Thursday, December 17, 2009

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

I wish all of the Little Flowers a very Merry Christmas from the littlest of buds who are just starting out to the Master Gardener Moms who are holding down a family and a group. To all those out there who are praying for me and for this small apostolate.

To Joan and her family for keeping this going day to day.

And especially to YOU - the Mom who is striving to be holy when no one else seems to want to. and the Dad who works hard without complaint. Merry Christmas to YOU. May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph watch over you and give you what you need this Christmas for another year of family life, family fun and joy!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wreath I Badges now Available!

Thanks for everyone's patience on the manufacturing error that occurred with the Wreath I Patches. They are now on their way and we are once again taking orders for them. If you've have them backordered, they will be arriving soon.

As a big THANK YOU for your patience, those of you who had to wait for the patches to come in to order them, we are offering a whopping 50% discount on all shirts and totes just in time for Christmas! Just order your Wreath I badge online and enter the discount code BADGEHALF in the coupon area in your shopping cart and get your shirts and totes at HALF PRICE! This offer is good until December 15, 2009.

Valid on orders placed between December 3rd and December 15th online only. Offer cannot be applied to any other orders and must be placed online.

To order go to:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reclaiming Christmas!

We all know that Christmas is coming, after all, it is all over every box store out there from Wal-Mart to JC Penney’s. It seems that Thanksgiving is been completely obliterated by the push to get Christmas to us sooner but we all know they don’t want us to come and adore but come and spend. This year, I am going to join their ranks and push Advent and Christmas a bit early but an Advent and Christmas focused on Christ and His arrival to us as a baby. Consider utilizing this time of early advertising before Advent to get your Advent pulled together.
I remember thinking that God was quite wise when He gave us, as parents, a full nine months (give or take) to prepare for the arrival of our children. For some, this time was longer or shorter if an adoption was involved but, for the most part, we all have a good deal of time allotted to us to make sure that we have all we need for the newest arrival. It is a blessing for both us and the baby that they don't usually arrive in a day or even a week! If we apply this same analogy to Christmas we realize that we have known about its arrival for...well, really for our entire lives. We know it is coming, it comes every year after all, so why do we always seem to be so caught off guard?
For the first time, I suggest that perhaps Wal-Mart or whomever, might be onto something. I am suggesting that you don’t put off considering Christmas, perhaps even making any necessary purchases now before it gets ‘too late’. And too late is when what you need for Christmas Day overwhelms what you need to do before Christmas Day. In other word, are your worries for Christmas overwhelming your Advent?
By giving Christmas - the more secular aspects of it at least - some consideration before Advent arrives might allow you to give Advent the true time, consideration and devotion it deserves. In relating this back to the arrival of the baby, every pregnancy requires time to gather the necessary physical supplies and clothes that every baby requires regardless of family. But we also need to prayerfully consider what our baby requires as they join our family. Perhaps this can take place in our families in regard to Advent and Christmas.
You know you will get a tree and some presents, plan a meal and make travel plans; after all, every family will be doing that. Instead consider what will your family - with its own personal mission and vocation from God - do this Advent? This same attitude applies to your groups - what will they do to make the meetings that coincide with Advent more focused on Christ's arrival and their preparation? Planning a service project for the needy could be done now and not left to the night before. Perhaps helping the kids to bring Advent to their own families with the creation of a simple Advent paper ring with a simple activity each day. With this in mind, you may only need to unpack familiar favorites and replace the pink and purple candles but perhaps you want some ‘new ideas’ for Advent.
A quick search on the internet reveal some good places to start such as: where you can sign up for a free Advent Adventure or be inspired by ideas at or And you can always ask at your parish. It just might be that your own parish has a library of ideas or a staff person eager to share. Keeping in mind that Christmas is a time for giving, realize that your enthusiasm and need for a great Advent might give your pastor or DRE a much needed boost of enthusiasm for their vocation.
While I don’t want to hear any Christmas music - secular or otherwise - until Advent starts, and I am not suggesting we start decorating as the stores do, giving Advent and Christmas some thought and preparation before Advent arrives will surely make it easier to dedicate the season to Jesus who is, after all, the only reason to do it!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Book Available NOW!

The Wreath I Virtue Stories is now available! Full of adventures and valuable lessons, this book comtains stories of virtues as they apply to young girls' lives. There is a story for each virtue in Wreath I an deach is based on real events...allowing the girls to relate to them on a very real level! Each story ends with discussion questions. They can be read and discussed as a group or read simply for individual enjoyment!

Click here to order! SPECIAL OFFER just in time for Christmas ordering: Order a Little Flower Doll and get the Virtue Book for 1/2 price! These dolls correspond to the characters in the book: Maggie, Mary Rose and Teesa. Offer is good for online orders only and expires November 15, 2009. Enter coupon code: VIRTUEDOLL on checkout.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Generation of Lydias?

This past summer my dear husband, Matt conquered something I had not yet been successful in doing. He read “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen. This accomplishment came as a result of his long commute for work (2+ hours each way by train) and the realization that despite my claim that I ‘love’ Jane Austen I had never read the book. He would read something that I had not read! Amazing!

Now, I have seen every movie of this wonderful story, with the Colin Firth version edging out the Kyra Knightley one slightly. I have seen the other Jane Austen treasures bought to screen, but am embarrassed to admit I had never read them, any of them, in their entirety. I have made attempts throughout my growing up years but always failed. I would give up on the language and the descriptions and came to decide that ‘classics’ weren’t for me!

If you will humor me, I would like to share an illustration of just how pathetic I was in this regard. During my 10th year of school I had Mrs. Higgins for English. Everyone has a “Mrs. Higgins” in their school memories. She was infamous in my high school for being demanding, critical and very out-of-date. She wore black on report card day and stood barely 5 ft. tall. She not only expected her students to read but went so far as to hand out a list of what you could read - nothing else was allowed when a “book report” was due, which was once a month. These reports were written during class time based on questions she distributed and were required to be at least 200 words. There would be no using CliffNotes or cheating here, you couldn’t pay anyone to write this paper for you. It was all your own work and your words. Getting an “A” in Mrs. Higgins’ class was a historic moment and cause for pride.

I, however, was excited to have her as a teacher and took her on as a challenge, after all, I was a voracious reader and got nothing but ‘A’s’ in English/Literature. I read 2-3 books a week and was a frequent ‘shopper’ at both our school and public library. When, during the first week of classes some 25+ years ago, she asked if anyone liked to read I quickly raised my hand. “What did I like to read”, she queried. “Anything but the classics” was my arrogant reply. I saw her brow furrow and felt the heat from her laser stare. “And what do you deem a classic?”, she demanded. “Anything written before I was born”, I replied and, yes, with all the disrespect and sarcasm you imagine. I am mortified by this memory and it came back to haunt me this past summer.

Once Matt began reading the saga of Elizabeth and Darcy, he wanted to share his insights and excitement. But my movie experience was nothing (as you all know) compared to the actual story. To be able to keep up the discussion and salvage my own pride, I had no choice - I had to read the book. As is always the case, it is not the movie and so much better than I imagined. I had much to learn from Miss Austen.

For our purposes here, I want to share about what I learned specifically from Lydia, the youngest of the five Bennett daughters. For those of you who have not read the book (or even seen the movie), she is described in the beginning of the book as such, “a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humored countenance; a favorite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age. She had high animal sprits, and a sort of natural self-consequence, which with the attentions of the officers, to whom her uncles’ good dinners and her own easy manners recommended her, had increased into assurance.” She almost brings complete ruin upon the family when she elopes with the awful Mr. Wickham. Mr. Wickham, a long time acquaintance of Mr. Darcy, “has neither integrity nor honor. That he is as false and deceitful, as he is insinuating.”, who convinces Lydia to leave with him. Matthew and I are divided as to wether this was done by him with no intention of marriage but only in the hopes of gaining a mistress (Matt’s view and the correct one) or some dowry funds from Mr. Bennett (my more hopeful view).

Regardless, by the time the news of the elopement has reached the ears of Elizabeth, we discover that Lydia “has never been taught to think on serious subjects; and for the last half year, nay, for a twelvemonth, she has been given up to nothing but amusement and vanity. She has been allowed to dispose her time in the most idle and frivolous manner, and to adopt any opinions that came in her way.”

I myself read these words with deep embarrassment as those could have been used to describe me at that same age. Lydia was only 15! The age at which I found the reading of “Pride and Prejudice” just too much of a challenge and I let myself be content with mediocre, poorly written romances that were nothing but ‘amusement and vanity’. The age at which Mrs. Higgins took me on as a challenge and led me from shallow thoughts and books to deep reading that showed me the real power of words.

What are we doing for our girls - especially our older girls - are we raising a generation of Lydia’s?

If you are surprised at what I am writing, don’t be worried, I am as well. I am probably more known for my love of joy and eutrapelia than perhaps piety and perseverance. But I love those more ‘heady’ virtues as well. Every virtue is a necessary part of our characters and formation but we all know that some are easier to make our own that others. Such might be said of joy versus moderation which might have been Lydia's struggle. The challenge of us as mothers (and as Catholics) to make sure we are giving our daughters (and ourselves) appropriate challenges based on age, temperament and abilities to tackle the more challenging virtues and more difficult manners and personal habits.

There are any number of struggles to our faith and Christ’s Kingdom during these days and if our daughters are not taught by us; they will taught by someone else. Do not feel as if I am requiring reading of Jane Austen as Mrs. Higgins did (though it might not be a bad idea), but I would want us to remember the words of St. Paul, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” Phil. 4:8.

Let us not leave our daughters to “ to adopt any opinions that came in her way” but teach them the skills necessary to listen, discern and learn what is true, for they themselves will be teaching others - either their own children or someone else’s possibly as a religious or a teacher.

And while Elizabeth and Darcy’s story has a happy ending, we know nothing of Lydia's which sometimes makes me pause. For while this ‘Lydia’ (me) turned out all right, and even managed to get an ‘A’ from Mrs. Higgins by the end of that year of school, I know other Lydia’s from my grade and past who did not have the same good fortune. Let us be committed to prevent such endings for our daughters and do what we must to ensure they have a better chance that poor Lydia ever did. Asking great things of our daughters and ourselves will be a struggle but have courage for "In Him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything!" (Phil. 4:13). Even the tough job of parenting!

(We have many opportunities here at EHP to challenge your girls beyond the ‘idle and frivolous’ wether it be through the Honor Guard or a new look at Little Flowers Wreath One which they might not have seen since they were 5 or 6 years old.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wreath I Patches

Just got a call from Quiet Waters Productions, the great people who do the Little Flowers music and patches. They just got a new batch of Wreath I badges from the manufacturer, but they didn't fit together! The manufacturer had made the error and it will take some time to correct and re-produce the badges. They expect the new badges by the first of December.

If you have ordered Wreath I badges recently, they will be shipped when they come in. At present, we are not taking orders for Wreath I badges, except if you are ordering them in a Economy Member Pack or similar package deal. You can still order them this way, so that you will get the discounted bundled price. They will be shipped when they come in.

So sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and understanding.

God bless, Joan Stromberg, Ecce Homo Press

Friday, September 25, 2009

Is everyone equal?

Yes! There is no doubt from what Christ says and what our Church teaches that we are all equal in God's eyes. We are made in His image and likeness and as such there is no difference between us.

But....we are all so different. Let us never equate difference with better or worse. A child is as vital to God as any adult (the simplest reason behind our Church's clear pro-life teachings) but a child is not an adult as there are clear differences - maturity, size and abilities can come to mind here.

But, both are capable of loving God, enjoying life and finding complete happiness to the best of their ability and capacity.

St. Therese speaks of this in Chapter Two - "I once told you how astonished I was that God does not give equal glory in heaven to all His chosen. I was afraid they were not all equally happy. You made me bring Daddy's big tumbler and put it by the side of my tiny thimble. You filled both of them with water and asked me which was fuller. I told you they were both full to the brim and that it was impossible to put more water in them than they can hold. And so, Mother darling, you made me understand that in heaven God will give His chosen their fitting glory adn that the last will have no reason to envy the first. By such means, you made me understand the most sublime mysteries and gave my soul its essential food."

There in a 'thimble', so to speak, is one of the many small truths of the Little Way. We will be full to the brim when we reach heaven if only we fulfill our purpose from God. We each have our own vocations, missions and roles to fill in His salvation plan. Don't shy away from yours, don't think it is more than you can do - be brave in His grace and know you can do it!

But also - pray to made into a rain barrel!! I do not want to be content to be a thimble full of water but pray that I may be made into a rain barrel or a vast sea full of Him and only Him!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The First Confession for the Little Flower

In Chapter Two - St. Therese comments about her joy at confession - "What a wonderful memory I have of it!....I made my confession like a big girl and received his (Fr. Ducelier) blessing with great devotion, for you had told me that, at that moment, the tears of Jesus would cleanse my soul....I left the confessional happier and more lighthearted that I'd ever been before. After that I went to confession on every big feast day, and every time I went it was a real feast for me."

Her comment reminded me of an experience my own house. This past year, my 8 yr. old son received his First Confession. I prepared him as I had the previous children - we fulfilled the requirements of our parish and off we went as a family to celebrate this wonderful sacrament.

Seeing our children heading into the confessional can be a source of dread for us as parents' can't it? We wonder both how they will do but what they will say about us! What will Fr. now know about our family and ourselves from the honesty and innocence of our children? But you are also are concerned that you prepared your child well; after all we are not Pauline who prepared her younger sister.

I watched nervously as he walked in and then smiled with joy as he walked out - he with even a bigger smile! He slid up to me, gave me a hug, kneeled to say his penance and then gave me another hug! As he did so he whispered in my ear - "Mom, you forgot to tell me something!" My smile fell from my face, my heart dropped in my chest and I wondered what I could have missed, after all I'd done this 7 times before!! I turned to look at him and asked, "What did I forget??!"

He smiled and whispered, "You forgot to tell me how good I'd feel!"

Remember that! Both my Henry and St. Therese know that confession does 'feel' good. And there is nothing wrong with that! Allow our kids to get into feeling how good it is to talk to Jesus. Make it a committed part of your family schedules. While St. Therese made use of big feast days perhaps we might make it more frequently - as our kids are probably not a St. Therese and perhaps could use more regular opportunities for both the peace that confession brings and the grace it affords them.

Some families I know plan it once a month and finish off with a pizza party at home afterwards or a trip out for ice cream. Making it a reliable routine is one of the key building blocks for them to enter into their teens and adult lives.

And - don't think you're off the hook - you need to go as well surely as frequently as your children but probably (if you are like me) more often!!

Let Jesus' tears wash you clean and set you on the path again!!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

New Year, New Group!

I had a great talk recently with Michelle who is starting a new group. She has experience not only as a great Mom but also as a DRE. This experience has given her a good background to start a group and during our conversation I was reminded of some of the basic facts of 'group dynamics'. You will want to keep some of them in mind as this new year of meetings (Little Flowers, Blue Knights, Honor Guard or Little Women) begins.So while planning all manner of activities, crafts, outings and service projects, don't forget to keep safety of the group in mind. Wether you are meeting in a home, church facility or other space make sure to remember some basic facts:
-Consider creating an Emergency Contact Form or General Permission form no matter where you are meeting. While it is probably required if you are at a church/school location it also makes sense for a home meeting. Make sure you know each girl's name, full address and contact information. Have the home and cell #'s for both Mom and Dad. Even if a parent is attending the meetings, having the other's # will be helpful in case of an accident and the need arises to get a hold of them. Consider also having an additional emergency contact #. This might need to used if a parent isn't at the meeting and isn't answering their phone. -Make sure to know everyone's allergies - both food and otherwise - children and adults. This makes it easier when planning snacks (peanut allergies) or games (latex allergies - no balloons!). -Have a basic first aid kit ready at every meeting. Consider creating your own in a shoe box or purchase one ready-packed. Perhaps you have a parent/nurse or doctor who can be asked to do this for the group.
-If you are using a church facility, investigate what forms they may require for insurance purposes. Don't be afraid to ask and then be ready to comply. It makes a pastor's job easier when groups are ready to follow any diocesan requirements and this would include us. -Decide what method to use for contacting the group for meetings changes or cancellations. A good old-fashioned phone tree, internet group or e-mails - it doesn't matter - just make sure that everyone knows what method is being used and then commit to using it and checking it. Nothing is worse than thinking e-mails will be sent out and then discovering that someone doesn't have one!
Consider passing this task off to some of the older kids in the group. They might even decide to create a monthly newsletter (as Michelle's daughter is doing) to keep everyone up to date on what has taken place and what is being planned.In addition, please remember that no matter where you are meeting, be sure to include clean-up time into your meeting schedule. Every member should take an active part in making sure the meeting location is left as clean (or better!) than when they arrived. A sure way to keep a pastor or a parent happy is to regard the meeting place as 'special' and making sure it looks and remains that way!Finally, have a great year! Remember to let others (and us) know what is working and what isn't. We're all eager to learn from each others successes and failures! Be assured of our prayers!

Monday, September 14, 2009

What truths are outside of time??

St. Therese writes, "God favored me by awakening my intelligence very early and by imprinting the happenings of my childhood so sharply on my memory that the things I am going to write about seem as if they took place yesterday."

While I am so very grateful that God gave this gift to St. Therese as the stories of her childhood play such a strong part in the saint she became, I do not have that gift. I have nothing to fear from my memories of my childhood - large, cradle-Catholic family - no real skeletons, some really funny stories but nothing compared with St. Therese. Realizing this, I started to take a look at those things that St. Therese writes about that might be able to find a place in my home.

To be clear, we are not called to 'be' anyone but ourselves before God - we all have our own vocations with our families and should never seek to 'be just like' anyone as that would not allow God to work with us and through us. But we can see good in other families or people and pray that what we witness might also fit into God's plan for us.

Two images struck a cord with me. The first one was from the introduction where Mr. Beevers speaks of the type of family they were. He speaks quite bluntly - "Louis and Zelie Martin concerned themselves with three things and three things only - the Church, their family and their work. Suitable recreation had, of course, its place in their lives, but no time was wasted in chasing so-called pleasures. Nowadays such a life seems to many far too narrow and circumscribed. Yet a life spent serving God and performing all the duties of one's state in life is immeasurably fuller, richer, and happier than one passed in worldly activities."

But let's us be careful as we read this for what it means and what it does not - for I wouldn't want any family reading this and saying that to be holy we need to live exactly as they did. You can't and you shouldn't. However, the Martins' have one thing that we can duplicate.

They clearly knew their vocation before God and what He was asking of them, calling them to and how to fulfill that. Are we as clear? Do we pray with our spouse for a clear vision of God's vocation for our family? Do we have a plan on how to fulfill this vocation or are our days flowing from one to another without any clear path?

The other image that struck a cord with me was her description of her love and relationship with her father. I was impressed as they naturally had a relationship that studies today have determined are essential. Several studies have recently supported that a healthy, loving relationship between a daughter and father are key to that daughter's success, strong sense of self and a protection against ever getting involved in risky behaviors. Dr. Meg Meeker has written an excellent book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters that clearly speaks of this relationship. Matt had read this book over the past year and watching him put into place much of what Dr. Meeker speaks of is a real gift to me and to our seven daughters.

Our lives in the 21st century are not the lives of the Martins' but there are some truths that are outside of any calendar - a commitment to God and to our families should be seen an essential part of those transcendent truths.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Story of a Soul

Okay, so I am 'inspired' to re-read this wonderful book and use it as both a book club and source of 'food for thought' for this blog. In that we are both inspired by St. Therese's life it seems appropriate. Tonight, my first thoughts:

WHAT WAS I THINKING!!!??? It has been many years since I last read this book and what I remembered was not what I was reading. Isn't that the funny thing about good books, especially good, true, spiritually theologically sound books? You read them once and gain a lot, set them aside, live a few days, months or years and pick them up again. Due to the life you have lived, the maturity you have gained, the grace you are now open to and the work of the Holy Spirit you gain a whole lot more - new more! It works with the Bible and it works with this book.

I know the reasons - I'm older now and hopefully wiser than when I first read this book and when I read for the 2nd or 3rd time when writing LFGP. But reading it now, it seems like a new book - a book I feel I've never read. I like it!

Thoughts from Chapter One - at least as far as I could read before stopping because I was just overwhelmed...

1st paragraph, 2nd line - "Jesus made me realize that I should please Him by unquestioning obedience."

Here's where I first got into trouble....have I ever given Jesus unquestioning obedience? I have strived to be obedient to Him but it usually always comes with questions, sometimes alot of questions such as, "Are you crazy?" or "Surely, you can't mean...." or my favorite "Why??" I expect obedience from my children, unquestioning obedience for the most part as I'll allow them to ask appropriate questions about the why's if it will help them better understand or inspire them. But my questions to God are rarely of this nature - my questions are whiny and demanding. Explain yourself to me God!! Shades of Job. While I would love to see God, I don't want Him giving me the slapdown He gave Job!

4th paragraph - Here is the beginning of the LFGP when I first began to see it - "The splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. I realised that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness and there would be no wild flower to make the meadows gay."

Our daughters, young though they are, could be seen as the little violets who surely give God joy. And we all have much to give to God (and the world) even if we have a bit of wild flower in us and aren't as refined as the rose!

I read some of her early life but needed to pause in my reading...too much as they say to read in one reading...

More tomorrow night...

One last thought - did you realize that she gave herself the name "Little Flower"? I had forgotten that until re-reading it in the introduction. It made me wonder what name would I give myself in my relationship with God? Pathetic Weed came to my mind first but that certainly isn't as inspiring is it? :-) I'll give it some more thought and see I can't come up with something better!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Welcome to a new year of Little Flowers! Book Club, anyone?

I will apologize for being neglectful of the blog this summer. The pool was too inviting, my children were too fun to be with and there was my 25th wedding anniversary to plan! All of this involved getting all 11 children home for a visit for the first time in almost 3 years....

So, I apologize for not being more active. In wanting to give this blog more commitment and quality I took this situation to adoration. I have discovered that time before the tabernacle can result in some amazingly good ideas. Jesus truly is interested in all the minute details of our lives and is eager to put His two cents into anything and everything - we just have to be willing to let Him.

As a result of this prayer time, I was inspired to offer this spot as a place for a little bit of a book club. A chance for me to read a good book and share my thoughts on it. I would like to read books that are helpful in learning about being a Catholic - but especially a Catholic wife and mother. You are welcome, most welcome to join me and offer your own insights or you can just read vicariously through me.

The first book? It seems obvious - The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux - The Story of a Soul. I'm using the John Beevers translation published by Image Doubleday in 1989. I have read this book before - several times. I read in preparation for the very beginning of Little Flowers and since as new wreaths have come about. But I was inspired to read it again. This time, I am going to read solely as a wife and mother. A woman looking for greater insight in being a better wife and mother.

I'll be posting some quotes from the book that strike a cord with me from the place I am at this time. As I said, I'd love some company for this journey so feel free to read along and let me know what you think of the book, what I write and more.

I'll be posting most evenings except on the weekend unless really inspired. I hope you can be inspired as well.

Friday, September 4, 2009

To Copy or Not to Copy

It may seem odd to have an article about copyright issues under the title "living and learning the virtues," but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. When we teach children about virtues, they will learn best by our good example. All the saint stories, acts of virtue, memorized prayers and Bible verses will be lost if the parent gives a poor example when living out virtue.

Illegally photocopying material not only gives a bad example of moral virtue to children, it also prevents more good materials to be produced. It may seem a small thing to have a copy of an extra saint picture on hand or to copy a few pages here and there, but children see and follow our example. We need to be above repoach and models of virtue in their eyes.

Here are a few suggestions to make your life as a leader easier while keeping your virtue intact. 1) if you'd like another copy of a saint's picture, have the children trace it from the book. It will be their own work and can add to craft time. 2) If you have a new child join and they don't yet have a book, have another child share (thus practicing virtue). The new child can copy down the Bible verse and prayers, thus helping commit them to memory. 3) If you were delayed in ordering your books and are afraid they won't be there by the first meeting, plan something else or postpone the meeting. Remember, the program is flexible, so you don't have to do one virtue a month for nine months. It may sound like the perfect plan, but it's only an outline to help you. The first meeting is going to be hectic anyway. Plan a couple of ice breaker games, a short craft, and "getting to know you" activities. It will go much better than handing out loose sheets of photocopied materials. Also, I frequently get calls from leaders wanting me to read them the first lessons' materials so they can plan their meeting. They typically have been busy and forgotten to order the books ahead of time. To teach a lesson with no materials and little forsight does a disservice to the youth. Again, I urge you to postpone your meeting or organize something else until you can receive your materials. By the way, because I, too, am a busy mom, I am unable to read the lessons to each person who asks. Please forgive me.

As the publisher who has taken on the expense of printing this material, I am very grateful to all of you for your time and commitment to our youth. I strive to make the materials as user friendly as possible. I hope all of you have a wonderful year with your groups! God bless you in your work for His work!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Joy for the Asking, Joy for the Keeping

Joy is a vital virtue for a healthy, holy life and that while asking for it might not be a problem on most days - keeping it is another! And reminding ourselves of its importance is key.

And like any other virtue is in the asking and practicing of it that we are able to not only keep it, but keep it well! Jesus reminds of this in Mt. 13:11.“To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
While there are those who will want to believe that this has to do with material goods - from a Catholic perspective we know it has to do with spiritual blessings. The more we practice virtue - faith, hope, love and joy - the more we gain - including the grace which gives us the ability to be more loving, faithful and joyful.
And, if we don’t practice them, so to speak, are we surprised when we don’t have them. This is a basic fact of life. Want muscles?? Exercise. We tell our children that they will know their multiplication facts if they practice them along with their Latin or Spanish verbs. The same is true of virtues - such as joy. If you want it - ask for it and put it into practice.
While we often substitute being happy (an emotion) for being joyful we are not thinking of the emotion but the virtue! For it is virtue we want is it not? It is virtue that will get us into heaven not feelings or emotions.
BUT, this is NOT to say that emotions are bad as they are a part of who we are as people, they are given to us by God however I think we can all agree that they aren’t the most reliable source of information and can often get us into trouble if we act on emotion only without giving some rational thought to our decisions.
Joy is a fruit - growing as a result of the seeds planted by the Holy Spirit. And just like any seed we can either help it grow and flourish or allow it to die. Our lives therefore need to be lived in such a manner that these fruits - joy for our purposes - to not only grow but flourish. Are we living in such a way that we give water and food to the seeds of joy in our lives?
Joy is also an effect of charity - charity being both the acts or feelings of a kindly manner towards others and any subsequent actions we take in their regard - we feel charitably towards those around us, we give charity to those in need and such like. But, charity is also specifically is the divine love, that is, to the love of God for man or the love of man for God. In this way charity is us loving God for His own sake and others account of God.
Joy as a virtue has a few criteria: it is all about the good, and is unrestrained - rejoice in the Lord, always, again I say rejoice, Paul tells us in Phillipians 4:4-5.
So, joy here is the delight our lives should take in knowing that God IS God and He is in control, our Creator, our Father, our source of salvation, He came as a baby, He died on the cross, rose from the dead, gave us the Holy Spirit and remains with us in the Eucharist - and on and on and on. The reasons we can be joyful in God is truly limitless but we still balk at Paul’s admonition to rejoice always.
And speaking of joy in mid-summer seems a bit odd. Joy is something we may only ponder during the Advent and Christmas season when we think angels, stable and Joy to the World! This very mindset is one of our problems with joy as joy needs to be a reality all year long.
It is a recurring theme for Jesus himself who tells us in John 15:
• 7. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
• 8. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
• 9. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
• 10. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.
11. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
But, in reality, we may struggle to find joy in our lives and we would be hardpressed to say that our ‘joy is complete’!!
Now, the dictionary gives us a valid yet simple definition: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. We know what this means - the toddler loses all feelings of joy when a balloon breaks, while our teenagers lose all feelings of joy when a pimple makes an appearance.

This is not to say that these situations are not a cause for sadness and appropriate for the kids at their ages but we - as adults - need to be able to learn how to develop real joy and then learn how to keep it regardless of situation!
Remember our friend, St. Paul? We just spent a year celebrating him and his writings but let’s be honest - some of what he asks just downright impossible! Rejoice always!!? Our lives seem way too complicated and full of struggle to say we can rejoice always and that maintain that fullness of joy Jesus asks, doesn’t it? But, if He says it, the Holy Spirit provides it as a fruit and Paul, along with our Church, calls us to it, it must be do-able. God never promises what He doesn’t provide and never asks of us what we cannot achieve - so what’s the problem??
First - we need to stop allowing joy to remain either just a feeling that comes and goes based on our mood, emotions and yes - women - our month!! Second, we need to pull joy off the Christmas card and put it in our daily to do list.
As I mentioned before joy needs to be a reality that we know - know, deep and strong - that God is God and He loves us more than we can ever realize. The quote that comes from John is in the midst of Jesus’ Last Supper discourse. His lengthy talk with his disciples the eve before He is led off to torture and death. He manages to talk of JOY on the evening before He knows He is to die a most miserable death. If He can manage that, we need to manage to be joyful when our lives are a struggle.
If you need to take a look at the context of the quote on joy - other quotes in that same part of John’s gospel we hear Jesus tell us: Trust in God still and trust in me (14:1), Whatever you ask in my name I will do (14:13), Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me; and anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love Him and show myself to him. (14:21) and continues on for three more chapters. In John we have four chapters of Jesus outlining who we are - part of Him, we are branches to His vine, all that He is giving us - the Holy Spirit and all that He is preparing for us - there are many rooms in my Father’s house! How can we NOT be joyful!!
Joy is the knowledge and the feelings we then get, in knowing that everything is in God’s hands. He knows what He is doing, He does see you and does care - deeply - about what happens to you and your family.
So - we know there are infinite reasons to find and keep joy but we still may struggle. These struggles are often due to challenges with both our personality and our perspective.
Being able to find joy is more often than not, an aspect of our personality while keeping joy is most often linked to perspective.
Just a little bit about personalities. While we are all made in the image and likeness of God, we are not all the same. One could even joke that it seems that the nursery rhyme about girls being made of sugar and spice and boys made of snips and snails is true, while some of us are made from prickly pears and others made of whipped cream fighting hard to stand up.
The study of personality types is well-founded from the Greeks to Thomas Aquinas to, most recently, Art and Laraine Bennett. This is not so say personalities are the be all, end all and decide all about us, but they are a part of who we are. Our personalities can make finding and keeping joy relatively easy or extremely difficult.
There is no shame is admitting this. Some people struggle in asking for anything - much less virtues - and others find it hard to admit that they need to, while others seems to do both more easily.
However - being will to ask for what you lack is absolutely necessary for obtaining joy or any other virtue. There is the admonition to Know Thyself, Accept Thyself, Better Thyself. If you refuse to admit that you struggle with patience, for example, you are not going to pray for it which is what you need to do and what your spouse and children are hoping you WILL do.
We are all not given every gift, every virtue in equal proportion. This is not your fault but rather a flaw in the design if you will. It is how God made us, for His purpose and we must know it - accept and then work on the better-ing part. Reread the parable of the talents beginning in Matthew 25:14 if you need to remember this or Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 12:28 NIV
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues..
We are not all the same in God’s eyes and for His purpose.
If it is hard to find or see joy in your life - admit it. Ask for the joy you need. While some of us can find joy in almost any situation, others struggle seeing it on the best of days. Ask God to increase it and then rely on Him doing it. If we want to spin out joy as the fruit of the Holy Spirit analogy - some of us were given a watermelon of joy while others were given a lemon and we all know what we are asked to do with lemons - don’t we?? Start asking God to help you start making some lemonade!!
One way to increase your ability to see joy is to increase the amount of praising you do. Not just PRAY-ING but PRAISE-ING.
We all know that Catholics aren’t perfect, we’ve got flaws by the bucket load and one of our flaws is that we can become very routine in our prayer life. If you recognize that you can’t ‘see’ joy easily, add a dimension of praise to your prayer life. Praise is a time of prayer when you aren’t asking God for anything for you or others, just giving Him the praise that is due Him because He is God. Remember joy is a result of that love we have for God because He IS God - praise gives us the chance to both tell Him and remind ourselves.
In our Catholic faith we have some great canticles of praise - canticle of Zechariah, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people to set them free!” The Magnificat is another canticle of praise, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior!” As well as the Te Deum is an ancient prayer of praise - “You are God; we praise you: You are the Lord: we acclaim you.”
Praise is ancient from the Israelites who sang praise to God in the Psalms such as the calming, Ps. 23 “ The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” to Ps. 104, “Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord, my God, you are great indeed! You are clothed with majesty and glory. “
This praising fulfills the first obligation in the acronym of JOY. Are you familiar with this? Joy standing for Jesus - Others - You. If we put our attentions in that order - taking care of Jesus and His needs first, then others and ourselves last - we will gain joy. Taking time, each day, to praise Jesus is a first great step to opening ourselves to seeing more joy in our lives and then keeping it there. Don’t let you pray time become just a recitation of a list of what God needs to do, or what you want Him to do but make sure to give ample time to just giving God what He is due - praise for all His wonderfulness.
The other aspect of asking for and finding joy is the need we all have to gain some perspective on life. You should neither expect life to be easy but it is also not - excuse my boldness - hell. Life is not easy, it is a challenge, but you are up for the task and have all you need. Life is after all our only path to heaven and as such it is a daily opportunity to know, love and serve God better. However, too often we can refuse to ask for joy because it just doesn’t seem to fit into our lives.
Joy seems impossible to have when the world is so out of whack. Do we even have a right to joy when there are decisions being made in Washington, DC that are in direct opposition to Jesus? We have friends who are struggling with jobs, sickness, we can see the evening news and see every reason NOT to be joyful, don’t we? But, we do have a right to joy. We have a right to joy of remembering that God is God and despite all that we endure, see, hear and experience He is returning.
Jesus himself knows that there are many forces out there ready to steal the gifts that He has given - including joy. In the Last Supper discourses He tells us - “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you” (15:18). He warns the disciples there of the deaths they will face because of Him. A life with Christ do not exclude us from sorrow and sadness - some would say it guarantees it. Even Paul who talks about rejoicing always will tells us in Romans 9:2 that his sorrow and anguish are unending! Do not feel you cannot ask for joy in midst of the sorrows of the world or your life but see joy as part of the strength you need to endure - for Jesus also says, “Be brave, for I have conquered the world.”
True joy is not asking you to pretend life is always easy but offers you the support you need to get through the difficulties that are bound to come! While I am an unabashed Pollyanna in real life - I know of which I speak - my life has had its own set of struggles just as yours has. There isn’t one among us here who hasn’t faced a struggle, endured a challenge or even perhaps faced death itself. Jesus knew this and gave us joy as a remedy to the sadness that is bound to come.
So, we have decided to ask for joy and are taking time to praise God in response for that gift but keeping it is an whole ‘nother problem. And, there is much more equality here - for while some of us find asking for and finding joy easier than others -- we all seem pretty good at losing it.
One of the first ways to keep joy is much like the finding of it - admission to yourself that joy is there regardless of your struggles.
Let us never think that anyone with more money, bigger house, better clothes, better kids, better anything has a guaranteed more joyful life - they might find it easier to pay their bills or look nicer going out but may face challenges we never will.
And, we must also admit that for most of the people outside the United States life is much, much more challenging than we will ever know. I say this not to dismiss your difficulties but to give us all a bit of perspective and strength. Keeping perspective on your life is vital to developing and keeping joy.
I have two suggestions here to help you gain some better perspective. Fulfilling the acronym of JOY -Jesus, Others, You - one is for someone else but one is for you.
We can truly gain strength and grace and keep joy for our own struggles if we join them with others. The majority of the world struggles with a poverty we will never know and the real threat of death not only from diseases we have cures for but war. With that in mind, gain some joy by thinking of others.
Concretely helping others in need - with prayers, time, talents or treasures - is a surefire way to keep you joyful. This goes back to the aspect of charity - the source of joy - that I spoke of in the beginning. Being good to others will bring you joy! Guaranteed.
One idea might be spiritual adoption. Throughout my life, I’ve had a love for ‘pagan babies’. Does anyone else remember that extremely politically incorrect name from Catholic elementary schools? In my own school, the boys and girls were forever in competition with each other for who could bring in enough pennies and nickels to adopt a pagan baby. As an adult and then parent I would think back on those days or see the info-mercials on the programs and wonder about doing it again. But, quite honestly, our budget is too tight for that. Then on one rather difficult day I was whining and complaining interiorly about how hard my life was, I had this blast of an image of a mother far away really, truly struggling. I saw no faces, heard no voices but I knew that no matter how hard my life was there was - as my mother used to say to me ‘starving children in China (or India, or even America). The thought and image of these mothers and their children took my breath away and I realized I have nothing to complain about!
On my worst days, when I really think I need to consider a different life I take a moment and say a pray for a mother far away who is not struggling with a child who can’t choose between grape and strawberry jelly but with a child who hasn’t had food in days. Remembering these families in faith who are really struggling can help us realize that allowing our joy to leak out due a toddler’s tantrum or a slow line of traffic shows a lack of perspective. Consider spiritually adopting another family - though you may never know their names and offer up your struggles for theirs. Doing so will bring you joy and them much needed support and grace.
Another concrete way to keep joy is remember why you should be joyful. This one is for you - finally, it is all about you! Take some time in the next few days (or at least before school starts) to make your own personal list of Reasons to be Joyful. While the virtue of joy which is often confused with the emotion of happiness and while they are not the same and not always interchangeable we all do it, don’t we??
They are linked in live aren’t they? When we are happy it is easier to see and feel joy isn’t it? And, honestly there is nothing wrong with that as it a part of who we are as people.
The list I am asking you to make is to take an assessment of who you are as a person - your personality and what makes you so happy that it sinks deep into your skin and into your very soul. That feeling of happiness that makes you think of God and His goodness and all He has done for you - the happy things in your life that lead you to the deepness of joy.
Remember, our feelings are a gift from God and we need to use them well. They can be abused or they can be used. Abusing our feelings is to allow them to control us or to ignore them in our lives. Using them well is allowing them to spur us on to action, or help us to stay in love.
So, put your emotions and feelings to good use and make a long list of everything that makes you feel joyful! Your marriage (I hope), your kids (even when they aren’t behaving), how about fresh baked cookies, an unexpected gift in the mail or news of a friend’s healing. You can begin with Jesus - start with being a Catholic. Make a list of the profoundness of the salvation story that inspires you. The Bible is written down for this very purpose - for reminding us of the how, who, what and why of our faith.
Be sure to include those things that are specific to you and what you like - waterfalls, working with wood or making a really nice quilt? Making such a personal list and looking at it, more than once in a while, adding to it on a regular basis will help you keep joy more on the surface of your soul and not so hidden down. This list might find a place on your fridge or in your prayer journal. A place where you can remember all the reasons you have to be joyful, all the reasons you can offer praise to God and helps you develop an eye out for the joy that is to come.
So - we’ve found joy - now comes the real work - keeping joy -
This is the real challenge isn’t it? Most of us wake up in relatively good moods - all is well and we are going to do remarkable things with our day - then, as the joke goes, the rest of the world wakes up. IF everyone would do as we say, IF God would just stop testing us, IF other people would just get out of our way everything would be just fine - our moods would remain joyful and all would be right with the world!!
BUT that is not how it goes is it? If our joy is lost - is it some one else’s fault or our own?
There are many ways to lose joy (or patience or peace) but there are some specific situations that might cause you to lose grip of joy specifically -
Joy once had is often lost through the deadly sin of envy.
Deadly sin reminder time - Envy "occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.”
This breaking of the 10th commandment makes us reluctant to see joy or be joyful when others have more than us, have good things happen to them or any other reason. To keep joy, keep a very close eye on your envy bone. If you find yourself envious of what others have or gain - take it to confession - again and again as necessary. Envy wants to steal your joy - to pluck this fruit from your tree so to speak. The snake in the garden again. Don’t let it happen.
One way to crush this snake is to go out of your way to offer congratulations for others’ good fortune. While it may not be possible to send out a card of congrats to the big lottery winner while you shred your losing ticket, you can offer up a prayer of thanksgiving on their behalf with the hope they spend the money well.
Another key to keeping joy is to guard it as you would your child’s innocence. In our current society, we know we need to be diligent in what our children see, hear and experience in order to help them remain as chaste and pure as God intends. This isn’t easy, is it but we wouldn’t hand over our children’s modesty or purity would we??
But, we can regularly hand over our joy - our feelings of contentment with the world and with God - to strangers on the street, the newscaster on the TV and the e-mail inbox.
Think about it - you receive a junk e-mail, you know the ones that demand you send this on to 10 friends, say this specific prayer 15 times or risk death itself if not the outrage of the Blessed Mother? What do you do? If you’re me, your heart sinks, you hate this, you are angry you received it and then you think God doesn’t work like this!!! But still, you wonder.....and you send it. This type of superstition, along with doomdays news casts are attempts to make you forget that God is in charge - and God is in charge - not you, not an e-mail and not a declaration from anyone about climate change.
Guard yourself. What occurs during your day that really feels like an attack to you? What are you sensitive to that goes deep past just your emotions and into your soul? Knowing we have different personalities, we also have different triggers in this regard.
Is the attack coming from the news, your emails, a certain friend or magazine? If you can determine what causes you to feel drained of all joy and avoid it. Don’t give in to it. Just as you wouldn’t allow your children to see an improper movie, don’t ever, ever send your joy into a situation where it couldn’t survive.
You also need to keep perspective on what you allow to take either your joy or even your happiness throughout the day. The best way to keep joy throughout the day is to have a plan to face the day. Just as I asked you to make the list of what makes you joyful - take a look at your typical day and see where your joy seems to leak out and wane.
Dinner time? Teaching Math? Calling in on your ailing mother? For most of us, we do pretty well until faced with a situation we don’t like but have to do anyway. Or we do pretty well until faced with a situation we didn’t have planned or BOTH! The bottom line is once more Jesus, Others, and You.
But we forget, often forget, that all we do - everytime we do it, we have the chance to do it for Christ. The fifteenth time we’ve tied a shoe, the fourth time we’ve cooked macaroni and cheese this week can all be for Christ if we so choose.
The homeschooling we do on a daily basis and the hours it takes are for Christ, for His Kingdom and the saints He has asked us to form. We can either allow all that we do to be a source of frustration or not.
Joy is not happiness but keeping joy - keeping Jesus front and center - does help in keeping you happy as well. So when I said that we need to put joy in our planner - do it. Write down joy every day - Jesus, Others and You and you’ll find yourself serving Christ - in your children - more and ‘those kids who keep interrupting you’ less. You will find you patient with your husband with whom you share a sacrament rather than upset with the guy who drops his socks on the floor.
You will discover that by focusing on all the reasons you have for real joy you’ll not be as prone to complaining, yelling and in general being less joyful. Joy - and all the other fruits of the Holy Spirit and virtues - don’t like being around the weeds of sin and if we focus more on the those they will begin to force the weeds out of our garden.

Pray to see and strive to see all that happens as from Christ and you will keep the joy you have. From the planned misery of the math test or dinner prep to the unexpected car trouble - each is a chance to either allow Jesus to work with us or do it alone. Keeping your joy means keeping Jesus first. Helping our children with math fulfills our duty before God, serving them dinner is a chance to serve Christ himself. Seemingly simple, seemingly so spiritual but so simply true!
Keeping Joy is most often the work of keeping Jesus first in our lives. This will not guarantee you perfect days, it will not guarantee you perfect kids or perfect anything. You will encounter moments of suffering, sorrow and sacrifice. You will be asked to do things you thought you’d never do, but do them you will!
Keeping joy will just help your days be easier in that you will begin to focus more on Christ and less on you and that is really what matters isn’t?

Monday, July 20, 2009

New Year of the Priest Incentive

Behold Children, Behold Christ programs celebrate “The Year of the Priest!”
It is truly fabulous that our Holy Father has given us such a wonderful year to celebrate! While many of us gained new knowledge of St. Paul and many graces from committing more time to studying his letters and life; the “Year of the Priest” seems much more approachable. I will admit that—having a brother who is a priest (currently serving as a military chaplain), as well as a son discerning the same vocation—I am more than a bit biased.
With this mandate from our Holy Father, we have created the following “bonus” activity. Not a virtue, but adding this to your program will certainly help the children grow in virtue as they discover the gift that the priesthood is to our faith and our families.
If you decide to take advantage of this, here is a new list of activities (there are 12 to chose from rather than the traditional 10 in honor of the 12 first priests/apostles), to complete it as you would any of the other virtues. Make a decision on what your member or group (based on age and ability as with all Behold Children, Behold Christ programs) can complete. The first three activities are * as it would be expected that all members would complete these.
Upon completion, you can receive a special recognition prayer card and a medal of St. John Vianney, the patron of the Year of the Priest, to commemorate your participation in this holy year. Also available at are award certificates, or if you prefer you can create something of your own.
The following can be downloaded as a .pdf from the website:
Memory verse: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you.’” Jn. 2:5
1. *Memorize the verse above as a sign of your own respect and love for the priesthood. For while
they are not perfect, they are Christ for us here on earth.
2. * Commit to saying the Prayer for the Priest as suggested by our bishops during this year to
spiritually support all priests throughout the world. Perhaps you could add it to your family
rosary, say it together after your Sunday Mass, or after dinner each evening. You can find the
prayer at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website (
3. *Send a letter of thanks to your parish priests thanking them for their commitment to your parish.
4. Contact your parish priest (or other priest you may know) and ask for permission to interview
him. Ask him about his ‘job’ and what he does. Ask about his vocation and how it came about.
What can you discover that you never knew about priests? After the interview, write up what you
discovered in the form of a newspaper column and give it to the priest as a thank you. Or you
could seek permission to create a display that could be exhibited at your parish. (This could be
done as a group if desired with each member asking questions.)
5. Contact your diocesan vocation office or military chaplain’s offices ( Inquire
to see if there are any needs with which your group could assist them. Perhaps you could develop
a pen pal program, a fundraiser, or collection of needed supplies. If nothing is available, create a
spiritual bouquet and send it to the office (or seminary) requesting it be shared with those under
their care.
6. Ask your parents about the priests who married them and performed sacraments such as Baptism
or First Communion for your family. If possible, locate these priests and give them news of the
family and how you are doing. Thank them for helping your family in their faith journey. If this
is not possible, say a rosary in their honor and ask the Blessed Mother to grant them grace and
7. Choose one of the many saint priests. Read their biography and share it with your group. Having
an evening of discovery of the many priests who are also saints.
8. Priests give up a great deal of serve Christ and Christ alone. There have been priests who were
once doctors, scientists, and great athletes. Some of these men were able to continue their work
as priest while others gave everything up to follow Jesus. Investigate some of these extraordinary
men, and create a display honoring their work. Perhaps there is one such man in your own parish
or diocese?
9. There are many good movies that give tribute to the sacrifices and work of good priests (such as
The Scarlet and the Black or Boy’s Town). Have a movie night and watch one as a group.
Consider inviting your parish priests to enjoy it with you.
10. Using Catholic apologetic material or books, explore the scripture verses that show the
establishment of the priesthood in the Catholic Church. These include: Lk 16:24, 1 Cor. 4:15,
Mt. 19:12, Jn. 20:22-23, Acts 19:18, Mt. 16:18, and Lk. 22:23. Create an apologist’s brief in
defense of the priesthood to give to all the members of your group.
11. Priests come from families just like yours. Praying for an increase in vocations and a generosity
from many families is key. Many dioceses have Eucharistic adoration, contact those in charge
and inquire if time could be dedicated to praying for vocations. Help them advertise this addition
as a part of this year’s celebration. In addition, make a commitment as a family to pray for
vocations regularly during family prayer time.
12. Participate as a family or a group in one of the programs your own parish/diocese is doing to
honor this year. Send a thank you to the organizers of the event afterwards and let them know
you appreciate their service. OR Fulfill the necessary obligations to receive the indulgences
attached to this holy year as prescribed. You can find the list of indulgences on the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops website at

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fundraising Opportunity

We've just put up a new website to help your clubs afford to pay for books, badges, sashes and shirts.

Basically, all the information is on the new fundraising website:

Here's how it is going to work:

1.) Register your group on the site's registration form.

2) Get a customer login and password by return email

3) pass the email with the customer login, password and fundraising website to club members, families and friends.

4.) When they purchase books from the fundraising website you earn 40% of that sale as a credit toward your club's purchases of supplies on the entire Ecce Homo Press website.

5. Once a month, you'll receive a gift certificate for 40% of your month's sales to use at

Please see the fundraising site for more details and information.

God bless you in your work for His work!
Joan Stromberg

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Group Service Project

I loved reading this article about the Pittston, PA Little Flowers Girls' Club service project. Way to go girls! Click here to read the article:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Avoiding Burn-Out

With summer upon us and many groups on ‘vacation,’ you may be looking back at the past year with relief that it is finally over, or anticipating next year with a sense of dread. If this is true for you, you may have a case of burnout. Whether it is family life, homeschooling, or Little Flowers/Blue Knights, burnout can be a real struggle. I know - I’ve been through it in all of this situations mentioned above at one point or another.

Burnout is described as physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. But even without Webster’s definition, we all know it when we see it in others but often don’t realize when it hits us - until it is too late.

But it can happen and sometimes does. I hope it offers you some comfort to know that burnout happens to the best (and worst) of us. I also hope it offers you additional comfort to know that burnout doesn’t have to happen. And lastly, if it should happen, it says nothing about who you are as a person (or Catholic). We are flawed people reaching out for the grace of God in all circumstances and sometimes our arms fall a bit short. We also need to realize Satan is never idle, and the stress and overwork that causes the burnout often has his dirty fingerprints all over it.

Through burnout Satan makes us feel either incompetent or inferior - two adjectives that should never be used when talking about a child of God. However, consider your own experience with burnout. Did you refuse to admit it could be happening to you and attempt to muscle through the difficulty with your sheer will and some extra prayer? Or did you crumble under it and refuse to undertake any similar work or activity again?

The first approach - muscling through - is the inferiority complex of burnout. You are only burning out because you don’t pray enough, pray the right prayer, or commit yourself to the right mix of prayer, sacrifice, and sacrament. In this model burnout doesn’t happen to ‘good’ Catholics so there must be something wrong with you.

The second approach - crumbling - is the incompetency complex. You obviously aren’t holy enough, fit enough, smart enough, or whatever enough to be doing this (whatever ‘this’ is!). You are not the person for the job and God will just have find someone else.

Neither of these are true. Burnout happens for many reasons as mentioned above - how do you define stress and overwork? I often call it - Life!

In the end, regardless of how burnout makes you feel, whatever brought you to burnout needs to be addressed. Burnout is not your ‘fault’ but perhaps you can put into place a few key resolutions to prevent it from happening again (or in the first place!).

Don’t go it alone. Take the advice of Christ himself who sent out his own disciples in pairs. When starting any group (either LF or BK), insist on help. Have a sign-up sheet at the first meetings of organization and insist that everyone find somewhere to help. It can be as simple as providing the snacks or picking up the craft supplies. While many groups run their meetings as drop-off meeting, it should be expected that one or two parents stay to help out. These parents need not be leaders, unless they want to, but having an extra set of hands and eyes is always welcome. There is a place for everyone to help; encourage their participation with reminders of the Christian call to helping. You are, after all, not even asking for their coat, just an hour or so of their time!

Accept the reality that others will help to the best of their ability and with their own strengths with no detrimental effect on the group. Allow other parents to bring their own talents and temperaments. They may be louder than you or more sedate. They may prefer to work straight from the book while you work more loosely. You may wish that every snack be homemade and they bring pretzels and juice boxes. The girls will gain a great deal from a variety of techniques and seeing others in action. It may not be way you like things to be done but it is not the “wrong way.” Accept gratefully and charitably the help that is offered with no criticisms, unless errors in Church teaching occur.

In a group setting, rules must be established addressing how inappropriate behavior or activity will be handled. Burnout often happens because of the stress from meetings that are not the places of fun and faith they ought to be. It can be awkward when you find yourself having to correct children that aren’t your own. Making it clear beforehand with all of the parents of what behaviors are expected can help prevent, reduce (and hopefully eliminate) any problems.
Feel free to step back from the guidelines for the programs and have meetings that are just fun and games. If you are feeling overwhelmed due to a belief you need to do every activity or every craft, the children are going to sense that. Scheduling an occasional meeting or gathering for a good movie, games, or a trip to a local zoo will be appreciated by everyone.

Finally (and firstly), be sure to dedicate your program, the families, and children involved to the protection and watchful eye of God. Whenever you are striving for holiness, Satan (as mentioned before) is surely twitching. Making sure to always pray before planning any meetings, starting any meeting, and ending every meeting will afford you the grace you need to run a program that is fun and inspiring for both the children and the adults involved!

Burnout is not inevitable but should not be unexpected. Putting into place some strong foundational expectations before meetings begin will help them from developing any stress fractures or crumbling all together.

God Bless,
Rachel Watkins

Friday, May 29, 2009

New England Conference

Come visit Ecce Homo Press at the New England Catholic Homeschool Conference in Chicopee, MA on June 6th and save! Conference goers save 15% on all materials and get free shipping on supplies they wish shipped to their homes.

This conference is a perfect opportunity to check out new items, stock up for next year and get catalogs and materials to help build your club for the coming year.

If you plan on stocking up for the next year's clubs, just shoot me an email ( and I'll make sure I have the supplies you need. See you in New England!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hello Western New York!!

Gonna shuffle my way to Buffalo this weekend for the Buffalo Catholic Home Schooling Conference at Christ the King Seminary.

If you are attending please stop and say hello!!  I'll have more to write upon return - lots of stories to tell about recent Watkins' travels and more.

Be assured of our prayers!!  God Bless!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Beautiful Sacred Heart tye-dye shirts

This is from Lara in MO--Thanks for sharing, Lara!

Our Little Flowers tye dyed t-shirts with hearts this past Friday then I embelished them with fabric markers to make the hearts into Sacred Hearts. The backs will be Immaculate Hearts but I returned home from Michael’s with fabric markers to find out they were dried out and unusable L

We used directions and supplies from this kit: includes the book with instructions for doing a heart. VERY easy!!! We had kids from age 4- 13 and so far I have not heard of one that did not turn out. I used yellow, orange, and black fabric markers to embellish the Sacred Heart. I had a purple one to add a wound to the heart but that was one that was dried out. I will use purple to put dark roses on the Immaculate Hearts (you could use pink dye instead… do NOT let yourself be limited by our photos, I just used what was in the kit I received but the dyes are quite inexpensive once you have all the supplies. I found 2.5 gallon blue buckets for the soda ash bath at Walmart in the automotive dept. for $1.25 each).

I also have metallic silver fabric marker to put a sword piercing the Immaculate Hearts. I will try to post photos of that when they are complete.
Lara in MO

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mother's Day is Coming, I am heading North

 I am heading off this weekend to see my three older children, all pursuing/discerning religious life up in the New England area.  Now, before I hear any 'aah, you must be so proud', which I am, there also comes a mistaken belief that this is somehow due to my parenting.  

I want to make it perfectly clear here that Matt and I have always felt that the path our children are undertaking have been in spite of our parenting and not because of it.  Honestly, just ask any of my kids. 

But, I also know that Matt and I have done a few things that are worth sharing that might help you and your family:

-Give God permission - daily - to have full access to your children.  This sounds so basic, but many parents are resistant to a religious vocation in their family.  There may be many reasons for this but they need to be examined and set aside.  God gave you your children and His plan for them - including religious life - is what will make them happy.  Don't you want happy kids?

-Show a great love and respect for religious life in your home.  Don't speak harshly or negatively about religious.  This isn't to say that you and your spouse might have discussions about real situations and concerns about the leadership in your parish or other issues but not in front of the kids.

-See religious life as a viable vocation.  You shouldn't/can't push your child into religious life as they will end up resenting you and the Church but you should certainly open the door as you are the only one who can.  Middle school or high school guidance counselors aren't likely to bring it up on career day are they?

-Ask Mary and Joseph to help you raise your kids.  They did a good job w/ their boy Jesus didn't they?  You can trust them with your own.

There is an obvious need for vocations.  God is still calling; He is just hoping someone will be listening and will answer "yes" when He calls.

So, I'm off.  Look for a new post next week and I'll let you all know what a great time I had.  God Bless, Rachel

Friday, May 1, 2009

Curbing our complaints

Let's face it - we have little to complain about.  I was pondering this reality as I was wiping up another mess, taking a child back to the doctor for a recheck on a broken elbow and wondering where was the best price for gas as it seems to be inching back up.

I found myself whining a bit - okay, a lot - when I heard God sigh.  Not really, but figuratively.  It was as if I could sense Him presence near me as I wiped and He was more than a little disappointed.  In my ear, I could hear Him say - "So what?!"  I sat back on my heels.  Did I just hear what I thought I did?  No words of comfort for my struggles, no sweet words of understanding just a shrug of the shoulders and a quite firm (yet, fatherly), "So what???"

I got it!  So what, if I have all that and more.  So what if I am being put out by these small tasks.  Sure, they were drudgery and sure they were annoying but SO WHAT!

Now, I may have blogged about this already (and have forgotten) but if so, it only goes to show that I have yet to climb out of this current rut of sin I have found myself in.  So, I will offer once again, the challenge to myself (and anyone else who wants to join me) that when life seems to be a struggle just step back, take another look and say - out loud - so what?!  

If what you are going through truly matters, and it may very well, then take a minute to ask for the grace and understanding to tackle it.  If it isn't a big deal, and often isn't, give yourself a shake by the collar and get to the job of life.  But without the complaints, please.  As I am sure now from my own experience that God would prefer not to hear them.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gathering Together - Helping Together

There is much to be said about the joy, fun and strength that can be had from gathering together.  You can see why Jesus sent his first followers out in pairs.  Everything is more enjoyable and more bearable when it is shared.  As our mothers and grandmothers were quick to remind us - "Many hands make light the work!"  

Such is true in life and in families, homeschooling and Little Flowers.  While I realize many great families are doing LF on their own, there are some really neat groups out there.  I had the chance to meet some of them in New Jersey this past weekend.  They are so enthusiastic, generous and inspiring.

When LF first began over ten years ago, little did I imagine it would become what it has.  Little Flowers also revealing the truth of the adage as it is also the work of many hands - from Joan Stromberg and Tracy Trembley to many others.  

It has also been proven by the spiritual help given from the Holy Spirit to the Blessed Mother to St. Therese herself by way of inspiration and direction.  There is also the watchful eye of God the loving Father.  Proving once again - 'many hands make light the work' - even if those hands are heavenly hands never actually seen but felt.  Hands and help felt strongly and powerfully, especially when time is spent with others who have the same love for Little Flowers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why don't we believe God??

I have been very, very busy being a Mom lately.  Last week I spent every day, yes - every day, every single day at the doctor's.  With eight kids at home, all of whom displaying a new and different respiratory virus, I didn't want to take any chances.  So, a few children at a time and finishing up with four on Friday - two for a first time, two for a recheck of their chest I put in more than my fair share of elevator miles.  My kids had not been sick for over a year so we hadn't been in awhile and my doctor is great, patient and I love her.  

But still.....there were twinges of sort of guilt about what I was doing.  The back and forth driving, the parking as well as the relying on oldest daughter at home to help w/ babysitting.  It was an exhausting week as it finally came to a close.  As I was falling asleep on Friday, I couldn't help but wonder, "What did I get done this week???"

Great spiritual writers such as St. Francis de Sales would say I was being holy.  His treasure "Conformity to God's Will" says as much.  Other great works such as "Abandonment to Divine Providence" speak of the holiness of the moment.  The saint who sweeps the floor of her hut because that is what needed at the moment and it is done well and with acceptance.

But I balk at that.  I rarely think that what I do as a Mom is worthy of being called "holy" but I assured by God and great writers through the centuries that it is.  Holiness is not perfection but being set aside for God and God's purpose.  And what greater purpose is there of 'laying down one's life for another'?  Even if that laying down is nothing more than driving a 15 passenger van back and forth, and back and forth to the doctor's, the pharmacy and then home.

Motherhood has many moments of such holiness.  Perhaps they are small and hidden but they are there all the same.  What I do will never garner the recognition that the work of Blessed Mother Teresa or Blessed Edith Stein but am I doing what I do for the world's accolades or God's smile of approval.  "This is my daughter, with whom I am well pleased."

I hope that at some point during last week (and today for that matter), He gave St. Michael a nudge in the side and said, "See, that Rachel???  Boy, she is making me proud!"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Gift of Catholic Woman and Mother

Upon reading Mulieris Dignitatem , the urgent words I heard ringing in my ears, and soul, were not even in the document itself. But I could clearly hear the encouragement of its author, Pope John Paul II, who proclaimed to us, “Be Not Afraid!” and from Scripture, “If Christ is for us, who can be against us?” These words of encouragement support the tone of this document which should serve as clear outline of the mission God has asked of women.

When this letter was written, I was barely four years into my marriage and approaching my first year as a mother. I will sadly admit that I was not active enough in the Church to even know of its existence. But discovering it now, at its 20th anniversary, results in a poignancy I would not have appreciated had I read it back in 1988. Suffice it to say, I have grown in my acceptance and understanding of the wisdom of my Church, and having Mulieris Dignitatem now, brings more meaning and import than it would have at its first proclamation. For now I am the mother of 11, 7 of whom are daughters. While not neglecting the weight of this letter on my husband and sons, its obvious impact is on me and my daughters.

As is so often the case when it comes to the wisdom of the Church, the solutions often come before the problems are even seen. Over the past 20 years, our society has been assaulted in ways not seen by the Pope at the letter’s writing. There was no internet, cable television had fewer options and the arguments of today on stem cell research and same sex marriage may have taken place behind closed doors but not on the front page. This list could go on and on, but we all know the crusade we face as parents – especially as Catholic parents-- so it is not necessary to lament the problems. Within this letter comes the reminder and encouragement for us as women to know that we have all need for the battles ahead of us – we need not be afraid.

Within the document we see our role models, women who have come before us who have fought their battles and won. With their example, and their heavenly support, we can do the same. It is as if we walk in the same garden as Eve facing serpents with lies and temptations to trust the words of the world rather than the wisdom of the creator. In addition, we battle against centuries of individuals, societies and governments who would place women as second-class citizens incapable of being vital enough for basic rights much less roles of responsibility. But God sees not as man sees and knows we were created for His purpose and His purpose alone. We need to remember that. We can still believe that the battles we face as women, and in particular as mothers, are too much for us to handle. There are too many lies out there that are stronger than we are. We must believe and know that they are false. We need to reflect on the roles of women who encountered Jesus throughout His lifetime on earth and know that at any given moment we can be called to be as they were. We must not remain as Eve, believing the snake but take the promise of God that the serpent’s head would be crushed.

Throughout the document, we are told of the roles we are called to fulfill for God, but we also hear of His abiding and lasting trust in our ability to do it. He has not called women to missions impossible but to challenges we are capable of fulfilling with His grace and His guidance.

At any point in our lives – young or old – we are asked to fulfill God’s plan by taking an active part in it. We are not to shy away from it, believing our critics who see our tenderness as weakness and our femininity as detriment rather than a compliment. We are called to be mothers like His Mother, whether by birth or by action, to care for those around us. This should not be seen as a burden but as a sharing in creation with God himself, in a manner only we can accomplish. Only we can carry life and give birth and that capacity, even if it is not fulfilled biologically, accords us graces that men do not share. Our gifts from God are merely different but remain equal. Women are a specific creation of God not an afterthought.

We are called to serve others and sit at His knee. We are at times Mary and at times, Martha. We are his witness, like the woman at the well, telling all those around us about Jesus, who knows our lives and has the water of everlasting life. We are His herald, like the woman at the tomb, perhaps being as she was, the first one to announce to someone that “I have seen Him. He is alive’. And we are called to stand at the foot of His cross, sharing in the pain of others, willing to be with them as they carry their crosses, face their struggles, and, perhaps, even their death.

All of these can seem like too much for anyone to bear, but we are not alone. God is with us, and we must not be afraid. God has entrusted us with these roles, and He will not abandon us to attempt to complete them without His help. This trust rings so clearly throughout the document. It is what can give us the encouragement and strength we need when we face the challenges of being a mother in the 21st century. I have women in heaven praying for me and giving me support, including Eve who is looking down on us, pleading and begging with us not to take the same path that she did. It is if she is asking for my forgiveness. ‘I am sorry I lost the garden for you, don’t lose heaven as well,’ she begs. For within the roles I can be asked to do as a woman, especially as a mother, I am to point out the snakes hidden in the garden.

I will not be another Eve – I will not let the lies reach my ears and certainly not the ears of my children. My role as a woman today to be another-Eve in imitation of Mary. I need to see the temptations for what they are. I need to call lies – lies and truth – truth. I need to teach my children and those in my life to do the same. My encouragement from Mulieris Dignitatem is one of a battle cry tempered by a lullaby. I have been given a mission by God and I have the delicacy of my nature to fulfill it. I need to strive to be worthy of the trust God has in all women and teach my children to do the same.
God bless, Rachel Watkins