Catholic Family Vignettes

A collage of literary snapshots from the life of a large traditional Catholic family


December 2013

O Christmas tree…

Yesterday, we made a trip to the Albert Family Tree Farm in Amanda, Ohio…a family favorite, ever since we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Raymond Albert (may God rest his precious soul!)

I am in no way opposed to a lovely artificial tree…last year, were it not for the hasty purchase of such a tree, we wouldn’t have had a Christmas tree at all…

No…the reason I prefer a real tree has more to do with the “how” than the “why…”

IMG_2697It’s all about the memories.

IMG_2707 IMG_2709The cold, the snow, the discussion on the merits of this tree vs. that tree.  The laughter.  The hot cocoa afterwards…

IMG_2714 IMG_2722 IMG_2728 IMG_2731 IMG_2736 IMG_2739 IMG_2742 IMG_2744 IMG_2750 IMG_2751 IMG_2752 IMG_2756 IMG_2761This year’s tree isn’t particularly perfect.  To quote my Meredith:  “all the trees out here are beautiful.  They’re all natural beauties.  Does it really have to be “perfect?”

IMG_2769No.  It doesn’t.  At least, not subject to our ideas of perfection!

IMG_2780 IMG_2791 IMG_2795In the end, relieved of the burden of finding the “perfect tree,” we decided on a tree at the end of the first row we’d looked at…

IMG_2802 IMG_2806 IMG_2810IMG_2813Today we’ll decorate that tree and it will no doubt be quite lovely.  But loveliest of all are the memories; we had the most fun we’ve ever had looking for a tree…without a doubt. And the hair-raising, tire spinning, nearly slamming into a grove of trees, nearly permanently stuck, ride back to the barn…earns this trip the title of MOST HILARIOUS!!


Unwrapping the Holy Season

There’s little doubt that the last two Christmas Seasons have been extremely difficult for our family…Meredith’s devastating accident on Christmas Day in 2011 and Roger’s heart attack and open heart surgery in 2012, rocked our world and shifted our perspective in so many ways.  This Christmas is no different…unemployment and a dear family member’s cancer diagnosis and impending surgery have, once again, brought us to the Crib, on our knees.  We are living Advent…the Season of Wait…and I can’t help but think back to a time when I understood so very little about this season.  Trapped in the glitter and noise, I almost missed it entirely.  I wrote this piece a few years ago, and it seems that I need the reminder, once again, that I might unwrap the true beauty of this Holy Season:

Once upon a time there was a young woman seeking, always seeking the meaning of life.

For a long time, she thought she would find it in the bottom of a shopping bag. Or in a fancy restaurant. Or a beautifully decorated home.

She had married a wonderful man and had three beautiful daughters…still, she felt empty, and constantly sought to fill that void with something outside herself. It never worked.

The coming Christmas Season only seemed to heighten this feeling, and so she worked feverishly, from the beginning of November, to fill the family home with the smells, sights and sounds of Christmas.

The artificial tree was assembled on November 1st and by the 5th was completely decorated. Each room was filled with images of Santa Claus and angels, jingle bells and reindeer…the entire home had become a reflection of the secularist view of the “holiday” season. There was a Nativity…in the corner of the living room on a small table and for the most part it was neglected. The Advent Wreath was placed on the dining room table, its candles only rarely lit, and by the time she realized that Advent had passed, she would notice that two of the candles had never even been lit. She just didn’t understand the necessity. There was so much to do to get ready for Christmas! Cookies to bake, shopping and wrapping. No time to pray, just time to work. Work, work, work. She sadly noticed that the Christmas tree and all the decorations had already gathered a layer of dust…things were beginning to look a bit worn, a bit shabby. It took all her energy to hold everything together for 60 days of festivity. The excitement had long ago vanished for her, but the show had to go on…

Christmas Day and the frenzy began. Midnight Mass had been skipped because the wrapping and baking wasn’t quite finished. She awoke the following morning, up hours before her girls to set up the video camera and placed herself, like the consummate actress she had become, in the appropriate location to experience her children’s joy. There was a flurry of excitement as mountains of gifts were unwrapped, pictures snapped, videos recorded…Mom and Dad both privately calculated with growing dismay just how much this “joy” would cost in the coming year.

By the New Year, the tree was down. The decorations were packed away and many of the toys and baubles had already lost their newness. The house, once again returned to the ordinary, seemed to reflect her heart. It was neat. It was tidy. Everything was where it should be…and yet something…something was horribly wrong.

SOMEONE, not SOMETHING, was missing…

She felt like a princess, kept prisoner in a very beautiful castle. Although she was surrounded by everything she loved and had everything she wanted, she one day realized that the castle was really a dungeon of her own making.

One day, the Prince of Peace came and kissed the poor, sleeping princess and awoke her from her slumber. He showed her a Manger. A Star. A Woman. He told her about a Promise and showed her the ultimate gift…the Wounds of Love’s making.

Her heart aflame, she disposed of her worldly approach to the Season of Wait. Her husband and children began to notice a subtle change. The prized Santa collection no longer dominated the mantel piece…the Nativity, empty and waiting for its special Guests, took center stage. The artificial tree was discarded in favor of a live tree, which would not be set up until just a very few days before the beginning…the BEGINNING of the Christmas Season, which is the Day, itself. The Advent Wreath was placed on the center of the coffee table, and after prayers, candle lighting and singing, it would be placed in a prominent window for the world passing by to see the Light…

She learned the O Antiphons and passed them onto her children. She and her husband filled shoes on the Feast of St. Nicholas. She baked Lussekatter and made a candle wreath for her little daughters on the Feast of St. Lucia. She, in an embrace of her family’s poverty, welcomed more and more children as precious gifts from God, and recognized the faces around the tree as more beautiful than any gift beneath it. The family eschewed a credit purchased Christmas, for a smaller, happier and paid for celebration. The family attended Mass on every possible day throughout the years, but most especially during the Season of Advent. And on Christmas Eve, in the hush and quiet of that Holy Night, the entire family journeyed to the Church, to hear the Sacred Liturgy and the Good News and…

“…good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
– Luke 2:10-12

The void had been filled. The emptiness replaced with fullness, with the peace that surpasses all understanding. She understands now, in a way that she could never understand before.

The Season is a gift to be unwrapped, slowly and patiently, savoring the Ultimate Gift that will be found…

…in the stillness and hush…

…of a humble manger, in the arms of a Mother, under the embrace of a Father…

…in the Gift of a Son…


Bearing light…

December 13, 2012…the first time, in many years, there were no warm rolls, no white-robed girls with candle wreaths singing their way up the darkened stairs, candles clasped in hands eager to serve…

IMG_2659 IMG_2661Instead, the children waited, prayerfully, fearfully and expectantly for news of Daddy…news that his heart was fixed and that he was on the road to recovery.  It was a sad time…filled with uncertainty.  Yet the pillar of faith held us, and after a rough year, we still stand, joyfully awaiting the Light…

IMG_2666This year our girls, with a whole new kind of appreciation for this lovely feast day, once again donned the traditional garb and sang their way through the dark, bearing light and love as they served the family…

IMG_2667IMG_2676I love being Catholic.  I love the gift of this holy Faith that nourishes us and fills us with the Light of Christ, with His holy Word and the traditions that reinforce the power of the Communion of the Saints.

IMG_2681My little ones have literally grown-up with these traditions and the Feast of St. Lucia is particularly dear to us.  From the time they were old enough to hold a candle aloft, they’ve awakened at dawn on St. Lucia’s Day, and dressed as the virgin-martyr, they’ve sang and served…







IMG_2663May the Light and Love of Christ illuminate your life…may you know the peace that comes from embracing that Light!


Nativity Advent-ure…2013

Well, dear friends…where do I begin?  It’s been many months since I’ve visited this little space and many more life events that have crowded out the little bits of free time that exist amidst the work, suffering and joy (yes, joy!).

We have been through it all…a child dealing with health issues, a frightening fire that destroyed our garage…a spouse restructured out of what had always seemed a secure career…another child reeling in the midst of all the uncertainty…a family member facing a serious health crisis and now…Advent.

Advent.  The season of wait.  Last year, our “wait” centered on Roger’s recovery from a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery.  Yet in the midst of a dark time, Love’s pure light transformed sorrow to joy…fear to hope.  Surrounded by friends and family…bolstered by our holy faith, we found much to celebrate.

This year is no different.  Unemployment is a new kind of heartache, yet our good God often uses these “severe mercies” to bring about new and better things in the lives of those who love and serve Him.  We are in the middle of a brand new adventure, a little scary, to be sure, but with God all things are possible.  Without Him…nothing is possible.

Abigail reminded me this morning that we forgot to begin our “Nativity Advent-ure” this year.  We usually begin on the first day of Advent, but somehow I just completely forgot it.  And we need it!  We need to grow in virtue during the Season of Wait, particularly during such trying times.

If you’re not familiar with our little tradition, here is an excerpt from a post from years past…and this year’s “pick:”


For many, many years now our family has engaged in a lovely tradition. I don’t think it’s an original concept, and I’m not really sure just where we picked it up. We call it our Holy Advent-ure…

BTW…a couple years ago, a holy priest revealed to another Catholic blogger friend that this tradition has very old roots in the monasteries of Europe. We were delighted to discover this…it certainly adds depth to the tradition! For those of you who’ve been readers for many years, you know how this works…for those of you with questions, here’s what we do:

Every year, for the past several years, our family has endeavored to emulate the virtues displayed by the various “characters” of the Nativity of our Lord. Slips of paper containing the names and virtues of each are folded and placed in a hat.

This year’s selections were hardly a surprise.  We have all acknowledged and affirmed that the slips chosen reflect the areas we are each being called to embrace.  No one was at all surprised that Roger, my poor suffering guy, chose the slip bearing the image of the Blessed Mother…he always seems to receive his sufferings on Marian feast days…this year is no different.

Here are the slips as they were drawn:

The Christmas Star: Joseph.  Time for this big guy to step up to the plate and SHINE!

Virtues: Provide a steady light to guide the weary pilgrims. A source of guidance and illumination.

The Angel: Zachary.  Remember what happened to the proud angels, my son…joyful service is the key!

Virtues: Proclaims the “tidings of great joy”. A source of inspiration. Obedient to the will of God.

Blessed Virgin: Dad (we all acknowledge that the one who chooses the “Mary slip” has a tough job ahead! God bless my good man…”

Virtues: Meek, humble, modest and pure. Full and complete obedience to God. Holiness.

St. Joseph: Maximilian (my good young man has been working so hard lately…humility and obedience are next!)

Virtues: Humility, leadership and humble trust in God. Chastity and patience

The Shepherd: Abigail (Be kind to that “lamb,” my girl…)

Virtues: Leadership. Listens to God. Kindness to the “lambs.” Goodness.

The Lamb: Rylee (Let yourself be led, little girl!  Trust those older than you!)

Virtues: Docility, innocence, obedience and trust.

The Ox: Mom (Yes.  I must stay the course…)

Virtues: Hardwork and diligence. Patience and sacrifice.

The Donkey: Michael (Your first time, my son…time to grow in patience and docility!)

Virtues: Humility and docility. Patiently bears all burdens.

We’re on our way, journeying towards Bethlehem…we hope to meet you there!

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