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 😉🎉

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! 😊

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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!🎂

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! 🌸🌷🌻

All, Faith, Family

A Time to Trust

The French language has two words that both signify “to know.”  Savoir indicates knowing of or about something or how to do something while connaitre implies more intimate knowledge: to know a person or to be familiar with someone or something.  One could say that savoir is a more academic, aloof “knowledge about” while connaitre indicates a relationship.  Both words mean “to know” yet the level of knowing is as different as the shallow and deep ends of a swimming pool.

Belief also, I think, is a bit of a sliding scale. There is a vast difference between giving one’s intellectual assent to something –a savoir-type of belief– and a deep-down-in-the-heart-and-soul, connaitre-type of belief.

You might be thinking to yourself: “this parsing of words and meanings is all fine and good, but what is the point of all this?”

Well, this sliding scale of knowledge and belief is, arguably, a good description of faith in God and of spiritual progress.

I am in a season of life when many things are changing in little and big ways both for myself and for my family.  Sometimes I wish I could just wave a magic wand and fix some of the challenges with which we are presented.  I am recognizing more and more my “control freak” tendencies.  Sometimes it is hard to know where one’s responsibility lies or how much responsibility one holds.

When we’re children, if we are blessed with a loving family (which thankfully I was), our world is filled with security and comfort.  We are shielded from the nastier sides of life and obviously the big, stressful decisions do not rest on a child’s shoulders.  However, as we grow up, the monumental realities of life, both good and bad, become inevitable acquaintances.

Yet, we are still meant to have that child-like peace and security.  Christ tells us, ” ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven'” (Matthew 18:3). God is our Father and we are His beloved children.  Yet so often we can accurately be called “ye of little faith.”

I think the only way to develop that child-like faith, that unwavering trust, which brings peace and lifts burdens, is to have a personal relationship with Jesus.  To get to know him through prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, and through the wisdom of others.  To not simply know or to believe in a savoir, detached manner, but to believe and to know in a relational, connaitre manner.

To truly believe in His goodness and love, His promises and His providence.  To remember His blessings and help in past insistences.  To remember that He is our Savior and our Friend, Who always, always has our best interests in mind.  And also, to remember that just as God is working in your heart, He is also working on the hearts and minds of those around you, and maybe, just maybe He is asking you to have a little more trust in them as well.

Fr. Jacques Philippe writes in Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, “In order to resist fear and discouragement, it is necessary that through prayer–through a personal experience of God re-encountered, recognized and loved in prayer–we taste and see how good the Lord is (Psalm 34).”

In A.J. Russell’s daily devotional book, God Calling, one of Christ’s exhortations is to trust Him for everything.  That really hit home with me recently.   When He says everything, He literally means everything!  From the majorly consequential to the little trivia of everyday living.  All our hopes, desires, worries, and concerns for ourselves and for others.  EVERYTHING.

Another frequent assurance in the book is that “All is well.”  A reminder that Jesus is the One with the final say.  And He is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

My great-Uncle George, for whom this blog is named, certainly must have had a goodly amount of trust in God when he decided to go to Canada and join the Royal Air Force during World War II.  That was, undoubtedly, one of the biggest decisions of his life.

If I let it (and I am trying to do so), this season of life can be an opportunity to strive to develop this type of trust in the Lord. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this will also be a life-long lesson.  It is hard for us prideful humans to let go of control, but so often when we finally do surrender a person, a situation, a problem to God, the solution readily becomes evident.

I will leave you with some words of encouragement from the Psalms:

“Commit your way to the Lord: trust in him and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11)

Serenity Prayer