Celebrations are a big part of family life, and they’ve been on my mind a lot lately (my son Luke is on the cusp of his sixth birthday, a fact which he does not fail to remind us multiple times a day). Even beyond birthdays, there are so many occasions we remember in our family: the day Scott and I had our first date, the day we got married, the days the boys were baptized, the day our beloved friend Mary passed away, the first day of the school year. We mark these dates on the calendar; we remember them with rituals and photographs and –depending on the occasion – gratitude or tears or smiles (sometimes all three).
Catholicism isn’t much different, really. This is a massive family with a lot of things to remember: special events, special people, special truths. And while it’s easy to overlook these feast days in the hectic pace of our busy lives, life is so much richer when we take time to recall and remember.
That’s why I love the new book The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us As Catholics by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina. It’s a celebration of the many feasts and seasons in the Christian calendar, everything from Advent to Easter to the Ascension and the many Marian feasts. “The feasts are to time what churches are to space,” the authors explain in the Introduction. “They are moments we mark off as sacred.” Wuerl and Aquilina explain why we humans crave and need these celebrations: “In the feasts we recognize that God has given us a good life, and we ‘have it abundantly.’ (John 10:10). The feasts are a fixed occasion to indulge in the joy God made us to desire — and made us to possess in the end.”
Sign me up!
What’s so nice about this book is that it doesn’t just ponder the general importance of the feasts, it also takes a detailed look at some of the most beloved ones. Wuerl and Aquilina zero their focus in on a sampling of feasts, solemnities, and memorials (these terms are all clearly explained in the book) for closer examination. They share the history and the traditions of each feast day, also explaining the beliefs behind each one. In so doing, they invite us to reflect on what — exactly — these feasts mean in our own lives.
Take, for example, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, which is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost.
Holy Trinity Window, St. Dominic’s Church, San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Scott Moyer.
The Holy Trinity is one of those truths that it’s pretty hard to get my head around. (Actually, who am I kidding? It’s impossible to get my head around.) As the authors explain, God “is one and yet is three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Three in one.
How does that work, exactly? I have no idea. And yet I believe in it, because — as I once said to a non-Catholic friend of mine — it’s just crazy enough to be true. (She understood exactly what I meant.) As the book puts it, “The truth about the Trinity is so mysterious that it exceeds human understanding. It is inaccessible to unaided reason.”
And while I like reason in most things, I have learned through forty-one years of living that there is a huge veil of mystery around this world, some things I’ll simply never know this side of the grave. I am okay with that, because what matters with me is not the How but the What, and the Why.
I don’t know how God manages to be three separate persons in one. But I like what that says: God is all about community. Other people and other relationships matter, and no one is an island. Even though my innate tendency is toward being an introvert, a life lived alone is not the life that is most healthy for me. Family and friends and coworkers and neighbors and a broader community are vital: they stretch me, challenge me, enrich me. I find God in those interactions, and I’m challenged to act like God for others as well.
As the authors write, “If we say that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16), we can do so only because we know that God is not a solitude, but a community, a plurality.” And if God is a community, there are implications for us as well: to strive to be like God in our own interactions. We’re challenged not to be remote from others but to engage, whether that’s with the son who wants to play blocks with us or the stranger who stops to ask directions even when we’re in a hurry. We’re meant to remember ourselves as beings who operate in relation to others, not spinning out there on our own.
That’s what the Trinity calls me to remember. It’s a reminder I need, honestly, as I live out my life both in the smaller context of my immediate family and the larger context of a global one. I’m glad there is a day in the calendar that is dedicated to this truth, and I’m grateful that this book invited me to ponder it more deeply.
Have I whet your appetite for feast days? If you’re interested in reading The Feasts, you’re in luck: Image Books has kindly donated a copy for me to give away. To enter, just leave a comment in the comment section below. Entries will close at midnight on Wednesday, September 17th, after which I’ll randomly choose a winner. (Many thanks to Image Books for the review copy. And I’m just one stop on the blog tour for the book, so be sure to check out the other blog-stops for more reflections on these fascinating feasts.)