Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Well, this week the Big Easy and Rio have one thing in common ~ one huge party. And what is so interesting it’s very Catholic. It’s a time to let your hair down before the strike of midnight on Ash Wednesday when we Catholics fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays during the six week Lenten season.
The root of the word “CARnival is the same as the word “inCARnation”~ a word that means the enfleshment of the Son of God.
Now here’s a bit of carnival or Mardi Gras history for you.
A carnival is a celebration combining parades, pageantry, folk drama, and feasting, usually held in Catholic countries during the weeks before Lent. The term Carnival probably comes from the Latin word “carnelevarium”, meaning “to remove meat.” Typically the Carnival season begins early in the new year, often on Epiphany, January 6, and ends in February on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French).
Probably originating in pagan spring fertility rites, the first recorded carnival was the Egyptian feast of Osiris, an event marking the receding of the Nile’s flood water. Carnivals reached a peak of riotous dissipation with the Roman BACCHANALIA and Saturnalia.
In the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church tried to suppress all pagan ideas, it failed when it came to this celebration. The Church incorporated the rite into its own calendar as a period of thanksgiving. Popes sometimes served as patrons.
The nations of Europe, especially France, Spain, and Portugal, gave thanks by throwing parties, wearing masks, and dancing in the streets. All three colonizing powers carried the tradition with them to the New World, but in Brazil it landed with a difference. Not only did the Portuguese have a taste for abandoned merriment, (they brought the “entrudo”, a prank where merrymakers throw water, flour, face powder, and many other things at each other’s faces), but the Negro slaves also took to the celebration. They would smear their faces with flour, borrow an old wig or frayed shirt of the master, and give themselves over to mad revelry for the three days. Many masters even let their slaves roam freely during the celebration. Since the slaves were grateful for the chance to enjoy themselves, they rarely used the occasion as a chance to run away.
Pre-Christian, medieval, and modern carnivals share important thematic features. They celebrate the death of winter and the rebirth of nature, ultimately recommitting the individual to the spiritual and social codes of the culture. Ancient fertility rites, with their sacrifices to the gods, exemplify this commitment, as do the Christian Shrovetide plays. On the other hand, carnivals allow parody of, and offer temporary release from, social and religious constraints. For example, slaves were the equals of their masters during the Roman Saturnalia; the medieval feast of fools included a blasphemous mass; and during carnival masquerades sexual and social taboos are sometimes temporarily suspended.
Tomorrow: Why Ashes on Ash Wednesday?
May I suggest that by Wednesday morning to try be ready to enter into a deeper journey into your inner depths to discover our Lord and at the same time your deeper Self. Be ready to experience new life, new growth for your self — and for our country. God knows we need it at this time.
Today we let our hair down a bit and when the the fun is over,
may we be ready to enter the desert on Wednesday with you
and discover how desert experiences can cleanse and purify us and make us whole.
Let us enter the desert willingly and learn its lessons well.
We ask you, Lord, to lead the way.
But, before you go, here’s a musical slide show of what a Carnival parade is like down in Rio. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen. (Ladies: Let your husbands have some fun. It’s not ~ um ~ exactly R rated.)
We’ve been talking about St. Paul’s Ode to Love (1 Corinthians 13) ~ the awesome love that transforms.
But many of us don’t know how to love in a way that transforms because we’re more interested in getting love than giving it.
So, let’s think about that for a moment.
Many young folks in our society have not experienced the love that transforms, even from their own parents or their spouses. Very often, their relationships center on their own needs, even when they’re “giving” to their significant other.
But in order to love in a transforming way, we have to loved in a way that frees us.
So I ask you ~
Who are the people in your life who were able to recognize the YOU inside you?
Who-knew-who-you-were behind the mask you present to the world each day?
Who are the people who recognized-your-gifts and called-them-forth-from-the-deep-within-you?
Who-drew-forth-the-goodness-they-saw-in-you when what you were presenting to the world you thought wasn’t very good at all?
That’s love that transforms! That heals. That gets us going again. That moves us down the road a bit.
At this moment I want to name one such man who has had an enormous influence on my life. He is Father Eugene Walsh. We used to call him Gino. He was the rector of my seminary the year I was preparing for ordination. He was a Father-figure for me and a mentor; I learned most of what I know about the sacred liturgy from him.
I had the good fortunate to get on his short list to have him as my spiritual director. He had a way of listening deeply below the level of my words.
I remember one night in his study. We were sitting across from each other in two easy chairs. I was always intrigued that the wall behind him was bright orange with a large abstract painting on it. I was struggling that night about whether I would proceed toward ordination.
Of a sudden, he sprung from his chair, hugged me and whispered in my ear my name ~ Bob ~ and I heard it resonate for the longest time. His voice found me ~ some place deep within and called me forth.
I can still hear him calling me ~ right now. At that moment, his deep, resonating love ~ transformed me. Affirmed me, confirmed me. (I’ll start writing very soon about my priesthood and my bipolar journey and I will tell the story of this wonderful man and the many others who influenced and shaped my life over the years; there are many; and I am grateful to each and every one.)
More than any other person, there is Jesus; I try to be like him. He was so human. He teaches me how to be a human being, above all. To be a simple, decent, human being. And to be human, most of all, is to be capable of loving and receiving love. The same was true of Father Walsh.
And that’s what I’ve always taught: Sin is the refusal Of love, the refusal To love, as well as the refusal to grow and the refusal to give thanks.
So ask yourself: Who are the people who really knew who you were on the inside, accepted you as you are–the good and the bad–and called you forth to be the best person you could be?
Why don’t you reflect on this through the day — while you’re driving, sitting on the john or doing the dishes. Give thanks for them. And maybe give them a call. Not an email; a phone call.
And finally, I want to honor the two-love birds in the picture above. They are John and Betsy Walders of Sebastian, Florida. John passed away in November 2015. They were married for sixty-six years and were as much in love as the day they met in childhood. (Take note that they’re both wearing denim in this picture I took of them a couple of years ago.) In their eighties they went on a serendipitying wonder trip around the country, quite oblivious to the fact that they weren’t teenagers anymore! The joy and memory of all those years sustains Betsy as she witnessed her beloved withdraw into Alzheimer’s. Asked if they ever considered a divorce, she thought a moment and said, “Divorce, no, murder, yes!”
I love them dearly and miss visiting, but Betsy and I talk and have many a laugh on the phone every couple of weeks. She’s now 91 and I pray every night ~ as I do for some other friends ~ to alleviate her loneliness.
But spouses who’ve lost their loved ones still remember them on Valentine’s Day, don’t they?
let us love one another because love is of God;
everyone who is begotten of God has knowledge of God.
No one has ever seen God.
Yet if we love one another
God dwells in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. (1 Jn 4:7, 12)
Dear Friends, see if you can make this prayer your own ~
Good and gracious God,
You are the One most of all who has loved me into wholeness,
who is calling me forth to be the best person I can be,
calling me not so much to want to be loved as to love.
I thank you for sending people into my life who, even for a brief moment,
have touched me deep within and helped to transform me into a more deeply loving person.
Help me always to be a person who is capable of transforming love.
And now, before you go, here’s a hymn based on St. Paul’s Ode to Love: Click Here. It’s soft and lovely, so be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.