Goodbye 2013!

Yes, it has been a while since the blog got something to eat so what better day to feed it than the last day of the year. Today is the day where social media goes a bit mental. People post their thoughts, their experiences, their joys, their sufferings of 2013. Many hope for a better 2014 and are quick to bid adieu to 2013. Some see the 1st of January just as 'another day' in the calendar to get through, nothing special. We are all very different when it comes to marking events. Personally, I see New Year's as being significant for stopping to take stock of life: to look at the year past and thank God, to entrust the coming year into His hands, come what may! Usually the 31st of December is a day of prayer and silence for many of our communities throughout the world. This helps us to cultivate gratitude and also our need for the Providence of God in all things.

My last three New Year’s Eve and Day have been spent in three different countries and each of them very different. Two years ago I was still in Dublin where New Year’s Eve sees many people come to our Adoration Chapel throughout the day to pray silently and then gather later to see in the New Year with midnight Mass followed by a party. It is always a blessed event and one can confess finding it hard to concentrate with all the fireworks going off when the clock strikes midnight. Last year, I was ‘celebrating’ with my sisters in Staten Island, New York. I say ‘celebrating’ because I was confined to bed, nursing a fever and bad flu with congestion, hoping for a 24hr miracle as I had to fly back to Ottawa two days later! All was well.

This year is no different and has its experience and story too. Returning from New York on Sunday last to Ottawa by car was interesting in itself. I do hope to write something about my trip to New York in another post. The next day I was on the road again and headed for Montreal to spend some time with the sisters there. In Montreal we have two communities, one attached to the Liturgical Apostolate Centre which is situated in the city centre. This is where I usually stay on my visits to Montreal. The other, which is located more towards the airport, is home to some of our elderly and sick sisters. However, to ring in the New Year, both communities unite and celebrate together so I wish you a Happy New Year from the second community. 

 "Benediction paternelle"
Artist: Edmond-Joseph Massicotte
It is always nice to come to know the traditions of various countries and today I had the opportunity to experience a tradition which is typical of the Quebec area: the paternal blessing (benediction paternelle) for the New Year. On this day, children go to their father and ask for the blessing of the New Year. We all remember the Bible story of Jacob and Esau and their trying to obtain their father's blessing, by hook or by crook!  So, perhaps it had its genesis there, in the Old Testament. In old Quebec the paternal blessing was one of the most moving times of the New Year. It reaffirmed the father’s authority and preceded the mass which the entire family attended before going to share a meal with the grand-parents. It was a significant gathering at which the following prayer was generally recited:

May God bless you and grant you health and happiness throughout the coming year, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some of our sisters have their mothers still living so it is customary for them to call them by telephone and request the blessing. After Mass this morning, our chaplain gave us this blessing to our little community. However, later we would receive both another ‘paternal’ and ‘maternal’ blessing.

We gathered for the solemn Vespers on the eve of the feast of Mary, Mother of God. During the Christmas octave we make a special effort to sing all the antiphons, the psalms and canticles, responsories, and even the intercessions. It is very beautiful. This evening, after the short reading, we paused for reflection, inspired by a text from Pope Francis. After this, there was a time for each sister to express aloud something from 2013 for which they were grateful. It is always very humbling to hear each other thank God for his graces and it helps each one of us to remember that we are pilgrims along the way together and that we share the gifts which we receive with each other. Gratitude was expressed for the gift of each other, for the declaration of venerability of Mother Scholastica Rivata, for the spiritual exercises as Pauline Family, for a deeper understanding of priesthood and priestly ministry, for Divine Providence, for the Canadian Delegation, for the missionary sisters, and much more.

With Mary, we offered our Magnificat, mindful also of our Founder Fr. Alberione’s invitation to always ‘sing the Miserere together with the Magnificat’. How true this is, as we look at the graces received, we give thanks as we ask forgiveness for those graces which we did not open our hands to receive. At the conclusion of Vespers, we sang the beautiful hymn of the ‘Te Deum’, the long version at that, which is customary in our Congregation. It evokes a real sense of being thankful for every little thing. After this, the Canadian Delegate, Sr. M. Christiane, invited each sister to come forward to receive the ‘maternal blessing’. This was prayed by signing a sign of the cross on each sister’s head with holy water, whilst reciting the prayer from the Book of Numbers:

"The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! "

After Vespers, we gathered for a festive supper which included the tradition Italian pannetone! A small glass of champagne helped us in our toast to the New Year and also allowed me the occasion to teach the sisters the word ‘slainte’! After this, it was time for some recreation, time to relax and spent time together as sisters. Our sisters are very creative when it comes to recreation and we were very much entertained. From a form of ‘pass-the-parcel’ with oven gloves, that is, trying to unwrap a gift with oven gloves on (try it…it is so not easy!), to a relay race with popcorn and straws, laughs were had and even prizes were won! To wind down, we watched the movie version of the “Apocalypse of St. John”, which was worth watching though I don’t know what kind of dreams I will have tonight.

It was good to be back in community again for a few days. Yes, I look at each one of my sisters and I wonder what the future holds. Some sisters have many health problems yet keep smiling and working for the mission. Old age creeps up faster on some more than others, often attacking the mind and this can be very humbling. This is the pilgrim way, to walk with each other, in sickness and health, in good times and bad. This is the crucible where love is purified. We may not know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future. The question is if we are ready to trust in God!

Wishing you all a wonderful happy, healthy and holy 2014!