Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Year of Faith

January 2013: The Year of Faith

Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed this year the 'Year of Faith'.  This is really a challenge sent out to all of us.  It is time to ask God to 'help our unbelief' and begin to believe.  This is tough.  Faith takes humility in saying you can't do it on your own and it takes trust, which is even more difficult.  Our journey is definitely challenging our faith and hopefully increasing it!

Melk, Austria

We began January with a trip with our friends Ryan and Vidya to Gaming.  Gaming is where ITI used to be situated: right in the rolling hills of the Alps.  On the way there we stopped at Melk to visit the Monastery.   This Benedictine order is over a 1000yrs old and this monastery was built in the early 1700's.  It is stunning.

This is our ladies walking up the path to entrance.  Vidya with Anne and Becca with Benedict.

That is them on the path below as I take the picture up on the hill.

We didn't pay for a guided tour as I'm not sure the kids cared too much about the history.  Plus there was enough to explore and see just by trying different doors and walking until we hit a locked one.

The chapel is unbelievable!
From their website:
The high point of the baroque monastery is the church. Following the wishes of the abbot and monastic community, this is intended to make the religious purpose of the entire construction and its orientation towards God clearly visible. The leitmotif “ABSIT GLORIARI NISI INCRUCE” (Glory is found only in the cross) is found in the inscription over the Benedict Hall at the beginning of the tour, and continues through the abbey to the church, in whose splendour the glory of the cross is clear.

This relic of an unknown saint was gifted to the monks from the last monarchy in Austria.  St.
Colomon's  relics are the left of the high altar lying in his sarcophagus.  St. Colomon is an important saint here in Austria and even has a dessert named after him!

The meaning of the Melk Abbey Church can be seen in the inscription on the high altar: “NON CORONABITUR NISI LEGITIME CERTAVERIT” (“Without a legitimate battle there is no victory”) (2 Timothy 2,5). The battle which leads to victory is embodied on the high altar through the martyrdom of the apostles Peter and Paul, and further depicted by that of St. Coloman (Coloman Altar). It is most strongly expressed by the monk’s battle for virtue, the theme of the nave fresco, in a depiction of St. Benedict. The victory in this battle is portrayed on the one hand by the large victory crown on the high altar and the dome frescoes, in which the heavens open, and on the other hand by the victor’s laurels over the monk, who has achieved spiritual fulfillment, in the nave fresco.

If you look carefully you can see the large crown above the high altar.

We were able to follow a tour into the church and take a look around.  Here is small video of our view.

Winter exploring the caverns underneath the monastery.

The view overlooking the city of Melk and some of the gardens.

Gaming, Austria

We stayed in Gaming for 4 days.  We were able to get a deal for 25 Euros for the whole stay because Ryan and Vidya had some contacts.  We stayed in the Kartause.  This is a monastary built in 1300s for the Carthusian monks.

When this monastery was purchased and rented to ITI there was a lot of work that had to be done to refurbish it after the wars.  One thing they had to do was dig up the graves up the monks buried here.  A bunch of the monks unearthed were incorruptibles!  An incorruptible is someone who lived such a holy life that there body doesn't even decompose.  In fact, to be declared an incorruptible by the Vatican, the body still has to be limber (no rigamortis).  The incorruptible monks were delivered to the the Prior of the order, but he asked that they be reburied and not declared as saints for according to their 'Rule' they are not allowed to be cannonized by the Church (declared a saint).

The courtyard at night.

One of our most enjoyable moments was getting totally dressed up in winter gear to go sledding at hill we were told had snow.  Here is the hill below:

Yup.  No snow.  So what did the kids do?  Well, lets see if we can sled on wet grass!

Tristan and Eli about try our new Austrian sport!

It works!  The kids loved it.  They could get speed and make it all the way down to the bottom of the hill.

Here is Winter and her new friend Emily taking the plunge.

 2 videos: kids sledding

Benedict hoofn'er up the hill for another ride to the bottom.  Needless to say, all their winter gear was soaked right through to the bone.  But fun was had by all.

This picture looks boring.  And is.  But the red roofs in the middle show you Gaming nestled in the hills of the Alps.

Ryan took me for a tour of the area.  This is Lunz am See (Lunz on the Lake).  This crucifix is typical all over Austria.  There are shrines everywhere of Mary and Jesus that always remind us to pray.


Epiphany here is big celebration and a huge day for giving throughout all of Austria.  Kids in groups of 4, dressed as the three kings and an angel, from parishes everywhere go door to door and raise money for the poor.  It is the biggest day of giving for the whole year for charitable donations.  We missed the celebration as we were in Gaming.  On this day, the priest would bless water and chalk and people write above the door of their home with the chalk '20 C+M+B 13'  with the "20 "being the millennium and century, the "C" standing for the first Wise Man, Caspar, the "M" standing for Melchior, the "B" standing for Balthasar, and the "13" standing for the decade and year. It is also popularly believed that the Kings' initials also stand for "Christus mansionem benedicat" ("Christ bless this house"). -
Since we missed this day, we joined the Byzantine Catholics and had Fr. Juraj come to our home after the mass of the Baptism of Our Lord the Sunday after Epiphany to bless our home and icons and candle.  This is the day in the Eastern rite traditions where the priest blesses the waters of a river or lake and throws the cross into the water.  Then all the men dive in after it.  The one to retrieve the cross is blessed for the year.  We went down to the channel behind the Schloss and Father blessed the waters and just dipped the cross into the water.  We wouldn't let the kids jump in after it - too cold.


                                                                                        Here is a short video of the prayers the kids       
                                                                                                        have been learning.
One area we have been working on as a family is 
prayer.  The more we can organize our day around prayer, the more things go the way they are supposed to.  

Morning (before breakfast): 
- read the Bible
- read a story of a saint
- memorize part of the Baltimore Catechism
- light a candle and make intentions
- pray the Psalms
- pray the rosary (we are up to three decades with the kids in English, Latin and German).

At the table:
- we are working on praying with our bodies                   
daddy calls this 'our posture of prayer'.                                 
- we begin the meal with prayer and the 
kids can't leave till we end our meal with prayer.
- we also review the prayer parts of the mass 

Daily Holy Mass:
- we are working on being reverent and silent and participating in the mass as much as the kids are able.
- we are slowly working on saying the parts of the mass in English, German and Latin, but this is a slow process.

At Bedtime:
- we pray the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and a prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours

It would be great to add the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3pm, but this hasn't worked out yet. 

January Miracle #1:

In January we had the unfortunate event of my hard drive crashing.  A student's worse nightmare.  My choices were limited and expensive.  Imac's are not cheap.  And fixing them in Europe is not cheap.  We prayed for a solution.  So a friend (with some technical experience), Chris Owens, decided to replace the hard drive ourselves and save some money.  Here are our photos:

We had to purchase these suction cups to pull off the screen on the Imac.

Then we opened it carefully and unplugged the wires.

Then we took off the screen. So far so good.

We replaced the 1tb harddrive with an SSD drive 256GB drive.  Substantially smaller but enough to run my applications.  Then we bought an external drive that I save photos, video and data to.

And .... thanks be to God! .... it works!  Great!
Total cost: around $500.  A far cry from a new Imac at $2400.

January Miracle #2

Many of you received a cry for help from Rebecca.  She has been on medication for her high blood pressure all year since Kate was born.  Then we found out we were pregnant with #5 and Becca wasn't allowed on her medication anymore.  After a day or so of quitting the medication her blood pressure began to rise and rise.  We needed a miracle!  Everything that she had tried doing to lower the blood pressure in the past had failed, so we were out of options.  Becca was trying to hunt down herbs from other countries and we put out a call for prayer.  Within a couple days her blood pressure dropped to normal and has been staying healthy since then!  A miracle!!!  Thank you so much for all your prayers!!

This is an icon given to us from a family here at ITI.  It is passed to expecting mothers to have and pray with.
There have been a series of miracles with this icon including fertility miracles and pregnancy difficulty miracles.

It is a blessing to have another sacramental in our home and another reminder to commit the protection of our new baby into the same arms that protected the Son of God.

Grandma/Grandpa's Christmas Present Comes in the Mail:

As mailing anything here seems to be a crazy price and takes a long time - people back home were very creative in the gifts they sent us.  My mom and dad sent the kids costumes.  Light and worth hours of fun.  Here is Tristan and Benedict as Wolverine and Batman!

My little is Benedict is a warrior.  He talks about fighting the bad guys every day.  One evening he told us at the supper table that he was going to find the bad guys that crucified Jesus and bash their heads together.  Another time Benedict said "If the snake ever gives me an apple," (referring to Adam and Eve) "I'll chop off his head!" That's my son!

Snow!  Finally!!

We have had a couple days where it snowed, but it always melted within a day.  We finally got dumped on and this is the most snow Trumau has had in 20 years!  

The Schloss in Winter: where I take classes and where we have daily mass.

Entrance to the Schloss.

Sledding with snow:

At first we went sledding on butts because we had no sleds.  (The sleds we saw at the stores were $33 each!  Too much!)  That was fun.  Then we tried an Ikea bag and that didn't work at all.  Finally, a neighbour told us of a store selling sleds for 5 Euros!  Yeah - we can sled for real!

This was Kate's first sledding experience.  Very exciting.

Kate's first sled ride!
 Kate's first sledding crash!
Kate likes it!!

January Miracle #3:

This is a small miracle in comparison to the others, but one just the same.  Becca needed a strainer for loose leaf tea. We found one in the store finally for $40!  Yikes.  I wouldn't let Becca buy it and told her to pray for one.  The next day, our neighbour brought one over and told her she could use it for as long as she needed it!  Thanks be to God!

Education in Austria: Very different, very interesting...

Here is a copy of the email I sent to my teacher friends:

I'm learning a lot about a different way of doing education here and find the system here fascinating.  There are good and bad things about of course, but all cause for reflection on what we do in Canada.  Here are a few interesting things that happen here in Austria:

- Winter was placed in the first grade even though she was in grade 2 because of her not knowing German.  I was unimpressed to begin with, but this is the norm for all students.  If students are not mastering their languages they are kept back a grade because language is so important.  I'm tutoring a 13 year old boy now that had to redo a grade because his English language mark wasn't high enough.
- Winter has the same teacher from grade 1-5 in elementary.  
- From grades 1-5 they go to school only till noon.  They are always given a page or so of homework to do at home at the grade 1 level in language or math.  I think this increases as the grades increase.  
- In grade 1, penmenship is super important.  When they can write letters perfectly in small spaces (single lined paper) they move up to writing with a fountain pen.  Winter is now writing her notes with a fountain pen with refillable ink cartridges.  To be honest I at first thought this was dumb.  But then I thought about how poor the penmenship is in grade 4 and 5 in Canada for many kids and I wondered if there may be some merit here.  The boy I tutor in gr. 6 puts my penmenship to shame!
- Winter only takes 6 classes in grade 1.  Language, religion, math, phys. ed, art and music.  With no health, social or science they have a lot more time to spend on literacy.  Winter stays late an extra day for an hour to get private lessons with German.
- A homeschooling mom here from the US was forced to put her kids into the schools or pay 200 Euros/day/kid.  Her daughter was struggling with the amount of work in grade 6.  In grade 6 they take bio, chem, physics, latin, greek, english, social, geography, and some other ones.  She compared what she was learning in the sciences with what the States was doing back home.  Her kids in grade 6 was learning the same things that grade 11's do in the US.  Crazy.
- Between grade 6-9 you only have to go to school 3 full years, but you must pass 3 full years in those 4 in order to carry on into high school.  So the kid I"m tutoring will take the 4 years to get into high school.  I'm not sure what they do in the fourth year if they passed the three... I remember someone saying it is a year to focus on music... but I can't be sure.
- Music in Austria is so important that all music lessons are subsidized by the gov't by 2/3's!
- Catholic religion classes are mandatory at every school until high school where they still have to take religion but get to choose the religion they want to study.  
- If someone doesn't pass into high school they are put into vocation schools to learn trades.  One must get into high school in order to get into university.  One can get into university later without high school, but they make it difficult to do so.

Homeschooling at it's best!
The kids are studying
ancient Egypt in history
and learning about mummies.

Here they wrapped Tristan up,
added spices and oils, put on a mask and mourned his loss. Then they paraded him to his own pyramid.

January Miracle #4:

Speaking of education... we had prayed and asked God to move the hearts of the politicians to allow Tristan to homeschool during the Kindergarten years and then we'd put him into the Volkschule for grade 1.  Most folks around us thought for sure this was a no-go as the system here is very strict.  Well, God again answered our prayers and we received a letter on the 22nd of January granting us permission.  Thanks be to God!

ITI Brewery

Chris Owens, one of our American students here with his family, is turning the keller into a brewery for the students.  This will include a pub as well.  Here are the pictures of the kids helping to sanitize 152 bottles for bottling our pale ale.

Here, with friends Johannes and Anna, the kids are sanitizing the bottles.

Here is Chris checking the alcohol level of the brew - a nice 4%.

Benedict taste testing the brew.

January Miracle #5:

Benedict needed pyjamas.  Badly, actually. His belly showed and his sleeves were too short.  We looked for pjs but couldn't find any.  Austria is kind of like Vancouver in that way.  No big box stores like Walmart (oh how I miss Walmart) and everything is sold in individual, private stores.  I don't even know if we prayed for pjs, but God saw our need.  One of neighbours came over with a box of boy clothes for Benedict's age and inside... 2 pairs of spiderman pyjamas!  Oh my.  You have never seen a happier kid.  Thanks be to God Again!

Kenton's holiday reading list:

Princeps Fury by Jim Butcher
The Bible looks at Fathers by Annemarie Ohler
A Landscape of Dragons: a battle for your child's mind by Michael O'Brien
Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Of Human Acts and Final Ends: Summa Theologiae Part II by St. Thomas Aquanias

Sermon from the Vineyard:

The year of faith... more faith has been my prayer for the last six months.  Pope Benedict's insight couldn't be more accurate.  It is much easier to put my faith in my own work and ability to make money, then to trust God to meet my needs.  In fact, most of us in the Western world are rarely in a position to even have to trust God because we are so rich compared to the rest of the world.  A student here from Lithuania wanted to go home for Christmas and it cost 100Euro there and back by bus.  She had the 100 Euro to get home and trusted God for a way to get the money to come back.  God came through.  

I now find myself understanding the students from the Eastern block.  There is a trust there that I haven't had to have yet.  Now, I'm crying out like the father in Mark 9, "I believe Lord, help my unbelief!"  The honeymoon period is definitely over.  Actually, it was over in October.  It is crazy difficult for me, as the father not to be working and bringing in an income for my family.  I could (and sometimes do) let myself get caught up in worry and get stressed over every cent spent... but I'm learning.  I believe God wants us to be here.  We are here for this preparation for our future in some way.  Thus, I need to trust that He'll help us stretch our funds for the 5 years and will provide the means to pay my tuition.  And really, the proof is in the pudding.  Writing this blog was a real witness to me of how God continues to look after us - even in the little things. 

So what is my message this month?  Just exactly what I'm learning: faith.  To have faith.  Believe.  Trust.  Romans 10:17 says that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God."  So I can increase the amount of faith I have by hearing the word of God.  Where do I hear the word of God the most?  The Holy Mass.  The Holy Mass is saturated with Scripture.  So, my answer is clear: attend Holy Mass as often as possible.  

Phew! It is good to preach to yourself sometimes!

Kenton E.

Videos for Grandparents:

Kate says 'hello'
Dance fest at the Bifferts

Kate laughing

Biffert needs and prayer requests:

For those of you praying for us here are a few our needs and wish we could haves:

 - Piano: music lessons are subsidized by 2/3's here in Austria by the state, but we can't send the kids unless we have a piano to practice with at home.  This would be a real miracle.
- Midwife: a midwife to birth your baby at home is not covered by state health insurance.  It is important to Becca to birth at home and so we are praying for the funds to do so.  About $1300.
- Books for the kids: there is no library around where we can get out English books for the kids.  So we're buying some from, but everything here is taxed at 19% so it gets expensive.  If any of you have books you'd like to give our kids you can drop them off at my parents place as they are visiting us in the summer and bring them up.  Especially books like 'Boxcar Children', 'Geronimo Stilton', and 'Illustrated Classics'.

We wish you all a blessed Candlemas and a focused, penitential and prayer-filled Lent.

Love, Kenton, Rebecca, Winter, Tristan, Benedict, Kate and the new baby

Mailing Address:
Schloss Trumau
Schlossgasse 21
2521 Trumau, Austria



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