hand for anyone who may come to visit your house (we ask our guests to fill out a leaf and hang it on the Thankful Tree).

By Thanksgiving you will have a tree filled with reminders of all the daily blessings God has given your family!

At the end of the month, take the leaves off the tree and place them in a Ziploc bag. Write the year on the Ziploc bag and store it for safe-keeping. My children love to take the leaves out of the bags from previous years and read what our family and friends were thankful for in past years!

This really does not take much time, and if you have older children they can help cut out leaves and tie yarn on them. You can also cut leaves while waiting in a car for a child or watching a movie, etc. It is really easy and lots of fun!

Hope your November is filled with blessings. May we be thankful each day for all that God has given us!

“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col.3:17

Forgiveness

Jesus forgives the woman at the well

Jesus forgives the woman at the well

I recently attended a talk at our parish given by a highly educated woman who works in the Archdiocese of Washington D.C.. Although the talk was not focused on the topic of forgiveness, the speaker told a story that greatly impacted me.

She told the audience about growing up as one of nine children in a devout Catholic family, praying together every night. During nightly prayer, each member of the family would verbalize their examination of conscience and ask forgiveness for what they had done wrong. She explained that by doing this every night, year after year, her brothers and sisters are easily able to admit when they are wrong and ask forgiveness. She said this was a great gift her parents gave their nine children.

As she related this story, I was moved to tears. I began to think about my own little family, and how hard it can be to admit when we are wrong … and how hard it can be to forgive others when they have wronged us.

God has blessed our marriage tremendously, and one way He has done this is by teaching us the art of forgiveness through more experienced couples. Before David and I got married 21 years ago, we attended an Engaged Encounter weekend. During that experience, we listened to several married couples who shared their wisdom with us. They talked about the importance of forgiving each other when we have done something wrong, and saying specifically, “I’m sorry,” and “will you forgive me?” This was so hard for me to learn, and even harder to do when we were first married — and yet vital for our marriage.

As David and I started our married life together, we began to practice the art of forgiveness (we had lots of opportunities to do this!)

Later, as God blessed us with children, we learned that whenever we argue in their presence, they need to see the resolution of that conflict. They need to hear us say to one another, “I’m sorry,” and “will you forgive me?”

We have also taught them the importance of forgiving one another (and us) in the same way. Sometimes it takes time. None of us are immediately ready to admit that we were wrong and to ask forgiveness. Yet, eventually, by the grace of God, we are able to forgive and accept forgiveness. I pray that our children will continue this habit in their relationships as they grow up and become adults.

Just as our loving heavenly Father forgives us over and over again, so, too my sweet husband and precious children forgive me and I strive to forgive them. I have come to realize in 21 years of marriage that truly LOVING my spouse and my children means saying (and meaning) “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” It also means that I must always be willing to forgive them.

St. Faustina said, “He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God. As often as I look upon the cross, so often will I forgive with all my heart.”

As we grow our little saints, and try to love our husbands more each day, embracing our vocation of marriage and family, let us not forget St. Paul’s words, “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” Ephesians 4:32

Our Lady of the Rosary

The lovely fall month of October is upon us with many inspiring feast days! The Church celebrates a beautiful feast day on October 7th: the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

This feast day commemorates our Lady’s role in the victory over the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. To learn more about this feast day you can visit the following web pages:

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2013-10-07

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7391

Older children (middle school through high school) might enjoy reading the poem about the Battle of Lepanto by G. K. Chesterton, which can be found here:

Assembling the Rosary by gluing objects onto the poster board

Assembling the Rosary by gluing objects onto the poster board

http://www.bartleby.com/103/91.html

To celebrate this feast day, you can make a Rosary out of different materials. This is a fun project to do with your children while teaching them about the Rosary.

Begin by gathering the materials you will need. These could include: poster board (or half of one), glue, shells, colored pasta, beans, candy, small rocks, pumpkin seeds, sequence — or whatever small items your children would like to use to represent each of the “beads” of the five decades of the rosary. For example, we used candy corns to represent one decade and sea shells to represent a different decade.

You will also need something to represent each Our Father for your Rosary. You can buy a small wooden cross at a local craft store or just draw a cross. Place the items on the board before gluing to make sure you have enough space for a all five decades of the Rosary.

Patrick with his finished Rosary for the October 7 feast day

Patrick with his finished Rosary for the October 7 feast day

As your children are making the Rosary by gluing on the different items, discuss how to pray the Rosary, or discuss the Battle of Lepanto (depending on the age of the children.)

After finishing making the Rosary, older children can write the Mysteries of the Rosary on the bottom of the poster board.

This is an activity that children from ages 6-12 would enjoy. It is a good activity for a family — or several families — to do together. When finished, you can hang your completed Rosary  in your home to be used as a teaching tool. Enjoy!

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

Taking it to the Queen

August is a wonderful time to celebrate Mary, the Mother of God (and our mother as well)!

On August 15th we rejoice in her most blessed Assumption and on August 22nd we honor her as Queen of Heaven and Earth. For these two beautiful feast days, here are a couple of ideas on how to celebrate with your children. These ideas can be used for either feast day.

12 stars for the stars on Mary's crown

12 stars for the stars on Mary’s crown

1. The first idea is to make twelve stars (we used white card stock) and have your children write a prayer intention on each star. We decorated ours with gold glitter since gold represents royalty, but you could also use blue which is Mary’s color. If your children are very young, you can ask them to verbalize their prayer intentions and then write them on the stars.

We made twelve stars, based upon the verse from Revelation 12:1: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” We then placed our twelve stars on the mantle of our fireplace in the living room where we can see them and pray for these intentions. We leave them on the mantle from August 15th to the end of the month. This very simple activity does not take much time, yet it is a great way to honor our Blessed Mother and ask her for her powerful intercession.

Kids love these Mary star cookies!

Kids love these Mary star cookies!

2. Another idea is to make star cookies and read a great Marian book! You can use your own cookie dough recipe or buy sugar cookie dough from the store. Using small star cookie cutters means more cookies to share with family and friends! You can decorate them with blue icing and eat them while reading a book like:


Take It to the Queen: A Tale of Hope” by Josephine Nobisso. This is a beautifully illustrated fable that honors our Blessed Mother.

As mothers, we can look to Mary as a model of love and hope. She said “yes” to God. Many times I have knelt in front of the statue of Mary in our church, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, and asked her to help me to say “yes” to God’s will. She is there to help us as we try to grow our little saints and live out the amazing vocation of motherhood.

May we all turn to her in times of need and emulate her example as our families strive to be salt and light in this world!

Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth, pray for us.

Lesson of Encouragement from St. Barnabas

St. Barnabas, "son of encouragement"

St. Barnabas, “son of encouragement”

June 11th is the Feast Day of St. Barnabas. Joseph was his actual name, but the apostles called him Barnabas which means “son of encouragement”. (Acts 4:36)

Barnabas encouraged St. Paul in his missionary work, and also the early Christians throughout the ancient world. He was what I would call a “cheerleader” for St. Paul. It was Barnabas that stood up for Paul when he first converted while the other believers were still afraid of him. It was Barnabas who helped the early Christians accept Paul and his mission.

Reflecting upon Barnabas in his role, I thought about my role as a mother and grower of saints. It is easy to tell my children the things that they need to do better, whether it is cleaning their bedrooms or doing their school work or even being kind to one another. Of course that is part of my job as a mother, however instead of looking at what needs to be done better or improved, I could first focus on the good that I see in my children.

For example, Patrick, my son, is an artist and is constantly creating. As a result there tend to be sheets of paper and pencils strewn across his room. I have been guilty of walking into his room and immediately saying, “Pick up these papers. This room is a mess.” I was only seeing the messy room, but I was missing the fact that he was using his God-given talent to write and illustrate books. Yes, Patrick does need to learn to better organize his papers, but I, as his mother and #1 cheerleader, need to encourage him in his creative work.

Learning from St. Barnabas, I have tried very hard to encourage my children! I fall short, but I do believe it makes a difference when I can build them up and point out the good instead of immediately seeing the bad.

As moms, by encouraging our children, they know we believe in them. They know that no matter what is going on in their world, they have a mother who will be their biggest fan. They know their mom believes in them, bolstering their belief in themselves. This gives our children the confidence to accomplish their dreams and do God’s will in their lives.

Barnabas probably never know how profoundly St. Paul would change the entire world, but he believed in Paul, and his encouragement was instrumental in the launch of Paul’s ministry.

Let us as mothers believe in our children and be their greatest cheerleaders! Perhaps we are raising another great evangelizer of the Catholic faith … or a doctor who will discover amazing cures … or a mother who will dedicate her life to raising loving faith-filled children … or a saint.

“The news about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas [to go] to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord.” -Acts 11: 22-24

St. Barnabas, son of encouragement, pray for us.