Not just words in books. Proclaim. Write. Act. Sing. Draw.
Photo by Guest Bouncer John Biediger
Not just words in books. Proclaim. Write. Act. Sing. Draw.
Photo by Guest Bouncer John Biediger
On December 2, 2012, I started the Can We Cana? blog on a wing and a prayer, hoping to provide support for Catholic marriages and families. Thanks to you wonderful readers, the blog reached its 1000th pageview in less than two months. By its one-year anniversary, the blog has attracted more than 30,000 pageviews from readers in all 50 states and in countries around the globe.
Blogpost topics have included everything from sexuality and the Theology of the Body to staying married through sickness and health, unexpected pregnancies, first-year disillusionment, and the pressures of raising a big family. There are parenting tips, household tips, and reviews of awesome Catholic family resources. I’ve even included discussions of difficult issues like marital abandonment, abortion, annulment, virginity, and rape. Thanks to the support of some amazing on-line friends I’ve made, Can We Cana? posts have also appeared on CatholicMom.com, CatholicLane.com, AmazingCatechists.com, MercatorNet.com (Australia), and MyYearofFaith.com.
Here’s a run-down of the posts you liked the best, and a request — tell me what else you’d most like to read about here!
1. Chaste Sex: Not What You Think It Is (more than 1200 views)
Many blessings on all of you for helping this Catholic marriage support community grow. If there are any topics you’d like to hear more about, please let me know in the comments!
One of my favorite Advent books and one that I read every year at this time is a book by Catherine Doherty called “Donkey Bells,” published by Madonna House Publications. I love to read this inspiring book curled up in a comfortable chair by the wood stove, a hot chocolate or apple cider beside me, Advent and Christmas music playing quietly in the background. This lovely book is filled with heartwarming stories, customs and traditions (such as the Advent wreath, baking, the blessing of the Christmas tree) and moving reflections for the season. It is a beautiful way for children, teens and adults to prepare their hearts for Christmas.
The following is a story from Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas by Catherine Doherty
(Available as a paperback and e-book)
Donkey Bells (by Catherine Doherty)
It came to me, during these days of Advent, that I should share with you a custom which is not necessarily liturgical but which adds to the enjoyment of this lovely season. It has deep spiritual connotations; at least it did for our family, and for many others I knew when I was a young child.
When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me that if I was good during this holy season of Advent, and offered my little acts of charity and obedience throughout Advent to the little Christ Child for a gift on his birthday, then sometime during Advent, at first very faintly and then quite clearly, I would hear bells. As she put it, the first church bells.
These were the bells around the neck of the little donkey that carried Our Lady. For mother explained that Our Lady carried Our Lord. She was the temple of the Holy Spirit, the first ‘church’ as it were, since Christ reposed in her. And the donkey, carrying Our Lady and sounding his bells as he walked, wore the first church bells.
Around the second week of Advent, mother wore a little bracelet that had tinkling bells. As she moved her hand I could hear them tinkle, and I got excited because I associated them with the donkey’s bells.
As young as I was, my imagination would build up a lot of little stories about the trip of Our Lady from Nazareth to Bethlehem — stories which I would share with my mother, and which would spur me on to further good deeds and little sacrifices.
During the third week of Advent, mother’s bracelet miraculously got many more bells on it. The sound grew louder and louder as Christmas approached. It was wonderful.
My brother and I used to listen. Mother’s bells were first around her wrist and then around her knee too. Then more bells, as it got closer to Christmas. We were really excited about them.
I introduced this little custom in Madonna House. During Advent, I wear a kind of bracelet that can be heard as I walk or move, in whatever room of the house I may be. The members of our family tell me that it spurs them on, even as it did me when I was a child, to meditate more profoundly on the mystery of Advent.
Here at Madonna House, we have begun in these last few years to make a collection of miniature donkeys — of wood, glass, ceramics, rope — you name it. And we have an album of Christmas cards (which we save from the many we receive) that depict the donkey in the manger scene.
The presence of the donkey and the ox in Scripture is symbolic of the prophets who foretold the Incarnation. And also of the fact that “the ox and ass know their Master’s voice, but Israel doesn’t know the voice of God” (Isaiah 1:3). So, you see, there is some spiritual foundation for my love for the donkey which brings such great joy to my heart.
I’m sure that, as a child, Christ rode on a donkey many times. And also as a man, of course. In Scripture we know of only two times: one was when the donkey carried Our Lady, who in turn carried God, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The other was when the donkey carried Christ into Jerusalem as the people laid palm branches before Him, proclaiming him king.
Let us think for a moment: What kind of animal is a donkey? It is a beast of burden, the animal of the poor. Once again, the immense theme of poverty is illustrated in an animal. God chose the humblest, the smallest in status, because among the animals the donkey is considered very low. So God is teaching us a lesson here — a lesson of humility, of poverty, and of simplicity.
Have you ever seen a newborn donkey? Well, every donkey has a black cross on its gray fur, a marking which is especially noticeable just after it is born from its mother’s womb. It gets less clear as the donkey matures, but still is visible. I share this fact with you to teach you to open your heart to the bells of the donkey that carried Our Lady and also God.
The breath of the donkey and the ox made the stable warm. So we meditate on several things at once: the poverty and humility of the donkey God chose, and which should be our poverty and humility; and the breath of our love, which should warm God in our neighbor constantly.
Let us remember that the donkey also had no room at the inn. Neither woman, nor man, nor donkey had a place at the inn. So they went to live in a poor stable that wasn’t too well prepared for animals, let alone as a decent habitation for human beings.
Now, another meditation comes to us. Think of the millions of people who are left homeless on our streets. Tragic is this situation. We, as apostles, must be very careful that we do not exclude anyone from the inn of our heart.
I pray that our heart, our soul, our ears will hear very clearly ‘the bells of the donkey,’ not only in Advent but throughout the year. For whoever who is pure of heart and childlike shall hear the bells of the donkey ring in their life.
(Creative Commons Licence Pass It On by Madonna House Publications is free to re-publish under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License.)
Do you have a favorite Advent or Christmas story? Please feel free to share.
Up until I was eight years old I belonged to St. Francis de Sales parish in Houma, La., whose church is a lovely Gothic revival structure completed in 1938. My Catholic imagination was well-nurtured by its elegant proportions; the Bible stories vividly presented in the stained glass windows; and a dove whose wings overshadowed the crucifix, tabernacle and altar. The dove was painted on the green underside of a gracefully arched canopy which was cantilevered from the wall just above the crucifix.
Of course I knew the dove represented the Holy Spirit. But the canopy made the point, not the bird. It emphasized and protected Jesus on the cross; and also in his little house, the Tabernacle. It was clear to a kid: what’s under the canopy is more worthy of attention and protection than what’s not under it. I didn’t understand until decades later that the canopy was yet another expression of Biblical-liturgical overshadowing; and that the little canopy was properly called a baldacchino.
At Mass, I’m frequently reminded of that green canopy during the Epiclesis:
Roman Missal 3rd Edition, Eucharistic Prayer II: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Roman Missal 2nd Edition, Eucharistic Prayer II: “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
I remember the canopy not so much because of the words, but because of the gesture which accompanies those words:
Is the priest making a little canopy over the gifts? I think it’s implicit in the gesture. More specifically, I think he’s overshadowing the gifts. I know, the prayer doesn’t say that. I’m conflating “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts…” with this bit of Luke 1: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” But I like the overshadowing gesture; and if I had been in charge of the New Translation, that bit would be something like “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy; and let your power overshadow them, that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” But I can’t find any Mass in Latin that mentions overshadowing even once; so it’d be going beyond the Latin to include any explicit mention of it.
But Christianity is bigger than the Latin Church. And the Eastern Christians usually embrace mystery with an enthusiasm that often escapes the rational West. Are any of them explicit about overshadowing in their Divine Liturgies?
At least one is, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In the opening prayer of its Divine Liturgy we hear, “How awful is this day and how marvellous this hour wherein the Holy Spirit will descend from heaven and overshadow and hallow this sacrifice. In quietness and in fear, arise and pray that the peace of God be with me and with all of you.” I like that.
And at the epiclesis the priest says, “We pray thee and beseech thee Lord, that thou wouldest send the Holy Spirit and power upon this bread and upon this cup.” I think the couplet of ‘Holy Spirit and power’ alludes to Luke 1 as well, but a bit more explicitly than Masses in the West do.
So in April of next year, when we are discussing the Epiclesis in Catechism class, I’ll make the same gesture as the priest. And then I’ll get the kids to figure out what it means, and connect it to other overshadowings they’re already familiar with. Time permitting, I’ll draw the old canopy at St. Francis and a baldacchino; and have the children tell me how they relate to the priest’s overshadowing hands.
I’m a liturgical year geek…we’ll just blame it on that.
December 1st falling on the first Sunday of Advent, thus lighting the way for a new Church year, makes me happy.
I like when ALL of Advent falls in December. It’s a month I can put aside our autumn orange, yellow, and brown foliage and welcome everything white and blue and purple and pink.
There’s no intermingling of the two. I love that. My plans love that.
It’s a small obsession of mine. I’m geeky that way. 😉
Catholic Icing has a delicious Advent Christmas Planner. Maybe there’s still time. Definitely.
Especially if we cast into the cold the perfectionist tendencies found in all of us.
“The plan is to write a weekly column with reflections on living the Liturgical Year. I will feature some of the rich materials on Catholic Culture, but besides talking about liturgy and customs and traditions, I also would like to discuss some authors and books, and perhaps some Catholic cultural history, particularly relating to the Liturgical Movement. I won’t limit myself now, because the Liturgical Year interweaves every part of our lives, and I love to witness and discuss the beauty.”
I have written at Amazing Catechists how I use the feasts and fasting of the Church’s liturgical year (and an encyclical by Pope Pius XI) to weave beauty and meaning into my home church parish’s religious education formation program.
I have a heartfelt belief that this is important to do so. My heart weeps for the children who do not receive the beauty of the liturgical year within their homes: never seeing an Advent wreath, never lighting candles, never hearing of humble beginnings, never knowing true heroism outside of what the media sells them, never knowing that pink, purple, green, and white mean anything other than colors in a crayon box. So I intentionally expose it to them each week. We change altar clothes in our classrooms. We light Advent wreaths too. We do an Advent match-up of traditions. We present heroic Church members and guess who they are by their 3 clues. We bless our classrooms every January. We bless our throats every February. We feast at St. Joseph’s Altar every March. We walk the holy way with Christ every Lent. We listen to the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on a weekly basis. I’ve shared a bit of what we heroically do—in one hour a week—here: 10 Ways to Share a Breathing, Bleeding, Being Faith.
We can’t do much in one hour a week. We can only expose, invite, include them to what is golden. We make an offering of what we do and entrust the children to prayer and the Holy Spirit the rest of the week.
Jennifer is by far superior than I to write on this magnificent subject so I am thrilled to see her following the Holy Spirit’s prompting and sharing the riches of the liturgical year with us. I anticipate a richly rewarding learning experience by her hand-led tutoring. I’d be pleased if other catechists joined me in supporting Jennifer in this endeavor. I’m starting off with subscribing and getting this free eBook download: Liturgical Year 2013-2014
It’s a win-win situation. Best way ever to start the Church’s New Year!