Saturday, January 28, 2012


It had been an unsettling kind of Advent.

Specifically, I think of the events in Newton, Connecticut--tragic, frightening, heart-wrenching, absolutely perplexing.

Then, a week ago, the world was supposed to end.  As you may recall, the weather seemed very appropriate for such a day, at least around these parts.  The sky was ominous and the wind blew with an alacrity rarely seen.  Our power threatened to turn off several times throughout the day.

It seems all out of place, amidst the presents, the cookies, the trees and lights.  This is the season of JOY!  Tragedy belongs to another season, not to Advent and Christmas.

I remember as a child feeling a bit of trepidation as Christmas neared.  I wanted the day to be as perfect as possible and the idea someone might fall ill or a blizzard might prevent the beloved family party from occurring was depressing.  

Holy Mother Church is very wise and she teaches us, her children, well...if we but listen and observe.

December 25 is the joyous celebration of Our Lord's birth.  But what follows?  It wasn't until a few years ago, when I began to attend daily Mass, that I realized December 26 honors the first martyr, St. Stephen.  

So, just a day after we remember Our Lord's birthday, we remember the first man to die witnessing to Our Lord.  

Then today--still within the Christmas season--we remember the Holy Innocents: the innocent children slaughtered by King Herod, as he sought to kill the newborn king.  As I reflected on the Holy Innocents today, I immediately called to mind those innocent children killed in Newton.  

It seems then that the very first Christmas, while joyful, was in many ways tragic, too.  

Our Lady and St. Joseph had no Christmas feast, no spectacular home decked out with holly and lights.  They made do with a lowly manger.  

Not long could they marvel at the shepherd's adoration of their Child or the gifts of the Magi.  Soon they had to flee to protect the life of the newborn babe.

From the very beginning, joy was intermingled with the Cross.  

The mystery of suffering surrounds us.  It's not something for which we should seek escape, as I longed for the "perfect Christmas" as a child.  But it is something we should try to understand and, even more so, to sanctify.

For the parents of the Holy Innocents, the death of their little children must have seemed utterly unnecessary, cruel, and confounding.  But, upon their passing from this world, they would have discovered that their children gave up their lives for...God!  Their lives were given to preserve the life of Christ.  Their glory in heaven must indeed be very great.

Their suffering on earth would, in heaven, become their greatest joy.

We should rejoice in times of joy, especially during this beautiful Christmas season!  And when our Christmas is marked with suffering, we should still say with St. Paul: "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him" (Romans 5:28).

Last Friday, the day the world was to end, was by observation, quite terrifying.  I was driving in my car, the wind howling like a great fiend all around, the black clouds filling the sky.  

And then, as the hour of remembrance for the victims at Sandy Hook neared, I happened to look toward the west and there was the most magnificent, perfect rainbow, stretching from one end of the sky to the other.

So I rejoiced because God is truly our Emmanuel: God-with-us...especially in our suffering.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Uncle Eddie's Mexican Dip ... And Why It's Important

Growing up, my family was all about tradition.  I come from a very predictable family, one that isn’t at all open to much spontaneity.  This was particularly true when it came to holidays.  I could recite–to the detail–the exact unfolding of our Christmas morning activities.  I will spare you the not-so-gripping specifics, but let me assure you that there certainly were specifics that repeated, year after year.
It almost wouldn’t seem like Christmas without Uncle Eddie’s Mexican dip, which makes its appearance on an annual basis.
Now I find myself in an entirely new position.  No longer do I have the all-too familiar role of daughter within my parent’s household.  Now I am the mother and wife in my own household.  Suddenly, the rules have changed and I am faced with the perplexing situation that…there is no tradition.
What do you do exactly on Christmas morning?  Do we open presents with wild abandon, as had been practiced in my household of origin?  Do I serve scrambled eggs, bacon, and coffee cake, or do I go way out on a limb and make pancakes instead?
In a way, creating traditions is supremely exciting.  My husband and I have a blank slate of years of tradition before us and we can shape and create it in whatever way we want.  If we want to open presents while listening to the Beach Boys and wearing bathing suits–now’s the time to do it!
There is something within the heart of each one of us that craves tradition.  We seek it out and we desire that familiarity that repeats with an assurance and habitualness that provides us a strange comfort.  My husband, listening to a homily from Fr. Paul Scalia of St. John the Beloved Parish in McLean, VA, quoted me a line from the priest, something alone the lines of: Repetition is humanity’s way of approximating eternity.
Our hearts are created for eternity and so, consciously or unconsciously, that’s what we try to recreate.

Our family is still building tradition.  It seems to me it needs to be organic, developing gradually and naturally from among the family members.  So we haven’t developed all of our Christmas traditions just yet, but we’ve started.
I hope we don’t repeat the bowl of cereal for Christmas breakfast (ran out of time for anything more!), but I do intend for us to repeat a practice we did before any presents were opened: placing the baby Jesus in His crib and singing Him “Happy Birthday.”
And, it goes without saying, I look forward to Uncle Eddie’s dip next year, too!