a very sächsisch easter

I already talked a little about my Holy Week. But the awesome thing is that the fun didn’t end there!

Holy Saturday was appropriately low-key. I cleaned my apartment, I ate the rest of my hot cross scone, I cooked in preparation for the next day’s barbecue, I got a little bit of work done (booooo!), and I tried to stay in the anticipatory mindset of the holiday. Then I put on my Easter-iest outfit that could still conceivably include tights and a sweater because it somehow got really cold last week, and went to meet Felicitas and Nathaniel for the Easter Vigil!

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I love the Easter Vigil but I hadn’t actually been for a few years. I had gotten a tip from a friend to get there 45 minutes early, at least, if we wanted a good seat. So we got there around 50 minutes early feeling super on top of it only to find an almost completely full church! We grabbed what seemed to be the last 3-person-sized spot available, in the second-to-last row. So we waited, we saw the light slowly dim outside, we scrutinized our liturgy program for the Vigil and compared the English and German translations of the psalms and responses.

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The Mass itself was beautiful. There’s just nothing better than the lights finally coming on and the bells ringing as you sing the Gloria. Pure joy. When I finally made it home around midnight, I couldn’t fall asleep because I was so hyped up and joyful.

However, it was important that I get to sleep somewhat on time because my Easter Sunday started bright and early! I was meeting my host parents near their house in Bühlau, 40 minutes away, at 8 the next morning, so I did plan on waking up early, but the lovely church on my block had other plans for me… when it decided to ring its bells for a good 20 minutes at 5 AM as opposed to its usual 7! Regardless, I was on my way bright and early. The Brauns picked me up from the bus stop and we headed north of Dresden to see the Osterreiter.

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The Osterreiter (Easter Riders) is an annual parade, of sorts, that happens every Easter in the Sorbian region north of Dresden. The Sorbs are an ethnic minority that live in the area around Bautzen, about an hour from Dresden; they speak a Slavic language, Sorbian, that to me sounds a lot like Polish but I’m sure it’s quite different. The Osterreiter are men from the area who don traditional dress every Easter morning and ride horses along stretches of the region, processing around churches in each town, all the while singing Easter hymns in German and Sorbian.

It was quite a sight to behold!

It was really cool to me to see how this ethnic minority passes its culture down to the younger generation… there were Reiter of all ages, and you could tell which of the younger boys were riding for the first time because they wore special green wreath pins.

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We ended up seeing the Reiter in three different towns… twice on purpose, and once because, as we tried to drive back to Dresden, the road was blocked because the parade was scheduled to come through any minute, so we figured we should go ahead and watch them again!

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It was also really cool being in the Sorbian region because it’s a heavily Catholic area. The Sorbs are Catholic, and nearly all of the houses in each town had yellow and white “Catholic” flags hanging about, or alcoves with statues of Jesus and Mary displayed, or crucifixes or statues of saints along the streets (like I used to see in very-Catholic Baden-Württemburg). It’s crazy the different culture and lifestyle that exists only about half an hour away!

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Besides seeing the Osterreiter, the Brauns and I had a very lovely day. We stopped for a little picnic between watching the parades–Frau Braun had baked an Easter loaf, which was delicious, and we ate fruit and drank juice and tea and it was perfectly lovely (though it would have been smart of me to eat breakfast before leaving).

Herr Braun’s daughter Gaby was with us for the day, too… I think she’s a year or so older than me and I enjoyed talking to her about agriculture (she’s an avid gardener and studies agricultural topics, which is a “fringe” academic interest of mine) and cultural exchange (she’s been an au pair in England and Italy).

We also stopped at the Neschwitz Castle nearby. As far as castles go, it wasn’t incredibly large — which was good for our short little quarter-of-the-day trip. A noble family used to live in the house, and it was undamaged during the war (if I remember correctly). DSC04976DSC04984

On our way back to the car, the “Easter Bunny” hid some chocolate for all of us — so we had a little hunt on the grounds. I came away with a nice stash of chocolate eggs for the week (or however long they last… we’ll see).

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I headed back to my apartment in just enough time to check my e-mail, grab the cole slaw [with bacon] I’d prepared the day before, and meet Flitzi and Nate, again, to head to our Easter barbecue! We were the only ones of our friends who didn’t go home for Easter, so we created our own party and invited a few other international folks Felicitas had met at a DAAD conference last weekend. It was a fun time! We ate a lot, talked a lot (in English, score after a full morning of German conversations) and had a wonderful time! I’m glad that grillen season is here, because the Germans love nothing more than grilling up some bratwurst while drinking beer and I am very much in favor of this pastime.

The only picture from said event... the result of using a plastic fork while grilling

The only picture from said event… the result of using a plastic fork while grilling

On Monday, still a holiday in Germany, the celebrations continued, if you can imagine! Still among our small group of “lonely English speakers,” we had a perfectly lovely Easter brunch. Omelets, English breakfast tea, leftover cake, and sparkling wine from Felicitas’ family’s winery in western Germany… perfection.

Easter is faaaar from over… it’s still the Easter Octave, so technically it’s still Easter Sunday until next week! (Yay Catholicism!) So my Easter will still include a trip to Rome for the double canonization this weekend, and a reunion with Daniel and my friend Wayne! You can bet I’ll be writing about that, too, so stick around! 🙂

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a little Holy Saturday reflection

Things have been a little quiet here the past few weeks… starting up classes [luckily I’m only taking one seminar and one lecture this semester], working hard on my second chapter, and now observing Holy Week.

This Holy Week has been full of little blessings for me.

I was able to go to Confession for the first time since I’ve been in Germany. I’d been scared away by the language aspect of the thing, but it had been a while and with extra Confession times at the Cathedral this week, I figured I’d better go for it. And, as with many “firsts” in German, I walked away surprised at my language ability (and, this time, with a clean soul, in addition!).

I went to Holy Thursday Mass with my friend Anna. Holy Thursday is one of my favorite liturgies of the year and I have to say, I think this one was the most beautiful I’ve ever been to. The bishop presided, and the homilist gave a wonderful reflection about how Jesus longs for us, and especially that he longed to give us the Eucharist, which was the last thing he did before he was arrested.

(This thought was completed the next day, when I realized that the last thing Jesus did in his earthly life was give us his mother. Mary and the Eucharist, two of the greatest sources of life in the Church!)

Of course there was incense, and the joy of the last bells before Easter was especially present because of how often the German church uses bells! It was a shock to hear the clanging of wood at the Consecration instead. [Unfortunately, the church outside my window is Lutheran and the 7 AM wakeup calls are still in effect.]

Good Friday came with perfect gloomy, rainy weather for the occasion. I tried to make Hot Cross Buns in following Good Friday tradition but something went wrong and the dough didn’t rise, so I settled for a slightly misshapen but still tasty cranberry loaf that, for future reference, would do well as scones. The Good Friday liturgy was also beautiful; honestly, it’s encouraging to see a completely packed church, especially with the knowledge that Dresden is a very unreligious city.

The biggest blessing of Holy Week for me came in the form of an e-mail shortly before I went to bed on Friday: news that I had received a fellowship for the 2014-2015 year that will cover all of my graduate school expenses, plus a stipend for travel!

Last year, I found out about my DAAD scholarship on Holy Thursday. Clearly, God sees that I am beyond subtlety, and he knows he has to hammer home the point: “This is a blessing. This is from me. Believe and don’t worry.” 

Two weeks ago, the Gospel reading at Mass was the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. That story jumped right out at me, not because of the main narrative but because of Martha, Lazarus’ sister who was so angry and upset that Jesus arrived too late to save her sick brother.

I identify with Martha every time she’s mentioned in the Bible because I am a planner, a doer, a Type A personality in almost every way. In every situation, I analyze all the possible outcomes, figure out how things could work better, try to micromanage every detail to work in my favor. So, naturally, that’s how I’ve approached many of my big decisions in the past: my college choice, summer jobs, relationships, graduate school… It’s definitely good that I’m detail-minded, but it means that often, I lose sight of the big picture and especially of the fact that ultimately I’m not in control.

The past few weeks, even as I’ve been following my Lenten practice of reading Scripture every day and making little sacrifices here and there, my mind had been racing with this plan and that plan: Where will I live in Wisconsin? [ultimately, that one’s been resolved, too.] What to do after my Master’s? Did I even pick the right program? Should I have applied again this year? Why am I going so far north, so far away from home? What kind of job do I even want? How do I know that I’ve made the right choice about any of this?

I got an e-mail from the graduate advisor at Wisconsin asking whether I’d found funding. But I hadn’t, despite my best efforts. Well, despite a few efforts… were they my best? I’d applied for one award and come away with $1000… good, but definitely not as much as I needed. I’d applied for a TA position, but one that would interfere with an important class. Other than that, I hadn’t given funding much of a thought. So naturally, that led to a whole other chain of worries and questions.

But then, I learned the real reason for my advisor’s inquiry… I had been awarded a fellowship! For the amount of my full tuition and expenses! I hadn’t applied for this; hadn’t submitted the optional interest letter for it. It is simply being awarded to me.

And then, I realized. I’d spent the past two days re-living our Lord’s passion and thinking about what wonderful blessings he’s bestowed on our world, and here he was blessing me in exactly the way I needed. By providing me with a plan, and one that is clearly superior to any that I could have imagined for myself. In my life, that’s how He’s spoken to me most clearly: in the midst of my confusion and doubt about the future, He has illuminated the right path for me, if only I have the courage to wait for it to become visible.

This fellowship is no “raising my brother from the dead,” but it will do for now.

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St. Martha, pray for me (and my future Hot Cross Buns)

the best week in the history of ever

First of all, a very Happy Easter to everyone! He is risen and He is so, so good.

I started off my morning with Mass, Easter Vigil at 4:30 at the Uni-Kirche. It was inhumanely early but also supernaturally beautiful. I have gone to my fair share of Easter Vigil Masses, and it is one of my favorite liturgies of the year, but something about celebrating it in a different language, in a different country, made this one significant. Also, one of my best friends was concurrently becoming Catholic in Austin at the UCC’s Easter Vigil, so that was another great reminder of how awesomely UNIVERSAL the Universal Church is!

Besides the greatest thing to ever happen to the world, I am excited about this week for a few other reasons. First of all, I (finally!) get to register for classes at UT. I know you’re excited about that. I can hear you all celebrating from here.

But what’s really exciting is that I get to go on an awesome adventure this week! I am beyond pumped. Because of this adventure, I will probably not get to post as often as I have been doing recently, so I’ll give you a pre-departure run-down of my week so you know what’s up.

Tuesday morning, I depart Freiburg for the great city of Munich (or, auf Deutsch, München). My plan as of right now is to take myself on a walking tour of the city, go to the city museum, and see one of the palaces of the old imperial family. I also have a few restaurants and biergartens picked out, and if time permits, I might go over to the famous Cinderella castles (aka “Mad” King Ludwig’s castles, aka Neuschwanstein and Linderhof). We’ll see about that… if I don’t get there this time, I will definitely go later on in the summer.

One site I’m passing on this time is Dachau. I definitely want to go at some point, if not to Dachau then definitely to Auschwitz while I’m in Poland, but a trip to a concentration camp by myself does not sound like the most solid choice for my mental health. Regardless, I would appreciate the intercession of Fr. Kentenich and St. Maximilian Kolbe for safe travels, please!

Now, München is supposed to be a cool city and all, and I’m really excited to spend a few days exploring there. But it’s kind of an after-thought to this trip, to be honest… the main event begins when I fly out of München to ROME, ITALY!!! The eternal city!

Once I get to Rome, the plan is to immediately leave. No, really. I’ll be spending the night in a small town about 3 hours outside of Rome where my friend Melissa is finishing up her semester. Because Melissa has an exam on Thursday and can’t make it to Rome yet, I’m going to spend that afternoon and evening with her. We’ll head into Rome the next morning to meet up with our other friend, Monica, who is studying in Milan. (My friends are so international… love it.)

The rest of the weekend is, for us and for thousands of other Catholic pilgrims, devoted to the amazing life and witness of Pope John Paul II, who is being beatified on Sunday, May 1 (the Feast of the Divine Mercy… I can’t get over how perfect it is!). The weekend will come to a head on Sunday morning, when Pope Benedict will celebrate the Beatification Mass.

I am so incredibly honored and ecstatic that I actually get to be in Rome for this event and to attend the Mass proclaiming the greatest man my generation has seen to be “Blessed.” (I mean… tell us something we don’t know!)

I can’t wait to spend some time with friends from back home, to explore two of Europe’s greatest cities, and to celebrate my last week before classes start! This is going to be a great week, y’all. Stay tuned for pictures!

Reasons Why I Included This Picture: 1) I am roughly this excited about this week. 2) Melissa is second pretty lady from the left! 3) I got to dance to Katy Perry with Michael Noriega via Skype this morning. 4) I am currently wearing this dress. 5) Why the heck not?

P.S. A very happy birthday to my Dad, who has made all of these adventures possible!