On Holy Days, Mike works for EWTN, directing the televised Mass from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Our family makes the pilgrimage to the Shrine early, well before Mass, because Mike needs the pre-production time to work. This leaves us hours to wander in the most beautiful church I know. I am so grateful that these regular pilgrimages are a part of our family culture and that my children have an intimate relationship with both the place and the people of Mary's Shrine.
Yesterday, it was very, very crowded. There were over 3.000 Haitians there to advance the cause for sainthood of Mother Mary Lange. They made for a very festive atmosphere. It was also a bit more overwhelming than usual.
We began with confession. The confessional is located right next to the Crypt Church on the lower level. There was a Mass being celebrated while we waited. My children love to go to confession at the Basilica--the confessionals themselves are "cool" but it's the priests who really win their hearts. We were there a long time, as the priests gave each of us extended time and attention. We traded off with Karoline, who found herself in the Basilica for the first time since learning to walk and was determined to show us all the places she wanted to go!
After confession, we went down to the bookstore and giftshop. Since the medals I had intended for the boys for St. Nicholas Day never arrived, I was eager to see if I could purchase them there. And I could! I also found a couple of Christmas gifts and thoroughly enjoyed poking through the display of Advent reading. The Advent devotional I had ordered for myself (which didn't arrive when the medals didn't arrive) was there as well. All the frustrations of the bad day were rapidly dissolving in the good one.
We went to the Great Upper Church and stopped at each little chapel to pray. The children chose one chapel in which to light their vigil candles.And Katie found her way to her favorite chapel where she threw pennies in the water and made new friends with other children.
Finally, it was time for Mass. As soon as the first strains of music began, Karoline started to scream. Honestly, I think she thought she was singing. But it was so high-pitched and so distinctive that the benevolant man running the television production, who was outside in the TV truck, winced when it hit his headset. And then, he turned to his colleagues and said, "I'm pretty sure that's my child." Thankfully, I had positioned us right by a stairway. I left the children and spirited Karoline back down to the lower church. I had plans to sit in front of the statue of St. Joseph and beg on behalf of a friend was moving yesterday and one who would dearly love to move very soon. But those prayers were said while in pursuit of a toddler who would have nothing of sitting anywhere.
In the center of the lower church, just next to the large crowd of disciples of Mother Mary Lange, was a very impressive exhibit of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Twentieth Century (note: the link says that there's an entrance fee; there is not). It took me a minute or two to absorb what this display was and then, honestly, I giggled. I drew the attention of an Easter Orthodox priest who looked up from a relic of St. John Maximovich and smiled at me. I pointed out to him that we were standing in front of a beautiful display of relics of saints of the Orthodox church which were being displayed in a Catholic shrine named for the Immaculate Conception and that the Immaculate Conception was a bit of a point of difference between the two churches. I asked how that display came to find itself there. He told me that the Basilica was the only place in DC that was large enough and open and friendly towards the display.We had a nice chat while I stood swaying Karoline. As soon as she was asleep,I took a few minutes in front of St. John Maximovich's hat to pray particularly for a family dear to that saint and then I crept back up to the church to join my children.
After Mass, I had hoped the Upper Church would clear out as it usually does. I had visions of having the Miraculous Medal Chapel to ourselves for a few moments. That was not to be. The mass for Mother Mary Lange was scheduled next and the great crowd from downstairs stampeded upstairs. Fortunately, Mike was finished and he found us at the Blessed Sacrament chapel. We gathered the troops and went back downstairs, truly just searching for any quiet , sort of private place a this point. We found the chapel of Our Lady of Brezje. There, our family made the consecration to the Blessed Mother and we gave the children their medals. Since I'm quite sure that it was providential to be in this particular chapel (there was no place else to go), I plan to learn a little more about Our Lady of Brezje this week. I do know that these words, quoted on the righthand wall, will provide much food for meditation: This is all I desire: to be where God wants me to be.
We left the Shrine and went to Chinatown for lunch. Mike's office is in the nearby neighborhood and he took us to a restaurant he knew well. He ordered an amazing feast and the children ate very, very well. Karoline charmed all the dear Chinese ladies and they kept bringing her little treats to eat. This provided just the diversion to allow us to catch up with Michael a bit.
After Chinatown, we wandered over to the National Christmas Tree. This momentous occasion marked the first time Karoline rode in what we now affectionately call "The New AAA Stroller," named for the trash company and not the automotive company, though both visited on that fateful day. We watched the trains and visited the nativity and saw each of the individual state trees. Mike and I ran into a friend from high school and caught up a bit. Patrick and Mary Beth are sure they saw Mr. Mitchell there but by the time they were able to interrupt me and see if they could go talk to him, they couldn't find him. Since I know he was in town this weekend, I guess it's possible that is indeed who they saw.It's a very small world. We stayed at the tree as the sun was setting and waited until it was lit. We walked past the White House and the children discussed what it would be like to play soccer on that lawn. Then we piled back into the van, picked up the other car, and took Michael back to school.
After leaving Michael, Mike surprised us with a stop at Dairy Queen. I am a huge fan of peppermint ice cream. I pretty much save all my ice cream eating for those few weeks of the year when there is peppermint ice cream to be had. And I am here to tell you that last night I learned that a Peppermint Chip Blizzard at Dairy Queen is the most amazing peppermint ice cream on the planet. I promise.
We arrived home just in time to plop in front of the television and learn that a homeschooler won the Heismann Trophy. We said our evening prayers, revealed the wee Babe in the candle, and went to bed. I told Mike it was one of the best days I can remember. To ice the cake, Karoline slept through the night for the first time ever. Takes a lot out of a baby to go on a pilgrimage:-)