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Your friendly last-minute Advent reminder!

Somehow, even though Advent is as long as it can possibly be this year, I didn’t make it to confession. I don’t absolutely have to go, having (thanks be to God) no mortal sins on my soul. But it’s such a basic way to prepare for Christmas. I’ve said it myself several times: If I manage to have an advent wreath in the house and get to confession, I’ll call it a good advent. Well, we do have a wreath, anyway.

When I realized that I was missing my last reasonable chance (and no, it doesn’t seem reasonable to call up our unbelievably overworked priests and make a special appointment, when it’s not a spiritual emergency), I started casting around in my mind for something else I could do, something that would be almost as good as going to confession.

I had a chat with God about my sins, of course, and that was pretty good. I thought about some penitential things I could do. I even briefly considered cleaning the kitchen without complaining. And I remembered one more time: There is no substitute for the sacraments.

Of course there isn’t. I mean, we can make do in an emergency. If I were in an airplane that was spiraling toward the ground, I could make an act of perfect contrition, and I would be all set. If I were someone who had never heard of Jesus, I could regret the things that even a pagan knows are wrong, and I would be welcomed into my unknown father’s kingdom, right alongside the elderly priest who had the seven precepts of the Church memorized before he was weaned.

But those aren’t substitutions, so much as accommodations. There’s nothing better than the real thing, which is why Jesus gave the sacraments to the Church to give to us. I felt so stupid for missing my shot, but feeling stupid made me feel so grateful that there will be a next time. No need to invent anything, or figure out on my own how to wallow my way back to God.

So, don’t be stupid, be a smarty! If you still have a chance to get to confession, why not take a load off and be really ready for Christmas? And if you’re in a state of grace right now, don’t squander it! You’ve got an open line set up right to the Father, so talk talk talk. And put in a good word for me while you’re at it.

 

The Catholic Weekly

Shh, there’s a baby nearby!

The speaker said that one fellow at the back of the line had his wife with him, and she was begging to leave the hall so they could get some lunch and see the sights before it was time to make the long drive back home. “Stop!” the husband hissed in a rage. “This is my only chance to talk to Dr LoveExpert!”

And the good doctor heard, and despaired. The fellow was so on fire to talk about marriage that he didn’t have time for his actual wife.

We all do stupid stuff like this …

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

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Image by Vera Kratochvil

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Start with the Baby

Most years, we hear our priests gently (or irritably) reminding us that it’s still Advent! Not Christmas! Not Christmas yet! Stop with the “Merry Christmas,” because the Baby hasn’t been born yet!

So we’ve tried hard to keep Advent as a separate season: joyous anticipation rather than celebratory blow-out. It’s hard to hold off when the rest of the country is already whooping it up, but the restraint feels worthwhile when Christmas finally dawns.

So it landed with a bit of a thud last year when our bishop, Peter Libasci, issued a letter asking the Diocese of Manchester (NH) to make some changes in how we spend our Advent.

He encourages lively decorations that suggest life and hope, and calls for an emphasis on warm, personal hospitality, especially toward the poor; he exhorts us to “avoid whatever may encumber you during this time.”

These things are not too much different from what we already attempt, but this part is new:

Beginning with the FIRST Sunday of Advent, in every rectory, convent, Catholic school, diocesan institution and Catholic home, display the image of the Christ Child in a suitably decorated place of prominence and approachability. Not the crèche, just the infant.

and

Beginning with the FIRST Sunday of Advent and throughout the Advent Season, the music at Mass should include Christmas carols that enjoy the quality of a lullaby and center on the great mystery of the Incarnation and birth that did occur in history. (Away in a Manger, O Come Little Children, The First Noel, Little Town of Bethlehem.)

Huh! Really? Usually we stick to Advent music as much as possible, and if we put up a crèche, we keep the Baby Jesus packed away in tissue paper until Christmas morning. But I’m delighted to have a bishop who actually asks us to do stuff, so I’m game.

His directive to bring that baby right on in made me think of the Roots of Empathy program, which has teachers in poor, tough neighborhoods welcoming babies (real ones, not plaster statues!0 into their classrooms. They believe these visits, and subsequent discussions, teach the school kids empathy, rather than the lesson of “survival at any cost,” which is what they’re learning everywhere else they go. This story from the Washington Post says:

Roots pairs each classroom with a baby, who visits nine times throughout the year with his or her mom or dad, a volunteer recruited from the community. Each child has a chance to look the baby in the eye, squeeze its toe and say hello before the class settles into a circle around a green blanket.

They watch the baby respond to songs and games, and they talk about what he’s feeling and why he behaves as he does. The kids and the teachers have noticed a great change in the classroom: more peace, more respect, and better learning, too.

 The idea is that recognizing and caring about a baby’s emotions can open a gateway for children to learn bigger lessons about taking care of one another, considering others’ feelings, having patience.

Our bishop is looking for a similar transformation in his flock, putting the Baby right in front of us before the altar, and having us sing lullabies before we head back out to the world on Sunday morning. In his letter, he says:

during the Advent season, we take the INFANT as our centerpiece, remembering that He came as one of us. When an infant is in the house, everyone must be conscious of that presence and speak more softly, be more attentive, welcome family and visitors, exercise patience, accept inconvenience—even in the extreme, for the sake of the fragile life entrusted to our care.

Okay, but . . . the Church demands a bit more than being caring and considerate, yes? It’s all very well to acknowledge that babies can teach us to be kind, but the Incarnation was not some kind of inner city niceness project, and “considering others’ feelings” is not one of the Ten Commandments.

Can we not, as a millennia-old institution, set the bar a little higher?

No. We can’t.

Don’t you roll your eyes at me! The older I get, the more I realize that God usually wants us to do very basic, mundane things — and the more I realize how hard it is to do those mundane things well, with my whole heart.

And here’s the main part: The older I get, the more I realize that the whole point of the Incarnation is that the divine and the mundane are now inextricably linked. There cannot be a meaningless act of service, because of the incomprehensibly great service God has performed for us. There is no longer any such thing as a small act of love, since God, who is love, became small and asked us to care for Him. There is literally nothing greater, more meaningful, or more transcendent we can do than to care for each other for His sake. All acts of love are great. All acts of love make us more like Him.

In his letter, Bishop Libasci says,

To be judged as having achieved a fuller awareness of human fragility and potential, is to be judged as growing more closely to “the full stature of Christ.”

Anyone can blaze with righteous glory for a moment. Anyone can get wrapped up in an exquisitely arcane theological puzzle. But just treating each other well, day after day, in and out of season, whether they deserve it or not? That’s hard, hard, hard. As hard as caring for a baby who won’t stop crying no matter what you do. As hard as being that Baby, when you didn’t have to be.

Step beyond your duty and be actively generous. Be gentle when you could justifiably be harsh. Acknowledge that you are “disadvantaged,” that you think too much of your own survival and not enough about the unreasonable needs of the helpless people around you. Fight down the battle cry and substitute a lullaby.

The Baby’s needs are simple and basic. Start with those before you consider yourself ready to move on to higher things. There are no higher things. Start with the Baby, because that’s what God did.

***

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(This post originally ran, in a slightly different form, on Aleteia in 2015.)

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Catholics on Etsy, Part 2! Christmas and Advent Gifts for 2016

Yesterday, I shared part one of this year’s  list of Catholic-made, handmade goods — jewelry, art, and prints of various kinds. Today, part two: unusual rosaries, knit and fabric goods, and my favorite category of all, miscellaneous.

A few of the sellers have set up a special discount code or deal just for this post, so take note!

UNUSUAL ROSARIES and ROSARY ACCESSORIES

There are ever so many gorgeous rosaries on Etsy. I featured several of them on my Easter gift guide last yaer, including Iron Lace chain mail rosaries; a huge variety of styles from Rosaries by Allison; heirloom-quality rosaries from Athey Rosaries; sweet, affordable chaplets from ChapletsNSuch; a nice variety for various occasions from Snowshoe Rosaries; gemstone rosaries on flexwire from Prayer and Sparkle; and heavy, elegant rosaries from Et Corde.

Today, I thought I’d feature a few rosaries and accessories that are a little off the beaten path:

Two Hearted Ranch: Catholic and custom gifts and jewelry, rosary cases, keychains, including customized floating lockets
Featured item: Monstrance glass-topped steel-plated tin rosary case
, $9.95.

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You can also add a stamped tin disc to the bottom of the inside to commemorate a sacrament. Many other designs, bold and eye-catching. Keep those rosaries untangled!


Roses for Mary by Becky Arganbright
Featured item: Clay Rose garden three Hail Marys, $7

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If you only have time for three Hail Marys, these rose counters are sweet and nostalgic-looking.


The Wallet Rosary, $12.50
Made of string, light, brushed stainless steel, and slim as a credit card, it fits right in your wallet.

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Neat idea! Grab it when you need it.
Use coupon code “SimchaChristmas” for free U.S. Shipping on orders of 2+ rosaries through 12/15.


Chews Life – an assortment of rosaries, chaplets, and bracelets and necklaces designed to divert and delight nursing, teething, twiddling babies
Featured item: Chews life decade rosary, $18

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Gracefully bow to the inevitable and carry a rosary designed to be gnawed on. Love it.


Apple and Azalea by Theresa Barger – Memory wire rosary bracelets and other elegant jewelry and accessories
I always admired my friend Theresa’s style and elegance when we were in college together, and her original wrap-around rosaries ($24-$28) are exquisite and varied.  I had a hard time picking just one to feature, so I picked three.

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My own wrap-around bracelet, a southwestern-style one, has held its shape through years of abuse at the hands and mouths of various babies.



KNIT and FABRIC GOODS

The Knot Haus – many fresh and whimsical knitted gifts, including some CUTE cute cute baby hats.
Featured item: Green Celtic knot bracelet, $25

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Neat, eh? This knit knot bracelet is made with silver-plated ribbon clamps and a lobster clasp. Say that sentence three times fast!


Blue Ridge Purl Hand-knit hats, scarves, cowls, and gloves by a pair of homeschooling Catholic moms
Featured item: Hand-knit fox hood, $40

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Imagine glancing out the kitchen window to see a flock of little foxes prancing by, and knowing that for once, their ears are necks are warm. (Foxes do so come in flocks.) Completely adorable, and so cozy.


Three Jolly Owls by Katie McGinley: Handcrafted Goods and Gifts for the Liturgical Year: peg doll saints, Jesse tree ornaments, and more.
Featured item: Handmade felt Jesse Tree ornaments, $54

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Perfect! Simple, bright, and meaningful, and an easy tradition to follow every year. The ornaments have ribbons loops for hanging.
SPECIAL OFFER: Use coupon code PANTS10 to get 10% off! – valid until 12/31


S. Lochet Designs by Stephanie Lochet: Period and Vintage Inspired Creations
Featured item: Set of three tissue holders (tissues included!), $8

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I don’t even carry tissues with me, but I want these. So cheery! Many more styles and patterns on the site, as well as retro aprons and more.


Faith and Fabric Design – 
Reversible Advent and Christmas Table Runner
, $38

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I love table runners. Such an easy way to change the look of a room. This one is reversible: When Advent is through, flip it over and see a pretty Christmas design.

I also like this peg doll flower, $12. Keep your peg dolls snug and sorted.



MISCELLANEOUS!

Pottery From Your Roots by Faith Connor
Featured item: Chicory Mortar and Pestle, $40

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Ooh, I like the looks of these. Spare and elegant with a soupçon of strangeness. Many more pieces on the site.


Door Number 9 by Elisa Low
Featured item: Hamilton Gimmel Rings, $25. You remember Elisa from when we chatted about holy cards as fan art, and the intersection of faith and geekdom. Well, those interlocking Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton wedding rings she was working on are on their way! The first run sold out immediately, but you can pre-order, $25.

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Elisa also offers a wide variety of unusual handmade goods, from saint wine charms to portable oratories to Cyberman tea wallets.


Sweet Soft Skin Handmade Soaps by Margaret Grimm
Featured item: Limited edition “Gifts of the Magi” soaps scented with frankincense and myrrh, $4.50

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So luxe! I love how the natural shape of the soap is incorporated into the design, like a little landscape. Get several as little gifts or stocking stuffers, or keep them for yourself and enjoy that once-a- year scent.


Wild Things Adventures by Sarah Antonio
Featured item: Adventure bags, $85 Handmade leather satchels stocked with a hand stitched, leather bound journal with 24 watercolor pages, a Prang watercolor set with small water jar (not pictured), branch pencil, compass, binoculars, and a folding magnifying glass!

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Eh? Eh? You can almost smell the outdoors calling.


Ashcraft Creative hand-tooled leather by Mark and Christina Ashcraft
Featured item: Stained glass leather wallet, $65

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Not gonna lie: this is probably my favorite item this year. Just stunning. Many more splendid, original, hand-tooled leather items on the site.


Art 4 the Soul – devotional art and retabolos
Featured item: Sacred Heart Leather keychain/bag tag, personalized, $25+

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Sacred Heart, you come with me! I love this. Many more original designs and combos on the site, great for bag tags, key chains, or zipper pulls.


Saong Jai – an assortment of Catholic and vintage goods
Featured item: Set of 3 vintage Catholic ornaments, $25

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Yes! Catholic up your Christmas tree. Aren’t these spectacular?



Don’t forget to check out part one of the Advent and Christmas Catholic Etsy list. That’s it for handmade gifts this year. I’ll be doing my annual “gift ideas for kids” post in the next week.

Are you a Catholic who sells handmade or hand-designed goods? Feel free to leave a link to your shop in the comments.

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Maite Roche Advent Calendar giveaway! Introducing Sister|Sinjin! and a little punching.

Advent begins in less than a week! This year’s Advent is the longest that Advent can possibly be, but it surely came up quickly, didn’t itly? I have three lovely things to share with you.

One is Incarnation, a new Christmas album by Sister|Sinjin, a musical group made up of Elizabeth Duffy (a fellow Patheos alum) and two of her friends, one Catholic and one Lutheran.

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From one of the blog posts giving some background about the project:

Once we realized we were a band and began thinking of a name, we knew we would feel inclined to self-identify more as mothers than musicians. Our various experiences of motherhood certainly bear down on these songs.

When I’ve been pregnant (I have six children) I almost always fall into a depression, inability to pray, distance from God, and a heavy darkness that lifts almost immediately once I’ve given birth. In the midst of those pregnancies, I’ve thought more than once that I should name my child for the author of The Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross.

As Kaitlyn notes, creativity often springs from this sometimes painful, always holy duty to bear and support the lives of others.

We hope you enjoy these songs, which both extend from, and are an homage to the darkening season of waiting for new life in our Beloved Savior.

Very beautiful stuff. You can hear a sample of two of the tracks here, and you can pre-order the album, which comes out December 2.

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Second is a GIVEAWAY of this splendid Gospel Advent calendar by Maïte Roche, one of my all-time favorite Catholic illustrators. The artwork is just luminous (the cell phone photo below doesn’t do it justice), and the calendar opens into a scene that includes all of Bethlehem, with a window to open each day. You can hang it on the wall from a little grommet, or it will stand on its own on a tabletop.

advent-calendar

Even better, it comes with a little illustrated companion booklet that provides prayers, short readings, meditations, and suggestions for each day. So much better than the usual routine, where the kids fight over whose turn it is, then mom gets mad and opens it herself, and then you just stand there staring at the little picture of a star or something. It will appeal to children, but would be helpful for adults, as well.

advent-booklet

(As you can see, Corrie liked it so much, she took a bite of it, and then threw it in the dog’s water dish. At least I hope it was in that order. If your booklet is not wet, you can even color in the illustrations.)

Thanks to the publisher, Ignatius, I have one calendar to give away! Same rules as last time:

To enter, leave a comment on the blog, and that’s one entry. To get additional entries, share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ or elsewhere on social media, AND . . .  IMPORTANT: Please leave a separate comment for each additional entry you would like to earn.

So if you want three entries, leave one comment saying “Me please!” [or whatever], one comment saying “I shared your post on FB” and one comment saying “I tweeted this post.” And so on.

NOTE: Don’t be concerned if your comment doesn’t show up right away in the combox. The comment moderator is a little strict at the moment, so I’ll be approving comments in batches as time allows. Thanks for your patience!

This will be a quckie contest, since Advent is right at our throats. Contest closes Tuesday, November 22, at noon, and I’ll notify the winners asap.

You can also find the calendar for sale on Amazon and from Ignatius.

***

One last thing: One of these days, I’m gonna make me an Advent calendar like this. Each day leading up to Christmas, you get to punch something, and you get rewarded for it. Uh, for the kids. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Kids these days.

In addition, I would like to say that when I tagged this post music, WordPress suggested the tags “soul music” and “butt music.” That means my archives have arrived, and they’ve brought their tags. Hooray?

 

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Magnificat app winners are…

Chalyn Myers

and

Anna, who said:

“Alas, I’m a Luddite who’s not willing to do FB or Twitter, though it would really boost my chances at these giveaways!”

Goes to show you never can tell! These names were chosen using a random number generator. I have a soft spot in my heart for Luddites, mainly because we got such a kick out of watching my mother mow the yard with her rotary push mower. She always wanted to downgrade to a scythe, too. Not sure why.

Anyway, I’ll send emails to the winners with the Magnificat app coupon code, so you can get your free app.
Thanks for entering, everyone! You can still buy the app or the paper version of the wonderful Advent Companion from Magnificat here.
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Giveaway! The 2016 Magnificat Advent Companion app

November 2016, when everyone’s talking about deactivating Facebook, unfriending almost everyone, moving overseas, taking long, hot showers, and bathing in Purell.

But you know and I know what we really need: We need Advent. Oh, do we need Advent. Some years, I have to persuade myself to get into the spirit of this season of penance, purification, and preparation, but right now I’m like YES PLEASE NOW PLEASE ALL THE ADVENT NOW PLEASE.

Happily, I have a little giveaway to get you going! Besides its excellent and gorgeous spiritual guide that comes out every month, Magnificat puts out an new Advent Companion every year, and I have two codes for the digital version to give away.

The paper version is 96 pages, a pocket-sized booklet. Here’s what this year’s version looks like:

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Here’s a description of what’s inside:

A perfect way to live Advent to the full this year.

This pocket-sized Companion follows a practical, page-a-day format featuring original meditations on the Gospel reading of each day by twenty-five gifted authors.

Each issue of the Advent Companion is never the same as the last and contains these one-of-a-kind extras that you won’t find anywhere else:

– A variety of beautiful and practical blessings.
– An Advent Penance Service.
– Specially-commissioned poetry.
– Advent Stations.
– Praying the O Antiphons.

Magnificat’s products are wonderful. They refresh a world hungry for beauty and help. If you’re busy, you can dip in and follow just some of the content to enrich your Advent as you go; or you can use it as a comprehensive guide to help the season become truly transformative.

You can buy the paper copy here (and they offer discounts for bulk orders), and you can buy the app here.

I’m ditching Rafflecopter this time, because there are always so many glitches. To enter, leave a comment on the blog, and that’s one entry. To get additional entries, share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ or elsewhere on social media, AND . . .  IMPORTANT: Please leave a separate comment for each additional entry you would like to earn.

So if you want three entries, leave one comment saying “Me please!” [or whatever], one comment saying “I shared your post on FB” and one comment saying “I tweeted this post.” And so on (using the honor system, because what kind of monster would cheat to get an Advent app?). Does that make sense? That will help me choose a winner randomly by using a random number generator, and I won’t need to use a raffle service.

Good luck! I’ll close the contest at noon eastern on Thursday the 17th, and I’ll announce the notify the winners on Thursday or Friday.