Monday, November 29, 2010

What we're doing for Advent

Happy Liturgical New Year! Seriously, it is so fun being a Catholic. I love the season of Advent. Here is how we are preparing for Christmas.

Jesse Tree: During Advent we walk our kids through salvation history, or the story of how God saves His people. We do this by reading one story a night from the Old Testament, beginning with creation and ending with the birth of Christ. After the story the kids hang an ornament on our Jesse Tree that represents that night's story. My ornaments are the product of youthful enthusiasm. I made them all when Bean was 2 from item already in my craft box. I was a little excited about having a Jesse Tree. For some more ideas of ornaments go here and you can download a list of symbols to make and readings here.

Baby Jesus Manger: We made these this morning with extra wide popsicle sticks and then painted them brown. Each little yellow strip is a piece of "hay". As the kids do good deeds during Advent they get to add a piece of hay to baby Jesus' manger, so as to make a nice soft bed for Him on Christmas.

Advent Calendar: This one is compliments of my mom, she is so great. Each day the kids get to pull a little something from each pocket to count down the days til Christmas. They are filled with little treats and mini manger ornaments. She also gave us a mini tree to put the manger scene on. All of my creative jeans come from my mom.

We also have out our Advent wreath and multiple nativity scenes, so we are ready to prepare :)!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Decorations

The turkey is in the oven, the table is set and the kids are napping, which makes for a perfect time to post some pictures of our Thanksgiving decor.

After many crafting hours from Bean our table is set with all of it's homemade decor.

Name plates with matching pilgrim look-a-likes.

Our turkey napkin ring holders in action. 

Pilgrim and Indian bookmarks for guests to take home as party favors.

Our Pilgrim and Indian hats, to be worn during the festivities, not optional.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Catholic Christmas Gifts - Family Board Game Pieces

Honey, I shrunk the kids...

Admit it, these are cute.

Family board game pieces are simple to make and they are super fun. Pair them with a new board game to play them on and you have a great gift. While they are not really a Catholic gift, they do promote family fun, so I'm including them in the list of Catholic Christmas gifts.

Step 1: Cut out pictures of each individual you want to make a game piece for. You may need to print the pictures in different sizes so you don't end up with a giant among regular sized people. This picture was cut out from a wallet sized photo.

Step 2: Cover the picture on both sides with clear packing tape. You could use a laminator here too, but I don't have one of those.

Step 3: Cut out your picture from the packing tape.

Step 4: Put your players on stands. Believe it or not you can buy them online!

Seriously, still cute. My kids get such a kick out of these! The game they are playing is Little Angels and the Fruit of the Spirit Board Game, it's played like Candy Land and teaches the Fruits. Some of our other favorite Christian kids games are Noah's Rainbow Race and Bible Land Adventure Game. Or you can pick one of your own!

I think this post deserved a high 5.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Verbum Domini: A Summary

Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini
A Summary by Kevin Cotter

On November 11th, Pope Benedict released a document entitled Verbum Domini. Verbum Domini addresses the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. It has been called the most important document on the Word of God since Vatican II’s Dei Verbum. I find this document to be of particular importance to the vision and mission of FOCUS and I wanted to take some time to summarize the document and pull out some valuable quotes that apply to the work of FOCUS. I expected the document to focus on the Word of God. While it certainly does this, I was happily surprised to see how much the document focused on the work of evangelization.

If you want to read the document yourself, you can find it here:  (The link here is a great because it provides you with a book-like pdf that you can print out. This is much more reader friendly than most documents found on the Vatican website). I will also cite section numbers (rather than page numbers) so you can go to the document and read specific areas that might interest you.

Before I dive into the document, I want to give a little background. This document was created after the Bishop’s Synod in 2008 on the Word of God. A synod is a think-tank of sorts where Bishops from around the world gather to discuss an important issue in the life of the Church. (Note: The next synod in 2012 will take up the topic of the New Evangelization). After the synod, a document is created to properly communicate the results of the meeting. In this case, it took about two years. While the Bishops obviously contributed to much of the document, it is apparent that Pope Benedict had a great deal to do with it.

The document is broken up into three main sections (plus an introduction and conclusion):
  1. Verbum Dei--a more academic analysis of the Word of God found in Scripture and Tradition
  2. Verbum in Ecclesia--a look at how the Word of God influences the life of the Church
  3. Verbum Mundo--an examination of how the Word of God can be used to preach the Gospel to the world
I will break down the document by starting with the introduction and then by going through the three different sections followed by a conclusion.

The introduction begins with some reflections on the overall theme of the document and some notes on the Synod itself.

Some quotes worth mentioning:

“I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible and to become his heralds” (no. 2).

“There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God” (no. 2).

The bishops placed the text of the Bible at the centre of the assembly, “in order to stress anew something we risk taking for granted in everyday life: the fact that God speaks and responds to our questions” (no. 4). 

Finally, the introduction ends with by announcing that the Prologue of John’s Gospel will be a constant reference throughout the document. The Word, in this Prologue, was with God from the beginning and comes to dwell among us. In a sense, this Prologue is a Scriptural meditation as you read through the document. 

Section One--Verbum Dei (The Word of God)
To begin this section, the Holy Father looks at the Word of God throughout Salvation History. The practice of Salvation History, looking at God’s plan of salvation throughout history, is mentioned seven times in the document. I always enjoy it when authors practice what they recommend. This won’t be the first time.

A few excerpts that stood out to me in this section:

“The Christian is not a ‘religion of the book’: Christianity is the religion of the word of God”, not of ‘a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word” (no. 7).

My favorite quote of the entire document. It gives Jesus’ role in Salvation History a whole new meaning for me. This has Biblical scholar/musical genesis written all over it:

“Calling to mind these essential elements of our faith, we can contemplate the profound unity in Christ between creation, the new creation and all salvation history. The word of an author who expresses himself through the ‘symphony’ of creation. In this symphony one finds, at a certain point, what would be called in musical terms a ‘solo’, a theme entrusted to a single instrument or voice which is so important that the meaning of the entire work depends on it. This ‘solo’ is Jesus...The Son of Man recapitulates in himself earth and heaven, creation and the Creator, flesh and Spirit. He is the centre of the cosmos and of history, for in him converge without confusion the author and his work” (no. 13).

Then, there is a beautiful quote on Mary's relationship to Scripture: “Mary is the image of the Church in attentive hearing of the word of God, which took flesh in her. Mary also symbolizes openness to God and others; an active listening which interiorizes and assimilates, one in which the word becomes a way of life (no. 27).

Several quotes in this section seem to echo Hebrews 4:12: "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." The Word of God is not dead, but is alive and powerful. This will set up the other two sections as they will focus on how to live out the Word of God.

There are many more gems on Scripture in this section, but in an effort to not overwhelm, let’s continue through the rest of the document.

Section Two--Verbum in Ecclesia (The Word in the Church)
This section focuses on the role of Scripture in the life of the Church. In particular, it looks at Scripture's relationship to the liturgy. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the liturgy. But, for some reason, this section seems to address some very practical and specific areas that I did not find as engaging as the other two sections. This does not mean you might not enjoy it more. Here are a couple of sections I found notable for the Church in America.

There was a call to forgo giving generic and abstract homilies which obscure the directness of God’s Word (no. 59). When we fail to preach the Word of God, we either intentional avoid its message or do not proper use the power of God’s Word. Rather, the document stresses presenting Christ at the center of homilies.

The document also addresses Scripture and its relation to music. “Preference should be given to songs which are of clear biblical inspiration and which express, through the harmony of music and words, the beauty of God’s word. We would do well to make the most of those songs handed down to us by the Church’s tradition which respect this criterion. I think in particular of the importance of Gregorian chant” (no. 70). 

A common problem with music currently played in Church around the US is not only out of date modern music (70s and 80s), but also music that strays from Scripture and often addresses nature instead. Here is a call to move back to a tradition of Scripture-based music which gives the faithful another opportunity to encounter the Word of God during the liturgy. 

The document also added some practical notes for marriages and families. The Synod suggested that every family have a Bible and that it be kept in a worth place for reading and prayer (no. 85). It also stresses forming small communities of families, where common prayer and meditation on passages of Scripture can be cultivated.

Finally, of note, there is a great section on lectio divina (no. 87).

Section Three--Verbum Mundo (The Word in the World)
In terms of FOCUS, section three is by far the most important. The Word of God and the new evangelization take center stage in this section as the very mission of the Church. The title of this section is: “The Church’s Mission: To Proclaim the Word of God to the World.” Notice the proclamation of the Word of God is not one element of the mission or one piece of the mission but the mission of the Church. In a sense, this section appears to sum up many of the missionary documents we have seen in the past (Evangelii Nuntiandi and Redemptoris Missio) while taking them to a new level.

A quick note: It is easy to confuse what is meant by the new evangelization or mission ad gentes. The term new evangelization is often thrown around so much, we fail to grasp exactly what it means. The new evangelization and mission ad gentes both have specific audiences or situations in which evangelization occurs. The new evangelization is the situation where baptized Catholics "have lost a living sense of the faith." The mission ad gentes is where the Gospel is not known or mature Christian communities have not been formed. Here is a straightforward excerpt from John Paul II’s of Redemptoris Missio if you want to read more on this. Specifically read number 33.

Here are some notable excerpts from the third section of Verbum Domini:
“This is why the Church is missionary by her very nature. We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman” (no. 91).

“The Synod of Bishops forcefully reaffirmed the need within the Church for a revival of the missionary consciousness present in the People of God from the beginning” (no. 92).

“The Synod reaffirmed that ‘the mission of proclaiming the word of God is the task of all of the disciples of Jesus Christ based on their Baptism’...A consciousness of this must be revived in every family, parish, community, association, and ecclesial movement. The Church, as a mystery of communion, is thus entirely missionary, and everyone, according to his or her proper state in life, is called to give an incisive contribution to the proclamation of Christ” (no. 94).

“At the dawn of the third millennium not only are there still many peoples who have not come to know the Good News (mission ad gentes), but also a great many Christians who need to have the word of God once more persuasively proclaimed to them, so that they can concretely experience the power of the Gospel. Many of our brothers and sisters are ‘baptized, but insufficiently evangelized (new evangelization)’ ” (no. 96) (remarks in parentheses are mine).

Four paragraphs that very specifically apply to FOCUS missionaries:
“The Synod paid particular attention to the proclamation of God’s word to the younger generation. Young people are already active members of the Church and they represent its future. Often we encounter in them a spontaneous openness to hearing the word of God and a sincere desire to know Jesus. Youth is a time when genuine and irrepresible questions arise about the meaning of life and the direction our own lives should take. Only God can give the true answer to these questions” (no. 104).

Evangelization on campus: “It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers” (no. 93).

Bible Studies: “In a particular way, young people need to be introduced to the word of God ‘through encounter and authentic witness by adults, through the positive influence of friends and the great company of the ecclesial community” (no. 97). 

Discipleship: “Young people need witnesses and teachers who can walk with them, teaching them to love the Gospel and to share it, especially with their peers, and thus to become authentic and credible messengers” (no. 104).

If you are out of college and would like to live out this document, you can apply to be a FOCUS missionary here.

The conclusion continues the theme of the Word of God and the new evangelization:
“Our own time, then, must be increasingly marked by new hearing of God’s word and a new evangelization. Recovering the centrality of the divine word in the Christian life leads us to appreciate anew the deepest meaning of the forceful appeal of Pope John Paul II: to pursue the missio ad gentes and vigorously to embark upon the new evangelization, especially in those nations where the Gospel has been forgotten or meets with indifference as a result of widespread secularism” (no. 122).

The document closes in a very compelling and fitting way. Pope Benedict practices what he preaches by using the Word of God to take part in the mission ad gentes and the new evangelization:

“Finally, I turn to every man and woman, including those who have fallen away from the Church, who have left the faith or who have never heard the proclamation of salvation. To everyone the Lord says: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the doors, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ ” (Rev. 3:20) (no. 124). 

I will continue to read over the document and I am sure there is much more to discover. I highly recommend picking up the document yourself and reading it, especially the third section.  Feel free to post on what stood out to you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pilgrim and Indian "Hats"

Last night around 9:00 pm I was feeling crafty, so I made some pilgrim and indian hats for the FOCUS Thanksgiving potluck today! I of course forgot my camera, so just imagine adults and kids wearing these while eating turkey and mashed potatoes.

When I was a hall director at Benedictine we made hundreds of these for the school cafeteria's Thanksgiving dinner, so the idea was already in my head. These are almost too simple to give instructions for, but I figured out some tricks so I'll pass them on. Be sure to make some for you Thanksgiving festivities!


Step 1: Cut a piece of brown construction paper into 8 strips.

Step 2: Cut feathers out of red, yellow and orange construction paper. I folded the paper so I could cut out 4 at a time.

Step 3: Glue 3 feathers in the middle of a brown strip.

Step 4: Add another strip to the strip with feathers. Now you are ready to loop it on a festive Thanksgiving guest!


Step 1: Cut a piece of black construction paper into 8 strips, just like shown above with brown.

Step 2: Cut a piece of black construction paper in to 4 hats. Look at that, you don't waste any of the paper!

Step 3: Cut out buckles from white paper. I just fold them and cut out the middle.

Step 4: Glue a strip to the back of the hat. I glued them just on the edge of the strip so the hat's "brim" pops out.

Step 5: Glue  on the buckle and another strip to the first strip so it is long enough to wrap around a head.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Catholic Christmas Gifts - Holy Medal Wine Charms

Thanksgiving is approaching and we all know what that means... it's time to start thinking about Christmas presents! Over the years I have been gathering ideas for fun Catholic Christmas gifts. My plan is to post a few of them over the next few weeks, so be on the lookout!

Gift idea #1: Holy Medal Wine Charms

Ever been at a party with wine, put down your glass and then find yourself guessing which one is yours when you return for it? Wine charms were invented exactly for this dilema. They are like a little name tag for your glass that is much more attractive than sharpie on a plastic cup. When it comes to a homemade, personalized gift I don't think it can get much simpler.

Step 1: Put holy medals on wine rings.

You did it! Great job.

Now for some tips. You can buy wine rings here or here. Medals can be found online or at your local Catholic store. Try to pick medals that have a special meaning to your recipient; perhaps their namesake, favorite saint or the patron of their alma mater.

If you want to add a little flare to your charms you can put beads on the loops.

The beads shown above are compliments of my grade school bead collection. I can't decide if it is a good thing or a bad thing that I have kept them all these years.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Living Liturgically Audio Talk

Earlier this year I gave a talk on living liturgically in your home at my Church's MOPS group (Mother's of Preschoolers, love the program, but the name makes me think of cleaning my kitchen floor). "Living liturgically" is a fancy way of saying modeling your home life with the seasons of the Church.

The talk gives my 3 reasons for why we live liturgically and then walks through a year of the Church's calendar. I give explanations for what we teach in each season, why we teach it and how we can teach it. The scrolling pictures in the video are some examples of what we have done or made in the past few months.

It was so good for me to put this talk together and it gave me some motivation to take the time to plan meaningful experiences for my kids. My prayer is it will do the same for you. Sorry about the baby chatter in the background, but what is a moms group without baby chatter!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

First Snow Chili

Today marks the first snow fall of the year for the Cotters, not bad considering it is November 9th. In honor of the first snow fall I am posting my secret (well, not really, but it is completely my own) chili recipe. I will be making it for the Augustine Institute Alumni chili cook off this weekend, so if you're going to be there, just don't use this recipe then. And no, the title of this post was not intended to be a pun, it just happens to be.

This was our house at 10:00 this morning:

Tuesday is Bible Timeline morning and the kiddos were playing at "recess". A city worker was blowing leaves and everyone just had to know what he was doing. Notice no jackets, it was beautiful.

This was our house at 3:00 this afternoon:

What happened!

And at 5:00:

The kids just had to go outside to play in the snow. Notice the lovely snowball splatter on the window, courtesy of Kevin.

Now on to the chili: This chili has a mexican flair to it, definitely not like your standard tomato, beans and meat chili. It is very hearty and not at all runny, which I love. I can't handle too much spice, so if you want to kick it up a notch, just add some more chili powder.


1 lb ground turkey, beef or veggie crumbles
1c. diced onion
4 cloves of chopped garlic
1/2 c. diced green bell peppers
1 c. chicken or beef broth
2 t. dried cumin
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. chili powder
1 t. black pepper
1/2 t. salt
2 cans of drained kidney beans
1 can of drained corn
1 can of drained black beans
2 cups of black bean and corn salsa
1 can refried beans

Don't be intimidated by the long ingredients list, it's mostly a lot of dumping things into a pot.

Step 1: Brown the meat. I use turkey, so there is no grease to drain, but if you have a lot of grease from beef, drain it. I just brown mine right in the pot, so there is less to clean. You could also put the meat in a crock pot once it's cooked and add the rest to there.

Step 2: Add the onions and garlic (I forgot the bell pepper, but you would add it here). There is no need to cook them, they will soften while the chili simmers.

Step 3: Drain the corn, black beans and kidney beans and add them to the pot and stir it all up.

Step 4: Add the broth. I tend to use bullion cubes for this and I have two cups of water because I was making a double batch when I took these pictures.

Step 5. Add the spices and stir.

Step 6: Add the salsa and stir. See, lots of dumping, just like I promised.

Step 7: Let simmer on low for 3 hours.

Step 8: Add the refried beans and stir until the beans "melt" into the chili.

Step 9: Let simmer for 1 more hour and it's ready. I love to garnish this with a mexican blend cheese and you can serve it with corn bread or tortilla chips.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Living Gospel Bible Study

For the past few months, I (Kevin) have been writing a new Bible study for FOCUS called Living Gospel: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Catholics.

The study has two simple aims.

First, the purpose of the study is to establish believers, new and old, into the main activities of the Church that enable them live out the faith. We chose seven essential practices that all believers should know and practice in their walk with Jesus Christ.

Second, the study helps college students learn the practice the art of reading Scripture, especially the Gospels. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s word is “living and active”. So often we seek to hear God’s voice. Scripture is God’s Word that expresses the love He has for us and the plan he has for our lives. Cultivating the skill of reading Scripture can create an open and dynamic stream of communication with the creator of the universe.

The title, Living Gospel, tries to reflect these two aims with its double meaning. On one hand, we want students to live out the Gospel and to embody its message with their lives. On the other hand, the Gospels are not just fairy tale or merely a historical account, but a living reality that affects us today just as much as it affected Jesus’ listeners 2,000 years ago. It has the power to completely change our lives if we are open to hearing God’s message.

My plan is to do a 7 part series (a post for each chapter) in the upcoming weeks to give some insight into what the study looks like.

One really cool part of my job is that I get to do a good amount of reading and researching for my Bible studies. I thought I would share some of the gems that I have found or rediscovered over the past few weeks in case you were looking for a good read or a Christmas gift.

Ignatius New Testament Study Bible: For the past ten years, Curtis Mitch and Scott Hahn have been writing a study Bible. Over the years, they would release the study book by book (in some cases they grouped smaller books together. These individual editions cost about $10. Now, you can buy the whole series for $15!

Praying Scripture for a Change: This book focuses on lectio divna and how to pray with Scripture. It is an awesome read. Tim Gray who taught me at the Augustine Institute is its author.

Time for God: My personal favorite book on prayer. Jacques Philippe takes the ancient wisdom of the Church and distills it down into simple language that you and I can understand.

Ranerio Cantalamessa: He has been the preacher to the Papal household since 1980. He has several international best sellers. For the study, I used his homilies on the Beatitudes. Lots of great free stuff on his website: Its in seven different languages just in case you know Polish.

Pope Benedict XVI: Yes, I know it seems obvious at first glance. I really enjoyed his last homily to World Youth Day 2010 in Sydney. He talks about the Holy Spirit and how to receive it more deeply in our lives:

The speech is also in Bermese and Macedonian among 23 other languages.



Saturday, November 6, 2010

Turkey Napkin Ring Holders

This is my band of wild turkeys. I will attempt to tame them by Thanksgiving and then slide a napkin through them and turn them into adorable table decor. They should just be glad they won't be eaten.

If you would like to build your own rafter of wild turkeys (Did I sound like a nature buff knowing what to call a group of turkeys? I wikied it.), instructions are below.

For this project you will need:

  • Yellow, brown, red and orange stiff felt
  • Fabric scissors
  • Tacky glue
  • 7mm google eyes
  • Shape patterns
  • Straight pins
  • Paper clips (not pictured)

Things you don't need:

  • Needle and brown thread (pictured, but I changed my mind and just glued them, which worked)
  • An adorable 4 year old to assist you... although it helps

Step 1: Use the patterns to cut out the felt shapes. You can fit 8 feathers and 12 brown rings per page, so you may need 2 pages of these colors.

Here are the shapes! For the ring strips, just cut the page hamburger style (yes, there happens to be a wiki answer for this too) and then divide each half into 6 strips.

Step 2: Glue the little feet on the bottom of the strips. Here is where the adorable 4 year old starts to come in handy.

3. Wrap the strips around to make a circle, glue and then hold in place with a paperclip until dry.

4. Assemble turkey faces. The adorable 4 year old was the google eye expert, only about 5 of 14 were on the wrong side of the head, but we just took them off and tried again.

5. Remove the paperclip once the ring is dry and glue on the feathers and head. Make sure to glue the feathers parallel to the table so your turkey doesn't fall over.

Profile shot...

and the back.

Adapted from: Favecrafts