As we enter the fourth week of Advent this year, I smile, knowing that in but a few hours little feet will pad down the hall making a bee-line for the living room window, atop which our Advent Chain hangs. I cannot believe how few links are left on it and how quickly this Advent has passed.
I feel as though we just celebrated the church's new year and that I am woefully unprepared for Christmas still. Yet, here we are, but a few days away from the commemoration of Christ's coming. Thankfully, Our Lord comes to us regardless of how prepared we feel. Double thanks that through the tradition of our Advent Chain, our family is at least a bit more spiritually prepared to celebrate His coming. For this year we decided to focus the things we wrote down on each link of our chain on the Works of Mercy. Mercy shared always makes folks more prepared.
Even before our family had heard that Pope Francis had declared a Jubilee of Mercy, we had personally been called to live and learn more about mercy in our home and local homeschool community.
Our family virtue studies and chats had begun to be framed by the Works of Mercy. Then, a late-summer conversation with local homeschoolers resulted in the idea of forming a Works of Mercy Club, which did not actually kick off until October.
Following suit, a recent fair project the kids did on Paying it Forward included "secret evangalization" when the kids chose to write Works of Mercy as examples of ways to "pay it forward" despite the fact that the fair organizer had requested project topics not be centered upon religion nor politics. (With my kids, religion is so central to identity it cannot simply be "avoided", so they chose to simply weave it into a project technically centered on something else) Thus, it just seemed natural to build our Advent chain around the Works of Mercy.
The Making of the Chain
Before making the physical Advent Chain this year, the children and I brainstormed ways we might offer works or Mercy to others this Advent season. Basically, the children suggested ways to simply live Works of Mercy and I captured their thoughts on a document. Then, as usual, I printed the document out so, whenever the children wanted to, they could use it for copywork to prepare their chain.
Nina eagerly did most of the copywork this year...
... with a little help from Luke...
Then, Nina assembled the chain and held it up so I could hang it.
Now, daily, the kids pull down a link, and, if they decide to perform the Work of Mercy written on it immediately, they hang the opened link on our Jesse Tree.
Easy, beautiful, practical. The children love our tradition of counting down the days until Christmas with their simple purple-and-pink paper chain. They offered wonderful ideas to write on the chain, eagerly assembled and help hung it, and, now, anxiously await when each will have turns to pull down a link to read so that they may may act upon whatever is suggested on it.
Our Works of Mercy Advent Chain is such a great way to keep us focused on giving, not getting, this season and on preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ.
A Daily Dose of Gratitude for Mom
As an extra added bonus, this year's Advent Chain has also offered me a daily breath of "Ahhh, it's happening at last..."
What's happening? The children's growing ability to be patient!
For, this year, the children decided to go in a cycle from youngest-to-oldest with daily link-pulling, and have been awesome about waiting each day for the "my turn" child to wake and pull a link down. It has been so cute to see early risers eagerly, yet patiently, wait for a sibling to wake in order to pull links. It has been equally darling to see bigger siblings helping littler ones physically get to the chain.
Thus, this year, more than any prior year, I am especially struck by the way the kids have been using our Advent Chain. Joy and gratitude fill my heart each time I witness the virtues of self-control, patience, and charity being lived by children in conjunction with our Works of Mercy Advent chain! (Now if we all could figure out how to transfer these virtues to every aspect of our lives...)
So What Works Have the Kids Been Acting Upon?
One of the kids' favorite Works of Mercy this Advent has been to "give a gift to a needy person". They brought a donation to My Brother's Keeper and, then, as a family we volunteered to "shop" and wrap gifts for for a needy family at the Santa's Workshop there. In fact, the kids loved doing this so much, they asked me to squeeze in another visit to help before Christmas, which I have scheduled.
Other ideas they came up with were:
- Pray for all veterans.
- Give a secret gift to someone on your street.
- Give a secret gift to someone in your house.
- Make breakfast for Mom.
- Pray for (a specific family) as they mourn their loss.
- Hug someone in your family to show forgiveness.
- Say an extra prayer for Eddie’s soul.
- Say an extra prayer for (friend).
- Say an extra prayer for Adrienne’s soul.
- Say an extra pray for the Eagle Scout that died.
- Go to confession.
- Offer food for the poor at Mass.
- Give cookies to our neighbors.
- Make a meal for someone who could use one.
- Give a hot drink to someone outside.
- Sort out our coats and give some away.
- Give some of our outgrown clothes to friends.
- Give some of our outgrown clothes to the poor.
- Put extra money in the baby bottle donation for church.
- Make cards for people in the nursing home.
- Go Christmas caroling at a nursing home.
- Visit (an elderly neighbor).
- Make Mommy and Daddy lunch.
- Put money in the St. Vincent de Paul box.
- Go to the cemetery and pray.
To come up with these, I read an "official" list of Works of Mercy to the kids and they brainstormed specific related ways they could share mercy with others this Advent season. As the children dictated their ideas to me, I was impressed by the fact that they remembered to balance between family, friends, local community members, strangers, and souls in purgatory. In the past, we purposefully rotated between ways we could be kind to family, friends, those we know, and those we do not and, this year, it seems, doing so just became natural. My hope is that consciously choosing to live Works of Mercy, large and small, will likewise become a natural part of how our family thinks and lives. In fact, I pray mercy makes itself a greater priority for all, everywhere, as this coming year unfolds.
May mercy work in you and through you!