5 Ways to Make Advent Meaningful

(Advent is only a couple of weeks away so I thought I would get a head start and give you some ideas to think about before it officially begins.)

Do you ever take on too much during the Advent/Christmas season and then feel overburdened? If so, I can totally relate. I wanted to make Advent so special for my family that I would get completely overzealous about it. It was “go big or go home” for me! I would make all sorts of resolutions and added all these prayers and activities; however, instead of making Advent meaningful, they left me drained or guilty for not fitting in all the things I had planned. Indeed, these activities became ‘just one more thing to do’ before Christmas.

Image by hansjoergrichter50 (2013) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

Over the last few years, I started learning my lesson and I’ve scaled way back in how I celebrated Advent. It has become a time for revisiting the basics. Therefore, rather than  adding on tons of prayers or activities, I am only adding on a couple of things and doing them as well as possible. My goal is to spend Advent in a way that truly prepares my heart for the coming of Christ. And I want that for you, too. If you are looking to making Advent meaningful this year, consider trying a tip or two from this list.

I. Take Care of Most of the Material things early.

Every year I say I am going to get everything done early so that I can focus on the spirit of the Season but I never actually follow through. This year, I am actually using the Christmas Planner I created last year and it is already making a difference.

Of course, you don’t have to use my Christmas planner. You probably know what you have/want to do. Why not start now and put a dent in your to-do list? Can you order your Christmas cards now? How about getting started with your Christmas shopping? Maybe you can create your cooking/baking shopping list now and start buying any needed ingredients?

The point is, do as much preplanning and doing now so that once Advent/Christmas really goes into high gear you will be ahead of the game.

2. Go to Daily Mass Twice a Week (or more).

In years past, I would commit to going to daily mass and would fail every year. As much as I would love to make daily Mass, it just isn’t realistic for this time in my life. Therefore, I have decided to commit to going to daily Mass twice a week. That is definitely doable.

Seriously, if you don’t do anything else for Advent, do your best to make it to Mass – even if it is only one extra day a week. I have said it before and I will say it again because, as Catholics, there is no greater thing we can do than to receive our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The Holy Mass is the summit and center of our faith.

3. Go to Confession.

I won’t lie. I love going to Confession. 🙂 I know that sounds crazy but I feel for light and free after going to Confession. But, as much as I try to go regularly, life happens and I don’t make it as often as I could. Truly, Confession is good for the soul, so even if you don’t love it like I do, please try to make Confession at least once during the Advent season. I promise, you won’t regret it!

I am not sure about your area but there should be several Advent penance services going on during the Advent season. If you can, why not try to attend? The services are usually beautiful and knowing others are making Confession as well can be an incentive. If you can’t make a penance service, check your Church’s bulletin for their regular Confession  schedule. If that doesn’t work, most priest offer confession by special appointment. Cleansing and strengthening your soul is a wonderful way for preparing for Christmas! (Need a little help going to Confession? Here are some tips on How to Make a Good Confession.)

4. Use an Advent Calendar and Advent Wreathe.

If you have young children, they usually love the Advent calendar because they get to eat a piece of candy every day! Believe it or not, though, they have Advent Calendars for adults too. What is nice about these calendars is that they usually include a little scripture verse to reflect on and they don’t take up a lot of time. A minute or two at most.

The same goes for the Advent Wreathe. It is only a matter of lighting a candle and maybe adding a little prayer. It is a no-brainer. it is a small thing but it can make a big difference in appreciating the reason for the season.

5. Journal.

If you know me, you know writing is in my blood and I journal regularly. In fact, that is one of the reasons I started creating journals in the first place. It may sound crazy, like my love for Confession, but having my own little space to write out my thoughts, dreams, and struggles is important to my spiritual welfare. In fact, writing is my preferred way of communication and it is how I best “talk” to God. Can you relate or is it just me?!

That’s why I created an Advent journal a while back. Once can never have too many journals and I like having a separate journal for Advent. Unlike my regular prayer journal, which I use as a “regular” journal too, I use the Advent Prayer Journal strictly for prayer and reflections about the scripture readings throughout Advent. It helps me to go deeper into the mysteries we are celebrating during this holy season.

Whether you use my journal, or creat your own, or just use loose-leaf paper, journaling is a wonderful way to make Advent meaningful. There is something therapeutic and special about handwriting your thoughts and prayers out on physical paper. Who knows, maybe the habit of journaling will extend long after the Advent season and that would be wonderful, too!

Bonus Idea!

If you have some extra time to spare, why not join in on a virtual Advent retreat? I will be “conducting” the retreat via Facebook Live and doing weekly short meditations on one of the readings from the week. It may be from the Sunday readings or the daily readings, depending on where the Holy Spirit leads. I will also be including a complimentary copy of the pdf version of the Advent Prayer Journal (normally $10) and other guides and goodies. Best of all, it is free. The only “cost” is being a member of my Facebook Group where the retreat will be held. 🙂

I pray that this Advent/Christmas season is the most magical, beautiful, prayerful, and wonderful season you have ever had. May God bless you and bring you ever closer to His merciful heart. And may our dear Blessed Mother intercede for you and all your intentions!

He is Risen!

Happy Easter! I hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend! We went to the Easter Vigil for Mass and it was beautiful and spent Easter Sunday with my husband’s side of the family.

How was your Easter? I hope it was a wonderful day. BUT, don’t forget, Easter isn’t over. It is just beginning! In the Catholic Church, the Easter season is 50 days. Lent, the penitential season, is 40 days but Easter, the rejoicing season, is 10 days more. 🙂

Therefore, during this glorious time, let the joy of Christ’s resurrection penetrate your heart and soul. 🙂

Resurrection

Image by Didgeman (2015) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

5 Ideas for Lent

Ash Wednesday is next week and I, for one, am excited for it! For a lot of people, Lent is about “giving up” something, such as candy, or coffee or whatever. Other people consider the penances of Lent a drudgery. That’s too bad. Lent isn’t about giving up something and then becoming frustrated – or giving up – when you fail. That’s what New Year’s Resolutions are for! Now, I’m not saying not to give up something for Lent. There is an important place for sacrifice and denial, but Lent is WAY more than that.

5 Ideas for Lent

Lent is about renewal!

The beginning of a new year is a time when many people make resolutions to lose weight, to do “this” or don’t do “that.” August and September is the beginning of a new school year and a time when kids (and adults) resolve to make “this year better than last year.” Of course, technically, everyday is a chance for a restart. But Lent is unique. Lent is a time that is especially meant for a spiritual renewal, even more so than the Advent and Christmas Season. Lent is a time to recalibrate our souls and remind ourselves of what and WHO is important in life. And, it is a time to refocus and rekindle (or deepen) our relationship with Jesus and with the Blessed Trinity.

Therefore, the purpose of the “mandates” of Lent, prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving, is to help us go deeper into the truths of our faith and our relationship with Christ, NOT to give us yet “one thing to do or not do” for the next six weeks. Thus, I’d like to invite you to rethink your strategy for Lent this year. If you have been in the habit of giving up something for Lent and it hasn’t worked for ya, how about instead of giving up something, give yourself something. Here are five ideas of things you can give yourself for Lent:

1. Give yourself the gift of Confession.

If you haven’t been to the Sacrament of reconciliation in a while, now would be a good time to go. The Church requires Catholic to go to Confession at least once a year for a reason. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing and an opportunity to encounter Christ in a very special way.

There are a lot of people who are afraid of going to Confession or who think it is a waste of time. “Why go to confession to a priest when I can tell my sins right to God?” However, confession is a gift from God that gives us special graces, allows us to grow in grace and to come back to Him when we fail. I strongly encourage you to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church in regards to confession. Do the research on why Confession is important. It is really a very important sacrament!

2. Give yourself the gift of the Eucharist.

If you aren’t in the habit of going to daily mass, now would be a great time to start – even if it just one or two days a week – or just on Saturdays. The readings for Lent are just as powerful during the week as they are on Sundays.

There is a lot of focus today about the community aspect of Mass which is important. However, we also must never lose sight of the purpose of the Mass. It is the center and source of our Christian Life! When we receive communion, we receive Jesus Himself. We take Him into our souls and our hearts. What an amazing and profound blessing and gift that is!

3. Give yourself the gift of prayer.

The rosary is a particularly powerful prayer and it is a wonderful way to meditate on the mysteries of Our Lord’s Life, Death and Resurrection. It is even better if you can pray together as a family. Also, many Churches offer the Stations of the Cross each Friday which is a beautiful way to enter one’s self into Our Lord’s suffering. If you can’t do that, try to just spend a few minutes or so reading the Bible and Lectio Divina.

There are also a lot of retreats and devotional booklets that are published for the Lenten Season. If that helps, pick one of those up and use it to help guide your prayer. Better yet, scrap that and just talk to God as you would a friend. He is always ready to listen! It may seem strange at first but we can, and should, speak from our souls and pour out our heart.

4. Give yourself the gift of reflection.

Prayer isn’t all about talking! It is also about listening and reflecting on what God wants to tell us. One way to do this is by jounaling. When you journal, you can certainly write down your prayers. However, you can also write down notes, scriptures, and insights that you get during prayer. You can paste prayer cards and pictures, doodle, and make it your safe and private place of encountering God.

To help you do this, last year I created a Lenten Prayer Journal. It is an unguided prayer journal sprinkled with scripture verses from the Mass readings, blank pages, and a section for specific prayer intentions. It is my heart’s desire that the journal be a comforting and “magical” place for you to grow in your faith and love for God.

(P.S. From now until March 1, 2017 – Ash Wednesday – you can get the printable pdf. version of the journal for only $5, regularly $12. Go here to purchase and download instantly. Go here for a free sample of journal. Go here for the paperback version of the journal on Amazon.)

5. Give yourself the gift of intention.

Finally, above all – no matter what you do the Lent – let it be intentional and focused. Be fully present to your devotions, family or whatever it is you are doing or not doing for Lent. That alone will transform your Lenten experience!

So many of us, myself included, live life too reactionary. We don’t take the time to think things through because we are too busy rushing from activity to activity and responsibility to responsibility. This year, take a few minutes to look at your calendar. What can you delegate, reschedule or remove so that you can give yourself some breathing room and mental space?

Now, let’s support each other.

Tell me, what are you doing for Lent this year? What are you going to do or not do in order to truly deepen your relationship with Jesus and renew your spirit this season? By putting it out there, it will help you stay accountable and give me the opportunity to pray for you!

As for me, I am focusing on the Nineveh 90 challenge. We are only a week in and it is proving to be a challenging and yet powerful experience. It is definitely helping me to be more disciplined in certain areas, that’s for sure! I still may give up something specific on top of this but I haven’t decided yet. 🙂

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Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours!

I wish all of you a blessed, wonderful and Happy Thanksgiving! We all face trials and tribulations but we also have so much to be thankful for. I know that I am thankful for many things and one of those things are you! Thank you for reading and connecting with me here at Simple Catholic Living. You are all such a blessing!

Thanksgiving

Image by johnhain (2015) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

Happy Veteran’s Day!

Today we honor all our Veteran’s and thank them for their sacrifice and service to our country. If you are curious about the history of Veteran’s Day, here is a brief explaination on how it came to be celebrated on November 11. Additionally, don’t forget to say a prayer for your favorite Veteran and all Veterans.

Veteran' Day

Image by ClkerFreeVectorImages (2014) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

Happy Thanksgiving! (And a Funny Video to Make Your Day)

From my family to yours: We wish you all a truly blessed and truly HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Happy Thanksgiving!

We all go through struggles and hardships but we still have so  much to be thankful for! God bless.

Have you seen the “All About That Baste” Video yet? No? Well, watch it now because it is SO FUNNY! (Hat tip to Mashable.com where I came across the video.)

(Image in public domain)

Happy Fourth of July!

We are truly blessed in our country to have the freedoms that we have. Our country certainly isn’t perfect, and we must continue to fight to keep our freedoms, but still, in many ways we are truly blessed. Let us take a moment to thank God for our freedom, and the grace to use our freedom wisely and for his glory.

Fourth of July

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Picture in public domain

Ten Ideas for Hostess Gifts

The holiday season is fast approaching, and with that comes dinner invitations and parties! Parties and dinners, of course, usually entails bringing a hostess gift. For me, that used to mean bringing a bottle of wine, or flowers or a dessert. Now I know better. 😉 I remember once going to someone’s house for dinner and several people bringing wine (me included!) and several others brought flowers.

Now, I try to personalize the hostess gift to match the interests of the hostess. Here are some of my favorite ideas that won’t break the bank! (Not only that, these ideas can be used for almost any occasion, not just the holidays, such as birthdays.)

1. Disposable camera. This is popular at a lot of weddings these days, but can be fun for any occasion. Pass the camera around and then offer to have the film developed. To take it one step further, why not surprise your hostess and organize the pictures in an album before giving her the pictures? I know, for me, I often forget to take out my camera when I host a gathering and it would be great to have someone capture the memories for me!

2. Decorative calendar for the New Year. There are many types of calendars that are quite lovely. You can even go online and have personalized calendars made, if you have enough time. Also, if you are giving the calendar to a family member or close friend, pre-fill in some important dates to remember such as birthdays, anniversaries or events.

3. Gift certificate. A $5 or $10 dollar gift certificate makes a terrific hostess gift. Who doesn’t love a gift certificate to their favorite store?! Put it in a pretty envelope or card and you are good to go. Or, go one step further and make a homemade gift certificate that is redeemable for one afternoon of watching  her kids (or other fun activity)!

4. Spiritual bouquet. A spiritual bouquet is nothing more than a homemade (or store-bought) card with a list of prayers and/or spiritual devotions that were (or will be) offered for that person. You can decorate the card as simply or as elaborate as you want. Here is an example of a spiritual bouquet to get you started.

5. Framed scripture verse. You can use Microsoft Publisher or other software to create and print out the host’s favorite scripture verse on fancy card stock and frame it for her.

6.  Candles. You can never have enough candles, can you?! 😉

7. Ornament. You make a tree ornament or buy one inexpensively. As a nice touch you can have the ornament personalized for your host. When my husband and I were celebrating our first Christmas together, my mother-in-law gave us a personalized ornament that brings me a smile every year when I hang in on our tree.

8. Music. You can easily get some beautiful Christmas or other music CDs for $5 dollars or less in the clearance rack. Or, you can take the time to make a compilation of the host’s favorite music onto a CD.

9. Costume Jewelry. If your hostess likes to wear jewelry (personally, I don’t), you can find some really nice costume jewelry inexpensively. Etsy has lots of  costume jewelry in all different price ranges. Of course, if it’s your thing, you can certainly make your own.

10. Gift baskets. Gift baskets make great gifts for any occasion. You can quickly put together a small basket that is theme based. For example, you can do a tea basket with different tea samples and/or tea towels or a small basket with bathroom or kitchen accessories.

I’d love to hear you ideas, too! Do you have a unique hostess gift idea you can share with us?

P.S. Download this list, no opt-in required, for future reference: 10 Ideas for Hostess Gifts

(This post is linked to Top Ten Tuesday and Works for Me Wednesday.)

10 Thanksgiving Crafts From Pinterest

Thanksgiving is only a couple short weeks away, and I’ve been looking for some simple (and fun) craft ideas. I’ve mentioned this before, but my new favorite place to look for ideas is Pinterest; and, I’ve found some cute ideas there for Thanksgiving. Here’s just a few:

1. Be Thankful.

Be Thankful

Pinned by Tilisa Howell

 

2. Thanksgiving Hat Crafts.

Thanksgiving hat crafts

Pinned by Chelsea Ewert

 

3. Placemats.

placemats

Pinned by Rebecca Phalen

 

4. Story of Thanksgiving Crafts.

Story of Thanksgiving

Pinned by Cindy Schival

 

5. Turkey Craft.

Turkey

Pinned by Ashly Dower

 

6. Paper Crafts.

Paper Crafts

Pinned by Christy Kramer

 

7. Thanksgiving Wreath.

Thanksgiving Wreath

Pinned by Jacqueline Mills

 

8. Thanksgiving games and crafts.

Games and Crafts

Pinned by Brenda Kirk

 

9. Thanksgiving card and craft.

Thanksgiving card and craft

Pinned by Marri

 

10. Thankful Box.

Thankful Box

Pinned by Ann Hathaway

 

Aren’t these great ideas? I particularly love the thankful box! Do you have any favorite craft ideas to share? Leave the idea or link in the comments. Thanks!

(Linked to Top Ten Tuesday and Works for me Wednesday.)

Sts Joachim and Ann, Grandparents of Jesus

Saint Anne

(P.S. This is a re-post, with some slight revisions, from last year.)

Today is the feast day of Saints Joachim and Ann, grandparents of Jesus and mother of Mary! Since there’s no St. Carol (what a shame!), and my middle name is Ann, I’ve taken St. Ann as my name day. 🙂

There’s not a lot known about Saint Ann, but tradition (with a small “t”) has it that Saints Joachim and Ann were rich, but very devout. They prayed a long time for a child and their prayers were answered in a big way! Imagine being parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary!

Here’s some other information about St Ann (and St. Joachim) as seen through the mystics.

The Legend

My home church growing up was Saint Ann’s in Keansburg, NJ. I discovered several years ago that supposedly, soon after St. Ann’s was built, St. Ann appeared to several parishioners. According to what I was told, she appeared several days in a row. She never spoke, but just looked down from above the church. I don’t know if any of this is true, but it’s certainly a nice thought!

Celebrating the Day

Last year, Andrew colored a picture of Saint Ann, which I found on Waltzing Matilda’s website. We read about the life of St Ann and St. Joachim. We went to mass, prayed the rosary and thanks to a gift card I had received, we treated Andrew to a movie.

This year, I’m getting the special treat. 🙂 My in-laws are taking Andrew, along with a couple of cousins on a day long motor home trip.  They are going to spend the day as pirates, and have a mini camp-out. In the meantime, I get to have almost the whole day to myself! I have some work, retreat/prayer time and down time planned and I am going to enjoy every minute of it. 🙂

Prayer to Saint Ann (found in Picture book of Saints)

“O God, You bestowed on St. Ann such grace that she was found worthy to become the mother of Mary, who brought forth Your Only-begotten Son. Grant that we may be helped by her intercession. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen”

Saint Ann, pray for us!

(P.S. I want to do a special shout-out to my friend, Anne, who is also celebrating her feast day with me. Happy name-day, dear friend!)

Saint JoachimSaint Joachim

There is even less known about Saint Joachim than there is of Saint Ann – except that he was wealthy, pious and the father of Mary. In my research, though, I discovered that there is knighthood order dedicated to Saint Joachim; however, after reading some questionable things, I’m not comfortable linking to the website.

Prayer to Saint Joachim (found on about.com)

“O great and glorious Patriarch, Saint Joachim, what joy is mine when I consider that thou wast chosen among all God’s holy ones to assist in the fulfillment of the mysteries of God, and to enrich our earth with the great Mother of God, Mary most holy! By this singular privilege, thou hast become most powerful with both the Mother and her Son, so as to be able to obtain for us the graces that are needful to us; with great confidence I have recourse to thy mighty protection and I commend to thee all my needs and those of my family, both spiritual and temporal; and especially do I entrust to thy keeping the particular favor that I desire and look for from thy fatherly intercession. And since thou wast a perfect pattern of the interior life, obtain for me the grace of interior recollection and a spirit of detachment from the transitory goods of this life, together with a lively and enduring love for Jesus and Mary. Obtain for me in like manner a sincere devotion and obedience to Holy Church and the sovereign pontiff who rules over her: to the end that I may live and die in faith and hope and perfect charity, ever invoking the holy names of Jesus and Mary, and may I thus be saved. Amen.”

Saint Joachim, pray for us!

Linked to Saints & Scripture Sunday.

(Photo credit: Artsome-studio)