This year, after a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with family, we have all decided to err on the side of caution and celebrate Christmas separately, in our own homes, instead of gathering as we always have, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this has been a sacrifice, we think that this is the best decision for everyone, until it is safer to get together as a family. In making this sacrifice, we hope that those we love will stay healthy and safe and that we will be able to see them again soon, when hopefully we will have subdued the virus and the threat will be lessened.
On one hand, we miss our parents and siblings and wish that we could all celebrate together as usual; however, looking at the glass as half full, this quieter Christmas we are able to more clearly think about the real meaning of the season and spend time reflecting on that most significant event over 2,000 years ago which changed the world, the birth of Jesus. In the emptiness and solitude, we can remember that Joseph and Mary were alone that night in a cold stable, when the King of Kings came into the world. There was no festive gathering or jubilant party awaiting Him at His birth, but rather a solemn silence in simple surroundings.
Although this Christmas is different and less celebratory, it is no less filled with the peace and joy of the true meaning of the day. The highlight of Christmas for us will be Mass on Christmas Eve, when we remember and receive the greatest Gift, Jesus in the Eucharist, and give Him thanks and praise for all of the blessings we have received this year and throughout our lives. Like the Holy Family on that Silent Night, we are enjoying the peace and solitude of a quiet Christmas and remembering the real meaning for the decorations, the music, and the celebration.
Wishing you and your family blessings for a peaceful and holy Christmas!
During this time of being largely homebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have had to field complaints of, “Mom, I’m bored!” from restless children. The adults in the family have probably experienced some cabin fever as well. With no family gatherings, sporting events, and other of the usual forms of daily activity and entertainment, it has taken some getting used to the “new normal” for many of us. You could say the experience has seemed somewhat like being in a desert – barren, desolate, and empty at times. Some of us may feel like we’ve been stranded in this dry, arid desert without much comfort. Many would consider time in a desert as being fruitless because of the isolation and lack of activity; however, it depends on how you look at it.
With the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel approaching on July 16, we are reminded of those religious around the world who have devoted themselves to a life of prayer and sacrifice in the “desert” of Carmel. They have given up many of the pleasures and comforts of the world in order to follow God more closely and to hear his voice. The first Carmelites were hermits on Mount Carmel beginning in the 12th and into the 13th Centuries. They dwelt on the mountain, inspired by the Old Testament Prophet Elijah, who prayed, fasted, and witnessed to God by performing a miracle before the worshipers of the false god Baal. Elijah and the early hermits on Mount Carmel were willing to leave the world and sacrifice everything in pursuit of holiness and union with God. Elijah proclaimed in 1 Kings 19:10, “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts.” Carmelites today continue in the spirit and tradition of Elijah as they intercede for the world through prayer, fasting, and sacrifice.
Though we as lay people are not called to the vows and lifestyle of Carmelites, we can learn from their simple and sacrificial way of life. With many of our activities cancelled and having to spend much more time at home because of the pandemic, we have an opportunity to use this time to deepen our faith and prayer life. Even five or ten minutes a day is a good place to start. Some methods of prayer we can incorporate into our daily routine at home include reciting the Rosary alone or with family or friends, reading and reflecting on the daily readings and other spiritual reading, or reciting the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy at three o’clock in honor of the hour that Jesus died. Being in the “desert” of this pandemic is an ideal place to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, which often comes to us when we slow down and allow ourselves to experience silence and solitude.
Now more than ever the world needs saints, and we are all called to strive to attain this goal. Whether our days are spent at a desk, working with our hands in manual labor, or at home raising children, or whatever our vocation entails, each of us is called and is capable of becoming the person God wants us to be. This time of pandemic is not a waste of time. Rather, we can offer up any suffering, anxiety, or inconveniences which it has caused us as a sacrifice to Jesus, and we can use the experience wisely by growing in holiness and deepening our prayer life, and especially by calling on our Mother of Mount Carmel to help us.
The Novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel begins on July 8 and ends on the feast day, July 16. One way to join in the novena is to receive email reminders from Pray More Novenas by signing up here. Let’s beg Our Mother the Queen of Carmel to intercede for us with God for our individual and collective needs and petitions by praying the novena together.
“Do not be afraid,” he says. “Even all the hairs of your head are counted.” How comforting to know that God is aware of and looking out for every detail of our lives and wants to provide for us in all of our necessities. If he knows the number of strands of our hair, how much more is he intimately familiar with our needs, problems and desires. We are never alone in our trials and struggles; Jesus is always with us, watching over us. In addition, he has given us his Mother Mary, the best of mothers, to care for and protect us. With Jesus and Mary, we have friends in the Church Triumphant and can depend on the constant intercession of the saints in heaven to assist us.
On the Value of Human Life
In today’s Gospel, (Matt 10:26-33) we are told that we are “worth more than many sparrows.” Our lives are precious and valuable to God. On the value of human life, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God; it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude.” (CCC 1700) Because we are created in God’s image and likeness, each human being is important to him. In order to preserve and fulfill that dignity, we are expected to persevere in faith and good works and to strive to grow in virtue and holiness to become more like God.
Life Under Attack
The sanctity of human life is under attack today. Examples are abortion, euthanasia, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the death penalty. Human life is degraded and devalued very often in more subtle ways such as gossip and discrimination Some have forgotten that people are more important than things, and that every life has value, no matter how healthy, productive, or planned. Along with becoming actively and prayerfully involved in Pro-life efforts, how can we advance the culture of life that the Church seeks to preserve and proclaim?
Building the Kingdom of God
Not all of us are called to be on the front lines of the Pro-life movement; however, we can promote the value of life in our everyday activities and encounters. There are so many ways we can build others around us up. The most basic thing we can do is to love. We are called to love, even when it is hard; even when we don’t feel like it. Do we take the time to be the light of Christ and a life-giving presence to everyone we are in contact with from day to day, even on days and in moments when it is not so easy? Showing love and mercy are easy and effective ways to affirm the dignity of others and to help build up the Kingdom of God.
The World Needs More Love
It may sound simplistic but it is true that knowledge and love of Jesus is what is lacking in the world today. When we know Jesus, we discover his love for us and that we matter to him. It follows that when we are aware of our own dignity and value, we are inspired to share love and spread the gospel to everyone we meet. Knowing that God truly loves us and cares for us, we can’t help but desire to extend that love and mercy to others. Undoubtedly, there are people all around us who are suffering in ways we are not aware of. A smile, a friendly greeting, an offer of prayer – these are all ways we can help others to realize their own dignity and value in God’s eyes. Mother Teresa encouraged us to, “Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” She also said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” The world needs more love – are we willing to be the ones to share it?
We probably all thought the year 2020 would be forever remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic alone; however, the focus was shifted on May 25, 2020, with the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, caught on video, by a police officer while three other officers stood nearby. Protests, followed by nights of looting, burning, and violence, ensued in cities across the nation. Cries of racism and police brutality have been met with impassioned reactions from all sides. How are we, as Christians, called to respond to the situation which has developed in our nation?
Today’s gospel message can help us to know where to begin when faced with issues such as racism and how to address it. We are all called to follow the ‘greatest commandment,’ which Jesus made clear when questioned by the one of the scribes. In response to the scribe’s request to know the “first of all the commandments,” Jesus responded:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)
In all our undertakings, Jesus declares, we are to love God and others. To be fruitful and productive, compassion and understanding must preface any attempts at dialogue and discussion about racism. Each side must humbly admit its mistakes and imperfections in order to work toward a peaceful resolution to differences and prejudices.
There are inadequacies on both sides of the race issue. White Americans must admit that there are vestiges of racism still present within our society. There is more that we can do to create opportunities and help break cycles of poverty and dysfunction which unfortunately exist in many African American communities. Loving others as Jesus instructs us to involves attentively listening to the grievances of these communities and working toward solutions to remedy the problems which exist within them. If each of us examines our own heart, we may find traces of prejudice and lack of charity and understanding toward our brothers and sisters of color that we have overlooked or not acknowledged.
There are problems on the side of the protesters as well. Certainly, racism exists in certain individuals and groups; however, the solution to the problem is not to react with violence or lawlessness, but with love and forgiveness. It is necessary to peacefully call attention to the problem, but to do so in a lawful and appropriate manner, respecting God’s laws and civil authority.
African-American conservative commentator and political activist Candace Owens, in a recent YouTube video, expressed her passionate disappointment in the Black community for “demand[ing] support and justice for the people in our community that are up to no good.” While reiterating that the actions of the officers involved in George Floyd’s death are inexcusable and that they should face justice, Owens also rejected the attempt to elevate Floyd to a “martyr for black America,” citing his criminal record from the past and the evidence that he had not fully reformed at the time of his arrest. Owens urges African-Americans, instead, to work toward personal accountability and to improve the situation through peaceful means.
Beginning with humility, we can move toward loving one another and forgiving past transgressions. Loving God and loving neighbor can only sincerely occur when preceded and accompanied by faith and prayer. The path to a greater, more peaceful world begins in the heart of each individual. When we allow ourselves to be changed and transformed by God through prayer and the sacraments, then we can proceed to go out and change the world around us for the better.
During his extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing delivered today, March 27, Pope Francis stood facing a nearly-empty St. Peter’s Square, indicative of the strange and unprecedented situation we find our world in during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our streets and businesses are, similarly, largely vacant, void of life and activity, as we have retreated to our homes to try and stifle the spread of the deadly virus.
The Holy Father, however, offered hope to the world during the period of scripture, petition, and adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, as well as prayers before a miraculous crucifix and an act of entrusting the world to the care and protection of our Blessed Mother. The hour of prayer concluded with the Urbi et Orbi blessing, Latin for ‘to the city and the world,’ which is ordinarily given only at Christmas and Easter and upon the election of a new pope as his first blessing. The blessing carried with it the opportunity to receive a plenary indulgence for the faithful who participated by viewing the service through the media or online.
The Holy Father compared the anxiety that many are experiencing about the virus to the disciples’ fear in the fourth chapter of St. Mark’s gospel, when Jesus was asleep in the boat as a storm came up, frightening them and causing them to worry and doubt. “Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other,” he said. The analogy of the boat brings to mind the Church, separated by distance, but unified in mind and spirit and united in prayer and petition for an end to the pandemic and for peace and health for all. In this time of uncertainty, we are like the disciples, fearful and afraid, and we are apart, yet together in the Body of Christ. He is our head, guiding and steering this vessel, the Church, even during the turbulent storms of life when they come.
Perhaps the most significant and resounding line in the gospel passage is Jesus’ question to his disciples that he addresses to us as well, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40). The Holy Father emphasized these words and how Jesus directs them to us, in the situation we face today. He continued, “Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.
“Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation,” Pope Francis declared. The Holy Father’s words should call us to repentance and encourage us to recognize the ways we have failed to follow the gospel values in our own lives. During this period of Lent, when we are facing a global pandemic which affects us all, we are given the opportunity to humbly admit our faults and failings and allow our hearts to be converted and recommitted to Jesus. We remember the words of Psalm 51, a psalm of repentance, which declares, “a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn,” and we have hope that the Lord will hear our prayers if they are offered humbly and sincerely. Pope Francis reminded us that this is “a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
The Holy Father encouraged us to “invite Jesus into the boats of our lives,” and to “hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.” He reminded us that, “Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.”
He also emphasized the call to have hope in these desperate and often desolate times and to remember the Easter promise that, “He is risen and is living by our side.” He concluded his remarks with these words of petition:
Because of the current situation of the COVID 19 global pandemic, we find ourselves in unique and uncharted territory. Schools and activities are cancelled and we are called to stay home as much as possible and avoid social gatherings, or, as it is called, to practice “social distancing.” For some, this may feel new and strange. For others, it is a way of life. Many religious monks and nuns live secluded and isolated lives, separate and sheltered from the noise and chaos of the rest of the world. For those who have experienced this type of life, you know that it can lead to immense peace and oneness with God, and that those who live cloistered or monastic lives often are some of the happiest and most content people.
We can look at this temporary situation of imposed isolation and seclusion as a great blessing and a means to deepen our own spiritual lives and our relationships with God and our families. Free from the distractions of unnecessary gatherings and activities, we can focus our attention inward and get in touch with God speaking in our hearts. For those of us lay people who ordinarily live, work, and play in the world, it is often difficult to “hear” God speaking in our hearts because his voice is drowned out by the noise and chatter around us. The blessing of the situation we find ourselves in now is that the unnecessary and extraneous activity has been taken away, and we find ourselves in a sort of a “desert” in our homes where there is more peace and silence. If we use this time wisely, spending time in prayer and reflection, we can learn to listen more fully to God and grow in love for him.
Deserts are hot, dry, and sparse and can be very uncomfortable. The circumstances we are in now may be uncomfortable and inconvenient to some. It may feel boring or empty to some without the entertainment and activities that we are used to. However, we should remember that Jesus himself spent 40 days in the desert, where he fasted and was tempted by the devil. We can unite our own sacrifices and prayers during this time with his, and offer them to the Father for ourselves and for all those who are or will be directly affected by the coronavirus. As Catholics, we are familiar with the phrase “offer it up” and now is a perfect time to do just that for the good of the Church, the world, and those affected by this pandemic.
Remembering that we are, indeed, in the middle of Lent, we are provided with a perfect opportunity to use this time as a sort of “retreat” and make some time each day for prayer and spiritual reading or reflection. We can engage in spiritual reading to learn more about our faith and to give us food for reflection. Praying the Rosary as a family and viewing the Mass which is being streamed for us by many sources online, along with making a spiritual communion, are ways we can maintain our devotion and even grow in our faith during this time. By making efforts to grow in the faith, we learn to recognize the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and we come to know Jesus more fully.
Being in the desert can be very productive, as God can prune away our faults and sins and change our hearts during this time. The experience can be a great blessing if we imitate Jesus and continue to fast and pray throughout this period. If we continue to endeavor to pray, fast, and give alms throughout this Lent, we will experience the Easter joy in our homes and hearts, and hopefully we will be able to celebrate once again the Eucharist on Easter Sunday in our communities. Let’s pray that this virus will be subdued and that by Easter we can gather together again in thanksgiving and joy.
Everyone I know is tying to make sense of the corona hysteria and see how we can all make the best of it. In the confusion of the situation we are currently facing, how can we avoid fear and panic and, instead, maintain peace and tranquility? I think that we have two choices of how we can react to this unusual and uncertain situation. We can either view it as an inconvenient burden and complain and be upset about it, or we can see it as an opportunity to grow in love of God and charity for one another. I am certain that adopting the second attitude will be the most positive and peace-filled choice. What are some ways we can make the best of the corona situation and even see the good in it and draw out some positives from it?
Slow down and unplug. If we are constantly immersing ourselves in media reports and messages and continually engaged in the social media frenzy of corona-related jokes and opinions, we are tempted to get caught up in the noise and confusion, which can lead to anger or fear. Instead, I am trying to remember not to overdo the exposure to news and social media, and, instead, to remember to spend time doing things I enjoy and that help my family and I to remain calm and happy. My children are helping me to remember this, as, after school today my oldest daughter noticed some wildflowers growing on the school campus and asked if she and her sister could spend a few minutes picking them before going home. She literally reminded me that we have to stop and smell the flowers in order to not get sucked into feelings of apprehension about what is going on around us. We must continue to live our lives and have peace and confidence that “this too shall pass.”
Spend quality time with family. With all of the cancellations of school, sporting events, and other public gatherings, the hidden blessing is the extra time we are given to spend with our children. Rather than see these changes as an inconvenience, it would be helpful to look on the bright side and see the additional precious moments we can enjoy with them. I have always believed that many of us are living our lives too fast, running here and there engaged in too many activities and missing out on the simple times of just enjoying our children and time spent at home, playing board or card games, preparing meals together, and just conversing with them. Now is a perfect time, as we will all be a little less busy in the coming days and weeks.
Take time for prayer. If not so much for ourselves, many people who have contracted or will contract the illness need our prayer support now. Remembering that we, after all, are in the season of Lent, we can see this as an opportunity to carry the Cross with Jesus and to offer up our inconveniences (like toilet paper shortages!) and difficulties as Lenten sacrifices. As of now, our churches are still open and Masses are still being said. We can continue to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist, and go to Adoration if possible.
Thank God for the blessings in life. Right now, if we are healthy, we should give thanks to God for the gift of good health. If we are always remembering that this life is temporary, we will never be surprised when confronted with our mortality in situations like this, and we will be ready for whatever comes our way and won’t succumb to fear and panic. A good question to remember is, “What if you woke up with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?” Being grateful leads to happiness in any situation and can help us live more joyful and healthy lives.
Be good stewards of the gifts God has given us and nurture them: health, well-being, family, friends. Since God has been so generous to us in this country, we should take care of our bodies, our homes, and our environment and do our best to preserve them. Like the wise servant in the gospel Parable of the Talents who increased the five talents given to him by his master, we should also be prudent and careful to use our abilities to serve God and build up his Kingdom.
Help others who may not be as fortunate. Maybe someone you know is sick now, or maybe they will become ill with this virus and will need care or resources. Although many are advocating “social distancing,” we should continue to look out for and reach out to one another, especially in difficult times like this. We are called to live in community, and must pull together, especially now.
St. Teresa’s Bookmark contains wonderfully consoling and fitting words for us today:
Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing; God only is changeless. Patience gains all things. Who has God wants nothing. God alone suffices.
We are one week into Lent and I am feeling less than penitential and saintly. In fact, it doesn’t seem that I have implemented much change or penance in my life. I decided to take on the standard penance of giving up sweets because sacrificing sugar-laden desserts and snacks is truly difficult for me and involves heroic effort on my part. Already I have broken this penance and partaken of a brownie or two.
Rather than wallow in discouragement, though, I am focusing on the deeper meaning of Lent and its purpose and objective – to become a holier and better person and to grow in love and unity with Christ – and asking myself, “How can I effectively work toward these goals?” Yes, sacrifice and penance are part of the process. However, holiness involves not only letting go of physical attachments and pleasures such as chocolate, but also releasing attitudes and dispositions which keep us from growing in our relationship with Christ. These include anger, unforgiveness, selfishness, and pride. One emotion I have particularly struggled with recently is anger, so I have begun to direct my thoughts and efforts toward reducing or eliminating this negative attitude which hinders my relationship with Christ and others.
Anger is like an anchor which weighs and holds us captive, trapped and stagnant, when we are meant to sail free on the ocean of life. What are some ways we can release the anger and set ourselves free? Psychologists suggest many ideas about letting go of anger and unforgiveness, including becoming aware of the negative emotions, writing about them, telling your story to another person, and performing a release ceremony. A few years ago, I decided to try an experiment which I had heard about, which was intended to help me move toward forgiveness in a certain area of my life. The endeavor was to write the name of someone who had hurt me deeply on a balloon, inflate it, and let it go. I performed the ceremony skeptically, but found that it truly did make a difference. The physical letting go of the balloon and watching it drift away into the sky was a cathartic action that symbolized my own cutting ties with the anger and beginning to experience genuine forgiveness. Although it has been a process, since then the memory of the betrayal has become considerably less painful and feelings of compassion and mercy for the person have begun to take hold.
Selfishness and pride are also stubborn sins which are challenging to root out of our lives. Like the weeds among the wheat, they are the residual effect of original sin, and they exist along with our gifts and virtues. It is up to us to take steps to oppose and uproot these vices from our hearts daily. The Lenten discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the remedies against vice that the Church prescribes to help us to conquer our evil inclinations and sins. They help us to deny ourselves and fight against temptations to put ourselves first and seek pleasure, power, and satisfaction at all costs.
When Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days, he was tempted by the devil with three things: bread, power, and worldly recognition. We, too, are tempted by these attractive ideas when we set out to follow Christ and to put him first in our lives. Resisting these temptations, we demonstrate to Jesus our love and devotion to him and we gain strength to overcome those sins and faults we struggle with. Such small acts as resisting the treats we have given up for Lent, denying our own will to do the will of another, or performing some small act of charity that no one knows about are precious and valuable in the eyes of the Lord, who sees all and will reward us in his own way and time. We must have faith to believe that our Lenten sacrifices and penances – our “letting go” – will bear fruit for us in the future and help us to “let go” of much more than just the material things we are attached to.
Because we can’t do it alone, we can ask Jesus for the graces we need to have a holy and fruitful Lent and to resist those temptations when they come to us like they came to him in the desert. He will surely reach out and help us when we call on him and give us the graces we need to persevere. After the 40 days are up, we will rejoice with the Lord on Easter Sunday, purified, made more whole and holy, and stronger, experiencing the joy of the Resurrection and an increased union with the him. We can also hope to grow in the opposing virtues: love, forgiveness, unselfishness, and humility when we persevere through Lent and arrive victorious with him at Easter.
“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4)
The Church orders these times, or seasons, for us through the ebb and flow of the liturgical year. The Church year contains periods of ordinary time interspersed with the penitential seasons of Advent and Lenten fasting and festive celebratory feasts, most notably Christmas and Easter.
As Lent approaches, many Catholics celebrate the Carnival season beginning with Epiphany, which occurs on January 6, also known as “Twelfth Night,” as it is the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The Carnival season, with its festive-colored beads, parades, and rich foods, continues for several weeks until Mardi Gras Day, or “Fat Tuesday,” which is the eve of Ash Wednesday. During carnival, which, translated, means “farewell to meat,” early Catholic Christians used up all of the rich foods in the home, such as meat, eggs, milk, and fat, to prepare for the Lenten fast, which was considerably more austere at the time. Although Mardi Gras has, in places, become more wordly and secular, the intent of the feasting and celebration of the season is to rejoice and, in a sense, “live it up” for time to prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually for the rigor of Lenten fasting and abstinence. From the festive parades to the elaborate balls and rich foods, Mardi Gras is about celebration. However, the feasting has traditionally ended at midnight, as the costumes are put away and the revelers awake on Ash Wednesday to enter into the more somber and pious period of the Lenten season.
Mardi Gras has its origins in 17th and 18th Century Europe and made its way across the Atlantic with French settlers. Although New Orleans is notorious for its Mardi Gras festivities, many claim the celebration of the feast was actually held first in Mobile, Alabama. In 1702, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville established the settlement of Mobile, or “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” as it was originally named, and Mardi Gras was celebrated in the new colony the very next year. However, some say the very first American Mardi Gras took place a few years earlier on March 3, 1699, when Bienville and Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville reached a spot near New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day and named it “La Pointe du Mardy Gras.” It is said that New Orleans followed suit after its founding, also by Bienville, in 1718. Mardi Gras has since evolved into the energetic and elaborate festivities which occur today in New Orleans, Mobile, and the surrounding areas, and it has since migrated to other parts of the country as well.
The rich symbolism of Mardi Gras can help us to remain focused on Christ as we enjoy this period of feasting and merrymaking. The season is surrounded by visible signs of Christianity, which serve to strengthen our devotion during this time. At Epiphany, many indulge in King Cake, which commemorates the coming of the three Wise Men to the newborn Infant Jesus after his birth. The Mardi Gras colors themselves – purple, green, and gold – represent the characteristics of justice, faith, and power, respectively. In the center of the King Cake can often be found a plastic baby, signifying the Christ Child. With it, we are reminded to continue to rejoice at the birth of our Savior, as we transition to the more ascetical practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving that we will begin to undertake during the upcoming forty days of Lent.
Many people have a renewed interest in reviving the original Catholic purpose and practice of the celebration of the Mardi Gras, or Carnival, season. It should be a time that families and communities gather to experience friendship and fellowship in a joyful and wholesome manner, in anticipation of the more prayerful and penitential time of Lent. It is necessary to have times of rejoicing and celebrating to balance the hardships and trials that we all face in life. St. John Paul II remarked that, “God made us for joy. God is joy, and the joy of living reflects the original joy that God felt in creating us.” We should recapture the rhythm of the liturgical year by fully engaging in and enjoying our festive seasons, as well as participate in the sacrifice of the penitential ones.
Mardi Gras is an excellent time to come together as a family or community and enjoy the gift of life that we have been given. If your geographical area happens not to host parades or festivities for this season, you can create your own by baking your own King Cake or pancakes, which is another traditional Mardi Gras indulgence. Families with children can create their own Mardi Gras masks, decorated with traditional colors of purple, green, and gold, or can dress up in costumes to commemorate the day. The idea is to revel in the day, preparing for the change in seasons which occurs at midnight before Ash Wednesday.
In an article from Around the Year with the Von Trapp Family, Maria Von Trapp comments that “It should be our noble right and duty to bring up our children in such a way that they become conscious of high tide and low tide, that they learn that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccles. 3:4). The rhythm of nature as it manifests itself in the four seasons, in day and night, in the individual’s heartbeat and breathing—this rhythm we should learn to recognize and to treat with more reverence.”
Maria Von Trapp is encouraging us, as Catholics, to recognize and respect the times and seasons of the Church year, and to observe the feasts and seasons within the family, so that we can live out our Faith and enter into the rhythm of the liturgical year. In this way, we are participating in and becoming the kingdom of God on earth. Mardi Gras should never be reduced to just a time to “party.” If we only celebrate Mardi Gras without Ash Wednesday and Lent, the celebration becomes meaningless and loses its value and the satisfaction that is meant to be experienced from it. We may have “fun,” but will we truly experience the deep joy that comes when we comprehend the essence and significance of the feast that we are celebrating?
There are days like today, for me, when we are overwhelmed with the tasks of our vocation as mothers and don’t get to do everything we set out to do. With one sick child home from school, homeschooling another, and my husband out of town on business, today is definitely “one of those days.” The house is not in order and there are dishes in the sink and it’s already almost 5 o’clock, so there’s not much chance we will go to bed in a clean house. Besides all that, I just had to wrestle a pork chop from our Shih-tzu Ollie’s mouth, who had stolen the discarded meal from the garbage!
Another symptom of a chaotic day is not getting to go to Mass like I try to when able. Today, I remembered to make a short spiritual communion since I could not get to Mass, and this helped to bring me back to being focused on Jesus and less stressed and anxious. I was also able to offer up my anxiety, frustration, and dryness to the Lord and know that, in turn, my difficulties are being united with his suffering on the Cross and can be used for the salvation of my soul and the souls of others.
St. Thomas Aquinas described a spiritual communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament [in Communion at Mass] and in lovingly embracing Him as if we had actually received Him.” It can be done any time or place, and a formula like the one below can be used or you can speak to the Lord in your own words. I’m so grateful that we have devotions like these that we can use any time or place to draw closer to God and rekindle the fire of our faith. As St. Jean Vienney encouraged, “spiritual communion acts on the soul as blowing does on a cinder – covered fire which was about to go out. Whenever you feel your love of God growing cold, quickly make a spiritual communion.”
An act of Spiritual Communion:
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.