Traditions Change But The Story Stays The Same

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Last evening, I met with our Pastor to review the plans for the liturgies of Holy Week in our parish. This marks my 21st year planning Holy Week services at my current parish, and my 41st year participating as a liturgical musician. I reflected on that stretch of more than 40 years and though about what things had changed and what had remained the same.

For the most part, the order of the services has remained the same. While there have been adjustments to the language of the prayers and responses, as well as interpretation of some of the rituals that alter the environment slightly, for the most part, the services of Holy Week continue to tell the fantastic story of Jesus’ triumphal arrival in Jerusalem, His Last Supper with His closest followers and friends (the apostles), His betrayal, passion, death, and finally resurrection. The drama of these events captured so beautifully in recited prayers and music remains as profound and richly meaningful as ever. In fact, perhaps with age (my age!) the story becomes even more meaningful.

What has changed is the number of people attending these services from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. I have noticed in the 21 years that I have been at my parish that the number of people who attend Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil services is getting smaller and smaller. It seems that other obligations are crowding out Holy Week. Many institutions, for example, do no close for Good Friday, as once was the custom for most. And spring vacation plans seem to be on the rise for many families, who use time off from school or work to travel as a family – a very important time to be together and take a break from the fast-paced daily routines that often do not give family members a lot of time together.

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If you were raised in a household with strong ethnic traditions, as I was, Lent, Holy Week and Easter seasons were punctuated with signature foods and dishes that had special meaning – from the fish served on the Fridays of Lent and the special delicacies made for Saint Joseph’s Day, which often falls during Lent, to the Easter breads, pies, and dishes of fresh greens and meats to celebrate the holiday. Food preparation rituals during Holy Week had a specific timetable, so that dishes could be prepared in various stages in between Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday services, and the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil. I can remember my mother baking the last loaves of Easter bread in the oven in silence from noon to 3 p.m. on Good Friday before leaving for Church.

For me, growing up in this Church and home environment during these holy seasons was special. It seemed as though time slowed down. The daily routines were interrupted and replaced with sensory rituals that engaged your emotions.

Will these experiences be lost to more and more people over the years? And if so, will they be replaced with anything as meaningful and powerful?

Or am I too presumptuous to think that everyone finds the Church’s celebrations and, in particular, my family traditions to be so meaningful?

I recognize that people of different faiths and personal beliefs have various ways to be in touch with the spiritual and the divine. And I am sure that Holy Week is not the only time one can be hyper-focused on his or her faith and beliefs. It just happens to be a very special time of year for me. So perhaps I should be less concerned about the size of the congregation at religious services, and more focused on the words found in the Gospel of Matthew:

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
(Matt. 18:20)

Wishing you and your families a Blessed and Happy Easter!

Temples of the Spirit

At Sunday Mass, the weekend before Lent, the priest asked the congregation during his homily what we planned to do for Lent – how were we going to use this holy season to grow deeper in our faith, to become better persons?

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Among his suggestions, he included saying a decade of the Rosary each day. As Lent arrived this past Ash Wednesday, I thought about that homily, and, while I was driving to work I decided to pray a decade of the Rosary.

I find the Rosary prayer to be very contemplative, and often my mind wanders from the visualization of the particular Mystery intended for the decade prayed. As I thought about the Annunciation and what it have took for Mary to say yes to God’s will, I had a moment – a sort of awakening about how I should approach prayer, how prayer creates tangible benefits, and how prayer strengthens the life of the Spirit in us.


Praying

For the most part, I realized that most of my prayers have been about asking God for things – for peace, for good health to family members and friends, for our children’s success in life, and so on. I have also prayed in thanksgiving for blessings that have been given to family, friends, and myself.

To a much lesser extent, I rarely prayed for acceptance, for recognition that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Prayers of acceptance, of allowing God to work within and through me crystallized in my mind.

Benefits of Prayer

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Prayers that focus on acceptance of what might not be within our control and on those aspects of ourselves that might be improved or changed, offer us an opportunity to strengthen our mental and spiritual capacities. Scripture passages and images ran through my mind – do not worry about the things of this world. A temple of human hands is destroyed, but Christ rebuilds the temple in three days.

Prayer helps our minds focus beyond the temporal world around us. It builds up in us a reservoir of strength, of peace and calm to manage our way through this life focusing not only ourselves but also on others whom we allow to enter into our lives.

Life of the Spirit

When we practice the discipline of prayer, we become better at identifying those aspects of ourselves that can stand improvement. For example, becoming a better person – one who interacts most favorably with others and is comfortable in his or her own skin – ironically is one who has developed a life of the Spirit.

This journey of prayer brings us closer to the reality of death – the transforming moment when our lives transition entirely to Spirit. I believe that the more energy we devote to preparing for this moment, we will be less anxious when the time arrives and have a more fulfilling experience.

These 40 days of Lent provide a time for us to consider how we will invest the time we have in our lives. This upcoming week, both the Fathers’ Club and Mothers’ Guild will embark on their annual retreats on March 8 and March 12, respectively. May the time they invest in meditative prayer and spiritual reflection enrich their experiences during this Lenten season. On Tuesday, March 11, the student body will bless the Lenten cross in the center of the Quad.

I believe that if we devote some of our time to the development of a strong prayer life, we will have made a doubly rich investment – one that provides us with contentment in this life and the ability to embrace life after death as the joyous gift that it is.

All of these thoughts rushed through my head as I prayed one decade of the Rosary on the way to work on Ash Wednesday morning. I prayed a second decade immediately after.

A New Year and New Beginnings

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I have always enjoyed working in a school environment because the academic calendar punctuates the seasons of the year with beginnings and endings. This rhythmic approach to the year seems so natural, like inhaling and exhaling. Those who do not keep an academic calendar still celebrate beginnings and endings at least once on January 1. Within two weeks of the start of the New Year, Archmere students take semester-end examinations, completing the first half of the school year, only to begin the second half a few days later. January is a time of accentuated endings and beginnings – in our educational world, in our faith tradition, and in nature.


…In Our Educational World.

As we begin 2014, we say farewell to two of our faculty members. Ms. Denise O’Meara, after taking a medical leave of absence, has decided not to return for the second semester. She planned to retire after her long teaching career, which included, most notably, the creation of a vibrant community service program. We are happy to report that she is doing well, and we are grateful for all of her contributions to Archmere Academy. We are also grateful for the work of Ms. Lauren Gerber, Mr. Michael Burdziak, Mr. Bill Gabriel, and Ms. Maria Calzado-Saavadra who taught Ms. O’Meara’s classes during the first semester. For the second semester, we welcome Ms. Mary Anne Matarese, who will assume the long-term substitution position.

Ms. Sarah Jamison, Spanish teacher, will not be returning for the second semester. Though she has been with us for a short time, she has supported a vibrant program of foreign language study, and we extend to her our best wishes. Ms. Maria Calzado-Saavadra and Mrs. Leah Lightcap will be leading Ms. Jamison’s classes for the second semester.

Mrs. Carolyn Doyle, College Counselor and Director of Guidance, has decided to retire at the end of the current school year. Mrs. Doyle has created and shaped the college counseling program, assumed responsibility for the Guidance Department, and has been involved in a number of leadership initiatives at the Academy over her 25 years of service. Her initiative, professionalism, and commitment to our kids have helped to create a counseling department that serves our families faithfully each year. Mrs. Doyle is well-respected within the professional circles of high school college counselors, most recently serving as President and immediate Past President of Potomac and Chesapeake Association for College Admissions Counseling. A national search process is underway to identify Mrs. Doyle’s successor.

…In Our Faith Tradition and In Nature.

We began a new liturgical year with the Advent Season on December 1, 2013, and after we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ and welcomed the arrival of the Three Kings, suddenly, the Church fast-forwards to celebrating the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan – the signature event that marks the beginning of his public ministry. In a short two months, we have three cycles of beginnings and endings – the anticipation of the birth of our Savior, the commemoration of His presence among us, and the proclamation of the Good News that tells us the reality we know is not the end – the promise of everlasting life. The Church calendar is rich with dates of commemoration, seasons, and related imagery to accentuate the “rhythm of life,” the natural beginnings and endings we all experience.

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The Liturgical Calendar of the Catholic Church.

For example, as we approached the day with the shortest amount of daylight on December 21 – the winter solstice, we were lighting more Advent candles each week to celebrate the coming of the Savior who is the Light in our darkness. Now, as we approach the summer solstice on June 21, each day increasing the amount of daylight, we celebrate on February 2 the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple. According to Judaic law, Joseph and Mary presented their son, Jesus, at the Temple, 40 days after his birth. In his 1962 Code of Rubrics (officially titled Rubricarum instructum, published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis), Pope John XXIII identified this date as the official end of the Christmas season in the Catholic Church. Soon after this feast, the Church keeps the Lenten Season, this year beginnings on March 5 with Ash Wednesday, only to lead to the Vigil of the Resurrection of Jesus on April 19. All the while, the seasons incubate new life that takes form as longer sun-lit days approach the summer solstice on June 21. Our faith tradition reminds us daily of the ever-changing and creating Spirit that is in and among us!


While I am not one to create “New Year’s Resolutions,” I do pray and wish that all of our students, families, alumni, parents of alumni, grandparents, and benefactors may know the blessings of our God in the New Year, and also may know the gratitude and care of our Archmere community for all of the sacrifices, support, and prayers offered on behalf of the wonderful educational and formative work being accomplished every day.

Blessings in the New Year!