Posts tagged ‘Catholicism’

November 2, 2011

The Not-so-Latent Kids in Us

When John and I were about to get married, his dad told us that our biological age didn’t match our internal age. We were really about forty, and he meant it in a good way. Likewise, when we quickly went from married to married with a family, our friends weren’t totally surprised. Many of them said they couldn’t imagine doing those things right then, but they made sense for us.


Even though the only way we get to something like forty is if you combine our ages, the children in us live, and our trip to Montreal was proof. Sure, we chose family-friendly activities because we had a toddler along with us, but really they were things we probably would have done even if we were on our own. Okay, so maybe we wouldn’t have gone to the playground, but we still would have walked to the clock tower nearby.



The first wonderful thing we did was go to the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. Since we’re daily Mass-goers, we wanted to stay in a hotel near a church, and we’d heard this one was something to see. Really, the church wasn’t just something to see, it was something to experience.


I love churches in cities. With or without soundproof walls, they can be an escape from the noise, traffic, and busyness of the streets. In New York especially, churches can look rather small from the outside, but once you pass through the doors, you feel like you’ve been invited into some kind of expanding Alice-in-Wonderland reverie, like there’s somehow more room inside than outside. Notre-Dame (modeled after the one in Paris) was big enough on the outside, but inside felt like it went on forever.


I didn’t take photos of the church for two reasons: 1) I know my photography skills wouldn’t do it justice and 2) I totally forgot. Despite the chilly Montreal morning, when I entered the basilica, I was engulfed by a luminosity that can only be described as a precursor to Heaven, and that’s just what was intended. Normally I prefer sculpture in churches to paintings; I see the unity of God and man more clearly in a figure hewn from stone or wood. There were plenty of statues in this church, but it was the painted ceiling that really made the whole thing pop. Colored a warm, inviting blue, the ceiling was covered with golden stars. The uppermost scene on the altar was the coronation of Mary, with the crucified, risen, and crowned Christ crowning his mother Queen of Heaven and Earth. Majesty radiated through the whole church. Golds, blues, purples. Everything shimmered and shined, and yet felt so warm and real at the same time. It may be the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen, and it alone was absolutely worth the trip.


When we first visited the church, we noticed banners for a sound and light show called, “And Then There Was Light.” The program was forty minutes long, and the brochure we read implied that children as young as Jacob were welcome. The timing fit perfectly into our evening schedule, so we bought tickets for later that day. I admit, I was a little skeptical about a sound and light show in the church, but we figured buying our tickets probably helped the church some, and it was at least worth a try.


Oh boy, was it ever! When we arrived for the show, white sheets were hung from the sides of the mezzanine sections (I’m not sure if that’s quite what to call them, but they were similar to elevated seating at an opera) and a giant projection screen was set up in front of the altar. John and I were given headsets that would tell the story in English, and we sat in our assigned pew near the front. Good thing we got tickets early! There were lots of people there—and there was a second showing later that night, too!


The program was not only light and sound, but also vignette films that traced the history of Montreal from its colonial period through the various stages of constructing the church. It was more of a dramatized historical documentary than simply a “sound and light show.” Partway through, the projections screens sunk away and the sheets were pulled up so that various elements of the church could be literally highlighted. It was an incredibly cool way to learn the history of the church and the area, and will be my number one recommendation for visitors to the city, traveling with a toddler or not, Catholic or not.


Looks like I had more to say about this church than I expected! Stay tuned for the second great Montreal family adventure tomorrow . . .


October 3, 2011

The Other St. Anthony

Most Catholics—and their friends who are apt to lose things—are familiar with St. Anthony of Padua. I, for one, cannot count the number of times I’ve successfully prayed, “St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost and it needs to be found.” To non-Catholics, the idea of praying to saints is strange, but a Catholic asking for a saint’s intercession is not at all worship. Rather, it’s like when you ask a friend on earth to pray for something, except this friend (the saint) is already in Heaven, which is just one step closer to the Big Guy.

These days, I’m calling on a different St. Anthony, one I wouldn’t have found without the help of my trusty pal, Google. Allow me to introduce you to St. Anthony the Abbott.

When St. Anthony was a young man, his parents died and left him with his inheritance and the responsibility to care for his sister. He took the Gospels quite literally, and upon hearing Matthew 19:21, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me,” he walked out of the church and did just that.

As he detached himself more and more from the world, eventually living alone in the desert with very little to eat and only skins to wear (and yet he lived to be a hundred and five years old!), he became closer and closer to God. He overcame enormous temptation with serenity and strength. Every day he started as a new beginning, never allowing the trials of the day before to persuade him to give himself any kind of break. His journey was always toward God in action more than words, although some of his writings have been collected and preserved.

Initially my interest in this St. Anthony was founded in his being a patron saint of skin diseases, as Jacob’s allergic reactions manifest as rashes and hives. As I read through St. Anthony’s biography, I couldn’t really see the connection, until I came to this prayer at the end:

Saint Anthony, you spoke of the importance of persevering in our faith and our practice. Help us to wake up each day with new zeal for the Christian life and a desire to take the next challenge instead of just sitting still. Amen.

Jacob’s had some more reactions lately, some of which we can account for, and some of which we can’t. I’m often getting discouraged with those we can’t decipher, feeling like I’m not doing all I can as the mom in this situation. Reading about St. Anthony reminds me that I need to trust in God, that I need to tackle each challenge that comes my way with faith and love. It’s okay to feel frustrated, but I can’t let that influence how I act. I have a job to do—being a mom to this precious little boy—and I need to do it well.

If you’re the praying kind, pleas help us to pray that St. Anthony will intercede for us and help us to sort these allergies out. There must be something I’m not seeing here, and I need the grace to find it. Maybe there’s work for both St. Anthonys here. There’s certainly no harm in trying!

April 29, 2011

An Even Holier Week

Last week may have been “Holy Week,” but this week—the Octave of Easter—is perhaps even holier.  It struck me only midway through the week that this time deserves some reflection, as well.

I love the incredible depth of the liturgical calendar.  The transition from Lent to Easter is one of the greatest examples.  Easter isn’t just a day; it’s eight days, which extend into a whole season—a season ten days longer than Lent!  I love that after the sacrifices, the focus on penance, and the daily reminders of our need for God’s mercy and grace, we have a celebration that just goes on and on.

In this hemisphere, at least, it’s a time when spring has finally come, the sun is shining (except when it’s raining), and for the first few weeks, at least, it seems like everyone is wearing her favorite dress.  It’s a time we are reminded of the victory, reminded of love, reminded that there is so much good in life.

While I love the symbols and the Scripture that define this season, prayer has been tough this past week.  Coming out on the other side of an intense season, with the opportunity to just relax, watch The Biggest Loser (which continues to inspire me, but more on that later), and eat dessert in the middle of the week, has thrown me off kilter, and it got me thinking.

Is joy more difficult to appreciate than suffering?

How many movies, books, and songs are there about trying to appreciate the good things in life?  Why can it be so difficult to enjoy the things we think we want for ourselves, for our families, when we have them?  Why are we (or why am I, at least) always thinking about the next thing?  The next day’s schedule, the next chore to complete, the next meal to cook?  Sure, part of it is our fast-paced society, but I think part of it is human nature, too.  We are so easily distracted, so easily pulled in myriad directions, that we struggle to focus on the here and now.  To be “present,” as it were.

I’m reminded of a quote from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.  (If you haven’t read this, go find a copy and get going.  Like, now.  It’s a play, too, which I hear is phenomenal.  Read the book, then buy tickets.  Okay, tangent over.)  Here it is:

“For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

The present is the moment in which we can experience love, grace, life in all its fullness, whether we are formally praying, in conversation with another person, or simply being silent and still.

For me, the start of this Eastertide is as much a time of reflection and renewal as Lent was.  There is still much work to be done, yet now I am reminded that the promise is fulfilled.  And after forty days of keeping this word out of the liturgy, I can again call out, “Alleluia!”

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