Many years ago, when I taught in the South Bronx, I was struck by the number of students in my class of 41 who were from other countries. In one year, 25 of the students in my class had been born in other countries. Of the remaining students, nine had parents who were born elsewhere.
Right before Christmas one year, I asked my students, “How do you and your families celebrate Christmas in a way that is unique to your tradition or ethnic group?” One student’s hand shot up in the air. He proudly declared, “It’s an Irish custom that when Christmas is over, we throw the Christmas tree out the window.” I smiled and said, “Really? Well, I am Irish, and I never heard about that tradition!”
At dismissal, I went to speak to this student’s mother, and I curiously mentioned their Irish custom. She called her son over to her and said, “Irish? Joseph, we live on the fourth floor of our building. We are the only family in the building that has a real tree. I don’t want to sweep four floors worth of pine needles, so THAT is why the tree gets thrown out the window! Irish? I don’t think so!” Needless to say, Joseph’s understanding of an Irish custom was a bit clearer after that discussion!
I am reminded of this story as I continue my reflections on the Eucharist. In the book Eucharist: Celebrating Its Rhythms in Our Lives by Father Paul Bernier, SSS, we read, “If we are truly part of a community of living memory, our life’s synthesis must be based on the experience and wisdom of the group. On Sundays we gather for ritualization of the life and teaching of Christ, who provides the basis of that memory. His message, however, must be reflected on and carried out in our daily lives. Otherwise, it will not permeate our understanding and practice.”1
During the Mass, we gather to listen to the stories of our ancestors and their relationship with God. We learn from their successes as well as their failures. The lessons expressed are explained and taken into modern-day context through the words of the homily in order to put them into practice in our life. I don’t think we totally understand the importance of being present to the story that is right in front of us during the Liturgy. Father Bernier says it this way: “To allow our prayer to be shaped by the faith-consciousness of generations of believers enables us to be guided gently by the hand of God. It helps direct our thoughts and actions into the ways of God’s peace. It gives us the satisfaction of knowing that we are being open to the direction of our creator and redeemer.2
To repeat an old spiritual: “They will know you are Christians by your love, yes they will know you are Christians by your love.” That love means owning the stories and the lessons learned in Scripture. Just as easily as believing a certain Irish custom and a Christmas tree.
Do you have any unique traditions?
1 Bernier, P. Eucharist: Celebrating its rhythms in our lives. Ave Maria Press. 1993. P. 68.
2Ibid. pg. 74.
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, The Catholic Witness