Author Archive for Angela Piazza

Cradled in the Rosary

“What I needed was prayer.  As to which prayer, I had no idea; I only knew that I yearned for a prayer that would quiet my mind, engage my heart, and speak for me words that could capture the love and hope I had for this baby.” 

It all began with a little girl – a little girl whose thumb-sucking habit and gorgeous eyelashes were visible during her twenty-week ultrasound.  My journey with the rosary began with her, because I thought I might need a miracle.

It’s a long story, but when I met my husband, I had just begun exploring Catholicism. In the early years of our marriage I was new to the faith and had a lot to take in – scripture, tradition, liturgy, and in general, a deeper understanding of Catholic teaching.  Reading, studying and pondering came quite naturally to me, but establishing my prayer life was a work in progress, and while I had heard of the rosary, I knew relatively little about it.

126010463My ignorance, however, was about to change. During my pregnancy with my daughter Claire, the standard second-trimester ultrasound revealed a choroid plexus cyst. I understood the terminology, but had no idea what it meant for the well-being of my baby. And no one seemed to want to tell me anything about these cysts, which was extremely unnerving.  Currently, if you do an online search, you’ll immediately see a myriad of sites offering information about this condition, which in my daughter’s case was a tiny sac of fluid within her brain, somewhat like a blister, pinched off as the choroid plexus formed.  But, this ultrasound happened back in 1997, back when the internet didn’t provide fingertip access to the wealth of information it does today.

At some point after the scan, I do recall some mumbling about an association with trisomies 18 and 21, and conversely, that the cysts resolve, sometimes posing no problem at all.  But, anyone who knows me well will tell you that when it comes to obtaining medical information, I err on the side of saturation.  Perhaps it’s a control thing, but enduring this lack of feedback was painful.  I was completely preoccupied with a desire to understand the worse-case scenario of the diagnosis, perseverating on the one fact I was familiar with – babies with trisomy 18 have very abbreviated lives. I was devastated.

Furthering my dismay, the appointment for a level II scan was scheduled a month out, and in the meantime I clearly needed something more productive to do than purchase tissues. At first, I thought I just needed distraction, but keeping busy did nothing to ease my angst.  What I needed was prayer.  As to which prayer, I had no idea; I only knew that I yearned for a prayer that would quiet my mind, engage my heart, and speak for me words that could capture the love and hope I had for this baby.  I needed to be cradled in prayer, pacifying the fear and sorrow that consumed my thoughts.  It was a pretty tall order, and not knowing exactly where to turn, I suppose I did what any grace-desperate neophyte would do – I grabbed a glossy Catholic prayer pamphlet from my bedside table and began to read.  Fortunately for me, it contained a beautiful guide on how to pray the rosary.  I don’t think I had rosary beads when I started.  I just started.

It has been said before, but is certainly worth repeating, that God uses our struggles to draw us closer to Him.  Recently, a dear friend of mine spoke of a point in her life in which she quite literally had no strength to do anything.  While she was hospitalized, too weak to even speak, her mother regularly visited and prayed the rosary aloud.  She shared with me that as her mother prayed, she felt lovingly rocked by the rhythm of the Hail Marys. She felt herself wrapped in the love of Our Lord, and tenderly cradled in the arms of Our Blessed Mother.

During that month of waiting for the ultrasound, I too, was cradled in the arms of Our Lady.  She knew the pain of worry, and, as mothers do, soothed my heart with her embrace. Whether a miracle occurred, I really can’t say, but my daughter was found to be perfectly healthy.  Perhaps the therapeutic effects of the rosary were a lifelong gift for me, rather than a remedy for my unborn child.  In Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s moving reflection on praying the rosary he aptly wrote, “The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next.  The power of the rosary is beyond description.”

Image Credit: Catherine Yeulet (photos.com)

Ideas for All Saints Day

Editor’s Note:  As you think ahead to All Saints Day, here is an excerpt from Angela Piazza’s article on how she observes the day with her family.  Her full article appears in Tender Tidings Fall 2012, CAPC’s seasonal newsletter.

The first and foremost goal of Christian parenting is leading our children to heaven.  We guide, protect, nurture and comfort.  We assist them in times of need, celebrate their accomplishments, and deeply desire for them to be happy.  It’s up to us to provide the spiritual resources they need to attain heaven, as ultimately, this is where true happiness exists.

In learning about the saints, our children begin to understand what it means to truly love God.  Are they willing to part with their lives as the martyrs were?  Do they trust that God is with them during times of trial, confident that there are reasons for everything?  Do they hope and strive for heaven, knowing that He has already prepared a place for them?  The answer of the saints was an unfaltering, “Yes!”

The stories of the saints are not fairy tales, yet include adventures, princesses, commoners, and the ongoing battle between good and evil.  Discovering the saints’ intense determination to serve God is captivating, and acquainting our children with their courage and heroism will serve them well.  Those who have reached their final, glorious destination are true models of faith, hope and love.

The Forerunners of Christ, Fra Angelico

Forming any friendship requires familiarity, and celebrating the Feast of All Saints is a wonderful place to start making introductions.  The Church has set aside November 1stof each year to commemorate all the souls in heaven.  Preparing your children for this feast day can be as simple or elaborate as you wish.  The key is to engage the children.  Help them to see what incredible role models they have in the saints.

Our family tradition has evolved as our children have grown.  When my older children were quite young, we intersected the sacred with the secular.  In other words, our children dressed up as saints for Halloween.  While trick-or-treating in this manner made sense to us at the time, the result was that our children were more impressed with their accumulation of candy than the incredible stories of the saints they represented.  It was because of this observation that we implemented change. We wanted a celebration worthy of this wonderful feast, one that would not only be awe-inspiring for our children, but also memorable and fun.

Several weeks prior to All Saints’ Day, I ask my children to learn about a saint of their choosing.  I help them research, through books and online sources, and discuss the lives and virtues of their saints.  Each child then designs, in secret, a game or activity which relates to their particular saint, and provides me with a list of necessary supplies.  Over the course of a week or so, the younger children team up with an older sibling, or with me, to work on their projects.

If you’ve attended an All Saints Day party, you’re likely familiar with the carnival-style games and activities I’m referring to.  A few examples of what my children have created include:

  • St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s basket toss, complete with bread and roses;
  • a game of bowling down 2-liter bottle demons for St. John Vianney;
  • a Bl. Pier-Giorgio inspired Lego board game with skiers as place markers;
  • a modified version of “hot potato” (using a pretend coconut) for St. Damien of Molokai;
  • St. Lucy’s scavenger hunt;
  • Noah’s ark coloring page contest;
  • Bl. Kateri’s cupcake decorating with candy Indian corn and pumpkins;
  • A Communion of Saints wooden stick puppet crafting.

There are many clever ideas available online, but I encourage my children to use their own knowledge, along with their imaginations (rather than an internet search) when designing their activities.

On All Saints’ Day, our celebration begins with each child sharing a bit about the life of his chosen saint.  One by one, each saint-themed activity is unveiled, explained and delighted in.  We learn together, playfully compete with one another, and hopefully recognize that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves.

Loss

In seventeen years of marriage, my husband and I have said goodbye to people who were very dear to us.  When one of my sisters unexpectedly passed away, it was my husband who tenderly shared the news with me.  When word of his father’s passing reached our home, it was I who had to find the delicate words to speak.  But this week, unlike the times before, we received word of our loss together.

The image on the screen was not wholly unfamiliar.  Between my husband’s professional knowledge and the fact that we’ve initially met each of our eight children via ultrasound, we recognized the dark space on the monitor.  Our eyes searched for something more.  What we saw was a very tiny person, someone we’ve not yet greeted, and someone who we will only meet in heaven.

Neither one of us was prepared for the situation.  I don’t think it ever occurred to us that we wouldn’t have the chance to raise this baby.  We were so looking forward to the joy of another child in our lives.

In this culture of convenience, I was ready for the onslaught of criticism for being open to a ninth child.  I was ready for the jaw-drops and eye rolling.  I’ve been through that before, but this time I was fiercely armored with God’s strength.

I’m not sure why these things happen. Though, in my sadness, I trust that God allows life to take its course.  He never wishes for us to sorrow, but uses our trials to draw us closer to Him.  I weep for this loss, but I also trust.  I trust that I will grow as a wife, as a mother, and as a Christian.

The funny thing about loss is that it makes you aware of how intensely you loved.  I loved this baby from the moment I thought I might be pregnant.  I prayed constantly for him and said often how thankful I was that he was a part of me. This brief little life was spent entirely being loved – a love that won’t cease to exist.

So here I sit, with my reddened eyes, returning over and over to the dates on my calendar, hoping for a gross miscalculation.  I wonder if I somehow caused this loss.  Did I run too intensely, too far?  Did I unknowingly ingest something toxic?  Was I simply undeserving of this gift?  Or, I pray, was I the mother specifically chosen to eternally love this dear little soul?

I believe that there are lessons woven into all of our experiences.  Will this help me to appreciate my family all the more?  Will I be a more compassionate, tender friend?  I hope so.

The beauty behind attachment parenting is that it recognizes the great love and sacrifice that goes into parenting.  We aren’t burdened by love, but blessed by its bonds.  This baby, whom I’ll never hold in my arms, nuzzle close, or gently kiss, gave me another opportunity to nurture to the best of my ability. 

Miscarriage feels so counter to the role of parenthood.  We’re supposed to protect our children, but the circumstances require us to let go.  God is with us, though.  He knows the depth of our love, our sorrow, and our pain.  His love will soothe us, and His hands will carry our child to a better place.

Photo credit: Oremus (photos.com)

A Beautiful View

Upon waking this morning, I found myself surrounded by beauty.  It wasn’t the sweet sound of a bird’s song, or a cool breeze drifting through the window.  It had everything to do with the view.

To my left, wrapped contentedly in my arm, lay my five year-old son.  To my right, cradled within the other arm, my three year-old daughter peacefully slept.  As I took in the scene, I felt an indescribable sense of wonder and gratitude.  What are God’s plans for these precious souls?  How will their lives unfold, and how much of this process really has to do with me?

If you ask my eleven year-old, Gianni, what he plans to do with his life, he’ll respond without hesitation, “Be a Lego designer.”  If you ask him why, his reply is rather intriguing.  Recently, he said to me, “Creating something I see in my mind is challenging and I like that.  It can be frustrating, too, but it seems like when I have an idea, the bricks I need to make it are right there waiting for me.”

Lego designer aspirations aside, isn’t that how God often works?  Allowing our thoughts to form and manifest according to His will? Ideas aren’t meant to frustrate us, but to inspire the use of our unique gifts to glorify Him.  As Proverbs 19:21 states, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.”  In His goodness, for the sake of His beloved children, He sets the pieces right there in front of us as we ready ourselves to act.

My biggest fear in parenting is that I’m going to do something to mess up my children.  Objectively speaking, I know this line of thinking is, at the very least, non-productive.  It’s also quite prideful.  I’m not actually the One in charge; I don’t have to take that on.  My maternal role is to teach these children, by example, to live a God-centered life.  Trust Him, I keep reminding myself, and all will be well.

In the gospel of Matthew, God’s fatherly traits are referred to multiple times.  Among these are that He intimately knows our needs, provides for our needs, teaches us to follow Him, and wants us to trust Him so that we can be free from anxiety. (Cavins,  Matthew:  The King and His Kingdom). Matthew 6:25-34 further emphasizes that since God fully understands our true needs, excessive worry distracts and hinders us from seeking His kingdom.  We are to prioritize our life of faith, secure in God’s loving providence.

Indeed, knowing that God has my children’s best interests in mind is reassuring.  Their lives may not end up being even close to what I envision for them.  Their journeys will likely involve both successes and failures, times of great joy and those of deep sorrow  — even perhaps incredible suffering.  That’s where love comes in. Whatever path they find themselves on must be paved with solid faith, unfaltering hope, and abundant love.  I am called to prepare them for the journey. Somehow, God believes that my husband and I are the ones for the job.

Parents are held to a high standard:  “Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons.  Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law” (CCC 2222).  We demonstrate obedience to God’s plan for us by teaching our children to recognize and yield to His will.  Notice that there’s no mention of forcing, coercing, or bribing. To the contrary, we are asked to help each of our children, of their own accord, acknowledge and respond to His heavenly directives.

But there’s another dynamic at work as we strive to spiritually form our children.  We, ourselves, are in the midst of being formed.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents.  Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect.  Mutual affection suggests this.  The charity of Christ demands it” (CCC 2227). His desire for us to cling to Him becomes evident as the challenges of raising children emerge.  Through parenting our children, God provides an optimal means for stretching, molding and shaping us. Placing these young souls on solid footing requires stamina and wisdom only afforded us through God’s grace.

Constant and generous in His love and mercy, God patiently guides all of His children along life’s path.  Our Heavenly Father is ever beside us, holding us close in His protective, nurturing embrace.  At this very moment, His plan is unfolding around us.  We just need to take the time to notice the beautiful view.

Photo credit: Monika Gniot (photos.com)

Welcoming the Traveler

Editor’s Note:  I’m delighted to introduce to you Angela Piazza!  Angela is a wife and homeschooling mother of eight. She lives in Northern California and enjoys running, reading, theatre, and helping her children raise their flock of eight pampered hens!

I remember well (before the days of heightened airport security) waiting with great anticipation at the arrival gates for loved ones to step off the plane.  Weary travelers emerged from the corridor, glancing left and right in hopes of spotting a familiar face.  Moments of discovery were obvious; smiles brightened, paces quickened, and arms readied for a welcoming embrace.  The joy and relief of both parties was almost palpable.

Similarly, when long expected guests arrive at my family’s doorstep, excitement runs high and delight becomes audible.  Love and enthusiasm fill the spaces of our home!  After guests depart, the natural excitement calms and then fades, but an indelible mark remains.  Those who’ve been welcomed assume a unique place in our family and in our hearts.

Certainly, God calls us to hospitality, to reach out to others, showing charity in all things.  He desires our homes to be inviting havens in a harsh world.  What then about those living directly under our roof?  Do we make concerted effort to welcome from within, to rejoice over the everyday presence of the children in our lives?  Do our children know that we cherish them and sense that we look forward to seeing their beautiful faces each new day?

Every morning, despite the events or turmoil of the previous day, I greet my children with simple gestures of affection.  The form of expression varies from child to child, from one day to the next.  The eldest may hear subtle whispers of “good morning” in her ear, while the youngest might be smothered in hugs.  My aim is to acknowledge the presence of the individual, genuinely and warmly welcoming each child into the fold.  Quite naturally, it allows hearts to soften, opens dialogue, and fosters the hope of a fresh beginning.

I John 4:18 reads, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.”  Children, of course, will err.  Their behaviors and attitudes may even deeply disappoint.  But, as parents, we are called to humility and forgiveness, ultimately loving without reservation.  Fear and rejection have no place in connecting with children.  Our babies, toddlers, and adolescents yearn for comfort and affection.  They long to be well received.

Every single day is a gift.  Every child is a gift, too.  Consider reaching down and scooping that pajama-clad little one into your arms.  Wrap your embrace around the child waiting for the toast to pop.  When she wanders bleary-eyed down the hall, or he groggily saunters toward the kitchen, take a moment to offer your teenager a sincere smile, a gentle touch, and a kind word.

Our children need assurance of our steadfast, emotional commitment.  Remind them through your actions that “a cheerful glance brings joy to the heart; good news invigorates the bones” (Proverbs 15:30).  Tenderly welcome those weary little travelers, the treasured souls placed under your care, to a bright, unblemished day.

Photo credits:

  • Family Visitors: Comstock Images
  • Mother and Daughter: Stockbyte.