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Catholic Family Vignettes

A collage of literary snapshots from the life of a large traditional Catholic family

Month

April 2012

The beauty of the East…

In the twilight darkened sanctuary we hastily found seats, small rugs in hand, armed with missals and a good deal of curiosity and nervous expectation. Four of my children and I had accepted an invitation from a dear family friend to attend a Byzantine Rite Mass at St. John Chrysostom on Cleveland Avenue. It was the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and Holy Chrismation, a sacred rite reserved for the Wednesday of Holy Week, the week before Easter. As western Catholics, we had no real experience or preconceptions regarding the eastern traditions of the Holy Catholic Church, and though open to the experience, were a bit trepiditious as to what should expect. The eastern and western rites are markedly different, as we were about to discover.

The sanctuary, itself, was a marvel to behold. The interior was much lighter than expected, with nearly every surface embellished with icons, startlingly simplistic paintings, beautifully austere, large-eyed and staring from every corner, dome and panel. The iconostasis, a screen that separates the worshippers from the priests, deacons and servers, stood imposingly, adorned with iconographic images, a seeming gate between heaven and earth. The heady aroma of incense filled the air and soon did voices, alternating voices of men and women, chanting verses of the Psalms, interspersed with many “Lord have mercies” and “Alleluias.” We knelt upon the small rugs placed on the stone floor, watching as the faithful knelt, and then bowed in prostration, foreheads upon the floor in a gesture of humility and repentance. The priests and servers, bowing and genuflecting, draped in rich brocade and moving amidst the swirls of wafting incense, offered prayers for the faithful, all coordinating in a graceful dance whose ebb and flow transcended time and understanding. Young men in long robes carried ornate fans, fans which wafted the incense throughout the sanctuary. Every single word was sung, voices rising and falling in unison, a beautiful and ethereal harmony that touched the soul.

Each parishioner moved forward, following the liturgy, to receive a personal anointing from the priest. Speaking the recipient’s name aloud, the priest proceeded to anoint with the richly scented oil, the feet, hands, ears, eyes and mouth of each person. Returning to the pews, many individuals were in various postures of adoration and worship…some were kneeling, some bowing, some standing, others seated and a few prostrated upon the stone floor. Holy Communion was distributed with a long handled golden spoon which carried the wine-soaked Host, the precious Body and Blood to the waiting recipient. Every movement was imbued with solemnity and deliberation, with reverence and holiness.

Throughout the service, I found myself nearly lost in all the sensory experiences. The entire service was a feast for the eyes, nose, ears, heart and soul. It was rather like a work of art, with each part of the Mass woven into a seamless, flawless “whole” of such beauty, yet still possessing such simplicity and relevance. The children, too, were over-awed by this trip through time, a time and rite established in ancient Greece and created to immerse the soul into the mystery and beauty of the Eternal. It still retains all the beauty, tradition and timeless grace that connects the worshipper to the historical roots of early eastern Catholic Christianity.

Just perfect…

…though there have certainly been a few challenges. Wednesday evening, our oldest son, Zachary, took a serious fall on a skimboard. Police officers, paramedics, an ambulance, ER doctors and nurses and a few xrays later left him splinted to the knee and diagnosed with a severe sprain. I had looked at the ankle prior to his transport and it seemed seriously dislocated…I even mentioned this to the paramedics and then the ER doctor. The diagnosis remained the same, but sometime during the night, under that heavy splint, the dislocation resolved itself, and though seriously bruised and sore, he has been able to walk…something we didn’t think he’d be able to do for weeks. He’s back to himself…

Back to joy…

And there has been plenty of that to go around! Family bowling nights, shelling at Murrel’s Inlet and a tour of historic Atalaya, teaching the children the fine art of body surfing and boogie boards…and how to find shark’s teeth.

Sand. Sun. Surf. Sweet memories mingling with the fresh scent of salt breezes and the cool caress of the ocean. We have reveled in every moment, each day thanking God for this blessing. The children: “I can’t believe we’re really doing all of this…”

The parents: “We can’t believe we’re really here…”

Resolution: we will never, ever again underestimate the restorative power of the “family vacation.” It has always seemed a luxury. Now, it feels like a necessity. I’ve never seen my husband more relaxed. The children have never been as cooperative and joyful. I’ve not smiled and laughed this much in years. We will remember this time for the rest of our lives. We return home tomorrow…back to work. School. Back to joy of a different sort with a fresh perspective.

Blessings,

The better part…

Like a big blue wall, curving gentle upon the edge of the earth, the ocean presented itself.

She cried.  Ten years old and she’d never seen anything so big, so bright, so awesome.  And I, who for the many years that I grew up surrounded by surf and shore, heart jaded by such common beauty, watched her and wondered how all those years I’d never wept in thanksgiving for it.

And then last night.  A blood red moon kissed the whitecaps upon the night dark sea.  Hubby and I stood hand in hand and the words that have been so locked up inside me for so many months are finally here.  Words of praise that magnify the Lord, His goodness, His beauty and wisdom.  Seated on the balcony shortly after, I raised a toast to my God…for His Love and mercy for this creature who had forgotten to thank him for such simple things.  I should weep with tears of gratitude like a ten year old girl, seeing God’s hand stretched far across a rippling, seemingly infinite horizon

This morning, Max and I raced the sun and met her, a molten orb rising from a pool of pure gold, beams of pink and gold etched against the blue.  I wept again…I’ve seen many sunrises and gloried in each, yet this one seemed different.  And then I realized…

They’re all different.  It is only I who see things as the same…but I’m changed and everything seems new to these tired eyes…

Since Meredith’s accident, I’ve been living so cautiously, afraid of the next wave…afraid of what may or may not come.  I haven’t really been able to live or even love well, though I’ve tried desperately to hide it, busying myself like a true Martha, “anxious and troubled about many things.”

So here is the better part.  Here.  With my loves.  My big guys are staying three floors below us with the dearest friends, reveling in fellowship with one another, while Roger and I are reveling in these four young ones…children now and every moment of childhood racing quickly by.  We are “yes” people.  Yes to all this.  Yes to this joy, at this moment, in this place.

Cherishing the message that our good God wants to share with all His children…

Blessings,

A joyous and blessed Easter from all of us to you…

He is risen, Alleluia!  He is risen, indeed…

Mass was gloriously beautiful…the great Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord is nothing less than a taste of heaven on this earth.

Yet our earthly joys delight us in their simplicity…

Easter joy abounds.  From the beauty of the Mass, to the simple joys of family traditions, to the much anticipated trip that we’ll be making in the wee hours of the morning, as we head towards sand and sun.

I hope to find my words there.  Peace and joy with my dearest ones…renewal and rest.  I’m taking books.  My crochet and knitting.  Sunscreen and my rosary…

May God bless you, friends.  May you, too, find peace, joy, renewal and rest during this Easter week and beyond.

Blessings

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