When the wind picks up outside and you can hear it whipping around the door, let's be grateful for warm mittens like these.
Ushers? That's an odd thing to be be thankful for, right?
But, if you think about it, aren't ushers the quintessential symbol of the servant? They are the largely unnoticed helpers who glide about in the back of church, only coming forward at the appropriate time to help take up the collection. If you didn't already know the names of the same ushers you see every weekend, you probably still don't know them. That's how ushers are. They quietly serve.
Here are some of the things we saw ushers do this past weekend:
-a child was coughing (and coughing and coughing) during Mass. Suddenly, a friendly arm reached into the pew, offering a cup and a bottle of water to the child.
-latecomers to Mass became the most important people in the world, as the ushers arranged to find seats for them (and they were friendly about it, too, as though now Mass could REALLY start because thse wonderful people had arrived!)
-doors were held open
-pathways were created for the altar servers
-after everyone was seated in a very full church, an elderly woman with a walker made her way into the narthex. She was noticed by an usher, who immediately welcomed her and went to asertain her needs. Should she be seated in the front? Did she need to be near the bathroom? The usher found out the woman also needed a seat for her caregiver, who arrived a few minutes later. Somehow, two more seats were located and the pair were led to them.
-during commuion, the eucharistic ministers were led straight to 3 different people, in different parts of the church, who were unable to walk to communion themselves. The ushers had found these people earlier, told them not to worry and that they would be taken care of, then followed through on that promise by bringing the ministers to them.
Watching these people go about their work was truly witnessing a sign of the Kingdom of God. They are all volunteers, who sign up and faithfully show up. They are not helping for their own glory, not in any way. They just want to help people so that everyone can have a good experience of Mass; can particpate and pray well and have an encounter with God. Everything in their ministry is about everyone else and everyone else's needs.
The show "Everyone Loves Raymond" poked fun at Raymond's father, in one episode. Ray accused his dad of only wanting to be an usher so that he could hang out in the back, gossip, and skip praying. That may be true in the show, but on reflection, have you actually ever seen most ushers blow off what's happening in the Mass? The exact opposite seems to be much closer to the truth. Most of the time, the unseen ushers are very much aware of what is happening, and they maintain an attitude of respect.
Wouldn't it be something if more of us acted like ushers, not just at Mass, but especially when we leave the church and go out into the "mission fields?" Next weekend, notice those men and women who give up their time to serve everyone else in the church, and think about how we can imitate them.
Today is the feast day of another wonderful saint. Like St. Margaret of Scotland yesterday, St. Elizabeth of Hungary was also royalty.
She was born a little more than 100 years after St. Margaret of Scotland, in 1207. She was married to Louis of Thuringia, and they had 3 children. Elizabeth also chose a life of simple service, choosing not to indulge in luxury or ignore the people whom she could help. She is an example of a person who chose to turn tragedy into a life of service.
Elizabeth wore simple clothing, and spent her time ministering to the sick and helping the poor. Sadly, Elizabeth's husband died after only 6 years of marriage and her husband's family mistreated her, even finally forcing her to leave the palace. However, her husband's allies came to her help and she was reinstated since her son was the legal heir to the throne.
In 1228, Elizabeth joined the Secular Franciscan Order, spending the remaining few years of her life caring for the poor in a hospital which she founded. Elizabeth’s health declined, and she died aged only 23, in 1231. She was canonized just four years later.
Elizabeth is often portrayed as a young woman with loaves of bread in her apron, as a reminder of the many loaves of bread she distributed to the poor daily. Sometimes she is shown with roses, instead of bread, pointing to the many miracles attributed to her soon after her death. She is the patroness of widows, brides, Catholic Charities and the Secular Franciscan Order.
Lord, we give thanks for the life and example of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. We pray for her continued intercession for the country of Hungary. May we follow her example of faithfulness, even in times of great distress. Amen.
How could I bear a crown of gold, when the Lord bears a crown of thorns? And he bears it for me!
-St. Elizabeth of Hungary
The picture above of Dunnottar Castle, located on the rocky east coast of Scotland, helps us realize the long and varied history of the Scots. St. Margaret of Scotland, affectionately known as "the pearl of Scotland," is woven into this history.
St. Margaret was born in Hungary in 1045, and was accustomed to the world of royalty. She spent much of her youth in the court of her great uncle, Edward the Confessor, which St. Edward's University (here in Austin!) is named after. When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, the family fled via the sea, but shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland. King Malcolm rescued the family and welcomed them with hospitality. He and Margaret were eventually married.
As queen, Margaret devoted her time to promoting the arts and education for the Scottish people. She was well known for her service to the poor, especially orphans. She and her husband founded 7 churches, and St. Margaret was also involved in religious reform, even being present at the discussions at the religious synods.
Margaret and Malcolm had 8 children, and besides being responsible for their faith formation and education, Margaret also was known to have a rigorous personal prayer life. As queen, her advice was often sought in matters of state, and Margaret trusted God to guide her and the country.
Although it might have been easy for Margaret to stay inside her castle and enjoy a life of luxury, she clearly chose another path. From the time of her marriage, she fully embraced all of the responsibilities of her new life and sought to bring her faith to every aspect, to fully live a life of charity in keeping with her station. She died 4 days after the death of her husband, worn out from a life of service. She is buried in Dunfermline Abbey, and is fondly referred to as "the pearl of Scotland."
Lord, thank you for the gift of St. Margaret. We pray for her continued intercession for the country of Scotland. May we, like her, seek to serve you in all aspects of our lives. Amen.
November 15 is the feast day of St. Albert the Great. For being called "the great," he's not really that well known. But he should be!
He lived in Germany, and was born around 1200. From an early age, his intellectual abilities were notable. He studied at universities in Italy and France, which were the centers of culture and civilization of the time. After entering the Dominican order, he made a name for himself as one of the intellectual pioneers of the age.
The parish of St. Albert the Great in Minneapolis says this about St. Albert: "He led the way in introducing the writings of Aristotle to Western thought. He pioneered use of the inductive method of reasoning. Albert also was a renowned scholar and researcher in natural science - studying animals, birds, insects, plants and minerals. His 40 volumes of writings served as an encyclopedia of human knowledge at the time in physics, geography, astronomy, mineralogy, chemistry, biology, mathematics, scripture, philosophy and theology."
He was called the "universal doctor" by his contemporaries, and was one of the most well known preachers of the time. His most famous student was none other than St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Albert died in 1280. In 1931, Pope Pius XI proclaimed him a saint and doctor of the church. In 1941, Pope Pius XII proclaimed him patron saint of natural scientists.
Lord, thank you for the work and writings of St. Albert, who shaped the intellectual tradition of the Catholic church. Amen.
It is by the path of love, which is charity, that God draws near to man, and man to God. But where charity is not found, God cannot dwell. If, then, we possess charity, we possess God, for "God is Charity" (1John 4:8)
-St. Albert the Great
Yes, the snap of cold in the air certainly does mean that the carefree, warm days of summer are gone. It's time to break out the sweaters, mittens and coats.
For those of us who live in the hot climates most of the year, the dip in tempertaure is really an event! To have a break from the sweltering heat is truly a cause for celebration. We walk around with a turtleneck and sweater and ask each other "Are you enjoying the cold? Stay warm!" But we've noticed that our friends from up north, where the snow piles up for months every year, don't ask each other such questions. Maybe because it's not really and truly COLD?
The cold weather does bring a change, and it shakes us up, out of our everyday shuffle. We have to be awake. We have to pay attention. We can't just wander outside, willy nilly anymore, barefoot, wearing shorts. We have to make an effort and be prepared. We have a sense of time moving, of the year getting on, of growing older.
This time of year reminds us to look around us and value the simple things - the crisp air, a warm coat, good, stout shoes. Friends and family. The cold air is good, and it brings its own gifts.
Lord, thank you for this change in temperature. Help us to remain awake and alert. Amen.
This is truly a no-brainer, yet how often do we take that morning cup of joe for granted? And if you think about it, it really is quite a gift that we can enjoy a cup of hot, strong coffee at just about any time.
After all, coffee doesn't grow just anywhere. It literally is a worldwide production that enables those beans to arrive in the grocery store, and eventually make it to our kitchens. First of all, the coffee bean that we typically drink, called the Arabica, grows in high, mountainous regions over a period of time (between 7 to 9 months), and also needs an annual rainfall between 1500 to 3000mm. This set of specifications considerably narrows down where coffee can be grown well. According to www.investopedia.com, around 70 countries produce coffee, but the overwhelming majority of the supply comes from 5 countries: Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and of course, Colombia. Only two states in the U.S. are able to grow coffee commercially, California and Hawaii. Puerto Rico also has a small coffee growing industry.
Then, let's not forget all the hands that are involved with harvesting the beans, sorting them, packing them, selling them to exporters, shipping them, unloading them, buying them and finally sending them to a roasting house. The roasting house packages the beans (either whole or after grinding) and sends them out to line the shelves of the stores, where we come and purchase them. A very long journey, from start to finish, involving many people and processes, and a lot of cooperation. Read more about Coffee Production HERE.
Another thing to keep in mind, especially as Catholics, is that coffee is a commodity that can be purchased via the Fair Trade network. What's Fair Trade? In a nutshell, the Fair Trade network ensures that the small farmers who are growing the coffee beans on their land are paid a fair price for their product. Keep in mind that "fair" does not mean exorbitant. It means that farmers are paid a living wage so that they can provide the basics for their families - medical care, school supplies, food and shelter. Learn more about how important Fair Trade is HERE.
So, the next time you reach for a fresh cup of coffee, remember the long journey it took to get to you, and all the hands that were involved along the way.
Lord, thank you for the gift of coffee. We pray for all those involved in its production. Amen.
Look for this logo on coffee, chocolate and other goods in your grocery store.
While we're on the subject of pumpkin food, let's talk a little about those pumpkin seeds. If you've ever cut into a fresh pumpkin, you'll know that there are just tons of them all stuffed inside each fruit. It really is well worth your time to collect them and get them ready for roasting and eating. Roasting pumpkin seeds is not difficult, but it's not a quick process. It takes does take some time, but why throw away good food?
Besides, those seeds are jam-packed full of good stuff. Just read for yourself:
"According to the book Healing Foods by DK Publishing House, pumpkin seeds are a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, iron and protein. ... These seeds are a source of valuable nutrients like zinc, magnesium, manganese, copper, antioxidants and phytosterols." They have high levels of essential fatty acids and are heart friendly, contain anti-inflamation properties and even provide serotonin to help you sleep. They are nutritional powerhouses. Read the full story HERE.
So, after carving the pumpkins for Halloween just collect all those seeds and put them in a bowl of water for about an hour. The seeds will be still connected to the pumpkin inards, and this helps to get rid of the sticky orange strings. Then, just rinse the seeds so that they are clean. Lay them flat on a baking tray, put them in a corner of the kitchen or up on a shelf and leave them to dry. Depending on where you live, it could take a few days for the seeds to fully dry out. It took the seeds in the photo about 3 days to dry out.
When they are fully dry, they are ready to coat with spices, roast and eat! We came up with the recipe below for our pumpkin seeds.
Baskets and Blessings' Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
about 2 cups washed, dry pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (skip or reduce this ingredient if you don't care for a spicy flavor)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoky paprika
2 tablespoons Goya "Sazonador Total" seasoning (in the Hispanic or International foods aisle)
unrefined olive oil
Preheat oven to 300F. Toss all the spices together in a gallon ziploc bag. Mix well. Pour dry pumpkin seeds into the bag and mix the seeds around, coating them well. Pour the seeds out flat onto a baking tray. Drizzle with the olive oil. Bake at 300F for 30 minutes.
Here they are, post roasting, ready for snacking. They give a hit of spiciness and flavor we love, plus these seeds really do keep you feeling full!
Lord, we give thanks for your thoughtfulness and attention to detail. Even the seeds you give us can be used for our good, to help us live a healthy, balanced life. Help us notice and appreciate your many gifts. Amen.
Speaking of giving thanks for the food that pumpkins provide, let's give thanks for that quintessential fall dessert - pumpkin crunch! It's super easy to make and feeds a crowd. Plus, you only need a few ingredients to make this yummy treat.
It's wonderful on a cold afternoon with a cup of coffee, or after Sunday dinner. Some of us even like to eat it for breakfast! (hey, if doughnuts count as "breakfast food" this can, too!) And one of our favorite things about pumpkin crunch is that it may actually last a couple of days, and taste even better once the flavors have a little time to set up.
Thank you for this wonderful food, Lord. May it nourish our bodies and warm our hearts in gratitude. Amen.
Baskets & Blessings' Super Simple Pumpkin Crunch
1 can (15 oz) solid pack pumpkin 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk 1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 box yellow cake mix 1 cup melted butter
3 eggs toppings: chopped nuts, chocolate chips,
1 1/2 cup white sugar butterscotch or toffee chips, dried
1/2 teaspoon salt cranberries, coconut flakes
Preheat over to 350F. (This can also be baked in a larger toaster oven.) Grease an 11"x11" pan. Combine pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large bowl . Pour into pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix on top of pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle with your choice of toppings. Drizzle melted butter over top. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until golden brown and sides pull away slightly from the pan.
After all, what would Fall be without the pumpkin? Can you imagine no pumpkin pies or pumpkin bread? Or no bright orange balls of color in the fields, the grocery stores, or front doors?
Pumpkins just inspire happiness, just by being themselves. They instantly create a feeling of home and abundance. The bright orange color is a flash of warmth against the cold weather, reminding us of memories of gathering together in the past, and give us hope for gathering again together in the future.
Plus, there's that very cave-man like feeling of fear of scarcity still hidden deep within us. When the cold weather comes, will there be enough food for everyone? Pumpkins alleviate this primal fear, because they themselves are such a plentiful food - pies, breads, soups, even the seeds can be used for food. And, each one can feed so many people! If we were lucky enough to grow up in a home where food was plentiful, pumpkins have the ability to connect us to that deep feeling of love and satisfaction.
But at the same time, we know there are many people who do not and will not have enough food to eat this winter. So, let's make sure that pumpkins also remind us to provide, according to our means, food for those in need. A bag of groceries dropped off to your local food pantry will do the trick, and consider keeping some non-perishable snacks in your car to hand out as you drive around.
Lord, we thank you for the abundance of food we enjoy. Help us to remember and provide food for those who do not have enough to eat. Amen.
This blog is written by the Baskets & Blessings team, to inspire, encourage and elevate!