Monday, October 29, 2007

Stations of the Cross can be included in any home


You don't have to build a brand new home with a chapel, or even reconstruct your current home, to add beauty and sanctity to your home that will assist with family and individual prayer. The fourteen Stations of the Cross, one of the oldest methods of prayerfully contemplating the suffering of Christ in His passion and death, can be added in a hallway, a room, or even in landscaping or along a pathway outdoors. Instead of praying the Stations only during Lent, they can be a regular part of prayer all year and even be beautiful artwork for your home. If you would like more info on the Stations, here's a history of the Stations of the Cross (or "Way of the Cross"), and here's a good online version. Here's an article about the use of the Stations of the Cross in the domestic Church.

Stations of the Cross All Year


July 15-21, 2007 Issue | Posted 7/10/07 at 3:43 PM

The 14 Stations of the Cross are depicted in churches and shrines everywhere. They’re among the most popular Christian devotions. They help us make a spiritual pilgrimage, contemplating Christ’s passion as we hike along the Via Dolorosa in our hearts.

So why confine praying the Stations to the 40 days of Lent?

Families are discovering that observing this powerful devotion all year long — at home — can yield beautiful benefits for parents and children alike.

Just ask Greg and Tina Andress of Spartanburg, S.C. Earlier this year they cleared a trail through the woods on their property and installed outdoor Stations of the Cross.

First meant as a family project, the effort quickly drew in members and dads from the local ConQuest Catholic boys’ club that meets in the Andress home.

The Stations improved as they moved from idea to execution. Originally, Greg planned on using photos the family saw at Holy Hill, a Wisconsin Marian shrine. Then a neighbor donated icon-type Stations for the Andress’ trail. The ConQuest boys assembled the cedar and roof housings with their fathers’ help, then attached them to sturdy wooden poles.

The week before Good Friday, the family’s pastor at Jesus Our Risen Savior Church blessed the trail and Stations before everyone present prayed them for the first time.

“Now we’d like to continue to pray the Stations throughout the year to keep what Christ did for us in our children’s minds,” says Tina. Their initial goal is to pray the outdoor Stations twice a month as a family.

The trail and signposts may be new to the Andress family, but the idea of praying the Stations throughout the year isn’t. Along with their three boys and two girls, ages 9 to 1 (a sixth child is due in August), Greg and Tina are always looking for ways to walk with God between Sundays.

Their home-school curriculum includes a strong Catholic component, and the home has displayed the Stations — in the form of small pictures — for years.

“We had a small hallway, short and narrow, but it worked fine,” explains Mom Tina. “With the beautiful, old-style pictures, the children could visualize what Christ’s passion was like. We’d spend time for them to ask questions, like ‘Why is that lady wiping Jesus’ face with towel?’” It was in small and simple ways like this, she points out, that “the kids developed a great love for Christ at a very early age.”

In Greenfield, Ind., John and Rosie Kube have also made the Stations of the Cross at different times of the year at home with their four girls, ages 11 to 5. When they did, explains John, “We take turns with the kids leading the way to different icons, statues of Jesus, and religious pictures in our house, and reading a meditation. We leave it up to the kids. They sometimes dress up with veils like a nun.”

Rosie adds how the devotion benefited her mother-in-law Marie who when battling cancer relied heavily on praying the Stations every day.

“That was a comfort to her,” Rosie says. “I was so struck by it.”

The Kubes can also frequent the outdoor Stations at nearby Our Lady of the Apostles Family Center. And after a men’s conference John and a friend attended, they began a neighborhood Stations of the Cross walk during Lent.

Children get into the act helping erect each station on different families’ property, and the local Challenge girls club members like the Kubes 11-year-old evangelize door to door, inviting neighbors to join in the community Stations. Even Protestants attend.

Wherever we pray the Stations of the Cross, they’re meant to help us make a pilgrimage in spirit to main scenes of Jesus’ suffering and death. To aid all Christians who couldn’t get to the Holy Land to walk the Via Dolorosa, the Franciscans in the 17th century began erecting the Stations in churches and promoting the devotion.

“The more we do the Stations the more we’re reminded that Jesus remained faithful, no matter what happened,” says Franciscan Father Jacob-Matthew Smith of the Order of Friars Minor at the Commissariat of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C. “If we could put ourselves in his shoes, then each one of these stations have a personal meaning for the individual.”

Out of many ways of doing the Stations, one he recommends that even children can do is to relate each Station to our life. It’s a way to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

“By so doing we join in the passion and death of Christ,” says Father Jacob-Matthew. For a child, the first fall of Jesus might be tied to the times the child has fallen off a bike while learning to ride. “Each time we’ve got to have the courage to get back in the seat and peddle again.”

Tina Andress finds the devotion to the Passion gives many lessons and helps her teach them to the children. For starters, she says, “Jesus offered his pain up for the salvation of the world. I tell the children you can offer your pain up for something. Don’t waste the opportunity. They understand. Even as parents, there are so many lessons for Greg and me to learn.”

Father Jacob-Matthew agrees. Mothers can put themselves in Mary’s position and see how they would respond to their own child in knowing God has work for them to do, maybe having to put their life on the line — mothers with a child in the armed forces, for instance.

Tina focuses on how Mary as a wife and mother teaches us to accept God’s will every day of the year.

“In my life as a mother,” she says, “I have to accept and respond with love, composure, sacrifice, prayer, and acceptance of God’s will.”

As for the youngsters, Tina affirms even if they look like they’re not listening, they still see the Stations and hear the prayers with the family.

“They can still get something out of it,” she says from much experience.

Indeed, 5-year-old Peter focuses on Jesus’ falls. “It’s sad,” he says. “It teaches me to be good.”

He likes following the Stations “because Jesus is in my heart and I love him,” Peter says, “and because it makes me feel holy.”

His 9-year-old brother Jacob looks forward to praying the Stations “because you’re walking with Jesus,” he says. “It helps you get close to God.”

Dad Greg believes that doing the Stations as a family is something the children will learn and remember.

Now that the Stations are outside too, he thinks it will be even easier to do them with the children and lead to making them together on Fridays, their spiritual goal like praying the Rosary at night.

“The children use that trail to ride their bikes,” says Greg, “so they go by the Stations and can’t help think about them.”

In church or at home, indoors or even in a small yard, there’s proof positive that for all of us the Stations of the Cross should be a year-round devotion.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Koop family, unmasked!

Up until now, there really hasn't been much in the way of pictures of our family on this blog, and that hasn't been intentional or a result of some sort of paranoia. We simply didn't have a good, recent family picture, and when you have kids this young, it means that a good family picture from just a year ago is already woefully obsolete (kind of like your cell phone). But, we have a family tradition of doing a full-out photo shoot about 4-5 months after every baby with a family friend of ours who is a photographer. We did this about a month ago, since Max was 5 months old, and just got the pictures back. We thought you might like to see a few pics of our young family.

Here's our oldest, Clara, who is 5. She is in kindergarten in our homeschool and doing fantastically well. She is by far the most responsible child in our family (even when controlling for age, just trust me), and will soon fill the role of junior mom, we are sure. She has told us, unprompted, and on multiple occasions (the latest being yesterday), that she would like to be a nun. We always tell her to continue to pray for God's will for her, and that if being a nun is what God desires for her then that's what she should be. We have found her praying alone at different times and asked what she's praying about, and she says, "I'm praying about my wish. I'm asking God to help me to be a nun." As Molly says, it makes you get a little misty sometimes.
Our next blessing is Aidan, who is 3. He has an absurd amount of energy, and an absurdly sharp mind. He is the proverbial "human tornado," capable of totally deconstructing a room within 5 minutes of unsupervision without even realizing what he just did. He is very bright though; by osmosis he has learned quite a bit just from being around Clara while she is homeschooled. Part of Clara's curriculum is memorized poetry, and Aidan simply listens in. When it's finally time for Clara to perform her latest poem in front of the family, if she stumbles or forgets a line Aidan always corrects her! Or he'll give her the first few words of the next line to get her going.
Next is Eleanor, who just turned 2 on September 27th. Eleanor has a very similar temperament to Aidan, except she is by far the most bossy of the kids. She's told Aidan or Clara to "stay on timeout!" on occasion, and frequently makes use of the phrases, "No! Mine!", "No I not!", and "No, Daddy do it!" She loves to laugh, and is our only child who has dimples in her cheeks when she smiles. She and Clara share a room currently and spend lots of sister-time together.
Maximilian, who is now 6 months old, is our easiest baby to date. All three other children, especially Eleanor, were very high-maintenance babies. Max is a very relaxed, go-with-the-flow baby, who is mostly just happy about life. He also simply needs to watch the chaos going on around him to be entertained, so there's no reason for him to be bored. He puts up with a lot of "glomming-on" by his siblings; Eleanor has had to be corrected of her habit of sitting on him recently, and Aidan is always in his face. Clara, though, has been quite helpful in holding him on occasion, or even entertaining him for a half-hour at a time. Max is our biggest baby, and will probably be our earliest crawler, which is coming up soon (yikes)!
And here's the Koop family together:
Praise the Lord for His many blessings and the gift of life!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Something to consider when designing garden areas...


I came across another interesting article in the National Catholic Register on designing a monastic garden for one's home, including the spiritual significance that has been designed into such gardens through the ages. Really fascinating. I can't say I've thought much about our garden and landscape areas for our new home, mostly because I assume we may not be able to afford to put money into those areas for the first years. But I have experience maintaining large amounts of landscaping (we inherited huge amounts of landscaping from the previous owners of our current home) and I'm a do-it-yourself kind of guy for outdoor stuff. So it may be something that can be done slowly over time.

Here's a few examples of monastic cloister gardens:

And here's a book on that I may have to purchase (link):

Here's the article I referred to:

God in the Greenery

You don’t need a monastery to have a monastery garden


June 11-17, 2006 Issue | Posted 6/12/06 at 9:00 AM

Centuries before Americans took to gardening as a hobby, St. Benedict, the great founder of Western monasticism, made gardens important in his monasteries.

Most flowers, plants and herbs were for everyday use, but the monks would admire them just as much for their religious and symbolic meaning as for their natural beauty. Gardens became little daily catechisms.

Catholic families can take a lesson from the Benedictine monks and other monastic orders and create their own medieval-style monastery garden for prayer and meditation — not to mention teaching the faith to children and visitors.

Since many plants also reflect aspects of the Blessed Mother, a monastery garden can be a perfect companion to a Mary garden.

Imagine picking up a simple viola tricolor, which we now popularly call the Johnny Jump Up, to meditate on the Blessed Trinity or to explain how the persons of the triune Godhead come together as one.

For medieval monks, the three colors symbolized the Holy Trinity, the purple also standing for Christ’s passion — another opening for meditation.

Back then, this flower was called both the Herb Trinity and also Our Lady’s Delight to recall how Mary delighted in contemplating the Trinity revealed first to her at the Annunciation.

Breathe in the fragrance and revel in the color of the lovely lavender herb — a perfect opening to talk about how monks knew it as Mary’s Drying Plant. Legend had it that lavender received its fragrance after Mary spread Jesus’ clothes on it to dry. That can lead to shared meditation on daily duties the Holy Family also carried too.

Lavender was also called Our Lady of Purity because it was believed to preserve chastity.

Often the herbals had a combination of medicinal value, religious symbolism and culinary use for the monks. Gardens also provided flowers for the altar.

“For something we think humble and mundane,” says horticulturist Susan Moody, “people thought about and linked flowers in ways we may not link them today.”

Moody, who oversees the recreated medieval monastery gardens at The Cloisters museum in Manhattan, points out that, even with the bitter dandelion, there’s a connection to the passion of Christ.

“St. Benedict talks about living the whole day in the awareness of God’s presence,” reminds Benedictine Father Edward Glanzmann of the Monastery of the Holy Cross in downtown Chicago. “Ideally, all the time different parts of the monastery help point to that — in the field, gardens, in nature, in prayer, in church.”

Having a type of monastery garden would make a natural occasion for the parents to talk with the children about the faith, he says.

“It would provide a wonderful alternative to quiet the children and the whole family down for prayer,” adds Father Glanzmann. “It can also provide the family the same opportunity it provides the monks and retreatants here who focus their attention on the beauty and the delicacy of the garden. One would want to move from there to thoughts of God.”

The monastery’s own cloisters garden for monks and a similar one for guests are serene oases for prayer and contemplation right in downtown Chicago. There’s a statue of the Blessed Mother, roses and flowers that bloom through the year, a park bench and lawn.

Fruits of the Faith

According to Professor Martin McGann at Penn State’s Center for Medieval Studies, cloisters often had seats constructed in their surrounding wall. Monks could sit under the covered walkway and look into the garden.

He says plants with white flowers, such as the Rosa Alba, a medieval plant, were important.

Then the white and gold of the Madonna Lily symbolized Mary’s purity. After appearing in paintings of the Annunciation, it also got the name Annunciation Lily.

Although families might not use its roots to make a soothing poultice for aches as the monks did, they can surely be inspired by this lily to talk about the visit of the angel, Mary’s fiat, and Jesus’ incarnation for our salvation.

Certain staples in the garden had strong spiritual connotations to bring good and drive away evil. Chief among them was Lady’s Mantle, which reminded monks how our Blessed Mother protects us under her mantle.

Another cue worth emulating from the Monastery of the Holy Cross: a kitchen garden that feeds monks and guests most of the year.

“This helps to capitalize on what St. Benedict wrote in the Rule,” says Father Glanzmann. “Each monastery should be self-sufficient and grow its own food. Some families can do that as well.”

Like of old, flowers are interspersed with the vegetables themselves. Tulips and early spring veggies, for example, make fine companions.

Strawberries make good companions with flowers, too. And the sweet treats have religious significance. McGann says their three leaves stand for the Trinity.

Being a flower and a fruit at the same time, the strawberry symbolizes Mary’s perpetual virginity and was named Fruitful Virgin, something families can discuss while picking ripe strawberries for dessert.

Green Thumbs

According to Moody, raised beds for gardening originated in monasteries. Families can plant in herbs and vegetables common for the monks, like leeks, chives and onions in their raised beds.

Working in the garden together also put into practice Benedict’s dictum of Ora et Labora (prayer and work). Gardening was a form or prayer and contemplation mixed with labor.

Even though families don’t live in a cloister, they can adapt another medieval monastery garden, the garth garden.

Moody describes the fairly geometric layout where paths crisscross at a central fountain and divide the four squares. Early monasteries would have a fruit tree growing in each of squares and often fragrant plants as well as a lawn.

The water recalls baptism, the waters of eternal life, and the cross paths recall Christ’s death and our salvation.

This well-used medieval cloister garden is related to plans for the ninth-century St. Gall monastery in Switzerland that planned an ideal monastery after St. Benedict’s Rule.

The Middle Ages may be far back in the Church’s memory, but even modern Catholics can reap the blessings and benefits monks knew so long ago through their beloved gardens.

In such a simple way, a monastery-style garden can provide families with “the contemplative experience, which is to see and feel and live in the presence of God all around you at all the time,” says Father Glanzmann. “By and large, that’s the call of every Christian.”

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Domestic Church: Family Prayer

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2205):
The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father's work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task.
Praying together as a family seems an essential element of a Christian family, but I have been surprised at how many families that I have met that don't pray together. I shouldn't be that surprised, really, since Molly and I hadn't instituted family prayer ourselves until roughly two years ago. Prior to that, I wouldn't say there was really an excuse, it was more that we just never got around to it. And when I talk about family prayer, I am not referring to occasional prayer as a family. I am referring to daily, habitual prayer as a family. A daily time set aside for prayer. In the business of family life, one can understand why it just doesn't happen for many families. But this is an instance where Mom and Dad need to take some initiative and show some leadership. The hardest part is getting started. I remember for Molly and I, the moment finally came when we were giving a talk for an engaged couples retreat at our parish and advising the couples that they should make time for prayer as a family. Getting in the car afterwards, we discussed how we don't even do this ourselves! That was the end of that. Molly and I are both "doers". Almost every day since then we have had family prayer after supper. Needless to say, one of the ways we'll be using our chapel in our new home is for daily family prayer.

So what should constitute family prayer? In this question, I'd say it definitely depends on the age of the kids. Our kids (ages 5, 3, 2, and 6 months)... well, let's just say that half of prayer consists of correcting one or more children who are running around not paying attention, or poking someone, or praying AS LOUD AS THEY POSSIBLY CAN for no reason. In this, shall we say, "environment," it's best to keep things relatively short and sweet, while also consciously using prayer as a means of teaching the children how to pray. That said, many people vastly underestimate what children can remember, what they can grasp, and the interest they have in prayer.

Our kids are very interested in prayer. We mix personal prayer, where we go one-by-one and ask them to pray to our Lord, with memorized prayer, where we make use of the eloquence and guidance of the Church through the ages in some of the best-known prayers. Our kids (that's the 5, 3, and 2-year old, Max at 6 months hasn't quite gotten prayer down) can recite from memory the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Guardian Angel's prayer. They can also recite our family's favorite prayer, to St. Michael the Archangel. Imagine a 5, 3, and 2-year old praying from memory:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray
And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, By the power of God
Cast into Hell Satan and all of the evil spirits
Who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
I'll admit it, we have trotted the kids out to say that at family parties before (who can resist?). It's a powerful prayer, though, not to be taken lightly, and most often used to ask the aid of St. Michael the Archangel in protection of our home from spiritual warfare.

We also pray the Rosary (most of the time just a decade), and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with the kids. We also will pray the Psalms from Holy Scripture, or occasionally we will do Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours (which is my personal daily prayer, and consists of praying the Psalms from scripture), but in lieu of that we have taught the kids to memorize the antiphon from the Gospel canticle of Night prayer:
Protect us Lord, as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep
That awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace. Amen.
In the spirit of the triduum method of teaching we employ in homeschooling, teaching a large repertoire of memorized prayer will prove useful to the kids as they grow older and spend more time in personal prayer (analagous to the "grammar" stage of the classical method, which prepares for the "logic" and "rhetoric" stages with a significant amount of memorization).

Family prayer is always first and foremost about Christ and thanking Him for our many blessings, petitioning Him with our intentions, and spending time in His presence as a family. We have seen many more blessings bestowed simply by praying as a family, especially in our children. The kids will always remind us when we have not done prayer yet, and hearing what they pray about when they are given time to vocally is amazing (most often, they pray for each other). Family prayer also offers a set time where we can celebrate and bless children on their baptism day, or their birthday, and even a time to magnify the mass, as we sing the Gloria or participate in the liturgical year as in Lent and Advent. Family prayer is truly a necessity for the family to be a domestic Church, and to grow in holiness and closeness with the Lord. If you and your family aren't in this habit yet, there's no time like the present to start!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Family Chapels and Family Altars: A Work of the Holy Spirit


I absolutely LOVE this article below, published recently in the National Catholic Register (that's the good Catholic newspaper). Though Molly and I arrived at the prayerfully-discerned idea to include a chapel in our new home without having heard of anyone else doing so, it's awesome to read of other families that have arrived at the same idea. I attribute this to the work of the Holy Spirit, plain and simple. The Lord wants families to take control of their homes and sanctify their living space, so that the home can be a bastion of holiness and a witness to society!

Den of Sanctity

The Family Chapel: Don’t Have Home Without It


October 14-20, 2007 Issue | Posted 10/9/07 at 10:37 AM

In late 2006, Nielsen Media Research reported that the average American household has a television turned on eight hours and 14 minutes per day. More than 70% of homes have more than one TV set. And the average residence houses more televisions than people (2.73 screens vs. 2.55 souls, to be precise).

Consider these statistics in light of Pope John Paul II’s many exhortations to see the family as the “domestic church.” As such, it follows that the family’s living space ought to be a sort of sanctuary, a place that honors God and fosters virtue by its very bearing.

“The Church began in the home, and so there’s always been a natural communion of home and Church,” points out Father James Farnan of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Bethel Park, Pa. “The home is the domestic church.”

Many Catholic homes are putting that preaching into practice. Some are ditching their TVs altogether. Others are keeping a set but banishing it from the center of family activity, the living room.

And an increasing number from both those camps are setting up a home chapel — a room specifically set aside for God and used for prayer, contemplation, Bible study and silence. These might include shrines, altars or simple prayer stations with meditative prompts such as crucifixes, icons or candle-lit statues.

“The altar focuses attention and makes everyone aware there’s a special presence in their midst,” Father Farnan says of the burgeoning custom. It’s a reminder, he says, that God’s grace is at work in the family.

Miguel and Melody Vasquez know the value of the home altar. They have one in their new house in Port Chester, N.Y., just as they did in the living room of their former house.

“God should be the center of everything,” says Melody. “I’m a visual person myself, and the altar helps me tremendously by providing a focal point.” Children are easily distracted, she adds, so it helps to give them something holy to look at during family prayer.

The Vasquez family, eight members strong, prays a daily Rosary in their home chapel. It’s adorned with a crucifix and images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. “The Holy Family is very important to my husband and me,” explains Melody. Also present are likenesses of St. Gemma, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II. And rosary beads for the praying. Lots of rosary beads.

These, says Father Farnan, are “not just associated with our prayers but capture little kids’ attention.” They, along with the sacred art, help get sacramental grace flowing freely through kids’ hearts.

Thanks to the Incarnation, the Catholic faith is “sense-oriented,” the priest points out. “Signs and symbols are among the ways Our Lord relates to us.”

Melody is seeing the fruits from the graces God gives in the home chapel. When 5-year-old Miguel gets frustrated, she says, he now stops in and prays. His siblings are showing similar signs of a budding relationship with Jesus. And Melody is drawn to the special room at various times throughout the day.

In Parks, La., Joseph and Linzy Liuzza have set up home altars in their living room and bedroom. The latter has old and storied statues of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the Child Jesus holding the Eucharist, blessed candles and other sacramentals.

“We feel the presence of the Holy Family perpetually with that altar,” says Linzy. “When we go to sleep, we see Jesus and Mary. When we wake up, we see Jesus and Mary.”

The living-room mantle serves as the main altar. Above it is an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On the mantle are statues of saints special to the family, along with a crucifix, a Pietà and statuettes of adoring angels.

Nearby is a shrine to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Above her are pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which have been enthroned and enshrined. Holy water is available for beginning prayer with the Sign of the Cross.

This altar is often the place for the family Rosary, devotions to the Sacred Heart, and the Liturgy of the Hours. “Our living room is one big altar,” says Linzy.

While a handful of families have made a single room into a chapel, the Liuzzas have turned their whole house into a chapel.

Explains Linzy, “Every room is actually adorned with sacred or heavenly images. Our home is ultimately another small church for Jesus.”

Among the highlights is the kitchen’s statue of St. Anne, who is “the guardian of my domestic work and cooking,” says Linzy. “I always pray to her to intercede for me to cook well for my husband and everyone who comes over, and that I might clean well.”

The altar in another room has images of Our Lady Rosa Mystica and the Infant of Prague. Blessed candles like the one by Our Lady of Prompt Succor are in every room, as is an image of St. Michael. Every sacred image has been blessed by a priest — and all survived Hurricane Katrina even though the storm destroyed the Liuzza’s former home.

Even when temporarily homeless before buying a new home in Parks, the Liuzzas set up a small altar in their shelter, which goes to show that home chapels aren’t just for homeowners. Apartment dwellers and even room renters can make do, too.

Suitable for Saints

Items for a home altar always start with a crucifix and image of the Blessed Mother. When Father Farnan marries couples, he puts a crucifix on the church altar and gives it to them as a wedding gift.”

“I tell them to always have that hanging in their bedroom, reminding them of the level of love they’re called to and to be a witness of that to the world,” he says. “That would be the best way to begin a home chapel.”

“Our Lady should be there because she knew the domestic church in a very real way,” he continues. Along with the imagery and devotionals, most home-chapel families place a Bible, Catechism and spiritual reading materials within easy reach.

Be careful, adds the priest, to keep altar areas clear of clutter. Cleanliness points to holiness. And “simplicity,” he says, “has nobility to it.”

Perhaps Joseph Liuzza best captures the biggest benefit of setting up a home chapel. “It reminds us that only the kinds of speaking, thinking and activities that would be pleasing to Our Lord and Our Lady and our friends the saints are suitable in our home.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Moderation vs. Extravagance


When building a home as a Catholic family, stewardship and moderation should always be in the back of the mind. Just like in any other purchase of material things, what is "needed" versus what is "nice to have" versus what is "over the top" should be considered for a number of reasons. First, our money is not "our" money, it's God's gift that He has entrusted to us, and He expects us to use it wisely (see Matthew 25:14-30). Second, our children our watching us. If we send the message that we care about material things, or place their importance on the same level (or higher) than our faith, marriage, or family, then we are training our children to value material things in the same way. Material things can be objective goods, and in fact are gifts of God, but the trick is treating them as such and not seeking possessions as ends in themselves.

For us, this means is that the old adage, "all things in moderation," needs to be followed in the design of the home. It also means that we spend our money wisely, and that any money spent on the home comes after tithing substantially and regularly (giving our first fruits to the Lord). This home is meant to foster building up treasure in heaven, not on Earth. Practically, a few ways this philosophy manifests itself are:
  • Budgeting for what we can truly afford, after tithing, so that we do not financially strap our family
  • Luxury items and status symbols are to be avoided
  • Square footage of the home is to be relegated to what will be truly useful
  • Environmentally friendly design and building practices should be used, especially when there is no cost-penalty to do so
  • Where "extra" money is spent, it should be spent on items that contribute to the quality and permanence of the home
These are just a few examples.

I came across what I think serves as the opposite of this philosophy on CBS' 60 Minutes television program. Here's the link to the site, which lets you watch clips of the report, entitled "Living Large: Real Estate Dreams." A couple of highlights:

The woman who owns this 6,800 sq. ft. home, a size which she calls "modest", with her husband, her 1 son, and her dog "Co Co," discusses their 6 TV's and 7 bathrooms among other things. The pic on the right is a bathroom... a two-story high bathroom.

The couple who own this 11,000 sq. ft. home... 11,000 SQUARE FOOT HOME(!)... answer Morley Safer's question of what they wish they had done differently. Their answer? The wife wishes that she had a BIGGER kitchen, and the huband wishes that they had a BIGGER "gathering area" for guests to congregate once they enter the home. Appropriately, Morley Safer interviews a pundit that refers to this kind of suburbia as "Vulgaria." Obviously you could be WAY less opulent and indulgent than these examples and still be bad stewards of God's gifts. These are just the most extreme examples.

How does anyone know what's appropriate? First, the Lord must be the center of everything we do, and praying and working for detachment from material things is necessary as well (which I've had to do a lot in the past 10 years or so). Also, I think that cultivating the virtue of temperance, and praying for an increase in this virtue from the Holy Spirit, and working hard at habitually practicing temperance, is a very good start. Here's what the Catechism (1809) says about temperance:
[Temperance is the virtue that] moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion.
And when the goal of the home is to aid in training children in the practice of virtue, we parents need to be working on virtue ourselves.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Domestic Church: The Critical Importance of the Father


In interludes of home information, I would like to blog about issues of importance and interest for faithful families who try to model themselves as the "domestic Church." So this will be the first in a series of topics to discuss issues relating to family life as the domestic Church, which will always be accessible in "Search by Topic" in the sidebar, under "Family as the Domestic Church."

In our culture of political correctness, it isn't very politically correct to simply note that men and women are different. Not just physically different (which, though obvious, is still hard for some people to get over), but intellectually and behaviorally different. Men and women are equal in human dignity, but are not the same. Though one is not better than the other, there are real differences between the sexes which allow each to compliment the other (as God created us). One of the largest inherent areas of difference between the sexes, in general, is in parenting. That topic of the differences between men and women and the way they parent, and the necessity of both styles of parenting in forming children, is too large to go into here. But there is one aspect of this topic that is often overlooked and isn't given the "press" that is desperately needed; that is, the critical role of the father in forming children in the Faith.

To say that the father is critical in his role of passing on the Faith to his children is to say that the father literally makes or breaks the faith life and faith education of the children of a family. Multiple studies have been done on church attendance of children (once adults) depending on the attendance level of their mother and father, all with the same conclusion: as the father goes, so go the children. A very good article on one such study can be found here. Here's the data, where for all cases the mother attends church regularly:

The drop in regular church attendance of the children (once adults) if the father does not attend regularly is dramatic (despite in all cases the mother attending church regularly). From the article I link to above:
Curiously, both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously that Dad’s absence indicates that going to church is not really a "grown-up" activity. In terms of commitment, a mother’s role may be to encourage and confirm, but it is not primary to her adult offspring’s decision. Mothers’ choices have dramatically less effect upon children than their fathers’, and without him she has little effect on the primary lifestyle choices her offspring make in their religious observances.
Even more interesting, here's the data on regular church attendance of children who's father attends regularly:

There's almost the opposite affect of the mother's attendance and the children's (where the father attends regularly in each case). The children's loyalty to their father increases in response to their mother's decreasing church attendance. There's many more statistics in the article I link to above. All of this is not to belittle the role of the mother in the children's faith lives, only to point out the different roles that are clearly inherent to the father and mother in passing on the faith, and the differences in which children react to the actions of their father and mother in regard to faith.

What does this mean for the family wishing to live as the "domestic Church"? The father must be engaged and active in his faith, or there's very little chance the children will grow to live the Faith themselves. Earthly fathers best model the "fatherly" love of our Heavenly Father, and thus our Heavenly Father has given earthly fathers a special role, by design, in passing on the Faith to every generation. This means that, despite all societal pressure otherwise, Christians need to once again embrace the fact that the father must be the "spiritual head of the family." Wives need to encourage their husbands in this role, and fathers need to be willing to embrace this role and live it fully. Fathers need to lead family prayer, pray at family gatherings, read scripture with their children, explain the mass, take their kids to adoration and confession.

St. Joseph, earthly father of our Lord, pray for all fathers to be faithful to their calling and to live the Christian life to its fullest, so that their children may see their example and in turn come to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Part of a good architect's process: sketches


I thought some of you may like to see some of the pencil sketches that my brother did when he first began formulating the conceptual schemes. I got him to scan them and send them to me (though I received them after our discussions where he presented the formal drawings of the concepts). The formal drawings, of course, are done with the aid of a computer, but any good architect (or any good artist, or any good engineer) does hand sketches or "studies" to start the creative process--almost like visual brainstorming. If you are interested to see how an architect uses their training in perspective, drawing, and conceptualization to "think" while brainstorming, you'll appreciate these sketches. I also like them on a personal level because it's kind of the first moment where an idea of our home was put to paper, and in that sense these are history for our family.

Note: For all of the pics below you can click on them to enlarge.

Here's his first thoughts on three ideas for the home, which would become the three conceptual schemes we have previously discussed on the blog:
Here's a floor plan sketch for Scheme A:
Doing some careful study of the sketch, it looks like he actually first conceived the cruciform chapel in Scheme A, though he presented it more formally in Scheme B. Also, it looks like there's a sqaure "hole" in the main patio deck, maybe for a tree? I'll have to ask him about that.

Here's another sketch for Scheme A, a study of light coming in from the infamous floor-to-ceiling windows (see the comments for this post) as you look to the right after coming in the main entrance:
A last sketch for Scheme A, here showing what I think will be a big factor in keeping the cost down--pre-built trusses supporting the ceiling that are a standard size:
Here's the original floorplan sketch for Scheme B:
And here's a sketch of somewhere in the interior of Scheme B (I'm not sure where but it's cool :-), a design only an architect could envision:
The first concepts of Scheme C:
Looks like he went through a couple of arrangements of the "buildings" before landing on the scheme on the far right.

Here's one of my favorite sketches he did, of the the "triptych" entrance to Scheme C, and in the sketch you can actually see the sightlines to the chapel on the left, and through the home and out to the wetland on the right.
Here I believe he's doing some brainstorming on the arrangement of the kids' bedroom spaces for either the boys' or girls' room:
All this makes me look forward to the end of October, when we'll be going over his re-design of Scheme C!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Gotta love great before/after Catholic church restorations!

One of my favorite things to look for on the internet (or in the blogs I read) is a good before/after story regarding a renovation or restoration of a Catholic church. (Renovation would be correcting, as much as possible, an originally bad church design, and restoration would be correcting a previous restoration that stripped a good church of it's transcendence and Catholicity - a sort of re-restoration). Fortunately, a few have come to my attention in the last couple days, thanks to Matthew over at the Shrine of the Holy Whapping. If you haven't read in the past, I have a post on what should constitute a good Catholic church design, just as background material.

Here is one before/after story that Matthew just posted on regarding a renovation of a church in Miami, originally quite terrible as a Catholic church (i.e. it was built in the 60's, 70's, or 80's). The wonderful pastor there worked with the church he had and only a $300,000 budget to produce something fantastic. God bless him!

Here is another profiled by Matthew a while back, a project in Peoria, IL commissioned by the wonderful Bishop Daniel Jenky, who is doing a lot of great things down in that diocese. The original church interior actually wasn't too bad, but now it is vastly better. Quite impressive.

My brother, Evan (now a seminarian at the St. Paul Seminary) was a FOCUS missionary for two years, one of which was at Bradley University in Peoria. When the family and I drove down to visit him there, he was able to show us St. Mark's Catholic church, which is connected to the Newman center down there. Under the guidance of Bishop Jenky, and the priests at the Newman center, this church was re-renovated to correct the serious errors of the past. This had been a wonderful church in the distant past, but in the silliness of the post Vatican II era was renovated to look like this...
You have to love the bright fluorescent stripes and, the removal of iconography, the carpet, and the kumbaya stained glass windows (you can't see them very well here, but Evan showed us a couple that hadn't been replaced yet when we were there and I vaguely remember one that was a red and yellow sun with beams emanating all around, and another that looked like a rainbow). Seriously, I can't comprehend what people were thinking; this is as bad as I've ever seen.

Here's the re-renovated church. It, on the other hand, is as good as I've seen. Seeing it in person is breath-taking.
Wonder who did the murals and liturgical design for this masterpiece? I have too, ever since I saw it in person. Fortunately, I now know, and I've added them to our "Catholic Architects and Artists" section of the sidebar. It's Murals by Jericho. Incidentally, they also did the artwork for both of the other church renovations referenced in this post.

I love seeing this type of work, as it gives me ideas for paintings and iconography in our own, in-home chapel. Praise God that we are living in this time of liturgical renewal!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Odds 'n Ends


In a few weeks of surfing, I've come across some other pictures that I think relate to the potential architecture of our home (at least as expressed in the first concepts, see the sidebar at right for links to the three conceptual schemes). Again, I don't want to put words in my brother's mouth, but these seem to be analogous in some of the exterior design aesthetics...
This home seemed to be similar in the separate "wings" or areas of the home, which can be clearly seen as an outside viewer. The architect is Dixon Weinstein Architects.

These are both covers of books by architect Jeremiah Eck (link 1, link 2), and you can see a more midwestern flavor still with a modern feel. Very clean and organized.

This home is by David Salmela, and it's located in an Eastern suburb of St. Paul, MN. I like how native they've kept the surrounding landscape. I like David Salmela as an architect because he knows how to blend traditional forms with a modern aesthetic; here's a great article about him. In the article it notes that his projects are done for "everyday people—not corporate executives, not art collectors, not style-conscious celebrities" on the "smallest of budgets... After David, architects have no excuses for not doing terrific work." The quotes are from the dean of the University of Minnesota school of architecture.

I included this pic, from a book by architect John Connell, because one of the ideas for Scheme C was to twist the chapel to be directly East, possibly by connecting to the chapel via a short glass hallway such as the one above. Cost? Surely not cheap. Something to consider though, and it would be an interesting way to add drama to entering the chapel, and give the chapel a feeling of "separation" that is conducive to prayer life.

Also, in my surfing I've come across, which has lots of users that post single pages with links, commentary, books, eBay items, etc. on one topic (a better way to get information on a topic than having a computer bring up random pages on Google). If you're interested, here's a good page someone put together on the home design process, with good information regarding loans and working with contractors.