My brother and sister and I used to joke about the fact that when we were kids, our family went back to the same Wildwood Crest motel year after year, ate at the same Italian restaurant while we were there, and even ordered our annual Sicilian pizza and zeppolis from the same businesses on the boardwalk. We were creatures of habit, which on the surface may seem dull but in reality is exactly the kind of thing that makes for lots of happy memories.
Dennis and I now take our own children to North Wildwood year after year. We stay in the same condo, order from the same seafood take-out restaurant, like certain pizza places on the boardwalk and one particular hot dog joint that serves veggie dogs for the non-meat eaters in the family. We have created our own vacation rituals that are now on the kids’ “must-do” list every summer.
This year, as we were sitting on the beach trying to decide which of our usual haunts to visit later that day, Dennis said, “Do you think one day the kids will look back at this and joke about how we went to the same places every year?” And I shot back, without a second’s hesitation, “No!” Because, despite the fact that my siblings and I would joke about it now and then, the truth is that those summer rituals gave us lifelong memories, memories so strong that I want my own children to experience them.
When we walk on the boardwalk, it’s the same boardwalk I traversed as a teen-ager. When I stare out at the ocean, I think back to the walks I took along those same shores with my mother, of the crowded but happy beach blanket filled not only with my immediate family but grandmothers and cousins, of long car rides with too much stuff piled into every crevice of our big Ford Galaxy.
Rituals are important in life. They serve as touchstones that remind us of people and places that hold special spots in our hearts. They give shape to our lives and, often, order to our days. And just as family rituals bind us to our biological heritage and connect our past to our future, faith rituals bind us to our Church family and connect us to the Divine.
The stained-glass windows, the incense, the prayers of the Mass said day after day, the hymns and holy water, the candles and statues – all of them combine to create rituals that not only feed our spiritual lives but leave a lasting imprint on our hearts and souls of what it means to be Catholic.
Sadly, we’ve give up on a lot of the rituals that make both family life and faith life special. Fast food has replaced big family meals eaten slowly around a kitchen table. Statues and stained glass seem old-fashioned to our modern sensibilities. But as we shed the physical ties that bind us to our families or our faith, we lose critical connections.
When I give presentations on the Catholic faith at conferences or parishes, I focus heavily on rituals because the increasing disconnect from the so-called “bells and smells” of Catholicism today plays a big part in the larger disconnect from the faith in general. We’re only human after all, and we need those tactile traditions to help us make that giant leap toward heaven. Rituals are not just nice; they’re necessary.
Before summer is over, try to rediscover some rituals from your own past – perhaps one family ritual and one faith ritual – and see for yourself just how special they can be. It may be something as simple as flying a kite on the beach, but it’s bound to touch you in deep and maybe surprising ways, reminding you of times gone by and, perhaps, leading you home.
2009 Copyright Mary DeTurris Poust. All Rights Reserved.