The waiting begins in earnest

The waiting begins in earnest

“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” – Mark 13:33

And so begins Advent. I love that the Church launches into the new liturgical year and the four-week period leading up to Christmas not with the joyous news of Mary’s fiat or her visit to Elizabeth or anything Christmas-related but instead with a reflection on the second coming. Yes, we are working our way toward the celebration of the first coming, the Incarnation, the moment when God became one of us, but let’s not forget that this life journey we’re on is supposed to be about preparing ourselves for the moment when Jesus comes again. Very poetic, I think, the connection of the two comings at this time of year. (more…)

Meet ‘The Egg Lady’

Yesterday’s pre-Thanksgiving post about our experience with Mary House Catholic Worker of Austin way back when sent us searching for the woman mentioned in the column, The Egg Lady, aka Lynn Goodman-Strauss. Dennis found this great little short film about The Egg’s Lady’s ministry on YouTube. Is there anything you can’t find on YouTube? So here it is. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to hear about Lynn and about her work because this is a woman who practices what everyone else preaches. She is out there living the Gospel every day. After watching this film, I realized how blessed I was to serve even one day in her presence.

A Thanksgiving blast from the past

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I got to thinking back to the first Thanksgiving Dennis and I spent as a married couple. We had moved to Austin just a few months before and decided to give thanks in a different way that year. So today, I am rerunning a favorite Life Lines column in honor of the holiday and in recognition of all those folks who will not sit down to a feast of food on Thursday. Here it is:

In the past, whenever the dolls and Legos would overflow our kids’ toy bins, we’d give things away to charity. We figured it was a good way to do something nice, clean our closets, and teach our kids the importance of giving to others all at the same time.

Ever since Noah turned 2, he knew that many of his toys would eventually go to “the poor.” We never really put a face on “the poor,” but whenever a toy was conspicuous by its absence, Noah would ask if they had it.

We thought we were teaching him a valuable lesson in Christian charity. Then one night he took the globe off the coffee table, spun it around and randomly put his finger on Egypt. “Is this where the poor live?” he asked.

I tried to imagine what was going through his head. I had visions of hungry children on the other side of the world opening boxes filled with Teletubbies and beeping plastic steering wheels.

And so began our quest to teach our kids just how many people are desperately poor, not just on the other side of the globe, but on the other side of town. We tried to find ways to drive the point home: a brown bag full of cans from our pantry at Thanksgiving, a gift for the Giving Tree at Christmas, an Easter basket for a needy child. They were all lovely sentiments – and important in their own ways — but hardly enough to convey what the Gospel challenges us to do.

The first Thanksgiving after Dennis and I were married we volunteered to serve breakfast to hungry men and women who didn’t have plans for a home-cooked meal, or a home for that matter. A woman who ran the Catholic Worker House was happy for the extra hands and told us to be at the day labor corner at 7:30 a.m. to hand out hard-boiled eggs, tortillas and hot coffee.

The woman was known around town as “The Egg Lady” because she was out there with her eggs not just on Thanksgiving but every day. She drove homeless people to AA meetings, let them shower at her house, gave them clothes and offered them prayers. She reached out a hand where many would recoil in fear. She told us how one man she’d been helping stole her car. She said it without a hint of anger, without an ounce of regret. Then she boiled more eggs and went back out to the streets.

Now that is a lesson in Christian charity. Talk about living the Gospel. It’s not nearly as neat and easy as throwing some canned corn in a paper bag. In fact it’s the kind of charity that I find downright scary. But it’s exactly the kind of charity we need to embrace if we’re going to teach our kids about compassion and our duty to make sure people have eggs and coffee and a generous serving of dignity and respect.

Maybe this year we’ll hold onto the extra Elmos and try a different approach – like talking about the fact that there are poor people right here, that they’re just like us except they don’t have a way to pay for food or doctor visits or heat during the winter. Bags of food and boxes of toys are a good start, but they won’t end poverty. We end poverty, and not just with a checkbook but with a change of heart. Maybe that’s a naïve idea, but people like The Egg Lady put it to the test every day.

Unfortunately there are plenty of opportunities to test our mettle. Spin the globe. Put your finger down. Anywhere. That’s where the poor live.

Originally published in Catholic New York, November 2001

Raking: The Sequel

So the raking continues…What was I saying about it not being cold enough for me? Check that off the list. It is freezing. Like it’s January, not November. The girls and I did a little raking and clearing yesterday afternoon. Despite my fear of Lyme ticks, I let them jump in the leaves and lay down in the leaves.

Might as well just roll out the red carpet for ticks and anything else looking for a warm host for the winter. We are just about done with the leaves. A little bit more on the side yards and stuff clinging to and stuck inside all the holly bushes, the least Zen-moment of the raking experience for me. That requires patience, patience, patience, which I lack in abundance. Can you lack something in abundance?

I will be signing off for the weekend. I am heading to New Jersey to give a presentation at a catechetical congress. Send some positive energy down the NJ way since public speaking is not my favorite thing in the world to do. I think it comes in right behind skydiving and being buried alive.

Bringing kids to Mass? Help has arrived.

If you have small children and you bring them with you to Mass, you probably know all too well the challenges of not only keeping them quiet but of engaging them in something that is often beyond their understanding. We’ve tried everything, from snacks when the kids were very young to prayer books and books on the saints as they got a little older, to Sunday missals — traditional or MagnifiKid-style — when they reached First Communion year. It’s not easy, is it? Even now, our 8-year-old needs help as she tries to understand the readings, and our 3-year-old, well, let’s just say we have a ways to go there.

And that is why I am so happy to introduce and recommend to you a new book that is sure to be a help to all those weary parents trying to find a way to make the Scripture readings relevant to little ones. Jonathan Stampf’s newly released book Hear My Voice: A Children’s Translation of Gospel Readings of the Catholic Mass for 2009 is a perfect addition to any family’s library. The Gospel readings are not watered down or sapped of meaning. They are simply written in a style that children can appreciate, with the actual Scriptural text in a box to the right. Parents and children can read the Gospel story together the night before Mass and talk about what it means, making the Mass experience that much more fulfilling for everyone involved, including the folks two pews away who might otherwise be trying to hear over the din of unhappy children.

What I especially like is the fact that the children’s version of the Gospel would be perfect for our 8-year-old, but to the left of the reading on the pages with beautiful color illustrations by Robert Conrad, is a one-line synopsis of what’s happening in the Gospel story. Those one-liners are perfect for our 3-year-old. She can look at the picture and try to absorb not the whole story but that one line. So I think this book can work on many levels with children of various ages. You can check out more by clicking HERE to see sample pages, or if you’re ready to buy, you can click HERE. Better buy it quick since the new liturgical year starts Nov. 30, the first Sunday of Advent, which is just around the corner.

We need more books like this, books with contemporary artwork and simple but faithful translations of Scripture. Let’s hope there’s more to come from Prayer Press.

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