Saturday, November 21, 2009

Almost Advent!

I just wanted to say that I am ridiculously excited about Advent this year. I kind of wish I thought of it as more penitential, but the time of preparation and waiting excites me. I think it is because the importance of the liturgical season of Advent was impressed upon me as a child. We never put up our tree until a few days before Christmas and sometimes did not even decorate it until Christmas Eve. We also did not listen to Christmas music until Christmas Eve. It was all very exciting when it finally came.

Instead we did the Jesse Tree readings daily, had and Advent Calendar, and lit our Advent wreath at dinner every night. M. and I are doing the same things now that we have a family together. I am realizing the importance of having these traditions to mark the different liturgical seasons of year and the specific holy days. I think because I have done them my whole life, Advent would not seem the same without these traditions. M. and I hope to implement traditions in all the important seasons. I wonder if doing something as simple as eating Italian when it is an Italian saint's day would be a good way to honor a saint's day.

It seems that there is a human need for these sorts of things, and it is expressed the way certain people excessively decorate for different seasons and holidays. I could explore this more here, but I don't quite have my thoughts together and do not want to claim extreme points of view without a clearer way to express them. The basic idea is that the Church's liturgical year satisfies a human need for the cycle of the year, the changes of season, the sacramental value of decorations in the home, work place, stores, and places of worship. They are all connected and are much more than physical decorations. They speak to the whole person. What would Advent be without the sign of the wreath and the empty manger? A lot of people live without that. For them Advent is Christmas decorations and it ends with the presents. For the Church, Advent is the waiting and the time of Christmas is longer. As the four seasons change, so do the liturgical seasons pass on, and we remember and wait for the Lord to come again.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Souls of the Faithful Departed

Yesterday was All Souls Day, and I took the opportunity to pray for those in my family who have died, mainly those who I have known personally. The people I have been the closest to that have died were my dad's parents.

My Grandpa H. died when I was in 5th grade. I remember crying a lot and missing him a lot. According to my grandma I was his favorite of 13 grandchildren; I'm not sure what I did to deserve that but I'll take it. I never knew him to be a church-going man and at times I have wondered if he had any faith. I know that he was raised Catholic and that his children were raised Catholic, but I never saw him at Church (well except his funeral). After his funeral we had a party at my aunt's house. I remember thinking I saw Grandpa sitting on the porch and then him not being there. It seemed like he was with us.

My Grandma H. died when I was a Freshman in college. She had been fighting cancer on and off for three years or so. I was nervous about going to school 10 hours from home, because I knew she would not live much longer. She was in the same parish as my parents, and I got to see her weekly. I think she must have been lonely after Grandpa died, but she always took the opportunity to be present in our lives. In conversations I have had with my mom, I learned that she was a very supportive mother-in-law, helping with the kids all the time. I have fond memories of going to Grandma and Grandpa's house; they babysat us a lot. The thing I really appreciated about my grandma when I was in high school was that I got to share my faith community with her.

My second to last day in town at the end of Christmas break Freshman year, I spent the morning with Grandma. She had to get some blood drawn, so I went with her and sang to her to distract her from the needles. We then went to lunch together. She was worried about me studying Theology, because it was not a very career driven field. I assured her that I would be okay, and that I was just trying to do God's will. She seemed happy for me. A few months later she had a surgery that she knew she might no recover from. When I went home for Spring break I went to see her in the hospital. My dad's family sat with her in shifts making sure she had a family member with her 24/7. The hour I spent with her, she was asleep and not doing well. I did not really even talk to her; she looked so old and sick, I guess I was a little afraid. When a nurse came in, Grandma woke up. The nurse asked who I was and Grandma replied with a smile; she knew that I was there. However, she did not get better. She died the morning of the day Pope John Paul II died. I flew home for the funeral.

A few months after her death, one night around the anniversary of Grandpa's death, I suddenly got the urge to pray for both of them. So, I did. That night I had a dream that they were together again and happy. I brought me great peace.

Since then I have had several dreams about Grandma. Always other members of my dad's family are there, too. She never says anything, but just looks on as we all visit. I had a dream when I was pregnant and she was in the apartment and was happy. Another time I was traveling to St. Louis and there were other family members there, she seemed sad. Last night I had another dream with her in it. I don't think it was a coincidence that it happened the night of All Souls Day. She was sad. In the dream she was still alive, but we all knew she was going to die soon. My one aunt suggested that we all go to church together, thinking that that might make Grandma happy, but Grandma still seemed sad. Today I realized that these dreams are maybe her wanting me to pray for her, but also for her family, many who have left the Church and many who do not believe in God at all. It must be hard to be a mother who wants children to believe the truth, and the children to not have faith. So, if you are reading this, please say a prayer for my Grandma and Grandpa, and also for those in my family who have left the Church.

May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
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