Monday, December 27, 2010

I Resolve, With The Help Of Your Grace...

We seem to have made it through Christmas by the skin of our teeth around here.  I actually had to give myself permission to let some of the things I wanted to do slide because there simply wasn't time, and I refused to let superficials interfere with our family and spiritual celebration.  I did get the lights up, the tree decorated (actually my son did that) and the Nativity Scene up (my son again).  Many people in our little mission parish were gone for the holiday.  It was strange to see our tiny church only half-full on Christmas Eve, when in past years there was standing room only. 

Now it's time to honor the tradition of New Year's resolutions.  I actually contemplated mine about a month ago.  There's really nothing new.  Some of last year's resolutions were successful, some need more work, and some are no longer important.  I want to finish my first book, get a couple of e-books out, and continue making my lifestyle more sustainable and less consumptive.  I want to share joy and fascination for learning with my homeschooled son.  I want to really get to know my soon-to-be-born grandson.  I want to play with my critters and have an awesome vegetable garden.  I want to get to sewing all those clothes I've been collecting fabric for - our wardrobe really needs replenishment.  I want to get to confession more and take the next step in growing spiritually.  I want to blog more regularly to share that spiritual growth and insight.  I want to work on me, yet think less about me and more about the big picture.  I want to let go and let God.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Zenyatta - Inspiration from the Queen of the Racetrack

There are few things I enjoy more than an afternoon of watching horses.  Maybe a day in Yosemite or Kings Canyon.  To watch a herd of horses frolic on the open range, or thunder around a track, to me, is a thrill.  To see a great horse honored is an immense joy.  I am not an advocate of gambling and I don't support practices that demean principles of good stewardship of God's creatures.  I do enjoy seeing the results of a horse being brought to it's full potential, and a rider who respects and admires that horse in a way that the team reaches a greater success than either would individually.  Such are the examples of Mike Smith and Zenyatta, Ron Turcotte and Secretariat, Red Pollard and Sea Bisquit, to mention a few.

I do not follow horse racing, but my daughter does.  She was born to the saddle.  At the age of 2, I turned my back on her for five minutes and found her across the street with her older brother, trying to climb a fence into the paddock of the boarding stables, to pet the horses.  At a big boned five-eleven, she never had a hope of becoming a jockey, though she did quite well at gymkhana.  She is currently working towards her bachelor's degree in equine studies.  She has a scrapbook - more like a database - on Zenyatta.  She has studied her and followed her for the horse's entire career.  Her excitement at being able to meet and talk with Mike Smith and John Sheriffs (Zenyatta's trainer) was contagious.  To have her share her passion with me is an honor and a priviledge.  To know that she finds inspiration and motivation to pursue her life's dream, even when her own horses are so far away from her for the time being, makes me glad.

For myself, I enjoy watching and interacting with horses.  Ever since humans became aware that the horse was good for more than just the dinner table, there has been a mystical dynamic between horse and rider.  A good rider can communicate to his horse with the slightest pressure, the softest sound.  An intelligent and cooperative horse will respond to his rider almost intuitively.  How often in history has a story been told of a horse finding his way home, his rider unconcious in the saddle?  How often have I gone out to the paddock in distress and received a comforting nuzzle, an understanding companionship with my horses?

Truly the Creator put us here to find our way back to Him, and help our fellows to do so.  But even when humankind fails us, God gave us a back-up, our animals.  Cats, dogs, horses, all take their turn in our lives, comforting, entertaining, annoying and accompanying us back home.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Human Experience - Dignity in the Midst of Poverty


Two young men from Brooklyn, New York set out to find out what it means to live the gospel in misery and poverty.  From the homeless in New York, to the forgotten orphans of Peru, to modern day leper colonies in Africa, we are presented with the powerful drama that is "the rest of the world".  The masses living on the outskirts of the comfort zone that we know as modern daily life. 

The creators of The Human Experience attempt "By spotlighting heartwarming stories from around the world, (to) show viewers that every single person, no matter his or her lot in life, is beautiful."

This award winning documentary is brought to us by Grassroot Films, which also produced Fishers of Men, to inspire vocations to priestly service and God in the Streets of New York City.   Grassroots Films strives to "make great films that inspire true change".  The Human Experience has won over 30 awards since its release last year and emphasizes this year's Catholic Campaign for Human Development theme:  Fight Poverty. Defend Human Dignity

A truly inspiring film for private or group viewing, highly recommended by Catholic Traveller's A Simple Catholic.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fulton Sheen's Cause - Victim Of Another Bishops' Snafu?

Rocco Palmo's latest update to Whispers In The Loggia today, cites yet another incomprehensible move by our "hierarchy".  I can only hope that it is just a miscommunication that got out of hand.  According to the website for archbishop Sheen's cause for sainthood, the Diocese of Peoria is passing the buck for Sheen's beatification, because the Archdiocese of New York won't release Sheen's remains for reinterrment in his home diocese.  OH PULEEEZ!!  Are we little boys on the playground fighting over territory?  Do we need to stand in the corner until we can play nice?! 

Excuse my ignorant little backwoods version of common sense, but I think that the BIG BOYS need to talk it out and get back to the cause.  Fulton Sheen took Catholicism to the modern world even before Mother Angelica, through his writings and his television series "Life is Worth Living".  His humor and advice are still timely, and I think we deserve a modern day saint to inspire us. 

Now that I have had my rant, I truly hope that Archbishop Dolan (no relation) will take up the cause for Archbishop Sheen, and that we will soon have another official example of how to live for Jesus in the midst of this world's insanity.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Canticle of the Sun - Thoughts on Wind and Weather

"Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance."

I try to call to mind this verse of St. Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Sun when the wind is ripping shingles off my roof, or blowing sheets of dirt into my face and hair.  Meditating on it at these times helps calm my irritation as I accept that such winds are usually blowing gloomy weather away from my little homestead, or bringing nourishing rain and playful snow to it - depends on my perspective, doesn't it? 

When I am hiking in the wind, if I stand still and close my eyes, I can feel Brother Wind embracing me, Brother Air infusing my body with healing oxygen, sensuous scents of evergreen, rain or snow, and sweet musky fragrances of flowers and mosses.

There is an anecdote about John Muir, the great naturalist, who was said to go for one of his "walks" in a storm, climb a tree and swing from the branches, just to let the wind and rain buffet and refresh him.  In his own words, he felt " to take the wind into my pulses and enjoy the excited forest...I kept my lofty perch for hours, frequently closing my eyes to enjoy the music by itself, or to feast quietly on the delicious fragrance that was streaming past."  (John Muir, The Mountains of California). 

I too have had the hours pass swiftly as I sat upon a lofty peak (though not up in a tree!) feeling the wind wash me of my anxieties, cleanse me of my materialism and make me ready to face my human brothers and sisters again, with renewed tolerance, compassion and love.

All praise and glory to God, the awesome Creator!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Catholic Education: Homeschool or the Parish School?

I read in our diocesan newspaper last week about how enrollment is dropping at Catholic schools.  People can't afford tuition, there isn't enough assisstance to go around, etc.  Families are disappointed that they have to pull their children out of the parish school and put them into public school.  Frankly, my enthusiasm for Catholic schools has waned since more of the teachers started coming from the secular and often non-Catholic community, and more of the students from non-parish and frequently non-Catholic families who could "afford the better education". 

Assuming that these same schools are keeping the tuition as low as possible, and that these same families are making sacrifices to come up with the money for their childrens' education, such as giving up the extra car, the boat, the vacation home, the vacation, meals out, extra wardrobe, shoes, downsized house and lifestyle, and still can't afford tuition, I have another suggestion - Catholic Homeschooling.

Homeschooling is far more economical than either tuition or public schooling (considering the expense of fashionable wardrobe/uniforms, supplies, backpacks, lunches and transportation).  A homeschooler's primary cost is books.  There are many excellent Catholic curricula available now, far more than when I began.  And a family doesn't have to use all of one program.  Materials can be mixed and matched according to individual needs and preferences.  Some families even use entirely free public domain and library materials.

Two working parents can teach, one parent can stay home (thereby saving the expense of working wardrobe, convenience foods and transportation for that parent).  Even single, working parents can homeschool - I am not suggesting parents need to be super heroes, either.  Homeschooling can take about as much time as the nightly sitcoms, and when done well, merges right into daily life and experience.

As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1653:  "Parents are the principal and first educators of their children".  And again 2221:  "The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute".  As well as numerous other references in CCC 2221-2230.

I homeschooled my 3 grown children (two of whom recently graduated with Associate's Degrees and transferred to universities) for several of the middle- and high school years, and am currently homeschooling my second grader.  I encourage anyone to check into this fantastic option for providing our children with a wholesome Catholic education. 

Some places to start:  Homeschool Legal Defense Association - great resource for state laws and precedents regarding homeschooling.

Catholic Heritage Curricula - excellent Catholic education resources

The Homeschool Lounge - great place to meet other homeschoolers, get ideas, support and have fun!

Traditions of Roman Catholic Homes - another great site for support and ideas for Catholic homeschooling

Mrs. D's Homestead and Around the Homestead - my other website and blog, where I discuss my country life and homeschooling

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Third Secret, by Steve Berry

I enjoy Steve Berry's books.  He is definitely a gifted historical/mystery/suspense writer.  I don't even mind his frequent digs at the Catholic Church.  Heaven know, we deserve some of it.  But it goes way too far in "The Third Secret", based on the mysterious Third Secret of Fatima. 

Whether you believe in the apparitions of Mary the Mother of Jesus at Lourdes, Fatima, La Salette and Medjugorje or not, to even concieve of the woman who carried our Savior in her womb would even suggest that abortion was a woman's choice ("know that your body is your own") is repulsive.  Mary's entire story (the biblical one) is about the sanctity of life.  Without Divine intervention, Mary's life would have been seriously hampered by the birth of this baby.  In fact, she should have been stoned to death when the pregnancy was discovered.  Even Mr. Berry's statement in the author's notes, that the "second half" of the Third Secret, upon which the book centers, is completely a product of his imagination, does not redeem this novel in my eyes.

My advice, don't even waste your time.  Cotton Malone doesn't even appear in this book, and though it does give structure to the character of Colin Michener, who finally reappears in the Venetian Betrayal, you won't be missing out on anything  by skipping "The Third Secret".

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Vacation Bible School

Catholics didn't used to have Vacation Bible School.  We had day camp, or youth group, or nothing at all.  It was great fun, we went swimming, went to the beach, roller skating, did arts and crafts, and had a big campout on the last night. 

Now alot of our churches are having Vacation Bible schools, but my local one doesn't.  So I take my son to the Baptist church's VBS.  It is a great ecumenical and community building experience and I just love the Baptist preacher and his wife, who also just happens to be one of my favorite authors.  Oh, and the kids have a lot of fun too. 

The ladies in charge of arts and crafts really outdo themselves with clever activities.  The games are very clever and exciting, the snacks are fun and imaginative.  The children learn a new Bible verse each night, and work on songs and dances all week, in order to put on a delightful production for their parents on the last night.

Every year we look forward to VBS at the Baptist Church and we hope they continue having it for years to come.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Welcome The Stranger

While not usually listed among the Corporal Works of Mercy, Jesus states this command among them in his discourse in Matthew 25:31-46. Specifically verses 35 and 36: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me..." This should certainly leave Catholic Christians in a quandary about how to handle illegal immigration. I don't profess to have the answer. I can just share some of the reflections that give me cause to believe that the great state of Arizona has not hit on quite the right solution yet.

In desperation, the Holy Family fled Bethlehem right after Jesus' birth and entered into Egypt illegally, hiding there for several years until an angel proclaimed it safe to return home. How did Joseph support them during that time? What if it was today, and the Holy Family were fleeing to the United States, hoping for a better life or a safe haven from persecution? What if Jesus was born here and Joseph and Mary got deported? Far fetched? Not really. Throughout the Bible we find God's message of love. We are our brother's keeper. How do we help them achieve what they are hoping for when they cross our border? Can we help them do it legally, keeping families intact? Is there a way to help them improve their lives in their own country, so they can live with dignity and self respect there? In a world that has little use for the gospel message it is our duty to be a light in our own little corner. The opportunities will present themselves to each of us today. Lord, help us to recognize them and serve you.

Do not neglect to show hospitality, for by that means some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

Monday, August 9, 2010

Book Club

A book club is an interesting place.  I joined because I love to read and am writing a book.  I thought it would help to discuss books with fellow readers and learn their likes and dislikes.  It is certainly an ear opener!  For instance, the general consensus seems to mandate the "obligatory sex scene" in a book, whereas I feel my imagination needs no assistance in that particular area.  However, obviously it sells mainstream books, because it tends to be in most of them.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that I frequently find I have greatly enjoyed a book that the others disapproved of and vice versa. 

Case in point:  a couple of months ago, our book was "Mutant Message Down Under" by Marlo Morgan.  It is
a story about an American doctor who goes on walkabout in the Australian Outback with a group of Aborigines.  The sufferings she endures help the tribe to teach her their spiritual principals of interrelatedness, divine creation, unconditional love, and being non-judgmental. I felt that it presented a powerful reminder of spritual principals we should all be living.  Most of the others discounted the whole thing because "obviously she didn't learn anything from the experience because she still wears makeup and colors her hair".  Huh?  Not everyone is called to be a St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa.  We are all called to proclaim the Good News in our particular circumstances in life. 

Then there are the ever-popular vampire books currently circulating as the "Twilight" series.  Many of my book club confreres rave about them, but vampires simply do not appeal to me.  Now give me a good historical suspense novel.  I have the new Amelia Peabody mystery on hold:  "A River in the Sky".  After seeing the new "Sherlock Holmes" movie, I reread the books in a whole new light, with new enjoyment.  And my friend from the Baptist church turned me on to Terri Blackstock's novels - who knew such wonderful work was being produced by Christian publishing houses?  I am thrilled.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Go Fish!

We got a late start on our fishing this year, but now we're making up for lost time.  We're not really big fish eaters, and we don't particularly care if we catch anything, it's more an excuse to just get up to the lake for a few hours.  It also saves hundreds of dollars on massage therapy, as gazing out across the water, casting and reeling in, or just going for a walk relieves all the pent up tensions of the week.

It is nice to catch something once in a while, even if it's just a crawdad.  There's a feeling of accomplishment.  Fishing played a big part in Jesus' life.  Many of the apostles were fishermen.  Jesus told Peter and Andrew He would make them "fishers of men".  What does it mean for me to be a "fisher of men"?

Surely not to just sit passively and gaze across the lake.  After the wonders of God's creation have filled me up and pushed out all the garbage of the material world, what next?  Eventually it is time to drive back home and take up the daily tasks again.  Fishers of be Jesus to everyone around me.  To extend cheerfully lend a hand.  To suffer interruptions joyfully, because it may be in that moment that the "fish" God has sent me takes the "bait".

Monday, July 5, 2010

God Bless America

It warms my heart to hear people sing the Star Spangled Banner. In recent years, it seems I've noticed alot of people who don't know, or refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or sing our National Anthem. As a student in Catholic schools for ten years, not a day went by when we didn't say the pledge, and the anthem, as well as other patriotic songs were frequently included in our morning singing.

Undoubtedly, our country has severe flaws. Our president is less than inspiring to many of us. Our lawmakers are a big disappointment, to say the least. But we Americans, we Catholic Americans, come together on the Lord's Day, and encourage each other; we receive the nourishing body and blood of Christ and are strengthened to go out and do what little we can to be the change we want to see happen.

O' say, does that star spangled banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?
As long as it continues to wave, and we continue to pray, there is great hope for our great country.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Oh the Drama!

Maybe it's the so-called "alignment of the planets", as some say, or maybe it's just me, but there seems to have been a whole lot of drama going on lately.  Families have their own inherent drama, of course.  Someone's hurting, "well-meaning" others come in and stir things up and suddenly everything's out of hand.

In our church communities things get out of hand, too.  Disputes over bilingual Mass and Latin or not get as heated as immigration law debates.  Some cannot set aside their differences and agree to disagree, and leave.  It's sad in families, it's sad in our church family. 

The media pursues the sexual abuse issue like rabid hounds.  As though they've forgotton Jim Baker.  Or as though it's any bigger than taxpayer dollars going to big bankers to pay out bonuses to already overpaid executives.

Why are we so addicted to drama and the inevitable tragedy that accompanies it?  Where do we find the answers, for healing in our families, our church, our world?  All we can do is practice.  Practice Jesus' example of unconditional love.  Practice tolerance - of different languages, different opinions, different customs.  Practice spiritual discipline - attend Mass, receive Holy Communion, go to confession.  Pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. 

We who are not politicians, turn over our anxieties to the Highest Power, and make our voices heard to our elected representatives.  We who are families, die with Christ every day for peace in our homes.  We who are Catholics, die with Christ to our own self-righteousness, for peace in our communities.  We can only do a little.  But if we each do a little, so much gets done.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How to Fast

As I ponder fasting, abstinence and "giving up" things for Lent, I am given insight in Friday's first reading:  Isaiah 58:6-7:  "This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:  releasing those bound unjustly...setting free the oppressed...sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own."

These seem to be very clear instructions.  God is telling Isaiah to tell the people that it is not sackcloth and ashes he requires, but for them to care for each other.  Strive for fairness, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of your family, friends, community.  All these things I should be doing all the time, now is the time to really focus on them.  To make it a habit once again.  Maybe it will be working at a food bank or soup kitchen; maybe packing an extra sandwich and giving it to the panhandler who approaches me in the parking lot at Walmart.  Sacrificing my own agenda to help provide care for the friend or relative who is facing the prospects of a nursing home.  Offering temporary room and board to friends or family trying to get back on their feet.

I could get worried about being taken advantage of;  yet what did our Lord do but give His very life for me?  He asks me let go of my anxiety and just trust Him.  The funniest part is that when I start to give I am the one who receives the most benefit;  I think I have a clearer idea of what I"m supposed to be doing now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

These forty days of Lent, O Lord, with you we fast and pray;
Teach us to discipline our wills and follow Lord your way.
(These Forty Days of Lent, (c) 1970 WLP)

I don't know what I'm "giving up" for Lent this year. I try to fast and abstain from meat on Fridays, and today of course, though physical limitations sometimes interfere.  I tried to give up coffee a couple years ago and actually made it past the initial headaches, but when the foggy haze refused to lift, I caved in.  That took about 2 weeks.  One year I gave up chocolate, successfully, but right now that just seems like too much torture to endure again.  The last couple years I have worked on certain character defects, but now this has become habit, and I think I should embark upon something new and difficult.

Our pastor emphasized prayer, fasting and abstinence in his homily today.  Making time to pray no matter how busy we are.  

Fasting - what can I forego, in solidarity with Jesus' suffering?  Maybe a day to day decision - a meal, another gadget, a movie.  Put the money saved where it will help someone else.

Abstinence - no meat on Fridays is easy, we already have 2 or 3 meatless days a week.  To abstain from negative remarks in conversation - that can be hard.  To abstain from gossip, even when it's just "reporting the facts", that's challenging. 

Now that we have been marked with the ashes of last year's Palm Sunday palms, it is time to inwardly clean house and declutter our lives to become better bearers of the gospel.  As St. Paul says to the Corinthians in today's second reading:  "We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through reconciled to God...Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation".

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What do Nuns do?

I miss the presence of nuns in my rural parish. I was fortunate to attend Catholic school for most of my school years and they were everywhere then. They were our teachers, disciplinarians (ya, that was way back!), role models, referees and playmates.

There was Sr. Josephine, 3 feet tall, who swung a wicked ruler; Sr. Rita, who would perform a juggling act to recapture the attention of an unruly class; Sr. Rachel, who would jump right into any sport we were playing, from handball to volleyball, jump rope to kickball.  The flying skirts and veils of recess gave way to the dignified setting  of the classroom and frequently a stern look was all the ammunition needed to maintain order.  These amazing women lived in the convent next to the school, attended daily Mass with us, and exuded a love of living for Jesus that spilled over into everything they did.

So what's a nun's life really like?  Thanks to the internet, you can find out.  There are several nun blogs where cloistered and non cloistered sisters open up about their daily routines, hopes, frustrations, joys and adventures.  Would you believe a nun having a pirate-themed birthday party?  Check out  Nuns in shorts and tshirts climbing ladders to make building repairs?  There really is a place for any interest in religious life - seclusion, working with people, health care, education, missions, and so much more.  Most orders have websites now, and interested parties can email for more info.

The Smithsonian Institution is sponsoring a travelling exhibition, through 2012, called "Women and Spirit - Catholic Sisters in America"  The exhibit's homepage contains an awesome video of some of the exhibit and commentary.  Definitely worth a look.