Gathering Up Thoughts on a Friday

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it! Time to gather my thoughts at a leisurely pace . . .

I guess the thoughts most prevalent on my mind are springing from the book Raise Happy Children . . . Teach them Virtues! by Mary Ann Budnick. It was lent to me over a month ago but unfortunately remained buried in our car until earlier this week (with all the November-themed talk of death and burial over here, I suppose it’s appropriate I buried my books as well), when I finally un-earthed it. “Ah! Right! This book!”

Smilingly, I curled up and embarked on the introduction, expecting to absorb a wealth of ideas for raising my future children–and instead I got a mirror. A massive, clear, glinting mirror. The pursuit of virtues: the real, solid, burning desire of the will to grow in specific virtues: do I have this? The unfogged perception and understanding of this one and only path to sanctity: do I possess this?

My answer was, to be honest, more of a squeak than anything.

It is not enough to have some sort of desire of virtue and perfection . . . The greater the love and desire of the end, the greater the care and diligence that are employed to gain it. Thus it is very important that the desire and affection for virtue and perfection be great, since the care and diligence in securing and gaining it will be great in proportion . . . where the desire of advancement in perfection is not found, there will be very little hope.

-St. Alphonsus Rodriguez

It’s tricky to write about; the more spiritually honest my thoughts become, the more useless and limp words seem in describing it all. Virtues–virtuous living–I know these words, and I thought I knew their importance. But I think I was mistakenly, and possibly unconsciously, viewing virtues as the byproduct of a saintly living (She is holy, and so look at how virtuous her life is) rather than as the fulcrum, the definition, the foundation of saintly living at all (She is virtuous, and so look at how holy her life is). This a subtle but tremendous difference. Tremendous.

Attending Sunday Mass or even daily Mass, saying the daily rosary and frequenting the sacrament of confession {do} not eradicate . . . vices. Oh, that it could be that easy! These are all sources of God’s supernatural grace that can help us in our ongoing battle to eradicate our vices. But it takes our will to conquer our selfishness, pride, vanity, gluttony, thoughtlessness, jealousy, etc. so as to replace these vices with the natural virtues (good habits) of spirit of service, humility, temperance, kindness, justice, etc.

Raise Happy Children . . . Teach them Virtues! by Mary Ann Budnick

My dominant temperament (sanguine) is the most superficial of them all. Naturally, I would at times love to have a different temperament; to possess the intensity, concentration, intelligence, focus and passion for achievement of the choleric instead of all my surface-level delights, and my natural lack of penetration and depth when it comes to learning, comprehending, and acting on things. And yet, as with anything else that is inherent to my person, I accept my temperament as something God-given, something chosen for me, something I am capable of refining and perfecting through the practice of virtues. Fortunately, I can see where, through God’s grace, my temperament has already been refined somewhat from its natural faults–and yet I can certainly see how far I have left to go.

In the realm of my spiritual life, having strong sanguine tendencies translates to my being easily impressed by a thought, resolution, or a truth–and yet the impressions do not remain long; it translates to my being easily inspired and aroused–and yet I lose interior perseverance once the initial firestorm of excitement has died down. It is my natural inclination to run after new spiritual goals and practices, and yet to be all the while attuned to the sensory, sensual, exterior things of life that consistently hinder my progress due to my very attachment to them. Clothes; appearances; food; smells; comfort; entertainment; mental idleness . . . The more I’m attached to pleasing my senses (as a sanguine temperament is strongly wont to do), the foggier I become in my perception of my real spiritual state. It happens every time.

The interior life should be one of continual conversion, one of falling and rising, one of constantly pursuing a goal, one of desire. While reading the introductory pages of this book, I knew I had lost more of that desire than I wanted to admit. Christ vomits the lukewarm from His mouth. And while I do care, I do want to be a saint–as of late, I’ve felt as though I’ve had buckets of good intentions and yet am walking through a fog, not really knowing where I am. While Confession itself is relatively easy for me because it is, naturally, not so painful for me to disclose myself to others and I truly desire absolution and sanctifying grace for my soul . . . examining my conscience and grasping my sins is inherently difficult because of my lack of penetration and my struggle for depth and perception. Hence the fog that descends at times. Where am I?

However, the opening pages of this book confronted me with something so simple and so profound. My holiness and happiness depend entirely (apart from God’s grace) on my practice of the virtues and my mortification of the vices.

And it’s as simple as that.

It is harder toil to resist vices and passions, than to sweat in bodily labors. He that avoideth not small faults, by little and little falleth into greater. Thou wilt always rejoice in the evening, if thou spend the day profitably. Be watchful over thyself, stir up thyself, warn thyself, and whatsoever becometh of others, neglect not thyself. The more violent thou uses against thyself, the more shalt thou progress.

-Thomas a Kempis

Somehow, distilling my entire spiritual life down to “Nothing within me is stagnant, and I am always either progressing in virtue, or regressing in vice,” radically changed my entire perspective. Distilling the inevitably cliched phrases “growing in holiness” and “pleasing God” down to “actively pursuing the virtues” cleared my fog. It translated my “good intentions” into “the actions I must make.”

One thing in particular that has helped me initially was the observation made in Chapter 1 that daily mortification of the senses is vital for the sanguine’s spiritual life. Not the hair shirt, per se, but little things (which are often much more difficult than the big ones). In recently focusing on growing in virtue and practicing mortification, I’ve begun to realize how there is a staggering number of little promptings that come from the Holy Ghost during my day; promptings to deny myself something that my senses would enjoy. Already, it is impossible to ignore how a small mortification of the senses (one that no one else would even notice) primes me in my pursuit the virtues of temperance, prudence and fortitude. An act of self-denial equates to a growth in spiritual strength. I’m starting to see there’s a potential mortification to be found even in an indulgence . . . you can enjoy something with others, and yet still exercise a mastery over yourself by quietly forgoing an element that would seem to make it perfect.

I have also noticed that it really does become a contest; a race; something that enlivens you, where you experience a sense of competitiveness and determination. What can I mortify today? What virtue can I seek after?

I’m hoping to keep a notebook or something to begin a concrete tracking of my virtues and vices, although I have a poor record when it comes to consistently journaling anything. It will call for the virtue of fortitude and perseverance, I’m thinking 😉

Virtue–even attempted virtue–brings light; indulgence brings fog.

-C. S. Lewis

* * *

But to move on! Yesterday, I read an article on motherhood by Michele Chronister that was, quite sincerely, the best article I’ve read in quite a while. I cherish the hope of being a mother one day, a stay-at-home-because-I-love-the-home mother, and she stated in such tender and gentle ways the beauty of that hidden vocation.

If you were to read my resumé, you would read about my experience as a catechist, a speaker, a writer, and a social media manager. When I encounter people outside of our family and they ask what I have been working on, they aren’t asking me how many diapers I changed that day, or how many tearful faces I stroked. They’re curious what book I’m working on, what my latest article is, or if I’ve done any speaking lately.

And so, it is hard to reconcile the fact that my most important job – the job that fully absorbs my heart and my thoughts and the vast majority of my waking and sleeping hours – is not one that is seen as important or interesting by the culture we’re living in. Adding to this confusion is the fact that the women of my generation were all raised to believe that we could “do it all” – we could work, be mothers, have a social life…and be successful in all those areas. The reality is that motherhood compels me and draws me like no other job does. No matter what my other accomplishments may be, they just don’t grab my heart the way those four little souls do.

* * *

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Beautiful roses, representing a continuously beautiful and blessed courtship 🙂 God has been so good to us and our growing relationship as we continue to make strides, and we received several pieces of wonderful news this week that display His Fatherly Providence over us, and especially the motherly intercession of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom on our behalf, after our having made a novena in her honor the week before. Lots of gratitude in our little corner of the world!

* * *

We celebrated two birthdays in the Donellan household this week, which accounts for some of my “blog silence,” and it’s really just been a wonderful and blessed few days, all around! It’s hard to believe my brother is fourteen years old, taller and bigger than me . . . sniff . . . however, as my dad has always been taller and bigger than me, I don’t have quite the same nostalgia (wink), but he reached the milestone of 50 and it was so much fun celebrating the gift he is to our family as our leader, provider and protector!

However, all these birthday bashes included . . . you guessed correctly . . . a small overdose slightly increased amount of sugar. Ah, well, I think we’re arriving at that point in the year where temperance will just have to be fought for as best we can . . . as in . . . we’re baking four pies and a cake next week. I shall only have a few bites 🙂

* * *

I made the venture and drove downtown with Lena earlier this week for the first time. I am a full-blooded country mouse who loves trees, hills, winding roads and small towns, and would much prefer to never live in the city if I didn’t have to.

However, it was fun to expand my driving skills, especially for such a momentous occasion as contributing to Lena’s book cover and being treated to lunch and laughs by some great friends. And Lena is a great shotgun rider, by the way. We were able to have in-depth spiritual conversations and yet navigate an angry driver, unexpectedly closed blocks (agh) and one-way streets thanks to her adept usage of my cell phone, making helpful suggestions and never questioning my judgment 🙂

* * *

I have been considering Christmas gifts more deeply this week, and crafting one upcoming birthday gift which I hope to make a blog post about soon. However, we’ve chosen not to shoot for having everything done before Advent after all. Since we wind up ordering a lot of things online for Christmas anyway, we don’t really experience a mad rush of having to go out and find gifts during Advent, and so it seemed that trying to fit in our gift-acquiring before Advent would only cause unnecessary stress. Still, as that holy season approaches, I shall still try to remain ahead of the game and attempt to grow a little more in the virtues prudence and industry 😉

Have a very blessed Friday and feast of St. Gregory the Wonderworker, and let’s keep remembering to pray and make sacrifices for the Holy Souls in Purgatory!

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“For I am the Angel Raphael…” (Of prayers and courtship)

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The Angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them: O taste and see that the Lord is sweet!

-Offertory from the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

A month and a half ago, if you had visited my little corner of the world, you would have stumbled upon me in my parish church, bent over my missal, sitting and reading this exact verse at the Offertory of the Mass.

It was a mere two days after I had entered into courtship. I was in the pew beside the wonderful man who had asked me to court him, and I was wearing “the veil” I’d kept tucked on my prayer altar near the St. Raphael holy card for months.

The Angel of the Lord . . . The words rebounded through my head, tingling with intense gratitude. The Angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them . . .

Today, on St. Raphael’s feast day, it’s a struggle to find words to capture the story of his guidance, protection and intercession on my behalf over the past months. It’s a challenge for me to fully absorb the reality that it is his feast day and that my current joys are due in such a special way to his prayers for me! I’m at a loss as to how to adequately honor him, apart from litanies, prayers, and praying along with the Mass of his feast earlier this morning. I have so much to thank him for but feel as though I can only give so little.

Vividly, I remember being at the beach this spring, in the middle of a jumble of vocational desire and discernment. My feet were planted in the sand, my head was bowed over the little book about him while the salty wind buffeted me and made a circus out of my hair (no exaggeration there . . .), and sensing quite strongly that I only needed to climb under the shelter of his wings in order to be lead closer towards what I was so hungry for: my vocation.

Our Lord had allowed my heart to travel a hilly road across the three years since I finished high school, and really, our family trip this spring symbolized a time of rejuvenation and reflection for me, because I had experienced and learned so much–some things through joy, others through pain. I had tucked the aforementioned book about St. Raphael into my tote bag, brought along a newly acquired holy card, and across that week, I began forming a relationship with this beautiful Archangel, thanks to the inexpressible gift that is the Communion of Saints.

For Thy counsel is not in man’s power, but this everyone is sure of that worships Thee, that his life, if it be under trial, shall be crowned: and if it be under tribulation, it shall be delivered: and if it be under correction, it shall be allowed to come to Thy mercy. For Thou art not delighted in our being lost: because after a storm Thou makest a calm, and after tears and weeping, Thou pourest in joyfulness. Be Thy name, O God of Israel, blessed forever.

-Tobias 3: 20-23 (Sara’s prayer before encountering St. Raphael and Tobias)

Across the past year, I’ve shared here about my vocational discernment, particularly in my linked article on 1P5. I’ve written about how, all my life, I experienced a real longing for marriage and children, but how it took coming into the Latin Mass for me to be able to unconditionally, spiritually surrender to God’s (unknown) will for my life and, more specifically, for my vocation: to stop being terrified that He might be calling me to something else than what I wanted.

When I finally let His grace enable me to become open to whatever it was He wanted, I was soon given the beauteous peace of interiorly knowing the rose of marriage was in Our Lord’s design for my life. He lifted me out of myself during that time and transformed my desires.

This period of discernment all happened over the summer, after I’d embarked on my devotion to St. Raphael and was praying to him twice a day, every day. The specific words of my intentions varied a little, but they were as fervent as I could make them and were very much centered on my future husband (even if the state of my discernment meant that I was including the caveat of if God desires me to marry), and that he and I would be brought together. Eventually, I got to the point where I was specifically asking St. Raphael, the same Archangel that guided Tobias to Sara, that my future husband would be inspired to pursue me as soon as God’s will permitted, so that we could do all things together for His glory.

The two prayers I was offering on a daily basis throughout this time are copied below. This first prayer (taken from the above-mentioned book) brought me, from the beginning, an indescribable sense of consolation. It instilled in me a deep trust that I and my desires for my vocation and my future husband were all being taken care of; and it became the firm foundation of my little-sisterly relationship with St. Raphael.

Dear St. Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings, lead me by the hand towards those I am waiting for, and those who are waiting for me. May all my movements, all their movements be guided by thy light and transfigured by thy joy. Angel guide of Tobias, lay the request I now address to thee at the feet of Him on Whose unveiled Face thou art privileged to gaze. (Mention your request.) Lonely and weary, deeply grieved by the separation and sorrows of earth, I feel the need of calling out to thee and of pleading for the protection of thy wings so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy.

Remember the weak, thou who art strong, whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God. Amen.

The second prayer was sent to me by a good friend earlier on this year in a text message, and I’m not sure of the source (I tweaked one or two words for clarity); but it struck me with its beauty and orthodoxy, and was in a way my first introduction to devotion to St. Raphael.

St. Raphael, loving patron of those seeking a spouse, assist me in this supreme decision of my life. Find for me as a helpmate in life the man whose character reflects many of the traits of Jesus and Mary. May he be upright, loyal, pure, sincere and noble, so that with united efforts and with chaste and unselfish love, we both may strive to perfect ourselves in soul and body, as well as the children entrusted to our care.

St. Raphael, angel of chaste courtship, bless our friendship and our love that sin may have no part in it. May our mutual love bind us so closely that our future home may ever be most like the home of the holy family of Nazareth.  Offer thy prayers to God for the both of us, and obtain the blessing of God upon our marriage, as thou wert the herald of blessing for the marriage of Tobais and Sara.

St. Raphael, friend of the young, be a friend to me, for I shall always be thine. I desire ever to invoke thee in my needs. To thy special care I entrust the decision I am to make as to my future husband. Direct me to the man with whom I can best cooperate in doing God’s holy will; with whom I can live in peace, charity and fidelity in this life, and attain to eternal joy in the next. Amen.

These prayers were the basis of my devotion to St. Raphael, but I also read the Book of Tobit and was blown away by the sheer beauty of St. Raphael’s instruction to Tobias and Sara in regards to their marriage. To imagine an Archangel, “one of the seven who stand before the Lord,” so mercifully intervening in the lives of Tobias and Sara and their families, bringing about healing and a holy marriage, was awe-inspiring, and it served as a confirmation that I was, indeed, praying to an advocate who had been made to care, with a special tenderness and power, for holy marriage and for potential spouses being led into one another’s lives.

A few months of this devotion went by; I received clarity as to my vocation and so then fell to praying more intensely; then came a new acquaintanceship, which grew into a friendship . . . and, in early September, I found myself sitting in the pew at Mass, belonging in a courtship: a time of purposeful, mutual discernment of marriage.

The Angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them: O taste and see that the Lord is sweet!

Our friendship-turned-courtship is a sweet and really amazing story in its own right, but one probably better saved for another time . . . however, the building blocks of it were so beyond me in the most literal sense of the word, so beyond my expectations and my own plans and potential conniving, as to be what one can only term “a God thing.” Or, more specifically, “a St. Raphael thing.” 😉 It all happened so effortlessly and gently; I blinked, and there it all was, laid out before me, its own story, so much better and more special than anything I could have written for myself! And now I am in awe of God’s grace and so grateful for the opportunity to discern marriage with such a good man in a courtship.

And now . . . a little bit about courtship itself, because I’ve been dying to blog about it! “Courtship” is a widely used term with various applied meanings and few if any universal rules. But for us, it’s pretty simple: courtship is a more traditional means of a man and woman coming to know one another better and asking God whether it would please Him if they married. While we don’t presume immediately upon the future and are focused on God’s will, courtship is very intentional and is not meant to last long unless the Sacrament of Marriage continues showing itself as a very possible and desired end for the couple in question.

For us, courtship has so far involved many purposeful conversations about the essential issues of Catholic living, marriage and parenting, and our perspectives and experiences growing up; but it’s also involved simply spending time together and growing used to one another’s temperaments and how we think, act and express ourselves. We have always been reserving our first kisses for our wedding days, and I have consistently thought holding hands would be a fun and sweet way to celebrate an engagement, so our courtship’s physical boundaries are modest but certainly not awkward. We’ve chosen for courtship to involve our being always chaperoned (which probably distinguishes it most drastically from the typical dating scenario) as a means of safeguarding our chastity and purity; and we’ve chosen for it to be very family-oriented, with our siblings, parents, and nieces and nephews around a lot of the time, brightening things up, making us laugh, and quite honestly putting us at our ease!

In short, courtship–while being a tradition both of our families have always believed in–was very much our own personal choice, and something that has since brought joy and healthy growth to our God-given relationship. Apart from our deeper conversations, it also involves him always opening and closing the car door for me, and it involves me almost always saying yes when he offers me something to eat or drink; it incorporates ballroom dancing, football games, skits, cooking and home movies, chivalry and good-natured teasing, prayer and, best of all, Mass 🙂 In my mind, it’s a perfect way for two young people to discern marriage and I wouldn’t have it any other way; and today, St. Raphael’s feast, seems the perfect day to write about it, and all he has done for me, with heartfelt gratitude.

And Tobias said to him: Where wilt thou that we lodge?
And the angel answering, said: Here is one whose name is Raguel, a near kinsman of thy tribe, and he hath a daughter named Sara, but he hath no son nor any other daughter beside her. All his substance is due to thee, and thou must take her to wife. Ask her therefore of her father, and he will give her thee to wife.
Then Tobias answered, and said: I hear that she hath been given to seven husbands, and they all died: moreover I have heard, that a devil killed them. Now I am afraid, lest the same thing should happen to me also: and whereas I am the only child of my parents, I should bring down their old age with sorrow to hell.
Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will show thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power.

But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away. But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs. And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you. And when the third night is past, thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayst obtain a blessing in children.
Then Tobias exhorted the virgin, and said to her: Sara, arise, and let us pray to God to day, and to morrow, and the next day: because for these three nights we are joined to God: and when the third night is over, we will be in our own wedlock. For we are the children of the saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God.

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7 Rambling Monday Takes (Vol. 3)

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1.

Maybe it’s a womanly thing, an impulsive sanguine thing, or perhaps a Guardian Angel thing. But have you ever felt strongly compelled, suddenly, to do something, when a moment before the thought hadn’t been anywhere near your mind? (Besides consume chocolate, I mean. I experience those moments frequently.)

Yesterday would have been my maternal grandfather’s 68th birthday. A Vietnam veteran and loving grandfather, he passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 61, when I was 14. After Low Mass and third Sunday potluck yesterday (where we all were handed beautiful Christ the King holy cards in commemoration of Summorum Pontificum), my family and I drove down to the cemetery to pray at his grave and sing him happy birthday. The sky was beautifully, crisply blue, the sun boiling hot. (Alas for an autumn not yet arrived!)

As we came to the end of our visit with Pap-pow, my family began taking note of the surrounding grave markers (we always seem to do this); the names, the years lived, the loving tributes left by family members. “Look, so-and-so was a Marine; so-and-so played piano; someone left so-and-so a handwritten note: I love you and miss you so much.

And then we came upon the tiny grave marker of a year-old baby boy.

Someone had tried to tape up some artificial blue flowers on the marker using duck tape, but the flowers were upended on the ground, with the tape left dangling in the wind. (Not surprising after all the tropical storm-induced weather that hit us over the past week.)

Lena and I stared sadly, then bent and slowly began rearranging the flowers, using some of the mangled tape to bind the plastic stems together and laying the flowers neatly under the marker. Something about the grief of this baby’s family permeated us. I can’t even remember how long it had been since he passed away; I don’t think it was more than a few years.

As Lena and I were mending the flowers, words spilled into my mind, clear and commanding. Leave a holy card.

Unable to ignore the idea, I brought it up aloud and my brother instantly pulled out his Summorum Pontificum Christ the King card from his pocket. I was able to tuck it snugly against the edge of the baby boy’s grave marker. We all looked at it for a moment, then stood up and walked back to the car.

I have no idea if the family or anyone at all will ever see the holy card. But I did know we were supposed to leave one there. Regardless of the persuasions of this small baby’s family, the King of Heaven and Earth who cares for each sparrow also cares tenderly for them.

2.

May the efficacy of the heavenly Gift, we beseech Thee, O Lord, possess our minds and bodies: so that its effects, and not our own impulses, may ever prevail in us.

-Postcommunion from the 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Ever since being introduced to the four temperaments and discovering my own, self-knowledge has seemed far closer to being in my grasp than it ever was before. (Authentic self-knowledge is, ahem, hard for the naturally superficial sanguine . . .)

Not long after I posted about being drawn to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in Latin, I felt inspired to research wholesome ways to combat a tendency to the sin of vanity, which is something I’ve noticed in myself virtually my whole life.

After some initial research, I first found and read a helpful article written by a Catholic young woman, who eloquently described the habit of sinning through vanity, either by being over-caring about your physical looks, or worrying too much about the opinions of other people concerning yourself. (Both of which can ring all too true for me if I’m not careful. Alas, I’m not often careful.)

So why is vanity a sin? It is a sin because we become consumed by other’s opinions of our self, rather than concerning ourselves with the opinion of God. Indeed, vanity assures us that the cares of the world are more important than those of God. When we begin thinking this way, we are drawn away from God.

It was an enlightening and inspiring read. The young woman mentioned how, after she once confessed vanity, her confessor instructed her to pray Psalm 8 in penance, and I have since making an effort to pray it every morning.

O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth! For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise, because of thy enemies, that thou mayst destroy the enemy and the avenger.
For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded.
What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?
Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: and hast set him over the works of thy hands.
Thou hast subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover the beasts also of the fields.
The birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, that pass through the paths of the sea.
O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in all the earth!

3.

And after reading this initial article, I progressed to find something even more helpful from Totus Tuus’ website. This particular article recommended that those who struggle with habitual vanity to meditate daily on the Passion of Christ; “looking for the fruit of being convinced of Christ’s love for me and, thus, I do not need to look for love and approval in any other place.” This seemed to be a nod from Our Lord, given my recent inspiration to pick up not only the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, but also meditations on the Stations of the Cross.

They also suggested that the one who struggles with vanity should contemplate as an ideal, “Christ crucified for love of me,” and that they should make their motto, “For me to live is Christ; to die is gain.”

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So I am endeavoring to do this more. It can be very difficult to be honest with oneself about one’s root sin, and once you have been honest, to not be discouraged but rather to be courageous and press forward seeking a remedy. Looking over my life and to the present day, I am compelled to admit how much vanity has played a role in my frequent failings in pure-hearted love of God. But at the same time, I am so grateful for His abundant grace (coming through the hands of Our Lady) which is motivating me to seek tools so as to weed out this root vice of mine. I know it will be a long road requiring perseverance and prayer, but ultimately you only fail if you stop striving, so . . . here’s to striving! 🙂

4.

Speaking of the Stations of the Cross, I have to say that the most beautiful form that I have encountered so far is the form for Stations found in the 1962 Missal, beginning on page 34.

Among the devotional exercises which have for their object meditation on the Passion, Crucifixion, and Death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, one of the chief has been the exercise commonly called the Way of the Cross. This devotion arose first in Jerusalem, among the Christians who dwelt there, out of veneration for those sacred places which were sanctified by the sufferings of our divine Redeemer. From that time, as we learn from St. Jerome, Christians visited the holy places in crowds. The gathering of the faithful, he says, even from the farthest corners of the earth, to visit the holy places, continued to his own times. From Jerusalem this devout exercise began to be introduced into Europe by various pious and holy persons, who had traveled to the Holy Land to satisfy their devotion. Pope Clement XII extended this devotion to the whole Catholic world.

These Stations are almost entirely Scriptural (with the rich, stunning language of the Douay-Rheims and Callan-McHugh versions), and yet compiled in such a way that often, prophecies from Lamentations, Isaias and the Psalms are presented as being in Christ’s first-person narrative; the pronouns are capitalized to denote Divinity. (This, by far, is the most moving way to contemplate the Passion that I have ever discovered.) There are also inclusions from the Improperia of Good Friday, the Stabat Mater, and various old hymns from traditional lauds and such.

O Father, I am afflicted and greatly humbled, I cry aloud because of the sorrow of My heart. Lord, all My longing is known to Thee, and My sighs are not hidden from Thee. My Heart beats furiously, My strength is gone, Mine eyes are dim and dull with weeping and pain. My friends and My companions come within sight of Me, but stand aloof, and My neighbors keep far from Me.

The arrows of Thy judgment have sunk deep in Me, and Thy hand is pressing heavily upon Me. There is no soundness in My body because of Thine anger. The iniquities of My people, like a flood, have overwhelmed Me; like a crushing burden they weigh upon Me.

-Psalm 37, Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time

5.

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The Ember Days are upon us this Wednesday, Friday and Saturday! Since this set of Ember Days occurs just prior to the Feast of St. Michael on the 29th, they’re called the “Michaelmas Embertide.”

There’s no better place to read about the Ember Days in general than the ever-helpful Fish Eaters, but I’ve gone ahead and quoted the most relevant excerpts below. While we are no longer obliged by Canon Law to fast and abstain (partially on Wednesday and Saturday, completely on Friday) on the Ember Days, it is worthwhile to try and do it if we can, or at least to select some sacrifice to make on these days.

Four times a year, the Church sets aside three days to focus on God through His marvelous creation. These quarterly periods take place around the beginnings of the four natural seasons that “like some virgins dancing in a circle, succeed one another with the happiest harmony,” as St. John Chrysostom wrote . . .

These times are spent fasting and partially abstaining (voluntary since the new Code of Canon Law) in penance and with the intentions of thanking God for the gifts He gives us in nature and beseeching Him for the discipline to use them in moderation. The fasts, known as “Jejunia quatuor temporum,” or “the fast of the four seasons,” are rooted in Old Testament practices of fasting four times a year.

Our Israelite ancestors once fasted weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Christians changed the fast days to Wednesdays (the day on which Christ was betrayed) and Fridays (the day on which He was crucified). The weekly two day fasts were later amended in the Roman Church to keeping only Fridays as penitential days, but during Embertides, the older, two-day fasts are restored. Saturdays (the day He was entombed) were added to these Ember times of fasting and are seen as a sort of culmination of the Ember Days . . .

Ember Days are days favored for priestly ordinations, prayer for priests, first Communions, almsgiving and other penitential and charitable acts, and prayer for the souls in Purgatory. Note that medieval lore says that during Embertides, the souls in Purgatory are allowed to appear visibly to those on earth who pray for them.

Because of the days’ focus on nature, they are also traditional times for women to pray for children and safe deliveries.

6.

Our family was worried when we learned that Sarasota, FL was directly in the path of Irma last week: Sarasota being the home of the FSSP’s Christ the King Chapel and our beloved Fr. Dupre and Fr. Bartholomew (“beloved,” that is, thanks to LiveMass.net 😉 )

We were so relieved to hear this morning, after Dad made a phone call, that they were left entirely unscathed, and should be back to broadcasting their 8am CT Mass within a few days! God is so good!

In the meantime, we have been praying along with the Mass offered in Warrington, England, at Our Lady’s Shrine. A beautiful screen capture from a Mass last week:

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Oh, don’t you want to fly there for a day, your missal in hand? 🙂 Look at that High Altar! Look at that light pouring down on the good priest and altar boys! It was almost blinding by the moment of Consecration . . . need I say more . . .

7.

My musical recommendation for the week is, without a doubt, Lux by Voces8. I have been listening to the entire album near-constantly on Spotify for the past week.

Simply put, Voces8’s offerings of sacred music are about as sublime and soul-stirring as you can find this side of Heaven. Wholly sublime. I believe a person would convert to the Faith simply by listening to Gjeilo’s Ubi Caritas and Dubra’s Ave Maria 1; but I may be a touch biased 😉

A blessed Feast of dear St. Joseph of Cupertino! And if you have The Reluctant Saint, by all means, watch it today–it is fabulous and one of my family’s all-time favorites!

Sig2

“That very month was September, and as fine as you could ask.”

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Our place is well-nigh gorgeous right now. And it’s funny how being sick and couch-bound made me notice all the blue skies, wind and sunshine out there.

There’s something about being in your pajamas and surrounded by wadded tissues while sitting by a window that lets in peeks of a glorious early September that makes you feel . . . wistful. So yesterday, when I had a bout of energy, I snatched my camera and tromped outside, determined to take a few beautiful (if amateur) photos and feel better about my creative exercises overall.

Sometimes I think God must drop a cold in my lap to help me slow down, rest, and think a bit more deeply. I must say, I’ve greatly enjoyed and appreciated this particular opportunity. Having discovered my predominately sanguine temperament, I’ve been realizing with greater clarity how I can find it easy to feel earnest about doing things right, and yet feel interiorly scattered about how well, exactly, am I living my life, without precisely knowing why. (If that doesn’t make sense, I apologize.)

So enter a cold, observations on the beauty of nature . . . and books.

Over the past week of sickness, I’ve been reading a great deal (shock):

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I like to keep my lap full during weeks such as these.

The Temperament God Gave You is highlighted in the above photo because it was another of my birthday presents (the rest of which I will continue to chronicle)! And it’s been a great read. I feel pretty fortunate to be able to absorb all this insight and advice in advance of my future life (and please don’t make a snide remark about how we’re always in advance of our future lives . . . my brain is only beginning to resurrect); particularly insights about temperamental combinations in marriage, parenting, and so on. It’s highly interesting and I look forward to being able to put it into practice one day!

By the way, reading this book also inspired me to further hone my correct knowledge of my temperament combination, which upon investigating wound up being around 65% sanguine and 35% phlegmatic–a perfect fit for yours truly (agh, especially the natural weaknesses . . . thank heaven for the Church and the Sacraments!):

Strengths and natural virtues

active, affectionate, affable, animated, ardent, carefree, compassionate, cheerful, creative, docile, eager, enthusiastic, entertainer, expressive, generous, fashionable, flexible, forgiving, funny, fun-loving, high-spirited, imaginative, joyful, light-hearted, lively, open, optimistic, outgoing, popular, responsive, resilient, sensitivity, sparkling, spontaneous, story-teller, vivacious, warm-hearted

Weaknesses and natural vices

attention-seeking, changeable, chatty, distractible, disorganized, emotional, tendency to exaggerate, faddish, fickle, flighty, frivolous, forgetful, gossipy, inconstant, insincere, scattered, sensual, smart-alecky, superficial, prone to vanity, undisciplined

If you are a sanguine-phlegmatic, you are blessed with an extremely likeable personality.

You are an extraverted, optimistic, warm individual who readily connects with others and is well-liked by all. You are fun-loving, enthusiastic, friendly, and inspiring (sanguine), but somewhat cautious at times, and also highly sensitive to other people’s moods, emotions, likes and dislikes (phlegmatic). You desire harmony in relationships and deeply value your friendships. You place a high value on doing what is kind. 

You are easy-going, creative,  imaginative, caring, generous, flexible, and spontaneous. You may be considered “emotional” because of your easily aroused feelings, your attentiveness to relationships, and your tender heart.  In a relationship, you may gravitate toward a logical, organized, strong-willed and decisive partner–someone who makes decisions quickly and provides strong moral certitude and structure to your life. You can be easily influenced by others’ opinions. Many sanguine-phlegmatics are drawn to teaching, parenting, the helping professions, and volunteer works for the betterment of society. You place a high priority on your personal search for meaning and self-identity, but this search always includes your friends and family and your community.

Your weaknesses are superficiality, indecisiveness, disorganization, and procrastination. Often you find it difficult to know exactly how to state what you mean, or how to express yourself logically; this contributes to a tendency to talk more than is needed or to provide more detail than is necessary.You may find yourself blurting out something without thinking, or spending too much time seeking advice only to find yourself more confused than you started, or oversleeping every day this week — despite all the best of intentions. You may find yourself becoming overcommitted because you simply can’t say “no” and have a strong need to be liked/please people. A typical sanguine-phlegmatic trick is to spend too much money shopping or (better yet) dining out with friends, and then to put off balancing the checkbook (too much work, too many other distractions) until it is hopelessly behind. Now you are overwhelmed with everything that has piled up! You may complain half-heartedly, blame circumstances, or go shopping.  You may have a tendency to personalize things. This can lead to misunderstandings. For example, if the boss says, “We are not meeting our quotas,” the sanguine-phlegmatic thinks, “Is he angry at me?” If her best friend says, “I really can’t wear red lipstick,” the sanguine-phlegmatic will think, “She’s trying to tell me that my lipstick looks terrible!” After all, the sanguine-phlegmatic has a double-dose of feeling; twice-blessed by the tendency to prioritize relationships and harmony.

So yes . . . a lot of self-knowledge going on around here 😉

Predictably, I’ve also been re-reading endless excerpts from The Wife Desired, because that’s how I indulge myself when I’m sick. Also, Letters from Pemberley made the stack because, over Labor Day weekend, we watched the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice (which in my opinion is an absolute cinematic masterpiece . . . sigh) and Letters is such a lovely and fun sequel to the story. I should be finished re-reading it just in time to embark on a celebratory re-read of The Lord of the Rings, beginning on September 22nd (Frodo’s and Bilbo’s shared birthday, of course).

And then there’s been Amusing Ourselves to Death. Despite my masked complaints about the initial difficulties of the first few chapters (simply because the logical side of my brain is not exercised as frequently as the creative side)  . . . it has now completely absorbed me across the past week, and yesterday especially.

It’s difficult to surmise this book well; one really does just have to take the time to read it in full. It’s a stunning and inarguable exposition of the shambles of our media-defined culture (and this book was written decades ago . . .). To be clear, Postman is not even speaking of America’s moral shambles here as much as he describes what’s become a complete lack of reason, coherence, relevance and context in how the vast majority of America thinks, converses and perceives pretty much everything in daily life; how our culture has regressed from seeking to be truly informed, to simply seeking to be amused, and without realizing it. It’s . . . deep.

We all, from time to time, most likely pause and contemplate how an overindulgence in media can gradually disconnect us from the reality of our personal lives, both physical and spiritual. It can result in our living in a castle in the air, so to speak. And this is where prudence and moderation must come in, especially for the sake of our spiritual lives as well as our overall health.

While this isn’t the point of Postman’s Amusing, per se, I’ve still been pondering my own usage of media and realizing how much more alive I feel, how my interior scatteredness or lack of quiet recedes, the less I use media in general, and the more I simply live, think, reason, act, give, contemplate, speak . . . and pray.

And yes, I really did just type this up in a blog post. Oh irony of ironies.

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So yes . . . this has been my September so far. A cold, some books, and somewhat deep thoughts. And decent-ish pictures which make me feel like a decent-ish photographer. What more could one want? 🙂

*the post title is a quote from the opening chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring. Of course.

Sig

7 Rambling Takes, Monday Edition

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When trying to decide exactly how I wanted to ramble about the recent goings-on around here, I decided that the most efficient way would be join in that tantalizing blog post technique known as the “7 Quick Takes,” which you usually find on homeschooling blogs (hence my knowledge of them to begin with).

Unfortunately, that technique has always been designated for use on Fridays . . . but since I have a Monday morning at my blogging disposal, and Friday seems quite a long way away, I think I shall break convention. Oh, and I’ll also be breaking convention because–true to my style–none of these takes are going to be quick.

On second thought, I think I’ll just call it 7 Rambling Takes and make it my own.

1.

We’ve just started the third full week in our new homeschool year, but it’s our first-ever year to use Our Lady of Victory School. Beautiful, traditional Catholic books, largely from Lepanto Press. Sigh. I’ve demanded requested that Mom never get rid of any of them so I can use them in my future homeschool.

My younger brother and sister have their noses to the grindstone, and are pretty much swimming in decidedly “older,” “harder” school work. 8th and 7th grade . . . they really are getting older and, now, are are both distinctly taller than Lena and I . . . my brother is the tallest of all of us four now . . . yes, things are happening. Sniff.

I know Lena and I have both waxed lyrical about being unregretting graduated women at home, and will continue to do so to our hearts’ content, but instead of indulging in that at the moment, I’ll instead talk about tutoring English.

I haven’t really tutored in English until this point, when I decided to blithely offer my help to Mom in tutoring my brother in this particularly dazzling field of study. In fact, I haven’t sat down and read formal English in what feels like decades. The terms are a little mind-numbing, and I actually taught one concept last week which I completely, totally did not understand, and yet he got most of the answers right anyway. He’s got smarts.

Tutoring your brother or sister is surprisingly rewarding, despite the natural ups and downs you can expect to have when you’re dealing with school AND siblings. While it can occasionally be a marvelous exercise in virtue, most often, it’s a perfect opportunity to crack jokes, conjure enthusiasm, and build on your relationships. As an older sibling, you’re provided a chance to encourage diligence and real learning in your younger siblings, as well as an opportunity to realize and navigate temperamental differences (and you can bet there are major differences in our household!), and to grow in patience as well as creativity. Without hesitation, that’s what I’ve enjoyed most so far.

And, if you’re a woman at home (I hope you saw this coming), tutoring is a prime way to practice for when you’ll be schooling your own children as a wife and mother one day. So I’m personally hoping to continue helping out in our homeschool until I’m off and married, or they’re out of school (hopefully the former will occur before the latter, though! . . .)

2.

I just finished reading my favorite book on the planet.

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The Wife Desired by Fr. Leo J. Kinsella is, quite literally, my favorite book. Ever. After my missal, I would grab this if the house were on fire and I only had time for one other item. (Well, okay . . . at least one other book. I won’t pin myself down that much. I have a feeling I can grab a lot, quickly.)

Although I had first resolved to read a chapter a day, and to responsibly meditate and absorb and contemplate . . . I devoured it, and now I’m beginning my re-read.

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While it’s been re-typset (probably independently) and re-published since it’s debut, I hunted down and found a used copy from back in the day, and it’s so charming. It’s little; the pages are yellowed; but it was in good condition (and, of course, considerably cheaper, which is always a bonus).

It caters beautifully to traditional stay-at-home wives (or girls who are aspiring to be so) with both powerful insight and candid humor that makes you chuckle. It has adorable illustrations and the sagest wisdom. It is a handbook. It is amazing. I’m keeping it forever. (Don’t worry, Lena, I’ll buy you a separate copy before I leave.)

It is thoroughly, traditionally Catholic in its perspective (it’s written by a priest, after all!), and yet it almost entirely focuses on the natural gifts a wife can bring to her marriage, in contrast to focusing on the sacramental and sacred aspect of marriage, which it takes for a given. The book is divided into seven chapters. Each chapter hones in on a particular attribute of the ideal wife. (“The Wife Desired is an Inspiration to Her Husband;” “The Wife Desired Has Personality;” “The Wife Desired Has a Sense of Humor;” etc.)

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It has given me so much to ponder and to work on. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to teach me as much as confirm all my current ideas and convictions . . . well, I was in for a surprise. Of course, there was much in the way of confirmation and encouragement for me, but it also drastically illuminated my understanding of, and eagerness for, the best ways I can be a good wife in the future, should that be God’s will for me. It was marvelous.

There is so much practical advice in this book. So many little things that, in my ignorance, I had never really thought about before, at least not purposefully and intentionally. With eloquence and fun, this good priest points out the natural gifts of women, emphasizes their great worth and potential, and then encourages women to use them wholeheartedly in the service of their God-given vocation, for the good of their souls and their husband’s souls. Again, so marvelous.

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I’m planning to use this book as the inspirational basis for writing letters to my future husband, in the style of Woman in Love. Granted, it’s a little hard to get my act together for this practice of writing letters (on the other hand, my sister is almost unbelievably faithful to it), but it’s something I still want to pursue, and this book has given me so. many. thoughts that if I don’t begin writing letters I might simply explode with excitement and eagerness.

And we wouldn’t want that.

3.

Continuing on the theme of books, when I’ve been able to pull myself away from the addictive The Wife Desired, I’ve been buried in two other very good ones as well, lent to me by two different friends.

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Amusing Ourselves to Death is definitely stretching my brain. I like to consider myself intelligent (well, doesn’t everyone?) and so for humility’s sake (as well as the sake of actually learning things!) it’s always good to come across a book where I have to be incredibly intent while reading it so as to understand and process the content. It’s a difficult read for me, but at the same time, is fascinating in its premise, charting the differences and development in the mediums of discourse across the centuries, as well as the modern decline of the value of our public discourse through television.

Until I began reading this, I’d never really considered the shift that gradually occurred between some societies’ mediums of discourse; once considering the spoken word to be more trustworthy than the written word, they eventually reversed (it kind of makes me feel guilty for blogging, but oh well), to where a medium that was once believed to give evidence of wisdom and knowledge (such as the memorization of proverbs) became looked upon as childish and ineffective. Neil Postman probes at examples such as this at a deep level; he unearths why and how particular mediums of discourse resonate with different societies, or society in general.

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On the subject of mediums and metaphors in society, one particularly interesting paragraph (I thought, anyway) relates:

A person who reads a book or who watches television or who glances at his watch is not usually interested in how his mind is organized and controlled by these events, still less in what idea of the world is suggested by a book, television, or a watch. But there are men and women who have noticed these things, especially in our own times. Lewis Mumford, for example, has been one of our great noticers. He is not the sort of a man who looks at a clock merely to see what time it is. Not that he lacks interest in the content of clocks, which is of concern to everyone from moment to moment, but he is far more interested in how a clock creates the idea of “moment to moment.” He attends to the philosophy of clocks, to clocks as a metaphor, about which our education has had little to say and clock makers nothing at all. “The clock,” Mumford has concluded, “is a piece of power machinery whose ‘product’ is seconds and minutes.” In manufacturing such a product, the clock has the effect of disassociating time from human events and thus nourishes the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences. Moment to moment, it turns out, is not God’s conception, or nature’s. It is man conversing with himself about and through a piece of machinery he created.

A little mind-bending (for me) . . . but it makes sense!

4.

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And the other book! How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. Admittedly, the title is a little misleading in tone, but it’s proven so far to be a thoughtful, thought-provoking read (what I’ve read of it, anyway; I don’t read every section of relationship books such as these, since fortunately, much of the world’s relationship problems/sinful habits aren’t, thank God, applicable to me!).

On a similar vein to The Wife Desired, I’ve thus far found it an engrossing and practical help in examining the natural, emotional, and psychological elements of how to build a healthy relationship, and to thus discern if you and your partner are naturally compatible and–from the Catholic perspective–will find it possible to lovingly and healthily cooperate together in doing God’s will in marriage. I think a book such as this can go hand-in-hand with a traditional Catholic courtship, because it has the potential to stimulate so many worthwhile conversations between partners and aid them in getting to know one another rationally, so they can then better discern if their are meant to share in the marriage vocation together.

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Again, I feel as though I have interiorly focused so much on the spiritual and sacramental aspect of marriage (the most important aspects, of course!) during discernment over the past year, that now, discovering the more natural, practical aspects of building courtship and married relationships has been deeply enlightening, and a helpful preparation should I begin needing it someday.

5.

Now to leave books behind! My family just took a weekend trip to visit my paternal grandparents, as well as my great-aunt and great-uncle on my mother’s side. We had a wonderful time, ate far too much food, talked into the night, and listened to far too much Frank Sinatra on the drive both ways.

After receiving a CD of Frank Sinatra’s as a gift, we’ve become rather addicted to it . . . it’s our “feel good” music, and since we tend to enjoy feeling good on a daily basis, it stands to reason that you will hear the strains of “Fly Me to the Moon,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in our homeschool around lunchtime, accompanied by a good foxtrot. Ballroom dancing is our noon PE.

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6.

Posture. I’ve been focusing on improving my posture (sitting and standing, but especially standing) for approximately the past four days. I came across a blog post talking about it, and since then, I’ve been trying to stand better aligned. My knees hyper-extend, my shoulders tend to slouch, and if I give in to my habit of putting my weight slightly more on one foot than the other, it tends to give me hip and leg pain (probably remnants from the mild torture I put my body through in ballet) . . . and besides, I think good posture just looks (and feels!) far better.

I’ve been evangelizing my family members about it and they’re probably tired of it by now.

7.

Last night, my entire family took the temperament quiz at Temperamentquiz.com. It was a hilarious but nonetheless revealing hour. It turns out we have three choleric-sanguines (no surprise there; I predicted those in advance), one phlegmatic-sanguine (ahem, me), one choleric-melancholic, and one melancholic-phlegmatic.

And those are my seven rambling takes! Time for the Angelus and lunch 🙂

A blessed feast of St. Jane Frances de Chantal!

Sig