What do Natasha Beddingfield and Julia Child have in common?

October 31, 2014

Tons.  Both are women.  Both are artists in their own rites.  Both are alive.  Oh wait, no, Julia just passed.

To be honest the only thing they really have in common is that I woke up this morning with thoughts of Mousse au Chocolat and the lyrics "…staring at the blank page before you, open up the dirty window, let the sun illuminate the words you cannot find" - Beddingfield's most popular song.   That's all I've got.

But it is Halloween today which means there will likely be excess of chocolate in your house - chocolate that could be used for the ever-delicious "helter-skelter" Mousse au Chocolat.  So while you're listening to a bit of the poetic Natasha sing "Unwritten", you could whip up a batch of chocolate mousse aux Julia Child.  And when you're all finished, I've added an extra little treat for you.  (I'll give you a little hint…it's Dee Chockolata Moose.)

Happy Halloween/All Hallow's Eve/The day before All Saint's/Friday!  

God is present even now : what a week it has been

October 23, 2014

What a rollercoaster of a week it has turned out to be.  When I woke up on Monday, I definitely didn’t think that the days ahead would involve not one but two acts of deliberate, desperate, ideology-driven violence in Canada.  In Canada!  We are the friendly, polite, apologetic country. We are the peacekeepers, the smaller and younger sibling. We are too blanketed in dark and snow for too much of the year to be a tempting target for much of anything but avid skiers and snowmobilers. We don’t draw attention to ourselves, and are known universally for having a funny flag and saying ‘eh’.  Why did this happen to us?

It is perfectly normal after shocking events such as took place in Saint Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa to become emotional. Initial reactions are often broad – wilder than they will be after the distance of time and perspective can temper them. There is a lot of talk right now about innocence lost and how ‘things will never be the same’ in Canada now that violence against us has happened right here on our native soul – in our true north, strong and free.

This isn’t a history lesson – we know that this isn’t, actually, the first time shocking events have happened in Canada, nor even on Parliament Hill.  Our shock and even outrage is perfectly reasonable, though. I’ve gone through the emotional wringer since Wednesday morning, from disbelief, to being stunned, to sorrow, to anger, to pride.

Not once was I afraid. 

I don’t believe for an instant that God planned this or visited this on us, but I do find it interesting (in a ‘wow, God is present in every detail’ sort of way) that yesterday was also the first Feast Day of Pope Saint John Paul II, who through the whole of his pontificate told us: be not afraid! Wasn’t it the first thing he said to us as our Holy Father?  He certainly reminded us often to not let fear get between us and the loving heart of God.

The loving heart of God was – and is – present even in these appalling events.  I saw love in the picture of a woman giving mouth-to-mouth to the fallen reservist who was standing guard over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier while police officers worked with her to save his life. I heard love in the outpouring of gratitude for the Sergeant-at-Arms who acted bravely to remove the threat that had invaded our seat of government. I saw love in the tributes of flowers laid at the site of the shooting, in the consolation strangers offered to each other in the aftermath. There was love in a hockey arena as citizens of another country sang our anthem in solidarity with us. There is love in the grief we express because we believe good will triumph but are witness to an attack of evil. Love is present in the tears one mother (the mother of the shooter) sheds on behalf of a family now mourning the loss of their father and son. We share the loving heart of God as we pray for peace in the world and intercede for our leaders to have the wisdom needed to guide our country after these terrible events.

Loving God, there is confusion and hatred in the world, but darkness will not prevail. We know that through your son, love and mercy will triumph, and peace will reign. Protect us from hatred, from bitterness, from fear, granting us instead to know only love and faith and trust. You are always with us, even in these times of strife. May we have the grace to share that certainty with all who need it.

Lord, have mercy.


Expectations in Marriage

October 17, 2014

Shortly after I was married an acquaintance of mine (also married) wrote to say that marriage was much harder than she thought it would be. She was a romantic-type and was of the mind that after they were married, her beloved would always think of her first, wouldn’t ever annoy her and would keep up the same degree of affection and devotion that he showed her while they were dating. These friends are strong Catholics and they are devoted to one another, but lets just say she hit the wall of reality pretty hard when she realized just how unexpectedly un-romantic life can be living with another person. She couldn’t quite reconcile the reality of an imperfect husband with the fanciful notion she’d had of love and marriage while she was still single, and it took her some time to realize that perhaps she, herself, wasn’t perfect either.  It was understandably a rocky first couple of years.
Although I've certainly been there at different points in my life, I think I might have had it a bit easier than my friend. I’m not a hopeless romantic. I don’t particularly like overly sentimental gifts like cards (I throw them out after reading) or jewelry (I don’t wear a lot) or even flowers sometimes (usually overpriced and they don’t last long). In fact, I dislike Valentines Day so much so that one year I told my husband that if he absolutely had to buy me something, that he should buy it on February 15th. At least then the droopy flowers and waxy chocolate would be half the price. And lest you think I’m this miserly, heartless stoic, my husband is usually of the same mind – we’re miserly, heartless stoics together (a recipe for true love, eh?). Our love for each other runs more in the vein of taking the garbage out when asked, concert tickets for Christmas or surprise picnic lunches. Those are the things that speak love to me much more than any card or earrings ever could, but it’s certainly something that could have caused a ruckus in our marriage, had we not talked about it and worked it out early on. (See, I'm learning!)
I mean there’s nothing overly wrong with being a sentimental romantic or preferring diamonds to picnics. Whatever floats your boat, I say. The difficulty comes when our expectations and the cold hard reality not only don’t jive, but don’t even live on the same planet – like my friend's expectations of her husband.   It’s a sad state of affairs when the disparity between our assumptions and the sensible world affects spouses so deeply that it threatens the foundations of their marriage. It makes me wonder if unrealistic expectation is one of the main reasons couples have such difficulty adjusting to one another in the first place. I remember a priest once implying that it’s quite normal to wake up one morning after marrying thinking, “What the heck have I done? Who IS this guy?” You know the honeymoon's over at that point, he said. Wow, really?  I don’t necessarily think it's good for everyone to be overly pragmatic and live without any hopes, dreams or flights of fancy, but I have to believe that, with a bit of work on our part, hopes and dreams can coexist, harmoniously nestled within the cocoon of reality.
There’s an atrocious movie out there called Hall Pass (for the love of all that’s holy, don’t watch it) which tells the story of two couples who are at varying stages of disenchantment with their marriages. Talk about disconnect, the two wives decide to “give” their husbands a hall pass – a week of “total freedom” from the bondage bonds of marriage, meaning both husband and wife can do whatever they want, with whomever they want, with no consequences.   The idea was that giving their men a little freedom from the “restraints” of marriage, they would "sow their wild oats" – or whatever – and then the guys would freely and happily choose to come back to their own wives again. 

While I could manage (barely) to overlook the nudity and sexual innuendo throughout the film, the underlying principles – that marriage is basically meaningless, that it fulfills all of women’s dreams and none of men’s, that men aren’t free to choose who they marry but rather are tricked or forced into it and that women love their husbands only out of a sense of duty – were hard to ignore, mostly because they’re unquestionably untrue. It’s movies like these that plant those crazy, whacked-out notions in our brains without our even knowing it – false impressions or opinions that make us unhappy with ourselves and with others. I mean, I thought choosing a person to be with is what people did before they got married, not after. And remind me again - how are women completely fulfilled by the office of marriage and men completely unfulfilled by it? That’s ridiculous on both counts! But it’s the collective thought of our society (and therefore present in movies, commercials and even the news) that marriage is bondage, that restraint can’t possibly equal freedom and that the minute life gets difficult you should move on or you’ll never be happy. And those ideas are just as pie-in-the-sky as a woman entering a marriage thinking her husband won’t ever be selfish, leave the cap off the toothpaste or the toilet seat up.

So don’t be fooled. Don’t let “The Man” trick you into thinking that true happiness is wrought by anything less than giving everything you’ve got and a mountain of hard work. The interesting thing is that those cockamamie beliefs we sometimes harbour about love and relationships (like the notions that our spouses were put on this earth to attend to our every whim, or that we need to ignore our responsibilities in order to be happy doing what we want to do) tend to be surprisingly selfish and self-serving.  And we’re not in this world to be served – to have every need met and whim satisfied - by those that surround us.  It’s this kind of selfishness that truly separates us from others, and from God.  Rather, we were made to forget ourselves and to freely and lovingly serve others: God, our spouse, children, family, even strangers on the street.  This is where contentment and joy and peace are found.  As Alice von Hildebrand put it in her book, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, “…we need to acknowledge that we are responsible for the chains that bind us and turn to God’s grace for help. To humbly admit our guilt and turn to God for help is the way to change defeat into victory…” Can I get an amen?  

Harden not your heart: a remedy in the Cross

October 8, 2014

I’ve shared in the past about the lingering effects I experience of exposure to radical feminist thought – and by exposure I don’t mean I was a voracious reader of Naomi Wolf, and I certainly haven’t been keeping a page in my autograph album for Gloria Steinem (if I had one, it would probably be given over to long-haired rockers and footballers). No, by exposure I mean I came to maturity in the 90s. It was impossible to escape concepts such as “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” and the equal rights amendment.  The message I seem to have absorbed more than any other is: I don’t need anyone else.

Not only is that an isolating code to live by, but I realize it has resulted in me erecting walls and keeping people at bay. I don’t think I’ve done it deliberately to keep people away, rather it has been a sad consequence. It was a protective instinct. If I had to look after myself, on my own, well then, back off and let me get on with it! Maybe you can relate?

There is something, too, to living in our time as a Christian that can encourage a certain defensive hardness of heart – a spiritual callus. We’re wary of being slimed, and weary of being maligned, so we toughen up a little in order to keep ourselves safe.

But can I be a good Christian with those walls intact? Can I share God’s love when I am hard of heart? Am I able to share my gifts if I keep myself removed from others?

As I thought about this, I knew each answer was a definite ‘no’ but could find no solution. I’ve tried being softer, but how do you ‘be softer’? I’ve practiced asking for and accepting help over the years with varying degrees of success. Different initiatives I’ve adopted have addressed aspects of my disordered independence, but none have healed my hardened heart.

Then a few weeks ago, as if in answer to my question, a homily that started out as being about one thing turned out to be about my thing. Isn’t it wonderful what God will do in order to speak to us? I wonder if the congregation that day was aware they were hearing a message meant for me?

Here’s what Father said:

Angels take part in all our good works. But not in our bad ones – we are capable of them all on our own!  Likewise we are able to harden our hearts all on our own, but need help to soften it.

One of the greatest, most liberating promises God makes to us is this: “I will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

But how?  What can we do to be rid of that heart of stone?  Father’s suggestions were these:

Best remedy is to think on the Passion of Jesus – often. 

Converse with God – not just daily, rote prayers, but frequent, spontaneous, honest conversation.

Slowly read the Passion narratives.

Read Isaiah, the suffering servant.

Pray the 15 passion prayers of St. Bridget of Sweden.

Meditate with the Sorrowful mysteries

Look lovingly on a crucifix (as told to St. Gertrude the Great)

Is hardness of heart really a big deal?  Isn’t it, maybe, a good thing to be a little tough? Might there be some validity to the notion of protecting ourselves?  Here’s what Father said about that:

Being hard of heart is sometimes a symptom of western life. The danger of it, though, and the reason we should monitor our condition regularly, is the condition can impede our ability to hear God, it muffles His voice in our ears, and confuses our priorities.

“Oh that today you would listen to His voice, harden not your heart” If we do harden our hearts, we are not able to hear God.

These remedies are still new enough to me that I don’t know yet what their impact will be on my life. I thought at first it was a little odd to prescribe the sufferings of Christ in order to combat hard heartedness, but it is making more sense to me now. I think humility, being aware of my own frailness, and facing the magnitude of the gift that Christ has given me in His own death is allowing for growth in meekness, surrendering control, accepting my littleness – all of which will certainly encourage a relaxing of the guard on that wall around my heart. 

There has been a good effect to Father’s advice. This year, for the first time ever, I looked forward to the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux and felt real affection for her. Perhaps it was my own softening heart that was finally able to appreciate her childlike openness? I look forward to seeing other changes as time goes on.


Little flowers: the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux

October 1, 2014

Confession time:

I used to have a hard time with St. Therese. Well, that doesn't express it very well, so let me try to find another way to describe our relationship:
We wouldn't have sat at the same table in the lunch room.

I wasn't able to see that we had anything in common. For example:
She is very holy.  I am very not.
She is very sweet.  I am rather sour (a bit of a pickle, I'd say).
During her life on earth she wanted to be nothing more than to be little; I was always looking for the 'big thing' I was meant to do.
She was able to rest in the knowledge that she is loved by God; I felt I had to prove I was worthy of His love before I could accept it.

It is very difficult to relate to someone if you two have nothing in common. It is difficult to like someone if you resent them for having figured out (and seemingly breeze through) whatever it is that is your stumbling block.  Marie Francoise Therese Martin knew how to open herself to God so utterly - not only giving herself completely, but also receiving His love without boundary or limit. I do not. Surrender is not an easy state for me to be in, nor is it an easy action for me to perform.

On first reading her Story of a soul, I groaned at her language and cringed at her sentiments. Perhaps I should have waited for greater spiritual maturity, because as a relatively new convert (newly catechized, that is) I was too hungry for hearty spiritual meat that I overlooked the truth, beauty, and goodness of Therese's example of littleness. I was enamoured of Catherine of Siena's larger than life Eucharist-only diet, childhood visions, and admonishing letters to Popes, or Teresa of Avila's ordeals with her order, and so I underestimated the heroic virtue required to allow oneself to be made small.

With time I have made peace with Therese. Perhaps it is that life has worn me down a little; very
definitely I am tired of fighting against myself. I may have finally surrendered some of my stubbornness, too. For any and all of these, I am grateful because now I try to live Therese's Little Way. I no longer look for the great thing I am meant to do, but rather want to do the every day, humble things with love - love for God and love for souls.

How many of us women have days full of opportunities to offer little sacrifices, little gifts of prayer, or little gestures of love? Every time I pick a book off the floor of the library, or tell yet another patron where to find that book about the thing, I remind myself this is exactly what the Little Flower meant when she talked about little things.  And if I join my little things with your little things - the co-worker who always takes your pen, the seventh poopy diaper of the day - what an offering we have for God and just think what He will do with it!

And so I have become a Little Flower novice. If she is a rose, then I am a daisy and I'm quite ok with that.
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