We Cannot Live Without The Mass

So says Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver.

And yet, what did I hear on Sunday? A pointed homily, starting with a joke. For every good Catholic knows that a homily must start with a joke, otherwise how could we pay attention? And every mass must begin and end with A Praise the Lord greeting, with a joke to close mass at the final blessing.

As if!

And Archbishop Chaput would agree with me. He said {We should } strive for liturgies that are reverent and beautiful, and that point our hearts and minds to things above.

So, what did I hear in the homily? I heard that the mass is about people. The priest said that the mass was about the people. That it is nice to pray and to pay attention to what happens at the altar (I think the priest meant the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass here; the consecration, when we receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord, under the appearance of bread and wine)…yes these are nice, we were told, but we need to be friendly, to talk to our brothers and sisters, to get to know people in the church. This is what church is about..not prayer or the niceness of what happens at the altar.

And so we were exhorted to wander around, to meet and greet, to talk, to chat, to laugh, to be noisy, to focus on people.

Liturgy is both the source of the Church’s mission and its goal, explained Archbishop Chaput. The reason we evangelize is in order to bring people into communion with the living God in the Eucharistic liturgy. And this experience of communion with God, in turn, impels us to evangelize.

Hmm. The opposite of what was preached Sunday. If one can call a joke, a pointed remark looking at certain members of the congregation, at those who don’t shout out Praise The Lord and who kneel for communion and kneel in the pews in reflection after ..if this, followed by meet and greet your neighbour, can be called preaching, then this preaching seems contrary to all that Archbishop Chaput, indeed all that Pope Benedict XVI, has had to say about liturgy.

If the Liturgy appears first of all as the workshop for our activity, then what is essential is being forgotten: God. For the Liturgy is not about us, but about God. Forgetting about God is the most imminent danger of our age. As against this, the Liturgy should be setting up a sign of God’s presence.

Yet what is happening, if the habit of forgetting about God makes itself at home in the Liturgy itself, and if in the Liturgy we are only thinking of ourselves? In any and every liturgical reform, and every liturgical celebration, the primacy of God should be kept in view first and foremost. (Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, as quoted in Benedict XVI and liturgical reform)

Worship first, then evangelization. Evangelization through liturgy and formation. God first, worship first and this love then attracts others and goes out to others.

Perhaps logic and rhetoric should be taught in seminaries, if they are not already. For it seems to me that the homily mentioned above,contained a fallacy of logic.

There was a false dichotomy created, a dichotomy between praying at Mass, caring about liturgy and caring for people. As though the two states are related in an opposite fashion ie if one cares about prayer and liturgy in mass then one doesn’t care about people, hasn’t a friendly word for a fellow parishioner.

This is bunk, pure and honest garbage. There is no dichotomy between care for liturgy and care for people.

We need to recover the intrinsic and inseparable connection between liturgy and evangelization. Liturgy is both the source of the Church’s mission and its goal. This was the teaching of Christ and the practice of the early Church. And it was reaffirmed by Vatican II….life lived from the Eucharist and for the Eucharist. This should be the foundation not only for our thinking about the liturgy but for our pastoral strategies as well….we cannot look at the liturgy as something distinct from our mission. Our worship of God in the Mass is meant to be an act of adoration, submission and thanksgiving. It’s also meant to be loving acceptance of our vocation as disciples. That’s why every Eucharistic liturgy ends on a missionary note — we are sent out, commissioned to share the treasure we have discovered with everyone we meet.(Archbishop Chaput again)

When we look at the lives of the Saints, we see that prayer and love of God led to love of neighbour, that prayer and adoration and contemplation preceded social justice and action and that these , prayer and liturgy and social activism and good old fashioned works of charity, existed alongside each other. Were, in fact, are, in fact, co-existent.

The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s Supper.(Sacrosanctum Concilium)

We cannot live without the mass, as Archbishop Chaput said. We need our prayers, the sacred liturgy, our holy priests, good catechesis (not exercises in feeling good)..and we need to share this with others. Our interior life forms our external life…for, if faith without works is dead, surely works without faith, without the underpinning of prayer, without our hearts and mind being lifted to God in sacred liturgy, are dead too…are do-goodism and me-centred.

A speaker at mass , asking for donations to the Sacrificial Offering, said that we need money for parish events and that if we invite people to our barbecues and our carols and our social functions, they will eventually come to church. But, you know what? There are many, many people who come for social functions who will not come regularly to Sunday mass. They feel good about themselves and so they think that church is about a social life, feeling good, and they don’t need to go to mass.

How do we turn this around? If we make our churches about social activities, then this is the response we get..people attending the social functions, the me-centred big event liturgies but not people who attend mass week in and week out. They see no need for God, for mass, for religion, in their every day life..apart from the social calendar.

If, however, our liturgy sets us apart, inspires us, makes us shine with Love, makes our parishes vibrant with prayer, then others will see a difference. There will be a difference in our worship, in how we act, in how we show what we believe…and then the church is not just another church competing with social functions but a living, growing community of worship and then in action.

This being different attracts others. Not endless cups of tea and chatting in church…but prayer, a prayer life permeating all that we do. Starting with sacred liturgy and good catechesis, and extending to our morning teas, our women’s groups, our young men’s group, our youth group.

You know, if the the message in church is nothing more than Oprah dressed up in (vague) Christian language. then given a choice, most people would rather listen to Oprah. Or Dr Phil. At least they are up-front about what they’re doing. And you aren’t exhorted to give money.

And statistics prove this to be true. A large mega-church in Australia, with good social activities, also has a fairly high turn around figure with regard to members. The average member lasting six years, before moving on.

So, we don’t want our parishes to go this way, away from sacred liturgy and to consumer style religion.

Statistics, also, prove the reverse to be true ie that sacred liturgy and prayer, attracts people, young people, and encourages vocations.

The most successful institutes in terms of attracting and retaining new members at this time are those that follow a more traditional style of religious life in which members live together in community and participate in daily Eucharist, pray the Divine office, and engage in devotional practices together. They also wear a religious habit, work together in common apostolates, and are explicit about their fidelity to the Church and the teachings of the Magisterium. All of these characteristics are especially attractive to the young people.Booming Traditional Religious Orders

Lex orendi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

The rule of prayer is the rule of belief, and consequently the rule of life.

religion, Unschooling

Walk where you walk

Friday morning at work, work with children, I sat at a table drawing freehand maps of countries participating in the World Cup for the children to colour. I chatted to the children as we worked . And I remembered years of homeschooling. Sitting with my kids and drawing and telling stories and often teaching, incidentally, about life.

Nearly every story has a moral. Nearly every moment can be a teachable moment, a term coined by educator John Holt on the 1960s.

Friday morning was no exception. While drawing, while looking through the Childcraft Atlas with the children at work, while the children coloured, we talked about lessons from life.

I had occasion to intervene in not-so-nice play. A group of girls near to the drawing table were organising a dance … And being incredibly bitchy, excluding another girl. (They start this Mean Girls behaviour so young!).

I warned the group that exclusion was a form of bullying. Having recently done an anti bullying unit with the whole group of children at work. I issued a warning, in my best firm but friendly teacher voice , that all people had a right to be included in the dance group or the group could be disbanded . I gave the girls five minutes to sort this out… And , as the clock ticked on, it became obvious that the choice was made . To continue to exclude and thus to disband the group.

So the girls drifted off to other activities and one little girl, a seven year old who had been excluded, sat at the drawing table. Another child passed her the map of Africa that I had drawn. So she could colour and hopefully take her mind off her exclusion

This little dark haired girl sat there colouring, head down, tears streaming down her face. Other children started to notice. And I started to talk, to tell my story , to teach life.

“D” I said ” Dont let them win. Don’t let those girls see you cry, see that they hurt you. That’s what they wanted to do. You can’t let them win. You hold your head up high, you wipe away your tears, you colour in, you look them in the eye. You are special. You are better than that. They can’t hurt you unless you let them.”

Other children coloured and others slowly put down their felt pens . They all listened . As I shared.

I talked about how I have, just this week, been the recipient of mean behaviour. How others could be mean but I wouldn’t let them get to me. How I am keeping on, pulling up my socks, smiling, never letting them see my hurt. Never letting them win.
Another little girl, another little boy, chimed in with stories of how other kids had tried to be mean to them but how they had looked the bullies in the eye and not let the bullies hurt them inside.

There were little nods and murmurs at the table.
And D took the tissue I offered. She wiped her eyes. She looked up at me, grabbed a
yellow felt pen with a brave smile, a thank you smile, and coloured. Head held high.
You know, while at the doctor’s surgery later on Friday, I read the section The Gift of the Self-Dedication of Christ, in the Holy Father’s book Heart of the Christian Life. I thought about D. I thought about the mean way others, particularly one other, have treated me this week. I did some soul searching..what do I do to receive this behaviour. Am I mean in return? Am I too much of a bitch, really, deep down? Am I a victim, a doormat? When is nice too nice?
And, I remembered that we are never alone in this journey. As cliched as that may sound. I remembered that others can walk with us when we feel pain. Others can help. As I hope I helped D.
I was reminded that Jesus Christ is there, with us. I thought of receiving Him in the Eucharist and then of conversion, conversion of our hearts each time we come to receive Communion.

At the end of the Eucharistic celebration, we will…carry the Lord Jesus in spirit..We will immerse Him, so to speak, in the daily routine of our lives, so that he may walk where we walk and live where we live. ( Heart of the Christian Life).
Jesus with us, walking where we walk. Especially in times of sadness or sorrow or bewilderment ( you know, that how the #%#% did I get here feeling).
Then, today, I watched Toy Story 3, with my kids and some of my Kumon students, students receiving awards for being above grade level. I watched Toy Story 3 crying, crying, at

the passages one must go through, the transitions, the changes. Saying goodbye to friends, to family.How life changes even when you don’t want it to.

Two sons cried with me.
And I thought, how lucky am I, that I have spent years with children, still spend years with children, my own and those children with whom I work. Lucky to see life through children’s eyes, to be close to emotions, to share life, to talk life. To learn and to teach. To serve, for to be a parent, to be a teacher, both vocations, means also to serve.
In my sadness, over mean behaviour, I can also be strong. Be tough. Smile. Be happy for what it is that I have. Be happy to serve, even if it means that in serving I hurt.

Lastly, two other aspects are part of service. No one is closer to his master than the servant who has access to the most private dimensions of his life. In this sense, “to serve” means closeness, it requires familiarity…..To serve means to draw near, but above all it also means obedience.The servant is under the word:”not my will, but thine, be done.”…What Jesus predicted to Peter also always applies:”You will be taken where you do not want to go.” This letting oneself be guided where one does not want to be led is an essential dimension of our service, and it is exactly what makes us free. In this being guided, which can be contrary to our ideas and plans, we experience something new – the wealth of God’s love. (Heart of the Christian Life: To Stand Before You and to Serve)
I hope I helped D. As D, and my children, and other children, have helped me. As I experience that wealth of which the Pope speaks. God’s love.

BrImful of Asha

Do you know that song by Cornerstone?

Well it’s a brimful of Asha on the 45 …

And the song goes on to say….With singing and dancing and dancing and dancing…..

I am changing this to…. And eating and eating and eating …. Although last night I couldn’t eat…and today I had caramel mudcake and caramello chocolate for breakfast.

A brimful of comfort eaters.

Yes, it is that how do you deal with emotions post again.

By eating. The song goes on…. Everyone needs a bosom to lean on…

Yeah we do. But hopefully it is not food .

Workouts as a bosom to lean on sounds better…for stress relief and for health and to push away that growing fat.

I have been enjoying my FIRM workouts… And praying at mass. Because prayer and penance provide more than a bosom to lean on…

But stop that eating and eating and eating and then not eating cycle. Okay?

religion, Unschooling

The Heart

I know nothing about education except this: that the greatest and most important difficulty known to human beings seems to lie in that area which deals with how to bring up children and how to educate them. Michel De Montaigne ( 1533-92)

And so begins the book The Film Club – a memoir of a father and son, growing together. The father, David Gilmour, a film critic, allowed his son Jesse to drop out of school at Year Ten, with two provisos.. that Jesse not do drugs and that Jesse watch three films a week with his father, the film critic father , three films of the father’s choice…with discussion.

Reviewers of the book wrote…

A heartfelt portrait of how…in the midst of a family’s confusion and ire, there is sometimes nothing so welcome as a movie…

..Gilmour’s experience suggests that what really counts, for parent and child, is simply being together.

I read this book as a parent on the last legs, so to speak, of her official homeschooling adventure. Only two of the seven sons are now official homeschoolers, the other five having moved into university and work or both.

And next year, there will be only one official, registered homeschooler..Anthony, as Thomas will be at university too.

I read The Film Club, this book, and contemplate our family’s homeschooling, unschooling adventure.

I think it is true to say that this adventure has been based on books and movies amd on discussion..And on simply being together, through many moves, financial troubles, sickness, miscarriages, babies, toddlers, volunteer work, Mum’s conversion to Catholicism, ire,, laughter, a weird sense of dark humour and sarcasm, a healthy dash of cynicism, fun,music, outings, people , friends…..masses and prayers, visiting priests and work…and those books, movies and discussion.

For all of our life has become our education, our learning, and has made our family, as individuals and as a whole. who it is that we are today.

Someone told my son Jonathon recently that it was good for him to be away from his mother’s presence and out of his shell..and yet, when I feel full of self doubt and ponder my inadequacies as a strong mum, Jonathon tells me heatedly, determinedly, that there is no shell, he is not disempowered by my strength of character but has a strong character himself. We all do, mum, he says, we Westenbergs are all determined and hard headed .

Yes, I see that who I am, with faults and failings, has also been part of the children’s education. We have not separated life and family and learning but thrown it all together, in a seemngly ad hoc way, to create a smorgasbord of education. people who love books, music, movies, talking, people..and their faith.

There is no dichotomy between education and family life.

Eucharistic spirituality must be the interior motor of every activity, and no dichotomy is acceptable between faith and life in their [ the lay person’s] mission of spreading the spirit of Christianity in the world.

So I read this morning in Heart of the Christian Life: Thoughts on Holy Mass ( Pope Benedict XVI).

Can I draw some parallels here?

There is no dichotomy betwen faith and life..we adore Christ, we receive Him and , after adoration, as we are filled with Christ’s love, we take Him within us, share Him, to our, we love and live and spend time with our children and take this love into our activity, passions, our interests, our little interest driven explorations, our education.

Just as parenting, and unschooling, are not based on activity and busyness first but instead based on life and love and then, almost organically, a curriculum and learning emerges..Just as love is the centre of the unschooling form of, too, as the Holy Father says, we base our faith on love and adoration and, yes, acceptance of doctrines ( for, a church bulletin message was wrong; let me tell you, faith, yes, is built on love and trust but the Faith also involves an acceptance of doctrines, of Church teachings, based on this love..and not on feelings). Our parishes are not based on activity first, on lunches and jokes and clapping first, but on the Eucharist, the love of God for us, on adoration and contemplation..and then, the active life of the parish emerges…from the worship, not preceding the worship or instead of the worship.

Undivided love toward God and neighbour is founded upon the mystery of the Eucharist, celebrated and adored. Heart of the Christian Life.

People have sometimes asked me how to homeschool, how to unschool. And people at church have sometimes asked me how I get my teens and older sons to mass, to live their faith.

I don’t.


I don’t homeschool as an addition to our life as a family, I spend time with my kids, I share books with my kids, we watch movies, we talk non stop. And thus our unschooling education has emerged from these activities, has grown an education, covering outcomes in a real, relevant, manner.

I don’t make the kids live their faith. I couldn’t could I? But we live our Faith, I live my Faith, my struggles and joys, we go to mass together, we experience beauty.

The saint is the person who is so fascinated by the beauty of God and by his perfect truth as to be progressively transformed by it. Heart of the Christian Life

The heart of Jesus reaches out to us.

The heart of my family’s unschooling rests on this, on the Eucharist; and on the heart of the parent; the heart of the parent reaches out for the child, to make the child a priority, to do what is in the best interest of the family and the child.

Education in real life, for real life, with books and movies and talking.

With Faith.

With the Eucharist, the Bread of Life.

Let us pray to her, our holy Mother, so that she may help is to open our entire being, always more, to Christ’s presence; so that she may help us to follow him faithfully, day after day, on the streets of our life. Heart of the Christian Life



Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 1285

This week we celebrated some anniversaries of the day that (some) of the kids received the sacrament of Confirmation.

Monday was Thomas’, Anthony”s, Alexander’s Confirmation anniversary…yes, these three were all confirmed on the same day. We celebrated with Indian takeaway…

Wednesday was Jonathon’s Confirmation anniversary..and this was celebrated on Thursday (yeah, we have that sort of life!) with pizza.

My rag doll from Singapore…no, no, it is not a voodoo doll! I promise!


A mini retreat. In Singapore. Time away, for a Kumon conference. Every child above grade level…inspiring, to give children the tools of study skills, to help them achieve and thus feel good about their learning.

And experiencing the treats of Singapore..Mass and Benediction at the Church of St Peter and St Paul; First Saturday Mass at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd; fish cooked in bamboo leaves; shops and palm trees and humidity and pungent smells..and clean streets…and Singapore Slings.

So why do I say this is a mini retreat?

It is because I find that every lttle foray out of my usual routine, my life as a working homeschooling mum, is a mini retreat. I am forced to have time to read ( ah, Breath, Tim Winton took my breath away)…to pray contemplate in prayer..especially on that long flight.

It is not that my daily bread of work,volunteer stuff, homeschooling, mass, kids, housework, family, friends, is terrble. The reverse is in fact true.

But, because I live in a constant rush, I like this rush you know, so I tend to live my holidays and conferences in a blur of activity too. When I am forced to sit, to be on my own, while travelling alone and in a hotel room on my own ( eighteenth floor! great views!)..when this is forced upon me, I grab the time. Thus, a conference and time away becomes a spiritual retreat.

While retreating in Singapore, I am thinking about my life..about giving up …in this case for God.

As someone pointed out to me, life as-I-know-it can be a lesson in expropriation. Now, I have only previously understood this term in legal terms ie the process of taking over the property of another, by any means, legal or not.

But expropriation in my life, as it was described to me, and as I reflect on my actions and on my words and activities, this expropriation means more of a giving up. Giving up for God. A voluntary renunciation..or, at least an act that becomes voluntary even though it was n0t originally of one’s choice.

This voluntary expropriation, this emptying of self, creates peace in the soul … it is not a means of removing all suffering; however, peace in the soul is the foundation of an interior life, an interior life of prayer…to paraphrase St Basil.

So, in emptying myself, I give up something for God. And I ponder on what else I may be called to give up, what else I should, of my own will, give up…and the limits, if any, of this renunciation.

Or should I give up all that I do not wish to give up; all that I grasp and clutch ; do I empty self completely..for a higher intention?

As I said in our group discussion at the conference today, to a Kumon staff member, who laughed and nodded in wry agreement..why do I have to go away , go overseas, to sort out my Kumon centre..and parts of my life?

Kenosis. ( If you are like me, you read ketosis and thought of the Atkins Diet!)

But kenosis . Self emptying. And Phillipians 2:5-11 was shared with me as a example of this self emptying, of this kenosis. St Paul writes…”He emptied himself..”

Or, as St Francis, wrote..” There is the great paradox of our journey; that by letting go we gain, by losing we find.”

And so, after a night of dancing at the Equinox Nightclub ( seventy first floor of the Raffles Convention Centre! Great views of Singapore), and of drinking and talking in the City Bar and singing along with the pianist and singer ( Total Eclipse of the Heart! Bonnie Tyler) I end my mini retreat with thoughts on expropriation and of kenosis. Is God calling me to give up some things voluntarily? Should I empty myself, for a greater intention? ( And, after all the drinking..can I type straight?).

It is definitely a total eclipse of the heart, for His Love and His purpose.
But will I remember this, on my return to “normal” life?

Turn around bright eyes…..


What Do You Do Thursdays?

What do you do Thursdays?

This morning, at six thirty, I picked up a friend . We went to mass, at the Tyburn Priory.

This is the last First Thursday for the Year of the Priest and will be our final opportunity to receive the plenary indulgence offered by Pope Benedict XVI for this year.

We pray for priests, in this Year for Priests.

But we don’t have to stop there. We don’t have to stop here and now, as the Year for Priests draws to a close. We can continue to devote the first Thursday of the month to this intention… to attend mass and pray before the Blessed Sacrament, for priests and religious.

And for vocations to the priesthood and to religious life.

So what do you do Thursdays?

Keep the first Thursday of the month for prayer for priests and religious?


O my Beloved Jesus, I give and consecrate to Thee this Thursday and all the Thursdays of my life,in praise of the adorable Mystery of Thy Body and Blood, and in thanksgiving for that of the Priesthood.

Moved by Thy Holy Spirit, and full of confidence in the help of Thy Most Holy Mother, the Virgin Mary, Mother of Priests, I resolve to live each Thursday for the rest of my days here below in adoration and in reparation for priests and religious and, especially, for those who do not adore Thee, for those who are most wounded in their souls, and for those who are exposed to the attacks of the powers of darkness.

I want to remain before Thy Eucharistic Face for them and in their place; I want to draw near, in their name, to Thy open Heart, ever-flowing with the Blood and the Water that purify, heal, and sanctify all souls, but, first of all, those of Thy priests and Thy religious.

Let each Thursday find me close to the Sacrament of Thy Body and Blood, in adoration and reparation for the sake of all Thy priests and religious. Make me an entirely Eucharistic soul, according to the desires of Thy Sacred Heart and the designs of Thy merciful goodness upon my life. I desire nothing else. I want to love Thee more each day; I want to be the faithful adorer of Thy Eucharistic Face and the consoling friend of Thy Sacred Heart hidden in the tabernacles of the world, where it beats, wounded by love, forgotten, forsaken, and waiting for the adoration and for the love of even one priest.