The Newest Columbiette

Months ago, I spied a callout in the church bulletin for the Columbiettes. I didn’t live in the area at the time, so it didn’t make much sense to express interest. There was an auxiliary closer to home, but I didn’t want to commit to an area I didn’t see as permanent.

I knew little about the Knights of Columbus, only that my staunchest liberal friends didn’t like them. But when I did my own research, I found nothing amiss. When the Knights attended Mass in their emblazoned blazers, they were figures of respect. I attended every pancake breakfast or BBQ they hosted. And I nearly forgot about the ladies’ auxiliaries until I moved back “North.” (that is, Jersey.) So naturally, I contacted the Columbiettes as soon as I spied that bulletin callout again. They were more than happy to hear from me—I received an invitation next day for installation.

I expected some kind of info session, or FAQ, or something, but the day before installation I realized what exactly was happening. I had my membership form and dues; I was on an email chain about a members-only portion of a day that was much longer than the couple hours I’d originally planned for. This was no meet-and-greet. This was installation, and I was about to pledge myself to the Knights. Or, their female counterpart.

Not that there was any doubt I would, but I didn’t expect to meet my fellow Columbiettes the day of installation. There were a lot of people, and many who already knew each other. I’m not great at introducing myself, and get shy around new people. So the whole day was more of an introspection for me, while everyone else chatted and marveled. The ceremony wasn’t too much of a surprise for me; from the start it felt like a fraternity initiation, of which I’m a sister of two. (It’s allowed.) So I’d done this before. I knew the basics of what to expect in a ceremony. And though most college fraternities have some sort of religious foundation, it’s nothing like becoming a member of an actual religious fraternal organization.

Looking back on it now, it reminded me of joining the Church as a whole. Before committing myself to Catholicism, something was missing in my religious life that was later fulfilled in the Church. I felt something similar going through the First Degree ceremony. My other fraternities are great. I’m still highly active in one of them. But by including Jesus, and the promise to live by the Commandments of God and the Church, the ceremony was complete. Secular institutions continue to cut out God, to water down words and morality. But in doing that, they take away the very meaning of life. It feels nice, but it isn’t right. Pledging myself to God, just as I had done in Confirmation, brought meaning to everything I was experiencing that day.

So now I’m a Columbiette. Not only that, but this was also the formation of a new auxiliary, so I’m a charter member as well. It almost feels like cheating, because I didn’t do anything in the start-up. I just showed up, without any introduction, and without doing any of the work.

But I’ll make up for that now. It’s a new group, so there’s a lot to create and figure out. I’ll get involved in my new community, and help those in need. We have our first meeting next week, and an upcoming meet-and-greet with the Knights. I’ll show up to our events, and those of our brother Knights, wearing my badge with pride.

Christmas with the Holy Fathers

Last year’s reading goal was 35 books, which I accomplished with five days to spare. “Do one more!” my boyfriend said, a challenge I graciously accepted. I picked up Christmas with the Holy Fathers, which I’d been planning to read during the season anyway. It’s a short book, I thought. I can do that in five days.

This little book is deceiving. I didn’t do it in five days, but not because it’s a difficult read—it didn’t seem right to whip through words inspired by the coming, and birth, of Jesus. These are words to absorb and contemplate.

It contains excerpts of homilies relevant to the season, penned by various popes through Church history. They bring tidings of peace and hope; they reveal something of the world at the time, ranging from the fifth to the twentieth century. Though different wars were fought, and cultures changed, the root of humanity hasn’t changed—and neither has Jesus and the Church’s teachings. In a reflection from 1964, Pope Paul VI spoke of the need for silence in the unceasing noise of modern society. I’d love to hear his thoughts on that today.

The lesson of silence: may there return to us an appreciation of this stupendous and indispensable spiritual condition, deafened as we are by so much tumult, so much noise, so many voices of our chaotic and frenzied modern life.

This makes me wish I’d been part of the Church when Pope John Paul II was around, to hear his words when they were new and bold. It’s given me an appreciation of Pope Leo I, worthy of the name Saint Leo the Great. Now there’s someone I have to read more from.

There’s not enough materials for a “daily reading” format through Advent, but it’s a good one to pick up throughout the season. It also continues through Christmas and Epiphany, so I did end up finishing the book as the season was coming to a close. A worthy book as my first of 2020!

The Creasters

Last year I attended Mass on Christmas Day, rather than Eve. I simply hadn’t had the time in the midst of co-hosting the biggest family gathering of the year. But this Christmas Eve, we were done setting up early. Mom’s 3:00 ready-time had miraculously happened, which meant I could attend 4:00 Mass before the extended family arrived.

Christmas is a time of celebration, a literal Christ Mass to welcome the Messiah’s birth. I envisioned the early-evening Mass akin to the celebrations of old, where the family attended church and then had a feast. And a feast we had—a four-course meal awaited us, complete with the traditional seven fishes. We would welcome Jesus into the world, and then celebrate Italian style.

We arrived at church twenty minutes early.

It wasn’t enough.

The nave was packed, standing room only. Parishioners spilled into the narthex. I was crammed into a back corner, jostled every time the door behind me opened. Kids stepped on my feet as they restlessly bounced from one parent to the other. I didn’t have a hymnal, so I only knew the first couple verses of the Christmas hymns. I was accompanied by shushing parents and the crinkling of their children’s bags of snacks.

As I later learned, 4:00 Mass isn’t for celebrating Christ before the feast. 4:00 is to get it over with and get the kids to bed. 4:00 is convenient for those who only attend Mass on Christmas and Easter. The Creasters.

This was not the celebration I had envisioned.

The pinnacle of celebration, the Eucharist, was upon us. I felt a wash of relief, but for the wrong reasons: the rapid emptying of the church. People received the Host in their winter jackets, then filed right out the door. Before the Eucharistic table was even cleared, a third of the congregants had left. Some of us standees hesitated, like the occupants of those empty pews might actually return. But before long, we were moving in.

My lower back was starting to twinge, so I was grateful for the seat and cushioned kneeler. But it also made me sad. Partially for myself, because I’d spent most of Christmas Eve Mass trying (and failing) to push away my annoyance. But mostly for the Creasters. For the ones who left, and for those who’d attended because “that’s just what we do.” I was sad for the restless kids who don’t understand why they have to go to this weird, fancy building when they should be home waiting for Santa. Because Jesus isn’t part of their lives; He’s a twice-a-year obligation. He’s just a baby in a manger, then the resurrected God. He has no life, no ministry, and no death.

“From now on,” I said in the car afterward, “I’m sticking to Christmas day Mass.”

I’m certainly complaining a lot, but it didn’t ruin my Christmas. We had the celebratory feast, and kept the constant reminder of Who we celebrated. And, as I’m inclined to remind everyone, Christmas isn’t over yet. It’s not a single-day celebration—it’s a season, and I refuse to take down my tree until it’s properly over. Everyone has switched over to “Happy New Year,” but I still wish my fellow Catholics a Merry Christmas. Jesus has arrived!

My hope is that some of those Creasters in our packed churches remembered the importance of the celebration. I hope they’ve made resolutions to be active in church again, and keep them. I hope they remember that Jesus is more than just Christmas and Easter, and so are we. Maybe they won’t, be I’ll try not to be cynical. After all, God has wrought bigger miracles.