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

Monday, April 20, 2009

Are you near New Jersey???

I am excited to attending the Chaplet Homeschooling Conference this weekend - the 25th - on behalf of Ecce Homo Press.  If you are near the area, please make plans to come by and say hello!

I will also be attending the Quiet Waters event up in Buffalo, NY (we'll be having a small LF time set aside to meet and greet each other) and the Family Learning Center event in Lancaster, PA (I'll be speaking here as well as trying to arrange a LF event as part of the picnic on Friday).

I'm writing this on the fly, so specific websites aren't readily available but I'll post those tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Walking w/ Jesus along the road to Emmaus

I am always a little surprised by today's Gospel reading which begins:

Luke 24:13-35
That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

They were walking away from Jerusalem!  Away!  After hearing about His resurrection they still had too many doubts, worries or concerns to stay.  But Jesus would not let them get away that easily - He went after them, asking them questions to bring them back to the truths they just couldn't see.  We don't know why they couldn't recognize Jesus, just as we don't know why Mary couldn't see Him at the tomb.  We can be so surprised at their actions but why?  Aren't we guilty of some of the same actions?  

We walk away even when we know He is risen.  We forget all we know as situations seems too overwhelming, too difficult to understand or handle.  We walk away....

But He will not let us get away so easily and He shows us as He showed them:

With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the Eleven and those with them who were saying, "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!" Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

When you doubt, seek Him in the bread and wine.  Seek Him in the Tabernacle and know that there your heart will burn with the truth He wishes to speak to you.  

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Triduum in our house...

Under normal circumstances our house has pretty specific Holy Week-Triduum activities.  This year however, we are dealing with illness with 3-4 of my kids (depending on the day!).    But, I would like to share what we will be trying to do - with at least a few of the kids who are healthy and what we have done in the past.

In addition to our parish activities, in our house we will say the Stations of the Cross as a family on Friday.  Over the past few years I have had my kids illustrate the stations and we will hang those and use them for our focus.  It is very neat seeing the 2-3 years of drawings I have saved.  I can see both their progression as artists and in their understanding of each station.  I allow for a pretty free hand in the art so we have some realists and some impressionists.  

On Friday, we will enter silence in our home.  We will drape our pictures and statues in black and try our best to be with Christ both at the cross and in the tomb.  The older kids understand this better than the young ones so while we will do without any TV/computer/music for the older ones, I give the littles one a bit more latitude.

The older ones (12 and up) will watch "The Passion of the Christ" w/ Matt and I (probably on Friday).  We allow for the hiding of the eyes during the tough parts, as I do that as well.  

Throughout the three days - still trying to keep as silent as possible we will take turns - either together or alone - read all four of the tellings of the Passion.  I usually read just one to the younger ones while the older ones read all four on their own over the three days.  We'll then take some time to talk about it w/ them when the little one are asleep.  Also on Saturday we make our best attempt at a family rosary focusing on the Sorrowful Mysteries - if weather permits we'll do it outside.

Our goal through all of this is to remind the children that while Jesus' crucifixion took place historically at a specific time and in a specific place on a spiritual and eternal level, the cross remains for all time until we reach heaven.  Being with Jesus from the Last Supper until the stone is rolled away gives Him great comfort and us a great source of grace.

Be assured of my family's prayers this weekend.  Enjoy Sunday!!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Holy Week is here!

Every year I hope for a miracle.  Every Easter I hope that this is the year when I will arise on Easter Sunday perfectly holy.  Needless to say, that has never happened and I have no high hopes of it happening this year.  Not that God can't do it but I have come to accept that He prefers to work slowly.  I also have come to realize that what I want is work that takes no effort on my part!

While He is a God who can swiftly change the course of a river, He tends to work more carefully and delicately with a soul.  He wants so much to change us.  Not in a manner that makes us differently but in a manner that makes us more fully US.  In the same way that a cocoon makes the caterpillar more fully what God intended it to be - a butterfly.  

But that work takes a time doesn't it?  Allow God the time He needs but also give Him permission to do it.  Be willing to work with Him knowing that the end result is worth it.