Monday, December 21, 2015


When I was a small girl, we never went to Midnight Mass for Christmas.  I don't think I was even aware that there was such a thing until I was older and heard others talking about it.  Our family clock was set by my father, who was an early bird, and as I was growing up we always went to the first Mass of the day, which was at 6:45 A.M.  Of course the early Masses had an advantage then because you had to fast from midnight, so the sooner you went to Mass, the sooner you could eat.  We went to this Mass year round, and on Christmas there would usually be a few Christmas carols played on the organ, which I thought was wonderful because most of the year there was no music at all.  When I joined the school choir, I discovered that other Masses had music.  We sang at the 8:00 A.M. Easter Mass, and nothing had ever seemed so glorious.  Of course, then I wanted to go to the Midnight Mass, but my father told me that it was just "a Roman Carnival," and we weren't going.  

For years, I wondered what on earth he meant.  I had no idea what a "Roman Carnival" was, though the way he said it indicated that it was not anything that should be going on in church.  Then, when I was engaged, I visited my fiance's church at Harvard.  They had a world renowned boy's choir, which practiced every morning at the 8:00 A.M. daily Mass and gave my future husband a very skewed idea of what Catholic music was usually like.  He wanted me to experience their singing in all its glory, so we went to St. Paul's for Midnight Mass that year.  We had to get there nearly an hour early to get a seat in the upper church where the choir sang, and although it was very cold in Cambridge, the church was overflowing with people and soon felt overheated.  I was attempting to pray and focus on the great miracle of the Incarnation before Mass began, and gradually I became aware that the people in the pew behind me were talking and getting louder as time passed.  When the Mass began, they joined in the singing at the top of their lungs, not on key, frequently erupting into shouts of laughter, friendly shoves, and noticeable hiccups.  At some point, it dawned on me that the entire group was drunk, and rather uproariously so, and that they had come to church to be entertained by the boys' choir rather than to ponder the mystery of God become Man.  And at that moment, I suddenly understood what my father had meant by a Roman carnival. He had grown up in St. Louis, and went to the Irish parish, and I'm certain that his experience of the merrymakers who had imbibed too much before Midnight Mass had led him to conclude that every Midnight Mass was a drunken revelry. And there were entire dioceses where Midnight Mass was forbidden for that reason.   

However, when I was married and singing in our parish choir in New Jersey, we did go to Midnight Mass, and it was a very beautiful experience.  I was in the choir loft, and felt lifted up close to heaven, and only when the choir clattered down the old wooden stairs to go to Communion, was I reminded that we were only human, not angels announcing the good news to the shepherds.  Looking back on all those Christmas Masses now, I can also recognize that one of the realities of the Incarnation is that the Child in the manger came for us all, drunk and sober, and we can't know when his love will transform even the most inebriated heart.  May we all be transformed in some way as we celebrate his coming as one of us.  

Saturday, December 5, 2015


I had been stymied in my desire to keep moving forward with my book about our marriage by my inability to find the next journal from my senior year which set the stage for the beginning of our romance.  Finally, I was challenged in a webinar by Michael Hyatt to ask myself what single brave decision do I need to make today, and I knew it was to finish going through an entire closet full of the notebooks that held our thirty years of love letters, as well as, presumably, a few of my journals that had been gathered up with them after the flood.  I sorted them out by decade, found the notebooks from our original Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend, and finally found the journal I was looking for.  I was thrilled, and flipped through it, which detailed my family's move from New Jersey to Texas, my farewell to the boy who had won my heart, and the new life back in my native state, which I had left at age four.  I began college there, and because we had agreed that we were too young to think of marriage, we had made no commitments. 

I began dating Tom, a guy who seemed more compatible than my New Jersey boyfriend who was off to Harvard the year of the strikes.  He was Catholic and conservative, though he often sneered at my good grades and thought the highlight of a weekend was to hop on his motorcycle, head to his family's home and comb out their Newfoundland dogs, which was a long drawn out process.  He also loved to race trains across their tracks, and fortunately described performing power stalls before he asked me to go up in a private plane with him, so I was able to politely decline.  He owned two boa constrictors. The six foot snake named Romeo, had a very bad temper and once bit him through his leather boot and left a scar.  Three foot Juliet was a beautiful snake, and I once took her around my neck and strolled through the girls' dorm, enjoying the shrieks of those who didn't think a boa constrictor made a lovely necklace. Unfortunately, they met an untimely end when Tom left them in the care of one of the professors over Christmas break, and he turned off the warming devices they needed.

Tom said he wanted to marry me, which threw me into a panic, because I wasn't at all sure that he was the right man for me, and I became less sure as the year went on.
I can remember at one point thinking it wouldn't be too bad, but fortunately I came to my senses and realized that that was a terrible thing to think about getting married.  We eventually broke up, but as I reflected on my confusion that year, I thought how easily I could have drifted into a marriage that would eventually have made us both unhappy.

I can remember years later, my husband saying how often he saw Catholic women marrying someone with the attitude of "He'll have to do." It's as if they had determined that their vocation was matrimony, and they looked about for an employee to hire for the job.  The first difficulty is that matrimony is a life-long covenant, not a contract that can be broken if it doesn't work out.  It is meant to be the most sublime relationship between a man and a woman and requires commitment, work and love, binding them body, heart and soul.  If entered into for convenience, or because nobody better has showed up, it can become a morass of misery to the couple, any children they may have, and family and friends as well.  

On the other hand, when a couple enters into the Sacrament of Matrimony, sharing the same faith and values, loving each other passionately and determined to make their marriage thrive, they light a beacon of hope for those they encounter. One of our daughters and her husband gave out leather bookmarks at their wedding with a quote from Homer, which sums it up well:  "There is nothing nobler or more admirable that when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends."