7QT: Christmas Celebrations

The Christmas season is still going strong, and while we could have been more intentional this Advent, we are grateful for the blessings we’ve received. Some of our highlights have been:

1 // Lessons & Carols at St. Paul Seminary –  since our first Advent together in 2012 (woah!), we have attended a Lessons & Carols Concert during Advent. In Boston, we went to St. John’s Seminary – typically the second Sunday (or Saturday night) in Advent – and it was always done sooooo well. It has always been the way we really mark the Advent season. Last year we attended the concert at our parish in Duluth – a bit underwhelming compared to the Schola at the sem, but still a treat nonetheless! This year we ventured out to SPS (in terribly cold & snowy weather) and it was, as always, a joy for the Gearns family. The one difficult part was not really knowing anybody. We said hello to a couple of seminarians that we’re acquainted with, but it’s such a different experience when I lack the connections to the Catholic community that I have in other places. I’m sure it will come, it’s just a void that is very noticeable.

2 // I’ve briefly mentioned how much I love our apartment, and it really shined this Advent. It’s not that it’s super large or fancy, but it’s got a cozy feeling to it (so much more so than our previous residences). We’ve really come into our own with decor and such – so just adding minor touches of a Boxwood wreath with a purple piece of fabric, an Advent wreath on a cake stand with beeswax candles, the a small nativity setup on our prayer shelf, and finally our purple cloth over our tv (a Gearns tradition) – it really lifted our spirits.

3 // We traveled to PA to spend Christmas with my family for the long weekend, and it was a good time. Different, since the older siblings/spouses/nieces were absent, but still a really great time with the rest of them. Sometimes it’s nice being home without every nook & cranny of the house crowded with people. I love it when we all get to be together, for sure, but the slower pace is also welcome. And like most holidays, my family hosts all the extended family the day of. So we still got to share the day with most of the cousins/aunts/uncles and had a delightful time!

4 // We saw the Nutcracker in Philly Friday night, which we looooved. Kevin and I saw it in Boston together when we were dating and have been longing to see it again. I also just love getting dressed up and going downtown for an occasion like that. So yay!

5 // I got some good quality time walking around my favorite spots back home. Kevin and I went for neighborhood walks – admiring all the beautiful colonial architecture (something that is sorely lacking out here in the Midwest, but I get it). Then I got to meet up with my best friends from high school at our favorite breakfast spot. The four of us have not all been together in a very long time – partly because one of them lives in Abu Dhabi now (world traveler, she is). So we had an absolutely lovely time and probably overstayed our welcome at the small restaurant.

6 // Christmas morning, Kevin and I went over to the perpetual adoration chapel at my family’s parish (it’s such a gem) and prayed for a bit. I absolutely love being able to do things like this – it really helps us to shift our focus as we ought for this wonderful celebration. After leaving the chapel, we prayed morning prayer on a bench outside and an elderly woman came up to us go give us a special prayer card for the precious blood of Jesus. She said it looked like we were praying for a special intention (which we were, and have been for quite some time) and that this prayer is incredibly powerful. So she gave it to us and then let us be. It was so beautiful!

7 // Now I know Christmas is not all about gifts (obviously), but I do want to mention a couple of things that I was SO SO SO excited to receive. My fabulous husband, who knows me so well, bought me this amazing lunchbox. Given that I eat practically an AIP diet (autoimmune paleo), my lunches are typically one container with spinach/kale, some protein, and then a variety of vegetables. And I’m not complaining about that because we eat well and I usually enjoy it very much. But sometimes it’s nice to have a little variety and separate the foods for a different experience. This lunchbox, eco-friendly, safe from all toxins, & cute! has multiple spots for all your fixin’s – vegetables, nuts, fruit, meat, two sealed containers (one for a dressing of sorts and the other for more liquid type foods). I am newly rejuvenated to eat lunch in 2017. So thank you, Kevin. You have won this round of gift giving. Other honorable mentions – this dress, these boots, and the annual matching sportswear that my dad gets everyone in the family (I’m being serious, he really knows how to pick this stuff). As always, I’m too spoiled, and my family is overly generous. But I’m super grateful as most of the gifts are quality investments that really help us out. So praise God for all that we have been provided for – we really do live super well.

Merry Christmas to you & yours!

How will we respond?

Today at Mass, a newly-ordained Deacon was preaching and he mentioned a phrase I’ve heard many times but that I don’t seem to dwell on enough: “already and not yet.” What does that mean? Our faith can be a strange, and at times, seemingly contradictory thing. Our Lord came and redeemed us, and yet there is still the final judgment to be made. Redemption has come, but it ain’t over.

And then there is Advent. A time of waiting for our Lord. We remember his Incarnation, but we also await his second coming. And as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christmas, we also need to prepare our hearts for the day we will meet God face-to-face. As today’s second reading says, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” [Thessalonians 3:12]

This life that we are living is our opportunity to choose God. Once we die, time is up. We will no longer be able to change our ways, or repent for our sins. The time for that is now. It may seem dreary to be speaking of death when most of the world begins holiday festivities, but we cannot separate the Incarnation from the cross. Redemption came at a cost.

I was reflecting a great deal today on how I can use these weeks ahead to drastically silence my heart and open it up to our Lord. He has called us out, and we choose how we will respond.

May you have a blessed Advent!

 

 

October Feasting

Kevin and I have grand dreams of living the liturgical year in a rich way. We were able to do a bit our first year, but have been out of wack for a bit. You do what you can, though. October is filled with feast days of great Saints, and it’s a shame that we’ve been so preoccupied. St. Therese is my girl! But alas, her feast day was a travel day for me. There were still some celebrations to be had, though!

On the evening of October 3rd (the vigil to his feast day) we celebrate the Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi, commemorating his passing into eternal life. Kevin and I spent that evening at the rectory of a priest friend of ours along with a few other folk. For dessert, I decided to go with an dish native to Assisi, called Rocciata di Assisi. It’s a baked strudel with various dried fruits (apples, figs, prunes) and spices. The initial recipe calls for a specific wine, but I didn’t have any on hand so I substituted maple syrup, which seemed to work just fine. I sadly did not take any pictures – next time!

While not a feast day, October 15th is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I spent a good deal of time reflecting on the pregnancy of Giovanna. I posted a photo on instagram of the spot where we buried our child – the most public I’ve been about the loss to friends on facebook. Then we lit a candle that evening at 7pm in solidarity with all those grieving losses.

October 16th is the feast day of St. Gerard Majella. This man has been with us throughout our journey of trying to grow our family. He was also a Saint close to my grandmother’s heart; she had lost many children through miscarriage and attributed the birth of her three sons to St. Gerard (each in some way named after him). We had guests staying with us that night, so my tribute to St. Gerard was just placing his holy card next to a board with Giovanna Raphael’s name on it (and it is still there).

We have been looking forward to celebrating the great North American Martyrs on October 19th! Kevin has a special affinity for these men, and Canada certainly has a special place in our hearts. The Jesuit Missionaries here are pretty hardcore and reading their stories is intense. They pushed onward in their mission of bringing the faith to the Huron despite incredible opposition, and ended up being honored with martyrdom. To celebrate their heroic virtue, we made poutine, a fine Canadian delicacy!

Then, of course, there is October 22nd on which we celebrate Saint John Paul the Great! We were able to go to Mass where a friend of ours was celebrating, and he brought with him his first class relic of JPII – a drop of his blood! He gave a lovely homily and we were able to venerate the relic after Mass.

That’s all for October, folks! We shall see what November brings!

 

Grain-Free & Dairy-Free Irish Soda Bread

While there really is never an “ideal” time to do complete a Whole 30, I figured Lent would be the easiest, since it’s really not much of a time to indulge anyway. And I’d say it’s worked out well, thus far. My one hesitation, though, was the few great feasts during this solemn time – St. Patrick’s Day, the solemnity of St. Joseph, and the solemnity of the Annunciation! As a Catholic who strives to live the liturgical year in a very real way, I am all on board with fasting, but I am just as much on board with feasting – all in the right time.

St. Patrick’s day is a big feast in the Gearns household. One of the first things I learned about Kevin back in the day was that St. Patrick is his favorite Saint. There are numerous reasons for Kevin’s love of this great man, and I’ve come to know him and appreciate him so much more over the years. I think too often people just associate him with this secularized holiday with parades, Guinness, and pubs. And by all means celebrate, but do not forget the man whom we honor!

Anyway, we dream about fun ways to celebrate this feast with our family, and this year being our first, is more of an intro year since I am so busy with two jobs, we don’t have access to a bonfire (yes, that’s one of our goals), annnnnd I’m doing this ridiculous diet where I can’t eat anything fun. So out the window went my grand plans of Irish Potato candies (a long tradition in my family), Guinness chili, bangers and mash, and the like. But I was determined to still make some festive food, even if I could not use the typical ingredients.

So project one: Grain-free Irish Soda Bread! I’ll admit, I was skeptical (as I always am when I start eliminating standard things like FLOUR), but this recipe held it’s own! Inspiration started here to help me get started with flour ratios (the world of non-grain flours is still a complex one to me). For me, less is more. I just get overwhelmed if I see an ingredient list of 15+ items. I abstained from any sugar or sweetener, and it still tastes great. So the following is what I settled on:

  • 1-1/4 C Almond Flour
  • 2 Tbsp. Coconut Flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. Coconut Milk (full fat)
  • 1/2 C. Raisons

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F). Whisk all the dry ingredients, and then add in the vinegar, eggs, and coconut milk (almond milk works well too). I used my kitchenaid stand mixer on low (don’t beat it too, too much!) and then mix in the raisons. Lightly oil a cookie sheet, and place the dough in a ball shape on the sheet. And for the final touch, add that simple cross with a knife. Place in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes!

When it is done, thoroughly enjoy with some Kerrygold Butter (that’s compliant, right?). I promise you’ll like it. 🙂

Live the Fast

As Lent is approaching, I’m sure lots of people are racking their brains for what to “give up”. Often, this season sneaks up on us and we feel so unprepared (at least I do!). Now obviously we should all be praying as to how we can grow closer to our Lord through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But I did want to share a great ministry/business with the blogging world. It’s called “Live the Fast.”

LIVE the FAST

Live the Fast was started by Andy LaVallee, who owns his own bread company just outside of Boston. As it says right on their website, “Live the Fast is a Roman Catholic Apostolate that is centered on renewing the practice of prayer and fasting by providing nutritious fasting breads, educational resources on prayer and fasting and a prayer community that will inspire one to live the fast.”

There is a [slow] growing movement to fast all year round on both Wednesday’s and Friday’s. Why those two days? Wednesday is the day that Jesus was betrayed by Jesus, so therefore we can fast in reparation for all sins. Friday was the day that our Lord died on the cross. I won’t go deeply into the abundant graces of fasting, but in general, it opens up our hearts to the Lord, making room for his work to be done. We can also offer up our fasting for intentions we have.

Now, fasting all year round (sans feasting time, of course) is a big commitment to make. So a great place to start out, if you feel so called, is during Lent. You can order these fasting breads online, and they will be delivered frozen to your doorstep (with a bonus book on fasting). There are a few different kinds of breads per order, it’s super affordable, and they also send out encouraging emails the nights before each fasting day.

Before I was married, a few of my former roommates and I did this one Lent together, and our freezer was literally filled with little rolls…it was a bit amusing. But also encouraging. On the morning of each fasting day, you pop a few rolls into the oven for 15ish minutes, wrap them up for the day (I used foil), and eat one at each meal.

The rules can be as strict or as loose as you need, depending on your situation. Some people eat one roll for breakfast and one for lunch – then have a small dinner after 6pm (no dairy or meat). Some eat three to four rolls throughout the day and that’s it.

I encourage everyone to read up more on this great ministry. If you have any questions, you could certainly ask me, but also feel free to reach out to Live the Fast directly!

The Epiphany: a worthy feast

It’s only been in the past year or so that I’ve really delved into the beauty of the Epiphany. I always just kinda glanced over it as another Christmas feast and superficially understood that three wise men came to visit Jesus and gave him fancy gifts. How deprived was I of such depth! The more intentional Kevin and I are with our liturgical living, the more the feasts and seasons are coming alive. We really wanted to do was celebrate Christmas in it’s fullness and in it’s time. That also means keeping the season going when the rest of the world is done. One way we went about this was hosting an Epiphany party last night!

Our invitations!

We (mainly Kevin) created some festive Epiphany props for our homemade photobooth!

It was a grand time with close friends. There was great conversation, lots of laughs, deep spiritual insights after the gospel reading, and a traditional Epiphany cake! Kevin and I are both so grateful for the evening and could not have asked for anything better. I’m particularly glad that we were able to delve into the passage with the Magi, as their journey to Jesus was pretty much the reason to party. Another reason why we love our friends so darn much. The story is truly so rich and leaves the heart pondering so many things.

Mr. & Mrs. Melendez!

I wanted to just share a few thoughts from a couple of very wise men (pun intended). First is from a priest here in Boston who is an incredibly gifted preacher. Fr. Peter Grover, of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, has never failed to touch my heart with his homilies and reading this one on the Epiphany is no exception:

“Here is a question. How many Magi are in Matthew’s gospel?  You probably just sang “We Three Kings” the Epiphany liturgy.  Perhaps you got a card with a picture of three kings mounted on camels.  If you think the answer is three, then you better read your Bible again.  Matthew tells us there were three gifts but he doesn’t tell us the number of Magi.  It could have been two or four. How many do I think there were?  I would confidently say hundreds of Magi. Have I lost my mind?  My reasoning is simple.  They had gold, frankincense and myrrh, kingly and godly gifts. They better have an army of people to transport those riches half way across the planet.  Picture this:  King Herod is in his chamber and he hears a knock on his door.  “What is it?”  “Magi from the East are here to see you.” Herod then looks out the window and sees hundreds kings, princes, astrologers and the wise gathered from around the world at his door.  That is what frightened Herod and the city of Jerusalem. Who is this kid that is drawing so many from all over the world?  The child is the Light of the World.”

What a beautiful image! I mean, it makes sense, right? They would have needed a multitude of people to successfully make that kind of trip and with all those riches. Something stirred in these people’s hearts; they were lead to Jesus, the savior of the world. They could not have known the fullness of what they were seeking. Even upon seeing and worshiping the child, they, along with Mary and Joseph, didn’t really know what this meant. But they were changed. It’s impossible to encounter Jesus and remain the same. They were changed and they went back a different way. And from this, Jesus is made manifest to the entire world. He has come to save us all.

There’s just so much we can pull from this short passage, but Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains it well in a few sentences:

“The key point is this: the wise men from the east are a new beginning. They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ. They initiate a procession that continues throughout history. Not only do they represent the people who have found the way to Christ: they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward him.”

Now I understand why so much of the world holds this feast so high, like a “second Christmas”. This is officially a very special day in the Gearns household. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for making yourself known to us all.

Party time :)

Kev, Jared, Javi & John...clearly enjoying themselves.

 

Advent Reading

I love the Christmas season. Like most people, I find it to be super magical and all things lovely. And I’m always headed somewhere for Christmas as well since I don’t live near family, which means there’s always a trip to look forward to (as well as vacation from work). This can make the patient waiting of Advent a bit difficult at times. And since Kevin and I have covered our television with purple cloth, that means no movies or shows or music (except Advent hymns) to pass the time.

So in addition to just spending some quiet time with my husband and taking our evenings slower, it’s a good time for some reading. And not just any reading, but some Christ-centered, Advent reading. I haven’t read much in relation to this specific liturgical season, but what I have read has been beautiful. So allow me to share!

Advent Reading

The Infancy Narratives by Pope Benedict XVI

I read this last year during Advent, and while sometimes spiritual reading can be something I gotta push myself to do daily, this was quite the page turner for me. I love the way Pope Benedict writes – very simple and straightforward, but packed with such beautiful insight. This book covers Jesus’ origins and nativity to the finding of Jesus in the temple. It helped make the season come alive for me and to focus on our Lord and specifically his birth and childhood.

True Devotion by St. Louis de Montfort

This little treasure is about making perfect devotion to Jesus through perfect devotion to our Lady. Advent is a great season to reflect not just on our Lord, but also on the way in which our Lord came into this world: through Mary. By increasing devotion to her, we naturally grow closer to Jesus. This book will aid in that devotion.

Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Years, and Epiphany by St. Augustine

I randomly came across this book in a used book store many years ago, and since I love St. Augustine so so much, I purchased this one without thought. I will admit, some of the things he writes about are not the most grounded in Church doctrine (naturally, as certain things have only become fully known to us as a Church over time), BUT it is still a fantastic little collection of his homilies and the heart of what he says holds a lot of truth.

These are a few of my favorites that I’ll be revisiting this season. If you have any suggestions for Advent reading, please share! I’d love to venture out into new things!

Preparing for Advent

I’m super excited for Advent. I know we still got a few weeks, but just as it’s good to prepare for Christmas I think it’s also good to prepare well for Advent. Kevin and I have been having many conversations about how we want the liturgical year to look for our family – it’s one of our favorite activities. And we’ve been focusing on Advent and how we want to live the season as a married couple.

Advent

First off, if you want some good ideas on liturgical living, you should check out the book, The Little Oratory, and also head over to Carrots for Michaelmas as Haley writes about it a fair amount.

Like most people, I’ve spent many years celebrating the “Christmas season” from the day after Thanksgiving until New Years. Only in the past few years have I begun to appreciate the penitential aspect of Advent . And though it’s penitential, it’s also not a sorrowful season. Rather it’s one of joyful and quiet longing as we wait for the Incarnation of our Savior.

I’m far from perfect when it comes to liturgical living, and it’s certainly an effort to quiet myself amidst all the excitement. So I’ve slowly tried to take active steps in really living the true season of Advent, and here are a few things that have been really fruitful for me: 

+ December 8th, the Immaculate Conception, is me and Kevin’s Marian Consecration date – we renew it each year. It’s a good way to prepare the heart for Advent and develop a deeper relationship with our Blessed Mother, the one through whom our Lord came into the world. To learn more about this, read here.

+ I’m terrible at fasting, but fasting is objectively good and a necessary part of our Christian life. We should try to incorporate some type of fasting into the season, but how we do it is up to us – there’s many good ways to go about this. One cool side note: there’s a company out here, LaVallee’s Breads (owned by a Catholic) and part of their business is fasting breads, which you can order online. Read more here! 

+ Frequent the sacraments.

+ We like to take part in Advent activities going on. For instance, there’s an annual Lessons & Carols Concert at St. John’s Seminary that we’ve attended the last few years and it is beautiful!! The seminary does such a wonderful job putting this on and it really puts you in spirit of Advent. 

+ Pick up a good book for Advent; last year I read Pope Benedict’s “The Infancy Narratives”; it was a beautiful read that drew me into to the season. 

+ Avoid Christmas music to the extent I can (which is easier for me since I don’t have a car). I prefer to listen to Enya’s “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” on repeat, but that’s just me.

Kevin and I hope to continue all of that this year, but we hope to be even more intentional with the season beyond those things that have become tradition. Some examples of things we’ve read that have really resonated with us: 

+ We will get a Christmas tree, but will leave the festive decorating until the Christmas season. The rest of our apartment will follow suit as well. 

I’ll attempt to simplify the cooking and leave the Christmas treats for Christmas (I may make some occasional cookies, though…). 

+ We’ve done most of our shopping for gifts/decorations beforehand so we don’t get caught up in the stores during Advent.

By living a true Advent season, it makes the Christmas season even greater! Fast well, feast well! And what’s even more amazing is that Christmas is not over on December 26th, but continues until the Baptism of our Lord! I’ve read that it’s even appropriate to keep all the decorations up until the feast of the Presentation on February 2nd. Talk about exciting!

Anyone have any Advent traditions they’d like to share? What do you do to make it special? 🙂