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 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.

Papal Fever: Say Two Prayers and Call Me in the Morning

papal fever searchA quick search on the internet brings up over four million hits about the latest “epidemic” to hit the United States: Papal Fever. Since the moment the Holy Father, Pope Francis, went wheels up in Cuba, America has been swept up in a frenzy of enthusiastic support of this soft-spoken and humble man in his Fiat. It appears this phenomenon affects those of many different beliefs. Papal Fever has taken hold of the young as well as the old, and everyone in between.

walk with francis newspaperWhen we returned to school in late August, our principal told the faculty that we would be making a video about our canned goods food drive as part of the efforts to welcome Pope Francis to Washington. After the short impromptu video, from the corner of my eye I saw the school librarian doing what looked like a soft-shoe dance. Then I heard her singing “We’re walking on sunshine, yeah”. She had this great idea to change the words of the Katrina and the Waves hit single to “We’re walking with Francis, yeah”. I told them both it was a great idea and the principal said, “Tell your screenwriter daughter to get on it!” So, my daughter the screenwriter changed the words to the song to fit the occasion and a school parent with a film production company followed us around for a few days catching everyone “Walking with Francis”. Our music teacher, a lovely, trained soprano, went to a recording studio to record the audio which the talented parent then put together with our video. walking with francis videoBoth students and faculty seemed to have an extra spring in their step as everyone went about their day, singing “Walking with Francis, yeah!”

walkwithfrancis wrist bandThe Catholic Schools Office sent each student and faculty member a soft wrist band emblazoned with #WalkwithFrancis, asking us each to register for the Walk with Francis Pledge. My parish church announced that some of the tickets allotted to the parish for the Papal Mass would be distributed via a random drawing of those who had turned in Walk with Francis pledge cards. Given the scarcity of the Papal Mass tickets, I didn’t think I had a chance of getting one, but I filled out the pledge card, even though I had pledged online at the beginning of the school year.walkwithfrancis pledge

Several weeks later I was asked to serve on the parish council for my church. I hesitated because of the time commitment, weighing it against my already hectic school days, grading language arts tests, quizzes, essays, and projects for the 35 7th graders and 45 8th graders I teach. Add to that the two plays I direct a year for the school, a straight play in the fall and a musical in the spring, and I really doubted whether I had the time for serving on the parish council. But, in the end, after two weeks of mulling it over, I did say yes. Little did I know what that “yes” would mean! A few days later, papal mass ticketsI received a phone call from one of the parish priests, offering me two tickets to the Papal Mass as a new member of the parish council. Papal Fever reached 9-1-1 status in my household as I scrambled to find a substitute teacher.

My husband and I studied the pamphlet that came with the tickets and plotted out our course of action for the day of the Mass: leave around 9:00, take the Metro, find something to eat after we arrived, and then sit and wait for the Mass. Parking at the Metro and the ride itself was a snap, and a lunch tent was set up near the lawn where the Mass would take place and it was organized and efficient. The line to get through security was quite long and slow but while waiting in it (for almost three hours) we chatted with the people around us. Behind us was a couple chatting with a priest from California. I could hear the conversation, mostly about education, as all three had been teachers. Juniperro-serraThe priest had come from Mission San Buenaventura, one of the mission churches established by Father Junípero Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis at the Papal Mass.

The people in front of us, three women and a man, had also come from California. A minivan of nine people had driven the entire 44 hours to Washington, DC, without tickets to any of the Papal activities. They had spent the night in the parking lot of the Franciscan Monastery in DC and then walked to Catholic University of America’s campus to wait along the parade route to see the Holy Father in his Popemobile. They spotted a familiar face from their own diocese, San Bernardino in Palm Desert, and he offered them his last four tickets. He told them that he had been standing there waiting for God to tell him who to give them to. The four people in line with us were the four lucky ones to get the tickets.

Earlier in the day I had remarked to my husband that I wondered whether I would see anyone I knew. This turned out to be quite humorous as the day went on and I saw so many people I knew from my parish as well as neighboring parishes, other Catholic school teachers, and so many priests I knew from the Archdiocese of Washington. Even though there were 25,000 ticket holders on the grounds of The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, it felt like a much smaller crowd.

david muirJust before the Mass started, someone spotted David Muir, news anchor for ABC World News Tonight, who was broadcasting live from the Mass. I stepped over to the fence to take his picture and began chatting with a woman also standing at the fence. She told me the Holy Father would be coming down the street just on the other side of the fence in the parade. As we chatted we realized that we had many mutual friends. Even though we were fortunate to have seats for the Mass, they were in the last section of seats and quite a distance from the altar. view of altarThe Jumbotron was obscured by a tree, so I decided my best opportunity for a good view of the Pope was to wait at the fence for the parade to pass. As the street was emptied and the sidelines closed off to pedestrian traffic, the energy of the crowd at the fence grew and grew. As the Popemobile approached I began taking pictures on my phone, until he was looking straight at me…I completely froze. the popemobile round oneIt is difficult to explain the actual feeling that passed over and through me as it appeared that he was looking straight at me. The Popemobile continued on with him turning to the other side to wave at the people across the street from me. We all staggered off to our seats and then someone screamed, “He’s coming back!” The Popemobile had made a u-turn and was returning along the same fence I had been standing at. My husband thought I had a better view from the lawn near our seats so I stood there with my phone at the ready, hoping to get another chance to take his picture looking in my direction. the popemobile round twoAs the Popemobile continued on past me, I was struck by the way the crowd moved as well, running along the fence as though they could not bear to let him go on without them. As people returned to their seats, many were crying and everyone was smiling widely.

Once Mass started, the atmosphere drastically changed. This enormous crowd of 25,000 people all fell silent and hung on every word from the mouth of Pope Francis. Many of us could not understand him, as the Mass was being celebrated in Spanish, in recognition of Father Junípero Serra’s native tongue. English subtitles were displayed on the Jumbotron, but because our view of it was obscured, I followed along in the program to the Mass. It was a beautiful Mass, with the Papal Choir and musicians adding so much to the liturgy.

tom and michelleAfter the Mass, we lingered for a bit to take pictures of the altar and to let the crowd disperse. We decided to have dinner across the street from the CUA campus and talk about the events of the day. Many of the diners in the crowded and popular restaurant had also come from the Mass. The atmosphere was again congenial and enthusiastic.

three popesI’ve been blessed to have now seen three popes in my lifetime. My family attended Mass in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on April 11, 2004, the Easter Sunday one year before Pope John Paul II died. He was weak and frail but his voice rang out through the square. On April 17, 2008, my family attended the Papal Mass of Pope Benedict XVI held at the home of the Washington Nationals. I’ve only been to two professional baseball games in my life, and have never seen the Nationals play, but I’ve been to Mass in their stadium. So, September 23, 2015, was my third Papal Mass. It was also the first canonization that I have witnessed, and quite possibly my only one.

As I type, the Holy Father is wheels up heading back to Rome. Things in DC have returned to “normal” and so have NYC and Philadelphia no doubt. Fevers have cooled, and I’m sure the soft blue rubber wrist bands will be seen less and less. The local and national news programs will return to their standard mix of crime, politics, and sports. The soft-spoken and humble man and his Fiat will return to his good works in the Holy See. Katrina and the Waves will get their song back, but I will be Walking with Francis for a long time to come.