Day of the Dead

I love All Souls Day.

Well the truth is, I love everything about All Hallows Tide.  But of the entire celebration, All Souls Day is my favorite.  I love that All Souls Day is the culmination of the entire feast with All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day preceding it.  And for the record, I’m not a morbid, death obsessed soul either. 

A few years ago, I wrestled over my internal conflict of secular versus sacred celebration in a blog when it comes to Halloween and I gave a tid-bit of history on All Hallows Tide…

Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve is the night before All Saints Day (“Hallow” meaning “holy” or in this case, “saint”).  As Meredith Gould points out in The Catholic Home, “Although Halloween has been secularized since the nineteenth century, Catholics have a long history of observing evening vigil before the Feast of All Saints.”  All Hallows’ Eve marks the beginning of the triduum of All Hallows Tide, which is the time when the church remembers the dead…saints, martyrs, and all the faithfully departed.  Many of the traditions (trick-or-treating, included!) stem from ancient traditions, some rooted in Christianity, some rooted in paganism.  For an excellent read, refer to Mary Reed Newland’s The Year and Our Children or read an excerpt from her book by heading over to  The issue isn’t so much that Christianity and Halloween are in opposition to one anther, the issue is more one of education and understanding what the focus of All Hallows Eve should be and then making that connection for our children.

As you can see from that blog post, we really like to celebrate all three days of the triduum.  Then this year happened and our October was a busy month filled with extra-curricular commitments, our annual nature challenge and a family trip to Big Bend.  All of those events kind of crowded out our usual pagan preparations.

We did visit the pumpkin patch but of all the pumpkins we brought home, only one of those pumpkins ended up getting carved.  Our costumes were thrown together at the last minute and our normally huge pile of pagan Halloween books were mostly left unread.

For a moment when I woke up on October 31st, I was rather sad, thinking I had let the entire celebration pass us by.

But then I regained my vision. The celebration had not passed us by!  It was only just beginning.

I love All Hallows Tide because it’s a huge celebration of life.  Yep, life.  It’s often described as solemn as we are reminded of death and it’s been twisted into secular scariness with ghouls and skeletons and monsters, but that’s not what it’s about.  I maintain the idea that it’s really about life.  Because we remember and celebrate all of those who have passed before us…into new life.

See as a Christian, I can do that.  I can celebrate death because it’s the beginning of a promise.  The beginning of eternity.  I reflected on the beautiful mystery of death awhile back and I am still in love with the idea that sometimes my prayer here on Earth is a powerful thing for a soul who has been caught in Purgatory.

As a Catholic we believe that when we die many of us will spend time in Purgatory.  Purgatory is defined as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). It notes that “this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).

The idea of praying for the souls who haven’t made it to Heaven (because clearly those in Heaven do not need our humble prayers!) or haven’t been condemned to Hell (our prayers cannot save those that have been damned) comes from the 2nd Book of Maccabees 12:38-46.

Expiation for the Dead.  Judas rallied his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was approaching, they purified themselves according to custom and kept the sabbath there. On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his companions went to gather up the bodies of the fallen and bury them with their kindred in their ancestral tombs. But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen.  He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind;  for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.  But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin. (emphasis mine)

So there’s Judas with his army of soldiers and they go out to collect the dead who have fallen so they can bury them.  And they realize that those soldiers who had died were wearing amulets taken from pagan temples.  And so Judas asks his soldiers to pray for the souls of the dead and he takes up a collection for a sacrifice.  And the statement is made, “for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.”  And then it is said that Judas made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin. “Freed from this sin”?  But they’re dead…surely they’ve already been judged and are either on their way to Heaven or Hell.  Unless, of course, there’s a third option.

Jesus himself refers to the idea that something beyond this life exists (aside from the obvious Heaven and Hell) when He says in Matthew 12:32, “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (emphasis mine)  “Either in this age or in the age to come?”  If a man is seeking forgiveness, he wouldn’t be doing it in Heaven (as those who enter the gate must be purified) and clearly he wouldn’t be seeking forgiveness in Hell as he’s condemned for all eternity and he’s beyond saving.  So where is “this age to come” that Jesus refers to?  There must be a third option…some type of Purgatory.  (If you’re still unconvinced about Purgatory, read this or this or this.)

So the question now becomes, how do the souls get released from Purgatory?   As Catholics we are taught that the souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves.  They rely on our prayers.  Our prayers here on Earth have the power to expedite the time souls spend in Purgatory.  If that’s true, that’s powerful.  And if it’s not true, well then there’s no harm done if I spend every day of my life here on Earth praying for the souls of the deceased.  I have faith, though.  Faith that my prayers do help those souls.  Faith that someday when I’m stewing in Purgatory, undergoing a major purification process, someone here will remember me and pray for my soul to be released.  At least I hope someone remembers me.

And that is why I love All Souls Day.  It’s a day to celebrate all the souls who are departed.  To pray for them.  To recall each and every one of our loved ones who have passed before us and to spend time in prayer for their souls.  To attend Mass, the highest form of prayer, in remembrance of their souls.  To visit the grave sites and to pray for so many of them by name.  To believe that my prayer might just be what releases that precious soul into the beautiful, purified Heaven.  I like that thought.

This year we celebrated All Hallows Eve with pagan traditions.  We dressed up, trick-or-treated and even tested out the idea that a Halloween fairy exists (according to my kids she does…they left out most of their candy for the fairy and in return, the fairy visited and left them each one toy).

Then we celebrated All Saints Day with a Litany of the Saints and stories about some of our favorite saints.  We basked in the glorious thought that we have an entire army of friends already in Heaven praying for our souls and our Heaven bound journeys.  And as a part of our rich Catholic faith, we attend Mass on All Saints Day as it is considered a holy day of obligation…that’s how much importance the Church places on those folks who have made it to Heaven…we are “obligated” to attend Mass in their honor.  (Personally, I love envisioning that entire army of saints in Heaven ready to pray on my behalf if I BUT ASK.)

And then All Souls Day arrived.  We visited the cemetery and prayed for as many souls as we could.  Then, inspired by our recent visit to Terlingua (a West Texas town that is big on celebrating All Hallows Tide as a Day of the Dead celebration), we embraced our close proximity to the Mexican and Latin American influence and celebrated the day with some Day of the Dead traditions…face painting, decorating skulls, and making an ofrenda (an altar).  We made a “cemetery dessert” and ate empanadas for dinner.  And all the while, we prayed.  For the souls of the dearly departed…the saints, the sinners and those in-between.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.







The beautiful mystery of death

There is nowhere else on earth, aside from a cemetery, where death rests so peacefully alongside life.April 2016 010_1_1 April 2016 012_2_1 April 2016 013_3_1 April 2016 014_4_1 April 2016 015_5_1

Maybe it’s harder to see in some cemeteries.  I imagine there are some spooky ones out there (or maybe that’s a Hollywood depiction of death and cemeteries…I personally have never found myself lost in a cemetery in the middle of the night, but I think with a wide enough imagination that could be a bit less peaceful) and I’m sure there are plenty of unkempt cemeteries, but even then there is a clear “juxtaposition of so much life and death all in the same place,” as Kerry Weber describes her visit to a cemetery in her book Mercy in the City, “I expect a kind of somber dreariness to the place, but pink budding trees are before me, and two rabbits are hopping across a fresh, green lawn.” It’s a bit of irony, isn’t it?  That the dead rest surrounded by so much life.April 2016 018_6_1 April 2016 019_7_1 April 2016 021_8_1 April 2016 022_9_1 April 2016 025_1_1

I like visiting the cemetery.  I find peace amongst the dead that often alludes me when I am amongst the living.  It just feels so peaceful.  And it’s not just because its inhabitants are peacefully resting.  It really is decidedly peaceful.  There’s an unspoken agreement here.  To just accept things as they are.  These people have already had their stories written in stone.  There’s no going back.  No changing things.  No regretting mistakes.  No wondering what the future holds.  No worry, no strife.  That, in itself, is a celebration of peace.April 2016 026_2_1 April 2016 027_3_1 April 2016 028_4_1 April 2016 029_5_1 April 2016 030_6_1

Or it could be that it’s just the physical quiet that makes it peaceful.  Or maybe it’s a spiritual sense that makes it peaceful.  Maybe it’s the acceptance that death is a certainty for each of us and it’s out of our control.  We simply have to live and accept our fate.  I don’t really know what it is.  I just know it’s peaceful.  And that feeling of peace when I wander from gravestone to gravestone is nothing like the feeling that settles in my soul when I contemplate death.April 2016 031_7_1 April 2016 033_8_1 April 2016 036_9_1 April 2016 037_1_1 April 2016 038_2_1

I tend to view death as an overwhelming thought, wondering what will happen to those I leave behind.  Knowing life will go on, but wondering if I will have left a deep enough mark.  I contemplate the physicality of it…will it hurt?  Will it be quick?  Will I teeter on the edge of consciousness, not understanding the process?  I also consider the spirituality of it.  How will I be judged?  Did I do enough, say enough, love enough, forgive enough, pray enough?  Will I be welcomed at the banquet of Heaven?   I know it’s a matter of faith, but it’s also a matter of being human.  The need to question and contemplate.  The need to understand.April 2016 039_3_1 April 2016 040_4_1 April 2016 041_5_1 April 2016 042_6_1 April 2016 043_7_1

But see, that’s where I’m wrong.  Death isn’t meant to be understood.  And it isn’t about me or what I leave behind.  It’s a mystery.  A great unknown.  The only thing we know about it is that God wills it and therefore, we must accept it.  Death isn’t what’s meant to be contemplated…it’s the living that’s meant to be.  Because in contemplating the living, we find peace in accepting the dying.  April 2016 044_8_1 April 2016 045_9_1 April 2016 046_10_1 April 2016 048_1_1 April 2016 049_2_1

As adults, we grasp the finality of death but sometimes lose sight of the spiritual freedom it entails.  Children, on the other hand, as in all things they do, grasp it without trying to understand it.  They accept it.  They embrace it for exactly what we have taught them to believe it is…the beginning of eternity.April 2016 050_3_1 April 2016 052_4_1 April 2016 053_5_1 April 2016 054_6_1 April 2016 055_7_1

I am Catholic, however, I do not profess to be a perfect Catholic, maybe not even a good Catholic.  But I try.  And I believe.  I trust and hope in eternal life.  It makes me wonder how depressing it must be to a nonbeliever.  How incredibly pointless this life must seem.  I find peace in my faith.  I am grateful to believe in something greater than myself.  To have hope in a life beyond this one.April 2016 056_8_1 April 2016 057_1_1 April 2016 058_9_1 April 2016 059_1_1 April 2016 059_10_1

The Church, while focusing on the living and teaching those of us here how to live to achieve eternal life, never forgets those that have gone on before us.  It is first mentioned in Maccabees, when Judas calls his soldiers to pray for the souls of the soldiers who had died wearing amulets taken from pagan temples.  April 2016 060_1_1 April 2016 067_2_1 April 2016 069_3_1 April 2016 070_2_1 April 2016 071_3_1

Remembering the dead is a prevalent practice today in the Church.  One of the Corporal Works of Mercy in the Catholic Church is to bury the dead.  It is a recurrent theme throughout the Bible, beginning most notably with Abraham purchasing a field in which to bury his wife.  A bit impractical for those of us today who are confined by city ordinances and laws about burial grounds and hard to practice for those of us who are not grave diggers.  We do not even follow early Christian traditions (at least in America), as cultural norms do not allow for us to prepare the body for burial with spices and oils. While we cannot physically be tasked with actually burying the dead, the Church does ask that when we lose a loved one, we follow Church protocol for burying the body on sacred ground.  We can attend wakes and funerals and we can pray rosaries for the souls of those we have lost.  But also, as with all the works of mercy, it is about showing compassion and mercy for our fellow man and treating everyone we encounter, dead or alive, with the respect and dignity due simply to the fact that we are each created in God’s image.April 2016 071_4_1 April 2016 072_4_1 April 2016 073_5_1 April 2016 074_1_1 April 2016 074_6_1

A more practical work of mercy for most of us is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy in which the Church calls us to pray for the dead.  This I can easily do.  And it makes me feel like I’m doing something with regards to death.  Perhaps I’m saving a soul from Purgatory.  Perhaps my simple prayer, offered for the soul of the grave I pass in the cemetery, helps free that soul from the clutches of the devil.April 2016 075_7_1 April 2016 076_8_1

Or maybe it’s not even about the spirituality.  Maybe, again, it’s about showing respect for those around us, simply by reflecting on a life lived.  I pass a gravestone and I let the deceased’s name settle on my tongue, imagining that they, too, lived a life probably much like mine.  A life of monotony, with bits of excitement thrown in occasionally.  A life marked by joy and happiness, grief and sorrow, hope and regrets.  We’re all really so much the same.  Our stories differ, but the themes behind our stories are all the same.  Each of us is just passing the time until we accept our fate to die.  For those of us who believe in Jesus, we can accept that fate a little more easily, as we are promised an eternal life.       April 2016 077_5_1 April 2016 078_6_1I may not be able to bury the dead and I may not be able to understand the great mystery of death, but I can visit the cemetery and pray for the souls of the bodies buried there.  I want to imagine that someday, someone will do the same for my soul when my body is buried beneath the ground. I delight in taking my children along with me.  I don’t want them to fear death.  I want them embrace it as the ultimate goal and destination of a dedicated Christian.  I want them to pray and wonder and contemplate.   I want them to walk amidst the gravestones, reflecting on the lives lived, the stories untold, the hope of these souls living in eternal bliss.  I want the peace of the cemetery to consume them.  So that when death is at their door, they embrace it with open arms.


All Hallows Tide

Sometimes I feel a little torn when it comes to celebrating holy days that are saturated with pagan traditions.  On one hand, I grew up celebrating most of the holidays with the traditional cultural traditions and I want my kids to experience that…I have lovely, happy memories of holidays as a child; on the other hand, I want my kids to have the opportunity to live in a faith infused environment…I want them surrounded by what is good and holy and beautiful and to be immersed in traditions that are rich in their Catholic heritage.  So often times, rather than choose between the two, I end up doing a whole lot of merging.  Halloween is no different.

A quick little history lesson…Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve is the night before All Saints Day (“Hallow” meaning…you guessed it, “holy” or in this case, “saint”).  As Meredith Gould points out in The Catholic Home, “Although Halloween has been secularized since the nineteenth century, Catholics have a long history of observing evening vigil before the Feast of All Saints.”  All Hallows’ Eve marks the beginning of the triduum of All Hallows Tide, which is the time when the church remembers the dead…saints, martyrs, and all the faithfully departed.  Many of the traditions (trick-or-treating, included!) stem from ancient traditions, some rooted in Christianity, some rooted in paganism.  For an excellent read, refer to Mary Reed Newland’s The Year and Our Children or read an excerpt from her book by heading over to  The issue isn’t so much that Christianity and Halloween are in opposition to one anther, the issue is more one of education and understanding what the focus of All Hallows Eve should be and then making that connection for our children.

That being said, we, over here, are not immune to the cultural influences of Halloween.  On the contrary, there are some things I just like to do with the kids (much to the chagrin, I am sure, of many fellow Catholics).  In the days preceding Halloween, we do quite a bit of cultural Halloweeny (is that a word?!) things…we make jack-o-lantern collages, paint ghosts, decorate the house to look a little spooky, listen to Wee Sing Halloween, read lots of silly and scary Halloween stories, spend some time at the pumpkin patch and corn maze and of course, use an evening to watch The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  Sometimes I explain the connection and sometimes we just bask in the moment.

October 2014 067_1 October 2014 072_1 October 2014 077_1 October 2014 088_1  Rockin K Maze October 2014 001_1 Rockin K Maze October 2014 007_1 Rockin K Maze October 2014 029_1 Rockin K Maze October 2014 039_1 Rockin K Maze October 2014 046_1

The day of Halloween arrives bright and early (or in this year’s case, dark and early as a huge thunderstorm rolled in and woke all the little critters) and we begin by reading Father Philip Tells a Ghost Story and Moonlight Miracle.  The rest of the day is spent carving jack-o-lanterns and eagerly awaiting Halloween night when we can join all the other little ghosts and goblins as we go door-to-door trick-or-treating.

october 2014 089_1 october 2014 091_1 october 2014 093_1 october 2014 095_1 october 2014 097_1 october 2014 098_1 october 2014 099_1

Our Halloween costumes are usually secular (although we try to veer from anything extremely scary or devilish)…from super heroes to knights to strawberries.  Halloween night arrives and we don our costumes, grab our jack-o-lantern buckets and we’re off.

october 2014 107_1 october 2014 123_1

We come home, buckets filled to the brim with candy, eat a piece (or two) and head to bed.  But here is where our Halloween differs from the majority of all those tuckered out little trick-or-treaters.  We go to bed with the anticipation of what’s to come…we know that we have only just begun our All Hallows Tide celebration.  Tomorrow we will celebrate All Saints Day.

All Saints Day is a joyful celebration around here!  We usually begin with Mass and then we come home to celebrate.  Some years our celebration has been as simple as saint stories (including a reading of I Sing a Song of the Saints of God) and some coloring, other years our celebration has been a bit more elaborate.  Most years involve getting all the saint dolls out and singing a liturgy of the saints.

october 2014 082_1 october 2014 081_1

This year we decided to expand our celebration and throw an All Saints Day party.  The kids each chose and dressed up as a saint.  Joseph was Saint George, William was Saint William, and Andrew chose Saint Patrick (although I noticed that halfway through the party Joseph and Andrew had traded costumes).  The supplies were bought, the games were prepared and the guests arrived.

october 2014 020_1

There were Saint Guessing Jars…

october 2014 028_1

Pin the Shamrock on Saint Patrick…

october 2014 070_1 october 2014 073_1 october 2014 076_1 october 2014 078_1 october 2014 077_1_1

Works of Mercy stations…

october 2014 034_1 october 2014 035_1 october 2014 033_1 october 2014 055_1 october 2014 057_1 october 2014 059_1 october 2014 064_1 october 2014 068_1 october 2014 069_1

Saint Anthony’s Treasure Box…

october 2014 032_1 october 2014 065_1 october 2014 058_1

Saint Isidore’s Potato Sack Races…

october 2014 053_1

Saint George’s Sword Fighting…

october 2014 047_1

Saint Peter’s Keys to Heaven…

october 2014 030_1 october 2014 043_1 october 2014 036_1

Queen of All Saints Ring Toss…

october 2014 039_1 october 2014 063_1

After the party, we worked on making our own saint dolls and had some afternoon saint treats (St. Isidore’s Pumpkin Swirl Bread (Pepperidge Farm special edition bread), St. Francis Tonsure Treats (chocolate frosted doughnuts) and St. Cecelia’s Musical Keys (sugar wafers lined up as the white piano keys with mini hershey bars as the black keys).  And we may have had a little more saintly costume fun!

october 2014 084_1

october 2014 038_1

Tomorrow our celebration will continue with All Souls Day.  The atmosphere shifts a little as we approach All Souls Day with a little more of a somber attitude, remembering those we have loved and lost and praying for their dearly departed souls to make their way to Heaven.  All Souls Day is always accompanied by reading The Spirit of Tio Fernando and a visit to the cemetery.  Our cemetery has statues for the Stations of the Cross, so we usually pray our way past those.

Our All Hallows Tide celebration is complete.  I judge our celebration’s success based on one factor alone…do my children approach death as a celebration?   Do they realize that there is no need to fear death itself, but rather to embrace it as a part of our Christian journey?  If the answer is yes, we have succeeded.  This year’s celebration?  A success indeed.


We celebrated Candlemas (pronounced Candle Mass) last night.  This was a new experience for me…I’m not sure how I missed this beautiful celebration since I’m a cradle Catholic, but this was a first for me.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Candlemas, it’s the celebration of the Presentation of Our Lord when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple.  They’re met at the Temple by Simeon who takes the baby Jesus in his arms and is finally prepared to die because he has now seen the “light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:28).  Simeon also foreshadows the crucifixion and the sorrows Mary will face (“a sword will pierce through your own soul” Luke 2:35).  The prophetess Anna was also in the Temple and she offered prayers of thanks and praise to God.  The feast day has become known as Candlemas since candles are blessed and lit in abundance to celebrate the Light of the World.

Since we were unable to make it to Mass, we celebrated at home.  To begin with, we decided to wait to celebrate until our evening meal so Dax could celebrate with us.  Joseph and I set up our prayer altar before dinner.  Once Dax arrived home, we all sat down for dinner.  Instead of praying our usual blessing, Joseph prayed the blessing for the candles (taken from Meredith Gould’s book The Catholic Home). 

Then we lit the candles and ate by candlelight (Joseph thought that was pretty neat…ah, the simple things!).  While we were eating, Dax read us the story of the Presentation of Our Lord from the children’s Bible. 

After dinner, Joseph and I used our stick puppets to act out the story and we made paper “candles”.  Finally to end our ceremony, Joseph blew out the candles (which I think he may have thought was the best part!). 

Thinking Candlemas was over until next year, I packed everything away after dinner except the stick puppets.  I put those up on the counter in the playroom.  I was so delighted when Joseph found the stick puppets today and re-enacted the story of the Presentation of Our Lord!  I guess he really was listening after all…and that makes the effort totally worth it!

Hello? When is this puppet show going to begin?

Hmmm...I forgot...which is Joseph and which is Simeon?

Okay, Mom, it's your turn.

The Jesus Box

I cannot think of many things more precious than a child, bowed down, hands clasped in prayer.  I love to listen to Joseph praying because his prayers are so sincere, so heartfelt, so spontaneous.  He’s never rushed or distracted, like I find myself sometimes.  His heart rejoices and he finds peace in his prayers.  Oh, how I could learn from him!  

I’ve been praying with and for Joseph and William since they were in the womb (and even before as I prayed for the gift of life).  While I was pregnant, I did what many faithful Catholics would do:  I went to daily Mass and I prayed, often.  I prayed the rosary, the chaplet of divine mercy, and with William, I prayed using Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s Prayerfully Expecting.  Then upon arrival, I prayed many prayers of thanksgiving for the precious gift God had entrusted to Dax and me.  While they were little and nursing, I continued praying.  I sang the Hail Mary to fussy babies and offered spontaneous prayers of petition for grace in my mothering journey.  I didn’t do it perfectly…in fact some days, I’d get caught up in the midst of mothering and find myself falling asleep as I prayed for my children, but no matter what I did or to what extent, I did it with a heart of faith. 

Then as Joseph began to get a little older (before William came along), I realized that not only did I need to pray (and pray often!), I needed to find a way to pass on my faith and the rich culture of the Catholic Church to my children.  How do you put your faith into something tangible to present to little ones?  How do you teach children to pray?  I wasn’t really sure, so I started out by taking Joseph to daily Mass and I prayed the rosary with him while I put him down for a nap.  But it still didn’t feel like that was enough.  I wanted Joseph to fall in love with the God that I know…a God who is merciful and full of love.  I wanted Joseph’s heart to turn to prayer throughout the day…when he was happy; when he was sad; when he just was.  

So I did what I always do.  I began to read and question.  I read The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould and The Religious Potential of the Child by Sofia Cavalletti.  I read Guiding your Catholic Preschooler by Kathy Pierce and Lori Rowland.  I read blogs of beautiful Catholic moms who had traveled the road on which I found myself.  I called friends from my parish that I admired and asked how they did it.  And then, equipped with many bits of brilliance, I began to formulate a plan.  

Sofia Cavalletti says in her book, “Education to prayer is fundamental to the catechesis of young children.”  She goes on to suggest that what adults “can do is to establish the premises that will help prayer to arise.”  Hmmm, now how could I establish the premises?  For me, the sight of an altar, dressed according to the liturgical season, adorned with candles and flanked by statues of Mary and Jesus always, always inspires me to drop to my knees and pray.  So why not have our own prayer altar?  A special place that we could visit each day.  Using the suggestions in Meredith Gould’s book on setting up a family altar, I dragged my mom with me and the two of us found all sorts of treasures for what would later become adoringly known in our house as the Jesus Box.  (In case you’re wondering why it is all kept in a box, rather than in a permanent altar, it’s because I like the idea of allowing Joseph the responsibility of caring for and arranging the altar…some days he pulls out every item in the box; other days, he might focus solely on the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Plus it allows us the opportunity to change the altar according to Saints Days and the Liturgical Year.)       

What a wonderful treasure chest our Jesus box has become.   You’ll always find the basics in our box:  candles; prayer cards; flowers; altar cloths; statues of Jesus, Mary, the saints; a crucifix; a children’s Bible.  But take a peek throughout the year and you’ll find other treasures.  During Advent, we put in an advent calendar and delightful Christmas stories.  We add a cloth advent wreath with cloth candles and a clever Advent prayer cube.  During Lent we add the story we use with our resurrection eggs (of course the eggs don’t come out until Easter!) and an illustrated guide of the Stations of the Cross.  Also, we keep our rosary nearby for praying the Sorrowful mysteries.  Ordinary Time allows us the opportunity to learn about the saints…how to pray with them and how to ask for special intercessions.  

Each day our experience with the Jesus box is different.  Some days we pray a decade of the rosary; some days we pray spontaneously; some days we just set the altar and gaze lovingly upon our Savior.  Each day might be something new, but each day is always beautiful. 

Joseph's flower arrangement for the prayer table





Beautiful prayer hands William!