New Orleans and the Liturgical Year


I’ve lived all my life in the New Orleans metropolitan area.  From the time I was just a little girl, I knew that I lived in a special place and felt blessed to be part of the unique cultural heritage that distinguished the city of New Orleans and southeast Louisiana.  My ancestors arrived in 1718, the year the city was founded, and I have a strong French Catholic heritage that my family always celebrated and viewed as a source of pride.

As an adult, I began to learn more about my faith.  I loved the exploring the rich, ancient history of the Church, journeying deeper into the sacraments, and discovering the rituals and traditions of the liturgical year.  Suddenly my eyes were opened.  Instantly I saw a connection between my hometown’s culture and traditions and the Church’s liturgical year.  In fact, so much of the day to day life and rhythm of my beloved city was determined by the Church.  There is a good reason for that.  Louisiana was a French colony, and for the first part of its history, Catholicism was the only religion allowed to be practiced.  Catholicism was the established faith of New Orleans, leading to the common practices of its citizens being firmly rooted in Catholic theology.


I truly believe we are one of the only places in the United States where an entire region adheres—consciously or unconsciously—to the Church’s liturgical year.  Transplants observe it as they naturally adhere to the rhythm of a city they have come to love.  A large number of people in New Orleans, Catholic and Protestant, attend Catholic schools and have embraced the Catholic culture despite what their personal religious practices might be.  All of this leads to a thriving Catholic city.

Our Catholic tradition is most evident this time of year.  Yesterday was the Epiphany, the celebration of the three wise men bringing gifts to baby Jesus.  The Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, is a very significant day in the New Orleans calendar; it begins the Carnival season!  Carnival is a season lasts from Epiphany through Mardi Gras day, ending on Ash Wednesday.  It is a time to eat, drink, and be merry, to party, dress in costumes, and attend parades.  Our parades are not like in the rest of the country.  We have massive, elaborate floats with riders throwing beads, doubloons, stuffed animals, and many, many other fun things.


Our food is sacred here in southeast Louisiana.  Food is the center of our gatherings, family life, and culture.  We love a good feast.  The beginning of Carnival season would not be complete without a signature food.  So we have the king cake.  The king cake is full of Catholic meaning.  The name of the cake comes from the three kings who visited Jesus.  The circular or oval shaped, cinnamon flavored cake is decorated with the three colors of Carnival: purple, green, and gold.  These three colors represent the three wise men or Magi.  Purple represents justice, green faith, and gold power.  Inside the cake, a plastic baby is hidden, symbolizing Jesus.  Just as the wise men found Jesus, we hope to find Jesus in the cake (at least kids do).  Adults are a bit reluctant to get the baby, as it means you have to throw the next party!

Carnival is all about family for me.  The tourism industry markets a whole different kind of carnival experience, one that is very different than what most natives embrace.  I grew up attending parades with my entire family—parents, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—and loved the parades that my relatives rode in.  We watched the parades Uptown, and I never once witnessed anything vulgar or inappropriate.  Most of what you see are family and friends out having a good time.  We intend to raise our children with this same important tradition.


The partying, feasting, and craziness that come with Carnival are a perfect preparation for Lent.  By the time Ash Wednesday arrives, you are actually eager to fast, rest, and have some quiet down time.  The slowing down, the contemplation, and the temperance that characterize Lent are actually welcomed, not dreaded, after experiencing the high energy revelry of Mardi Gras.  I knew this intuitively as a young child, because it was common practice in my culture.  Thinking about it intellectually as an adult, I am all the more appreciative of the liturgical year of the Catholic church and the traditions of my hometown.




Praise and Love Through Cloud and Sunshine


Yesterday I spent two hours trying to get E to take a nap, finally putting her in the car and driving her around until she fell asleep.  When I was taking her out of the car, the elderly man next door walked out of his house with his unleashed dog, who proceeded to run towards me barking loudly, causing my neighbor to yell and scream and my dog (from his perch at the window inside the house) to howl in fury.  Not only did this cause E to awaken, but now she was actually crying hysterically.

This incident clouded my entire day.  It became a no nap day.  My frustration levels skyrocketed, and E and I both suffered for it.  My stress fed her grumpiness until we were both deliriously crabby.

Lying down to go to bed (finally, oh the wonderful sigh that comes with the feel of my pillow), I discovered in my reading that it was the feast day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  And just like that, before my eyes, I realized exactly where the day had gone wrong—and it wasn’t about the nap or my less than considerate neighbor.

The little daily lesson: to keep soberly and quietly in His presence, trying to turn every little action on His will, and to praise and love through cloud and sunshine—this is all my care and study.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

I had allowed my frustration and anger, my wants and desires, to get in the way of finding true joy in my day, and as a result had negatively impacted my daughter’s experience as well.  Praise and love through cloud and sunshine.  Before all else, let that be my goal.  I should exert energy in that direction only; everything else will fall into place.


As if that message weren’t clear enough, I opened up my copy of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly.  She discusses foreboding joy, one of the ways we prevent vulnerability.  We are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  When things are going well, we hold our breath, fearful that doom lies around the corner.  Fearful of being truly vulnerable, we allow thoughts of disease, loss, struggle, pain, and suffering to cloud our moments of true joy, preventing us from ever really experiencing this profound emotion.  We do it even when we don’t realize.  Any mother who has ever held her sleeping baby in her arms, peacefully cradling her beloved little one, and thought, “One day she will leave me and go far away, and she won’t be my baby any more,” has done this.  It is an easy habit to get into, trying to prepare ourselves, trying to worry our problems away, attempting to cushion the blows that lie ahead.  Only its no way to live.

According to Brown’s ample research, “Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy.  We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult.  We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster.  And we struggle with the worthiness issue.  Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections?  What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world?  Who are we to be joyful?”

I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen into that trap.  Who am I that I should have a health baby, a roof over my head, food to eat, and a husband who love me when all over the world there are people going without, parents grieving the loss of children, couples trapped in loveless marriages, people who long just to have clean water and full bellies?  Of course we should feel compassion and do whatever we can to aid those suffering, but at the same time, denying our joy, not trusting the blessings  God has sent to us, betrays our trust in Him and alienates us from him, ensnaring us in a web of fear.


What is the antidote to foreboding joy?  Gratitude.  Brene Brown interviewed countless people and conducted years of research, so she has the science to back it up.  But before there were researchers trying to help us cope with our shame, there were the saints, guiding us, modeling for us, helping us find our way to Him.  They all embraced gratitude.  St. Elizabeth knew of what she spoke.  Praise and love through cloud and sunshine.  In embracing an attitude of gratitude, we praise God for all the blessings, big and small, that each day holds for us.

I open my long untouched journal and decide that today, this year, 2016, I will once again record a few things for which I am thankful, every day, the simple, little, beautiful things that make even a No Nap day one to be cherished.


Good Reads

The first half of 2015 is rather hazy, as I was still dealing with an infant and seemed to be in constant survival mode.  My reading life was somewhat on hold, a true challenge to someone who previously never went to sleep without cracking open a book.  I remember lying in bed longing to read but also hearing the ticking timer in my head, knowing that in a few hours baby girl would be crying out for me.  Once E started sleeping through the night (August! at 13 months old!), I was back in business.  Nothing felt so utterly luxurious as really delving into a novel, spending two juicy hours before bed time savoring the written word.  I became reacquainted with old friends and met so many new ones, was transported to far away places and explored familiar ones.  There is nothing I love so much as a good book.

Ordinarily I read some pretty heavy literature in my free time.  That no longer fits this season of my life.  My life goal to read the collected works of Charles Dickens has been put on hold for a while.  Though I have to say, despite setting aside the weighty texts, 2015 provided good reads.  I read many good books, but here are the ones I felt were truly exceptional and that I would return to again.


All the Light We Cannot See  (Anthony Doerr)

This was an amazing read.  This falls under one of my favorite books of all time.  The symbolism was sharp and poignant, the narrative points of view fresh and well crafted, and the setting almost a fairy tale.  This book resonated with me for months.  I am still thinking about it, pondering its themes, finding new questions.  This is a MUST READ.


Bourbon Street: A History (Richard Campanella)

I was ambivalent at first.  Bourbon Street is the worst representation of my hometown, and I hate for tourists to get the wrong idea.  But Campanella is a superb researcher and weaves a captivating tale of the evolution of a street from a series of small wooden structures in a struggling colonial outpost to a center of commerce and entertainment in a thriving port city to the seedy consumer hub of a tourist driven economy.  Every subject is touched upon—geography, social history, culture, language, religion, race, entertainment, wars, advertising, marketing, and architecture.  This book had me longing to return to a time long ago and walk the street taking in the unique characters and architecture that made it so special.


The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God  (Fulton Sheen)

I loved this book and intend to read it again in the future.  I learned so many amazing things about the Blessed Mother, all of which pointed me toward her Son (that’s case with Our Lady, isn’t it?)  Bishop Sheen’s explanation and discussion of the rosary was the best I’ve ever read.  My copy of this book is filled with brackets, stars, underlining, and exclamation marks.  I wanted to quote every page.


I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)

(You can read my thoughts here.)

I’m interested to see how many books I actually read from my 2016 list, and how many new finds are added as the year progresses.

2016 Reading Goals:


Daring Greatly (Brown)

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids (Payne)

Bienville’s Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans (Campanella)

Big Magic (Gilbert)

Building the Land of Dreams: New Orleans and the Transformation of Early America (Faber)

The Nightingale (Hannah)

How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way (Seldin)

Montessori from the Start (Lillard)

Bread and Wine (Niequist)

Nathan Coulter (Berry)

Jayber Crow (Berry)

The Writing Life (Annie Dillard)

Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese (King)

Orthodoxy (Chesterton)

Band of Brothers (Ambrose)