All, Culture/Life, Faith

Laetare, Rejoice!!

Happy Easter!! Hallelujah!

One of my favorite aspects of the Catholic Faith is the extended celebration of Christmas and Easter.

The Catholic Church doesn’t confine these holidays to one day only but rather these feasts are assigned whole liturgical seasons. We can really revel and soak in the grace and joy of these marvelous days.

And this is completely fitting because the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus are literally the most important events that ever have occurred or will occur in human history. No human words can adequately convey their magnitude.

They should fill us with uncontainable joy, gratitude, and hope for He has won our salvation.

We are now coming to the end of the Easter octave, eight days that liturgically are viewed as one day, namely, Easter Day! The Easter season then stretches until Pentecost Sunday, totaling fifty days altogether. #Catholicsknowhowtoparty ūüėČūüéČ

Fortunately, I have been on spring break from dancing and teaching this week following Easter Sunday, so this holiday has truly been a holiday for me. While I was driving on Monday, the thought hit me that a mere day after Easter so many people were having to return to their ordinary schedules of work and commitments. Yet we shouldn’t be ordinary in these extraordinary days! They should be filled with prayer and praise and celebrations!

However, in the midst of daily responsibilities and tasks, we can still strive to cling to Easter joy and hope and have our own moments of rejoicing, even within the quiet of our own hearts and minds.

This past weekend I attended the Easter Vigil, which St. Augustine called “the Mother of all Vigils.” I usually attend Easter Mass Sunday morning, but this year, I decided to attend the Saturday night vigil for the first time in a few years.

There are many ways to describe this remarkable liturgy: Sublime. Mysterious. Beautiful. Ancient. Joyful. Simple. Symbolic. Glorious. Hope-filled. Sacramental. Solemn. Exultant.

One of the most awesome parts is the lighting of the Paschal Fire, symbolizing the light of Christ that warms and illumines but doesn’t destroy. The Paschal Fire is an actual fire about the size of a small bonfire. The congregation proceeded out of the church and into the parking lot where a miniature wooden tower (for lack of a better word) was built. Our pastor began to read prayers and prepared the Easter candle to be kindled from the fire. Suddenly, a fiery arrow whizzed down a string from the roof of the church and the Fire ignited. I’m not sure if the flaming arrow is customary in other places/parishes but it is a mesmerizing and stirring sight to behold. I looked at the faces of the children in the crowd when all this was taking place. Wonderment was painted there. I felt it, too.

The church’s Easter candle was then lit from the fire and from that candle the small candles that all of us in the crowd were holding were enkindled. The light was passed from one person to another, never diminishing but growing as it was shared, reminding us that the light of Christ does not dim but only expands as we bring it to others.

We started out in a cold, dark parking lot but as soon as the fire and those candles were set ablaze the atmosphere suddenly was a bit warmer. It was a little easier to see. Just like sin and hardship can darken our lives and make things seem cold until we allow ourselves to stand in the warmth and light of God’s love and mercy.

Holding our tiny flames, the parishioners then returned to the church, which was in darkness. We listened to the sonorous intoning of the Easter Exsultet by one of the many priests con-celebrating the Mass as well as to various Scripture readings from the Old Testament. Prior to a reading from the New Testament and the proclamation of the Gospel, the Gloria was sung jubilantly to the accompaniment of music and the ringing of bells. This was the first time that singing had had musical accompaniment since the Gloria during Holy Thursday Mass two nights before. (This moment has even more of a build-up since the the only time the Gloria is sung at Mass between the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday and the Easter Vigil is on Holy Thursday and on a Solemnity like the feast day of St. Joseph.) As the Gloria progressed, the lights began to be turned on until the whole church was illuminated. It was an impressive and joyful moment!!

The priest who delivered the homily incorporated an Easter analogy from one of my favorite book series, The Lord of the Rings. For those of you unfamiliar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnificent trilogy, I highly recommend it to you. Father spoke about the light of Galadriel (an Elven queen), and how she presented this phial of light to the hobbit Frodo as he was journeying to destroy the evil One Ring. It contained the light of a very special star, and when she gave this gift, she said, “May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.” So Father encouraged all of us to be that type of light to the world.

The Easter Vigil is also when new converts are welcomed formally into the Church and receive the Sacraments of Initiation. It is extremely moving to witness adults being baptized and confirmed! When this part of the vigil was completed and they turned to face the congregation, we applauded to welcome them home to the Faith. My cheeks hurt from smiling so hard. Later on in the Mass, many of them would receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time!!

From beginning to end, the Easter Vigil was a feast for the both the soul and the bodily senses!

It was such a hopeful moment to witness those adults choose Christ and His Church, choose to set themselves on the path of light and life, especially nowadays when it is so easy to succumb to discouragement amidst the corruption and sorrow we recognize in ourselves, others, and society at large on a daily basis.

The challenge is to hold onto the message and promise of Easter joy and hope even when the Easter season has concluded. Christ has conquered sin and the devil. He has defeated sorrow and anxiety. He has vanquished darkness and death. We still must face adversity and trials in this life. We still must work daily to convert and to turn away from sin. But Jesus has won the ultimate victory and His grace and mercy are always there when we truly seek it!

He died and rose for everyone, every person who has ever lived or will live.

I wish all people could experience and believe in the message of Easter! Whether you are a believer or not, know that Jesus loves you. He died for you. And He desires you to know Him and His love.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.'” -John 11:25-26.

Happy Easter, friends! ūüėä

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All, Culture/Life, Faith, Tales from the Tutu Side

A Lesson from the Little Drummer Boy

This past Sunday was the first day of the liturgical season of Advent, a special time in which we prepare to remember and celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas as well as to welcome Him anew into our lives and hearts. It also serves as a reminder that we will meet Him one day face-to-face and that He will judge the world at the end of time.

One of the primary points of the homily during Mass this past Sunday was the obligation we have to use our gifts and talents for the glory of God and as a means of preparation for His coming. The priest said that God has given us these gifts for the specific day and age in which we live. And we must use our talents to build up the Church and the world.

Later that day the thought occurred to me that the Christmas song The Little Drummer Boyexemplifies this message.

The impoverished Little Drummer Boy wants desperately to give a gift to the newborn Christ Child but has nothing of material value to offer, so he plays his drum, that is, he uses his talent for the baby Jesus. His simple offering of music in love pleases the Baby Who smiles at him in return. His offering of the intangible talent is his gift.

I think we can learn something of extraordinary value from this gentle Christmas carol. A lesson succinctly summed up in the following quote:

“Our talents are the gift that God gives to us. …What we make of our talents is our gift back to God.”

-Leo Buscaglia

The Bible says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” -Colossians 3:17

I think it’s easy to downplay or discredit our skills and gifts as unimportant or to disassociate them from our spiritual and religious lives. Or we can wrongfully use our talents primarily as a means of self-gratification and aggrandizement.

The truth is God wants us to discover, to nurture, and to build up the talents He has bestowed on us to bring His light and joy to others. When we do this, we glorify Him. How we do this likely will change as we journey through the different stages and phases of our lives, but as the parable of the talents in the Gospels illustrates, we will be called to account for how we made use of what we were given (Matthew 25:14-30).

The cultivation and sharing of our talents can truly be a means to our own growth in sanctity and joy.

And “talents” can encompass an array of gifts. Certainly, things like artistic skills or athletic ability or eloquent writing or an aptitude for science and medicine or even impressive culinary skills. All of these things, undoubtedly, can be a conduit for the uplifting of others.

But less obvious qualities can also be a talent. The knack for making people laugh. A gift of being a good listener or being able to diffuse a tense situation and be a peacemaker. A compassion for others’ hardships and the willingness to offer quiet encouragement. The list could go on and on.

We all have multiple talents and characteristics, and they are meant to build up those around us, for we all bear God’s image.

In his Advent homily, Father also spoke about how each person’s talents are a different reflection of God.

That is a really cool idea to ponder.

Just think about it: artists, musicians, dancers can be a reflection of God’s beauty. Athletes can reflect His strength. A scientific or mathematical proclivity, His orderliness. That ready, listening ear, His love and gentleness. Of course, God is not just beautiful and strong. He is beauty. He is might and love. But His creation can and does mirror Who He is.

As a professional ballerina, I feel so grateful that it is built into my job to have the opportunity to touch people’s hearts and raise their spirits in both ticketed productions as well as outreach shows at elementary schools and assisted living facilities.

It makes what I do so much more meaningful and gratifying. Especially at this holiday and family-oriented time of year, it is a good reminder for me that I am a part of helping create special memories for children and adults alike, even as the weeks-long run of Nutcracker performances can sometimes be wearying.

As we prepare for Christmas during this season of Advent and as we plot and scheme about tangible holiday presents, I hope I can remember the Little Drummer Boy and the surpassing value of those intangible gifts we all have to share, not only at this time of year but throughout our lives.

All, Faith

On the Blessed Mother’s Birthday

In the Catholic Church, September 8th is celebrated as the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. In other words, it’s Mama Mary’s birthday! And that is reason to celebrate!ūüéā

This Marian feast is one of my favorites. Perhaps because celebrating a birthday is something so very normal and homey. After all, Mary was a humble Jewish maiden.

It also is fitting to celebrate her birth because Mary’s “yes” to God, her¬†fiat, enabled the Incarnation. It was through her that the world received its Redeemer. ¬†She was the first to welcome and to love Him. And when He suffered, she suffered, too (Luke 2:35).

“At the beginning of the New Covenant, which is to be eternal and irrevocable, there is a woman: the Virgin of Nazareth.”

-Pope St. John Paul II, MulierisDignitatem¬†(On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) –> I highly recommend reading this Apostolic Letter.

Mary is our mother as well, praying for and loving us with maternal care. She is not a goddess. We do not worship her.  But we do honor, venerate, and ask for her prayerful intercession and protection.

We all have much reason to exult on this happy day!

But what can we give to Mary?

As the priest at Mass this morning reminded the congregation, the best “birthday gifts” that we can offer Mary are repentance of our sins, prayer, and loving service to others. He mentioned specifically the devotion of Five First Saturdays, which you can learn about here.

The following is a simple little poem that I wrote last year for Mary’s Birthday. ¬†I thought I’d share with you all today. (Don’t judge. ¬†I’m not a poet, haha).

“The sky a gentle blue like Mary’s mantle

The light of the sun glowing bright like a candle

A quiet, laughing breeze fills the air

Signs of God’s glory are everywhere

It is the memorial of our Queen and Mother’s birth

She whose fiat brought our Savior down to earth

The courts of heaven sing God’s praise

The world joins in on this day of days

Immaculate with grace from the first moment of life

Throughout her years, she knew both joy and strife

Her love and aid are ever near

Patiently drawing us to her Son so dear

Mary, sweet Mother, we lift our voice,

‘Keep us close to you til in heaven we rejoice!'”

Happy Birthday, Mama Mary! ūüĆłūüĆ∑ūüĆĽ

All, Faith

Becoming a Saint

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the renowned and beloved Catholic nun and founder of the religious order, the Missionaries of Charity, was recently canonized a saint of the Catholic

saint-mother-teresa-of-calcutta
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Photographer Unknown, From Bing Images

Church.  This means that Pope Francis declared, through an infallible statement, that Mother Teresa is in heaven with God, and she is worthy of our veneration.

 

The honoring of saints is such a beautiful¬†part of the Catholic faith, but it is also a practice that is greatly misunderstood.¬† Firstly, the notion that Catholics worship or adore the saints and the Blessed¬†Virgin Mary should be dismissed.¬† Worship and adoration are only for God.¬† However, we do venerate, honor, and pray to the saints and to Mary for their intercession as we believe that their prayers are powerful with God.¬† Think of it in earthly terms as when¬†someone asks a trusted friend or colleague to speak on¬†his or her behalf to someone else–that is what the saints do.¬† They are our advocates and our friends, who are already enjoying eternal life with God; moreover, they are models for us of sanctity and faith.

Secondly, as we keep pictures and mementos of our loved ones, living and deceased, so Catholics keep pictures, statues, etc. of the saints.¬† I have heard the saints¬†referred to as “our elder brothers and sisters in the faith.”¬† They are deeply interested in our well-being and our salvation.

Often saints are named patrons of specific causes, places, groups of people, etc. because they are somehow associated with that particular saint.  However, the saints are not limited to their patron causes, and we can pray to them about or for anyone or anything.

So how does one become a saint?¬† Well,¬† every person who makes it to heaven is a saint, but to be a publicly canonized saint requires a declaration by the Church.¬† Though as I recently heard explained during Mother Teresa’s canonization, the Catholic Church does not “make” saints.¬† The canonization is a confirmation of the person’s holiness.¬† Before this formal confirmation, a thorough and lengthy investigation into the person’s life takes place.¬† Interviews are conducted with those who favor the person and with those who were critics of the person.¬† It must be shown that the potential saint exhibited “heroic virtue and holiness of life.”¬† Moreover, two miracles wrought through the person’s intercession since their death are also required–one prior to beatification or being declared “blessed,” the step immediately before sainthood, and then a second before canonization.¬† Both theologians and scientists are involved in the investigations.¬† These miracles must be determined to have no scientific explanation.

The whole process of inquiry is a painstaking, years-long process, which shows just how important the Church considers its declaration.

Even though popular opinion considered Mother Teresa a saint while she was still living, it is certainly a moment for rejoicing and thanksgiving now that she is officially a canonized saint of the Church.¬† In his homily during the Mass of Canonization for¬†Mother Teresa, Pope Francis said, ¬†“Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome¬† and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. … She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die¬†on the side of the road,¬†seeing in them their God-given dignity.¬†… Mother Teresa loved to say, ‘Perhaps I don’t speak their language, but I can smile.’¬† Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it¬†to those whom we meet¬†along our journey, especially¬†those who suffer.¬†”

If you are curious to know more about the saints, you can learn about¬†the saint whose feast or memorial it is each day at http:// www.catholic.org/saints/sofd.php.¬† Mother Teresa’s feast day is Sept. 5th, the day that she died.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!