Madonna House

Celebration: The Choice to Live in Light

by Catherine Doherty

True celebration, whether of Advent, Christmas, a birthday, or even the beauty of a flower, opens our hearts to God and is a prayer of praise to him. It is also a vehicle of evangelization. No wonder the purveyors of the culture of death want to eliminate Christmas—even secular Christmas.

When one talks about celebration, one must walk on quiet feet, for celebration doesn’t mean a big New Year’s Eve party with balloons, drinking, carousing, and in general creating a lot of noise to assure oneself that one is celebrating.

We must plunge deeply into that word “celebration” for it contains so much more than we usually attribute to it.

Celebration is the song of praise coming from the heart of a human being and going to the heart of God.

It is a song, a dance, a light that comes forth from a human heart that is totally ready to surrender to God’s will, a heart that has begun to regard each new surrender as a cause for greater celebration—even though this surrender may lead to suffering as well as to joy and gladness.

Celebration is a joy. But it is a type of joy that comes to you through passing through the arch of God’s pain. Factually, celebrating means bringing this joy and gladness into every step of our lives.

Once this new dimension of celebration opens before our eyes, life changes completely. Now we can bring to it, and into it, new ways of helping and serving our brethren in the Lord.

By our own celebration of all the events which the will of the Lord brings to us, we give courage and benediction to everyone we meet.

Celebration is a return to childhood. It is not the return of a regressive psychiatric patient but simply the ability to wonder again.

So many times have I watched our young members or visitors walk from the dining room over to their dormitory or the gift shop or the handicraft building or the office.

They never notice the beautiful blending of colors on the rocks that are covered with raspberries in the summer. Nor have they observed the soft and tender needles of the tamarack tree near the statue of Our Lady of the Snows or the great contrast between it and the pine trees beyond it.

In summer, some exclaim over the beauty of the rose bushes as they walk to St. Martha’s office, but few notice the yellow dandelions or the little violets that grow by the edge of the road.

It takes the eyes of a child to see all of this, the eyes of an adult-child, to wonder at the sight, and to hear in the depths of one’s heart the music of celebration.

It takes an “innocent” eye to catch the sparkle of sunlight on the waves of the river, to notice the violets in their grass cushion, to see the beauty of the tamarack tree … and to look at oneself, and to realize that oneself, too, is part of all creation. Everything is God’s unrehearsed celebration.

Celebration is best learned on our knees or on tiptoe.

Celebration is the dance of faith that man dances throughout his whole life, from birth to death. It is a beautiful dance with an ever-changing pattern of notes, now intricate, now simple.

Celebration is the expression of hope when man walks in darkness, seemingly without anything feeding that hope, except his dance of faith.

Celebration is love that brings to earth the song of praise, the sound of dancing feet. It is a light, which hope sheds in a total darkness.

It is imperative, then, that we learn to extend our hearts to embrace new dimensions of celebration.

Usually we think of it as song, as dance, or as light; we have many ways of thinking about it. As with all spiritual depths, though, we must not pause before one of its sunlit or shadowed landscapes and become overly entranced with the view. We must continue on, always going upwards unto the mountain of the Lord.

With every step of the way, the life of the spirit will embrace wider horizons and acquire new dimensions that we never suspected were there.

This pilgrimage up the holy mountain of the Lord is what our real spiritual life is all about—climbing to the heights of an untouchable mountain and, like Moses on Mount Sinai, meeting God there, face to face.

Yes, the heart of those who celebrate constantly will be able to celebrate the will of God in every event of life.

We have come to sick beds where people give out the clear notes of joyous song praising God. Sometimes it is people with terminal diseases who sing these Glorias and Alleluias, who radiate a light that comes from the candle of hope dwelling in their hearts.

When visitors enter the sick room of such a one, if they are filled with a sense of sorrow or even of despair, they leave with their hearts flooded with joy and hope, even though they may have abandoned all hope for physical recovery of the patient.

The person who is of joyous heart, who celebrates the will of God in everything, is equal to a choir of angels singing their Gloria in Excelsis. “Come to the stable. Come and witness the birth of Hope in human flesh.”

There are the great celebrations of the liturgical year: Christmas, Easter, Pentecost. Liturgy makes music in the heart, as memories are aroused of these wonderful deeds of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Liturgy is one great cry of celebration, so immense, so incredible, so ineffable.

Whoever celebrates the liturgy and fully and actively participates in it, never has a drab life. Life goes from celebration to celebration, moving to a music in which heaven and earth blend their voices.

For human beings, celebration must always be a part of the great festival days of life.

The Christian soul always moves in a rhythm of celebration, a beautiful rhythm of birth, baptism, communion, confirmation, marriage, priesthood, religious life, single life in the world, widowhood. These are major signposts in life; they call, cry out for, demand celebration.

Death, too, is a cause for celebration, for death is the greatest celebration of all. All of the other events of life lead up to it. Now the doors of the Kingdom are fully opened. The soul stands upon the threshold, surrounded by angels and archangels, by saints and all those whom the soul has served and helped throughout its life.

Yes, all of life’s great events are celebrated with him who has counted each of our days; and we celebrate in him. Those who fall in love with God have a happy heart and they walk in music that is both earthly and heavenly.

When all is said and done, celebration is simply love bursting open like a new apple blossom and spreading its perfume across the world in which it lives.

Come, then. Let us together, hand in hand, climb the mountain of the Lord so that we might understand better what celebration means. And let us start celebrating in earnest.

—Excerpted and adapted from Dearly Beloved: Vol. 3, (1990), pp. 66-73, March 5, 1976, available from MH Publications