How to Get a Crown of Thorns on an Airplane and other lessons from LA Congress

Betcha Best Western has never seen anything like this before.

Best Western has seen lots of things, but probably never this.

Scott and I spent last weekend right across the street from Disneyland, at the Anaheim Convention Center.  The occasion?  LA Congress, the annual gathering of 30,000 Catholics who come to hear speakers and keynotes, attend liturgies, and browse the massive exhibit hall where you can buy books, crosses, rosaries, school curriculum, and all kinds of Catholic things you can’t find anywhere else.

That context is necessary for understanding why, on Saturday evening, Scott got an email from the Director of Religious Education at our parish.  Michael had heard that there was a table where you could buy a crown of thorns, and wanted to know if we could pick one up for use in the Holy Week pageant at church.

“Have you seen any for sale?” Scott asked.

“Nope,” I told him.  “And I’ve been around that exhibit hall a few times.”  Scott sent a don’t-get-your-hopes-up kind of response to Michael, and that was that.

So you can understand my excitement when, the very next morning, I found myself walking past a table piled with crowns of thorns (I do believe this is the first time I’ve ever used that noun in the plural).  Ding ding ding!    My response to this discovery was gleeful and reflexive.  Ten seconds later, I was handing my cash to the guy behind the counter.

And just as he was taking the bills from me, I suddenly realized something that, in my excitement, I’d totally forgotten.

I realized that in  two hours’ time, I’d have to get the crown home.

On an airplane.

Back at the hotel, I gingerly took the crown out of its very thick shopping bag and put it on the table.  Scott and I surveyed it.   This was no Fisher Price Little People crown; those thorns were real, and  sharp.  (I refer you to the picture above.)   It was just the kind of thing that would cause awkward airport conversation in a post 9-11 world (in any world, come to think of it).  We discussed our options:

1) Carry it on the plane, held loosely in the shopping bag the guy gave me, where it would be visible to all.

2) Pack it in our already overstuffed suitcase, which would keep it safe but would feel somehow furtive.

Which was least likely to result in the damaging and/or confiscation of this crown? We couldn’t decide.

“I could wear it,” Scott said, an offer which I vetoed the minute I stopped laughing.

In the end, we opted to wrap it carefully in some of our least valued clothing items and set it inside the suitcase.   And I have to say, as we went through the security line, I fully expected the guy to stop and linger over our bag.  I  even imagined the exchange that would ensue:

Security guy: What is this?
Me: A crown of thorns.  You know, like the one Jesus wore.
Security guy: Why do you have a crown of thorns in your luggage?
Me: Air travel these days is my own personal Calvary.

But as happens, we sailed right through and our thorny problem was resolved.  We now have a mostly-intact crown and some slightly perforated clothing.  The troublesome headpiece has now been delivered safely to church, and all is well.   (Apparently Scott walked  into the church office on Monday with the crown on his head, which did get a  reaction from his coworkers, though significantly less than he’d have gotten at John Wayne International Airport.)

That was perhaps the most surreal experience of the weekend (who am I kidding?  of the last decade of my life), but the weekend was full of other wonderfully memorable experiences.   Here are a few:

1) Visiting with the good folks of Loyola Press.  They may be sick of me by now because I kept dropping by their booth to hang out, but who can blame me? — they are such fun people, and Chicago is so far away; I have to take the chance to visit while I can.  Scott and I joined them for dinner on Saturday, which was a blast.  Here I am with Vinita, editor and writer extraordinaire, and Becca of marketing.  Two great ladies.



2.  Attending the liturgy on Sunday morning.  It was in the arena, and it was packed, and beautiful and moving.  During the preparation of the altar, the live orchestra played “Gabriel’s Oboe”; the music was so haunting and moving that I got all choked up.  If you don’t know the tune, here it is:

And I loved seeing the chalices all lined up before Mass, ready to go.


3.  Hanging out with people from the Catholic blogosphere.
 I finally got to meet Heidi Hess Saxton, whom I’ve known as long as I’ve been blogging — we had a great visit.



4.  Greg Boyle’s talk.  He’s the Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries, and he is the author of Tattoos on the Heart, which you should start reading immediately if you haven’t already done so.  His talk was like his writing: funny, engaging, moving, and uplifting.  And yes, there were a few people there to hear him.


5.)  The recognition of how global this Church really is.  It’s such a diverse crowd; I love that.  And I always love checking out the displays put together by the different cultural groups of the archdiocese:

Korean Madonna and child (with bonus picture of wonderful sister)

Korean Madonna and child


I love the Gospel choir figurines

I love the Gospel choir figurines


Lithuanian display

Lithuanian display

Thai Madonna and child

Thai Madonna and child

I know the theme park across the street is supposed to be the happiest place on earth, but I’m not convinced.  I think the convention center during LA Congress time just might win that contest.


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