Merry Christmas, Catholic Girl

Merry Christmas, Catholic Girl

A short story

by Beverly Stevens

This is my fourth Christmas as a divorcee.

Four Christmases ago, my so-called husband left me with a broken-down house, a five year old Chevy van, a basement full of water and an utterly empty bank account. Plus a frightened seven year old, and a very angry teenaged girl.

When he threatened us, I made several trips to the police station to beg for help. Finally, one cop took pity on my terror. He solemnly advised me to change our locks and to keep the outside lights on.

Also, never, ever, to let my ex back in the house.

“If he, ah, does something you don’t like once he’s inside,” he told me, burly arms crossed in front of him. His warm brown eyes were sympathetic. “Then our hands are tied. Because you let him in. You understand my meaning?”

I swallowed the tears welling up in my eyes, hating my weakness. Yes, I nodded soundlessly. I understood. Despite the fact that I was a highly educated professional, I understood. My husband, an alcoholic, a vain actor and a cowardly sociopath, was a man. He could hurt me, even rape me. I understood that.

“If he, ah, does something you don’t like once he’s inside,” the policeman told me, burly arms crossed in front of him. His warm brown eyes were sympathetic. “Then our hands are tied. Because you let him in. You understand my meaning?”

Officer Donzella looked concerned, and handed me his card. “You call us if he shows up again, okay? We’ll be watching the house.”

I didn’t have to, thank the Lord. My ex disappeared as soon as the divorce was final.

“He just dove into the bottle and disappeared, right?” said my best friend Jan. Which is about right, I suppose. After all those years of marriage to a raging alcoholic, I was just about finished, myself.

That was four years ago.

Today, my basement is dry. Our house is repaired. We own a sensible, un-sexy car. After 18 months without health insurance, with great relief I began work as a bank manager. I continue to moonlight on weekends as an SAT tutor.

I have a very Catholic housekeeper. She cleans and cooks, and makes sure the kids are taken care of, closely guarded. Nancy is in a Catholic girls’ high school. David is in a small Catholic grammar school. My nightmare, hard to shake off, is that he will kidnap them.

I work seven days a week to maintain this life. After a year on Paxil, I now control my stress and anxiety with exercise. I sleep soundly at night; we have two dogs who bark at the least provocation, and they have slept quietly by our sides for about two years now. Nancy has been accepted at a very good university for next year. David is a happy-go-lucky 11 year old. I have righted the ship.

My best ally in all of this has been my Catholicism. This may seem surprising to some; our parish was the center of a national scandal when our priest and his boyfriend the wedding planner were arrested for stealing $1.4 million. Many people lost their faith in the wake of that scandal, among others.

I did not. My faith was not dependent on our suburban parish; in fact, I had years before started to attend a Latin Mass in a small chapel at a nearby nunnery.

Our parish was the center of a national scandal when our priest and his boyfriend the wedding planner were arrested for stealing $1.4 million. Many people lost their faith in the wake of that scandal, among others.

It was the Gregorian chant that attracted me. But it was the sound Catholic orthodoxy of the brilliant priest that kept me returning, week after week. There, my kids learned to sit still during Mass. Soon, they learned the thrill of the Sacred. And finally, safe in the arms of Mother Church, I could let down my hair and cry for hours in the little chapel. The Sisters understood. Occasionally, I would be aware of the rustle of their habits as they genuflected in the chapel to visit their Lord.

So you can imagine my surprise last week when Officer Donzella – sans police uniform – knelt in the pew opposite us yesterday, on the first Sunday in Advent. Of course my kids had no idea who he was, but afterwards at the coffee and doughnut hour, I approached him.

“Hello!” I began, all smiles. I wondered if he would know me.

He stood drinking coffee in his pressed khakis, looked at me blankly for a moment, then blinked suddenly in recognition.

“Well, hello!” he said, smiling back. David – now an altar boy — was distracted by the doughnuts and his Sunday playmates. Nancy was swallowed up in a group of laughing, homeschooled teenagers.

“I’m surprised to find you here!” Officer Donzella blurted out, then looked abashed.

I laughed merrily.

“Why?”

“Well, ah, you didn’t seem like the Catholic type to me,” he said, truthful, but reddening.

“No?”

“Well, maybe ‘Catholic.’ But not actually Catholic, if you know what I mean. What’s it called? ‘Catholic In Name Only’?”

I let out a peal of laughter.

“I’m pretty Catholic,” I replied wryly.

We both laughed.

“Yeah?” he said, and I noticed his eyes were twinkling.

“Yeah,” I said straightforwardly. “Actually. So what are you doing here?”

Jan was unimpressed. “He’s a cop,” she intoned. “They are all nuts.”

“Oh come on, he goes to the Latin Mass.”

“Great. So he’s a religious nut,” she said. “Even better.”

“I live here. Always have,” he said, and then said grimly, “But I had enough of that business at the parish…”

“No kidding,” I agreed, and waited.

“Somebody told me the nuns have Mass here,” he said. “About the music…”

“The chant?” I supplied.

“Beautiful,” he shook his head, a little dazed. “Outta this world.”

“Yes, it is,” I ventured. There was a short silence.

“So, no more trouble from your ex?” he asked tentatively. “I mean, it was a few years ago…”

“No more trouble,” I said, and knocked on the wooden table next to me. He chuckled again. I noticed that his eyes wrinkled, and wondered how old he was. Somewhere around my age, I decided. Early 40s.

“These your kids?” he asked, indicating Nancy and David, now bearing down on us, dressed to leave. The after-Mass crowd had dispersed.

“Yes,” I said shortly, suddenly shy. Then I recovered myself, quickly shook his hand, and turned to go. He did not try to stop me.

Jan was unimpressed.

“He’s a cop,” she intoned. “They are all nuts.”

“Oh come on, he goes to the Latin Mass.”

“Great. So he’s a religious nut,” she said. “Even better.”

I resisted.

“I like him. He’s the first guy I have liked in years.”

“Yeah? So what’s his story? Does he have kids?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay, listen, just be careful,” she said. “Go have yourself a little fun.”

“I don’t want to have a little fun,” I said, somewhat piqued. “I want to get married.”

I couldn’t believe I actually said it.

Jan eyed me uneasily.

“Really? After all you’ve been through? Why?”

“I don’t actually know, except that it has something to do with the way a life ought to be lived.”

Ought to be lived? Sounds awfully judgmental to me.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s what I am,” I countered, chuckling. “Call me ‘judgmental.'”

I surveyed myself critically in the mirror before leaving the house tonight. I am still slender, and somewhat stylish, in a muted kind of way. My shoulder-length brown hair is attractively cut. My face is unlined, except for the deep furrow the stress of recent years has worn across my forehead.

I sighed and wrapped a warm red shawl around over my ankle-length black woolen coat. It would be cold tonight at the lighting of the town’s Christmas Tree.

As David and I walked by the police cars stationed at the edge of the crowd, I suddenly heard a voice call out.

“Hey!”

Donzella detached himself from his fellow cops. He was imposing in his policeman’s winter coat, his weapon on his belt. As I looked up at him, our breath fogged the frosty air.

“Will you be at Mass at the convent on Sunday?”

“Uh, yes. Yes, we will.”

“Me, too.”

We eyed each other awkwardly.

“Okay, so we’ll see you there!” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. David tugged on my arm, and I turned to go.

“That’s Trevor’s dad,” he stage-whispered as we walked away. “Trevor Donzella, in my class.”

My heart constricted.

“Yeah?” I replied, crestfallen. The Christmas lights around me suddenly seemed garish, and I shivered in the cold.

“Yeah,” echoed David, “Gotta go!” He patted me solicitously on the arm, and took off to join his friends at the base of the tree.

“Um, listen, would you like to have coffee or something afterwards?”

I sighed, and turned around. Officer Donzella was standing behind me.

I sighed and wrapped a warm red shawl over my ankle-length black woolen coat. It would be cold tonight at the lighting of the town’s Christmas Tree.

“Listen, I’m not sure.”

His face fell. When he spoke, his voice was hurt.

“Oh sure, I understand. It’s okay.”

“I’m not sure you do understand.”

“Y-you have plans. It’s okay.”

“No, I don’t. But I also don’t know anything about you.”

His face softened, and he grinned.

“I’m a cop. A Catholic cop.”

“Right,” I smiled in spite of myself, then shook my head. “But that’s not what I mean.”

His face grew hard.

“You don’t date cops?” He said. The words fell like stones between us.

“No,” I returned, with some annoyance. “I don’t date married men.”

Married? What makes you think I’m married?”

“My son goes to school with your son.”

“Okay, I’m divorced. Like you, right?”

“I’m divorced, yes. But I wasn’t married in the Church.”

He nodded.

“Does all this really matter to you? I mean, I just asked you for coffee.”

I sighed.

“You asked me if I was Catholic. The answer is yes. It matters to me.”

“Okay, so I was married in the Church. We had one child. She left me for another guy. Now we’re divorced. It’s a mess, like everybody’s life is, these days.”

“Okay, so I was married in the Church. We had one child. She left me for another guy. Now we’re divorced. It’s a mess, like everybody’s life is, these days.”

“Right. And you are going to Mass?”

“Yeah, I felt like Trevor needed to go to Mass. So when I don’t have him, I go anyway.”

“Why?”

“Why?” he echoed, puzzled. “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

“Because Mass is where you’ll find a nice girl?”

The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them, but he didn’t flinch. Instead, he held my eyes steadily.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “That’s what I want. Though that is not my main reason for going to Mass.”

I nodded. To my intense annoyance, my heart was beating wildly.

“What did you mean when you asked me if I was Catholic?”

He chuckled.

“I didn’t think someone like yourself, uh, would be. I mean, with following the rules and everything.”

I didn’t understand.

“Following what rules?”

He took a deep breath.

“You’re a professional woman. Professional women don’t believe in the Church’s rules about, well, stuff.”

“You’re a professional woman. Professional women don’t believe in the Church’s rules about, well, stuff. And they don’t date cops.”

Before I could answer, he added in a flat tone, “and they don’t date cops.”

He snickered, then, without humor and turned to look at the multicolored lights of the Tree.

“What are you talking about, the rules?” I was incredulous. “You mean the rules about sex before marriage? Well, you’re wrong. That’s exactly how Catholic I am. I don’t date married men, and I don’t have sex before marriage.”

I was way louder than I meant to be. People were looking at us as they passed. His face was unreadable, but I thought I detected a glint of humor in his eyes.

“Would you date a cop with an annulment? Without having sex before marriage?”

There was another silence. Then I lifted my chin and smiled gently up at him.

“I would be honored to date a cop. With an annulment. Under the usual conditions.”

The grin spread across his honest face, lighting up his eyes as it went.

“OKAY, then! So you will have coffee with me after Mass at the convent?”

I smiled broadly. “Yes, but only at the convent…”

“Until I have an annulment?”

“Yes.”

“Even if it takes months and months?”

“Yes.”

Pure joy lit his face. Or maybe it was the tears in my eyes that made it seem so. In any case, we stood there on the pavement under the Christmas lights, grinning at each other like fools.

“Merry Christmas, Catholic girl,” he whispered, gazing down seriously into my eyes.

“Merry Christmas,” I replied, and turned to intercept David. “See you at Holy Mass.”

I wrapped my red shawl tighter around me, and together with my son, headed for home.

“That’s exactly how Catholic I am. I don’t date married men, and I don’t have sex before marriage.”

She Lost Her Purity Ring at Christmas

A Short Story

by Beverly Stevens

Living in ‘The Graveyard of Hearts’

My name, in case it’s important to anyone, is Grace. I just turned 30 years old, and I have lost my Purity Ring.

What, you would like to know, is a ‘Purity Ring?’

Well, you wouldn’t ask this if you were brought up as I was, in an Evangelical Christian family. We spent a lot of time at church, and when I was 16 I took part in a little ceremony wherein my sister and I pledged our purity to God, publicly. Yes, I stood up in roomful of other girls and pledged my virginity to the Lord, until the time might come when I would find the husband that Jesus intended for me.

I and my fellow Purity Ring wearers live in what I call ‘a graveyard of hearts.’

That was almost half my lifetime ago. Today, I and my fellow Purity Ring wearers live in what I call ‘a graveyard of hearts.’ We prayed earnestly for a husband. We worked hard at honing our domestic skills. We sought each other’s advice and solace when, one after another, the men we loved chose other girls. Or simply wandered away. Or whatever.

What must God be thinking? I know it’s not my place to question the Almighty, but what, actually? Is. He. Thinking?

My sister Heather does not have my problem.

Oh, she is man-less, too. But she has Jaden, my 8 year old nephew, a product of her ‘relationship’ with a fellow student at the state university she attended briefly before becoming pregnant. Jaden’s dad told her to ‘get rid of it’ – a singularly monstrous response, if I do say so myself.

But to my sister’s credit, she did not. Unsurprisingly, Jaden’s ‘dad’ disappeared immediately.

Jaden’s dad told Heather to ‘get rid of it’ – a singularly monstrous response, if I do say so myself. But to my sister’s credit, she did not. Unsurprisingly, Jaden’s ‘dad’ disappeared immediately.

My sister has not lived happily ever after, in case that’s what you’re thinking. She’s got a job that doesn’t pay much, so she lives with my folks. She goes to a different church, though, where the coffee is better and ‘people aren’t so judgmental,’ as she likes to say these days, in a particularly severe tone of voice. I think she’s talking about the fact that she is quite fat now. Or maybe it’s the tattoos.

Sometimes she doesn’t come home until very late at night, my mom tells me, worriedly. Apparently, my sister’s Purity Ring is lost somewhere, possibly permanently.

So, if you’re thinking that I am jealous of my sister, think again. Exasperated, maybe. But not envious.

Sometimes she doesn’t come home until very late at night, my mom tells me, worriedly. Apparently, my sister’s Purity Ring is lost somewhere, possibly permanently.

This is not to say my life is any great shakes. My Master’s Degree in Library Science earns me about $125 more per week than my sister makes working the baggage counter at the airport. (To be fair, Heather doesn’t have student loans to pay off.)

I have a completely different attitude towards my job, though. I am proud of being a librarian. My dream was always to combine being a librarian with being a wife and mother. I know this is politically-incorrect, but my faith in the Lord allowed me to hold this dream, even when most of my friends from college have shrugged it off. In fact, I would say that my Purity Ring has allowed me to keep this dream alive. Every time I looked down at my hand, that simple silver ring on my right hand was a reminder of the vow I made as a teenager.

And now I have lost it.

I should be clear. By the time I lost my Purity Ring, I had also lost faith in the idyll of Romance that I held for so long. Call me ‘jaded,’ but what I have seen of my friends’ lives has made me quite cynical. There’s beautiful Rose, who married fat little Jason, who of course is very rich. Then there’s successful Jessica, who moved in with Spencer a few years ago. She tries to act like the fact that he hasn’t asked her to marry him doesn’t matter. Oh, and how could I forget my BFF Christian? She has divorced Tim, whom she says is ‘boring.’ (She decided this after she went off the Pill to try and get pregnant, strangely. Now she’s dating a married man.)

By the time I lost my Purity Ring, I had also lost faith in the idyll of Romance that I held for so long. Call me ‘jaded,’ but what I have seen of my friends’ lives has made me quite cynical.

So where is God in all this, anyway? My friends and my sister have all screwed up their lives, as far as I can see. And I am now without my Purity Ring.

The strangest thing is, I don’t know where I left it. Did I take it off to wash my hands someplace? I honestly can’t recall.

To tell the truth, I can’t even recall what my ‘purity’ actually was. I haven’t had sex. Haven’t allowed myself to get sucked into the maelstrom of emotions and betrayals that everyone else has. The few men that got close enough simply disappeared once they learned about my purity vow. It seems they didn’t value my purity.

Did I, for that matter?  

The few men that got close enough simply disappeared once they learned about my purity vow. It seems they didn’t value my purity.

All I knew is that it was December, again. And I was, once again, alone — with my purity.

So two weeks before Christmas I did something highly uncharacteristic. I went out to a bar. (Yes, with Christian, who is normally alone on weekends, as her ‘significant other’ is of course otherwise engaged.)

We took turns talking about our troubles, drank Cosmopolitans, and – again uncharacteristically — wound up talking with some guys at the bar. One of them was a good-looking and intelligent house painter.

Dominick was of medium height, in his middle thirties, with a shock of unruly brown hair. He wore a clean shirt under a black pea coat, and he had an engaging grin.

Unfortunately, maybe because it was Christmas, before long our conversation turned to God. Now, I don’t spend a whole lot of time in bars. So maybe that is why I let the conversation get steered in this direction.

He was, it turned out, a Catholic. But he was warm, and funny. And he seemed to be intrigued by my Christianity.

At first, I thought that he might be good for Heather. Unlike most of the guys she ‘dates,’ Dominick is a successful house painter, with a couple of offices in two cities. He specializes in corporate work, he told me.  Also, his friend announced with a wicked grin that Dominick’s live-in girlfriend had moved out, so that he was a ‘free man,’ available to date.

“Actually,” Dominick sighed to me quietly, once the laughter died down and Christian and the other guys went back to their own conversation. “She moved out about a year ago. I have had plenty of time to think.”

And then I forgot all about Heather. I don’t know what came over me. I just blurted it out.

“I’m sworn to keep my virginity until I get married.”

I don’t know what came over me. I just blurted it out. “I’m sworn to keep my virginity until I get married.”

I couldn’t believe it. I don’t think he could, either. We just looked at each other.

“Well,” he began carefully. “That’s interesting.”

But he didn’t look away, like he was looking for an escape route. In fact, he cocked his head and regarded me with interest.

“So you don’t feel like you have to take a guy for a ‘test drive’ first?”

Now it was my turn to be shocked.

“N-no.”

He nodded carefully.

“I’ve been going to a Latin Mass. Do you know what that is?”

I shook my head, slowly.

“Never heard of it.”

“Yeah, well, it’s made a big, ah, difference in how I see things.”

I didn’t know what to say. That’s when he read my mind.

“You don’t think a house painter is on your level, do you?”

It must have been the Cosmopolitans. In vino veritas.

“Um, it’s not that.”

“You don’t think a house painter is on your level, do you?” It must have been the Cosmopolitans. In vino veritas.

He saw right through me, and laughed like it was a great joke. Through my embarrassment, I liked the way his eyes crinkled. He had a manly laugh.

“Honestly, it’s not that!” I protested, feeling stupid.

“Young lady, I am a house painter with a master’s degree in philosophy,” he declared suddenly, and drained his beer glass. He placed the empty glass carefully on the bar.

“Really?” I said. It came out in a squeak.

We both laughed, then.

“Okay, so now we have discussed sex, religion and social class,” he said, grinning. “I’d say that’s not bad for a few minutes at the bar.”

Between the Cosmopolitans and the conversation, I was feeling a little light-headed, so I excused myself to go to the ladies’ room. When I came back, Dominick was waiting alone, for me.

“Young lady, I am a house painter with a master’s degree in philosophy,” he declared suddenly, and drained his beer glass.

“The others went to shoot pool,” he said, pulling up a bar stool next to him. I sat down, somewhat primly.

“I don’t want you to think that I announce my, uh, convictions to every stranger I meet, “ I began.

This made Dominick laugh again.

“What’s so funny?” I asked, piqued.

He looked contrite.

“I just want to say something,” he said.

His eyes were hazel and kind.

I waited.

“I’m really glad there are women in the world like you, still,” he said gravely, looking with great seriousness into my eyes. “I actually thought there weren’t any, any more. I want you to know that I respect you.”

I took a deep breath, and swallowed hard, suddenly aware that ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ was playing in the background.

“Do you know what a ‘sacramental marriage’ is?” he asked me.

So, that was Friday night. Dominick invited me to his church for Sunday Mass. When I arrived, he was waiting for me, shivering in a suit and tie in the snowy morning air. He stood somewhat self-consciously, waiting, as I ascended the steps of this incredibly beautiful 19th Century architectural gem in a run-down neighborhood that I have, frankly, never dared to enter.

Inside was a riot of gilding and color like I have never seen before. Saints glowed from stained glass windows. The pews were filled with Catholics – lots of young people, and families with many children. Many of the women wore lace mantillas.

By then, I had noticed that my Purity Ring was gone. Somehow, inexplicably, ever since the night I met Dominick, it was no longer on my right ring finger.

And my Purity Ring has not re-appeared, either.

I can’t understand it, at all.

But I don’t miss it too much, really.

Perhaps it has served its purpose.

As I now have a man who prizes my purity.

And my immortal soul.

 Saints glowed from stained glass windows. The pews were filled with Catholics – lots of young people, and families with many children. Many of the women wore lace mantillas. By then, I had noticed that my Purity Ring was gone.

PHOTO CREDIT: Yume Delegato

Why the Christmas Tree Is Christian

A Story of Old England and Germany By Michael Durnan Christmas is the darkest time of year in Northern Europe and North America. In these frigid lands, the Christmas tree is a potent Christian symbol, a light shining in the winter darkness. Its evergreen foliage enlivens our bleak and barren winter landscapes at a time … Read more

The Latin Mass Tourist

Winter at Saint Benedict Abbey 

by Roseanne T. Sullivan

St. Benedict Abbey is a Benedictine monastery in Still River, a picturesque village in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts. The serenity of the abbey and its surroundings makes the name ‘Still River’ seem perfectly apt. The abbey overlooks a lovely vista with the Nashua River valley below and with wooded hills rolling out behind the valley to Mount Wachusett in the distance.  

The Abbey traces its roots to a Catholic student center of men and women started in 1940 in Harvard Square, Cambridge, by a laywomen, Catherine Goddard Clarke, and two laymen, Christopher Huntington and Avery Dulles (later, Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.). 

Today, the seven priests and five brothers at Saint Benedict Abbey continue the mission of their founders by living a monastic life of prayer and work not only for their own sanctification and salvation, but for the sanctification and salvation of others.

Reverent Worship in Both Forms of the Mass

The Benedictines’ vision is to unite all men to Christ in His Church, bring about the triumph of Mary’s Immaculate Heart and flourish as a Benedictine Community.  They are committed to reverent worship in the Novus Ordo of Mass and Divine Office — all of which are open to the public.  Each day, Mass is celebrated in English (7 AM), and in Latin with Gregorian Chant (Mon. – Sat. 8 AM; Sun. 11 AM).  Divine Office (Vigils, Lauds, Sext, and Vespers) is daily chanted in Latin; Compline is in English Mon. – Sat., and in Latin on Sunday. 

The monks also recite the Rosary together each day.  Several of the priests from the Abbey also offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form on Sundays at the convent next door.

True Christian Hospitality

The second way in which the monks bring their vision to reality is by their apostolate of Christian Hospitality.  Hosting individuals, families and retreat groups throughout the year, the monks seek to serve Christ in the many guests who visit from all over the country.  The guest facilities can accommodate as many as 85 overnight guests and up to 250 people for meals all of which are prepared by the monks.  Their apostolate also includes assisting many who come to the Abbey desiring the Sacrament of Reconciliation or seeking to join the Catholic Church. 

Their apostolate also includes assisting many who come to the Abbey desiring the Sacrament of Reconciliation or seeking to join the Catholic Church. 

On the Abbey website, guests are directed to contact the guest-master to arrange a visit to the Abbey (abbeyretreats@aol.com) or phone: 978-456-3221.  

 Whether you are thinking of taking some time ‘to get away’ for yourself, your family or friends, or are pondering a vocation to monastic life, the Abbey is a place where you can find God.  The natural beauty of the Abbey’s seventy-five acres makes it easy to lift up one’s heart and mind to God.

The words of the English Catholic poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., come to mind when viewing a sunset from the Abbey: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

The words of the English Catholic poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., come to mind when viewing a sunset from the Abbey: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

Benedictine Vocations Welcome
Finally, the monks bring their vision to reality by being faithful to their vocation. As they articulate in their Mission Statement: “Relying on Jesus in the Eucharist, Slavery to Our Lady, and fraternal charity, we seek to become holy by a life of prayer and work.”  As one monk put it, “We recognize that without genuine striving for holiness, the Abbey would be little more than a museum with a beautiful view, and a few odd characters to point out the artifacts. But, with genuine striving for holiness and the passion to become the saints whom God calls us to be, the Abbey is not only a place to visit, but God’s own home – and yours as well.”

Young men inquiring about monastic life are directed to contact the Vocation Director, (abbeyvocation@aol.com or cell: 978-877-3694). 

 

Saint Benedict Abbey

252 Still River Road, P. O. Box 67

Still River, Massachusetts 01467

Tel: 978-456-3221

Fax: 978-456-8181

Website: http://www.abbey.org

PHOTO CREDITS

St. Benedict Abbey Winter Snow, 252 Still River Road: Mark C. Buell

Winter Dawn at Still River: Mark C. Buell

St. Benedict Abbey at Christmas, photo courtesy of the Monks of the Abbey

All other photo credits: Roseanne T. Sullivan

 

Not Just Christmas Carols

William Byrd’s Secret Catholic Masterpieces

He was a hit-maker — Queen Elizabeth’s favorite composer, highly regarded at her wealthy and powerful Court. But in reality, William Byrd led a double life. Modern scholars, like Duke Musicology professor Kerry Robin McCarthy, continue to unearth more  details of how Byrd somehow kept his reputation, his job, his property, and his life, as both a Court composer who played Elizabeth’s tune and as a heavily-fined recusant Catholic who wrote Mass music for hounded Catholic worshipers — all at the same time.  It may be safe to say that  Queen Elizabeth and his other Protestant contemporaries, like many of the rest of us, simply could not resist his genius.  This is about not just Christmas Carols.

This article was inspired by Suzanne Duque Salvo’s July 2013  article “Upper Class and Underground,” in Regina Magazine. All quotes in this article are from Professor McCarthy’s 2013 biography, ‘Byrd,’ from The Master Musician series published by Oxford University Press.

by Roseanne T. Sullivan

As Duke University Music scholar Kerry McCarthy noted in her biography of William Byrd, the Catholic composer was born at “an unusually volatile moment in English history.”  1540 was the year that King Henry VIII “finished dismantling the monasteries and convents.” Monastic libraries were looted and their books used for scrap paper — some of which made its way into toilets, so despised were the ancient liturgies and music of the Catholic Church.

The Latin Mass was banned altogether; replaced with a stripped-down English service.  “What had taken place daily at every pre-Reformation altar, from the humblest parish church to the greatest cathedral, was now a rare and dangerous luxury.”

But a closer look at two of Byrd’s works for Christmastide reveal a fascinating story. The first is an English carol from a Byrd songbook, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I’s Chancellor. The second is a set of Propers for a Christmas Mass from a collection that Byrd published later in his life and dedicated to a Baron who secretly held prohibited Catholic Masses in his home.

Holbein portrait of King Henry VII:  “1540 [Byrd’s birth year] was the year the workshop of Hans Holbein produced the iconic ‘Rome portrait’ of the forty-nine-year-old Henry VIII, glowering at the viewer with fists clenched, the massive canvas barely able to contain his bulk.”

William Byrd published a wide variety of music, including religious music not specifically Catholic.  Protestants allowed polyphonic settings of Psalm texts,  so most of the religious works he published were motets that set Psalm texts in Latin or English. He also published religious songs in English.

It is clear, however, that Byrd subtly thumbed his nose at the Protestant majority by his choice of texts.  Many were about throwing off oppressors and pleading for God to rescue an (allegorical) Jerusalem. Some were ‘gallows texts’—Psalm verses that were well-known among Catholics in England’s underground as the last words of martyred priests.

Monastic libraries were looted and their books used for scrap paper — some of which made its way into toilets, so despised were the ancient liturgies and music of the Catholic Church.

“Lullaby,” a Christmas Carol

In 1588, Byrd published an elegant songbook, Psalms, Sonnets and Songs. According to McCarthy, the elegance of this songbook may have been part of an attempt to reestablish his reputation at court. “He spent most of the decade under constant suspicion of illegal Catholic activities.“

Psalms, Sonnets and Songs (1588) title page, which reads in part “Songs very rare and newly composed are here published for the recreation of all such as delight in music, by William Byrd, one of the gentlemen of the Queen’s Majesty’s honorable Chapel. With the privilege of the royal majesty.”

Fortunately for Byrd’s reputation, the 1588 songbook was a hit, and his English Christmas carol  from that songbook, “Lullaby,” became an enduring favorite. The Earl of Worcester wrote fourteen years later, in 1602,  that “we are frolic [joyful] here in court … Irish tunes are at the time more pleasing, but in winter Lullaby, an old song of Mr. Byrd’s, will be more in request, as I think.” 

In view of his earlier thinly-disguised protests in the texts of his Psalm settings, it is tempting to see a similar vein in his Lullaby, with this line, “O woe and woeful heavy day when wretches have their will!”  and a prediction that even though the wicked king sought to kill the King (Jesus), the Son of God would reign, “whom tyrants none can kill.”

In spite of all the attendant risks, Byrd increasingly used his talents to serve the Catholic liturgy while almost the entire English population abandoned the ancient Faith.

Third Mass of Christmas Day, Puer Natus Est

In 1607, nineteen years after Lullaby, and about a decade after he published settings for the Ordinary of the Mass (his immortal Masses for Three, Four, and Five Voices still sung today), Byrd published his polyphonic setting of the Latin Propers for the third Mass of Christmas Day. This Mass was published in a collection called Gradualia, along with Christmas motets. Byrd had retired from the Royal Court to live in Essex by then, where he worshiped with, played and created sacred music for a gathering of Catholics in the home of Baron John Petre.

Byrd wrote in the dedication of his second Gradualia that the music had “proceeded from [John Petre’s] house, most generous to me and mine.”

Byrd had retired from the Royal Court to live in Essex by then, where he worshiped with, played and created sacred music for a gathering of Catholics in the home of Baron John Petre.

Byrd managed to get the necessary printing approvals for the Gradualia from no less a personage than Richard Bancroft, the Anglican Bishop of London. According to McCarthy, the bishop who gave the approval apparently did so because he thought the Propers would contribute to dissension in the ranks of Catholics.

Perhaps partly due to the danger of discovery that he envisioned for singers of his  propers, Byrd  kept the individual propers short. “His elegant little offertories and communions—some of them are barely a minute long—could hardly be further removed from the leisurely Latin motets.”

 “When he described his settings of the Mass Proper in his 1605 preface, he called them ‘notes as a garland to adorn certain holy and delightful phrases of the Christian rite.’”

In spite of all the attendant risks, Byrd increasingly used his talents to serve the Catholic liturgy while almost the entire English population abandoned the ancient Faith. Perhaps he had his own end in mind.

In the will he signed in 1622, the year before he died, Byrd wrote this prayer, “that I may live and die a true and perfect member” of the “holy Catholic Church, without which I believe there is no salvation for me.”

A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY: Portrait commonly (but mistakenly) believed to be of Byrd, according to historian Kerry McCarthy. “There is no evidence that the well-known engraved portrait of Byrd; is anything but a fanciful eighteenth-century artist’s rendition of an Elizabethan gentleman.” This engraving by Gerard van der Guch, after a drawing by Nicola Francesco Haym, c.1729, is in the British Museum.

In his 1622 will, Byrd wrote this prayer, “that I may live and die a true and perfect member” of the “holy Catholic Church, without which I believe there is no salvation for me.”

 

Historic, Beautiful, Catholic

Savannah, Georgia

Photos and Text by Amy Proctor

Most people don’t typically think of the Deep South as a place with great Catholic culture, but the truth is that the Church is thriving in Savannah, Georgia. The Diocese of Savannah claims 77,287 Catholics, impressive numbers considering the Protestant hegemony in this part of America. Savannah’s first Catholic parish was founded in the late 18th century, and it took about a hundred years to establish a bishop’s seat.

Centerpiece of the Faith

 

The Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist was officially dedicated in 1876.  Located squarely in the center of historic Savannah, Savannah’s famous Cathedral overlooks quaint Lafayette Park, on the route of horse-drawn carriages toting tourists around the city. 

 

The interior of the Cathedral is simply stunning. Marble pillars, stained-glass windows, a large pipe organ and breathtakingly high ceilings with enormous murals depict Biblical scenes and the lives of the saints.

 

An Awe-Inspiring Latin Mass

Today, the Cathedral is one of only two Churches which offer the Latin Mass in the Diocese, and Christmas Mass there should not be missed.

 

Worshiping at the Latin Mass in this beautiful setting during the Christmas season cannot but make the Catholic feel incredibly privileged, and really connected to the centuries of Catholic tradition.  As the incense rises to the ceiling, you can almost feel the presence of the Saints worshiping with the present faithful… and it is nothing short of awe-inspiring. 

 

There’s a reason Catholics who attend the Latin Mass at the Cathedral call it “heaven on earth.”  It truly is.

Christmastime in Savannah’s Cathedral

In the American South, they do everything big — and Christmas is no exception.  And without a doubt, the most spectacular Christmas attraction in Savannah is the annual decorating of the Cathedral.

Christmas decorations go up on the first of Advent through Epiphany, drawing approximately 20,000 visitors. 

 

During Advent, Our Lady’s Chapel is decorated so spectacularly that immediately after Mass, tourists rush in to walk the length of the nativity scene, which spans from the altar rail to the rear of Our Lady’s Chapel. 

 

They gaze with reverence on the Christ Child in a manger, attended by Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, shepherds and animals.  In the distance is Jerusalem, rendered lifelike with hills and trees, and the scene includes angels and saints, and even a running fountain of water.

 

At the entrance to the beautiful Blessed Sacrament Chapel is an attention-grabbing 22 foot Christmas tree, constructed entirely of glowing red poinsettias.  It is one of the Cathedral’s most photographed decorations during Christmas.

 

Another Great Christmas Treasure

Savannah has another great Christmas treasure, the Lucas Theatre.  Savannah is brilliant at closing the divide between old and new, modern and traditional.  You definitely get the best of both worlds at the historic LucasTheatre, which opened almost ninety-two years ago. 

 

The allure of the Lucas Theatre is its Art Deco “theater era” decor. The design may make the movie-goer feel a little under-dressed — as if you should have remembered to bring your top hat or fur coat — but the cozy and accommodating interior makes you feel a welcomed friend. It’s a sort of time capsule that belongs to everyone.

 

Last Christmas, the old black-and-white holiday classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed showed for one night only to a nearly sold out audience.  The elegant Christmas décor and the classic Christmas film on the big screen created a warm holiday feeling.  This is truly a unique Savannah experience that should not be missed!

 

Christmas in Savannah draws many thousands of visitors every year. If you are among the many who want to experience the season with southern hospitality and a rich Catholic heritage, see http://www.visitsavannah.com/ for more information. 

Y’all will be glad you did!

 

 

Chicago’s Infant King Statue Inspires Bright Future

Every city has its secrets. And if you find yourself in Chicago this Christmas, there is an enigma on the South Side you will not want to miss.  For there, in the blighted Woodlawn area, hard up by the lofty academic pinnacles of the University of Chicago, is an orphaned architectural masterpiece with a growing group of Catholic devotees.

Saved from the Wrecker’s Ball

Slated for demolition in 2003, the former St. Clara/St. Gelasius church is the opus magnum of Chicago architect Henry J. Schlacks. Schlacks applied classical models from Italy, most particularly Rome, to the many magnificent churches he designed in Chicago during the early twentieth century. His church of St. Clara/St. Gelasius stands out as his life’s masterpiece, with its application of concepts from the many triumphal arches of antiquity, including the three arched doorways, and the four imposing statues placed above the pediment.

Saved by a hard-won landmark status obtained through the efforts of local community supporters, Chicago Cardinal George then entrusted the care and restoration of this 1923 Italian renaissance treasure to the capable hands of the Tuscany-based Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP).

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The Church of St. Clara/St. Gelasius was Henry Schlacks’ masterpiece. Today, it  stands in the blighted Woodlawn area, hard up by the lofty academic pinnacles of the University of Chicago, with a growing group of Catholic devotees.

An Ancient Spanish Statue

When you make this journey to believe, you will be most cordially received. But after you wander, gawking at this gem’s lofty ceilings and impressive space, you must confront the Infant King on the High Altar, a statue of marvels.

Although part of its history is lost, the artistic merits and workmanship of this wooden statue suggest it was carved by baroque sculptors of southern Spain, likely in late seventeenth century. Further, it has been speculated that it may have been commissioned for one of the Carmelite monasteries, among whom devotion to the Child was popular – a fitting echo of the days when this Chicago church was the national Shrine of St. Therese of Liseaux, under the care of the Carmelites.

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If you make the journey here, have no fear. You will be most cordially welcomed. But after you wander, gawking at this gem’s lofty ceilings and impressive space, you must confront the Infant King on the High Altar, a statue of marvels.

A Remarkable Collection of Impossible Dreams

Today, the Infant King is beautifully restored, arrayed in garments befitting a regal king and priest.  Furthermore, this Infant King is drawing to itself a remarkable collection of impossible dreams – a maelstrom of pleas from the faithful, electronic versions of the ancient practice of ex voto offerings. This, in addition to the lofty plans of the Institute to renovate this aging edifice, making it into a center of Catholic restoration. (More on this in future issues of Regina Magazine.)

So, what, exactly, does a devotion to the Infant King have to do with Christianity?

“At the center of the scene is the Holy Infant, surrounded by saints, angels, creatures, humble men, and wise kings,” explains Canon Michael Stein, the current Vice-Rector of the Shrine, whose pastoral assignment until recently was in Libreville, Gabon, Africa.  “To have a devotion to the Infant King is nothing more complicated than loving Him, adoring Him, and paying homage due the King of Kings.”

Through the centuries, the devotion that began in Bethlehem in the hearts of Mary and Joseph has been embraced by many saints. St. Therese of Avila is known for carrying a statue of the Holy Infant wherever she went in 15th Century Spain. In fact, several Spanish statues of the Infant King became famous for the miracles attributed to them, most notably the Infant of Prague and the Infant of Cebu in the Philippines.

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St. Therese of Avila is known for carrying a statue of the Holy Infant wherever she went in 15th Century Spain. In fact, several Spanish statues of the Infant King became famous for the miracles attributed to them, most notably the Infant of Prague and the Infant of Cebu in the Philippines.

This figure of Christ as the mighty-yet-approachable King is today at the epicenter of a growing network of devotees. Since its inception in 2007 and with the aid of an electronic ex voto provided by the Shrine, devotees the world over have expressed their gratitude to the Infant King for the graces they have received. To bring their petitions, the faithful may send in – by mail or via the Internet – their prayer intentions to be placed at the foot of the Altar. (Donated flowers and candles are also available.)

At the Shrine, the Infant King is honored not only at Christmas time, but also once a month with a novena, starting on the 17th and ending on the 25th, echoing the feast of the Nativity.  It culminates in a High Mass, a Procession, and a special Blessing of Children on the final day.

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At the Shrine, the Infant King is honored not only at Christmas time, but also once a month with a novena, starting on the 17th and ending on the 25th, echoing the feast of the Nativity.  It culminates in a High Mass, a Procession, and a special Blessing of Children on the final day.

This devotion is a spiritual Bethlehem that beckons all to love the Infant King,” says Canon Stein. “The Shrine of Christ the King cordially invites all to come adore Him, not only at Christmas, but every month of the year.”

You may visit and participate in the Infant King devotion at www.infantkingoffering.org.  Join this effort to restore the magnificence of an architectural landmark, a gem of history at  http://www.historic-landmark.org/

Photo Credit: Paige Arseneau

 

 

 

“We Do Not Feel Worthy”

The Astounding Success of De Montfort Music

Each and every new release of their fledgling music company is up for a Grammy Award.

As veterans of global entertainment companies SONY and DreamWorks SKG,  Kevin and Monica Fitzgibbons have big-time entertainment business experience- and it shows. But that’s not what’s behind the phenomenal success of upstart De Montfort Music, they say.

So, why would two executives who learned from the best minds in the secular music world start a Catholic music company?

Monica Fitzgibbons sat down with Regina Magazine to tell their amazing story.

Q. Do you see evidence that people are drawn to sacred chant and traditional Orders? If so, why do you think this is?

Yes!!  All of our releases on De Montfort have shot to the top of the Classical Charts in Billboard!  They are up for Grammys!  

On the most basic level, people are hungry for the peace and contemplative moments that are inspired by this art.  

The fact that the music came from the Catholic Church originally and from religious, it is interesting to follow that “model,” so to speak. The music has been covered in all kinds of press outlets, from the faith-based to the mass media.  

There is no “typical” demographic other than to say the feedback we’ve received overwhelmingly points to the fact that on the most basic level, people are hungry for peace and contemplative moments that are inspired by this art.  

It also indicates that beauty reaches hearts in a special way, which provokes a response! This would be the work of something much greater than our company. More often than not the experience for us is almost that of being in the passenger’s seat and marveling at what these religious and the Holy Trinity can do together.  

To see this success is to be in awe of Our Creator.

More often than not the experience for us is almost that of being in the passenger’s seat and marveling at what these religious and the Holy Trinity can do together.  To see this success is to be in awe of Our Creator.

Q.  What made you start De Montfort Music?   

We started De Montfort Music as a way to try to give to art and culture the True and the Beautiful — and to share its roots from the ancient to the present day. We felt there was art that we wanted represented in today’s “conversation” that we felt passionate had an important role in the arts, as it had throughout the ages.

One of the models that was always interesting in our pasts in mainstream entertainment, so to speak, is that we would always try to not only put out the new art but also to trace the influences of the contemporary artist thereby leading to the discovery of more obscure historical content and we would typically try to connect those dots.

We started De Montfort Music as a way to try to give to art and culture the True and the Beautiful — and to share its roots. 

Q. What has been your biggest challenge?

Trying to keep up with these incredible religious and their abilities!! But this has been a good problem to have!

One of the things that has been fun and interesting with De Montfort Music is that we created it solely for Religious Orders, for them to release their music and know that we would create a space for them to do so. 

All of our releases on De Montfort have shot to the top of the Classical Charts in Billboard!  They are up for Grammys!  

Q.  What has been your greatest joy?

Discovering much of this music personally, but also bringing to the world original material created by these beautiful Religious Orders.  

Some of the most talented people in our world today have given their entire lives and identities over to God’s will in their vocation.  To see what He can do with these lives is extremely moving.  To then document and record these communities and their art is Heavenly.  

We do not feel worthy.  It’s a totally new feeling — different from than anything we ever experienced in our previous careers.  

Q. Where can people find this music?

 The website link for De Montfort Music is http://www.demontfortmusic.com

Some of the most talented people in our world today have given their entire lives and identities over to God’s will in their vocation.  To see what He can do with these lives is extremely moving.  To then document and record these communities and their art is Heavenly.  We do not feel worthy.

The ‘Try-On’ Wife

A Short Story, by Beverly Desoto Stevens

After 15 years, they were breaking up. And it was Christmastime.

I stood in the spacious bedroom of the brick Mc Mansion, admiring my surroundings. The expensive furniture. The adjoining ‘master bath’ with every imaginable luxury, all in marble. The carefully-matched carpets and silk drapes — not too girly, but elegant, sober and respectable.

Just the kind of place that a successful St. Louis businessman might lay his head every night. And well he might, it seemed. He had earned every penny, as they say.

Drew would continue to sleep there, too. It was my sister who was moving out.

She was nineteen when she began working for Drew as a secretary. He was five years older, a fledgling builder in a real estate market poised on the brink of expansion. A year later, they’d moved in together, and proceeded to build a spectacularly successful business.

Megan is very pretty – slender, blonde, sweet-natured, she takes after my mother’s side of the family. I take after our dad – dark-haired, solid, hard-working. Mom tried to warn her about living together, but Megan wouldn’t hear a word of it.

Truth be told, we laughed about this in private. Bitter laughter, really. After all, our parents divorced when we were kids, so neither of them really had the right to say anything about our life choices.

As for Dad, he knew better. Never said a word.

After all, our parents divorced when we were kids, so neither of them really had the right to say anything about our life choices.

I stood at the window, looking at Megan’s brand-new Volvo SUV outside, gleaming in the winter sunlight. This was Megan’s ‘consolation prize,’ for her non-divorce.

“Pretty nice, right?” she asked, her voice heavy with the unaccustomed irony. She was packing, her matching Coach luggage overflowing with the loot of her 15-year relationship.  A dozen expensive handbags lay on her bed.

I picked one up, a $2000 beauty – all creamy beige luxury.

Megan snorted. “That was for Christmas last year. About the same time he started dating Gabriella.” She turned away from me then, but I thought I saw a tear gleaming in her eye.

I sighed.

Gabriella was pregnant. That happens pretty fast when you’re 23 years old, especially if you’ve been having sex regularly with some else’s boyfriend. Like Megan, Gabriella is a delicate blond.  Unlike my sister, Gabriella hasn’t been on the Pill for 15 years.

So, Drew and Gabriella will be married in a local mega-church next Saturday. Gabriella is barely showing, so her dewy youth will be resplendent in her strapless gown – a feast for the eyes of the 500 invited guests.  Their wedding photos would be taken against ‘a stunning backdrop of brilliantly-lighted holiday trees,’ too.

We knew this because Drew had inadvertently forwarded Gabriella’s breathless e-mail to my sister, in the chaos which had immediately ensued after his own email announcing his upcoming nuptials to his live-in girlfriend, my hapless sister.

This was uncharacteristic of the careful, business-like Drew. But he was so giddy with joy these days that Drew was making mistakes. This morning on the way out, he’d forgotten himself for a moment with Megan.

Would it be okay, he’d asked, if Gabriella’s gown could be delivered to the Mc Mansion that day?

My sister, normally the accommodating type, had drawn the line there.

No, she told Drew. Not until she moved out.

“Can you believe they’re going to use my dressing room as a nursery?” Megan said suddenly. I stood in the doorway of her pearwood-lined, ultimate luxury statement. The hushed lighting softly illuminated  the thick carpet, now heaped with a messy pile of designer shoes.

To be honest, I was awash in a sea of gut-wrenching emotions, myself. Rage at Drew for his callousness. Pity for Megan in her helplessness. Indignation at how this was how it had to be.

And something else, too. Something even more uncomfortable.

On the way over in her Volvo, Megan had said something uncharacteristically big-sister like.

“You don’t think this can happen to you, right?” she’d said, backing out of my condo driveway.

I was taken aback. Far more street-wise, I’d made sure I got my degree in finance. At 29, I had a good job and a stable relationship with Brendan. We were talking about moving in together, in fact. Though now obviously wasn’t the right time to discuss this with Megan.

“I was a ‘try-on’ wife, you know,” she’d continued quietly, as the beautiful car swept through the suburban streets decorated for Christmas. “Drew is a conservative guy. He wasn’t sure he could handle a wife and kids, so he used me to see whether he could do that.”

“And now he is. All ready, that is,” I replied bitterly. I hated conservative rich guys. Brendan wasn’t like that. He was a regular guy, proudly wearing his scruffy beard to his night job in a cubicle – answering IT questions for idiot baby-boomers.

“I thought about leaving him when I was your age,” she said simply. “I really wanted kids. And he didn’t.”

That sure has changed,” I snapped. Drew was positively glowing with pride when he’d stopped by the Mc Mansion.

How could a man change so much? It wouldn’t have been so bad for Megan now if she did have kids. At least she would have something, now, besides a pile of luxury goods.

“You know,” Megan said quietly, “I know three other women who this has happened to.”

Three other women stupid enough to become a rich man’s plaything, I thought. As if reading my thoughts, she smiled sadly and looked at me.

They didn’t even get a Volvo. Two of them had to pay for the movers themselves. All of them are in their mid-thirties…”

“You can have kids until you’re fifty now,” I said stoutly. “You have time.”

Megan had smiled sadly. “I’m thirty-six years old. The chances that I will find a man who wants kids in the next couple of years are pretty slim.”

“So, you don’t need a man,” I retorted. “You can get pregnant without one.”

Megan didn’t say anything. We drove in silence for a few minutes. When she finally spoke, her voice was choked with emotion.

Listen to me. I am in no shape to have kids on my own. I’ve been on the Pill for 15 years. It would take me months of hormone therapy to get pregnant now. I am a secretary looking for a job in a bad economy. A secretary that’s moving back in with her divorced mother. Get real. This sucks.”

“I know it does,” I said soothingly, trying to head her off at the pass. “You’re just upset now.”

No,” Megan replied sharply. “This is about you, too. Don’t tell me you’re not thinking of moving in with Brendan.”

“Brendan’s different,” I said shortly. The conversation was going in the wrong direction for me.

“You think so?”

“I know so.”

“You don’t know.”

“Mind your own business.”

Her breath drew in sharply at the rebuke. I was instantly apologetic.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s just that I don’t want to talk about Brendan now.”

She’d sighed, then, and said no more, as we pulled into the driveway of the Mc Mansion. The front door was beautifully decorated, by Megan, of course, who never failed to make a fuss over the holidays.

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Five stressful hours later, my sister burst into the library, where I was packing books.

“You think you can’t get him unless you let him move in with you, right?” Megan said suddenly, her arms full of linens.

“No,” I said reflexively. Though, of course she was right.

“And you think you’re better than me because you went to college, too.”

“No!” I replied heatedly. But Megan was too far gone to listen. She dropped the linens on the polished wooden floor. Her face was red.

“You think that because you and Brendan are ‘equals’ that none of this can happen to you. You think I’m just a dumb blond who got used by a rich guy. You think your college degree will protect you.

“Well, let me tell you something, little sister. Your job can disappear like that. Your man can, too. And you will be just like me. Middle-aged. Alone. No kids. Nothing.”

Mascaraed tears were coursing down her face, but Megan didn’t care. She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand.

“You think you’re above all this, right? Smarter than me?”

I didn’t quite know what to say. Of course, she was right. I gulped, and took the plunge.

“So what should I do? Wait until he asks me to marry him? We’ve been together for a year…”

“… and if he hasn’t asked, then he’s not gonna just because you are living together! TRUST ME! I KNOW THIS!”

I looked at Megan, surrounded by the detritus of her life. It was true. The tears came to me, unbidden.

“What the hell am I SUPPOSED TO DO?” I shouted suddenly.

The question hung in the air between us.

Megan shook her head slowly. She sighed heavily.

“Listen, I know exactly how you feel. You think somehow your love will be different. That everything will work out. And you keep taking the Pill, because it’s the responsible thing to do. And you work, and you hope. .

“Well, lemme tell you. It’s NO GOOD. And Brendan is no different than Drew. They get married when they get to a point when they feel like they can support a family. IF they get to that point,” she looked at me meaningfully.

“Brendan works for a living!” I said hotly.

“Yes. But does he earn enough to support you and a baby?”

“No, but I’m not expecting him to.”

“So, you think that you’ll do it all, right? You’ll get pregnant when Brendan comes around to the idea. You’ll take the hormones. Endure the pregnancy. Have the baby. Then you’ll go out and support the baby – and maybe Brendan too, right?”

I knew she was right. But I really didn’t want to admit it. I stood there glaring at her defiantly, tears coursing down my own cheeks.

“Listen,” she began, more kindly. “I know you’re scared. You’re at a make-or-break point with Brendan now, right?”

“Y-yes,” I said, miserably.

“You think it’s time to get to the next stage, right?”

“He does, too,” I said helplessly. “It’s his idea. He says we can save money. And be together.”

“Right. This way he doesn’t have to worry about you going out on him. And his rent bill goes down by half.”

I looked down, ashamed.  Brendan had said almost these exact words.

“Plus, you’ll probably do his laundry, right?” she laughed humorlessly. “Look, I’m not saying Brendan is a bad guy. I’m saying he’s a baby. And he doesn’t want to step up to the plate.”

“H-his parents are divorced, too,” I mumbled.

Megan let out a sudden peal of laughter.  Shocked, I gaped at her.

Everybody’s parents are divorced!” she exclaimed, her eyes twinkling with merriment. “That’s no excuse for not growing up.”

Later, as we drove slowly through the dark, snowy streets, Christmas lights sparkling at every door, I found myself wondering aloud how many unhappy couples lived behind the facades of these Mc Mansions.

“Who knows?” Megan shrugged, carelessly.

“What are you going to do now?” I asked, curious.

“Now?” she echoed, sighing. “I’m going back to Mom’s. Back to where I started when I was nineteen years old. And I’m going to Mass.”

“Ch-church?!” I spluttered, taken aback. “W-why?”

“Because I want to. I’ve started going to a Latin Mass, downtown.”

“In downtown St Louis?” This was not normal for my suburban sister. I would’ve bet she could count the number of times she’d been downtown by herself on one hand. “Why there?”

“Because it’s beautiful,” she sighed. “And right now, I need some beauty in my life.”

I thought about that. I could understand how she was feeling.  The ugliness of the strip-malled road we had turned onto suddenly seemed oppressive.

“Why don’t you come with me?” she said quietly. “We could go, for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Bring Mom, too.”

Maybe I will. Though Brendan probably won’t want to come.

But maybe I will, anyway.

PHOTO CREDITS: YUME DELGADO

Christmas in Carmel

by Donna Sue Berry

They are monastic superstars for a growing following of devotees of their Mystic Monk Coffee — an innovative small business that sustains the monks and their dream of building a monastery in the wilds of America’s Wyoming.  But they are also cloistered Carmelites, who observe strict contemplative rules. In this fascinating look behind the scenes, Regina Magazine’s Donna Sue Berry takes you on a privileged visit to Christmas in Carmel, with the Mystic Monks.

Q. Father Prior, what do the words ‘Christmas in Carmel,’ mean to you? 

The Carmelite life is a hidden life of loving intercession for the church and for the world.  In Carmel, Advent is a time of even greater recollection as the monks spend yet more time in silence and solitude to prepare for the great mystery of Christmas.  As such, Christmas arrives in Carmel after much preparation and anticipation.  The joy a contemplative knows in his cloister at the birth of the Lord is difficult to clearly articulate as his entire vocation is one of waiting upon the Lord that the monk might “open when the Lord knocks” on his heart. Christmas in Carmel is a blessed time of tremendous joy and peace.

Christmas in Carmel is a blessed time of tremendous joy and peace.

The Order of Carmel has its roots in the Old Testament when our hermit fathers, the sons of the prophets, spent centuries waiting for the coming Messiah prior to Christ.  In some way, Carmelites today share in that waiting for Christ whether it be in the days of Advent leading to the celebration of Christmas, the Carmelite day where we wait to receive Jesus again the Blessed Sacrament at Holy Mass, or especially in our own lives where all is ordered towards attaining to mystical union with God and through prayer and penance assisting countless other souls towards this same union.

Families have traditions during Advent leading up to the great celebration of our Lord’s birth. Can you tell me what traditions are observed by you and the Monks at the Monastery?

In Carmel, dating from the time of our holy Mother St Teresa of Avila, the Carmelites observe what we affectionately call “the child Jesus days of recollection.”  This great and noble tradition has the entire community process in white mantles holding candles, with the prior carrying the child Jesus in a little manger, to a monk’s hermitage each evening that the father or brother may spend the next twenty-four hours in solitude and more intense prayer.  This time of retreat is so special as the monk, together with the Virgin Mary, contemplates how meek and humble our God truly is as manifested in his nativity.

 
The Carmelites observe what we affectionately call “the child Jesus days of recollection.” 

Another great tradition of our Carmel is that each evening, following mental prayer and before the evening collation (or small meal), the community gathers in the refectory for the chanting of the Veni, Veni Emmanuel around the burning Advent wreath.  Oh how great is our expectation and our desire to prepare ourselves to receive our divine King on Christmas night!

Q. On an individual basis, can you each have certain devotions or “traditions” from your past life that you may keep while in the Monastery?

As Carmelite monks in the great tradition of the discalced reform, we enter the monastery to imitate particularly the Blessed Mother, but all the great Carmelites down through the ages.  We do not seek to do anything new, or discover our own path to holiness; rather we joyfully embrace the glorious tradition of Carmel and its deep wellsprings of Marian spirituality and devotion.  That being said, we recognize in the order of Carmel, manifested through our many saints and blesseds, that there is a myriad of Carmelite devotions, each reflecting an aspect of our Lady’s spirituality. 

We do not seek to do anything new, or discover our own path to holiness; rather we joyfully embrace the glorious tradition of Carmel.

When we are clothed as novices, we take new names in religion such as “Fr Daniel Mary of Jesus Crucified.”  The second part of our religious name might be thought of as a window into each monk’s individual devotion.

Q. As out in the world there is always the exchange of gifts between loved ones, do you exchange gifts among each other in Carmel?

In Carmel we do not exchange gifts, as we are but poor religious. 

What we exchange at Christmas is our love for one another that manifests itself so beautifully when on Christmas Eve day, after the solemn chanting of the martyrology at prime announcing the birth of Christ on Christmas day, the monks warmly embrace one another wishing each other a truly Blessed and Merry Christmas.  Christmas and the following three days are known as recreation days when the silence is lifted in the monastery and the monks spend these days in beautiful liturgy and fraternal charity.

Q. What is Christmas Eve like in the Monastery?

Christmas Eve we like to call the “Day of the bells” as the day begins with merry procession throughout the monastery with rustic instruments.  After solemn prime, the monastery’s bells toll out announcing as it were to the whole world that Christ is to be born on Christmas night.  The rest of the day is spent in beautiful chanted liturgy and the final preparations of the crèche and Christmas tree.  As monks, we enter into the joy of Christmas most intimately by means of the sacred liturgy as we prepare through our hours of contemplation to welcome Christ into our hearts.  The beautiful and solemn three Masses of Christmas day, beginning with midnight mass, and continuing with the Mass of dawn and the conventual Mass, invite the monk to enter into Christmas with exuberant joy.  Indeed, praised be Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary.

After midnight Mass, the community gathers before the Christmas crib singing carols to our divine Savior. 

In a lovely Carmelite tradition, there is a procession throughout our monastery even going into the monk’s cells, to the turn, to the parlors, and all the other monastic rooms where the prior carries Our Lady and the sub-prior carries St Joseph.  The monk kneels to kiss these holy images when they are brought into his cell and placed on his straw mattress. 

In this way, the monk’s very hermitage becomes a new Bethlehem where Christ is welcomed in obscurity but with great love and adoration.  Our holy mother St Teresa loved this custom and insisted upon its practice, being moved by her tremendous love for God that grieved her so deeply when she considered those who turned the Holy Virgin and good St Joseph away as there was no room in the inn. 

Q. And then on Christmas Day? Does it begin with Midnight Mass? More Masses said during the day? Is there a Feast…a dinner celebration?

In Carmel there is an ancient saying, “Carmelus totus Marianus est” (‘Carmel is totally Marian’). 

As above, there is indeed a delightful time of celebration following midnight Mass where the community gathers before the Christmas crib singing carols to our divine savior.  As the sleep comes into the monks’ eyes, the Father Prior concludes this celebration in the middle of the night by intoning the psalm, Laudate Dominum Omnes Gentes (O praise the lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.)

On Christmas day, the monks again share a delightful meal and joyful conversation in the recreation room, rejoicing in the divine infant born for the salvation of men. 

Q. Tell me a little about the Mystic Monk Coffee we so love. What’s in store for Christmas?

 Throughout the great tradition of monasticism, monks have always done monastic industry to be as self-supporting as possible.  Some monks have baked breads, others have brewed beer.  As monks who keep vigil in the middle of the night, we know a great deal about a good cup of coffee to keep us awake for our times of prayer. 

Moved by other coffee companies that openly supported the pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-death, atheistic agenda of our modern day, Mystic Monk coffee was born as a pro-life coffee company to support the building of our monastery here in the rocky mountains of Wyoming. 

Roasted by our monks during our times of daily work, Mystic Monk coffee is a true monastic industry.  For Christmas, we annually hand-craft our own signature Christmas blend that is a delightful holiday roast for those cold winter days of December.       

Q. Your web site says ‘The Carmelite monks of Wyoming seek to perpetuate the charism of the Blessed Virgin Mary by living the Marian life as prescribed by the primitive Carmelite Rule and the ancient monastic observance of Carmelite men.’   Can you tell us what that means?

In Carmel there is an ancient saying, “Carmelus totus Marianus est” (‘Carmel is totally Marian’).  Carmel has been hailed by the popes as the “preeminent order of Mary.” 

We are true Marian souls who seek to “perpetuate the charism” of holy Mary through our union with Christ, hidden here in the enclosure, where our obedience, chastity, and poverty are modeled after the Blessed Virgin and allow us to be transformed into spiritual fathers of countless souls.