Woman at Home Daybook :: Vol. 3

Daybook

This day in the Liturgical Year . . . Wednesday, October 11th, 2017; Feast of the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

From the Collect:

O God, Who wast pleased that, at the message of an Angel, Thy Word should take flesh in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, grant to us Thy suppliants, that we, who believe her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by her intercession with Thee.

From the Alleluia:

Alleluia, alleluia. O Virgin Mother of God, He Whom the whole world cannot contain, enclosed Himself in thy womb, and became man. Alleluia.

Outside my window . . . Well, it was sunny a little while ago, but I’ve just now looked out again and realized it’s clouded over. Ah, well. It’s in the mid-70’s with 60% humidity . . . we are in the middle of October! Where is the cold?!

Sunday found all the tropical storm tempests moving across our area, but fortunately we were able to weather (pun intended) the significant rain and wind and make it to Mass that morning . . . running through the rain . . . I’m glad I wore boots 🙂 Sitting in the car and observing the drenched mess outside, we girls were faced with that dilemma of, Should we put our veils on now, to keep our hair dry-ish, or should we wait and put a dry veil on our wet-ish hair? Of course the second proved to be most sensible. Unfortunately we had misplaced our umbrella, but consoled ourselves with the thought that it would have been blown out anyway had we tried to use it while traversing the church lawn. Nor did we have extra pew space for six rain coats, so that was a consoling thought as well as we wiped our arms dry once inside. 🙂

Sounds throughout the house . . . I am listening to Dario Marianelli’s Jane Eyre; “The Wedding Dress.” I love this fellow. He gets the whole piano-and-strings thing.

The sounds of another homeschooling morning are drifting up from downstairs. Voices; footsteps; reading aloud; water running.

I am wearing . . . Pajamas. Don’t judge . . . I’m getting over a cold . . . and pajamas are better than medicine when it comes to that.

Attempts in the kitchen . . . Monday evening Lena and I were out with friends downtown (traveling downtown never fails to remind me of the country girl I am . . .), and lo and behold, we tried shawarma from Eli’s. All because of The Avengers. Delicious. I’d never even had couscous before, let alone lamb. This country girl had mysteriously little difficulty in almost finishing her enormous helping . . .

At home, we are still plugging along with our dietary changes, although we cheated over our (very busy) weekend and paid for it with small doses of intestinal misery 😉 But it’s going good. Mom has made some delicious things recently . . . like bacon-wrapped chicken thighs and stovetop turnip greens. Sigh.

On a side note, I have discovered (probably due to my Cajun blood) that I have a growing infatuation with Louisiana hot sauce. I am finding more and more excuses to sprinkle it on everything. Like potatoes (especially potatoes).

A note on projects . . . A few days ago, Lena moved out of our room (for reasons I’m sure she’ll be blogging about soon!) into our youngest sister’s room, and our youngest sister moved in with me. Lots of furniture shuffling, vacuuming, and rearranging on their part. Fortunately my half of the room remained unscathed, just as I like it 🙂 And, nursing a cold as I was, I didn’t have to do any work! Lucky me.

But it’s been a definite dynamic change already. Lena and I have shared a room since, well, practically forever. I can count back at least fourteen years of our having shared a space with one another in some shape or fashion. I’ve been slowly realizing how many things we’d been doing together in our room (especially some of our daily devotions) which I’ll now be doing on my own. And apart from prayer, we’re no longer typing beside one another, giggling and trading random jokes and pieces of information. She has her own little castle/chapel now!

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Lena is the baby in the background . . .

I admit it’s a little bittersweet, but at the same time a wonderful opportunity for me to deepen not only my private prayer life, but also my already close and colorful relationship with Youngest Sister 🙂 And honestly, it reflects the growing paradigm shifts in our family. I’m discerning marriage with someone, which means my time and attention are increasingly extended and shared, and my locations are increasingly varied depending on what he, I and a chaperone have going on–so my wings are spreading a little more, so to speak, and I’m beginning to hover more frequently between my wonderful family and his wonderful family as our relationship grows. Lena is embarking on a new chapter of life; our younger brother and sister are growing up. It really is God’s design for families to go through chrysalises and changes, so as to blossom in beauty and grace. I look forward to discovering how He is desiring our family to beautify and grow over the upcoming years!

I am reading . . . The Baltimore Catechism, No. 3, published by Baronius Press.

Boom.

I think everyone needs a regular sit-down with the Baltimore Catechism . . . such simple and vital truths, stated so well and beautifully and clearly, without superfluity (which is precisely what I need) and without flinching.

16. Q. When may we be said to forgive those who trespass against us? A. We may be said to forgive our enemies when we act, and, as far as possible, feel toward them as if they had never injured us.

17. Q. What is temptation? A. A temptation is anything that incites, provokes, or urges us to offend God.

18. Q. What is the best means of overcoming temptation? A. The best means of overcoming temptation is to resist its very beginning, by turning our attention from it; by praying for help to resist it; and by doing the opposite of what we are tempted to do.

19. Q. Does God tempt us to sin? A. God does not tempt us to sin; but He permits us to be tempted to try our fidelity or punish our pride; and to give us an opportunity of meriting rewards for ourselves by overcoming the temptations.

See what I mean?

Thinking about femininity . . . If a sense of humor is a shining jewel in the crown of the ideal wife, then humility is the golden base of the crown and the support of all else it may contain. Many have the false idea that they are being humble by staying in the background and attempting nothing. The brash, bold and conceited girls are the ones out in the limelight doing things. More often than not it is just the opposite. The girl who dares to do things, especially in competition, is the humble girl. She may fall flat on her face. So what? She is not concerned with herself, not worried about what others may think. Because she is humble, she is not aware that anyone is thinking of her anyway. The girl who fears to venture is the conceited girl. She is afraid to provide laughter at her own expense. She flatters herself that everybody is watching her. Hardly anybody knows that she is alive. -Fr. Leo Kinsella, The Wife Desired

It is precisely this and similar passages that have inspired me over the past few months to be a little more adventurous in doing things like playing volleyball, ultimate frisbee, joining in brand-new dances, and doing other things in which I have no idea what I’m doing while maintaining a light heart. It’s amazed me how much this good priest was right in how these actions combat my pride.

On the Faith . . . How I love the Old Calendar! So many beautiful Marian feasts, so many wonderful ways to celebrate our dear Mother!

Prayerfully . . . Praying for my great-uncle who is in the hospital, has been for some time, and is not doing well at all. Would you mind offering a prayer for him, too?

A picture to share . . .

Hike

Speaking of family changes, I just came across this old picture of a family hike (taken by Mom), over three years ago . . . the little boy in the blue shirt and baseball cap, and the little girl in the navy shirt and ponytail, are now both inches taller than Lena and I! Where does the time go . . . 🙂

Sig2

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Know Yourself: Discovering My Temperament

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The four temperaments . . . The Temperament God Gave You . . . wonder if I match up with a specific temperament . . . wonder if it’s something spiritual sound and applicable to Catholic life? . . .

For whatever reason, the topic of the four classically understood temperaments or “humors” (choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic) had been waltzing through my mind over the past few weeks; sort of vaguely nudging me, not letting me forget about its presence. I should probably buy that book I’ve seen everywhere. A traditional Catholic homeschooling mother and blogger I follow had recently mentioned her own temperament and the temperaments of her family members, and how discovering everyone’s temperaments had benefited her greatly, both in self-knowledge and in understanding her family members (understanding leading to charity). My interest was getting piqued (in other words, I was feeling increasingly impulsive and ready to dive in, discover my temperament, and change my life. Ahem.).

Only . . . I didn’t really want to spend money, and I’d already purchased a $6 used copy of The Wife Desired off Amazon and so I wondered, in my halfway penny-pinching fashion, if I could just find some reliable free internet resources on this whole temperament topic and see if I could learn more. I kept hearing of it (and thinking about it) in the context of self-knowledge and growth in holiness. Which is never a bad thing . . .

And so first, I went to Fish Eaters. (Surprise). I found pages of most likely very useful information (which I skimmed through, because I impulsively just wanted to get to “the good stuff” . . .) and eventually discovered the very thorough temperament test. I took it, hesitating over many of the questions, not sure exactly how to view them or answer them, and arrived at a (in my mind) gloomy-looking page which pronounced in bold letters I was a Melancholic. I gaped.

From Fish Eaters (quoting Fr. Conrad Hock):

  • Is self-conscious, easily embarrassed, timid, bashful.
  • Avoids talking before a group; when obliged to he finds it difficult.
  • Prefers to work and play alone. Good in details; careful.
  • Is deliberative; slow in making decisions; perhaps overcautious even in minor matters.
  • Is lacking in self-confidence and initiative; compliant and yielding.
  • Tends to detachment from environment; reserved and distant except to intimate friends.
  • Tends to depression; frequently moody or gloomy; very sensitive; easily hurt.
  • Does not form acquaintances readily; prefers narrow range of friends; tends to exclude others.
  • Worries over possible misfortune; crosses bridges before coming to them.
  • Is secretive; seclusive; shut in; not inclined to speak unless spoken to.
  • Is slow in movement; deliberative or perhaps indecisive; moods frequent and constant.
  • Is often represents himself at a disadvantage; modest and unassuming.

Say what? Even the people who have never met me in real life, but who have simply glanced over my article on Tutoring Younger Siblings, can probably guess that I am not a Melancholic! Surely I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere . . . probably question #38 . . . or was it #53 . . .

So I wrinkled my face and threw out my net to fish a little more.

It was at this point I came across the full The Four Temperaments and the Spiritual Life: “Know Yourself” by Fr. Conrad Hock from 1934. This was where clarity started to pour upon my feverish mind, so desperate to easily discover my temperament.

He wrote:

 Socrates, one of the most renowned of the Greek sages, used and taught as an axiom to his hearers: “Know yourself.” 

 One of the most reliable means of learning to know oneself is the study of the temperaments. For if a man is fully cognizant of his temperament, he can learn easily to direct and control himself. If he is able to discern the temperament of others, he can better understand and help them.    

I. THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS IN GENERAL  

 If we consider the reaction of various persons to the same experience, we will find that it is different in every one of them; it may be quick and lasting, or slow but lasting; or it may be quick but of short duration, or slow and of short duration. This manner of reaction, or the different degrees of excitability, is what we call “tempera­ment.” There are four temperaments: the choleric, the melancholic, the sanguine, and the phlegmatic.    

 The sanguine temperament is marked by quick but shallow, superficial excitability; the choleric by quick but strong and lasting; the melancholic temperament by slow but deep; the phlegmatic by slow but shallow excitability. The first two are also called extroverts, outgoing; the last two are introverts or reserved. 

 Temperament, then, is a fundamental disposition of the soul, which manifests itself whenever an impression is made upon the mind, be that impression caused by thought – by thinking about something or by representation through the imagination – or by external stimuli. Knowl­edge of the temperament of any person supplies the answer to the questions: How does this person deport himself? How does he feel moved to action whenever something impresses him strongly? For instance, how does he react, when he is praised or rebuked, when he is offended, when he feels sympathy for or aversion against somebody? Or, to use another example, how does he act if in a storm, or in a dark forest, or on a dark night the thought of imminent danger comes to him?

It’s a fairly long page, so again I began scrolling down, intent on finding phrases and attributes which I thought would describe me fairly well.

Eventually I came across an instruction that prefaced a long questionnaire.

Be completely honest in answering the questions. They refer to your natural inclinations rather than your present practice, acquired by effort and self control.

Ah . . . that made more sense. Back at Fish Eaters, I realized in retrospect, I had been attempting to combine what I thought were my natural inclinations with my usual ability to just simply do things I knew to be right.

Lo and behold, there is a difference.

With this in mind, I began reading his work more slowly . . . and soon enough, I stumbled across my dominant (though not pure) temperament in all its glory (and lack thereof): sanguine. (And yes, I had to look up how to pronounce it. That’s what comes from reading a word a million times yet never listening to an audiobook.)

I began reading the inclinations of the sanguine, divorced from the daily fight and discipline of my “present practice,” and immediately was nailed to the wall. It was incredibly humbling. Because the sanguine traits are so true of me in almost all aspects.

I. CHARACTER OF THE SANGUINE TEMPERAMENT

The sanguine person is quickly aroused and vehemently excited by whatever influences him. The reaction follows immediately, but the impression lasts but a short time. Consequently the remembrance of the impression does not easily cause new excitement.

II. FUNDAMENTAL DISPOSITION

 1. Superficiality. The sanguine person does not penetrate the depth, the essence of things; he does not embrace the whole, but is satisfied with the superficial and with a part of the whole. Before he has mastered one subject, his interest relaxes because new impressions have already captured his attention. He loves light work which attracts attention, where there is no need of deep thought, or great effort. To be sure, it is hard to convince a sanguine person that he is superficial; on the contrary, he imagines that he has grasped the subject wholly and perfectly.

These first paragraphs showed me, glaringly, much of who I am naturally inclined to be: not, of course, what I can be if I pray for grace and try to do better. But I realized instantly how frequently my interest can naturally wax, wane and vary. Hence the thirty stories from my teen years that I started and never finished. Hence how passionately excited about taking black-and-white photography one month, and then am convinced I would love to design planners the next. I am inclined to make instant wholehearted resolutions (whether it’s to sew a skirt, to exercise every weekday, or whatever), but then find great difficulty to keep up the zeal in carrying them out. I can’t deny it. And it’s humbling to admit. It is so natural for me to initially feel that, after I’ve read an article or a book on a given topic, that I’ve achieved expert status. The sanguine person is satisfied with the superficial and the part of the whole. I naturally am excited by things so quickly . . . and it’s not that I grow discontented or am constantly looking for something new and exciting in order to make my life memorable. But my excitement for things usually does not last for a long time. (The Latin Mass, my vocation, my family, friends and children excepted 🙂 ) While fortunately blogging, article writing and the like are still ongoing and are proving to be a cemented fixture in my normal life . . . they are still technically sporadic things. I don’t have deadlines. And some days I am just not excited about them.

So yes. Moving on from that confession, and straight into another.

Vanity and self-complacency. The pride of the san­guine person does not manifest itself as inordinate ambi­tion or obstinacy, as it does in the choleric, nor as fear of humiliation, as in the melancholic, but as a strong inclina­tion to vanity and self-complacency. The sanguine person finds a well-nigh childish joy and satisfaction in his out­ward appearance, in his clothes and work. He loves to behold himself in the mirror. He feels happy when praised and is therefore very susceptible to flattery . . .

Again, these are most certainly my natural inclinations, which I daily have to battle against.

3. Tendency to the external. The sanguine does not like to enter into himself, but directs his attention to the ex­ternal. In this respect he is the very opposite of the melancholic person who is given to introspection, who prefers to be absorbed by deep thoughts and more or less ignores the external. This leaning to the external is shown in the keen interest which the sanguine pays to his own appearance, as well as to that of others; to a beautiful face, to fine and modern clothes, and to good manners. In the sanguine the five senses are especially active, while the choleric uses rather his reason and will and the mel­ancholic his feelings. The sanguine sees everything, hears everything, talks about everything. He is noted for his facility and vivacity of speech, his inexhaustible variety of topics and flow of words which often make him disagree­able to others. The sanguine person in consequence of his vivacity has an eye for details, an advantageous disposi­tion which is more or less lacking in choleric and melan­cholic persons.

To read this tendency was to be given an explanation for why it is I always feel so conscious of my appearance. Whether my hair is parted over enough. Whether my clothes are hanging all right. Whether I look too tired. Whether I might have gained a pound or two. Why I naturally talk so excitedly. Why I care so much about my blog having the perfect color palate. Why my photos must always be cropped to the perfect ratio. Why I have been habitually intent on writing introspective characters, since regular introspection (which doesn’t turn into writing) is, for me, foreign (and therefore a fascinating topic for me to be impulsively interested in).

4. Optimism. The sanguine looks at everything from the bright side. He is optimistic, overlooks difficulties, and is always sure of success. If he fails, he does not worry about it too long but consoles himself easily. His vivacity explains his inclination to poke fun at others, to tease them and to play tricks on them. He takes it for granted that others are willing to take such things in good humor and he is very much surprised if they are vexed…

Oh, heavens . . . this is so very me. Although fortunately I am now usually able to sense (through practice) when it’s not the right time to make a joke.

The life of prayer of the sanguine suffers from three obstacles:  1) He finds great difficulty in the so-called interior prayer for which a quiet, prolonged reflection is necessary; likewise in meditation, spiritual reading, and examination of conscience.  2) He is easily distracted on account of his ever active senses and his uncontrolled imagination and is thereby prevented from attaining a deep and lasting recol­lection in God.  3) At prayer a sanguine lays too much stress upon emotion and sensible consolation, and in conse­quence becomes easily disgusted during spiritual aridity.

While I have been given graces to not lay so much stress upon emotion in prayer and the spiritual life, and to see instead the necessity of free will and good resolution, this paragraph enlightened me as to why it is I seem to have such difficulty in “entering into myself” and in making what I feel is a thorough examination of conscience: something I’ve been reflecting on frequently over the past year. (I make an effort to go to Confession between every one and three weeks, which is probably ideal for my temperament-related difficulties, as a matter of fact . . .) My imagination is naturally very active and I can’t think of a single prayer during the day when I’m not unwittingly distracted by something my mind conjures up at least two or three times. Meditation is similarly difficult, though of course not impossible. It’s just . . . not natural for me. (Which probably means I’m not meant for the convent, I suppose . . .)

Anyway . . . that’s probably more than enough about the natural struggles and negative tendencies of the sanguine temperament for one blog post. They were greatly enlightening to me . . . but it was nice to read about some of the positive qualities as well 🙂

1. The sanguine person has many qualities on account of which he fares well with his fellow men and endears himself to them.  a) The sanguine is an extrovert; he readily makes ac­quaintance with other people, is very communicative, loquacious, and associates easily with strangers.  b) He is friendly in speech and behavior and can pleasantly entertain his fellow men by his interesting narratives and witticisms.  c) He is very pleasant and willing to oblige. He dis­penses his acts of kindness not so coldly as a choleric, not so warmly and touchingly as the melancholic, but at least in such a jovial and pleasant way that they are graciously received.  d) He is compassionate whenever a mishap befalls his neighbor and is always ready to cheer him by a friendly remark.  . . .  The sanguine person has many qualities by which he wins the affection of his superiors. . . . He is pliable and docile. The virtue of obedience, which is generally considered as difficult, is easy for him . . .

However, most helpful of all for me was this:

V. METHOD OF SELF-TRAINING FOR THE SANGUINE

 1. A sanguine person must give himself to reflection on spiritual as well as temporal affairs. It is especially necessary for him to cultivate those exercises of prayer in which meditation prevails; for instance, morning meditation, spiritual reading, general and particular examination of conscience, meditation on the mysteries of the rosary, and the presence of God. Superficiality is the misfortune, re­flection the salvation of the sanguine.  In regard to temporal affairs the sanguine person must continually bear in mind that he cannot do too much thinking about them: he must consider every point; antici­pate all possible difficulties; he must not be overconfident, over-optimistic.  2. He must daily practice mortification of the senses: the eyes, ears, tongue, the sense of touch, and guard the palate against overindulging in exquisite foods and drinks.  3. He must absolutely see to it that he be influenced by the good and not by the bad; that he accept counsel and direction. A practical aid against distraction is a strictly regulated life, and in a community the faithful observance of the Rules.  4. Prolonged spiritual aridity is a very salutary trial for him, because his unhealthy sentimentality is thereby cured or purified.  5. He must cultivate his good traits: as charity, obedi­ence, candor, cheerfulness, and sanctify these natural good qualities by supernatural motives. He must continually struggle against those faults to which he is so much in­clined by his natural disposition, such as, vanity and self complacency; love of particular friendships; sentimental­ity; sensuality; jealousy; levity; superficiality; instability.

So yes. There’s a peek into Mary Donellan’s natural temperament. I have begun to scratch the surface of knowing myself and therefore (hopefully) growing more purposefully in virtue and self-control. I highly recommend reading through Fr. Hock’s explanations of the four temperaments and his exhortations to deeper self-knowledge so that we may grow in holiness and imitation of Christ.

Sig

The Condescension of His Love

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My family and I were spread out in our living room, surrounded by that comfortable assortment of semi-clutter that makes a house a home, poised to embark on our nightly rosary . . . when the phone rang. (Of course.)

My brother answered with that classic, teen-aged, almost military style in which his tone conveyed absolutely nothing to the rest of us eager eavesdroppers. A minute elapsed, brimming with such descriptive words as: “Okay . . . okay. Okay. All right. Yeah, you too. Yes. Right. Bye.”

At last my brother hung up. “There’s going to be a Low Mass tomorrow morning at the chapel,” he announced.

“What time?” we chorused.

“Seven.”

Immediately we all began making mental calculations, in which the spirit was quite willing but the flesh was, predictably, weak. Of course, seven in the morning isn’t at all horrendous . . . but for us, it requires getting up at 5:30 in order to get up, yawn eighty times, get dressed and arrive at the chapel with enough time to snatch a few quick prayers before Mass began. And, for us, 5:30 a.m. is . . . well, mildly horrendous. Be that as it may, it was still too tantalizing to pass up. Aside from First Saturday Masses, this would be the first morning weekday Latin Mass we’d had the privilege of attending so far. (Here’s to milestones!)

I went to bed marking my missal, filled with grateful, youthful zeal. Interiorly, I was so eager to go and to assist at a Low Mass in such a special and intimate setting. Having read historical biographies of aristocrats with private chapels on their estates where the Latin Mass was offered daily (sigh…) had only stoked my desire to be blessed with at least a slightly similar experience. (Even if I don’t have that aristocratic air.) What would it be like? So early, and with (most likely) only my family, our two friends, and the good priest all in one tiny chapel?

Anyway, it was this same type of zeal which dragged my mother, siblings and myself out of bed in the 5 o’clock hour the next morning, and thus we left for the Mass in the golden, spilling light of dawn as my faithful father left for work. (Early morning brings out the poetic in me . . . which is probably why I’ve written so little poetry lately. Early morning and I are slowly getting back on respectable terms.) We yawned through our fervent declarations of how excited we were. I drank in the almost stunning vividness of color that morning light reveals.

Once we arrived at the chapel grounds, the five of us unloaded from the car and wandered around for a bit before we located the right door (most likely due to my somewhat misguided directions). Outside, the early July morning was warm, humid and still. I could feel my skin going prickly and my un-showered hair becoming a puff ball . . . but that’s what mantillas are for. As this chapel door was still locked, we stood outside and conversed with our two friends; we were all, most likely, privately sniggering at how sleep-deprived some of us looked. (Or at least I was.)

The good priest arrived shortly afterwards, and we all filed inside the tiny, hushed chapel where Heaven was shortly to meet earth in the beautiful form of the Latin liturgy, with just the eight of us there to adore.

I stepped into the dimness (lit only by the sanctuary lamp), blessed myself, found a seat as quietly as I could, and knelt. Immediately I was impressed by how the smallness of the chapel, with only twelve seats and accompanying kneelers, made everything feel incredibly . . . well, close.

As I knelt, praying and blinking sleepily before the tabernacle, warm light shifted and fell through the stained glass windows, washing my missal pages with the colors of the Sacred Heart. Thank You, thank You, my heart prayed in quiet rhythm. And yet while I was smiling (in a very prayerful, pious, saintly way, of course) with excitement and gratitude to be able to attend this rare weekday Latin Mass, at the same time, I started feeling as if my smallest noises (especially swallowing; there’s something annoying-sounding about swallowing on an empty stomach) were almost embarrassingly loud.

But never mind! The Mass began, and as the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar commenced, my ears and mind were flooded with the priest’s voice, with his unique enunciation of the Latin (each priest’s enunciation is slightly, fascinatingly different!), and with the server’s steady responses; with the sounds of their vestments rustling, with the color of the priest’s stiff, blood-red Roman chasuble, in honor of St. Pantaleon. But most of all, they were flooded with the creaking of the kneeler beneath my knees; with the rustling of my missal pages; with, essentially, me.

Most weekday mornings, my family and I stream Mass live out of Sarasota, FL, thanks to the FSSP’s wonderful apostolate LiveMass.net. Praying along with the Mass every morning, even though it’s across a distance, is a tremendous blessing . . . but there is still the inevitable separation of my physical presence from the Mass‘ physical location, to where I’m not “conscious” of my own presence at the Mass, so to speak. In a similar way, at our nearly 100-year-old parish where Latin Mass is offered every Sunday, we have a spacious nave, beautiful side-altars along the transept, and a majestically domed sanctuary; thus, a person can easily feel diminished and obscured by the sacred loftiness of the Church, and the beauty and wonder of the Mass being offered there. Self-consciousness is almost nonexistent.

But . . . this chapel was different.

Although I couldn’t fully articulate it to myself then, I was, frankly, humbled and flooded with the sense of my own humanity, the priest’s humanity, the server’s humanity–the humanity of the eight of us. We were there, at the sublime sacrifice of the Mass, in the midst of a host of invisible angels and saints, in the glory of God preparing to come down upon the altar. I was there, with my frizzy hair, my feet itching from mosquito bites after a barefoot volleyball game the week before (the things I do to keep up with my friends. . .); with my hungry stomach, my suddenly loud breaths. How to describe it other than this? I was there. Or, perhaps better put, I was allowed to be there. Even though my heart was so grateful for that moment, and I united myself as best I could to the Mass, I nevertheless felt clumsy, thick-minded and unable to comprehend what was happening. My fantasized dreams of being able to attend a morning Low Mass in a setting such as this had seemingly forgotten the reality of me, and how the Mass does not erase the sometimes awkward quirkiness of my humanity.

And yet . . . the Mass was happening, all the same. In fact, it was happening because the consecrated priest, in all his humanity–the same as mine–was there, offering it.

The Latin Mass first captured my heart with its ancient beauty, with its clear and vibrant witness to the Truth through the form of its sacred liturgy. I truly was awed; and I was humbled, because it proclaimed to me how great God Is and how much reverential adoration He Is due. It taught me to forget myself during the liturgy and simply to adore God and to surrender my heart to Him.

But there, in that small chapel, I began to also realize the unspeakably condescending love of God towards me–towards all of us–in the Mass. I began to see how God explicitly deigned to take His Holy Mass–the highest prayer and greatest miracle–and to attach it and to wrap it up in the physical actions of simple, faulty human beings.

Somehow, I don’t think I’d ever really contemplated that before.

The Mass is sublime, because it comes from God; it gives us God, and gives us to God. And yet, it will always involve our humanity, require our humanity, for the simple reason that He fashioned it that way.

The Mass’ existence ultimately relies on the divinely ordained priest, who swallows, breathes, shifts, rustles, sniffs, coughs, and is susceptible to making mistakes, as we all are. And while the Sacrifice of the Mass certainly does not rely on the laity in the same way, it is nevertheless ordered, in its very nature, to receive us and require us to give all that we are, body and soul, to God.

The Mass embraces our physical presences, our coughs, our sneezes, our wandering minds, our growling stomachs. The very fact that God–surrounded by His Angels of fathomless beauty, radiance and grace, and by the glorified souls of His Saints–desires to be surrounded by His often awkward, clumsy human creatures (including me) in this Most Holy Sacrifice, to the point where the Mass cannot be offered and the Eucharist cannot be confected but for the ministration of a human being, of the priest in persona Christi . . . this is dumbfounding.

This is Love.

So in that tiny chapel, the Mass progressed; I received Our Lord in Holy Communion along with my family and our friends; I stood for the reverent proclamation of the Last Gospel; and soon enough, I was kneeling in quiet again. The peace “which passeth all understanding,” that only comes from the Eucharist, seeped into my soul, even as I contemplated and wondered at all these new realizations and questions that I would work to articulate later in this over-written, over-edited blog post.

Faintly, birds chirped out beyond the stained glass windows; small animals shuffled through the outdoor mulch. Eventually we all filed out of the chapel; the good priest hurried on his way to his next destination, and our friends left for work. My family and I headed back home to the rousing tunes of Switchfoot (we still had a little waking up to do, after all) and with a quick stop for breakfast. (The best biscuit and gravy I’d had in a very long time, I must say. With Sprite. Mmm.)

But the Mass had happened, just like that, with me and for me. For all of us. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it had been different from my romantic daydreams of an early morning Mass . . . and yet, of course, it had been better. It had shown me a tiny, clearer glimpse of the beautiful, infinite condescension of Our Lord’s divine love towards me–body and soul–in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I pray I will never again forget it.

I will go in unto the altar of God; to God, Who giveth joy to my youth!

More Than Anything (a Woman at Home Post)

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What is time? It has been given
That we may work and merit heaven

Anonymous

Well, I turn 21 next month (at this point, I’m contemplating occasionally drinking a little wine if I like it, but I’m not feeling very adventurous yet 😛 ); I’m not in school, not away from home, not in a relationship, not actively feeling called to pursue the religious life. Presently, my whole life (or maybe, my interior life would be the better phrase) feels enveloped in this huge cloud of quiet. On the outside, I have some pet projects and obligations I keep busy with; I have wonderful friends whose company I just love; and am blessed with the most beautiful family and a life that offers no lack of color, variety and opportunity to find God and clumsily grow in virtue. On the inside, though . . . it’s quiet.

And it’s the holy Faith that keeps me alive to these beauties surrounding me, and the beauties that are still yet to come. I could have nothing at all, except Our Lord’s Church, her liturgy and her Sacraments–and I firmly believe, I know with all my heart I would still have everything to live for.

I find this time of my life humorous, in a way, because a few years ago I was convinced I’d already been through this exact phase and that I knew God’s will for me. Well! How very little I knew–and how little I still know now. At eighteen, I honestly had been through nothing but a phase of contemplating my personal desires, praying that the things I wanted to happen would happen, and arriving at the conclusion that I knew God’s will. That’s not quite the same thing.

Maybe I should call this present phase living in the quiet. In many ways, I feel I have been through various bouts of high waves, sometimes storms, in one way or another, but particularly over the past few years. They certainly were all part of God’s designs for my soul; and even in my cloudy, limited perception, I can see that they have been transformative on me in many respects. I’ve arrived at the point where I barely recognize the child, the girl, the young woman I used to be, before this all happened. In some ways, it’s a really strange point to be at. This isn’t to say I don’t have the same struggles and flaws that I’ve always had (ah, if only!), but rather, I’m in awe at the grace of God, and how He has enabled me (especially through Our Lady’s intercession) over the past year to see life more clearly, in particular the end and purpose of life more clearly . . .  and, at last, to be quiet.

I think it just may be part of growing up. I asked my mom something to that effect a few nights ago while doing dishes after supper. (Washing dishes with your mom or a loved one present in the kitchen is a wonderful way to unload your weary mind and may save you psychologists’ bills.) Have you ever felt . . . different? Like you’re not who you used to be, and you don’t exactly enjoy reflecting on how you used to be, but you’re grateful for where God has brought you now?

Like all mothers, she knowingly said, Of course.

Living in the quiet has meant, for me, being showered with grace to where I am enabled to earnestly say, “Do what You want with me, when You want it of me.” And then to be still: to not be afraid of whatever it is He’ll ask: but, perhaps even more importantly, to not be afraid of the silence indicating He is not going to ask me yet, but for now is content, for His own mysterious but perfect purposes, with where I am–a young woman at home.

One of my most favorite passages from the side notes in the 1962 Missal speaks of Holy Communion in this way:

We should open our will to Jesus Christ as we open our lips to receive Him, leaving Him free to act in us and accepting in advance everything His grace will ask us to become. We consume the Sacred Host, asking that we be consumed by His Divinity. We receive Him physically, that He might receive us divinely into His sacred activity, and transform our life and action and desires into His.

We should receive Him as the Blessed Virgin received Him at the Annunciation, concerned only with leaving Him free to act, with a will to conform to His will for the Redemption of the world.

Now, living in the quiet doesn’t make my waiting always easy or effortless, or even painless for me. I desire so much to know God’s will for me and to enter into my vocation: my specific path, my soul’s joy, my crucible and my ladder for Heaven. I’ve experienced a lifelong interior tug towards marriage and family; I’ve been given a strongly maternal heart that craves babies and loves the company of children; I find myself naturally desiring the leadership, love, and assistance (both temporal and spiritual) of a good husband; I dearly love the thought of being a mother in the home, schooling my children, making my family’s home a church in miniature through prayer and traditions . . . but as good as these things are, I’m prepared to surrender these ‘wants’ of mine if God asks me to, and to go down the road to a vocation that doesn’t initially satisfy my first desires, though it most certainly will be most conducive to my eternal salvation (which is what I want more than anything!).

In fact, yesterday I was reading Fr. Lasance’s thoughts on the unmarried, virginal life in the world. He was speaking in the context of young women who desired life in the convent, or the married state, but for whatever reason weren’t able to fulfill those desires, and so were consigned by God’s will to living a secular, chaste life alone. His words struck me as being incredibly perceptive and wise.

It is no small trial for her, and many a secret tear does she shed because God has seen fit to refuse her the object of her ardent desires. Ought she on this account to be disconsolate? Certainly not; for God orders all things for the best. But why did He implant a longing {…} in her heart if this longing was never to be satisfied? It is plain that He acts thus in order to increase her merits. To find herself obliged to relinquish all hope of attaining the desired goal is the greatest and most painful of sacrifices. If she makes this sacrifice for the love of God, resigning herself to His will in a spirit of childlike submission, and striving to serve Him faithfully {…}, how great is the store of merit she lays up for herself in eternity!

Now, I’ll be honest. As unbelievably hard as it was once for me to be open to the religious life–to be open to being alone in the world, all my life? That was ten times as unthinkable and made me shudder with plain dread.

But now . . . God has helped me to see, quite plainly, that Heaven is all that matters in the end. Traditional Church teaching is clear and true: any state of life will not do for any soul, nor is it a matter of little consequence which state we enter into. If we follow our own will instead of God’s in deciding our state in life (whether it’s consecrated, married, or virginal in the world), we endanger our salvation, because God has fashioned us, has searched and known us, and He has ordained, in His wisdom, which individual path is best for the salvation of our individual souls.

So, much as I might be tempted to, I can’t shudder with dread, even at the thought of being single for the rest of my life. Do I anticipate this being God’s will for me? Well . . . not currently 🙂 But it might be. What matters is that I want His will more than anything. What matters is that I spread my hands, open and empty, before Him every day, and offer my life to Him without any reservation. What matters is that I am malleable, willing, soft and fresh in His palms. What matters is that I tell Him (as often as I think of it) that I’m ready whenever He is, and that I’m happy with whatever He wants.

One thing I’ve learned: the more I think about what I want, the less at peace I am. The more I pray for the things I personally desire (even if they’re good things; actually, especially if they’re good things), the less open I am for the better things He desires. The more I contemplate my invisible future with anxiety, longing, or impatience, the less receptive I am to His grace for the present moment, for my present sanctification. I can’t serve two Masters: my will and His will. I can’t simultaneously pray, Dear Lord, this is what I really, really, REALLY want to happen in my life . . . butThywillbedoneofcourse. Amen. It isn’t a prayer; it’s a contradiction, and it erodes my interior foundation, my charity and my self-surrender.

So again, I’m so very grateful for this period of living in the quiet. I’m grateful for the grace I’ve been given of largely letting go of my own desires. Yes, there are hard days; I fail, and I never have perfectly good intentions in anything I do. But those hard days are given to me so that my merits might increase, my desires might be purified. My failures and sins are opportunities for me to return to God with a humbled and contrite heart, so that He can embrace me in His Fatherly arms and give me renewed strength for the combat here below.

And so whether there’s a wonderful young man somewhere who God sees would make a spot-on husband for me one day; whether there’s a convent full of beautiful nuns with an empty place awaiting my arrival; whether there’s a small house in the world where I will eventually live out a virginal life of charity, kindness, and service to others . . . in the words of St. Gianna Molla, Whatever God wants. And that’s enough for me; it’s enough for all of us.

(Woman at Home Series: 1234)

The Humble Work in the Domestic Church

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So, I’ve had a cold for the past week; and the week before that was really inhumanly busy. This equated to: little to no true housework on my part for two weeks. Of course, dishes were done and laundry didn’t reach a complete standstill. And of course, my family members did their share of cleaning. Nevertheless, this morning at 5:55 am, I woke up with my hairs on end. I showered, dressed, went downstairs, set the latest dryer load on to fluff, went and knelt before the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, offered my morning prayers, signed myself, and muttered like a battle-hardened corporal, “Time for cleaning.”

In the space of a couple hours I cleaned and vacuumed the slightly disheveled living room, cleaned the kitchen (still decorated from my brother’s 13th birthday), overhauled that catch-all dump heap known as the “sidebar,” put on three different loads of laundry, deep-cleaned the upstairs bathroom, and did numberless now-forgotten touches here and there that made things look, overall, more presentable. I eventually sank down with satisfaction and a cup of iced tea, feeling thoroughly clean.

I’d cleaned the house; but I was the one who felt clean.

Yesterday, I went to Confession before Mass. I try to go every week, but let’s just say I felt the need for a clean slate a bit more deeply than usual. Of course, when one is sick and busy, one can’t expect to stay on top of things, and resting certainly doesn’t equate with laziness . . . But I knew myself, and knew there were still things, despite my cold, that I could have contributed to, especially around the home, but simply hadn’t due to laziness, lack of motivation, interest in the 132nd cute Instagram picture of the day . . . et cetera. While this may or may not be so bad, it had certainly spilled over into my prayer life as well, to where I was neglecting things I normally wouldn’t neglect . . . and that’s definitely not a good thing.

All in all, I was in possession of the nagging and unhappy feeling that I’d fallen into a general slump.

So, accordingly, I brought all these tangled shreds of laziness, self-interestedness, neglect, and spiritual idleness or whatever-you’d-like-to-call-it into the tiny Confessional with me, and whatever sins were in them were mercifully forgiven. I left feeling determined to regain a sense of discipline in my daily life, and to stop indulging myself so much, for God’s sake and for mine. Or, in other words, to put first things first.

Time for cleaning.

For better or worse, I’ve (over time) become a woman who is, in a lot of ways, keenly sensitive to order. I relish when things are clean around me. Clean. A sparkling chrome sink (with no dishes), a mopped kitchen floor, a stack of expertly folded towels, a humming and orderly laundry room, a vacuumed carpet . . . these domestic elements are an emotional Hershey’s bar to me, particularly when I’ve helped bring them to their current state.

Of course, a home is made by the family who lives in it, and I know it would take a pretty lifeless family in order for no messes to be found. So in that sense, I’m deeply grateful for messes. I’m grateful for the scattered things, the crumbs, the dishes, the laundry piles that are everywhere but in the laundry room, because I am grateful for the people who have made them . . . my family (and, let’s be honest . . . I make my share of them as well!).

But more than these, I’ve come to realize that I am grateful for the messes, mainly because they give me an immediate opportunity to do what Mother Teresa called “the humble work.”

The humble work is of tremendous spiritual benefit, especially to me. In essence, I think the humble work can be defined as: anything that requires physical labor on my part; anything that is required on a regular basis to keep the home clean, orderly and pleasant for my family; anything that has the potential to be quickly undone again; anything that doesn’t require talent, but simply work ethic; anything I can’t leave my name on; anything that anyone else can do, but that has fallen to me.

The humble work is a spiritual treasure mine. And without it . . . well, I seem to discover on a continual basis that my ability to be patient, consistently prayerful, generous, motivated, disciplined and sacrificial pretty much crumbles if I have not been regularly engaging in the humble work. The humble work is training ground for me; it isn’t special, but it has powerful potential to cultivate the most important virtues within me, if only I engage in it.

My own list of humble work, as a daughter out of school, still living in her parents’ home with her siblings, wanting to grow in domestic skills, can look like any one of these things, depending on the day or circumstance:

-Loads and loads of family laundry

-Dish washing

-Cooking

-Shower scrubbing

-Toilet cleaning

-Kitchen cleaning

-Dusting (everything from desks to ceiling fan blades)

-Tidying/organizing

-Sweeping/mopping

-Window/mirror wiping

If I feel spiritually negligent or just generally uninspiring, my recourse is often to the humble work. It’s automatic, usually born of restlessness and a lack of contentment. I can click around on the internet, or spend hours laboring over articles, but it’s only after I’ve helped to put my family’s domestic church in order through elbow grease and a dose of humility–doing something I know will have to be done again in an hour, or tomorrow, or next week–that I truly feel interiorly clean, disciplined, and invigorated to give of myself in a truly Christlike lifestyle.

In my experience, what separates the humble work from any other kind of work is that the humble work is self-effacing. (Ah, I just realized . . . that’s why it’s called the humble work . . .) I simply do it. I don’t sign my name at the end of it. It takes knowledge and repetition to do well, but not any special kind of skill (or lack of it) that proclaims, “Mary Donellan cleaned that toilet,” as opposed to “Mary Donellan wrote that article.” The humble work takes care of the bare necessities; cleanliness, hygiene, clothing, food, and basic comfort and aesthetic pleasantness. But that’s what makes it so beautiful. In the humble work, you can lose yourself, you can serve others, and you can pour yourself into doing something that is necessary and beautiful, but hidden. You can certainly take satisfaction from it, but any kind of unhealthy pride is unsustainable, because your work will be quickly undone and you will be asked to complete it all over again, simply because it needs to be done.

The humble work is a prime place to think of God. When doing menial chores, your mind and heart are left free (unlike mine as I write up this article . . .). Your flesh is employed and disciplined, and this consequently frees your soul to contemplate higher and better things. The humble work is very easily turned into prayer, joy, and interior refreshment . . . as contrasted with an hour spent on the internet. I can use time I spend doing  humble work to offer a prayer, to meditate on a spiritual truth, or simply to think about something good–and not necessarily something specifically theological, just anything good or pleasing or beautiful as St. Paul urges:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Phil. 4:8

In carrying out my humble work in this way, I come away physically tired but spiritually energized and content in where God has placed me in life. I even usually come away mentally alert and emotionally happy and satisfied. The humble work is such a powerful remedy against despondency and discontent, because it shows you you are truly needed, and that the simple things bring peace.

All in all, the humble work is yet another factor that makes the domestic church such a wealth of potential grace. Nowhere are you going to find a place more regularly demanding of the humble work than your own home. Accordingly, nowhere are you going to find more opportunities to grow in virtues than in your home; because I truly believe the humble work and virtue walk closely hand-in-hand. You can write inspiring pieces, make beautiful music, give moving speeches and be a powerful witness to others . . . but in the words of St. Stanislaus Kostka:

I find Heaven in the midst of saucepans and brooms.

So let’s not spurn the humble work. Let’s embrace it; and let’s get to cleaning both our homes and our souls.

(It seems doubly appropriate that I now have to go and put on another load of laundry . . .)