Take a Spiritual “TRIP” this Advent Season!

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With the annual celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Mardi Gras (for us down here in the New Orleans area) comes the joy of family gatherings and lots of together time. Today, however, with many of our loved ones living in various parts of the world, we often find ourselves traveling or awaiting the arrival of our sons, daughters, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. So you could say, in some ways, that traveling has become a kind of staple of the holiday season, one as familiar as Grandma’s ham, turkey, dressing and pecan pie. I guess this should come as no surprise, given the far distance that the original pilgrims and Holy Family had to travel on the days ushering in our modern day Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Likewise, the Mardi Gras Season, a “Fat Tuesday” celebration proceeding Ash Wednesday, begins on the Feast Day of the Epiphany (King’s Day), a day commemorating the arduous journey of three wise men to the small town of Bethlehem.

Join me, as we further explore the Christian understanding of a trip, pilgrimage, or journey towards the ultimate gathering of the people of God, as we learn to incorporate this hopeful anticipation into our every day prayer experience.

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In Ignatian spirituality, one based on the teachings of the Jesuit founder, Ignatius of Loyola, we learn about the importance of a daily examen (the spiritual reviewing of one’s day) as a means of discerning the movements of God in our life along with our corresponding response to His invitation. Do we cooperate with God’s will or block and/or intentionally reject this calling? Are we moving closer to or further away from God’s loving embrace. Do we feel joy or sorrow, peace or anxiety? Are we intimately aware of God’s presence and the gift of grace which often accompanies it? These kinds of questions warrant our daily prayerful consideration, as we review our day’s journey, desired destination, and overall sense of well-being.

To this end, I would like to propose an acronym which has helped me, my husband, and family better identify the hands of God in our lives, our subsequent response to His call, and our desired destination. This acronym, one which I learned from Jan and Loyd Tate at the New Orleans Spirituality Center, is “A-TRIP”.  My husband, Tom, and I first learned about this daily exercise when we attended a couple’s retreat about 8 months back. There, Jan and Loyd challenged each of us to take “A-TRIP” once a day as a couple.

How could we do this, we thought, especially given the craziness of our lives and the frequency of Tom’s business trips away from home? The answer was simple: keep our eyes focused on the gathering process and our desired destination – a peace filled home, here on earth and for all eternity with God. Once this answer became clear, our 5-10 minute shared prayer experience (A-TRIP) became a top priority, and often the highlight of our day. Not only did it draw us closer to God, but also closer to each other as a couple. Subsequently, we began incorporating this simple spiritual “trip” into our family prayer experience. The spiritual fruits of this exercise have proved abundant in both regards. It is intimately moving and, at times, inspirational to listen as a loved one shares his/her inner thoughts, desires, concerns, and/or vulnerabilities with God. Likewise, it is humbling to do the same.

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A-TRIP stands for:

A:  Adoration. Adoring the Lord is more than just loving Him. It is gazing into His face, being captivated with Who He is, and looking beyond what the Lord has or can do for us. When we meditate on how great God is, we become transformed into His likeness as we are face to face in adoration of Him. Adoration is a heart response and recognition that He is all we ever need. When we adore the Lord Our God, all life’s problems, seen from heaven’s perspectives, seem to dwarf in comparison.

“My God, I adore you for your bountiful majesty, your intimate love, and unending mercy.”

T: Thanksgiving. Feeling and expressing appreciation is good for us. Like any wise father, God wants us to learn to be thankful for all the gifts He has given to us. It is in our best interest to be reminded that everything we have is a gift from Him. Without gratefulness, we become arrogant and self-centered. We begin to believe that we have achieved everything on our own. Thankfulness keeps our hearts in right relationship with God, the ultimate giver of all good gifts.

“Lord, I thank you for the many gifts you have given me, for my husband, Tom, son, Joseph, and for the transformative power of your love on display in our family circumstances over the last several years.”

R: Repentance. Repentance represents a turning away from sin and a turning back to God. It alleviates our guilt while simultaneously cultivating a deep sense of joy in our unburdened heart. In the face of God’s unwarranted mercy, we rejoice and often feel compelled to share the good news about God’s boundless love with others! As we continue to examen our lives and our ongoing pattern of sin, we often gain a humble acceptance of our total dependency on Christ, both as a Savior and a King. By learning to surrender our lives to Christ, while simultaneously opening ourselves up to the grace of His Holy Spirit, we begin to grow in Christian virtue and personal holiness.

“Lord, I repent of my impatience and the harsh use of words in moments of conflict.”

I: Intercession. Intercession is prayer on behalf of another. It naturally arises from the instincts of the human heart, a heart filled with love and deep compassion for others. Intercession, however, is not merely prompted by our individual affections or interests,  but by our recognition of God’s individual and societal love and concern for mankind. As members of Christ’s Body, we are called to intercede for others, just as Christ does for His disciples, crucifiers, and each of us.

“Come, Holy Spirit, come. Make us a holy family founded on love. Fill our hearts with love and our home with joy. Transform our lives as a family and guide each of us towards the life vocation You deem most appropriate.”

P: Praise. Praise is the joyful recognition or remembering of all God has done for us. It is closely intertwined with thanksgiving as we offer back to God our appreciation for the mighty works He has done on our behalf. God is all powerful and worthy of our praise.

“God, I praise you for your intimate love, the life giving and self-sacrificial love demonstrated by Christ on the Cross. God, in You, I find my home, for You have created me for Yourself. I praise You for your miraculous plan of goodness for my life and Your tireless pursuit of my love in return.”

As you contemplate the spiritual meaning and ultimate intention of “A-TRIP”, I ask you to remember that we, as Christians, are a pilgriming people living our day to day lives as we try to find our way back home to God. In closing, I wish you and yours happy travels, especially during this Advent Season, and in each and every day which follows. Amen

To learn more about or purchase my new book, The Healing Eyes of Mercy. A Trinity of Love, please visit spiritualsafariguide.com.

Thank you and God Bless! Karen Schwaner Sheehy

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All Hail to the King: A Catholic Mardi Gras Celebration.

Join us today as we keep our eyes focused on Christ and discover the Catholic history behind the feast known as “Fat Tuesday.”

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Catholic school children and faculty celebrating Mardi Gras, a feast which anticipates the coming of Lent and Easter Triduum.

Mardi Gras, which literally means “Fat Tuesday” in French, is associated with the Roman Catholic season of Lent. Although many see this celebration as an overindulgence prior to the rigors and personal sacrifice of Lent, this does not truly reflect the holiday’s original intent nor the focus of faithful Catholics around the world. Historically, Fat Tuesday marks the last day of ordinary time prior to the 40 days of Lenten fasting and repentance. Today, Mardi Gras celebrations occur in Roman Catholic communities throughout the world, including Nice, France; Cologne, Germany; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to name just a few. Mardi Gras in New Orleans, perhaps the most famous Fat Tuesday celebration in the United States, started in the early 18th century. While its parties and wild debauchery often garner the most media attention, this stereotypical behavior greatly maligns the original Catholic intent of the celebration.

But what of Mardi Gras’s modern day similarities with the ancient pagan festival known as Lupercalia? A slight review of Church history is required when addressing their apparent similarities. Lupercalia, an ancient Roman fertility celebration, did, in fact, include the feasting, drinking and inappropriate carnal behavior often associated with the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration. To highlight the historical connections and disconnections between these two celebrations, one pagan and the other Christo-centric, we must revisit the early writings of Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604 AD). In his epistle to St. Augustine of Canterbury, Gregory details his desired evangelization approach when converting the Anglo Saxons of England. His instructions: destroy only their idols, sprinkle their pagan temples with holy water, raise in them Altars and relics of saints, and replace their pagan celebrations with celebrations focused on holy God and His saints. According to Gregory, seeing that their sacred places where not destroyed would help them “remove error from their hearts” and instead know and glorify the true God in their accustomed sacred places and festivities.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we read, “for though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings” (1Corinthians 9:19, 22-23). In the same way, the Catholic Church, throughout the ages, has incorporated many of the original teachings of Jesus into local customs, festivities and religious practices to help guide the faithful. Examples include the celebration of the Mass and Lord’s Resurrection on Sundays (the pagan day for worship of the Roman Sun God), the Catholic celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25 (pagan celebration of the birth of the Roman Sun God) and Mardi Gras celebrated on the Roman pagan feast of Lupercalia. Each of these solemn events, although replacing a pagan feast day, find their origin in the many biblical accounts of Christ’s life, including his Resurrection, birth, 40 days of fasting in the desert and Easter Passion, Death and Resurrection. Unfortunately, both in historical and modern incidences, many have continued to embrace the very pagan practices needing the healing light of Christ.

In Romans 12:2, we read, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.” So, what are some ways that we, as Catholics and Christians, can celebrate and participate in a Catholic Mardi Gras celebration? I would suggest the following:

  1. Eat a king cake as a reminder of the true King of kings, the Savior whose arrival we celebrate every December 25th,
  2. Give gifts to the King of kings, as the three wisemen did on the feast day of the Epiphany (January 6th). Remember their generosity each time you shout, “throw me something mister,” by recycling your beads and other Mardi Gras throws, and/or donating them to Habitat for Humanity or St. Michaels School for special needs children in New Orleans,
  3. Make a toast to the true King of kings, not the king of any particular Mardi Gras parade,
  4. Teach your children about the true meaning of the Mardi Gras celebration. Take them to receive ashes the following day. Help them select a generous Lenten offering and sacrifice in preparation for the Easter Triduum. Help them understand the connection between Christmas, Mardi Gras, Lent and Easter, so as to better appreciate God’s plan for our salvation,
  5. Celebrate our Catholic heritage, recognizing God’s deep love for each of us and the sacrificial offering of His Son for our salvation. Welcome others into the family of God (the Church), for there, we find the boundless grace, blessings and joy of true Christian celebration.
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Christmas celebrates the arrival of the promised King of kings and Savior of the world (December 25).

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King’s day celebrates the arrival of the three wisemen on the Feast Day of the Epiphany (January 6). Pictured above is a king cake and its surprise content, a replica of the baby Jesus.

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Mardi Gras marks the final day of ordinary time prior to the 40 days of Lenten fasting and repentance.

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Ash Wednesday reminds each of us of our eventual death and the promise of eternal life made available through Christ’s death, Resurrection and Ascension into heaven.

Palm Sunday at Sacred Heart Church in Boston's North End

Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem prior to His passion and death. Jesus is the paschal lamb, the promised sacrificial offering of God who takes away the sins of the world. 

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Easter Sunday celebrates Christ’s glorious Resurrection. The sacraments of the Catholic Church draw their meaning and grace from the Resurrected Lord and the transformative love of His Holy Spirit. Many catechumens are welcomed into the Church during the Easter celebration of the Mass.