We were at a work event for my son’s job this afternoon when I found out that the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was on fire. Just the view on the computer screen with the white smoke, the bright orange flames licking the stones and rising higher and higher was speech stopping; it was mind-numbing to me. I have a sensitivity to viewing buildings burning. I think it brings me to 9/11, it brings me to California wildfire devastation, and with television and social media it brings it literally into our fingertips.
As of this writing, I believe the two towers have been saved even though the spire collapsed. One of the rose stained glass windows was destroyed, but three remained. The statues that had been on the spire were removed four days ago as part of the renovation. The art, artifacts, and holy relics were saved after being removed during the fire. These are all good things.
This church is nearly one thousand years old. The person who laid the first stone was not alive at its completion. As it has been before, it will be rebuilt because like the church of people remains in perpetuity, the building will be repaired, rebuilt, and it won’t be the last time. The idea, the ideal of the church family lives on in the people who will return to Notre Dame.
In the meantime, we can mourn the physical building as we mourn the death of a loved one and know it will rise again.
The beginning of April saw Passover fill that first week. Passover is the Jewish holiday commmemorating the Jews escape from slavery in Egypt. Part of the observation is forgoing all bread in favor of unleavened bread: matzo. When it came time to run, there wasn’t time to bake the bread, and so they took it as it was.
With kids being picky eaters, it can be difficult to suddenly simply remove a staple from their diets such as bread. It’s not just bread. It’s cereal, oatmeal, muffins, bagels, and I could spend hours listing all the ways they claim that I’m torturing them.
This year we tried two new recipes.
Tuesday was my Massaversary. By the calendar, it was really about a month ago, in March, but the first Mass I ever attended was on Holy Tuesday, which was two days ago.
I remember it clearly because of the recommendation of my friend, Tim. He said I should try to attend the masses during Easter’s Holy Week, that they were really lovely. I went to that first one on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, I went to the second one.
And then I discovered that that’s it for the daily masses in Holy Week. Thursday and Friday and Saturday were all simple prayer services; the big services or masses were held in the evening.
I went to the following prayer services, and was shocked on Saturday to have been caught up so emotionally at the lighting of the Easter fire. It was overwhelming, and almost too much, but it was.
Going back to my first Mass on that Holy Tuesday, it ran just like a regular mass. The fabrics were still purple, the flowers were a mix of greenery and red, leftover from Palm Sunday, although at the time I did not know that.
I sat alone behind an older woman with a colorful embroidered jacket. She was also wearing a hat. I would find out later in the season that her name was Shirley.
I was struck by the synchronicity of it all. Everyone doing the same thing, at the same time, sometimes before the priest gave the signal to move. There was a call and response, and everyone knew all the words. Everyone except me.
I was also struck by the exercise program of it all.
Sit, stand, cross yourself. Bend your head, sit, stand, cross yourself. Kneel, stand, raise your hands, drop your hands, kneel, stand, raise your hands, drop your hands, shake hands with your neighbor, walk to the front, eat, drink, and walk back. Bow and sit. Then stand, bow, and genuflect.
Add a little bit of music and you’ve got a Richard Simmons video.
It was foreign, and I spent most of my time watching the others, trying to emulate what they did, just slightly slower than they.
That was the beginning.
I still go to the daily mass; at least I try to. I have returned for Lent, and I have indeed missed it. I think I’d gotten lazy, but I’m hoping to make it part of my daily prayer time again.
This year, since last week, excepting today, I’ve stayed after the daily mass for the recitation of the rosary. I have some issues with the after rosary prayer, but that is a subject for another day. All in all, I get good feelings from praying to the Holy Mother; something I couldn’t have imagined five years ago.
So, happy massiversary to me!
And Happy Easter to all of you.
In talking about how we balance an interfaith family, I’ve mentioned how I like to keep Christmas and Chanukah as their own holidays. Usually, the calendar cooperates by keeping them separate. The same goes for Passover and Easter. Usually, I can juggle Passover’s restrictions with Easter’s celebrations. When we would go to my mother-in-law’s for Easter, I tried to allow my kids to enjoy Grandma’s holiday her way without making our Jewish traditions …, well, restrictive.
For a long while, I bought all the new kosher for Passover cereal, pancakes, muffins, and the rest. It cost a fortune and we usually had several boxes of things leftover. By the time the next Passover rolled around again, they had passed their expiration dates.
This year, all I bought was a large box of matzo, Temp-Tee cream cheese, matzo ball soup mix, potato pancake mix, and macaroons. Oh, and gefilte fish.
The blending of the two holidays has been a bit more complicated since my baptism. I try to give both their significant place in our family.
Both promise death from life.
In our Exodus from Egypt, we began with the Ten Plagues, the angel of death and the first born. After forty years of wandering in the desert, we found new life over the Jordan in Canaan.
Easter begins with forty days in the desert, death by crucifixion, and life everlasting.
The kids see matzo and bunnies, chocolate and latkes. They get more latkes during Passover than Chanukah.
This year sees a lot of compromises. My church has a community dinner on Holy Thursday to commemorate the Last Supper, held before the Mass of the Last Supper of the Lord, the first day of the Triduum. It’s always lasagna. We will join my church and share the Holy Thursday meal with the other parishioners before Mass in spite of it being Passover.
I don’t know how it translates religiously, but in according both holidays proper observances, I think it brings the long held traditions to my kids. I never went to temple (kids weren’t really allowed), but I remember Seders and presents lined up for Chanukah. Lighting candles. Somewhere I still have my childhood Haggadah, dogeared and torn in places; colored and drawn on, and every year, read from cover to cover.
I remember Elijah’s wine glass sitting on our radiator with the front door open to let him in. This was unusual for my mother – her doors were always closed and locked, but not on Passover. There’s always a space for Elijah.
And by the same token, there’s always a space for learning, understanding, and sharing our traditions with each other.
“…the road that we seek is often the road we have already found.”
– Father James Marttin, My LIfe with the Saints
Tuesday night was my parish’s annual Communal Reconciliation Service for Lent. (We also hold one for Advent as well.) This Lenten service lets me reflect on sins and good deeds and everything in between. I’m mulling over a couple of reflections as I pray and contemplate my sins I’ve committed and what I want to ask absolution for.
The service itself is about an hour long with a short service, that includes what is typical for a daily mass: a reading, responsorial, and a Gospel reading with a reflection in place of a homily. After that we all recite the rite of reconciliation together and are given our penance. We then have the opportunity to confess and receive absolution individually with a priest. The lights are dimmed and we choose our line. There are four priests in four different areas of the church for privacy. Playing the piano begins.
Our director of music is on hand for the musical portions of the service, and he remains to play at this time sharing several quiet, contemplative selections. It is the predominant sound echoing through the chapel, bouncing and being enhanced by the church’s acoustics. That, along with the buzz of a few quiet conversations lays the groundwork for the continuation of reflecting on what we want to say to the priest. There are young adults from the confirmation class lining up in large numbers, some looking a little uncomfortable while they wait, but still talking and laughing a little bit. This is not their first confession.
I think for as important as reconciliation is, and it is important, it is also beneficial to remember that this is a routine; it’s a normal part of the everyday life of the Catholic. It is not anything scary nor should it cause apprehension even though for many of us it does a little bit. The one thing to remember is that lack of judgment that greets you in the confessional. The confession itself and the absolution received is often a relief, and sadly it barely lasts the commute home.
There is that split second of a moment – it might last as long as two minutes where I am without sin, absolved of everything, a clean slate to try anew to be a better person, a better example, a better disciple of Christ.
And then it’s gone. As I notice a hairstyle, or curse at the traffic; or the rain. I come home to arguing kids and can’t find the charity that I give to strangers.
But right now, at this very moment, I am free of sin.
There is also the non judgment of my pastor as I alluded to above. He greets me as a friend, calling me by my first and last name, that funny way that people do sometimes, with a grin and a twinkle in their eye. The smile is there to make me feel at east, but not simply for ease’s sake but because he lives the Gospel and confession, reconciliation, penance and absolution are simply one more part of it. One fo the sacraments that allow us to continue our journey and accept the other sacraments and responsibilities of Christianity. One more piece to this spiritual puzzle. He also commented on my shirt which sparkled in the candlelight.
Penance is not punishment as in you were bad, now you are punished. Penance is a consequence. Punishment can be avoided; consequences cannot.
One of the things I became re-acquainted with when I began to attend Mass at the Catholic Church was the liturgical calendar. I had never realized that just like an Asian New Year and a Jewish New Year, there was also a Catholic New Year, and it begins with Advent.
Once Thanksgiving is over, many move into Christmas mode. After all, it is the Christmas season.
There is the misconception.
The Christmas season doesn’t actually begin until Christmas Eve, the Vigil of the Nativity. The song, The Twelve Days of Christmas…well, those twelve days begin on December 26 and conclude on January 6, also known as Three Kings Day, Los Posadas, Epiphany, and Twelfth Night. That was the traditional day to receive presents. When I was involved in medieval re-enacting, we often gave gifts and celebrated Twelfth Night.
After Thanksgiving, begins the season of Advent, the time of waiting; waiting for the birth of the Christ child. Like Lent it is an anticipatory time. We reflect on the past year that’s concluded. We begin a new Gospel cycle. This is the A year – Matthew. I am very fond of Matthew. It was his Gospel year when I first joined the church and I took a great lecture series on his gospel. I learned a great deal and so I became very attached to him.
Today, our church gave out a Daily Reflection book for Advent and Christmas. This one is compact and gives you something each day to read. It takes about five minutes or so, and you can meditate longer if you have the time and the inclination. Personally, I’m going to try and sit quietly with a cup of tea while I read and reflect.
I read the Introduction and then turned the book over to read the description on the back. The blurb recommending the book at the top caught my eye, and then I realized that the blurb was written by my godmother. A surprise that brought a smile to my face.
There are many Advent resources offered in paper form, online or as e-books. I will sometimes buy the e-book of whatever the book is that my church gives out so I can read it on my Kindle, only if the price is reasonable.
One of the things I love about these little books is the change and the challenge to do a daily meditation as well as the Introduction to a book that I might not have ordinarily found on my own.
The Advent wreath is up, the banners are changed, the colors are purple, the incense is fragrant. Now the waiting begins, and a new search for something wonderful on this Advent journey.
Later in the week, I will share some other resources for your Advent journey.