Reflections on Living an Interfaith Life

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​​We’re more than halfway through Passover, and everyone is tired of matzo. Can’t we have pizza for dinner? Dinner rolls with our chicken? Pasta? Pleeeeeease. 

We have always been an interfaith family. We didn’t attend religious services but we observed and celebrated all of the major holidays of both Catholicism and Judaism. That was how I was raised Jewish – following the traditions, participating in the observances, eating the holiday food. We’ve always had a Christmas tree in my married life. We are so blended that when I converted to Catholicism, my daughter assumed that my husband was the Jewish one since we’re both faiths and I was Catholic.

People blend their interfaith families in a myriad of ways. For me, I try to find a way to blend without overshadowing or ignoring either. I also don’t usually like to combine them. For example, I don’t like Jewish related ornaments on Christmas trees. I think that keeping the holiday traditions distinctive is better for our kids to appreciate both equally. We still celebrate Chanukah on Christmas if it falls that way. We will light the Chanukah candles and decorate the tree on the same day if timing demands it.

If we were spending Easter with my mother-in-law, I would not object to the kids eating bread or her special Peeps bunny cake. They deserved their special time with their grandmother during her special holiday.

I dread looking at the calendar to see when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall because my son’s birthday is in October and there’s a chance I will have to choose between fasting and praying and celebrating my son’s birthday. (My son wins every time. One thing about both the Jewish and Catholic faiths is that family is a priority.)

This year, Passover began right in the middle of the Triduum. From Holy Thursday through Easter, I spend about 11 and a half  hours at church between the prayer services, parish dinner, masses, and the Easter Vigil. It is exhausting, but I love it. Right before that, my son was in the hospital, and our oven wasn’t working.

I did not even mention Passover until after Easter dinner*. Yes, we missed the first three nights, but Monday morning, bright and early, we were a bread free house. I realize it’s not kosher, but it’s kosher style, and they still get the dietary restrictions as well as the stories and the celebration of freedom from Egyptian slavery. They also love latkes, which I make more during the abundance of potatoes for Passover than for Chanukah. This year I made fried chicken tenders using crushed matzo in place of the bread crumbs. I had never done that before and it was well received. I believe we have a new tradition.

After the huge windstorm we had yesterday, we’ve had no power since about 12:30am, and won’t be getting it back until later tonight, or so I’m told. That means we will probably need to eat out, which means I probably won’t restrict their food choices. I can always make the matzo lasagna tomorrow night. Obviously, grocery shopping is also postponed.

The most important aspect of sharing a house with multiple religions is respect. Our two faiths are equal in importance and in worth. They are valued with the same respect and reverence. My time at church is important to me, and my family understands and accepts that. My time making latkes is also valuable and important to me.

We light Yartzeit candles for my parents and now for my mother-in-law, who wasn’t Jewish. I know she wouldn’t mind. We also have mass said for her.

I would love to hear from any readers who juggle this very issue of interfaith or multi-faith within your families. I think we do a good job, but it’s good to give acknowledgment to others who are doing a good job as well as getting ideas on other things we can do differently or better.

I hope your Easter is a blessed one and Chag Sameach for your Passover.

What other holidays do you celebrate (they don’t necessarily have to be at this time of the year)?

[*My husband jiggled the heating element for the oven, and so we were able to have turkey dinner for Easter.]

Sundays in Lent – 1st Friday

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Use this oppotunity to go on pilgrimage. I know that we all can’t just hop on a jet and see the world or pray around the world, but we can visit some places that inspire us to be more prayerful and draw us closer to G-d. 

Lourdes is one of those places.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VGZxmB38Sjs

Incense

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This was in response to a free write for the prompt scent in the theme of comfort. In other words, write about a scent that gives you comfort.

​I would not have expected to be writing about incense being a comforting scent. I was never a fan of incense. Perhaps, it was the specific scents that I was exposed to. Perhaps, it was Allan, who lived across the hall from me in my first year in college who used it to mask his pot smoking. At the time, I was so naive that I didn’t realize that’s what it was for. I thought he was just kind of dopey and laid back, and the incense was just him being a late blooming hippie.

Either way, the smell of it was enough to put me off both pot and incense.

When I visited church for the first time that they used incense was probably around Advent, maybe Christmas Eve. I remember the sounds of that day more than I remember the smells. Our music director is an amazing musician, and it is a joy to listen to his carols before the Christmas Eve Mass. I don’t know if there was incense that night, but I know that it’s been there as the liturgical season warranted.

Every Tuesday, the Host is incensed and a hymn is sung before adoration. I try to watch the smoke rise until it dissipates on its way to the skylight. I try ot make sense of the shapes it makes and the directions it flows in, but usually it just goes, and I continue to meditate on it.

After the Mass of Christian burial, the casket is incensed on its way out of the church to the burial or interment. 

The incense is carried in a bowl through the church during the Sunday procession during Lent. I know it is offered up with a solemn hymn that just touches me deeply. The whole process of the incense rising, the low singing of the prayer, the hush that falls over everything. It is very similar at Advent.

During one of the RCIA rites, I was standing in the back with the other catechumens while we waited together for our time to bring our oils to the altar. It may have been the rite of welcome, or perhaps, during the Holy Thursday Mass. I can’t remember at the moment, but I do remember looking to the front of the church where the incense was being carried, and i distinctly saw the smoke rise and form the shape of a Jewish Star of David. It was one of many signs that I received that I was making the right decision to go down the path of conversion.

While at first, the smell bothered me, the more I became engrossed in the Catholic liturgy and ritual, the more comfortable I became with the scents and the smells of the church and the incense.

I would not expect it during a service, and then I would smell it, and a warmth would come over me, a comfort, and it reminded me of what I found in the church, but not so much in the building but in the pews.

As we are often told, we are the church, and I find a small part of myself floating through the air along with the incense.

Healing: Near and Far

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​One of the wonderful things about visiting a place steeped in saints is finding a new one; an unheard of one, at least unheard of by me. When I mentioned to our cousins about traveling to Wales to pilgrimage at my confirmation saint’s holy well, he immediately scoffed. “Ach, why ya goin’ there? We’ave one just up the road; that way, then left.”

When we returned from Wales, we indeed went right up the road and discovered a place of quiet beauty, spirituality pressing down from the clouds and whispering through the grass of the graveyard. Set between a field of sheep and a tremendous lake – Lough Neagh – and just below the ruins of an old church was the holy well of St. Olcan.

St. Olcan was a contemporary of St. Patrick. It is said that Patrick found Olcan as a baby with his deceased mother. He became a disciple of Patrick’s and founded the Armoy Monastery in Antrim, very near where his well stands today. After travels to Rome and Gaul, he was ordained by Patrick and became the first bishop in Ireland. Another story is that his mother was Patrick’sw sister, but of course, there’s no real way to verify that. Patrick did have a warm spot for Olcan, having taken him under his wing, becoming his mentor and in addition, gave to him some of the relics of Sts. Peter and Paul that had been in Armagh.

St. Olcan’s feast day is June 29, which corresponds with the pilgrimage to his shrine between May Eve and June 29 and the day that the water has risen so far that the amber pebbles overflow onto the land, making them easier to access. Pilgrims would come during that time for three consecutive days, walking the stations, bathing in the well, and praying for healing.

L-R: Holy water from St. Olcan’s well, two pebbles from the well and one stone from the Cranfield Church. (c)2017


Olcan blessed the well with healing properties.
The rising water brings the stones, and swallowing a pebble protects one from drowning, women in childbirth, and having them in homes protects them from fire and burglary.

I was told to bring a rag or some sort of cloth, dip it in the well, and wash the area on my body that needed healing. Then I was to tie the rag onto the tree (where there were dozens of other rags), and when it deteriorated, my affliction would be healed. While some holy wells are meant to drink, I’m not sure that this is one of those wells. Certainly, the directions do not include drinking or ingesting, and when I collected some for my ailment, it was brownish and had sediment floating in it. By contrast, the two other wells I visited were much cleaner and were meant to be drank.

He is also said to be buried at the church on the hill above the well. What’s left of the Cranfield Church is the ruins of a 13th century church, but that church was built and stands on the site of an earlier church.

Saint Olcan’s Well and Shrine on the shores of Lough Neagh adjacent to a sheep farm, just below the ruins of Cranfield Church. (c)2017


One of the things that amazed me about this church, and really many of the medieval buildings that I’ve visited is the sturdiness. Most are without roofs, and Cranfield was no exception, but the walls stood tall; sturdy. I am a toucher, and I ran my fingers along the cold stones, and leaned through window spaces and on walls to get just the right pictures at just the right angles, and I never felt unsafe.
Today, I was reminded of St. Olcan and his Holy Well when I attended my parish’s semi-annual  Anointing Mass. It was well attended. There is Scripture, music, a blessing and the anointing of the oil of the infirm and receving the Eucharist. There is also a community lunch. Today was turkey and mashed potatoes. I could eat turkey and mashed potatoes every day. I find the camaraderie and the fellowship of the meal as well as the coming together of our community just as healing as the prayers and the anointing.

Clockwise: From the anointing mass: Turkey luncheon, Music: I Know That My Redeemer Lives, Ornament table favor. (c)2017


Tomorrow, I will post pictures of St. Olcan’s well and the Cranfield Church. For now, take a few moments, and just be with your thoughts or no thoughts. Take a few breaths, and recharge. Don’t forget to exhale.

41/52 – The Centennial of Our Lady of Fatima

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the Holy Mother’s final Visitation to the children at Fatima, Portugal. In the photo is a book I recently read, and a rosary given to me by a member of the RCIA team when they taught the lesson on Mary. It is from the Shrine at Fatima, and I will use it today, and on Tuesday when I participate in the LIving Rosary. (c)2017

37/52 – My Mother-in-Law

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​Having just returned from Ireland, with October upon us, and our applepicking happening just this afternoon, my mother-in-law has been much on my mind. Jean. Our trip was visiting her home, her cousins, and interring her ashes with her father, and applepicking was her “holiday”. She came up every year for applepicking and was also here for most of my middle child’s birthdays. He was born in October. She didn’t drive, but that didn’t stop her; not one bit. At home she traveled by public bus or walked or with friends. She used to take bus tours for those senior casino trips. She rode Greyhound or Trailways or whichever line was available to see us, arriving in New York’s capital in the afternoon before the roads were seized by rush hour. She also took Amtrak to visit my sister-in-law when she was in Virginia or Maine. She knew how to pack and only brought what she could carry, leaving plenty of room to bring home loads of apples.

When she left home in Northern Ireland, she traveled the world, meeting new people, finding adventure. From the UK to Afghanistan to India to Australia to America, where she settled, getting married, and having kids.

So many stories to tell, tea to drink, food to create and share, not to mention her Christmas dinners that I can only try to emulate and her trifles that I won’t even attempt for fear of not meeting anyone’s expectations, least of all mine.

Growing up in Northern Ireland to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father, she was not a fan of the church and its rules, especially because of the way her father was treated back in the day. However, she was remarkably supportive when I became Catholic with no warning or preamble. She encouraged me. She found items that she had from her mother – a book of Catholic prayers for example, signed with her mother’s name and dated 1919. She said she didn’t know why she had kept it for so long, but now she knew and gave it to me along with a small First Communion statuette and a key chain with tiny figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

She was kind and generous and gave more than we could have ever given back.

Every step, every rock, every drop of rain in Ireland reminded me of her, especially always bringing an umbrella along.

Just in case.

Spiritual Sites

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What I call my “relics”. These are not historical or sacred in any way except to me. 1. (Top left): Dried flowers and rock along with holy water from St. Elen’s Well in Wales. 2. (Bottom left): The top and bottom of a rock from what is still standing of my mother-in-law’s uncle’s house in Northern Ireland. 3. (Top right): A shell and a rock (or a fossilized rock) from Ballintoy. 4. Middle right): Holy water and pebble from St. Olcan’s Holy Well and a rock from the Cranfield Church ruins as well as the top and bottom of the rocks from the site. 5. (Bottom right): The dried flowers and rock from St. Elen’s Well without the holy water pictured. (c)2017

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