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My Table Is Spread

A new meaning for the manger

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In my memory, the Arnett aunts, my grandmother's sisters, are all dressed in pastels -- suits with jeweled pins on the collars -- and wearing hats and kid gloves. A patent leather handbag hangs over each aunt's arm.

There was a rhythm to the attire (suits, hats, gloves, nylons, heels for Sundays and family gatherings) and to the conversation. My father would always inquire after their health.

We laugh because we know who we are

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“The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked.” -- Thomas More

Dictators run some countries, and dictators run some families. Dictators can even be found running some churches. What the tyrants have in common is a hatred of the sound of laughter. Rather than indulge in laughter, they indulge in what G.K. Chesterton calls “the anger of the idle kings.”

Someone is always unhappy with the music

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Music is the lit dynamite of liturgical debates. It is the struck match in a parched field; the gasoline-soaked rag stuffed in a bottle and tossed, flaming, into the crowd. Music is a marker: “Thee’s to the right; You’s to the left. Please, no talking.”

I once walked into the Bishop DeFalco Retreat Center in Amarillo, Texas, and paused at the sign prohibiting firearms. I looked around for the other sign directing me to the hymnody conference.

Broken promises, love and long nights

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Sometime in the last two months, my mother stopped sleeping at night. The hospice nurses called it “sundowning.” My sister-in-law, who had just moved her father into a locked memory care unit, called it “dementia’s 36-hour day.”

Imagine a 100-pound newborn, her days and nights mixed up. Now imagine that the newborn has osteoarthritis and the faint beginnings of pressure sores along her protruding spine and skin the thickness and strength of moistened tissue paper. This is a baby who can neither be swaddled nor soothed.

From Italian to Latin, words on wall say what need not be said

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Some years ago, my husband and I visited a Norbertine Abbey in Belgium. The abbot's chair looked like a throne. But just across from the chair, on a wall the abbot faced every day, was a carved skull. Underneath the skull the name of each former abbot was carved into the stone, with space left for the current abbot's name and for the names of those yet to be appointed abbot. Memento mori. (That's Latin for "Don't take this seat personally.")

Sovereign over even the darkest corners

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He’s retired now, our bishop emeritus, but for over 20 years, Richard Hanifen presided at midnight Mass at the cathedral. As Christmas Eve moved into Christmas Day, Hanifen would stand to greet us.

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he said. And then, smiling, “I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters in the El Paso County jail.”

How we see and know daily holiness

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From bedtime to Advent wreaths, ritual is part of the life of parenthood

When Americans say “faith,” we often mean “opinion,” or what we think about God. In truth, faith is a life, and lives are made up of actions, of deeds. Who cares what you think when a vomiting child wakes you at 3 a.m.? Who cares how you feel about it? Who needs your opinion on being startled from sleep by the sounds of retching from the crib? Only this matters: that you do get up and clean the mess and comfort the child.

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In This Issue

November 21-December 5, 2014

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