Living a fruitful Catholic Life
October 25, 2014
Perfection and Polka Dots
Dressing for a Middle School Band Concert
The gymnasium was crowded. I scanned the faces, smiling at friends and neighbors trying not to show frustration as my eyes moved quickly past each row looking for my husband and children. Where are they? I left the gym, moving to the other entrance to gain a different vantage point. “Have you seen James?” I asked. “Oh, he’s over there” was a simple, friendly reply. I stopped texting him, lifting my eyes to see him wave. Relieved to reach them, I sat on the bleacher and exhaled. As I pulled my 3 year-old close, I noticed that she had changed clothes since I had been home. Her outfit was impressive - red polka dot pajama pants, pink rubber boots, plaid shirt and a purple knit poncho that had also been a favorite of her four older sisters. This getup was topped by a navy polka dot pea coat, so there was a theme. I smiled through a cringe. Polka dots are my favorite color, I thought.
Middle school band concerts are crazy events. They are this odd intersection between elementary and high school. Students ignore their parents entering the building only to transform when seated. They will wave at their parents and are excited to see siblings jumping up and down to wave back. Parents set up cameras in front of the audience or even worse, sit on the gym floor, iPads at the ready, prepared to tape every moment. It reminds me of the moment in The Music Man when Professor Harold Hill, in handcuffs, begins conducting his boy’s band and a parent rises with a shout and cries, “That’s my Johnny!”
Please don’t misunderstand; I am not being sarcastic or cynical. Middle school is filled with change, joy and hope. Parents feel a part of the performance after encouraging or requiring practice at home. They are excited to hear those single notes merge with other instruments into song. They are excited to see progress and happy to go home talking about improvement. You see, middle school band concerts are not about perfection. The squeaks and spurts of kids just learning to play is just how life works and grandparents, aunt and uncles venture out into a dark evening to watch a work in progress.
The concert was wonderful, not painful at all. I smiled, and watched my daughter play to the crowd, how funny. In a few years, these students will enter a stage, instead of a gym, serious and prepared to give a perfect performance. There will be no giggles and no waves. People will enjoy beautiful music, seated in cushioned seats, and I pray we remember fondly the intersection of the middle years
and the beauty that comes from imperfection.
October 10, 2014
Inside - Out
It was going to be a difficult day - that was a fact. So much so that I was happy to wake up early to arrive for morning matins at the local church at 7 a.m. The website indicated that morning mass was to follow at 7:30 a.m. I had checked several websites just to be sure: the local church, the diocesan site, and masstimes.com. There was some confusion about what was suppose to happen first, but something liturgical would begin at 7 a.m. I left my hotel room, glad for beautiful sunny weather, and drove to the church. It was easy to see there would not be a big crowd as I rounded the corner and entered the parking lot. Easy parking, not really a surprise - it was 7a.m. I yawned.
I was surprised when I pulled the handle of the church door - it didn't budge, not even a little. Okay, there were plenty of signs that the door was going to be locked, the empty parking lot, a really empty parking lot. Hey I checked, really checked, to make sure what the morning mass time was.
I returned to my car and pulled into a parking spot next to the building, as close to the altar as I could get. I knew where the altar was and I knew the location of the tabernacle. Jesus was there! I just couldn't get any closer and I started my rosary. While I prayed, I meditated on the window in front of me. Darkened, I focused on the image in the middle. It was Mary and children surrounded her. As I moved from the Sorrowful Mysteries to the Joyful ones, I considered that Mary knew well what motherhood was like - its trials, its joys, its weight. The only thing that perplexed me was that the image seemed to show Mary with her hand outstretched, like she was blessing the children. I have never seen Mary with her hand like that. I began the Luminous Mysteries. I studied the children in the window as they played. Interesting, I thought.
I was halfway through the Glorious Mysteries when a vehicle parked beside me. I hardly moved, my finger rolled down the window, somebody was going to get it...
"Good Morning," I said. "I thought there was mass at 7a.m." She replied simply," Mass is at 8:30." As I set my jaw and shifted my hip ready to launch, she continued. She was a visitor too, her "sister lived here and the wrong time had gotten her the week before." That weekend she had read in the bulletin the correct time. In unison we said, "Someone should call the office."
Being locked out is hard. I reflected a lot that day about the feeling I had pulling on a door that I usually found easy to open. I thought about how many people feel that way physically and emotionally about The Church. We know them; many of them we pray for daily. Many of our loved ones are far from The Church and we pray that they will be drawn home, stop in and pray, and seek out a weekend mass. What happens when after finally summoning up the courage to return, the doors are locked. Just the thought hurts, "Please Lord, make it easy for them to return!"
As someone who has been responsible on occasion for correcting a liturgical schedule, I can say it isn't easy. Sometimes websites are hard to negotiate; there are miscommunications and people make mistakes. It is more important to consider what happens when the locked door encountered is a person. We can all that obstacle to someone in church when we respond to them as a stranger. "Who are you?" "Do I know you?" "What are you doing in my pew?" Of course, we don't say those words but at times our faces and our bodies do.
In my prayers, I desire that my loved ones' catholic coworkers serve to minister to them. That the rental car's station just happens to be left on Relevant Radio. I pray that the people in church are friendly and smile if my people chose to come home. We need to be open doors in our parishes, in the pew, the parish office, and on the phone.
Oh yea, and I need to call that parish office!
October 10, 2014
Inside - Out
Remember, I said it was going to be a difficult day. It came with many blessings and not one, but many lessons -
The darkened windows of 7 a.m were revealed to me at the 8:30 mass.
The stained glass wasn't a picture of Mary but a very familiar image of Jesus and children. The lesson - the true beauty of the Catholic Church is seen from inside Her. It is from inside the church that the rays of light illuminate the beautiful colors and tell the story. It is from inside The Church that The Story makes sense!
It was also a lesson that day that from outside of the church it was easy to get things confused. The images were contorted and dark. I had a hard time understanding the image and perceived a mixed message. I simply couldn't see it well enough to understand.
How hard it is for others, especially in the current culture, to hear or to see the Gospel of Christ from where they stand. We must consider that the perspective from outside the Church is dramatically different than from within. We must welcome and accompany them inside, to share the beauty. We must share our story with enthusiasm remembering that perspective is everything!
May your day be filled with the light of Christ,
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will,to suffer for doing good, than for doing evil. "
1 Peter 3:15-18
The old fashioned mix was a two step process. First, water was added to the egg white powder, beat to stiff peaks and the flour packet was gently folded in. The batter was high and light when baking began. I started to search products for the two-step mix and found that they are available. I found that most in-store brands are two-step recipes. Read the back of the box, looking for the directions indicating two separate packets. Avoid Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines in this case and make sure to keep a few extra on hand if these too become unavailable. In that case, I guess it will be time to return to an even earlier tradition when angel food cakes were made from scratch. I bought my first sifter this summer anticipating as much; but for now, I will benefit from the convenience of a good cake mix. Traditions don't have to be complicated just filled of meaning and love. Remember that every tradition begins with that first year.
May our Guardian Angels enjoy their day, knowing our love and appreciation for their guidance and protection,
October 1, 2014
Well there is no point in fighting it, the season has changed - it's Fall. The kids have gone back to school, CCD starts tonight, all balls are in play. It is always a hard adjustment. I love the ease of summer, the days without strict timetables and kids at home. It's fun. I also love the work that I do - teaching CCD, my mother's group, children's liturgy. Fall means going back to work and I can't wait.
It is an irony that some of the difficult jobs we do are almost the most satisfying apples to name one. I have this beautiful little apple tree. It produces fruit every other year and I make a combination of apple butter/ sauce. I love that my kids love it and that I am using the fruit that is provided by God in my own backyard. I watch as it blossoms. I fuss as the weather changes and threatens in late spring in Wyoming. Will the fruit set on? will the apples survive? I protect it with a fake owl to scare away the birds. (Note to self - clean bird poo off owl's head to increase success.)
Growing apples has similarities to raising children, we provide and protect but mainly we watch and pray. We must always remember to be grateful for this blessing because it is a privilege to watch and pray for children.
So as the weather cools and my harvest is complete. The total, 27 quarts and 24 pints are safely tucked away. They will have to last for two years; until the cycle repeats, God willing. So if you have apples yet to be picked and canned, I will include here my recipe. Please remember, apples are like children - they are not all the same so go easy on the sugar and the cider! This is one adventure that requires frequent tasting and adjustment.
May God bless you in this beautiful fall day,
Apple Butter / Sauce
Preparation: Soak and wash apples in lemon water. I do not use pesticides on my apples so please guarantee your apples are cleaned properly. Quarter and remove core, leaving peels intact. Boil apples with enough water to cover apples.
Once apples are cooked, use a food mill medium blade removing the unusable apple from mill frequently. Mill again with the fine blade. Hint - If you wish an even finer texture, you can use to cheesecloth after the fine mill. Do not discard the water from the boiling include it in the apple mixture. Your remaining apple should be almost the constancy of store purchased applesauce before adding ingredients.
7 quarts cooked and prepared apple
6 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp all spice
3 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
3 cups brown sugar
5 cups white sugar
1 1/2 c. cider
(Careful add 1/2 cup cider at a time adjusting recipe to taste. Some apples are sour, some sweet.)
Cook in turkey roaster at 300 degrees for 3-4 hours. Apple should be desired consistency and brown in color as it cooks. This part of the cooking process is very forgiving. You can reduce heat, add water or even refrigerate the mixture and heat again the next day. If you wish you can cook it for 5 or more hours. Stir frequently keeping the apple butter at a high simmer.
Ladle into clean, hot jars securing with new lids and place in water bath. Water bath must cover jar lids. Boil in water bath for 15 min before removing to cool. Jar should seal and pressing on center of lid should not produce a "pop". Always refrigerate applesauce after opening.
October 2, 2014 - The Feast of the Guardian Angels
This image of the guardian angel was in my bedroom as a child. It was a comforting scene and not until I was older did I recognize the peril of the broken bridge and the dramatic drop below. The size of the angel was so grand and yet so maternal. I didn't see the danger, only love.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels. Making those days memorable at home are as simple as praying The Guardian Angel prayer at dinner as a family or a perhaps a special dessert. Today, I will enjoy making an angel food cake. It has become an annual tradition at our house. I would have made an angel food cake for the Feast of the Archangels but that day always seems to sneak up on me. The Archangels' feast is wonderful and in celebrating it I make sure preparations to celebrate our closest and constant friends, Guardian Angels.
Baking an angel food cake in recent years has been difficult. The one step cake mix sold by the major brands rise dependent on a chemical reaction. The batter is thin in consistency, as indicated on the back of the box. The increase that the cake requires is amazing; almost tripling its height and volume. I would try to bake the cake in a quiet house, which was almost impossible. A house without little feet running was imperative but when an empty house resulted in a cake that fell in the final minutes, I wondered if I would have to buy angel food cakes at the grocery store. I yearned for the cake mixes of my youth.