February 2007


A Mass so beautiful it could be appreciated even in a cry room with two busy toddlers and a fussy newborn.  (Only the one toddler was my charge, plus SB who was quiet and happy in her sling.)   Clear, sunny, mild weather for the graveside service, in an old cemetery not far from where another longtime acquaintance is buried.

Apparently folks don’t go in much for the actual burying, though.  Father did the graveside service, then guests visited and consoled and chatted (Note: it was not my children who started the game of hide-and-seek.  Willing accomplices, however).  I kept waiting for everyone to reassemble for the burial, but nope.   The crowd gradually dispersed, and then my friend (daughter of the deceased), asked the funeral home guys about lowering the casket into the ground.

Turns out you can, indeed, witness the entombing of the casket, but the funeral home guys don’t offer (you have to request it) because some people do not wish to see it.  Understandable.  We stayed to see the casket closed in its outer vault, and even for the lowering of the vault. 

This is not like the movies.  It is an industrial process, managed by the big strong guys in un-coordinated work clothes, who arrive with a rumble of heavy machinery.   The clean-cut professional mourners in their polished black suits and shiny black car stand back and give way at this time.  Now my grandfather’s family was in the undertaking business for generations — we still have cousins who own a funeral home — and back in the day I swear I remember seeing caskets go into the ground, nice and smooth with tossing of handfuls of dirt and all that.   But apparently today’s kinder, gentler undertakers have moved all the burying procedures firmly into the what-we-do-when-you-are-not-looking side of the business.

Like other processes involving heavy objects and big pieces equipment, not to mention a hole in the ground, this procedure is not so suitable for curious children.  What part of "Back away from the grave!" don’t you understand, little darlings?   But we wanted to watch anyway.  Our toddler, however, was ready for total freedom, the run-in-traffic-and-climb-fences kind of freedom, so I carried her, literally kicking but not quite screaming, back to the van.  Big kids got to watch a little more of the burial process while I loaded and buckled the little ones. 

By this time we were the only bystanders left.  (The family of the deceased was satisfied to simply see the casket into the vault — understandably, their primary interest was mourning and closure, not, say, a job-shadowing field trip.  Well in truth that was our primary interest too.  We just got carried away.)  The grave-filling crew seemed to be sending subliminal messages that they did not actually want our solidarity, thank you very  much, notice the little earth-moving tractor we are waiting to unload once you get your curious little liabilities out of the way?

So we went home.  Before the first shovelful of dirt was placed in the grave.  I thought it was a bit of a disappointment, but I wasn’t going to let on to the kids.  As we drove, I began to explain that what we had just done was one of the corporal works of mercy.  Insert explanations of "corporal" "mercy", etc. etc.  "So by staying to see Mrs. F buried," I concluded with some satisfaction, "we just did the work of mercy of burying the dead."

Mr. Boy replies immediately, "No we didn’t.  We didn’t see her buried.  We only saw the casket lowered, we didn’t see it get covered in dirt."

"Well, you’re right,"  I concede.  "But we stayed as long as could.  I think that counts." 

A boy after my own heart, makes his momma proud. 

I’m not taking a break from blogging for Lent, or at least I don’t mean to be.  But it’s been a mighty long weekend, and only getting longer.

A good friend’s mother passed away this weekend, entirely unexpectedly.  Funeral will be tomorrow morning.    Difficult to believe.

 Also this weekend we celebrated a different friend’s 50th birthday.  We went to the restaurant Juniper in Ridge Spring, SC.  Country cooking this is not.  Some of the best food on the East Coast.  Haute haute cuisine.   Good stuff if you like that kind of thing.  (We do). 

I guess we’ll resume formal lessons after the funeral, maybe Wednesday or maybe later.   We’ll see.

****

In other castle news:

  • Flocks of robins coming through the neighborhood.  Bun used her brother’s plush toy to make a positive identification on those. 
  • The SuperHusband has gotten in the habit of re-filling the bird feeder.  Which the birds are now actually using.  
  • Pansies are hanging in there.  Still awaiting their pansy food.
  • The reckless bulbs have not yet bloomed, but they are finally in good company — we returned to town and discovered everybody else’s daffodils are out.   Ours are sure to follow suit.

We flew home yesterday, a suitably penitential way to open the lenten season.  (God bless Continental, they served tuna sandwiches.)  As we were driving over to my sister’s house prior to going to the airport, I was trying to explain to the kids what Ash Wednesday and Lent are.  Trickier because our flight schedule conflicted with the church service schedule, so there were no ashes for us this year.

There are plenty of things to focus on in Lent, giving rise to that peculiar genre of catholic writing "Everyone Else Is Observing Lent The Wrong Way".    Still, I can’t teach my kids every possible angle on Lent in one ten-minute discussion, and not every angle is appropriate the 5-to-6-year-old age bracket.  We ended up focusing on gratitude.

We had a problem around our house some months ago with ingratitude.  The SuperHusband (and sometimes I with him) would take some or all children out to a restaurant for dinner.  Our children did not seem to understand that this was something special. Or at the very least, they didn’t understand how to show their appreciation.  For example, by not whining and fighting through their entire dinner.

So we broke down "how to show you are grateful" into a few simple steps.  They are:

1)  Smile
2) Say "Please" and "Thank you"
3) Use a nice voice
4) Follow instructions

This is the kind of behavior that makes the parents want to take you out again sometime.

Now Lent, I explained to the kids yesterday morning, is the time of preparing for Easter.  Review: What is Easter?  It’s when we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead and opening up Heaven for us.    If going out to dinner is something to be grateful for, getting to go to Heaven — that’s something to be really, really, really grateful for. 

The first three elements of gratitude towards Mom and Dad have their corollary with God.  How is our relationship with Him going?  Do we talk to Him? Do we thank Him?  Do we come to Him when we need something? Do we trust Him to do what is good for us even when it doesn’t seem so good to us?  And are we reverent towards Him?  Do we treat him like God, Creator of the whole universe?  Lent is a time to practice our relationship with God.

"Follow Instructions" is what ought to be flowing naturally from our relationship with God.  If we love Him and trust Him, we will do what He wants of us.  During Lent we practice so that we get better and better at following God’s instructions for us, and we also work on cleaning out of our life anything that is getting in the way of following those instructions.   If I have trouble sharing my toys with my siblings, during Lent I might practice sharing by spontaneously offering a toy I think my brother or sister might like to use.

There are plenty of other aspects of Lent for us to explore, but this is where we began.  One of the joys of the liturgical year is that we get to do Lent over and over, year after year, each year focusing on what we are ready for that year.   Gratitude is where our family is this year.

Cacique: A Novel of Florida’s Heroic Mission HIstory

By Bishop Robert J. Baker with Tony Sands

St. Catherine of Sienna Press, 2006

ISBN-13:  978-0-9762284-4-8

ISBN-10:  0-9762284-4-0

www.bishopbaker.com

 

I sent this book to my dad for Christmas, thinking it was more his genre than mine.   The plan was for him to read it, and then if he thought I’d like it, I’d read it over vacation.   First part of the plan didn’t work out — Dad has been short on reading time lately — so we skipped directly to step 2.  I read it, it was good.

 

Bishop Baker’s novel (pronounced ca-SEE-kay) is a fictional account of a franciscan mission to the Potano tribe in northern Florida.  The genre is Hardy Boys meets Butler’s Lives.   The writing is clear and concise, not artsy — the prose serves as a vehicle for the story, not the end in itself. 

 

Unlike the Hardy brothers, the heroes in this story do actually grow old and even die, such that in order to cover the entire life of the mission, Bishop Baker uses a sucession of main characters.  We begin with Fr. Tomas, the young and determined priest who founded the mission which is the subject of the book.  We end with the perspective of Felipe-Toloca, the cacique of the Potano village at the time the mission is disbanded by the Spanish.    The transition from one principal character to the next flows smoothly, and helps build the overall study of the life of the mission, which lasted over 100 years.  In moving from generation to generation we gain a sense of the history of the community, as well as a meditation on the communion of saints.

 

Also unlike the Hardy boys, our heroes are concerned with more than just fighting crime in Bayport.  The overarching theme of the many adventures is nothing short of evangelization and the bringing about of the kingdom of God.  Here Bishop Baker does a great service for catholic characters everywhere, for once rendering a series of faithful catholic heroes — first and foremost a priest — whose interior life is solid and sound.   Their struggles are not with the holy faith, but with how to live out that faith in the particular time and place given to them.

 

The novel succeeds where history books sometimes fail, in keeping the people real.  Neither the Spanish nor the Indians are made out to be a homogeneous pool of Good Guys or Bad Guys; we get individuals of all stripes, none perfect, and none are beyond the hope of forgiveness, mercy and redemption. 

 

One of the risks of historical fiction is that we learn more about the author than about history.  Those looking for clues into Bishop Baker’s secret thoughts will discover the same messages that he has proclaimed throughout the diocese in his public life.   None of this was heavy-handed in my opinion;  even if our heroes are extraordinary for their own time — or our time — they are nonetheless consistent in action and attitude with other missionary saints of the 1600’s.

 

If you like an action-packed adventure story, this one is fun.  There are martial arts, traps, disguises, battles, shipwrecks, the whole nine yards.  If you are looking for a peek inside the mind of a missionary priest, that’s there too.  And at the end of the book there is brief note about the history that inspired the novel, as well as a bibliography for those who want to do further research.   

 

Good book, very readable, very enjoyable.

 

*********

 

And a bonus feature This book  deserves an award for making a major advance in the world of southern literature: It treats the landscape of northern Florida as if it were, well, a perfectly normal place to live.  No long odes to Spanish Moss or treatises on the humidity — mosquitoes are mentioned so infrequently you might temporarily forget where this story is set.  The land is simply there.  Alligators, springs, quicksand, palmettos — they are all present, but mentioned only when they are relevant to action at hand. There is a time and place, of course, for seeing a well-known landscape with the eyes of an outsider; but frankly it is a relief to see a novel that is not only set in the south, but told through southern eyes.

 

 

My favorite place to go in Las Vegas is Red Rocks National Park.  I finally managed to sneak over this morning, and did a short hike with the kids.  The park faces east, so it is a lovely early-morning destination.  Rain last night (this is the rainy season) put fresh snow on the mountains, though we stayed down in the wide valley below.  Determined that Bun is still firmly in the toddler category, really not ready for hiking on her own.  

 

Went ahead and purchased an annual park pass, if I make three more visits before we leave it will have paid for itself.  This is not unlikely, as the park is pressed right up against the western suburbs of town (or, more accurately, vice versa), and only a twenty minute drive or so from my parent’s home.  Read this afternoon that the visitor’s center now has a working seismograph, so one of the these days we will have to time our visit for after the center’s opening hours, so that we can do that.

 

Meanwhile I’ve been helping my sister get my parent’s house ready for an up-coming move.  Not sure if I like de-cluttering other people’s homes more or less than doing my own.  On the positive side, I am honing my skills so that perhaps I can be a better tosser-outer when I get back to my own mess.  On the negative, I keep finding stuff that I might like.  Hmmn.

 

Also finished reading Cacique and will review it in the next post.

 

 

We arrived safely — thanks for the prayers.  The kids held up remarkably well, despite some delay and re-routing.  I was asked several times what my "secret" was.  My only guess is that when people see four very young children board a plane with just one adult, they begin to pray.  Even people who do not normally pray — perhaps especially those people — may well begin begging God for mercy.  And He came through.

 

Thursday we relaxed and recovered from the trip.  Visited with the cousins, and Bun took her first ever dance class, thanks to a very friendly local dance instructor, who doesn’t mind the odd friend or relative tagging along with a regular student. 

 

Friday we went to Hoover Dam.  I’d never been there before.  Really neat.  The drive from Las Vegas out to the dam is just breathtaking, especially if you are the sort of person who loves mountainous desert landscapes.  Tour operators are friendly, and our large crowd of six-and-unders (free admission!) stayed suitably entertained.  Exhibits at the visitors’ center at the end of the tour included several engaging kids activities that were not only entertaining but informative as well.  And I learned how electricity is made. 

 

Saturday we drove up to Mt. Charleston for a hike — the weather has been too mild for snow, we were told.  Not so.  We played a little bit, scouted about, and came back Sunday properly outfitted.  Had a great time sledding, building snow forts, and drinking hot chocolate.  Truth be told, this is why I like to come to Las Vegas in February.

 

Today was quiet enough I had to actually break out school materials in order to gather enough educational activity to count it as a school day.  Did take the kids to a local park — there are lots of great local parks in this city, though be mindful some neighborhoods are safer than others. 

 

Also started reading the novel Cacique by  bishop Robert J. Baker.  So far so good, but I will post a full review once I finish it.

 

Technically internet access is good, but free time is limited.  (Go figure, I’m busy visiting all those people I flew here to see).  Have been reading newspapers (not a normal behavior for me) so naturally there are six bazillion things I want to blog about.  May yet get to a few of them.  Am getting some strange formatting situations so my apologies if things appear weirder than usual.

 

 

Seemed like just the thing for introducing the concept of probability.  Well, actually we’re just going to see the relatives.  My patience with the Strip diminishes with each passing year, but I am looking forward to a hike at Red Rocks and possibly some other outings, in addition to a relaxing two weeks in suburbs.  

 Headed out tomorrow morning — meant to blog about this sooner, sorry for the late notice.  Historically internet access has been great, so no reason to expect a slowdown here at the castle blog.   Prayers for a safe trip always appreciated.  Also we are not turning down additional prayers for no more exploding zipper incidents.

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