The Nitty Gritty of Grammar

grammar t-shirtMy eighth grade students took an English quiz on Friday. This came after a solid week of “reviewing” the basic rules of punctuation and capitalization: the comma, the period, the colon, the semicolon, the exclamation point, the question mark, the dash and the hyphen, and when to use quotation marks and italics. All of these rules are condensed into a very simple chapter of our English textbook entitled, “Section 10: Punctuation and Capitalization”. The chapter is divided into four sub-sections, and we spent a class period on each one. We read aloud the rules and examples and discussed each thoroughly. As homework, the students completed all of the accompanying pages in the grammar workbook, practicing the application of the rules discussed in class that day. Each day we started class by checking homework and reviewing the rules again. Not a minute of the 40-minute English period was wasted Monday through Thursday. So, after all of that, I am very sad to report that the grades on this quiz are abysmal. I’ve only graded half of them so far, but I had to stop after that half to take a break. It was just too painful to continue.

grammar teacherWhy is this? This is a good school, with students coming from well-educated parents. The vast majority of my students are being raised in homes where English is the mother tongue. Our eighth graders go on to attend some of the finest high schools in the nation, whether they be Catholic, public, or private. Why is the study of grammar and punctuation so challenging? Why do teachers have to teach and reteach the same basic rules each and every year?

Just after Thanksgiving of this year, these same eighth graders will be taking a national standardized test, the High School Placement Test. This test is important to them, because the score of the HSPT is one of the seven or eight factors used by the area Catholic high schools to make decisions about admissions and scholarship offerings. The test is divided into five sections: verbal skills, quantitative skills, reading comprehension, mathematics, and language skills. Yes, that’s right. The test is 3/5 language arts and 2/5 math.

We all have our weaknesses and our strengths. Words have always been my strength, whether written or spoken. Likewise, one of my weaknesses has always been math, algebra in particular. I struggled with it all through school, and was dismayed to find out that even as an English major, I still needed two semesters of math to graduate. But, my theory is that we don’t use algebra every day in every subject. We do, however, use the English language and its conventions every day and in every subject.

past simpleAll of the foreign language teachers I have known and worked with all say that their students, whatever the foreign language they are taking, do not know their English grammar well enough to learn a foreign language. How do you learn to conjugate verbs in Spanish if you can’t find the verb in an English sentence? How do you know which tense to use in French if you don’t know the difference between past, present, or future tenses in English? Yet, we teach and reteach parts of speech each year.

sad commaRecently I spent a day of professional development in a room of fellow middle school English teachers. We all unanimously decried this phenomenon. One teacher, someone I know to be an excellent teacher, told me that at the beginning of the year she gives her each of her eighth graders a strip of paper with commas stretched across it—commas, nothing else. She then explains to them that she knows the comma is rare and difficult to find, so she is giving them each a free supply of them to use in their essays for her all year. This is true. Let’s face it, commas are important. Commas and other punctuation marks help the reader interpret the sentence correctly. For example, consider this simple sentence: Let’s eat Grandma! Is this a horrifying statement from a family of cannibals preparing for Thanksgiving? No, it is simply a missing comma that causes us to shriek at the sight of that sentence. The addition of a simple comma makes all the difference: Let’s eat, Grandma!

However, it appears to be feast or famine when it comes to the comma. I explained to my teacher friend that at my school, we have a comma epidemic. Consider this response on a question from Friday’s quiz where the students were asked to insert commas where needed: “Lighthouses, can range in height from 193 feet, to only 14 feet,” the keeper explained. trouble with tribbles gifWhen I am grading a stack of eighth grade essays, I feel like Captain Kirk in the famous episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”. Not even the CDC and a lifelong supply of red pens could control this.

Of course, this epidemic is not restricted to the confines of the middle school English classroom. Proofreading and editing is on the decline across the board. Are our standards of proper grammar dropping due to the internet, the popularity of blogs, self-publishing, and the like? Where have all the proofreaders and copy editors gone? Is the “do it yourself” spirit of America the cause? Is “teaching to the test” the problem? Can we blame it on the Common Core? Or, is it what my eighth graders believe, “We won’t need this after the test.”

There’s a comedic side to all of this. Jay Leno used to have a segment where he periodically displayed advertisements and billboards with humorous typos and grammar errors. Two guys, Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson, made a big splash in the media world with their endeavor, The Great Typo Hunt, which was later turned into a book, one that is hopefully written with perfect grammar and error-free. Each year in my back-to-school night presentation for my eighth grade parents, stop-clubbing-580x417I interrupt my normal power point presentation explaining my syllabus with a slide meant to both garner a laugh and make a point. They all laugh, but it’s not going to be funny when they see the grades on Friday’s quiz.

Of course, with the holidays right around the corner, I must steel myself for the complete and abject failure of the Christmas-card sending population to correctly identify themselves:

Merry Christmas from the Johnson’s

Why an apostrophe? The apostrophe is used to denote possession or to create a contraction. (For the record, it’s Johnsons, no apostrophe!) And, what about those poor families whose last names end with an “s”:

Merry Christmas from the Jones’s

or, is it

Merry Christmas from the Jones’

Here we add insult to injury. (For the record, it’s Joneses, no apostrophe at all!) One of my students admitted that her mother has changed the way she words her Christmas greeting because their last name ends in an “s” and even when she did it correctly, her friends tried to correct her. She now writes “Merry Christmas from the ____________ family”, avoiding the plural and possessive problem altogether.

What’s the average well-educated but grammar-anxious person to do? There are many reliable sources for help, and none involve an intervention or regular attendance at AA meetings. smart owlOne of my favorite resources is the Purdue University OWL (online writing lab). Finding the answer to your grammar question, from easy things like basic comma or apostrophe usage to more complicated things like the MLA rules for citing sources, is just a click away. Another good source is the award-winning website Grammar Girl.

So, how is your grammar and punctuation? Want to test it? Here’s a sampling of the exact questions from my eighth graders’ quiz on Friday. Give it a go. Proofread carefully. red pensWhen you’re finished, check your work. Let’s see if you are ready for my red pen!

Directions: Correct the following sentences by adding or correcting punctuation or capitalization as needed.

  1. Kim what did Dad mean when he said You can’t judge a book by its cover? asked Sue
  2. The ring was turned into the office however the owner was never found
  3. Max give your sister the keys so she can take them immediately to Mrs Lee
  4. We have been to these locations Augusta Maine Boise Idaho and Frankfort Kentucky
  5. Other activities the train ride the bumper cars and the petting zoo are still open
  6. I attend school in the east ski in the west vacation in the north and live in the south
  7. We couldnt understand how Dads wallet and the twins backpack had been misplaced
  8. Rileys first time on a merry go round was when he was 15 months old
  9. My spanish teacher lived in mexico she was born in a US territory
  10. This is the last straw senator Johnson said i am not voting for this amendment

To check your work, click here!Answer Key

If you didn’t do as well as you expected, don’t dismay. With a little practice, you too can send out your Christmas cards without fear. Visit a local bookstore or log on to Amazon.com and purchase a grammar guide; there are many choices and price points. Can’t commit to a 300-page tome? grammar bookCheck out the illustrated version of Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss and Bonnie Timmons. Or, spend a few minutes each day on Purdue’s Owl or Grammar Girl.

If you scored 100%, be kind to your friends and family members when correcting their grammar and punctuation. no more violenceThe red pen is a tool of instruction, not a weapon of mass destruction. Yes, it is important to help and educate your loved ones, but remember, violence is never the answer.

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October: A Libra’s Day in the Sun

Libra Scales of JusticeI am a Libra. I’m not really into horoscopes or astrology, but a brief research of my “sign” reveals it fits me like a glove. The sun sign of Libra covers those born between September 23 and October 22, and is represented by the scales, symbolized by the Scales of Justice held by Themis, which is the Greek personification of divine law and custom. Some of the adjectives and attributes I found are ones I know describe me: artsy, talkative, diplomatic but likes to win, people-person, lazy if not engaged in something interesting, and sometimes fickle and indecisive. My family can attest to that last one…as they are able to recount many examples of this, such as the struggle to decide what color Kindle to buy (between black and white, why was that so hard?), and then, oh my, the decision for what Kindle cover to buy.  And, I do love to win, also well documented in everything from Scrabble to cards to Jeopardy questions. The lazy thing is not something I’m particularly proud of, and while I can work circles around anyone when I am actually at work, lack of motivation can get the best of me on the weekends.

my favorite color is octoberThe eternal question is of course am I all of this because I am a Libra or am I picking and choosing buzzwords from various descriptions of Libras that best describe who I say I am, of who I think I am? Long before I knew what a zodiac sign was or before I could “identify” as any of these attributes, I had my mind set on becoming a lawyer, with those scales of justice as my personal mascot. All four years of high school and all four years of college were spent thinking about this goal. My college major didn’t really matter; I was going to law school, so as long as it was something in the humanities I would be fine. I wouldn’t need to rely on that degree for employment because I would be practicing law. When I didn’t get into law school, I went to work in a law firm, working my way up from receptionist to legal secretary to paralegal. I traveled to courthouses and did title work for real estate transactions and oil and gas leases. acorn storageI organized files, maintained law libraries, interviewed prospective clients, drafted briefs and memoranda, and annotated and summarized depositions. I learned a lot about mortgages, real estate transactions, collections, bankruptcies, adoptions, divorces, personal injury, and medical malpractice. Eventually, on my third try, and with the help of a family friend, I was admitted into law school, but lasted only one semester. Back to work in law firms, back to the scales of justice, eventually becoming quite proficient at drafting and negotiating lease agreements for commercial real estate, where I spent fourteen years attempting diplomacy while always looking to win on each and every point being argued.

puccini at playWhatever the reason, October has always been my favorite month. Yesterday, while out walking the dog with my husband, I stopped to enjoy the beautiful fall colors of the landscape around our neighborhood. With the cool, crisp breeze and the clear, bright sky, I couldn’t help but think how much I love October. In true BuzzFeed fashion, I started thinking about the top reasons I love October, and being an English teacher, the image of an acrostic poem popped into my head. cropped acrosticI know I won’t be in the running for the Pulitzer in Poetry, but it does capture the essence of October for me.

After a long hard winter and a spring that seemed to sprint past us, we endured a hot summer. Then, it’s back-to-school season, and I am immediately saddled with grading summer reading assignments while trying to get to know my new 7th graders and helping my 8th graders buckle up for their very busy last year of middle school. Just when I feel as though I can catch my breath and ease into a good routine of school life, fallen leavesOctober rolls around. Even with the later sunrises and earlier sunsets, the days are just so much more pleasant. The crisp, cooler temperatures and beautiful fall colors seem to work their magic in easing away stress and tension. The promise of holidays is just around the corner but the crazy frenzy of those holidays still seems far off.

And, naturally, October 11th rolls around and because of its proximity to Columbus Day; I almost always get a three-day weekend to commemorate my birthday! If I’m lucky, decoupage leafthe temperatures will have dropped and I can pull out a favorite sweater to wear for my birthday dinner out at a favorite restaurant. Growing up in southeast Louisiana meant that I never owned an overcoat until I moved to Washington, DC, in 1988. Every year just before school started, my Aunt Helen would take me shopping in New Orleans and buy me a few back-to-school outfits. I distinctly remember those outfits, particularly a black and tan striped sweater and black “gauchos”.

pumpkin and pelicanFall weather also brings to the dinner table root vegetables and soups. I could eat soup every day. There used to be a small restaurant next door to the courthouse in Baton Rouge called Soupçon, which had a very limited menu that changed daily. Written on a sandwich board outside the restaurant were the choices of the day: soup du jour, salade du jour, and sandwich du jour. Whenever I was assigned work in that courthouse I ate there every day, where I tried whatever soup was on the menu: cream of carrot, pasta e fagioli, Italian wedding soup, and of course, Louisiana favorites like chicken and sausage gumbo or shrimp and corn soup.

colorful leavesOctober is also the month of the rosary and for Catholics this is a treasured devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Appearing multiple times before three shepherd children in Portugal, Mary asked the children to pray the rosary. The apparitions began May 13, 1917, and ended on October 13, 1917, which is the date that the Catholic Church commemorates the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. I grew up with the rosary and watching my mother pray the rosary before Mass every single Sunday. The Hail Mary was the first prayer she taught me and it is the first and last prayer I say each day of my life. During some of my darkest moments, spending hours in hospital rooms and sleeping in chairs in ICU waiting rooms, the rosary was a constant comfort to me. The words of my cousin Anna from Scotland became somewhat of a mantra for me, “Our Lady will not let us down.” So, I prayed, and it is that prayer that sustained and comforted me during her surgeries, illnesses, recoveries, and eventually, her death. living rosaryLast week, on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, before first period, my school said the Living Rosary, where students represent each bead of the rosary, all standing in the outline of a rosary, spread out across the auditorium. As each prayer is said the student sits and passes the microphone to the next “bead”. The rest of the school is seated by class, all following along on their individual rosaries, reciting the rosary quietly in their place. What a way to start the day! I am truly blessed to be able to experience this in my work life.

pretty colorsAnd so, my love of October continues year after year. As much as I love spring and the promise of rebirth, as much as I love summer which now to me means time off from work, October and fall will always be my favorite time of the year. As I know my words have not done it justice, I will close with the words of someone far mightier with the pen than I.

“October”

by Robert Frost

 O hushed October morning mild,

Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;

Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,

Should waste them all.

The crows above the forest call;

Tomorrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild,

Begin the hours of this day slow.

Make the day seem to us less brief.

Hearts not averse to being beguiled,

Beguile us in the way you know.

Release one leaf at break of day;

At noon release another leaf;

One from our trees, one far away.

Retard the sun with gentle mist;

Enchant the land with amethyst.

Slow, slow!

For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,

Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,

Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—

For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

When Best Friends Become Enemies

In April I flew home to Louisiana to help my brothers with my dad, who had been in and out of the hospital and nursing home due to his worsening heart conditions. After we worked through all of the issues with bringing him home to my brother Tommy’s house, I was able to cook a few meals before I had to return to Maryland. roast chickenOne day I roasted a chicken and made a pan of baked macaroni and cheese. One of my brother’s friends was staying for dinner and when he came into the kitchen to fix his plate, he remarked, “Where’s the rice?” I told him we had just had red beans and rice the day before and leftovers of it for lunch, so I hadn’t made rice for dinner. I gestured to the large pan of homemade macaroni and cheese, glistening with its cheesy goodness draped over the bed of soft pasta, and his retort was short and to the point, “You should have made rice.”

louisiana rice“You should have made rice.” The comment stung a bit since I had spent the afternoon in the kitchen while running back and forth to help my dad with things and do his laundry. My dad and my brother seemed very happy with the baked macaroni, however, which I had made based upon my memories of my mom’s. My brother ate a huge serving of it, and later that night, I saw him having another serving of it between two slices of bread…a baked macaroni sandwich!

RiceIsKingCrowley1938The comment, while unwelcome at the time, had some validity to it. In fact, when my father was younger, he frequently said “It’s not dinner if there isn’t rice.” You would almost think we were an Asian family rather than a half Scottish/half Cajun family. We were not unique, though. Rice is a staple in Louisiana. It’s cultivation in Louisiana began at the time of the Civil War, and today, Louisiana is one of the six states responsible for 99% of all rice grown in the U.S. Just think of all the great Cajun dishes that have rice as a foundation: dirty rice, chicken and sausage jambalaya, seafood gumbo, crawfish étouffée, shrimp creole, red beans and rice, roast and gravy, crab stew served over rice, stewed chicken and gravy, and boudin, all things I grew up on.

We did not eat much pasta in my house while I was growing up. My father really didn’t care for “tomato gravy” as my family called it. Occasionally my mother would cook a daube (a cut of roast) in her tomato gravy and we would eat that on #4 spaghetti. He wouldn’t be happy about it, but he would eat it. She also used #4 spaghetti for her oyster stew, which was delicious. We never had any other kind of pasta except for the elbow macaroni my mother used for two things: her baked macaroni and her famous macaroni salad.

We did eat a lot of potatoes, all kinds of potatoes. We regularly had parslied potatoes, baked white potatoes, homemade French fries, scalloped potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, and of course, potato salad. My mom also had something she called “scotch potatoes” which was a local hit. She would peel russet potatoes and cut them into thirds crosswise. She would then place them on sheets of aluminum foil, reassembled in their potato shape, inserting a slice of raw yellow onion and a pat of butter between each piece. She would then salt and pepper them and wrap them tightly in the foil. They would bake until tender and the onion would become soft and sweet. The bottom of the potato would brown and get crispy from the melted butter while the rest of the potato was soft and fluffy.

pasta dinnerBut, then I married an Italian American, and pasta became a staple of my diet, adding it to my other carbohydrate best friends: rice and potatoes. My first family dinner at the home of my future in-laws was lasagna, meatballs and spaghetti, Italian sausage, and huge slabs of Italian bread. The many shapes of pasta and variety of sauces meant an endless cultural experiment, and I grew to love pasta as much as rice and potatoes, the starches of my childhood.

Irish soda breadAnd then there’s bread. What can I say about bread? I’ve never met a bread I don’t love: French bread, po’ boy bread, pita bread, Irish soda bread, raisin bread, Italian bread, baguettes, croissants, biscuits, scones, waffles, and even plain old white sandwich bread. My parents gave me a bread machine in 1996 and I have made many, many delicious loaves from it, along with the dough for dozens of batches of focaccia studded with fresh rosemary and garlic, yeasty dinner rolls, and the foundation for homemade pizzas.

Even though I have always worked full-time, and even with two small children undertow, I cooked dinner every night: a meat, a vegetable, and a starch, which meant that rice, potatoes, or pasta was on our plates most nights—most nights, that is, until July of this year.

A routine physical with a new doctor In May led to a visit with a cardiologist in July, my first ever where I was the patient and not the daughter of the patient. This cardiologist, whom I shall call Dr. C., scared the daylights out of me. First, she recounted for me my very serious family history, as though I wasn’t fully aware that both parents had undergone multiple bypass surgery, my father had a pacemaker as well, and heart disease had led to both of their deaths. Then, she pointed out to me several other factors not in my favor: my age, my weight, and my sedentary lifestyle. She said I needed to have an echocardiogram and a cardiac stress test, telling me, “You probably won’t do very well on it.”  And then she “prescribed” a new health plan for me which began with these four sad words, “Carbs are your enemies.” Goodbye to rice, potatoes (other than sweet potatoes), pasta, and bread. Hello to the five items she said I should eat instead: fruits, vegetables, protein, seeds, and nuts. As for desserts, she said simply, “Birthday and Christmas, period.”

Duly frightened and newly determined, I took all of her advice to heart (no pun intended). My husband (who is in the running for “Most Supportive Spouse of All Times”) steadfastly signed on to follow the new “health plan” as well.

And, so the very next day we began changing our eating habits completely. We haven’t bought (or made) bread since July. We haven’t had pasta AT ALL. The only potatoes we cook now are sweet potatoes. And, rice? Yes, even my childhood best friend is no longer invited to our house for dinner. I won’t lie and say it has been easy. It was very difficult at the beginning. It takes a lot of planning and shopping to be sure we don’t fall into bad habits and order a pizza or fried rice from our local Chinese restaurant. veggettiWe bought a Veggetti spiralizer and learned to love “noodles” made out of zucchini and yellow squash. We eat lots of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and lean pork chops, served on a plate filled with vegetables like steamed broccoli, green beans, or asparagus. We have salad a lot more frequently. We watched Jacques Pepin serve a roast chicken on a bed of arugula and tried it, delicious. As Louisiana natives, we both ate a lot of beans growing up, so adding them as our healthy carbohydrates was no problem, chick peas, black beans, cannellini beans, and of course, kidney beans. We tried turning cauliflower into “rice”, and while I thought it was fine, my husband did not care for it. It didn’t taste like rice or have the same “bite” as rice, but it wasn’t bad.

battleFor me, the faculty room at my school is still a declared war zone. There is always something on the table in there, just waiting for me, winking at me, inviting me over to have a taste. It’s a battle, but when I have to go in there, I just march past that table to the copy machine and try not to linger. Most days now I eat at my desk, my “faux turkey and cheese sandwich”, which my husband makes me each morning. It is deli turkey and Swiss cheese rolled up and secured with toothpicks. I then dip it into hummus as my condiment. I supplement that with a small portion of mixed nuts and some fruit.

For the record, I had the echocardiogram and it was normal. I survived the cardiac stress test and the doctor administering the test declared that I had “passed it with flying colors.” I reported back to Dr. C who frankly said she was surprised at the results. She was even more surprised that I had really acted upon all of her very scary recommendations and she was very pleased with my results at the follow-up visit.

Since July, I’ve successfully navigated through the dangerous waters of weekend get-a-ways, birthdays of both daughters, a baby shower, two bridal showers, faculty luncheons, a rehearsal dinner, and a wedding reception. birthday dinnerToday is my birthday, and I’ve had a great birthday weekend with both daughters here to share it with me. We ate at one of our favorite Belgian restaurants last night, where I had no bread but I did eat the “frites” that came with my “moules”. I ordered dessert, but only ate a bit of it because it simply wasn’t that good. Today we had brunch out before our older daughter got on the road to return home. I had avocado toast (half portion), a cup of carrot soup, and a salad. happy birthday cupcakeAfter, we walked to a popular cupcake bakery and each picked out a beauty to take home. Mine was delicious and I was totally satisfied with my birthday treat.

pre wedding picMy weight loss has been gradual, even with the drastic exile of my best friends from my diet, but I’m really happy with my progress, and better still, I am still fully committed to this lifestyle change, as is my husband, whose results have been more dramatic. We both feel better and we both know we are actively doing something good for our long-term health.

food fightIn the end, Dr. C. did scare the daylights out of me, but I am happy that I was fortunate enough to get that 5-alarm fire burning under me to taking these steps towards a healthier me before something terrible happened. Yes, my former best friends are my enemies for now, but hopefully, in the future when I am healthier and fit, I can invite them over occasionally, for a brief visit to my dinner plate. Until then, the battle continues.

Love Never Fails

It’s midday Sunday and I am just sitting down to write this week’s essay. It’s been a busy weekend. Friday night was the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner for one of my colleagues, a third grade teacher at my school. Months ago, after announcing her engagement, she stopped me as I was coming in to school one morning and asked me to do one of the readings of scripture at her wedding. I am still surprised at how emotional I became when she asked me, immediately choking up and fighting back tears. I hugged her and said yes, of course, and thanked her for making me a part of her special day. Yesterday was the wedding and reception, and much of this morning was spent looking at wedding photos on Facebook posted by some of those in attendance.

I moved to the DC area from my home state of Louisiana in 1988, so by all accounts this should be my home now. But, with no extended family here, and not having grown up here or gone to school here, in a lot of ways I don’t feel “at home”. One of the times when this is most evident to me is when hearing about weddings. If we lived in Louisiana, we would be invited to weddings much more frequently than we are here in Maryland. We are friends with a lot of people, but often not close enough to get invited to weddings. It is understandable, with the high costs associated with even a modest wedding in this day and time, but nonetheless, when we are invited to a wedding, it is indeed a special occasion for us.

Our own wedding, June 10, 1989, was very small, mostly just family, a few of our own friends who mostly were involved in the wedding in some way, and a few friends of our parents. our rehearsal dinnerThe rehearsal dinner was at Tom’s family restaurant, Ardillo’s in Amite, Louisiana, founded by his grandfather Roy S. Ardillo, in 1947. My father-in-law continued to run it after the death of his siblings, until it closed in May of 2012.

at our receptionThe reception was at my parents’ house, with a table set up in the living room for the wedding cake made by a friend of my mom’s, the groom’s cake made by me, and finger foods that were made by my mom, some of her Sodality friends, and relatives. food at our receptionIt was in our minds, the perfect balance. We placed our focus on the wedding Mass, where we received the Sacrament of Matrimony. We had attended pre-Cana preparation at our then parish, St. Ann’s in Washington, DC, where we were both active in parish life while we dated and were engaged, Tom singing in the choir and me teaching religious education on Sunday mornings. planning our MassWe spent time picking out our readings, asking friends and family members to participate, and picking out music for the Mass. My good friend Ann was my maid of honor and Tom’s brother Jay was his best man. Our godparents brought up the gifts. My cousin, Penny, played the organ for the processional and recessional. our musiciansA mutual friend, Steve, who was instrumental in our spending time together early on, played guitar and sang, along with another friend, Kay, who cantored the Mass. Steve even wrote a song just for us and sang it after Communion. In every single way, to us, it was perfect.

This weekend’s wedding festivities were quite different by contrast. The bride has a large extended family, representing several different cultures. Both the bride and groom grew up here so they had many friends and family members to invite. The wedding Mass was held at the church parish of the school where we teach so there we all felt “at home”. children with coupleThe bride had invited her current 3rd grade class to the wedding, and they attended in full force, along with many of their parents, all smiles as they watched every move of their teacher on the altar. There was a certain energy to the wedding Mass that was almost palpable, brightly colored dresses and the sounds of young children filling the large church. The reception was equally lively, with a steel drum band playing during the cocktail hour and a DJ spinning popular hits in dance music after dinner. dancing the night awayFlower girls and junior bridesmaids danced the night away side by side with older relatives and middle-aged couples, ourselves included. The featured libation was chosen by the newly married couple, a rum punch, which was delicious and as colorful as every other detail of the two days of festivities. It was a beautiful celebration of the love of these two young people.

Knowing the bride stemmed from a large family, I was truly honored to take part in the ceremony. I was given the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I know it well, having heard it many times at other weddings and as part of the readings in weekly Mass. I began practicing it as soon as she gave me a copy. Even though I serve as a Lector in my parish, Shrine of St. Jude’s in Rockville, as well as a Lector at some of our school Masses, I fully appreciated the significance of being asked to read at their wedding and wanted to perform this duty to the best of my ability. taking the reading to papal massOn September 23rd when I was getting ready for the Papal Mass, I folded it up and tucked it into my purse. I told the bride I would be taking her and her fiancé with me to the Papal Mass and then I would bring the Pope to their wedding Mass via the same piece of paper, which I did.

This reading from Corinthians is very powerful, and its power comes from the poetry of the words themselves. Studying and analyzing words is what I do for a living, teaching literature to middle school students, showing them how to break down passages of literature for its deeper meaning. Reading is one of the great joys of my life, and the more I focus on my own writing, the more I appreciate the beauty of words and the power that exists in truly well written prose. This piece of scripture is a fine example.

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (12:31–13:8a)

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, 
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
The word of the Lord.

Even though St. Paul was not talking to a young couple about to embark on a lifetime together, this popular New Testament reading is still listed as a choice for Catholic wedding Masses. The detailed “laundry list” of what love is, as well as what love is not, can be applied to the Christian community of Corinth, who had fallen away from the teachings of the Gospel, as easily as to a young man and a young woman trying to live a life of faith in today’s fast-paced world. It is difficult to find time for peace and quiet reflection in a world of instant communication via many different types of social media, evidenced by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram images of this weekend’s wedding being posted while the events were still taking place. I myself fell victim to this increasingly more popular trend, holding handstaking a quick photo when the couple took their seats for the first reading. The way the groom so sweetly was holding the bride’s hand was so reminiscent of my favorite photo of our own wedding, a now-yellowed photo taken by a relative as we exited the church after the wedding, my new husband not only giving me his arm to walk me down the aisle but taking my hand as well.us leaving the wedding

In the end, this young couple needs only the excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth and the closing words of the priest’s homily at their wedding to help them navigate the joys and strife of their new life together. It isn’t about the beautiful wedding attire or the delicious food and drink at spectacular venues. It isn’t about the Pinterest ideas or the ubiquitous iPhone cameras in the hands of nearly all of the guests. It isn’t about the rain and dark clouds that dampened the two days’ activities. It isn’t about the dress or the cake or the flowers. It is about love. And, love never fails.

“New Testament Readings.” For Your Marriage. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.