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I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice thick blanket of snow outside this morning!  The weather forecasters were only predicting maybe an inch or two.  We’ve gotten about 6 inches where I live!  It’s beautiful.  And since snow is much easier to walk on than the ice we’ve had for the last few days, I went out for a walk.

Snowy days always have an extraordinary silence about them.  The kind of silence you can hear and feel.  Stand still, and it just envelopes you.  Even when you’re walking, the sound of the snow compressing beneath your shoes just emphasizes the quietness.  The monochrome of snow and sky reflect it.

And in that white silence, I felt closer to God than I have in a while.  Partly because He is recognizable in all beauty.  Partly because snowy days always return me a little to the joy, innocence, and wonder of childhood, when I was always so close to Him and rarely lost sight of Him.  Partly because there was no need for words, just a pure connection between my soul and Him.  It was a silence that was anything but lonely.

Here is a link to some photos I took while I was out.

So, I’ve been covering my head at Mass since 2 April.  I had intended to cover my head only when attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form, but before too long, I started feeling “naked” without my veil on!  So I’ve been wearing it pretty much at every Mass.  And actually, I’ve been wearing whenever I am in the church, be it for Confession or solitary prayer and meditation or something like that.  I’m not sure if that is the proper protocol, but it seems like the right thing to do.

Wearing the veil has influenced me very positively.  Having the veil on in church, bracketed by the acts of putting it on when I enter the church and removing it when I exit the church, has heightened my awareness of where I am, why I am there, and with Whom I am there.  It seems like such a simple thing, but the extra little signals it provides are very powerful.

These little signals say very clearly: “This is more than just a fancy building.  You are more than just a casual spectator.  You are here for a reason and for a Person.  You are here to encounter Him, to adore Him, to worship Him, and to give yourself completely to Him.  This is a sacred place and a sacred purpose.  This is something truly extraordinary, and it demands and deserves a certain decorum, a certain focus, a certain self-possession and self-giving, and also a certain receptivity.”

Can wearing a piece of cloth on your head really “say” all this?  I know it may sound strange, but it is so true!

On a simple, physical level, the veil can literally help block out distractions.  We always underestimate our peripheral vision and just how much our eyes and our brains suck in from it!  When I have my veil on, all I see in my peripheral vision is white lace.  I focus more on what is ahead of me: the altar, the tabernacle and Crucifix, the missal or prayer book, or whatever it is that I need to focus on.   It is really quite calming, and enormously helpful.  It quiets my mind.Virgin Mary by Sassoferrato

On both a personal and cultural level, it makes me feel more feminine, more modest, more humble, more dignified, and altogether more beautiful.  We smart, modern Westerners still associate the veil with all of these things, largely because we associate the veil with that most splendid, pure, and beautiful paragon of womanhood, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We see her and think of her as The Veiled Lady.  She may not always be portrayed wearing a veil, but in the West when we see a veiled woman, we recognize her.  If an artist wants to evoke Mary, even if it’s in a horrid, sacrilegious way (as we see all too often), they do so with a veil.

Why do brides wear veils?  Is it not because they crown them with that radiant aura of purity, sweetness, quiet dignity, and beauty that we still admire so much as a culture, even though our society is largely devoid of it?  When I wear my veil, I feel that aura about myself.  And I feel as happy as any bride!  Actually, probably happier, because I don’t just wear it for one day of my life.

It makes me feel more like a daughter of the Blessed Mother.  Not that women who don’t wear veils are any less so.  But for me, it makes a much stronger connection and identification with her.  It makes it real.  That is something I have needed and desired for a long time, without really realizing it.  I want to be more like her, I want to be closer to her.  In doing so, I feel more in touch with myself as a woman, and particularly as a Catholic woman.  It helps me realize my worth.

I also understand why the veil has traditionally been part of the religious habit of consecrated women, even in more modern times (provided we’re talking about consecrated women who actually wear habits… but that’s a topic for another post).  It sets them apart in the eyes of the world, but it no doubt benefits them as well, helps them to set themselves apart for God.

Interestingly, I have not yet worn my veil to Mass at our Dominican priory.  The main reasons are the simple, physical ones mentioned above, together with the different layout of the priory chapel.  Whereas in my parish church, all the seats face forward to the sanctuary, the priory chapel is set up like a choir, with the altar at the far end, and the seats facing each other across an open central area.  I don’t have any problem with that, but… it would be more tempting to focus on the other worshipers or on the wall opposite me rather than on the altar which is off to the side.  If that makes sense.  I do see ladies with veils at the priory.  I’m just not sure how it would work for me.

I suppose it is different for different women.

I feel like there was another point I wanted to make… but it isn’t coming to me right now.  Oh well, I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this topic in the future!  Feel free to share your own head-covering stories, questions, etc.!

I am amazed by what I saw out my window a few minutes ago.  It’s been so long!  I–I got teary-eyed.  First a familiar blue-white twinkle.  Then, nearby, a familiar reddish twinkle.  And then, there it was–the tell-tale 3 stars in a row!  I knew I was seeing my favorite constellation:  Orion the Hunter!  With the bright blue-white star, Rigel (top right), and the large red star, Betelgeuse (bottom left), and that “belt” of stars, he’s quite a stunning sight.

At first, I was shocked to see any constellation, period.  I’ve caught only the rarest glimpses of stars since I’ve been living in the big city.  I guess it’s thanks to the cool, clear weather we’re in right now.

To think… I once took seeing stars for granted.  I grew up in a town not far from here.  Back then, it was so far out in the country that you could see everything in the night sky.  Even the Milky Way itself.  I had such a tremendous love for the stars.

Although I’ve always wanted to be a librarian, being an astronomer was one of my big dreams too.  I wanted to know everything about the stars and the other wonders of the sky.  I was always at such peace being out under the night sky, picking out constellations, peering toward the center of the galaxy.  When I got older, of course, I came to the dismal understanding that astronomy involves a lot of math… and if there’s anything that’s never, ever been my forte… it’s math.  That pretty much sapped the life out of my desire to be an astronomer.

Since moving to the big city, I’ve taken not seeing stars for granted.  Which is far more tragic.  I always had my face turned toward the heavens.  And now…  I could never have imagined that such a thing could happen to me–me not looking at the stars!

It’s actually a rather painful realization.  It almost makes me want to move back out into the country.  These days, of course, the town where I grew up is just another sector of massive suburban sprawl.  You can’t see many stars there any more.  Definitely not the glow of the Milky Way.  I imagine I’d have to go a long way out to rediscover those dark, vibrant skies.  It really is heartbreaking what we’ve lost, and what we keep on losing more and more.

But I’m just glad I had those nights of my childhood.  I suppose I’m more fortunate than some.  And I’m most glad that tonight I was able to remember and reclaim a little glimmer of them!  I’m having trouble settling down… I think I’ll turn of the computer and the lamp and go look at the stars some more.

I just watched a terrific video: The Face: Jesus in Art.  The artwork itself is glorious, and the video does a splendid job of presenting it, with beautiful photography and music.

Most of all, it helped me to truly appreciate not only the art, but the fact that we have a God who can be portrayed in art. He took on a human body, a human face.  While we may not be able to create an exact likeness of His face, He is very much present wherever we find beauty.  Beauty is part of His nature, and He is the source of all beauty.

When some people say that we should sell our art and other property to feed the poor (or some variation of that statement), they don’t fully understand what they are asking us to give up.  Not just rich material objects, but images that have brought generations of Christians closer to their Lord.  Not just artifacts of our civilization, but treasures of our faith.  They are truly priceless, and losing them would cause a poverty more dire and long-lasting than that which might be temporarily assuaged by money.  And then, there are many churches which are themselves works of art–would we have to sell them too?  Where would the line be drawn?

We should love, care for, and admire the art that illumines and expresses our faith.  Especially that which depicts our Lord Himself. Too often, we either take it for granted or count it to be of no importance.  My own experience has shown me that being mindful and appreciative of religious art and beautiful spaces really does draw me into deep and active worship.  Conversely, I find it nearly impossible to worship in a space devoid of beauty; I end up turning inward on myself, rather than being raised up out of myself to encounter an Other.  That is what worship is all about for Catholics–encountering the divine Other; in encountering Him, we can do naught but worship Him, so irresistably attractive He is!

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St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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