Seton Magazine :: 5 Fun Ways to Celebrate the True Christmas Season

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The cheery Christmas lights evaporate into the bleak winter weather. The tree plummets out the window into a pitiful heap of half-dead fir. The radio returns to playing the same old tunes, though it had no scruples over wishing us a Merry Christmas before we’d eaten our Thanksgiving dressing. The downtown decorations melt into the puddles with all the Christmas snow. Christmas is discarded before it barely began.

What a frustrating and disappointing reality . . .

As Catholic homeschooling families, we have to go against the current of the culture, especially when it stands in direct contrast to an authentic and joyful participation in our Church’s holy liturgical year.

Inside and outside our homes, we must defend and delight in what has become a forgotten Christmas season. The King of the Universe deserves no less and desires no less for His faithful!

So, with this said, here are five especially fun ways you and your family can confuse the culture and thoroughly enjoy your Catholic Christmas season as it was always meant to be!

Read the rest at Seton Magazine

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Christmas in the Cave

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How was your Christmas Day? Blessed? So was my family’s! Granted, it involved only four hours of sleep, food poisoning and day-long fever for my youngest sister, our family putting nearly everything we’d planned on hold as we took care of her, and our huddling together in relative quiet around our family’s Nativity scene. It involved our nightly family rosary (though I couldn’t lead my decade because I sounded like a frog from voice loss); it involved cuddles and tears and ice chips and books; and it involved our newest tradition of everyone only getting one gift.

It was simple; it was quiet; it had suffering . . . but it had our family, it had our prayers and our gifts to one another, and it had Christ. In other words, it had joy.

I suppose you could say it was the closest we’ve come, so far, to Christmas in the cave.

Apart from my sister’s suffering (which we certainly wouldn’t want to repeat!), the spirit of simplicity in it was absolutely beautiful. I’m sure we’ll remember it as one of our most special Christmases ever; the one that fashioned the mold for all the ones to come. The simplicity of it (both the simplicity that we invited beforehand, and simplicity that we had to quickly implement) made us grateful for the smallest things–like the beauty of our Christmas tree, my sister downing her third Saltine of the day, and the sunlight out the window.

Under the accidents of blankets, popsicles, and sweatshirts, it felt as though our family–at different times during the day–was sitting together in the cave, looking at the Infant and His Mother. And that was enough.

It wasn’t anything like we’d planned . . . but our plans are, after all, finite; and so often, our whole idea of Christmas unconsciously clings to the foundations of our usual plans: our Mass, our family visits, our meal, our gifts. It’s all one microcosm of Christmas-ness. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, we’re not talking about secularism; we’re not talking about a hundred gifts and “Jingle Bell Rock”! When we mean our plans, we mean our family; we mean everyone being happy, peaceful and well in our domestic church on Christmas Day; we mean the warm laughter, the embraces, the prayers, the joy of giving, and our tradition of placing the Christ Child in His manger. We mean the warmth of peace and grace.

But then, when sickness or something else intrudes on our hopes for Christmas, it’s so easy to feel discouraged or disappointed, no matter how Christ-centered we want our Christmas to be.

Yet I’m slowly beginning to see that my personal participation in Christmas is most grace-filled when my own plans come to naught on Christmas Day, and God proceeds to do His work in my powerless, humble un-planned-ness. I’m seeing that that same warmth of peace and grace I desire can come–indeed, can come even more strongly–when my family and I surrender our idea of Christmas for the Christmas in the cave.

It just has the ring of no-room-in-the-inn to it.

Now, let it be known that before my sister got sick on Christmas Day, we were already gearing up for a simpler Christmas. Before Advent had even begun, an old friend had shared with us her family’s tradition of drawing names and everyone receiving one gift for Christmas, and we took to it quickly; not only for financial reasons, but also spiritual ones. I think, as a family, we were craving yet more of that return to the sacred that we’d experienced in the Traditional Mass, and we wanted to re-examine our domestic-church-traditions, especially those in the holy Christmas season, in that light. Or maybe it was just because we’d already gone from English to Latin Mass, from Breaking Bread hymnals to Gregorian chant, from bare heads to mantillas, from you to Thou, from before to after so many times in one year, we had just become addicted to change and didn’t want to leave our Christmas unscathed by the whittling knife!

Either way, we were truly excited for this new measure of simplicity. Looking at our (unlit) Christmas tree and seeing just six presents underneath it made me smile. It was simple; it was enough. Our Christmas was going to be wonderful. We attended High Mass on Christmas Eve; I sang with my sisters in the choir (though croaked might be a better word . . . we were getting over colds); we stood out late in the parking lot talking and laughing with all our dear friends; we drove home in the darkness and finally turned on our colorful dazzle of Christmas lights; we changed into our Christmas pjs and stayed up talking until after midnight about how blessed and grateful we were. All this with only six presents under the tree.

Simple Christmas? Check.

And then my sister came to me after I’d been asleep for three hours and told me she’d thrown up. Apparently, there are choirs of Christmas simplicity, and God wanted to bring us up another level.

So we didn’t tumble downstairs to cinnamon rolls in the morning; we didn’t visit my grandmother; we didn’t make our Christmas supper. Our day wasn’t quite so filled with laughter and merriment as we thought it would be, and we kept the Christmas music low so the sick one could sleep on the couch. Most of our day was spent consoling my miserable sister and talking in hushed voices. We were able, though, to exchange our gifts and say our nightly family rosary together, and we watched a few Christmas movies (and I nibbled on chocolate!). (My brother had drawn my name and bought me my own edition of the Douay-Rheims Bible, by the way . . .  Traditional Catholic bliss!)

Despite all this, there was a peace in our family that hadn’t been quite so manifest with our other Christmases.

So as I sat by my sister on the couch yesterday afternoon, waiting for her fever to go down, I knew I had to write this article . . . not really for anyone’s sake by my own. Because even though she was sick and we were all concerned for her (plus experiencing the mild paranoia of is this a virus that we’ll all get until we recalled she’d eaten some uncovered food that none of us had touched), her sickness was yet another tool that God used to simplify our Christmas, to bring us into the cave where the Christ Child and our family was enough to make us rejoice in Him. It was, and is, such a beautiful reality; one of the countless paradoxes of a life of faith in the domestic church, I suppose.

Christ’s birth, after all, occurred in total simplicity. St. Joseph; Our Lady; sheep and their shepherds. That was all–and it was All. It wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t merry–but it was joy. The simpler things are, the more room He has to fill. The emptier the cave, the more Light it can hold. Christmas is the embodiment of all we desire for our domestic church: the coming of the Holy Family and the birth of Christ in our home. Simplicity opens the door to them, and simultaneously brings our Christmas into their cave. And we easily can bring this simplicity straight into our domestic church’s Christmas, just by embracing it–and by surrendering to it when God decides we need to come up a choir. As Catholic families, we will reap so many graces by cultivating an attitude of simplicity and joy, during Christmas and every season of our Holy Church’s liturgical year.

As of today, my sister is much better. She and my brother have been playing Wii for two hours, laughing and shrieking in competitive glee. We’ve been saying Merry Christmas all day and are getting ready to visit my grandmother later on this week. There will always be time for our plans (if God wills) . . . but simplicity is in the now. So let’s embrace simplicity this Christmas, and every Christmas we have left in our domestic church. We won’t regret it.

I’m off to publish this post before it gets any more long-winded. So here’s to this Christmastide, and to next Christmas, too; one with six presents, lots of family love . . . and securely covered food.

O Antiphons in the Domestic Church

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O Wisdom, Which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come and teach us the way of prudence. *

Mercifully visit us, O Lord, in our lack of right judgment, and shed the light of Thy true wisdom on our hearts. Strengthen our home in virtue; take possession of all that is disordered within us–our affections, our desires, our thoughts and our actions–and put them into proper and holy order. Instill in our family a true zeal for righteousness. Come and sweeten our domestic church with Thy presence, and reign over us in prudence and justice.

O Adonai, and Leader of the House of Israel, Who didst appear to Moses in the flame of the burning bush, and didst give unto him the law on Sinai: come and with an outstretched arm redeem us.

Come, O Lord, and rule over our domestic church as if it were Thy mountain. Keep the ears of our hearts attentive to Thy law. Bestow on us Thy grace, that we may delight in Thy commands and help one another in following them. Send angels to instruct us, and the saints to inspire us. May our home and family be Thy throne; may our lives glorify Thy mighty kingdom.

O Root of Jesse, Which standest for an ensign of the people, before Whom kings shall keep silence, Whom the Gentiles shall beseech: come and deliver us, and tarry not.

O Root of Jesse, come and be the steadfast Root that anchors our home in the soil of Thy Love and Truth. Hold us firmly upright against the capricious winds of the spirit of the world. Secure us on the narrow path as we journey through this vale of tears. Make our home into a holy flower of praise and adoration that stems from Thy merciful presence and grows forth to honor Thee.

O Key of David, and Scepter of the house of Israel, that openest and no man shutteth, and shuttest and no man openeth: come and bring the prisoner forth from the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Be the only Key of our home, O Lord. Stand watch over the door of our domestic church; usher in all that is good and blessed, so that we may continually grow in holiness, and drive out with Thy rod all that is dangerous and perverted. Keep us forever open to Thee, and shut to Satan. Rescue us from our transgressions through Thy holy Sacrament of Penance, and keep us ever mindful of Thy mercy which alone has brought us out of the dark prison of our sins.

O Day-spring, Brightness of light eternal, and Sun of Justice, come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Flood our home with Thy light, O Lord, that with illuminated hearts, we may strive to do what is right and just. Capture our hearts with the joy that comes from seeking to behold Thy goodness, Thy justice, and Thy beauty. May Thy light be in our countenances and in our souls, that we may draw others to Thee, letting Thee shine forth from us as light from a lamp.

O King of the Gentiles and the desire thereof, Thou cornerstone that makest both one, come and deliver mankind, whom though didst form out of clay.

Come, O Lord, into our home and family, and here be our only desire. Show to us daily that everything in the world is fading and fickle apart from Thee. Remind us of our constant longing for Thee, which has been knit into our bones from when we were in the womb. Keep us ever mindful that Thou art our First Beginning and our Last End. Let us love nothing except for Thee.

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the desire of the nations and the Savior therof, come to save us, O Lord our God.

Come to our home and be our God-with-us, O Lord. Help us to marvel at Thine Incarnation, and to revere the Virgin who bore Thee. Instill in our home and family a deep reverence and love for Thee in the Holy Eucharist. May we defend It as our greatest prize; honor It through frequent reception; and love It through profound adoration. May Thy Eucharist be the very Flesh and Blood that secures our domestic church and sustains our family on the way of holiness.

Amen.

*Antiphons taken from Roman Catholic Daily Missal 1962, pg. 151-152

Seton Magazine :: 4 Easy Ways to Bring Advent Prayer into Your Homeschool

adventprayers-620x330Over the years, we’ve discovered and incorporated Advent prayers, both old and new, in our homeschool. Some became permanent traditions, while others belonged to certain phases in life when the children were younger. Some prayers we’ve prayed together as a family, while others have become personal traditions for the older children.

No matter how they’ve been integrated into our own family, these prayers set Advent apart as a sacred and special time; and no matter how busy we are outside the home, these prayers keep our home a place of (relative!) Advent quiet and purpose.

Here, I’d like to share some of our favorite Advent prayer traditions from across the years, in the hope that it might inspire and encourage you as you work to bring Advent prayer into your own homeschool!

Read the rest at Seton Magazine 🙂