Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009 ~ Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Note: These Sunday & Holy Day Gospel Reflections are written so that mothers may prepare for Holy Mass in advance either as a small group or individually (especially since we are so often necessarily distracted during Mass itself).

Mark 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you."
He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come."
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.


Jesus's purpose is the same today as it was two thousand years ago. He wishes to teach us, heal us, and conquer the demons that plague us. If we only believe, our lives can be so transformed by His tremendous and passionate love for us! In today's Gospel, the whole town was gathered at the door, and the whole town was healed by being in the presence of the Lord.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said ~
"In the silence of our hearts, God speaks of His love;
with our silence, we allow Jesus to love us."

In order to be taught, healed, and purified, we must cultivate the habit of silence in our lives. Perhaps this means extended prayer (more than 20 minutes) in silence at home or in a chapel or church. Perhaps this means doing more listening to others around us throughout the day. Perhaps this means holding our tongue every time we wish to speak and asking the Lord if it is His will. It means putting ourselves in the presence of God in a deliberate, and silent, way.

God is the friend of silence. Our world is full of noise. Some of it is unavoidable, but much of it is by choice. We have the radio, television, mp3, iPod, CD-player, and internet noise. We have traffic and sirens and horns. We have endless chattering of people on cell phones that hook to our ears or even the endless chattering of people about nothing important at all when they should be doing something more important. The noise of our families, our friends, our God are the noises we should treasure.

Even Jesus in this Gospel, between healing and preaching, wakes before dawn and goes to a deserted, quiet place to pray. He does not naturally find the time for such prayer; he must get up early! This is an example for us. There is no way the Lord can truly reach our hearts if we are not spending time with Him in silence.

Yes, as mothers, we have children. They tend to be noisy (an understatement). But, we have to make something work for us. Maybe we wake up early or pray when they are in bed. Maybe we take some time during naps or videos to go to God. Maybe we drop your children off at a friend's or family member's on a regular basis to allow us to go to daily Mass or Adoration. These are sacrifices, but they are necessary in our noisy world today.

Jesus wants to speak to our hearts. He wants to set us free from anything that traps us and prevents us from uniting ourselves fully to Him in love. All He really wants to do is love us and He does, but with silence, His love can be more fully received and more readily recognized. Count up the hours. How much silence with God have you spent this week?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Little Flowers - Faith

On Friday, we had our second Little Flowers meeting! What an interesting experience it was! This is what I wrote to the moms an hour or so after I arrived home:

WOW! I planned an obstacle course for the girls, but I had no idea I would face so many obstacles in just leading this second meeting, personally and logistically. I am so glad the first meeting inspired me so much, because this meeting exhausted my brain! We have had four more girls join us, so our total now is 44 flowers for Jesus!!! Praise Him for such abundant beauty! I imagine St. Therese to be very pleased.

BUT, despite the rain (which wasn't really a problem for us, just those on the playground), the amazing wind, and radically dropping temperatures, we had a great least I think so. The girls were so responsive in their discussion on the virtue of Faith and St. Catherine of Siena, and they snuggled together to keep warm.

Yes, it went from mid-70s to low 50s within those two hours, and we were all cold! Since many of the moms drop off their girls, most did not have jackets. One of the mothers had called me that morning to ask if we should cancel due to the prediction of rain. I determined that a little rain was predicted but no storms, so we would go ahead and meet. I saw that the temperatures were going to drop that night, but I had NO idea they would drop that fast!

Despite these challenges, we had a great time! The girls all had fun, and I have had lots of positive feedback already. Here is what we did, for those of you who are keeping up with us...

First, of course, we opened in prayer with the same prayers and song we recited at the first meeting. I want that to be a routine for them. Our first virtue is Faith with the sunflower and St. Catherine of Siena to aid us.

My presentation began by asking the girls what they already knew about faith and sunflowers and how they might be connected. I had a giant silk sunflower from WalMart that I held. They did a great job of sharing, and I filled in the gaps. Sunflowers are thus named, because they both look like the sun and turn towards the sun in the sky as it moves (depending on your latitude, of course). With faith, we are supposed to always turn towards God (they got that part), and because we are made in the image of Him, we are also supposed to "look" like Him in our actions.

We also talked about the candle at Baptisms being a symbol of the faith that is given, as a gift, to each person to keep burning brightly. I touched on the point that the candle could go out, but we will focus more at the next meeting on challenges to our faith. The girls gave some examples of ways they can demonstrate their faith: go to Mass, pay attention at Mass, pray, go to Little Flowers, and love others.

At this point, I was going to share a bit more about growing in faith and praying for faith, including teaching an Act of Faith, but the rain began and distracted the girls. We moved to the center of the pavilion, and I skipped ahead to the story of St. Catherine I had prepared based on an idea from the Little Flowers Girls Club Leaders yahoo group.

My daughter let me borrow one of her Barbie dolls for this one! If you do not know, St. Catherine of Siena had long, golden, flowing, beautiful hair; that is why we used Barbie! Anyway, Here is how I told the story:

There once was a girl named Catherine. (Barbie dances around in beautiful dress) She was born into a loving family as the youngest of 25 children! They lived in Siena, Italy. (asked them not to tell their mother they needed 24 siblings)

She was always a little different from her siblings, doing her own thing, and her parents noticed it early. At the age of 6, while praying in a church (I actually got Barbie to kneel and fold her hands) she had a vision where the Lord gave her a blessing.

She spent her life in penance and prayer, always knowing she wanted to be a nun. As she got older, her parents disapproved of this idea. They wanted her to be happily married.

But, Catherine refused the idea of marriage over and over again. To prove her point, when she was 12 years old, she cut off her long, beautiful, golden hair to try to make herself unattractive to the men who wanted to marry her. She also began dressing in very simple dresses instead of pretty ones like the girls of that time would wear. (here, I held her hair to make it look short --- we had searched for a dollar store Barbie doll the day before to actually cut her hair, but we could not find one! --- and I took off her beautiful gown to reveal a very plain brown dress made of felt)

This caused her parents to get very angry, and they gave her a ton of horrible chores at home to try to get her to change her mind. They scolded her continually, but she did not change her mind. (Barbie began to scrub the floor and wash windows here)

Soon, her parents stopped being angry and allowed her to leave to become a Dominican and care for the poor and the sick (we took off the brown frock and put on the Dominican habit also made of felt). She continued to have visions of Our Lord. In one vision, Jesus put a wedding ring on her finger, and she became His bride. No one else could see the ring but Catherine.

At the time, the past few Popes had been living in France instead of Rome, because there were many persecutions. At the request of Jesus, Catherine wrote many letters to Pope Gregory XI to urge him to return to Rome and eventually visited him with this request. At first, the Pope did not want to listen to a poor, uneducated, peasant woman, but in the end, he did move back to Rome.

Catherine continued to nurse the sick and visit prisoners until her death at age 33. Some years before her death, she was given the stigmata, which are the five wounds of Christ appearing on her body, but no one could see the stigmata until her death when they appeared on her body. (here we had a brief discussion of what the stigmata are)

St. Catherine of Siena was named one of the Doctors of the Church for being one of the best examples and teachers of the faith. That is why she is our saint for the virtue of faith.

This Barbie-doll story of St. Catherine really seemed to go over well. The girls enjoyed the visual, and I was SO glad I had planned it! I hope to post photos soon, as I saw several flashes from moms' cameras during the presentation.

Then, we made a craft. This, also, I found on the Little Flowers Girls Club yahoo group. I have a photo of my sample, but the girls' were so much more creative! We made Sunflower Growth Charts to represent their growth in height and their growth in holiness. The leaves on the stem each say some way we can grow in the virtue of faith. Due to the wind, most of the girls did not get to glue their stems together. It was just too difficult, but they did prepare all the pieces and take them home to assemble. The little ones got a coloring page of a sunflower face to cut out and glue to their paper plates instead of having to cut out petals.

We took a break for snacks, and I set up the obstacle course. I brought milk crates and trash cans from home and just set up three courses where they had to go around each obstacle. I had intended to also use umbrellas, but the wind was too much for that! We cut strips of fabric for blindfolds, because this is a Faith Obstacle Course.

The girls got into teams of three of their choosing, and two of the girls were blindfolded in each team. Each team lined up at the start of one of the three obstacle courses. The teams all ran the obstacle course three times, with a different girl leading the two blindfolded girls each time. So, I had the moms help them trade blindfolds when needed. It was so crazy and fun that there were no winners, and they just kept switching from one team to another until everyone had a turn. It was also so cold by then that they enjoyed being close and running! (If this explanation does not make sense, here is the link to the game in Google Books.)

Finally, we gathered back under the pavilion for announcements and closing prayers. I had intended to discuss the obstacle course, but the girls were too shivering and moms were begging to go home. :) Instead, I passed out the St. Catherine of Siena coloring pages and their Faith Patch Project sheets. Then, we closed in prayer with the St. Therese prayer and the girls' intentions. I had intended for us to also pray an Act of Faith, but since I skipped that part of my presentation, I will teach that next week.

I am allowing the girls to go beyond what is in the books to get their patches and choose, with their parent, whatever activities they want to do. Since this is a group of homeschoolers, I am deliberately getting all of the mothers involved in this part. They have to approve how many and which activities their daughter(s) will do and sign they were completed to their satisfaction. The mothers really appreciate this "say" in whether or not their daughter deserves to wear the patch. I also wrote the following to the moms about the patches that may be helpful to some of you:

Please note, I am trying not to say they "earn" the patches, because it is not a competition or an occasion for vanity. The patches are meant to represent the girls' demonstration of understanding the virtues and commitment to continue to grow in the virtues. Of course, the girls will be comparing how many activities and how fast they complete them (especially the older ones), so please help me discourage this kind of potentially pride-filled discussion!

Overall, it was a fun meeting, once again! Since I see most of these girls at the park each week, I am going to bring the Scripture verse CD to park this week and let them hear it. Between the obstacle course and the closing prayers, I had intended to let them listen to it a few times in case they want that to be one of their activities for their Patch Project, but, as I mentioned, we just prayed and ran to the warmth of our cars! I think the Scripture verse CD is wonderful! I memorized the verse after listening to it about five times!

I am already looking forward to the next meeting, where we will get more in depth on the virtue of faith and how important it is to put it first in our lives. Hope you enjoyed this!