Je vous salue, Marie

Notre Dame North Rose Window” by Bradley Weber (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Je vous salue, Marie, pleine de grâces, le Seigneur est avec vous;
vous ętes bénie entre toutes les femmes, et Jésus le fruit de vos entrailles, est béni.
Sainte Marie, Mčre de Dieu, priez pour nous pécheurs, maintenant, et ŕ l’heure de notre mort. Amen.

It is April. It is Holy Week. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is burning—her spire has fallen, and there are reports that some of her beautiful stained glass windows have shattered from the intense heat of the fire. Moving footage of kneeling mourners singing the Hail Mary prayer in French brings tears to my eyes. Someone on social media scornfully asks of those singing, “Is the church repaired by praying?” to which another wisely responds: “They are the Church.” Wherever two or three are gathered . . .

I watch the flames pulling the spire of Notre Dame to the ground, and a deep sorrow settles in my heart. Notre Dame can never be replaced. Rebuilt, perhaps, but never replicated. One can’t help but feel that this fire is a symbolic manifestation of the slow burn that has been happening behind the scenes for some time. Yes, the Church is on fire in so many ways, and in so many places.

And, yet, every cathedral in the world could burn or crumble to the ground, and still the Church would remain. Scandal, corruption, and neglect could shake her to the core and leave nothing but smoldering rubble, but the Church would go on just as she always has. Because she lives.

It is Holy Week, and tomorrow evening I will travel to the cathedral of my own diocese to procure the sacramental oils that will indelibly mark me as a member of the Church at the Easter Vigil. And, so, I find myself weeping for the church that was, even as I prepare to be united with the Church that is.

Perhaps it is best to end here with the words of my fellow convert, G.K. Chesterton, who wrote in his essay “The Five Deaths of the Faith“:

. . . The Church in the West was not in a world where things were too old to die; but in one in which they were always young enough to get killed. The consequence was that superficially and externally it often did get killed; nay, it sometimes wore out even without getting killed. And there follows a fact I find it somewhat difficult to describe, yet which I believe to be very real and rather important. As a ghost is the shadow of a man, and in that sense the shadow of life, so at intervals there passed across this endless life a sort of shadow of death.

There are people who say they wish Christianity to remain as a spirit. They mean, very literally, that they wish it to remain as a ghost. But it is not going to remain as a ghost. What follows this process of apparent death is not the lingering of the shade; it is the resurrection of the body. These people are quite prepared to shed pious and reverential tears over the Sepulchre of the Son of Man; what they are not prepared for is the Son of God walking once more upon the hills of morning.

It was supposed to have been withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future. To-day it stands once more in our path; and even as we watch it, it grows.

A New Being, A New Beginning

Gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis.
(Rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow.)

***

So for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation:
The old order is gone and a new being is there to see.

—2 Corinthians 5:17

It is the last day of March. It is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent—laetare is Latin for rejoice and this Sunday is set aside as a celebration of the approach of Easter. Although I’m not sure of the exact origins of this special day, I think it must have something to do with having made it past the half-way mark of the Lenten season. The Resurrection is almost visible on the horizon.

Today I have even more cause to rejoice, because I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, otherwise known as Confession, for the first time. For weeks, perhaps even months, I have been preparing for this sacrament. I’ve been poring over various Examination of Conscience worksheets and thinking about what sins need to be confessed. The depravity of my life began to come into sharp focus and I started to really dread what I was going to have to admit out loud to my priest. I was filled with anxiety.

And, then something changed. Yesterday as I was preparing my final “list” of sins to confess, the feelings that had been swirling around in my heart started to shift. What had been strictly nervousness and embarrassment began to crystallize into something more closely resembling sorrow. My sins weren’t just shameful but painful. I think for the first time in my life I was really able to see with clarity how much hurt I had caused God and others—and myself—by the bad choices I had made.

I woke up early this morning and tried to busy myself so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed and somehow talk myself out of going to Confession. The 3pm service time finally rolled around, and I could tell from the moment I walked into the church that it was going to be an emotionally challenging afternoon. After a brief penance service, everyone lined up and the confessions began.

When it was my turn, I nervously entered the sacristy where my priest was hearing confessions. As soon as I saw my priest I burst into tears. I hadn’t even gotten to my sins and already I was losing it! A lifetime of guilt, shame, pain, and sorrow came pouring out of me and it was so much more intense than I ever could have imagined. At times I could barely get my words out. But, my priest was patient with me, and when I finally made it to the end of my confession, he exclaimed how great it was that God was forgiving all of these sins! They were being washed away! Gone forever!

In the moment I could barely process what he was saying, or fully understand the penance he gave me: “Say a prayer for yourself.” I received my absolution, thanked my priest, and bolted from the room. I tried to stifle my sobs with my hand as I passed by the line waiting to go in to the confessional. Everyone else had come out completely calm and collected, and here I was, a total mess with tears streaming down my face.

I slid into a pew to say my penance, but I couldn’t clear my head. I just knelt there with my eyes closed and my hands folded, and tried to regain my composure. After a few minutes, I got up and left the church. I didn’t feel like I could go home because I really just wanted to be alone. I had experienced something so amazing, so terrifying, so life-changing that I didn’t feel like I could just go back to my life and pick up wherever I left off. So, I drove around in the car for quite a while, alternately thinking and crying.

As the minutes passed, I realized that I still hadn’t performed my penance. What prayer could I possibly say for myself—for me, the person who had done all of those terrible things? I prayed the only prayer I could: That God would help me to forgive myself. It sounds simple, but the effect was truly miraculous. Within a couple of minutes the sorrow started to lift, and I began to feel a deep, deep sense of peace grow in my heart. I had a strong desire to forgive everyone who had ever wronged me. I felt nothing but compassion and love for every person on Earth and truly longed for them to know the mercy of God, as I had just experienced it.

Even now, hours after the fact, those feelings linger. I still feel raw, exposed, and vulnerable, but I also feel love pouring out from deep inside of me, spilling out through my fingertips onto this page. I feel immense gratitude and love for Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself for my sins, and who instituted this beautiful, healing sacrament. I hope I will never forget what I experienced today, and I also hope that, at least in some small way, I will continue to experience my faith journey as one of perpetual conversion for the rest of my life. I pray that I will never become cynical or apathetic about the Church’s sacraments. And, I pray that others will experience God’s abiding love and mercy through me, and draw closer to Him.

In the Woods // Living Water

Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst;
the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

—John 4:13-14

It is March. It is Lent. I have a rare day off without my little buddy, and I can hear the woods calling to me. I long to be a small fragile human among the giant rugged trees, to follow the old familiar paths, to hear the first tentative sounds of spring.

I enter the woods and find that spring is still trapped under ice and snow. I slip and slide my way along the glassed-over path, finding my footing where I can. There is only ice, and snow, and squelching mud. I feel a little disappointed—”This is not what I had in mind!” I say to myself, to the woods, to God. None of the spring birds are singing in the woods. It is silent and lonely.

But, the sun is shining, and the breeze is not too harsh. As I walk along I begin to notice little signs of a stirring world. I see buds clinging to the tips of the bare branches. The scent of pine rises in the air as my shoes crush the few fallen branches that have been freed from winter’s grip. Deep in the woods the stillness is punctured by the sound of water rushing, and I find a little stream that is running and running, down from the hills. There is life in the sound of the water rushing away to the sea.

If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:37) It is Lent and I am preparing to be received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil; I am seeking living water. As I walk in the woods I feel as though I am being watched—lately, I always seem to feel this way. In the woods, in the car, as I drift off to sleep—the closer I get to the appointed time, the more intensely I feel like every cell in my body is being scrutinized.

The Church calls these final weeks of preparation the period of purification and enlightenment—a time to draw closer to God. I really thought I was as close to God as a person could be but, actually, no. It turns out there’s always more room for God. Sure, He pushes some things out to make space for Himself, but the more of Him there is, the less of everything else I seem to want.

It is Lent, and it is good to remember that the things of the world make a lot of promises they can’t keep. If you fill your cup with anything but God’s living water, you can drink and drink . . . and nothing but your thirst will remain.

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The sound of spring!

Advent & Christmastide

When I visualize the year, it’s a bit like a clock and the Christmas season is at the very top. Yes, Christmastide is the pinnacle of the year, but in the past I’ve been frustrated about how rushed and superficial it can feel. This year I really wanted to slow.things.down. and also to be more mindful of the liturgical seasons that under-gird our “secular” experience of the season.

We took our time with Advent, slowly constructing what would become the manger scene over the course of the four weeks. We built from the ground up, bringing in first stones, then plants, then animals, and finally humankind. The Blessed Virgin Mary slowly made her way along the Advent spiral, leaving tiny roses in her wake. You don’t need to explain these things to children—they are closer to the Mystery than are most of the adults around them. We did not get our Christmas tree.

We also celebrated the saints of Advent—St. Nicholas and St. Lucia—preparing special dishes and enjoying our little rituals that come around just once a year on their feast days. We made ornaments for the Christmas tree: Beautiful red felt roses, dried orange slices, and pepparkakor with white icing. Still, we did not get our Christmas tree.

The week before Christmas I started to worry that we had waited too long to get a tree. Then my husband’s parents pointed out that they had seen an ad in our local paper for a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm that was planning to be open through Christmas Eve. How wonderful! What a gift to us. On December 23rd, we finally got our Christmas tree (and met some adorable alpacas, too).

On Christmas Eve Day we decorated our tree with lights and the roses, oranges, and cookie ornaments we had made. When no one was looking, I slipped six red candles onto the ends of the branches. When we came home from Mass in the early evening, the whole family gathered by the tree and we lit the candles. The room filled with a warm glow. Zane said, “Mama, our tree has everything on it that you said it would.” We listened to Christmas music and the kids joked and played with each other. It truly was the pinnacle of my year, and a memory I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

On Christmas morning we opened our presents and Zane fed the birds (thanks, Lynn!). We headed out to spend the day with family. The Twelve Days of Christmas passed in a blur, as we celebrated the New Year and the kids went back to school. On Twelfth Night we mulled cider and enjoyed it that evening when we lit the candles on the tree for the last time. We toasted each other—waes hael—and watched the season slowly burn away.

Epiphany came and went and then the following weekend we took down the Christmas tree and put it outside. We left the homemade treats on the branches as little gifts for our furry friends. It didn’t take long for them to disappear—I guess squirrels like pepparkakor, too.

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Halloween 2018

This year we had a panda and a vampire. As usual, my mom did an amazing job on Zane’s costume, which was his second choice after first requesting to be a prehistoric sea scorpion . . . We suggested he choose something that was a) easier to make, and b) actually recognizable. Lillia assembled her own costume from stuff we had around the house and did her own makeup. Lillia chose not to go trick-or-treating this year, but she had a great time handing out candy at my parents’ house, and we had fun taking pictures out in the woods—she looks quite menacing, no?

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