Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ex Votos

Ex votos at the Basilica of San Domenico in Sienna.
When Paul and I went to Italy last summer I was so impressed by the silver Sacred Hearts that I saw displayed in so many of the churches that we visited.  I had never seen displays like this in the United States and wondered what they were and wanted to know the meaning behind them.  Our guide in Sienna told me that they were votives, offerings of thanksgiving to God.  I was immediately fascinated and wanted to learn yet more about these offerings.  

Ex votos found at the Cathedrale de Santa Maria, also known as the Duomo or Divine Beauty in Siena

Ex Votos at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia,
also known as the Church of the Divine Mercy, in Rome

While in Rome we found ex votos at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia,
also known as the Church of the Divine Mercy, which were
just dripping with colorful rosaries.

So many rosaries!

Arriving back home, I researched these votives a bit more and found that they are actually called ex votos.  Ex votos are common in Europe and in South America.  In Europe a framed silver heart is often left behind in a church in thanksgiving for a favor received or an answered prayer. Perhaps a loved one has been healed of an illness.  Maybe the longed for beau finally appeared and marriage plans were on the way or a child was accepted to seminary to begin a life of service to God. Sometimes the ex voto is a silver body part such as a leg or a hand to signify the part of the body that was healed.

In South America the ex votos take on a different form.  Rather than using a silver Sacred Heart in thanksgiving, a picture is painted of the actual incident which required prayer and then, in a corner of the painting, the saint to whom the thanksgiving was offered was portrayed.

The only example of ex votos that I have ever seen at home were a display of crutches at Holy Hill Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians in Hubertus, Wisconsin, which, although miraculously dramatic, aren't as beautiful as the hearts.   I've been told that Americans are more practical and we usually give monetary offerings in thanksgiving for answered prayers.

I had become so enamored (obsessed, really) by the ex votos that I wanted to find some of my own.  I searched everywhere on the internet and only found some antique ex votos for sale but the price was in the hundreds of dollars which was beyond my reach.  I did find some reproductions of vintage ex votos on Etsy and purchased two that I found to be particularly charming, but none of those ex votos came with the oval frame that encased so many of the ex votos that I saw in Italy.  I still have not been able to find the simple oval frames anywhere that I have looked.

The beginnings of my ex voto collection.  The two largest hearts were purchased on Etsy.  The heart on the right was made with an embossed stamp.  The ex votos in the middle are antique religious medals.
This display includes two ex votos that I printed from images online and the
ex voto in the middle was made from a heart that I purchased in the gift shop where I work.
The little jar of sea glass and piece of pottery were found at the Adriatic Sea in Italy during a short stop there.

Here's a bulletin board covered in velvet displaying a few more ex voto pictures, some wooden scrolled hearts, and a few framed holy cards.  The Virgin with Child card was purchased in the Holy Land and given to Paul by a co-worker.
 Not Italian, but beautiful nonetheless.

Paul suggested that I find an image of an ex voto and print it and frame it.  I thought that was excellent advice so I did print a few pictures of some beautiful, antique ex votos.  And then I thought, why not make my own?  So I played around with stamps, holy cards and religious medals and found that they stood in quite well for authentic ex votos.  And then, after much searching, I found a roll of heavy-duty craft aluminum and used it to make my own silver hearts which I glued onto red cardstock and this project has kept me busy for quite some time.

Then I came upon a silver, oval embroidery hoop at a thrift store that was run by the School Sisters of St. Francis.  Sister Geraldine told me that I could have the hoop free of charge.  It was such a simple thing but I was thrilled by it!  I framed a piece of red velvet in the hoop and then searched through a jar of my mother's antique buttons looking for every silver button available.  I used those buttons to sew an ex voto heart onto the velvet and am so delighted by my unique ex voto that reminds me of my beloved mother.  Each pull of the needle and thread was a prayer for her soul and a sweet reminder of her love.

Now that three of our sons are out of the house we have a little more space so Paul and I have decided to decorate our spare room with mementoes from our pilgrimage.  We're calling the room our Italy Room.  My ex votos have filled the walls and shelves quite nicely and serve as a wonderful offering of thanksgiving for the miracle of being able to take that fantastic, life-changing trip.

A homemade ex voto using heavy-duty foil and cardstock.  The "GR" stands for "Grace Received."

The "M" stands for our Mother Mary, of course!

 A mini ex voto tree to complement a sea glass tree.

The button ex voto underneath framed photos of the ex votos I found in Italy.
I just had to add a few clusters of rosaries!

One-of-a-kind antique button ex voto.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Year of Daily Offerings by Fr. James Kubicki, SJ

A Year of Daily Offerings 

Would you like to grow in your faith but feel that you can't make time for one more activity in your busy day?  Do you want to gain a greater understanding of the church but feel that most of what's available to read is too hard to understand?  Do you want to deepen your prayer life but don't know where to begin?  Well here's the answer to all of those questions!

Fr. James Kubicki, SJ, National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer and author of the bestseller A Heart on Fire, has compiled his daily Relevant Radio Prayer Reflection recordings into a book format called A Year of Daily Offerings. Now those who aren't able to tune in to the radio to hear Fr. Jim share a few words for the day may read them over and pray with them at their leisure.  What a great way to start the New Year and each day!

My preordered copy arrived last month and I have now been praying with and enjoying Fr. Jim's reflections every day.  Fr. Jim's easy-to-understand explanations about the saint or feast of the day bring a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith to my often frazzled mind.  Fr. Jim follows the explanation with a prayer for the day, just a few words to draw me closer to God. The prayer is followed by a "Word for the Day", a thought that I keep in the back of my mind throughout my busy day to help me stay connected to the offering of the day.  He closes the reflection with an "Evening Review", a question to ponder in my daily examen.  A Year of Daily Offerings has been a delight to begin my mornings with before rushing off to work.  I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to grow in my faith with Fr. Jim's words of wisdom and prayer to start each day!  I'm sure that this book will soon be well-worn as it will be  faithfully used each day for many years to come!

From Ave Maria Press: "A Year of Daily Offerings is a prayerful 366-day experience immersed in the lives of the saints, the rhythm of the Church calendar, and the stories of ordinary people who lived the Eucharist in their daily lives. It will help you reorder not just your devotional life, but the entire way of looking at your day.

This thoughtful, yearlong book of morning meditations from Rev. James Kubicki, S.J.—national director of the Apostleship of Prayer and bestselling author of A Heart on Fire—provides a rich array of reflections based on Ignatian spirituality that invite you to begin each day with a sincere offering of your life to God.

Combining a contemporary tone with a strong Biblical understanding, Fr. Kubicki shows you how to live your Eucharistic offering each day. He provides a fresh perspective on the promise of connecting with God through the practice of morning prayer by using prayers of the saints, a word to carry throughout the day, and an evening reflection to reflect on the day you offered to God."

You can order A Year of Daily Offerings, as well as A Heart on Fire, from Ave Maria Press.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Beguine Spirituality

"Anyone who has waded through Love's turbulent waters, now feeling hunger and now satiety is untouched by the seasons of withering or blooming.  For in the deepest and most dangerous waters, on the highest peaks, Love is always the same."  ~Hadewijch of Brabant

"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax."~ Psalm 22:14

A drawing of a Beguine from Des dodes dantz, printed in Lübeck in 1489. (source)
At the most recent meeting of the de Chantal Society at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee we were treated to a topic on which I had never had any previous knowledge but found fascinating, Beguine Spirituality.  The speaker was Fr. Dennis Saran from Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa. After a period of silent adoration Fr. Dennis began by telling the women gathered that we are very much like an ancient community of women called The Beguines.  He told us that we occupy our time with caring for our families and friends, with serving the sick and the poor and we live very ordinary lives devoted to God.  The Beguines, he said, were ordinary lay women, as well.  They lived very normal lives and occupied their time with caring for the sick and the poor and yet they were deeply connected to God despite not being part of a religious community.

"The Beguine movement was a lay woman's movement that arose in the early 13th century.  The Beguines did not follow any established rule, but lived lives of apostolic poverty and chastity, doing works of charity among the poor and sick.

This style of life led to a spirituality that was both in and out of this world, using rich and captivating imagery.  They tried to capture the longing and love for the Other through their use of everyday experiences."

In the history of the Church there have been three types of spirituality.  The first is Monastic, the kind that Church fathers said could only exist in the desert with proper time for prayer and contemplation. You could only get to God if your prayer was constant.  The requirements promised union with God but only after years of constant devotion.  The common person couldn't approach this difficult lifelong commitment.

The second type of spirituality is Scholastic Theology.  This is the use of reason and philosophy to find your way to God.  St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica is an example of this.  We use reasons and proofs to experience God.  Until the 1950's this was the primary theological source for anyone who wasn't monastic.  The Baltimore Catechism was a product of this, as well as the theology of Fulton Sheen.  Scholastic Theology was popular in a masculine dominated Church as it was a problem-solving approach.  A personal relationship with God was not considered.

Vernacular or Common Spirituality is the third type of spirituality which accents personal relationship with God through our daily lives and sees nature as a sign of God's love for us.  The fact that we can learn compassion and good acts is feminine in its foundation and is championed by most female mystics.  It flourished in homes among spouses and in churches.  Here we seek union with God through private piety.

Vernacular Spirituality offered the possibility of achieving spiritual union with God to anyone in any walk of life.  This spirituality was supported by local clergy who saw a need for spirituality for the common people.  This male-dominated society where women were to be obedient was now Christ dominated.  A popular example of this was championed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century who added another dimension to our view and image of God.  Here God was seen not as a King or a Judge but now a Lover and a Bridegroom.  Sin was felt to be a betrayal.  We are the Lover and Jesus is the Bride.  You prepare yourself for the kiss of Christ.  This nuptial mysticism was foreign to the clergy of that time.

At the same time this idea of God as a Lover and a Bridegroom was expressed in the Beguine Movement.  Some people have thought of the Beguines as heretical.  It was the first European women's lay religious movement incorporating a life of prayer to draw closer to Christ.  Women could be married, widowed or single.  No vows were taken with the exception of an informal vow to remain celibate but this had no obligation attached to it.

The Beguines originated in Germany and France.  The women lived lives of charity and poverty and included both private prayer and corporate worship.  Several women had a personal, mystical union with Christ.  They did not write about God in an abstract sense; it was personal and much of the writing was romantic.  Many of these mystics are totally unknown to us.

"God leads his chosen people along strange paths." 
~Mechtild of Magdeburg

File:Mechthild von Magdeburg.jpg
Mechtild of Magdeburg

One of these mystics whose words have been passed down through the centuries was Mechtild of Magdeburg who wrote the book "The Flowing Light of the Godhead" on courtly love with common sense.  Her book identifies daily tasks that can be used to serve God.  She talks about God walking with us in our daily lives.  It is often through suffering that love is defined and deepened.  Our greatest joy in heaven will be the love of God's will.  Here we will be one with God and will delight in his will.  Everything you do can be transferred into joy.  Suffering elevates you to God. We wear everyday work clothes when we're well but wear brides clothes when we are ill because our illness unites us to God.

Our longing for God is a hunger, thirst, ache, excitement.  We are all made for union with God.  Our nature is to be one with God.  Suffering and love are intimately tied together as seen in childbirth and parenting.    We are ever-longing in soul and ever-suffering in body.  Small sins harm perfection. What often impedes our spiritual life is that we pay no attention to our small sins.  But little daily efforts reveal the joys and love of God.  We aren't asked to become cloistered but to do small things with joy as echoed by St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Calcutta.  Even small acts of compassion cleanse our souls.

Each day we should say, "Jesus, my love, what do you want of me today?" and then say it the next day and the day after that.

For more details about Mechtild of Magdeburg with links to some of her beautiful poetry visit this website.