Incense

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Incense is a large part of Catholic ritual. Two years ago at my Holy Thursday Mass I was standing in the back of the church waiting for the procession. I was to carry the oil of catechumen. I had spent the previous two years looking for signs and when I looked toward the front, I watched the incense rise and rise and then as it fell again in twisting spirals of smoke, its wisps joined into the shape of a Star of David. And then it was gone. I had received my sign.

Breathing in the incense at not only last night’s Holy Thursday Mass, but nearly every time I have seems to transport me to the ancient times and lands of my people. I haven’t gone anywhere but it’s drier, it’s sandy and my mind can’t help but wonder how these rituals and beliefs got started. History is an amazing thing. FAith is also. There is something about the scent of the incense traveling through my nose, reminding me of a place I’ve never been, but will always belong to.

Torture Platform at Auriesville

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(These photos were taken on my most recent visit to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Auriesville. This is the spot or near the spot in the Mohawk village where the Jesuit martyrs were tortured and martyred. It is called the torture platform and it was covered up for repairs on the previous visit. I think this is the reminder that Jesus travels with us regardless of everything else. These were a few of my journal entries and thoughts while I was sitting there in contemplation.)

The air is cool, crisp, not cold but damp. It is just as quiet as the first time. I’ve come today for two things – to see the museums and the wayside crucifix. Unfortunately, the museums are closed for the season and the crucifix is gone – it came down last year and needs replacing.

I’m still content.

The torture platform is out in the open this time. Easily enough sad and imposing – again, I describe this place as idyllic and pastoral but Father Jogues and LaLande, his companion were tortured there for days. We think of our parents and teachers as tortuous and unfeeling. We cannot imagine what it means to be tortured for anything, let alone our belief in Jesus.

It’s more than a duality, more than two sides of the same coin. How do I describe something so at odds with the other? Even the trees dying are filled with burning, blazing colors and that is under a cloud-filled sky; overcast, wanting to burst with rain.

You know how people say music and singing is like praying twice? What is writing then if not the same thing? Writing is often my prayer; my hug, my comfort. All things can be done with a little prayer; however it is that we pray.

Holy Wednesday

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On Palm Sunday, we read the Passion of Christ for our Sunday Gospel. our palms were blessed with holy water and we sang Hosanna. This is one of those times during the Mass that many voices are heard: the narrator, the priest as Jesus, Peter and others voiced by one person and the crowd, voiced by the rest of the congregation. In my mind, when we are the ones calling for Christ’s crucifixion it is our reminder that we are all with sin and all seek salvation.

Christ dying for our sins isn’t a free pass to continue sinning; it is only the beginning of our salvation.

Throughout this Holy Week, the Gospels remind us of the difficult week that was in store for Jesus and his disciples.
In today’s homily our Deacon called it Silent Wednesday. When I went to look that up Google offered me the question, ‘why is the D in Wednesday silent?” Not quite, Google, but thank you for reminding me that wording is everything.

It is Silent Wednesday because we are unsure of what Jesus did on this Wednesday. There is no mention of his actions, although we assume this is when Judas put his betrayal into action. For that reason, it has also been called Spy Wednesday; spy having a slightly different meaning in ancient/medieval times and related to ambush. (There are a few Biblical scholars that have expressed the idea that the actual crucifixion took place on Wednesday, but I think that still needs some more research.)

For the modern Catholic, we look at Judas, the betrayer, the catalyst to Jesus’ crucifixion and wonder how as his friend, he could have done such a thing, betrayed his friend, his close friend. We can’t imagine any of us doing that to Jesus, and for me, it baffles the mind.

It causes me to think of the times I was betrayed or betrayed someone close to me. how did I feel? How did they? I know in one instance it took years of grudgingly thinking about this person before I finally dismissed it. I’m not sure if it’s forgiven, but it’s not as important in my life. I have a long memory and some grudges are really insignificant regardless of how much they hurt in the moment, even the later. moments.

I let go more now. I really do try to have no grudges. It’s hard. It’s human nature to blame someone else, and if they’re actually guilty, well, why not then?

But then I think – Jesus forgave Judas. He didn’t blame him personally. He forgave Peter for disavowing their friendship and hopefully Peter forgave himself.

Today is the day to think about that forgiveness and how hard it is and can be to forgive someone, to move forward in meaningful ways.

Reflect on those times you were forgiven and those times you forgave and try to hold the feelings of forgiveness and letting go in your heart on this quiet, Silent Wednesday.

Massiversary

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I was running late this morning, and wondered if I should even try to make it to the 9am Mass. Since it’s Tuesday during Lent (the last Tuesday in fact) there is another mass in the evening. I thought a moment more or two about which one to choose, and then decided to go to the first one.

I was glad I chose that one. Today is my Massiversary, so it was really important for me to be in attendance then.

When I first started showing up at this church, it was random. If I got the urge that I should stop in, I did. I’d find a pew, also randomly, and read that day’s readings from the Missal. Often, they were right on target for what I was feeling or what I needed to hear at that moment. I was going through a lot at that time, and all I wanted was a quiet place where no one would bother me and I could sit quietly. Somewhere I could be anonymous.

I wouldn’t describe it as a perfect solution to what I was feeling, but it was peaceful and what I wanted; what I needed when I needed it. I did this for a couple of weeks, probably closer to almost four. It wasn’t everyday; It was perhaps ten times in total but they were important to me. They centered me and got me ready for my recovery. I hadn’t realized what else I had to look forward to, but all that was on my mind in these first few moments was evening out my mental health. I still call it recovery.

I had been talking about my depression on Facebook and talking about my church visits and receiving encouragement from a small group of close friends who knew what was going on as I started my medication and therapy. One of these friends, T was a college student in Nebraska. He talked about going to the seminary, but was in college for a different major. He was an incredible friend during this time, posting encouragement on his own page that really resonated with me. Scriptures, Antiphons, quotations from saints and holy people. He sent me a very nice, personal note that I still look at on occasion and it gives me abundant feels. Another friend, B, loves choir music and he would also post a variety of encouraging things unbeknownst to him until I mentioned that I found the posts and the music encouraging.

On one of these days, T suggested that I attend an actual Mass, telling me that the Easter week masses were really quite beautiful and he thought I would enjoy them.

I took his suggestion to heart, and showed up on the Tuesday of Holy. Week. A woman was sitting at the end of a middle pew in the church. I noticed her because of her jacket. It was black with multi-colored flowers and stems and leaves embroidered on it. She was also wearing a light colored straw pill box hat. She would wear a hat every day. I loved the embroidery, so I sat two seats behind her. I stood when she stood, and sat when she sat. I didn’t kneel or cross myself, but I followed along as best I could.

The service really affected me, the priest’s homily hit on things that I, again, needed to hear,  and I went back the next day and the day after that. The day after was not a Mass, but a prayer service. At the end of Holy Week the masses are in the evening. We went to visit my mother in law and I borrowed one of the missals for the weekend. I read it every day that we were away.

That was the start. Over the course of that first year, I’d either sit directly behind that woman or two rows back, depending on when the other women arrived. We’d switch back and forth until one of the women sat right next to me. We still sit together.

Today when I arrived, an elderly man was in my usual seat. I sat behind him and about halfway through I realized that this was my original seat that first day, two rows behind my first church friend with the embroidered jacket who’s not here anymore.

I hadn’t intended to make such a memorable statement on this morning, but it was nice that it randomly happened that way.

It was nice remembering that first time. Every day, it’s like the first mass. Except I know what I’m doing. I pray, I cross myself; it all came in its own time, and each different ritual when I was ready. I hadn’t told myself that I was ready; I just did something and realized after that fact that I’d participated in some aspect of the mass.

The rebirth and renewal of Easter is the perfect time to remind me of my beginning with the church. I was baptized two Easters ago even though I’ve attended since 2012. This week is full of those anniversaries, but that first Tuesday will always be a special one for me.