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November is always a beautiful and bittersweet time of year.  It begins with the feasts in honor of those who have gone before us to Heaven or to Purgatory.  It ends, at least here in the U.S., with the earthy, rich, national feast of Thanksgiving.

The days in-between are just that: in-between.  Days in-between two worlds, in-between the Kingdom of Heaven and this greatest of all earthly nations.  Days in-between past and present, present and future.  Days in-between longing for reunion with deceased loved ones and treasuring the union we have with those who are with us.  Days in-between yearning for what will be and gratitude for what is.

Finally, the feasting gives way to the close of one Church year and the beginning of another, with the solemn, penitential, and anticipatory season of Advent.

Unfortunately, this November is different.  Much more bitter than sweet.  My family and I are facing our first Thanksgiving without my dad.  Also, I have been so overwhelmed by earthly business this past week that I could devote very little time to my usual observances of the feasts of All Saints and All Souls.  Both of these situations have put me into a great deal of disarray.

Instead of being caught up in the stimulating, curiously harmonious tension of the “in-between days” I feel this year like I am just… nowhere.  I feel helplessly adrift, with very little light to carry with me into the lengthening, darkening nights.

Even though I am currently taking some time for vacation and being with my family, this month and this year so far have been much more about famine than feast, and I don’t expect that will change any time soon.  The vacation time is much more a necessity than a pleasure.  It’s a mere matter of preserving sanity.  While I always love and treasure time with my family, I can’t even make the most of that because I’m so at the brink of falling to pieces.  You can’t give anything to others if you can’t even keep yourself together.

I can scarcely spare a thought for Advent right now.  Other than that it’s coming up way, way, way too quickly.

For now, I just need to try to get into this whole “vacation” thing.  It’s not as easy as I thought it would be.  There is just soooo much stuff on my mind.

O Domine! Dona mihi pacem!

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This was my 3rd Holy Thursday observance.  And the first when I did not stay in the church with the reposed Blessed Sacrament until midnight.  I would love to have stayed, but one must be prudent about these things… I had nobody to drive me home should I grow too exhausted.

Of all that could be said of Holy Thursday–the magnificent liturgy, Father L’s typical stirring homily, the incense and the bells, the five, yes five, fine young seminarians who assisted at Mass–the one thing that strikes me year after year (all 3 of them so far) is that Holy Thursday always leaves me empty… and yet so very full.  Empty of myself, and full of Christ.

I know that Christ is always at work in me.  That was part of Father’s lesson to us tonight.  But how often do I allow myself to be emptied out?  Not nearly enough as I ought.  And never to this extent that occurs one Thursday a year.

Clearly, it is a most intimate encounter, and identification, with Christ.  Christ, Who emptied Himself so that we men and women might once again take our place in the heart of God and in the divine life of God.  So was I emptied tonight so that Christ might take His proper place in my little heart and my fleeting life.  When this union, this profound convergence with Christ occurs, everything changes!  The entire world becomes so very precious in my eyes, and I love deeply everything and everybody I see.  It comes to be as if I am looking at everything through His eyes.

I can’t describe what a marvelous gift that is!

The stripping of the altar also takes on a haunting new dimension.  As I stared into the cavernous dark sanctuary, the empty tabernacle laid open, the bare cold marble of the altar…  I felt such great compassion.  I thought to myself, There are churches that are like this all the time.  There are empty tabernacles in the world.  There are altars at which no priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  There are fellow Catholics, brothers and sisters, who face such desolation and yearning on a daily basis.  In some cases, it is due to war, persecution, or other disasters, either natural or man-made.  It may be due to simple and unavoidable changes.  But in other cases, it’s due to far worse things: human selfishness and disobedience, saying yes to the world and ourselves and no to God and His Church,human negligence, betrayal, and abandonment.

To experience that one Thursday a month is fortunate.  And it fills one with gratitude for the worthy things we always take for granted: church, priest, Sacraments.  Having Christ really and truly present before us.

Everything looks different on Holy Thursday.  I pray that maybe I will reach a point one of these days where such perspective is not limited to Holy Thursday… a point where I am more emtpy of myself and more full of Christ.

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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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