Pentecost Idea: Which Gift of the Holy Spirit Will You Get?

Looking for a easy, last-minute idea to celebrate Pentecost with your family this Sunday? On seven different strips of red paper (red is the liturgical color for the feast day), write down each of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 10.51.24 AMWisdom
Understanding
Counsel
Fortitude
Knowledge
Piety
Fear of the Lord

Put the strips of paper in a box, bag, or hat. At the end of your Sunday family meal, have each family member pick a strip of paper out of the box. Then, that person works and prays for God to increase in them that particular gift of the Spirit until Pentecost comes again.

This is an easy and powerful way to keep the spirit of Pentecost and the working of the Holy Spirit alive in your personal and family prayer life throughout the year.

Here is a great article on The Gifts of the Holy Spirit for you to read as a family (with older children) or as a couple, before or after choosing your gifts. If you have younger children, this short article on How to Talk to Your Children About the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirt is easier to understand and explain.

You can also begin or end your activity with this Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Customize the activity for your family, given the ages and number of your children. (You can always double up on certain gifts if you have a large family!) You can even do this activity by and for yourself. I’ll be working on making my “Holy Spirit gift box” this weekend, in addition to baking our Pentecost cake. Happy Solemnity of Pentecost and Happy Birthday, Church!

Siblings Moving Hand in Hand Toward Holiness

st-therese-of-lisieuxMy recent feature in the National Catholic Register, Sibling-Inspired Sanctity, was inspired by Pope Francis’ recent reminder: “Having a brother, a sister who loves you is priceless.” Not only am I indescribably blessed to have two sisters, a sister-in-law, and a brother-in-law who love me, but my siblings encourage me, by word and by example, to grow in faith and to continue to pursue the ministry work to which God has called me.

Reflecting on the relationships of the siblings in this article made me ask myself, “Am I intentionally leading my siblings toward Christ?” Perhaps, like me, you have noticed that sometimes the hardest people to love, to learn from, and to inspire are your own family members. Regardless of the closeness of our relationship with our siblings, we have the immense privilege of helping them on their journey toward heaven. Sometimes we do that by their side, while other times we may only be able to help them grow in holiness from a distance, through prayer.

Hopefully, through the intercession and inspiration of St. Therese and Leonie Martin, you might do something this week to inspire one of your siblings toward sanctity, or thank them for inspiring you.

The 2015 Ultimate Lenten Resource Guide

lentIn the event that you find yourself still deciding what to do for Lent on this Shrove Tuesday, this resource guide from the National Catholic Register should help. It’s separated by category (Lent in your email inbox, Lent for families, etc.), so you’re likely to find something well-tailored to helping you grow closer to Christ and the mystery of His Passion and Death this Lenten season.

“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” – Pope Francis

“Time spent with the sick is holy time”

aelishwphotography_flowers

aelishwphotography.com

So many of us are touched by the pain of mental health deterioration in some way. As a little girl, I remember my grandmother once repeatedly telling me how much she loved the ice cream sundae I made for her, not realizing until later that she had expressed her gratitude at least three times within five minutes. Though she was embarrassed, I recall loving her all the more in that moment, while simultaneously being frustrated that sickness can be so debilitating to experience and to witness. My grandmother was one of the most grace-fillled and beautiful women I’ve ever known, and I am thankful that even today, many years after her passing, I can relish not only the good memories we had, but also the faith in Christ and in His Church that we shared.

If you or someone you love is in a battle with declining mental health, I hope my recent article in the National Catholic Register on Caring for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s brings you some help and consolation.

“Time spent with the sick is holy time.” -Pope Francis

Finer Things Night: Our Favorite Family Date

Since my husband and I have only been married three years, there are few long-running traditions in our house yet, with this fabulous monthly exception. I look forward to the 14th of every month. It’s like a breath of fresh air, and a unique change of pace during an otherwise normal week or month.

I leave little reminders on the fridge or on bathroom mirrors to remind us to plan for FTN.

I leave little notes on the fridge or on the bathroom mirror to remind us to plan.

Allow me to introduce you to one of our favorite in-home date experiences. We call it Finer Things Night.

The name derives from the exclusive group of coworkers in the show, The Office, who call themselves The Finer Things Club and meet once a month to discuss books, listen to classical music, enjoy fine food, and appreciate culture “in a very civilized way.” As they say in the show, “There is no paper, no plastic, and no work talk allowed.”

So the hubby and I hijacked the sitcom’s infamous club name, but the desire to start Finer Things Night, and the date of the month we chose to schedule it on, was an effort to celebrate our anniversary date every month of the year. Our anniversary being on April 14th, we wanted the 14th of every month to be a mini-celebration of our continued love and fidelity for one another and a chance to enjoy not only each other’s presence, but to soak in some of the finer things in life together, disconnecting from technology most of these finer evenings and embracing high culture “in a very civilized way.” We also just wanted an excuse to have a little extra fun on a random weeknight.

Some things I love about Finer Things Night:

  • They require intentionality on our part, but not a burdensome amount of
    A FTN menu and a little decor

    A FTN menu and a little decor

    planning or execution. When we first started doing this, the hard part was remembering to plan something and then dividing responsibilities, but neither of those tasks were actually that difficult once we got the hang of it. I usually type up a “menu” for the night, which describes our meal for the evening (preferably something slightly fancier than we may normally eat on a week night) and the “finer” activity. I cook, set the table and the ambiance—like candles and flower petals (or flowers that Ray brings me), cloth napkins and wine glasses, for example—and

    We get a little fancier than usual on our FTN. (Picture: homemade chocolate raspberry cake…with a secretly healthy spin. Shh. Don’t tell my husband.)

    Ray plans and executes the activity. Neither of us spends more than a few hours planning (if that), but the small time investment is so worth it. We also try to get a little dressed up, even though we’re staying in.

  • Everyone can be involved. This is more of a family date night than a couple one, though it can be either. We love to engage our son in the activities, since we want him to appreciate culture anyway. Because he is the ultimate reminder of our love for one another, it makes sense that he’s an integral part of our evening festivities, too. Since he is only 14 months old now, his involvement is likely to grow as time goes on. Currently, he sometimes falls asleep before the activity starts.
  • It reminds us to celebrate our marriage every month. In the middle of hectic family life and work, we are forced to stop and think, “Gosh I am happy to be married to this man/woman,” and to spend a little extra time in thanksgiving for our marriage when we come to God in prayer that night.
  • We learn something new and interesting. From listening to and
    From classical music studies to tea tasting, FTN is full of culture and learning.

    From classical music studies to tea tasting, FTN is full of culture and learning.

    studying the history of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to learning the process for harvesting, brewing, and tasting tea, we always go to sleep that night with a sense of unexpected appreciation for whatever we have learned or experienced.

  • It’s fun. Sometimes, it just feels so good to break up the monotony of an ordinary evening with fancy food, good conversation, and a little class and culture.
  • It’s flexible. If Finer Things Night falls on a weekend night, we may go out to eat and do our activity out of the house. If it’s a Holy Day, Mass is our “finer
    FTN table setting...I even did a "bishop's hat" napkin fold (after almost giving up)!

    A FTN table setting. I even did a “bishop’s hat” cloth napkin fold (like I said, fancy!), pictured by an appetizer platter of spruced up prosciutto deviled eggs with sesame seeds.

    activity” (the finest activity, really).

I can’t say enough great things about our monthly Finer Things Night tradition. I hope it continues for a long, long time. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

Want to sign up for my email list? I’ll only occasionally visit your inbox, sometimes with great offers, and most importantly, I can let you know when my new book on spiritual leadership for couples is released later this year. See the sign-up box on the home page. Follow me on Twitter, too, @catholickatie.

The Fight for Life Continues

CLAY_at_the_March_for_Life-255x192Celebrating life in January is energizing. This year, my husband, son, and I walked alongside 15,000 Californians in Los Angeles’ first One Life LA event. I scanned pictures of my friends from all over the country walking for life in San Francisco and marching for life in D.C. I witnessed young people making it widely known that they–WE–are passionate about ending abortion in our lifetime.

My recent article for the National Catholic Register highlights some of the courageous young people fighting for life in “mission territory”–on secular college campuses, often hostile to the pro-life message. I also include some great resources for anybody involved in pro-life work.

Abortion is a human rights issue. Let’s make sure our voices for defending the unborn are loud enough to be heard all year, and not just in January and October.

Be Re-Amazed this Christmas

joy to the world coverBook Review of Scott Hahn’s Joy to the World

Joy. It drowned me as I cradled my 8-day-old son in my arms and stared at the manger ornament that hung on our Christmas tree. For a moment in time, I had a glimpse of the joy that Blessed Mother must have felt when she held her own firstborn son, the Son of God, on that very first Christmas two millennia ago. In that still moment, I realized that I could sit here on Christmas, experiencing the joy that comes from not only being a new mother, but from being such a prized and beloved daughter of God, because God became man, entering time to show me that I was worth dying for, to show me that this joy that I felt so palpably now could last into eternity, thanks to His sacrifice and grace.

For many years prior, I had fallen into the commercialism funk that plagues so many of us during the Advent and Christmas seasons. It became too easy to focus on the giant list of presents to purchase, the cookies to bake, and the parties to attend, and somehow, in the midst of all these supposedly happy activities, there was no joy. Happiness didn’t last far beyond the opening of the gifts under the tree or even after the beautiful Christmas liturgy. But last Christmas, in front of the manger on the Christmas tree, I rediscovered that joy for the first time in years. I was re-amazed at the wonder of Christmas.

As I approached Advent this year with no life-changing event (like the birth of another child) on the horizon, I realized how important it was to me that I still feel that same rich and lasting joy. Christ’s birth should constantly amaze us, and then re-amaze us, every year. So among the many religious activities my husband and I have going on in our home this year to help our family prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas with renewed joy, we are ecstatic that Dr. Scott Hahn’s new book, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does) published by Image Books, will help us in our efforts to make this Advent a truly meaningful period of preparation to welcome Christ at Christmas and then celebrate the joy that only begins on Christmas morning.

Dr. Hahn’s book lives up to what it promises. It continues to inspire in me amazement at how the birth of Christ changes everything and is the secret to lasting Christmas joy, rather than fleeting Christmassy happiness. He shows the reader that when you take time to look more deeply into the mysterious Christmas story with its unusual cast of characters and its unconventional heroic family at the center of the action, you give your own family the opportunity to celebrate a Christmas that lasts beyond Christmas day. When I interviewed Dr. Hahn about the book, he mentioned how the Christmas story is “complex…dark, but with sudden bursts of glory.” When was the last time you thought of the Christmas story like that? It’s time to be reengaged in the narrative. This story will help your joy to build during Advent, leading to an explosion on Christmas that lasts until the Epiphany…long after the commercial stores have taken down their trees and tinsel.

As the spiritual leaders of our family, my husband and I recognize how important it is to instill in our family religious traditions, especially meaningful Christmas traditions. Dr. Hahn’s book presents a powerful reminder that “the family is the key to Christmas.” He demonstrates how “the truth of Christmas begins with a family” and is “passed on by way of families” and then offers a powerful, stirring narrative that awakens in the heart a desire to pass on the most beautiful story ever told to your own family, creating a tradition that will far surpass any other Advent and Christmas activity in your home.

As with Dr. Hahn’s other titles, this book is relatable, understandable, and filled with biblical teaching that is as easy to follow as it is captivating and thought-provoking. In his final chapter, he reminds us that Christmas is what sets us as Christians apart. When you demonstrate the joy and love that Christmas inspires in you to your own family and to others you encounter, you will become a powerful witness to the Gospel and the utter amazement that comes with celebrating the birth of Christ. But first, you must be re-amazed.

The Feasts: Book Review and GIVEAWAY!

ThefeastsbookI recently had the pleasure of interviewing Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington about his newly released book, co-authored with Mike Aquilina, The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics (Image Books, September 2014). You can read my interview at the National Catholic Register: God’s People Know How to Celebrate.

I enjoyed The Feasts like I enjoyed the other books in the series, The Mass and The Church. Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina do a masterful job of explicating some of the deepest traditions and mysteries of our Catholic life, so we can engage them with deeper understanding, awe, and, frankly, with more excitement. The Church knows how to celebrate…and each of us, as individual Catholics and Catholic families, could do a better job at celebrating these feasts with the Church, too! Being Catholic is pretty awesome in this way; if we actually live our lives with the Church calendar, we have a lot of excuses to party.

Call me weird, but while the chapters on Christmas and Easter are captivating and climactic, I particularly loved reading about the “Feasts of Churches.” It gives me chills when I think about, see, or read of new churches being dedicated to God, knowing that for decades or centuries to come, people will go there to worship God, empty their hearts to Him, offer what little they have, and then receive all that He wants to give them, through His sacraments.

When my now-husband and I were dating, we started the tradition of praying a 54-day Rosary Novena every year, ending on the Feast of the Dedication of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome. (If you haven’t prayed a 54-day Rosary Novena, I highly recommend it. I equate it to running a prayer marathon.) I’ve always been fascinated with that beautiful basilica, and with the ancient story associated with it. As Cardinal Wuerl and Aquilina explain, “According to ancient tradition, a wealthy Christian couple in fourth-century Rome wished to build a church in honor of the Blessed Virgin. In prayer, they were led to know that the snow would fall – in the hottest month of the year – and would mark off the perimeter of the church they were to build. The snow fell indeed, and it mapped out a church that is monumental.” For this reason, August 5th, the optional memorial of the Dedication of St. Mary Major, is also called the Feast of Our Lady of Snows. Every year for the past four years (and hopefully for many years to come), my family brings flowers to the statue of Our Lady at our parish on August 5th, thanking her for the “snowfall” of graces and blessings we have received through our marathon-novena, through her maternal intercession.

There are so many ways this book will enhance your experience of the Church’s feasts, helping you or your family to celebrate them with new purpose and meaning. Because I’d love you to have this title on your own bookshelf, I’m giving away a FREE COPY of Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina’s The Feasts to one happy winner, courtesy of Image Books. Please enter below and share the giveaway with friends!

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Making Catholic Identity a Priority in Catholic Education

School chairsWhat a novel idea. Educators and schools making Catholic institutions unmistakably Catholic in their identity. When I visited Bishop Gorman Catholic High School in Las Vegas last year to speak to their faculty on evangelizing youth in Catholic school, it was refreshing to connect with a principal and administration with their goals properly prioritized. It inspired me to continue to speak and write on the topic, because I am passionate about seeing more of our Catholic schools follow suit. My husband and I have become increasingly interested in homeschooling over the years (the actual decision is still in the future, with our son being only eight months old), due in part to Catholic schools losing their Catholic identity and our desire for our children to have Catholicism imbue all of their educational pursuits. I could go on about this ad nauseam, but here is a recent article of mine in the National Catholic Register on Prioritizing Catholic Identity in Education: What Schools are Doing Right.

Look at Me

I sat there in the quiet chapel, feeling exceptionally grateful for my seven-month-old son’s spontaneous nap, which gave me the chance to savor a few minutes with Jesus in adoration. Still, prayerful moments like these before the Lord in the Eucharist seemed so fleeting lately that I was almost too giddy to buckle down and pray. I nestled into the folding chair at the back of the chapel, resting against its minimal padding to help support the weight of the sleeping baby in my arms. I closed my eyes and started to pray.

I wasn’t keeping track of how many minutes had gone by when I heard a clear, soft voice speaking in my heart: “Look at me.”

Instantly, I became acutely aware of the fact that in all the time I had been sitting with Jesus in the chapel, I hadn’t once stopped to gaze at Him in the Monstrance before me on the altar. I looked up. My soul flooded with an inexpressible feeling—like a perfect combination of love, peace, recognition, understanding, and hope—something like that. All it took was a look, “that look” which is described so beautifully in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

…”I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men… (2715).

After that moment, I couldn’t help but think of how easy it is to forget to look at Jesus. Sometimes we get so busy, whether with our work or the care of our family or even our prayer (all good things!), that we forget to take time to just fix our gaze on Jesus, even if for a moment.

Imagine passing a family member in the hallway of your home and failing to give them even a passing glance. Wouldn’t that be strange? But isn’t that what we do to the images of Jesus in our home? We get used to that picture of Jesus hanging in that special spot on the wall or the crucifix suspended in that particular corner of the room, and we frequently pass it by without a look. When we look at something or someone, it causes us to think about that thing or person. Of course, Jesus is not present in those holy objects like He is in the Monstrance or the Tabernacle, but aren’t those items in our homes to remind us of Him, to remind us to look at Him, to think of Him?

I think Jesus longs for us to take brief (and not-so-brief, more contemplative) moments of our day to stop and gaze on Him, whether that be in His True Presence in the Eucharist, or in pictures and statues and crosses in our homes, or in an image we hold of Him when we close our eyes. And I don’t think He longs for this for purely His own loving sake. When “I look at Him and He looks at me,” I am changed, instantly. “His gaze purifies [my] heart” and I am reminded, for one special, lasting moment, that I am deeply, indescribably loved.

Originally posted at IntegratedCatholicLife.org.