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Messy Lent

With Ash Wednesday coming up in just two days, I spent this weekend panicking and making lists. Lists of what to memorize, what to sacrifice, what to give, what to pray for, and what projects to complete for Lent. Our season, like our house, is often messy. There’s too much going on all at once and things — from my own ideas to the kids’ papers — get lost. It ends up just fine, though. Easter still arrives!

Here is a list of how our family makes the Lenten season real. In no particular order, of course, because Messy.

  • We memorize something different each week, switching between Scripture verses, prayers, and songs. Over the years, we’ve circled around and worked on the same ones. This is good, though, as our eldest are gone and the younger ones need to hear it all again. We’ve learned chunks of Psalm 51, Tobiah’s advice to Tobit, the act of contrition (remember: we converted 11 years ago and didn’t grow up with these), and the Stabat Mater.
  • We have a family penance for all of us. We usually switch between no sweets and no screens. This year may be both. I like relying on regular food and I don’t like all the time spent on computers instead of building forts, legos, and outdoors. It’s messier, but better.
  • We make lapbooks. At least that’s what I call them; I think there’s an actual thing but I cobble together papers and projects into purple folders and call them lapbooks. There are many websites for Lenten activites and the folders get filled with crosswords, puzzles, and coloring pictures. They particularly love a calendar countdown map and religiously color in a square every evening, all the way to the Holy Triduum.
  • We make stations of the cross, either colored and hung along the mantle or in popsicle stick frames stood up on the mantle and go through them every Friday. We don’t usually attend our church’s Friday evening soup and stations because of all my little kids and because I don’t like going out at night. But in my weekend panic, I thought we’d give it a try this year.
  • I have purple accessories and decorations for the house: purple silk flowers, purple cloths for the table and bookcases, purple candles (they smell weird but are the right color), and packages of only purple construction paper for all their art.
  • We love our St. Joseph’s Day party on March 19. A few years ago, our daughter found a St. Joseph prayer book and announced that he needed more attention. Something like, “We’re mostly Irish and eat Irish all the time anyway so let’s forget about St. Patrick’s day and have a party with these foods and traditions for St. Joseph.” We happily complied. But without forgetting about my St. Patrick!
  • We do spring cleaning during these weeks, a different big item each weekend.
  • We attend a reconciliation service and confession at least once during Lent.
  • We make Easter cards to send to relatives.
  • We make a crown of thorns by braiding playdough around a dinner plate, stabbing it full of toothpicks, and placing a small bowl in the middle of it. It dries crunchy in a few days. When I see the children doing something kind, or just refraining from hitting (small victory, but it counts), I tell them to take out a “thorn” and put in the bowl. Easter morning, the thorns are replaced by colorful jellybeans. Sometimes I have to add more toothpicks secretly because I see that we’ll run out before Easter!

So I’m sort of ready. The house is still messy and my ideas are a little muddled, but we have six weeks to stumble along with our Mother Church holding our hands. She will help us to love Jesus more and love others more. Let’s enter the wilderness of Lent for penance, piety, work, and wonder. We know how the story ends. Halleluia!


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Why the First of January is a Holy Day of Obligation

The Feast of the Nativity of our Lord has passed, and now we are in the thick of a joyous Christmas season! Hallelujah! 

 Why the First o
But don’t get too settled. January 1 is a Holy Day of Obligation. It is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. 
In the celebration of the Octave of Christmas, the most elevated day is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, where we honor Mary for her role as the mother of our Savior. 
This celebration appears to go back as far as 431 AD, and officially was giving the Solemnity date of January 1 in 1971, after having been placed at a variety of other dates in the year in the past (more history can be found here)
Why celebrate her? Well, why not? I like to consider the role she had in Jesus’s life and the significance it had not only for our Savior, but for all of humanity. What she did as a humble servant and mother, and continues to do as a powerful intercessor, gives us pause to marvel at what this one humble woman has accomplished: taking a prominent role in the salvation of humanity.
When the angel Gabriel approached Mary, her humble acceptance of God’s will resulted in the coming of Christ to save humanity.
She birthed the Son of God.
She nursed him.
She raised him.
Every scrape, she tended to.
Every need for guidance that a child might need, she gav“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1-38)e.
She would have taught him to clothe himself, proper customs and manners, how to draw water from a well, and see how bread was made.

Jesus was not simply born into this world and suddenly became the grown man walking the Earth, preaching to the masses. No, he was nurtured, cared for, and somehow, while simultaneously an omnipresent God and human child, would have discovered the world around him under the love and guidance of his faithful mother. And with this in mind, she provides us with the most perfect example of holy motherhood.

And if that all were not enough, she bore the hurt and suffering that only a mother can know of seeing her son scourged, reviled, and crucified.
She walked along the path to Calvary.
She would have held His lifeless body.
She was assumed into heaven and crowned Queen of Heaven, and has the power to intercede for us.
With all this, it is no wonder that Our Lady is a woman to be honored in such high esteem!  
So, make sure you are in the pews January 1 to thank your Heavenly Mother!
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Combat Liturgy

The tradition of the Church, and of the Goorchenko family, is to celebrate the great feasts of the Nativity and Pascha with a late night liturgy.

As Eastern Catholics, this means a several hours long liturgy which is sung all the way through, involves lots of standing, and requires us to show up early enough to camp out in a heap in the back of our tiny church, where not only our son’s wheelchair, but our five zillion children, will have a place to congregate, mill about, and rotate among chairs in various patterns.

(This also provides us with the closest exit to the confessional for sitting out a scream session or mid-liturgical conversations with Jesus, often involving an existential bent.)

On this particular Christmas Eve, we had spent a glorious several hours dining with my visiting parents, and the time came to collect our 8 children at the time (the number varies, depending on foster kiddos) and drive to church.


I wandered to the back of the Church where my family was sitting, and it hit my husband and I simultaneously that, even though we had remembered our son’s feeding pump, food, medications, and all nature of possible interventions, we had managed to forget a bottle and formula for our nine month old foster daughter who had not eaten in several hours and would probably be starving within about two minutes.

I gasped audibly. This child was a cherub, always, always happy and with a smile for everyone, until that tummy starts to tell her it’s hungry. Then she becomes a crazed maniac until she is filled with warm milk. I tried to imagine her falling asleep in my arms and not needing food during the next 4 hours of our late night, and knew it was a pipe dream. Of course I had forgotten my checkbook, and my husband had a ten dollar bill, hardly enough to buy formula or bottles in any combination, as far as I knew.

Regardless, Alex told me he was going to leave to find an open market and see if he could buy a bottle and formula. On Christmas Eve. St. Anthony, do your thing.

Liturgy started, and eventually, Alex came back with the most pretentious box of individual 2 ounce sterile bottles of formula, complete with a sterile nipple. The entire ensemble cost just around $8. Who on earth could buy such a thing on a regular basis? The rest of us would starve. I smiled because our daughter would probably go through four of these cunning bottles in one feeding, and surreptitiously began to feed the hungry little person, switching out the nipple to a different bottle while she howled every 2 ounces.

We had questioned whether to bring a meal for our son Joseph, who has a g-tube and hadn’t been tolerating his late night feed very well. I had decided to put him on his food anyway, because I’m smart like that, and sure enough, about halfway into the liturgy, his little intestinal tract started churning and wretching until food was pouring out of both his mouth and his g-tube. Then, while I attempted to catch the vomit coming out of his mouth with a plastic bag, his syringe overflowed, causing milk to pour all over him and into the bottom of the wheelchair.

“I’m leaving!” I fumed in a loud whisper. “We never should have come!” My husband eventually realized that Joseph had exploded into a streaming fountain of milk and puke. “Give me a bag!” I ordered, and he gave me a plastic ziplock bag, which had existed since time immemorial in his backpack and was now filled with holes. I manged to empty the syringe into the bag, which only made a bigger mess as it became a decorative formula fountain there in the very back of the church.

The whole experience was largely painful. By the end of the evening, my husband’s shirt was covered with blood and we have no idea why. By the time we got home, his pants were covered in poop, because aforementioned vomiting boy also had been battling diarrhea. We have since found out that it is all over our van seats, somehow.

It it worth it? Receiving Jesus Christ in Holy Communion is always worth it, but hey. There are many masses at different times. Why do I need to ensure that our biggest feasts of the year are marked by utter stress and mayhem? Why can’t we find a nice 6 p.m. Vigil liturgy to welcome our Savior’s birth into the world? I struggle. I waffle. I hem and haw.

Jesus didn’t get born under the most convenient circumstances, and sometimes, our big family’s attempts to pray at the Divine Liturgy seem hopeless. But the Liturgy happens…we hack our way through it, and then our mouths get filled with the Holy of Holies. Thank you, Jesus, for your precious Gift of Self, and for Your grace and mercy. I need You. Oh, Lord, how I need You. Now, help me to remember this come Pascha!


Note: This week is Feeding Tube Awareness Week. I hope you will take some time after reading this post to visit the great websites available on the subject.

Holy Days of Obligation

In Defense of Halloween

Amongst Christians there is a debate on whether it is fine or demonic to participate in Halloween. I’ve watched a few videos of Christians explaining to me how Halloween – costumes, pumpkins, trick or treating, even the date, all have pagan and demonic roots and should be avoided by true Christians. Also, these videos will tie the Catholic feast days of All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day to the celebration of Halloween. Some will thoughtfully ask me how it is that costumes and candy could possibly be holy or bring glory to God or his defeat over death, and question why Catholics choose to celebrate All Saints’ Day this way.

I’d like to make a critical distinction which is muddying these preachers’ arguments against “celebrating” “Halloween”/”All Hallows’ Eve”/”All Saints’ Day”. Let me be clear. Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day by attending Holy Mass on these days, during which ONLY Christ is worshiped and glorified. Trick or treating (or even All Saints’ parties) is not the primary vehicle by which Catholics claim to be worshiping God. Celebrating outside of the Mass (or ceremony) is a common practice – take for instance a wedding ceremony versus the wedding reception. The dancing, food and decorations at a reception are not the critical part of a wedding, those things are merely the celebration of a wedding has already occurred. Different people and different cultures will celebrate differently. Some wedding festivities you might enjoy, like a tasteful reception, and some you may abhor like a raunchy bachelorette party. The style of a wedding reception or pre-party is up to the celebrant, but isn’t a critical component to the validity of the ceremony itself, and in fact doesn’t even need to happen. Likewise, When a Catholic celebrates All Saints’ Day, he/she isn’t doing so solely by the Halloween party he/she may or may not be having. A Catholic only validly celebrates this feast day by kneeling in prayer to Jesus during Holy Mass – if he/she chooses to party before or after then so be it (hopefully it is tasteful ;)).

halloween-candy-pictures-1In America, we have a tradition of wearing costumes and trick or treating on Halloween – October 31st. Yes, these traditions came about somehow and landed on this day by some historical reason.  Some of these things may have been inspired in the past as directly celebrating these Catholic feast days, some traditions may not have – while the authors of the articles I read seem sure of themselves, I find that they often contradict one another and thus I can’t say for certain what came from where. But generally, Americans do these things for neighborly fun. I see these things as fun American traditions, like fireworks and cook-outs on the 4th of July – perhaps another pagan celebration, depending on how you look at it. However, Halloween is the one day a year droves of your neighbors come knocking on your door.  That such a time even exists in our isolated automotive culture is amazing in itself, and I personally thank God for it.  As for the knock at the door, maybe you’ll open it with a warm, friendly smile, pass out some goodies and wish your neighbors a good, safe time along their way. Or maybe you’ll sit in the dark and pretend to not be home. Either way is fine. I’ll be opening the door and sharing some neighborly warmth. And I’ll also be going to Holy Mass to properly and most specifically celebrate All Saint’s Day.  Whatever your traditions, I wish you a Happy All Saint’s Day!

If you are looking for some counter explanations to the non-Catholic blog posts and videos that are circling about, try this one from uCatholic: The Catholic Origins of Halloween, or this one from Word on Fire: It’s Time for Catholics to Embrace Halloween.

Whether it is trick or treating, an All Saints’ Party, or a quiet day of prayer, please share with us your family’s traditions for this feast of All Saints!


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The Assumption: Finding Mary in the Darkness

At a young age I developed a fear of death. I don’t know what it was that caused me to fixate on this. It wasn’t the death of a relative or family friend. Not that I recall, anyway. I would often find myself lying in bed at night thinking about what happens to a person in death. My imagination ran wild during my bouts with insomnia at a young age. Often my mind would zero in on a feeling of complete and utter emptiness or nothingness. For a young girl, this was incredibly scary.

Even though I grew up Catholic and I believed in God (or had some elementary understanding in a belief in God), I still questioned whether what I was taught was actually true. Years later this gave me some comfort. That probably sounds contradictory, for why should I find comfort in my earlier doubts and questions? Because it tells me that I have always been seeking Truth. This is what our Catholic faith teaches us.

Man tends by nature toward the truth. He is obligated to honor and bear witness to it: “It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons … are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth.” (CCC 2467)

As I was drawn back to the Catholic Church as an adult I discovered that I knew very little about the beauty of the Catholic faith. I had so much to learn! In particular, I discovered the Blessed Mother.

It’s weird, because I had chosen Mary as my confirmation name when I was in the 8th grade. Somehow, though, I never really learned much about her. My interest was piqued when I started learning about Marian apparitions. From there I began reading and trying to understand more about the various church teachings on Mary (the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, etc.). A whole new aspect of the Catholic faith came to life for me and I felt a connection to this blessed woman (Luke 1:48) that helped to strengthen my faith in her Son, God, and the one true Church.

The Assumption, in particular, had a profound effect on me. The insomnia I experienced as a child continued into my adulthood, but to a lesser degree. Those thoughts I had of death and the emptiness/nothingness that weighed heavily on me still crept into my nighttime thoughts. I had taught myself to focus on something repetitive to help calm my mind and get myself to sleep. Often counting was what helped. But as my faith grew I found myself reciting the Hail Mary instead. This simple prayer brought a peace to my soul that I had not experienced before. Instead of simply calming my brain, I was being comforted in my whole body and soul. Soon that fear of death began to dissipate to the point where I stopped thinking about it completely.

It happened gradually and I did not make the connection for a long time. Recently, as I was contemplating the Assumption of Mary in anticipation of this post, I had a light bulb moment. Mary brings me comfort when I struggle with my fears because she is a sign of hope in our belief of the resurrection of the dead. As the Catechism tell us:

A print we have in our home of the Assumption of Mary.
A print we have in our home of the Assumption of Mary.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians. (from CCC 966)

The Most Blessed Virgin Mary, when the course of her earthly life was completed, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven, where she already shares in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection, anticipating the resurrection of all members of his Body. (CCC 974)

What wonderful comfort to know that God has given Mary to us as our Mother to bring us comfort in our time of need. In my time of need, I pray for peace in the dark, still night and my Blessed Mother in heaven brings me hope of a life to come. With her help, I can defeat the demons that sometimes plague my thoughts in those quiet hours.

Today, not only do I know that my faith is rooted in Truth, but that desire to seek Truth also comforts my soul. As I said in the beginning, asking those questions then may have raised doubts, but in the long run, they proved to be the key to learning and accepting the One, True Church that was founded by Jesus Christ Himself.

As I anticipate the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption tomorrow I will once again be reminded that through Christ we have been given the gift of everlasting life. Mary, our Blessed Mother, is our symbol of hope. God assumed her to be with Him in heaven and through her we can anticipate our own resurrection one day.

What an incredible feast day it is!

Top image source: morguefile