Why Mardi Gras Means Life--And Death--To Me

Mardi Gras week brings it all back.

Memories of my mother sewing ten matching costumes for her gaggle of children to wear on Mardi Gras day. The pre-dawn fried chicken cooking sprees, where Mama prepared enough of the delectable bird to feed ten hungry children for a long day of parades. The bountiful bags of beads, sweet aroma of fresh swirled cotton candy, and marshmallow-laden hot chocolate on which we always managed to burn our mouths.

For many of us, Mardi Gras is replete with an avalanche of happy memories as we again kill the proverbial fatted calf and remember that as prodigals, it is a last day of feasting before our foreheads assume the black ashes of Lent and death.

Mardi Gras also evokes another remembrance for me: hearing the sound of revelers celebrating loudly in the streets as I stood over the bed of my dying husband, Bernie, eight years ago this week. As I simultaneously stared down death in the I.C.U. and listened to Carnival marching on, the paradox of life and death, celebration and fasting, lavishly living life in preparation for stripping, was all too clear.

For while it seemed a bit offensive that a massive party rolled on as my husband lay dying, there was a welcome infusion of comfort in knowing that Fat Tuesday’s grand party precedes Lent and Good Friday, and that the marking of those times ultimately gives way to the celebration of the God-man’s victory over death. In fact, there is probably no clearer juxtaposition of the themes of life and death in the liturgical calendar (aside from Good Friday and Easter Sunday), than Fat or “Shrove” Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans—and all Fat Tuesday celebrations around the world—are about just that: holding the tension in the reality that consuming robustly of the fat of the land is but a preparation for the words spoken over us the next day: Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19). And those sober words are the precursor to the Easter acclamation: Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia! Life and death; death and life, all rolled into one reality that reminds us not only of our sinfulness and mortality, but of our exalted call to eternal life with Christ.

Eight years ago, Mardi Gras was for us the beginning of the culmination of a long season of stripping that took Bernie and me through three different hospitals over 87 excruciating days, as we simultaneously fought for life and prepared for death. On February 20, I followed an ambulance through bumper-to-bumper parade traffic at 10:00 o’clock at night to pursue one last ditch effort at a life-saving intervention for him. “No hope,” we were told after a thorough evaluation, and the process of letting go began in earnest. Life support was disconnected as parades rolled by, and our large, extended family began to make their way to the hospital to say goodbye.

All good things on this Earth must come to an end: every celebration, every Mardi Gras, every life. Our faith tells us that that there is a rhythm written into this existence, one that is connected by new beginnings and necessary endings, by rejoicing and grieving, by physical death and eternal life. Both elements are essential, and both must be kept bound together in all of their paradoxical glory for this world to make the least bit of sense. In fact, Mardi Gras without Ash Wednesday denigrates into an outrageous pagan ritual, just as Good Friday without Easter Sunday mutates into a meaningless absurdity.

Mardi Gras means both life and death to me. Lent is fast approaching, and indeed, we shall fast. But for now, we will celebrate the feast.

This post was previously published at Aleteia.

Requiescat In Pace



I feel called to share this excerpt from Miracle Man on the sixth anniversary of Bernie's death.  I wrote this final "Bernie Update" to our family and friends days after his funeral on the Feast of St. Joseph.  The Miracle Man taught me all about persevering love, and our journey together infused my being with Holy Hope… the hope that is borne of suffering and birthed through love.    Bernard Joseph Klein, rest in peace.

March 22, 2009,  Final Update

Dear Friends:

Bernard Joseph Klein was buried on the Feast of St. Joseph on Thursday, March 19, 2009. When we awoke, a dense fog covered the area, but by the time we arrived at Our Lady of the Lake Church, the sun had broken through, ushering in a glorious sunny day. It is difficult to share what is in my heart, but I would like to give you a glimpse of the day in Bernie's honor.

The funeral liturgy was absolutely beautiful, as we were graced with the angelic voices of Kitty Cleveland and the St. Scholastica Academy Choir under the direction of a most gifted pianist and friend, Sharon Scharmer.  Fr. John Talamo, Fr. Beau Charbonnet and Fr. Robert Cavalier honored us by presiding over the liturgy, and their presence on the altar in gold robes made present to us Christ's priestly presence in heaven—sacred, redemptive, all-powerful. I have never been so happy to be Catholic as I was on Thursday. I stood in awe and wonder as I watched the rich symbolism of the funeral Mass unfold, reminding us of Bernie's baptismal vows, his presence at the heavenly banquet of the Lamb of God, his marriage to the Eternal Bridegroom. As sad a day as it was, it was equally joy filled thanks to the consolation of the hope of heaven, and the love of our family and friends—all tangible and very real to me as I stood in the church with the symbols of heaven before my eyes surrounded by people who love me, Bernie and our family.

When the funeral Mass ended, we processed to the cemetery of St. Joseph Abbey, where many of the monks and priests of our archdiocese are laid to rest. It is holy ground, full of silence, prayer and majestic oaks. As we drove up to Bernie's gravesite following the hearse, seven Marines stood at full attention waiting for his arrival. It took my breath away to see them standing there and to remember how proud Bernie was of serving in the Marine Corps—the place where he found his personal gifts and his identity as a man. A twenty-one-gun salute and "Taps" followed our prayers, along with the folding of the American flag accompanied by Kitty's gorgeous voice singing "Amazing Grace." It was a moment none of us will soon forget.

 After the services concluded, we made our way to the home of our dear friends, Angele and Gary Darling. Gary is an incredible chef and he laid out a delicious banquet for us, including his famous Jamaican Jerk Chicken Salad and Mediterranean Hummus. We ate, laughed and cried as we remembered Bernie and his unique personality. A gentle wind blew through the French doors that were open throughout the house, and the Holy Spirit was very present as we shared a meal and fellowship in remembrance of Bernie. I returned home that evening with my heart full, feeling as though I had been to a wedding reception instead of a funeral. It was a happy ending to a day I had dreaded and prayed against for months —the funeral of my spouse.

 As I write these words, my heart is full of gratitude for Bernie's love and life. I am grateful for his illness and for three months spent in a hospital room filled with tender moments of love and grace. I am grateful for the outpouring of support, love and prayer that came forth in the midst of such a profound personal tragedy. And I am grateful to God for his faithfulness, and for the reality that he continually seeks after us, wooing us with opportunities to know and embrace his Fatherly love. In the end, that was what this journey was all about—for Bernie and for me.

Thank you for your love and for carrying Bernie on the wings of prayer into the arms of Our Lord. I am eternally grateful, and I know he is too.

With love and thanksgiving.


Finding The Ultimate Pleasure Park

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We live in a world where pleasure-seeking has become a highly prized ritual. And we keep upping the ante on what constitutes “pleasure.” Sado-masochism is being normalized, evidenced by the immense popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Addiction is rampant, and kids are smoking more than “plain old pot.” They are, instead, indulging themselves in cheap, synthetic marijuana, guaranteed to give both an outrageous high and a psychotic break.

The stakes are going up, and so are the consequences. I’ve gotten five phone calls in the last few weeks from desperate mothers trying to figure out what to do about their drug-abusing children. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that our societal disorder is escalating. So, what in the world is the answer?

I was praying about our collective cultural quandary the other day, and quite frankly, my heart was heavy. I decided to meditate on where it all began—the place where sin, chaos and disorder first entered the world. I began reading Genesis and glanced down at the footnote for Genesis 2:8, where the Garden of Eden, paradise, is first mentioned. I was stunned to learn that “Eden,” translated literally from the Greek, means “pleasure park.” Well, I thought, that explains everything!

Human beings first resided in a pleasure park, and it was positively delightful. Teeming with love, life and light, God’s blessing rested everywhere. Banished from paradise due to original sin, we’ve been trying to recreate Eden ever since. We seek endless pseudo-pleasures to fill the void, yet we avoid the one thing that can bring us real fulfillment.

Because here’s the thing: the bliss of paradise consisted in being in God’s presence, and in enjoying an intimate love relationship with Him. Paradise cannot be found outside of the Divine Presence—no matter how wildly we seek it elsewhere. St. Augustine, who discovered this personally, said it this way: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

It’s not surprising that the less time we make for the pleasure of God’s presence, the more frantic and chaotic we become in trying to fill the God-void. Busyness is epidemic today, as we chase after endless activities, trying to do it all. On occasion, when we’re “still,” we plug ourselves into any number of gadgets that consume our attention.  The endless noise makes it impossible to find interior silence, the place where Presence dwells and the sacred space into which God speaks.

How do we get back to Eden? Where do we find again God’s life, love and light? We must cultivate the garden of our soul, and we must be intentional about doing it.

There is no substitute for spending time alone with the Lord daily, where we speak to Him, become still and listen for His voice.   God asks each of us, every day: “Where are you?” and He wants us to honestly tell Him. He yearns to uncover, possess and penetrate our hearts, and He wants us, in turn, to unveil ourselves, remove our fig leaves and let Him come in.

The secret to finding paradise is simple, yet it comes with a cost. If we “waste” time in God’s presence, and seek Him for His own sake, the place of delight will unfold from within like a beautiful garden. And the pleasure park it contains will surprise and satisfy us with its sweet, healing fruit.

A Tomb With A View

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I know, it’s Lent. And I’m out of sync with the liturgical calendar. But I’ve been meditating on the Resurrection in my Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, and something really struck me recently. It involved Peter, John and the tomb of Jesus, which Mary Magdalene had just reported she’d found empty. The two apostles ran like lightening to see it for themselves, and John, being faster, arrived first.

When he got there, the beloved disciple merely bent down apprehensively and peered into the dark grave. But then he stepped into the tomb, and he truly came to believe. Suddenly, John saw things from a completely new perspective, and he understood what it meant to rise from the dead (John 20:8-9).

How often have we peered into the tomb of our lives, standing on the edge of real or imagined “death,” looking in and fearing the worst? How many times have we gazed into the black hole of our dreads, afraid that we might fall into the darkness? I’ve done it a thousand times, and I’ve learned firsthand, it’s deadly.

Truth is, we cannot know the power of God to raise us from a thousand deaths until we step into the tomb and experience the power of the Resurrection. That shift in perspective is precisely what constitutes hope.

I’m watching hope unfold in living color in the life of my son, Christian, and, oh, how it makes my heart smile. I remember five short months ago when Christian came home from Communita Cenacolo, the place he had called home for four years. Leaving the safe confines of the cloistered community that saved his life and delivered him from addiction was a frightening prospect. He was anxious about how he would take care of himself, and had no idea where he was going or what the future held.

“How am I supposed to do this?” he asked, understandably scared about how he was going to make it on the outside. I had agreed to follow Community’s wise counsel of letting him find his own way, and of not rescuing him from his own life.

“You do it by doing it, Christian,” I assured him. “And with God’s help, you will learn that you can do it.”

God quickly opened a door for him to go to Wyoming—back to the youth ranch where he had lived for a year as a fourteen year-old boy. He was offered a job there earning minimal pay and working long hours running a house full of troubled teens; boys that I knew would provide a mirror image of him at that age. He took the job and packed his bags, leaving my house with a sack full of qualms and “what ifs” on his back. My heart ached as I watched him peer into the tomb of his life, and all I could do was pray and trust that God would take care of him.

Christian’s legs were wobbly when he first stepped in, just like when he learned to walk. But he moved into his fears with faith, and his legs grew stronger. With each step forward, his faith and strength grew, and the hope in his voice increased.

“I’m doing it, Mama,” he shared yesterday, as I told him how proud I am of him. “And it’s not as bad as I thought.”

Peering into the darkness can be terrifying, and we tend to imagine the worst. But stepping into the empty tomb and experiencing the power of the Resurrection convinces us that Jesus has, in fact, overcome death—both His own and every death we face. We may know this theoretically, and even believe it in good faith. But it is only in experiencing this reality personally that we can come to know the force of the Resurrection, a force that moves stones away and blows boulders out of our lives.

Empty Tomb By Kodi Tanner

Lent: You're Invited!

Photo Credit: Kate Palana, Flickr Creative Commons

“What are you giving up for Lent?” my son, Christian, asked me today. “Meat,” I said (among other things, but I’ll save that for next week’s blog).  Being a huge carnivore like me, Christian responded, “Wow, that will be a really good sacrifice.”

But more than giving something up for Lent, I believe the Lord calls us to do something more for Lent. And by more I mean that we are called to take an honest look at ourselves during Lent—at our doubts, our poverties, our attachments and at what gets in the way of our relationship with the Lord.

Lent is not a time for superhuman feats, where we strive to be “spiritually” faster, higher and stronger, as they say in the Olympics. It is, instead, a time for supernatural exposure, where we quiet ourselves before God and ask Him to help us become slower, lower and weaker. When we get slower, lower and weaker, God can move in our lives with His strength, perfecting His power in us in and through our weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9). That description of God’s movement sums up the story I tell in my book, Miracle Man, where God miraculously and repeatedly demonstrated His power at a moment in our lives where my late husband Bernie and I were at our lowest and weakest.

With this in mind, I am offering a free Lenten Reflection Guide that is meant to prompt honest prayer, reflection and spiritual growth during this holy season. The Reflection Guide, which provides thirty-three short Lenten meditations (one to go along with each chapter of Miracle Man) is available as a free download on my website at http://memorareministries.com/chaos-free. By reading one short chapter of Miracle Man each day in Lent and pondering the corresponding reflection question, I hope that you will realize the happy reward of attaining a better understanding of yourself and a deeper relationship with God.

Reflection Guide Img

I wrote Miracle Man to remember the miraculous ways God worked in our lives, and to encourage others to trust in what God can do for them, too. It is my hope that in praying through Miracle Man and the Reflection Guide this Lent, God will unveil your eyes to see His power working in your life. And that He will help you make room for more.

Get a copy of Miracle Man here.

Get a FREE download of the Lenten Reflection Guide here.

Lenten Virtual Book Tour

I also want to let you know that I will be launching a virtual book tour this Lent. Many thanks to the wonderful folks who will be interviewing me and reviewing Miracle Man! I really hope to connect with you all during this tour and hear how God is working in your lives.

Please join me at memorareministries.com/virtualbooktour to see where I’ll be visiting and how you can participate.

With prayers for grace and growth for all of us this holy season.