Holy Week is, for Roman Catholics, the holiest week of the year. It is the time when we prepare for the full celebration of the Paschal Mystery. Liturgically, we celebrate and make present the events of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
And, although Holy Week held special meaning for me this year, it didn’t start that way. I missed mass on Palm Sunday. My excuse was that I had to attend a bridal shower at 11 a.m. Not a good excuse, either, since there are Saturday night or even Sunday night masses. Spotty attendance at mass is typical behavior for me the last few years. I think some of the more conservative Catholics would call me a “cafeteria Catholic.” Yet, I feel as Catholic as people who never miss mass. Being Catholic is the essence of my being. I can’t imagine not being Catholic.
On Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. my ninth grandchild, Avery Jane, was born. At a little over six pounds, she is the latest proof for me of God’s grace. Holding Avery just minutes after she was born made me wonder what God was trying to tell me.
Back in January, when I began blogging, I wrote Moving Forward and Joy. In my pursuit of quietness, sorting out my feelings about being Catholic and wanting to feel the presence of God are probably the most important work I have left to do in my lifetime. In writing these two blogs, I began my conversation with God about my faith and my doubt.
I wanted to do some Lenten reading this year. “Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning,” was the book I chose. Actually, my brother read it and suggested it. He and I spend hours talking about our faith and the pursuit of meaning. I bought the book at the beginning of Lent. It sat on my night table until Tuesday night when Avery was born. I began reading it that night. It was a good choice and reading it this week was perfect.
Reading “Being Catholic” speaks to my intellect and my curiosity. The writers take issue with many of the Church’s practices. Yet, I am amazed by the consistency of the writers’ basic beliefs about the meaning of Catholicism. Social justice, taking care of the poor and doing good works are clear in all of their writings, even for those who no longer consider themselves practicing Catholics. I wonder if conservative Catholics approve of the essay collection. The writers are open and honest about their feelings, good and bad. Yet each writer seems somehow still connected to their Catholic roots and the teachings of the Church seem to have informed their world view.
On Holy Thursday, I attended the mass of the Lord’s Supper at Sacred Heart Cathedral with my friend, Belinda and her husband, John. It was beautiful and rich in the traditions I love. It amazes me that I can question my faith and yet be so moved by the sight of the Bishop washing the feet of twelve people during mass. The liturgy was beautiful. The music gave me chills. Over coffee after mass, we talked. I wondered if my love for rituals and ceremony was superficial, if somehow loving the pomp and circumstance made me shallow. Belinda responded, “good liturgy builds up faith.” She’s right.
Tonight I joined Belinda, John and their family for the The Great Vigil at Sacred Heart Cathedral. I can hardly believe that I was in church from 7:30 until almost 11! That’s a record I think. I don’t even know where to begin to describe the events I witnessed during the liturgy. I was, at first, struck by the diversity of the congregation. As the Bishop said during the homily, all the continents were represented in that church tonight.
We began outside with the Blessing of the Easter Fire and the lighting of the Easter Candle. Each of us held a candle, lit from the Easter Fire. We processed back into Church with music and prayer. The light came mostly from the candles as the Cathedral lights were dimmed.
For the first time in my life I watched as nine people of all ages were baptized by immersion. I happened to be standing in the back by Bishop Clark. He was standing next to me when he took off his outer robe and made his way into the water. One by one, each candidate stepped into the pool and knelt in the water as the Bishop poured water over them. One little girl, probably about nine years old, looked absolutely angelic as she looked up to the Bishop’s face, a huge smile on her face. I cried. The last names of these people reflected the universality of the church: Chantra, Moroz, Hsi, Kothor, Maviogha, Quiles, Sherwin, Sherwood and Ulom.
The sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion were also received by this group and others previously baptized and now welcomed as full faith members.
As the rest of the congregation waited for the newly baptized and the Bishop to return to the church (in dry clothes!), we renewed our own Baptismal promises and were invited to the pool to bless ourselves with the Holy Water. I stuck my entire right arm in the warm water. It felt wonderful. I blessed myself with the Sign of the Cross and wiped the remaining water all over myself.
So, it is with a peaceful and joyous feeling that I write this blog in the very early hours of Easter Sunday. I am feeling okay about my ambivalence, about my curiosity, about my love for ritual, about everything Catholic. I feel renewed in my faith. I feel close to God. I am thankful for Jesus. I love the gifts I have been given. This faith journey is one I am glad to be taking.