Our Lady’s Birthday and Christmas Cake.

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A beautiful friend, whom I love dearly, reminded me the other day that if I didn’t make my Christmas cake FROM SCRATCH at least 4 months in advance of the big day, then I might as well just stamp a big FAIL sign across my head as a wife and mother.

I’m only kidding! There is of course absolutely nothing wrong with buying your Christmas cake – which is exactly what I have done every year since I got married. But this year I have found myself rather more organised than I have ever been, and so decided to follow my friends advice and have a bash at making my own Christmas cake – from scratch!

Lets face it, it is MUCH more expensive to make your own cake, but I am promised wholeheartedly that there is no comparison to a shop bought one.

Today is 8th September: the day Catholics celebrate the Virgin Mary’s birthday. The readings at mass this morning were all about the birth of Christ. It got me thinking that today was the perfect day to begin soaking the dried fruit to make the Christmas cake. I hope I can remember to be this organised every year from now on. (Ha! I seriously doubt it!).

I am loosely following a recipe from The Pink Whisk but changed it a little to incorporate pretty much all the dried fruit in the entire world. In my cake there will be Sultanas, Currants, Raisins, Cranberries, Cherries, Dates, Figs, Prunes, Mixed peel, Apricots, juice and rind from an orange and lemon, Rum, Brandy and brown sugar. I also used Cinnamon, Allspice, Mixed Spice and ground Cloves.

Of course having failed weights and measures at school I was extremely grateful to have the help of my mathematical genius 9 year old who sorted out all the quantities for me 🙂

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All you do at this stage is to chop up all the fruit, mix it in with the liquid and stick it in a big airtight container until “stir up Sunday” (Christ the King) at the end of November. But you know what? It was great to start the new school term doing something really fun in preparation for Christmas – even if it is a long way off.

I think anticipation is a lost thrill in our modern world. People don’t have to wait for anything nowadays which is a shame really. Sometimes the anticipation can be as exciting as the main event itself, and certainly adds to the glory at the end of the waiting time. It also strikes me that waiting in anticipation creates the right mood for contemplating the feast of Christmas.

During any pregnancy there is the feeling of anticipation, but how much more was there for the birth of the Messiah?! The Jews had been anticipating His arrival for almost 2000 years! “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14

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Each night for a week we will stir the fruit to make sure it all gets a good soaking. Then we will stir it once a week until Stir up Sunday. By that time it will have soaked up enough Rum and Brandy to warrant living in it’s own drinks cabinet.

I love Christmas!

Feminist Rage and the Power of Meekness.

Meek (miːk/) – adjective: quiet, gentle, submissive.

This morning I was sitting staring out of the window with a worried look on my face, biting my nails. “What on earth is wrong?” my husband asked me.

“I have to write a post on meekness.” I said.

“Bwwaaaaaaahhhh!!!” He guffawed. “But honey – you’re all brash and rumbustious! How are you gonna do that?!”

Yes, well… He’s got a point. Meekness does not come naturally to me. I’m more of a bull-in-a-china-shop sort of girl (and obviously a nightmare to live with! My husband is a SAINT!)

I seriously had no idea where to start. I Googled “meek” and it took me straight to the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Mathew 5:5

Part of my commitment to becoming a secular Carmelite is to live the Beatitudes. And to be honest – I’ve always generally just skipped over that one because I didn’t really know what it meant and I knew I probably wasn’t ‘it’. Meekness has always struck me as being a bit boring, a bit girly. And it seems I’m not the only one. For many, it is simply assumed that meekness is weakness, and surely not a virtue. The irony is that meekness, indeed a virtue, is the one virtue above all that allows us to remain ourselves in the midst of adversity. It allows us to maintain self-possession when adversity strikes, rather than becoming possessed by the adversity itself. A priest friend of mine described meekness to me as ‘quiet strength’.

Meekness seems to be more synonymous with empowerment than it is with weakness because, as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, meekness makes a man self-possessed. According to St. Hilary, Christ dwells in us by our meekness of soul. When we are overcome by anger, we lose that sense of ourselves that allows God to dwell within us. Anger excludes God; meekness invites His presence.

Meekness is not cowardliness, timidity, or servility; it’s the power that restrains the onslaught of anger and subjects it to the order of reason. While it may be more natural to express anger when one is assaulted, meekness is the higher path. The world witnessed a perfect example of this in April 2014 by Belgian Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard.

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Archbishop Léonard was participating in a debate on blasphemy at the Free University of Brussels on April 23rd 2014 when he became the target of the anti-Catholic feminist group Femen. Four topless women emerged from the attendees and mobbed the prelate, dousing him with water from bottles shaped like the Virgin Mary and screaming accusations of homophobia against him. Their bodies were smeared with slogans such as “my body my rules” and “anus dei is coming.” Throughout this barrage Archbishop Léonard remained calm, his eyes closed, his hands folded. A silent pillar of strength. After the bare-breasted protesters were evicted by security, Archbishop Léonard picked up one of the Marian bottles they had used to insult him with and kissed it.

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And while Femen do not represent all feminists, I think it is safe to say that the women who attacked him were not displaying a whole lot of meekness as far as I can see. Instead they were displaying rage and vengeance. They presumably justified their rage on the basis of the acceptability of revenge for perceived injustices. But in this way Femen are casting themselves into the role of victim (which never ceases to fascinate me about angry feminists. I have noticed this trait of victimology A LOT within the feminist argument, which ironically is often in complete juxtaposition to their outward aggressive persona. And even though I am in no way-shape-or-form an angry feminist myself, I’m shamefully realising that my own brash and rumbustious behaviour is just another example of this.)

In their eyes they had won a victory that day. They had asserted themselves angrily, aggressively, forcefully and pride-fully. They had displayed their ‘strength’ as independent women and as a group. But was it real strength they were displaying?

Archbishop Léonard could have justifiably retaliated and had those women arrested and charged with assault if he had wanted to. But he chose not to humiliate them any further than they had already humiliated themselves. He rose above the situation and refused to cast himself into the role of a poor victim. He did not react with anger or seek vengeance. In an age when victimology is temptingly trendy, Archbishop Léonard stood quiet and still, quietly proving that meekness is a truly anti-modern virtue that can help us address many of the behavioural problems of our post-modern age.

It seems that meekness is actually the complete opposite of weakness. It seems to be great strength imbued with utter magnanimity. It is a paradox, but nonetheless true, that meekness demands largeness of heart and a generosity of spirit towards ones oppressors. The post-modern world thinks of strength in terms of individual power, of ability, self-assurance and aggressiveness. But as Archbishop Léonard demonstrated, real strength – quiet strength – comes from God, and is truly manifested when we submit our will entirely to His.

A dear friend of mine illustrated this description and explanation of meekness beautifully:

“Talking of ‘meek’. I came across an interesting thing recently. Apparently the ancient Greeks used the word ‘meek’ to describe a warhorse, bridled and compliant, ready for battle. If you look at some wonderful dressage clip, you’ll see the horse, bridled and compliant, fully accepting the bit, listening and in tune with his rider, and the result? Beauty, balance, freedom of movement, perfect synergy between horse and rider….. This is ‘meek’. Jesus, ‘meek and humble of heart’ is like this; compliant to the Father’s Will, he is strong, courageous and invincible in battle. We are called to be the same.”

Perhaps it’s time I let God tame me?

Sources:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/feminists-attack-but-the-meek-will-conquer

http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-virtue-of-meekness.html

Father Dylan’s Sermons – The Epiphany

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By Father Dylan James.

Mt 2:1-12
Today we recall the wise men, the “magi” who came from the East to worship the baby Jesus, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I’d like to describe to you what most scholars considers to be the reason WHY they KNEW to come and do this. No-one else came, no other long list of foreign kings and dignitaries came. So why did THESE men come? The gospel text tells us that these men came because they saw the star (Mt 2:2). And yet, EVERYONE would have seen the star, but only these few knew what the star meant?
Why?
They knew because they had been attentive and listened to other things that the Lord had said. But what?

The two things we know about these men are that they were from “the east” (Mt 2:1) and that they are called “magi”, which doesn’t mean so much ‘magicians’ as ‘wise men’ of the religion of ‘the east’: magi of the pagan seer ‘Zoroaster’.
As we know, God had been preparing His Chosen people, the Jews, for His coming as the Messiah, for His birth.
But, God had also been preparing other people to come to recognise this Jewish Messiah, recognise Him because He was to be the saviour of ALL peoples. And, one of the ways He prepared others to recognise this Jewish Messiah as their Messiah too was in a prophecy made by the pagan seer Zoroaster. Zoroaster said, as we can read in their pagan texts:
“A VIRGIN will conceive and bear a son, and a STAR will appear blazing at midday to signalise the occurrence… When you behold the star follow it… Adore the mysterious child, offering him gifts with profound humility” (the magi Zoroaster).
And so, they saw the star, they brought gifts, and they did homage.

We can note this as an example of the Christian claim: there are elements of truth in other religions, but they are only verified as true in as much as they lead to the FULLNESS of truth, lead to Him who said He was truth itself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”(Jn 14:6).

So, these wise men came. But they only were able to do what they did because they were attentive to what had been said. If they hadn’t been attentive then they would have been like everyone else and just seen a star without knowing what it meant.
We might make a comparison with the other small group that the gospels record as having come to do homage to the baby king of the Jews: the shepherds (Lk 2:15-16). They also had heard a message, from angels. They too listened and obeyed.

And let us note something else that both the wise men and the shepherds had in common: JOY at finding Jesus (Mt 2:10-11, c.f. Lk 2:20).

Let me close by applying this to ourselves.
We, too, have heard a message from God, handed down to us in the Scriptures.
We, too, can choose to either be too busy to pay attention (like those who saw the star but didn’t know what it meant),
Or, we can be attentive to the call of the Lord, come to Him, and find joy in worshipping Him.
He is the fullness of what we are yearning for. And we can find it, and find joy in it, if we are just attentive to what has been made known.
“Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ ”(Mt 2:1-2).

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My 5 top tips for Surviving Christmas.

Surviving Christmas is a life skill! Here are my 5 top tips for getting through the Christmas season smoothly and safely!…

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1. Christmas is 12 days long.

Christmas begins on the 25th December and finishes on the 6th January. There is so much emphasis to get THE BIG DAY just right – but this just piles on the pressure doesn’t it? I very often enjoy the quieter days of Christmas more when there is time to relax and play and go visit the crib again at church when everyone has calmed down a bit! Take a deep breath, step back.

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2. No-one needs 3 types of stuffing.

Everyone wants to make this the best Christmas ever. But don’t fall into the trap of getting caught up in the minute aspects that really don’t matter. No-one is going to care if the smoked salmon you want to use in your Christmas Brunch of wonder, is not free range Scottish organic. All that will happen is that you will exhaust yourself and to be honest – no-one will notice anyway because they are too busy having fun without you!

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3. Be vigilant of ‘The Christmas Row’.

Christmas is wonderful – but completely exhausting for parents. Add to that the threat of in-law’s, large amounts of alcohol, over sentimentality and excitement and ridiculously high expectations and you have the recipe for the perfect storm of Yule-tide meltdown. This usually presents itself as a massive row. Just remember – you are both in this together. Be kind to each other.

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4. Who’s birthday is it again?

‘Tis the reason for the season – Christ’s birthday. While all the chaos and excitement are going on around you, find a little place of silence within yourself where you can be with Mary and Joseph and this tiny baby – God’s word made flesh, who will grow up to redeem you, and your children, and their children, and the whole world. God’s word became flesh, and was born of a virgin – just think about that for a while. It beats the heck out of stupid presents you don’t even want.

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5. Prepare your heart.

The most important thing to prepare is our hearts. Are we ready to welcome Jesus? Is there room in our hearts for Him?  We are being called into a relationship with Jesus. This is what it’s all about. How can you prepare your heart? Perhaps spending some time by the crib. Perhaps going to confession and accepting His healing forgiveness. Perhaps by asking His Mother Mary to help you welcome Him – after all, she welcomed Him first! (She’s your mother too you know…)

However you are celebrating Christmas this year, remember peace, remember joy and remember love! Merry Christmas!

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Jesus and Virgin Mary shared DNA

The Chimera was, according to Greek mythology, a monstrous fire-breathing creature composed of the parts of three animals – a lion, a snake and a goat. The term chimera has come to describe any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals, or to describe anything composed of very disparate parts, or perceived as wildly imaginative or implausible. 

A person who has more than one set of DNA is also called a chimera, and the condition is called chimerism

“A baby’s DNA can end up in the mother’s bloodstream, because they are linked together through the placenta,” explains Melissa Parisi, a paediatric researcher with the U.S. National Institutes of Health. “The reverse is also true: A baby can acquire some of the mother’s DNA, in a condition known as micro-chimerism.”

It has been known for some time that, during pregnancy, foetal cells end up circulating within the mother’s bloodstream. A relatively new discovery, however, is that these foetal cells don’t just remain in the blood stream but travel to organs such as the heart or brain. Until recently foetal micro-chimeric cells which travelled to the maternal brain had only been seen in mice. But a new study shows that micro-chimeric cells occur in humans as well.

To detect the micro-chimeric cells in the maternal brain, scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle performed PCR analysis on tissue from 59 autopsied female brains. They found in 63 percent of the brains genes that are unique to the Y-chromosome, indicating they originated from a male, thus, micro-chimeric cells from a male foetus the women had given birth to at some point in their lives. Micro-chimeric cells persist in the maternal blood stream for years after pregnancy.

 

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By labelling cells from a mouse foetus green, they were able to detect them in the maternal brain. Now scientists have also shown that foetal micro-chimeric cells show up in human maternal brains as well. [Image: Harvard University]

What’s fascinating about these foetal cells is that they resemble pluripotent stem cells – they have the ability to become heart or brain cells. What this means functionally is still uncertain. But the potential for these so-called foetal micro-chimeric cells to incorporate and actually help repair maternal tissue is a new and exciting area of medical research.

Previous research in rats has shown micro-chimeric cells from the foetus migrating to the maternal heart which had been injured. A kind of trans-placental stem cell transplant, the foetal cells selectively targeted the injured area where they differentiated into several types of cardiac cells and aided in its repair. Another study in mice showed foetal micro-chimeric cells migrated to the maternal brain where they became neurons. 

From a scientific perspective, the bond between mother and child just got stronger, and even more complex.

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Interesting isn’t it?!

I have been puzzling over the Assumption recently. There is no direct mention of it in scripture and at first glance it seems to have little importance in terms of our salvation through Christ. The only real way i could make sense of it was to relate it to Mary’s immaculate conception (not to be confused with Jesus’ conception which is called the incarnation). When Mary was conceived by her parents, God did something unique – He allowed her to be conceived without original sin.

There are many arguments for and against this statement – my favourite being that if Mary was carrying original sin then she would be in need of salvation from her own Son. This would mean that it would be in her interests to carry and give birth to Him. In fact it would be true to say that by agreeing to be His Mother she would have been working for her own salvation – and as every good protestant knows – it is impossible to gain salvation through works. Wouldn’t it be more fitting for her to agree to be the mother of Jesus  purely out of love? Where there was nothing in it for her (as such). Would it even have been a free choice on her part if she knew her own salvation depended on her “Fiat”?

Would it be possible for God to unite so intimately with a human being in this way if there was the issue of sin involved? Mary and Jesus’ cells were in each others bodies – crossing the placental barrier. If Mary was a sinner, and her genetics were part of Jesus’ body, would He still be regarded as the spotless lamb? Just a thought…

So lets assume for a second that Mary WAS conceived without sin. That would mean that she was not bound to the statement “For the wages of sin is death…” – (Romans 6:23) So did she die or not? We don’t officially know. But if she was sinless then St. Paul’s statement suggests that there would be no need for her to die. There has never been any hint of a grave, or any remains, or any accounts or even stories of her death in over 2000 years – why?

Jesus ascended through His own divine power, and Mary too would have been assumed through His power – not through her own, as she doesn’t have any divine power. So the question we need to ask ourselves is: Did Jesus allow His Mother to be assumed, body and soul, into heaven? Or would He have her body decay? Would that even be possible if His cells were in Her body?

And anyway… what happened to Mary’s cells within Jesus’ body during the resurrection? 

From a theological perspective, the bond between mother and child just got stronger, and even more complex.

 

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Sources:

http://singularityhub.com/2013/02/05/new-studies-show-cells-from-fetus-end-up-in-mothers-brains-and-hearts/

http://www.babycenter.com/0_strange-but-true-one-person-born-with-two-sets-of-dna-a-chim_10364937.bc