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Posted by on Apr 4, 2016

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

The Annunciation - Henry Ossaw TannerGabriel’s visit to a very young woman in the small town of Nazareth was a momentous event, though mostly unnoticed at the time. Gabriel is the archangel tasked to serve as special messenger of God. On this visit, the message was actually a request: will you consent to become my mother? It wasn’t exactly phrased this way, according to the narrative we have from St. Luke, but in essence that was the question. Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a son who would be the Son of the Most High and would sit on the throne of his father David (as in King David), rule over the house of Jacob forever and have an unending kingdom. (Lk 1:26-38)

Now this would be challenging even to a married woman, but this young woman was not married. In her culture, having a child out of wedlock could result in death by stoning. At best, she would be shunned and excluded from polite society. Yet Mary had the courage to ask for more details about how such a thing could happen and to listen with deep faith to the response. Then she answered “yes,” Jesus was conceived, and God’s plan for salvation could go forward.

Christians have celebrated the Annunciation for centuries. Typically, the feast is scheduled for March 25, exactly nine months before the celebration of Christmas. However, in the West, when March 25 falls within Holy Week or the first week of Easter, the feast is moved to Monday following the Second Sunday of Easter (now known as Divine Mercy Sunday).

As adults we celebrate many events such as the Annunciation with prayer – Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, the Angelus, etc. However, for children, these ways of celebrating are not always experienced as much fun. So, with that in mind, I’d like to suggest an alternative way to celebrate: Make Angel cookies!

To make Angel cookies, take any recipe for a cookie that allows rolling out the dough and cutting out a cookie. (Even brownies could be used for making Angel Cookies if time is short.) Use an angel shaped cookie cutter to shape the cookies before baking. Be sure to decorate them with frosting/icing or with some  kind of “sprinkles” of colored sugar to make them festive. Then share them as part of a festive meal. Light a candle, have a special drink, use nicer dishes than normal, have a food that is a treat for your family — any or all of these things will make the day special for the children and family who share them.

As you share this day, keep your ears open for the voice of angels in your life. God’s messenger still comes, though perhaps not as momentously as in the visit to Mary. What is God saying to you and me today?

Peace.

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2014

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

Crepe Paper and Sticks Become a Bird for Pentecost

 

Feathers all ready for flying

Feathers all ready for flying

The primary image of Pentecost is that of tongues of fire that accompanied the sound of a rushing wind and settled over the heads of the disciples, both men and women, gathered in the upper room of the home in Jerusalem where Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper with his friends and then appeared to them on several occasions after the Resurrection. In this unforgettable moment, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and empowered them to witness to what they had seen and heard of the love of God and the coming of God’s Kingdom to the world. The Church was born on that day nearly 2,000 years ago and the Holy Spirit continues to breathe life and love into God’s world through ordinary men, women, and children.

Many ways of celebrating Pentecost exist around the world, beginning with the gathering of the community to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. For children, other activities can make this a special day as well.

Common symbols of the Holy Spirit include a dove, the wind, and a flame. A craft I learned many years ago makes an enjoyable activity for children to celebrate during Easter Season and Pentecost.

Crepe Paper & Stick Birds

Supplies:

2 thin sticks or branches – about 1 1/2 to 2 feet long
String or yarn – 1 foot length
Cellophane tape
Crepe paper – white, yellow, red, orange
Orange ribbon (optional)

Making your bird

Take two sticks of unequal length and tie them together in the form of a cross. Use string or yarn to tie them securely and help hold them in the cross shape.

2012-04-17 17.02.28

Next take a bit of the crepe paper and wrap it around the yarn to help stabilize the bird’s body.

Take the orange ribbon or a bit of orange crepe paper and wrap it around the tip of the shortest end of the sticks. Go around the stick enough times to make a beak and a head for your bird. If you use ribbon, you can use crepe paper to cover the body-end of the beak and build up a head.

2012-04-17 17.07.17

Once the head has been formed and the center stabilized, take a long strip of crepe paper, tape it to the stick or to itself, and begin wrapping it around the sticks.

2012-04-17 17.14.49

Cover both sticks completely with crepe paper. Leave only a little of the beak showing.

Close-up of head

Close-up of bird’s head

Take strips of whatever color of crepe paper you are using and tape them to the bird’s wings and tail. Some will want to tape them all along the wings. Others will put them only at the tips. Either way works just fine.

Feathers all ready for flying

Feathers all ready for flying

When the feathers have all been attached, the bird will be ready to fly.

Away we go!

Away we go!

 

This bird can be constructed to celebrate Easter, the Resurrection (as a phoenix), or Pentecost (as a reminder of the Holy Spirit who comes igniting the fires of love and settles like a bird on those called to God’s family).

Come Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts with the fire of your love. Blow where you will in our lives. Strengthen us to respond with the freedom of a bird flying in your love.

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Posted by on Nov 2, 2013

Soul Cakes in November

Soul Cakes in November

Soul Cakes

 

On the first two days of November, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls. Many traditions for celebrating these feasts are found around the world. One of them is the making, giving, and eating of Soul Cakes.

Soul Cakes are small cake-like pastries. Typically they are made with spices including ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and/or cloves. They may have raisins or currents baked into them. They may be frosted or sprinkled with powdered sugar. They may also be made of sweet dough like a sweet roll.

During the Middle Ages, especially in northern Europe, England and Ireland, soul cakes were baked and shared as part of the celebration of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Each cake was marked with a cross. People called “soulers” went from house to house, offering songs and prayers for the dead. They received these cakes as gifts and ate them. Each cake eaten was believed to represent a soul released from Purgatory.

Today, the custom of giving and receiving soul cakes, especially as a way of freeing souls from Purgatory, has fallen by the way. Nevertheless, making and eating soul cakes is an enjoyable way to mark these feasts and celebrate them in family or community.

The recipe for Soul Cakes here is one I have developed from several basic cookie recipes. I like it because it is easy to make and includes pumpkin, for a special seasonal flavor. It doesn’t include raisins or currants, but a handful of either could be added to the dough if you like. Nuts could also be added, but they are not essential.

Pumpkin Soul Cakes

Ingredients:

Wet:
1 C Shortening (Butter or margarine)
1 C Sugar or 3/4 C Honey
1 Egg
1 C Pumpkin (cooked and pureed)

Dry:
3 1/3 C Flour (either white or whole wheat will work – I used whole wheat.)
1 t Salt
1 1/4 t Cinnamon
3/4 t Ginger
1/2 t Baking powder
1/4 – 1/2 t Cloves, Nutmeg and/or Allspice (to taste)

Cream shortening and sugar. Add pumpkin and egg and mix together well. Combine dry ingredients then add gradually to the wet ones, stirring well.

This dough can be chilled and rolled out for cut cookies or it can be baked as drop-cookies. I make them as drop cookies using a teaspoon to scoop about a tablespoon of the dough from the pan and drop it onto a greased baking sheet. Flatten them slightly before baking if you want to put a cross on the top of them.

Bake at 350º for 10-12 minutes.

When cool, frost with a powdered sugar or other icing in the shape of a cross. A little bit of vanilla in the icing adds a nice flavor.

(If not planning to use the cookies as soul cakes, swirl the frosting over the top with a knife or leave them unfrosted. They’re good either way.)

Enjoy with friends and family — and remember to offer a prayer for those who have gone before us.

 

 

 

 

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Posted by on May 31, 2013

Feast of the Visitation – Celebrating Blessings Hidden Within

Feast of the Visitation – Celebrating Blessings Hidden Within

The Visitation - Mary and Elizabeth meet - Luke 1:39-45

The Feast of the Visitation is a celebration of the meeting of Mary with her cousin Elizabeth when both women are expecting their firstborn children. Mary, a very young woman, has given her consent to become the mother of Jesus in response to God’s request. Elizabeth, a much older woman who has never been able to have a child, has conceived a son miraculously in her old age following the visit of an angel to her husband while he was serving in the temple. Word of Elizabeth’s pregnancy has been offered to Mary as a sign that “nothing is impossible with God.” Knowing how difficult the last months of pregnancy can be, especially for an older mother, Mary hurried to help her cousin.  The joy of their meeting and the song of praise Mary offers to God for the wonders they are experiencing have resonated through history. In fact, Mary’s prayer, known as the Magnificat from its first word in Latin, is part of the daily prayer of the Church, included as part of Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Celebrating the Feast

This feast is remembered among the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary. Readings and prayers for the Mass celebrated on this feast are all focused on the great joy of the gift of these two improbable pregnancies and of the women themselves, as well as our joy with and for them. The prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours also remind us of the event.

The Magnificat has been set to music by many gifted men and women through the ages. David Haas, John Michael Talbot, and Rory Cooney have composed some of my favorite versions.

One way to celebrate this feast is to make cream puffs and share them with family and friends. Praise God for coming to share life with us through the Incarnation of his son. Give thanks for all the women who have courageously born and raised children, treasuring the wonder of sweetness and life hidden within their wombs.

 

 JESUS MAFA. The Visitation – Mary and Elizabeth meet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48279 [retrieved May 31, 2013].

 

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Posted by on Mar 16, 2012

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with Irish Soda Bread

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread "Cookies"

One of the great things about being Catholic is getting to celebrate the feasts of those who have gone ahead of us – the saints. There are so many saints to celebrate that every new day could bring with it a reason for a party! Some saints, however, are associated with certain nations or ethnic groups and their feasts get celebrated more widely, even by those who don’t share their faith or ethnicity.

Saint Patrick is one of those whose feast has become identified with the people of a nation. St. Patrick is remembered for bringing Christianity to Ireland. Though born in Wales, his feast is marked with great celebration of Irish identity in the United States, not just by those of Irish origin. In typical immigrant fashion, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with greater enthusiasm by the Irish in America than in Ireland. Music speaks of loves lost, homes left behind, and dreams of returning someday. Foods are not necessarily those that were eaten in the homeland, but rather those eaten by immigrants to a new land, with touches of the old ways for comfort.

With all this in mind, making Irish Soda Bread can be a good way to celebrate the life of a man who was taken to another land as a slave, escaped some years later, and then returned to bring the Good News of Jesus to the people of that land.

Here’s a recipe we’ve enjoyed.

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour *
2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 tbsp baking powder
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken **
1 large or extra-large egg, lightly beaten
Zest of one orange
2 tbsp caraway seeds
1 cup dried currants

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or lightly grease a baking pan.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 50 – 60  minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.

Cool on a baking rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* You can use 4 cups of all-purpose flour in lieu of white whole wheat. Just omit the baking powder

** No buttermilk? No problem. Measure out 1 2/3 cups of milk and add a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to bring the mixture to 1 ¾ cups.

Alternate Idea for Shaping:

After kneading the dough, roll it out to about ½ inch thickness. Cut with a shamrock shaped cookie cutter. Bake at 375º for 18-20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. The biscuits will be lightly browned.

Cool on baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

 

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Posted by on Feb 20, 2012

Celebrating Lent – A Puzzle to Get Started

Celebrating Lent – A Puzzle to Get Started

As Lent begins this coming week, we are called to turn from activities or things that separate us from God and instead do something positive to clear our way to return to friendship and union with the Trinity. It is a time to celebrate God’s love for us, trusting that God is in charge and even hard lessons help us become closer to the One who loves us unconditionally.

In the spirit of celebration, then, let’s start with a puzzle. Click here for the solution once you’ve tried it. Click here for a version you can print.

 

 

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Posted by on Nov 30, 2011

An Advent Calendar to Make with Children

An Advent Calendar to Make with Children

Advent Activities calendar

Advent calendars are a traditional way to mark the passage of days in December leading to Christmas Day. Unlike Advent itself, which varies in number of days, Advent calendars only count the 24 days of December before Christmas. Some have a candy or other treat for each day. Some have a picture of a toy or tell a bit of the Christmas story. Each day, one door is opened. As the month progresses, it becomes quite clear how close Christmas is coming.

Advent calendars are a wonderful way to help children experience Advent as a season unto itself. They also help children to experience in both tactile and visual form the passage of time.

I developed this Advent calendar for the children in grades 3-5 when I was teaching in our parish religious education program. It’s an easy project to do in an hour or two and offers a daily reminder of things to do together or individually to prepare for the coming of Christ in our daily lives, on the Last Day, and as he came historically – the day we celebrate at Christmas.

 

Advent Calendar

You will need:

2 – sheets of white  card stock or construction paper – 8 1/2 by 11
1 – small brad
1 – 5 inch ribbon (wrapping paper type is fine)
Crayons, watercolor paint, colored pencils, pastels or other “coloring” medium of your choice
Adhesive tape
Scissors
Needle

To make your Advent calendar:

Advent Calendar Cover Page Template

Activities page
  • Draw/color a picture of a lighted candle on the larger circle that has only the “cut-out” marked. Be sure to draw your candle so that the cut-out points to the lower right side of the picture. Don’t worry if the coloring goes outside the lines of the circle. It won’t matter. The important thing is that the child draw the picture, not that it be a great work of art!

Advent Activities Picture

  • Cut out the cover picture (of the candle) and the activities page.
  • Cut out the area of the cover picture inside the dashed lines.
  • Make a loop with the ribbon and tape it to the back of the top of the cover picture, so the picture will look straight when you hang it up.
  • Poke a hole in the center of each page, where the black dot is.
  • Insert the brad through the holes, with the cover on top and the activities page underneath. Open the wings of the brad on the back side of the Advent calendar to hold it together. The activities page should be able to turn behind the cover.
  • Set the calendar to Day 1 and hang it where you will see it each day of December and remember to do something special to prepare for Christmas.

Happy Advent!

 

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Posted by on Nov 11, 2008

Martinmas and Veterans Day

Martinmas and Veterans Day

St. Martin as a bishop: modern icon in the chapel of the Eastern Orthodox Monastery of the Theotokos and St Martin, Cantauque, Provence.

St. Martin as a bishop: modern icon in the chapel of the Eastern Orthodox Monastery of the Theotokos and St Martin, Cantauque, Provence.

The feast of St. Martin of Tours, sometimes known as Martinmas, falls on November 11. In the United States, we celebrate November 11 as Veterans Day – a day we honor those who have served in the military of the country. It is a national holiday, though many businesses are open and retailers offer sales in the hope of luring people who are enjoing a day off!

As a child, I remember hearing people from my grandparents’ generation speak of the day as Armistice Day. This was the day, in 1918, on which World War I stopped. The Armistice was declared and hostilities were set to end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – and so they did. That was a war called “The War to End All Wars,” but unfortunately, it didn’t. So, when World War II followed all too soon afterwards, the name of the day was changed to Veterans Day, in honor of all veterans.

It seems appropriate that the feast of St. Martin of Tours coincides with this day of honoring those who have served their countries militarily, as he too served in the army. His life and contributions to the Christian community are discussed in greater detail in an earlier post, and they were impressive. Nevertheless, he is most commonly known for the legend told about him, in which he is approached by a begger and asked for help. Martin is said to have cut his military cape in half and given half of it to the beggar. Later, in a dream, he saw Christ in the form of the beggar, wearing the cape.

Martin was not a Christian at the time he served in the Roman cavalry, but had entered the Catechumenate before entering the military. Before he left the army, he had been baptized. As his faith grew and deepened, he became convinced that as a Christian, he could not kill, even as a member of the military. He accepted arrest and imprisonment rather than fight. He volunteered to go to the front of the troops, unarmed, but a peaceful solution was reached before the battle, so he did not have to prove his courage and commitment to non-violence in that way.

It seems to me that Martin’s insight that killing is not the calling of Christians is one that has been shared by many men and women who have served or refused to serve in military forces through the centuries. Certainly, there have been times when Christians have turned their backs on this belief, even claiming that killing was done on behalf of God. For those times we must beg God’s forgiveness and that of those harmed. However, the veterans I have known generally will say that war is never the best answer to human disputes. Terrible things happen in war. It does not really resolve the problem between nations. Sometimes it seems to be the only way to stop a terrible evil, but it’s never the best option. (Stopping the Holocaust is often given as an example of a good reason to go to war, but it must be acknowledged that even World War II was fought not to stop the Holocaust – of which there was very little awareness outside of Europe – but rather to stop the military aggression of certain nations.) Martin of Tours would agree that war is never to be the first response of nations or their people to conflicts with others.

But what, you ask, is Martinmas? Martinmas is the name of the celebration of Martin’s feast in Europe. I first experienced the celebration of Martinmas when my sons were little and attending Waldorf school. (Waldorf schools celebrate many European Christian holidays.) It is a harvest festival. It is a festival that marks the end of Autumn weather and the beginning of Winter weather in many nations. The thing that was most fun about the feast was the custom of making lanterns and going out after dark to walk with the lanterns.

For a week or more before the feast, the children would make lanterns of paper. Some were simply construction paper colored by the children and rolled into a cylinder with a bottom and a wire handle. Others were more elaborate. Sometimes a balloon was inflated as a base and tissue paper layers glued over the balloon to form the lantern. Once a wooden frame was built in the form of a star. Then layers of tissue paper were applied to form the walls. Leaves and glitter were included on that lantern. That one hangs in our living room to this day, a beautiful reminder of a school festival and a saint’s feast day.

(In some schools, glass jars are decorated for lanterns. They are also beautiful, but tripping in the dark can result in dangerously broken glass. Plastic peanut butter jars might be a reasonable solution to that problem!)

Once completed, the lanterns are hung by wire from a stick, a candle placed in the bottom, and children and parents sally forth in a procession around the school or neighborhood. In some countries, children visit neighbors and receive candy or other treats – much like Halloween in the US.

Martinmas Lantern Walk - From Today in Faerie School

Martinmas Lantern Walk – From Today in Faerie School

If you decide to celebrate Martinmas with a lantern walk, be very careful with lighted candles. There are now battery-operated “candles” that you might consider using, especially for very young children. We never had any serious accidents, but I’m sure Martin wouldn’t mind opting for safety on his feast.

After you go out for a little lantern walk, follow up with a warm dinner and/or dessert, lots of laughter and fellowship and a happy night’s sleep.

Happy Martinmas! Happy Veterans Day! And may the Lord help us all to find better ways to resolve our differences.

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