If you axe me….

photo 2

My girls, looking lovely for Mardi Gras 2014; and me, pitifully trying to look local.

Re-post from 2014. 🙂

It’s Lent now, but I wanted to take a quick retrospective and remember Mardi Gras day!

Now that we have been in New Orleans for nearly 2 years, I can confidently say, along with my wife, that I have fallen in love with this cultural island. Really. Truly.

I told someone up North how much I loved NOLA (New Orleans, LA), and they said with a slight hint of sarcasm in their voice, “Why?

It’s hard to say exactly why. Mostly it’s intangible. It certainly has to do with the good friends we have made here, but it also has something to do with the tangled mix of religion and culture. Like a good Bond martini, they’re shaken together, not stirred. Vice and virtue, wealth and poverty, race and genders cohabit in inexplicable ways. When I think of my brief experience here thus far, I think of a great menagerie of sumptuous food, plenteous drink, dazzling colors, meandering rivers, lazy bayous, irreconcilably diverse personalities, Cathedral square voodoo, mirror-hanging rosaries, the breastbone relic of Blessed Seelos, messy beignets, to-die-for Po’Boys, cultic football, devoted extended families, street corner jazz, Mardi Gras parades, abundant feasting, sudden fasting, crisscrossing canals, random gators, CC’s coffee, local accents that I simply cannot replicate, smooth Abita Amber beer, a mean Sazerac and oh so many other things. Local Catholicism can truly be defined the way James Joyce did in “Finnegans Wake,”

Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody.’

American author and devout Catholic Walter Percy aptly described NOLA’s island-like identity:

New Orleans is both intimately related to the South and yet in a real sense cut adrift not only from the South but from the rest of Louisiana, somewhat like Mont St. Michel awash at high tide. One comes upon it, moreover, in the unlikeliest of places, by penetrating the depths of the Bible Belt, running the gauntlet of Klan territory, the pine barrens of South Mississippi, Bogalusa, and the Florida parishes of Louisiana and ending up in the French Quarter.

But it was after reading Earl Higgins’ very funny The Joy of Y’at Catholicism that I was confirmed in my love. His book plays wonderfully on these irreconcilably reconciled elements that constitute what Flannery O’Connor would call this Christ-haunted, though not necessarily Christ-centered, Catholic culture. And there’s just something about this culture that, if you let it, pulls you in no matter who you are or where you’re from. As Higgins says it, “In New Orleans even the Jews are Catholic!”

Since I am a born and bred New Englander, steeped in a more or less pragmatic, sacrcastic puritan ethos, maybe my greatest joy here is simply reveling in quelle différence!

Someone sent me this fun and upbeat music video reflecting on the local character of New Orleans. For fun, I’ll share it with you today:

13 comments on “If you axe me….

  1. Sherri Paris says:

    What a fun video! I have never been there but, would love to see it sometime! Our DRE is from there. Have a blessed week! ☺️

  2. Chrissy says:

    Great summary! I loved NOLA got a long time and often can’t explain why I feel so at home visiting on sporatic vacations over the years. Its way cool how deep the faith roots are that the schedule of events is based on a liturgical calendar of sorts. Bourbon St is all anyone hears and it’s sad because there is so much more!

  3. Victorious Love says:

    Lousiana is my first love! There are many beautiful deep ties to such a unique place. I have been blessed by spending adventurous summers there with my cousins. As well as spending time with good priest friends who introduced me to the bliss of Cajun dancing. I believe this is one of the many myriad expressions of Jesus jubilant love!
    I hope you have experienced the sheer joy of this with your bride. If not I encourage you to step out and permit yourself to be swept away into the crazy Cajun fun! 😄

  4. Rev. Mark Moretti says:

    Good afternoon Tom!! I was really amused reading your take on your adopted city…it reminded me of a quote attributed to Cardinal Josef Ratzinger in the book “The Ratzinger Report”. Taking a break from the heavier theological content the book intended to cover, the author light-heartedly asked the Bavarian prelate if he thought it was the work of the Holy Spirit that the Catholic Church became geographically centered in Rome instead of Germany 🙂 Instantly sensing the humor in the question, Ratzinger whole-heartedly agreed. He said if the Church had been centered in Germany, it would have gone out of existence a long time ago! As the two men chuckled over their coffee, Ratzinger opined that the Italians have a special way of taking the ups and downs of human life…with all of it’s joys, sorrows, laughter, tears, triumphs, tragedies, heroism and sheepishness with equal grace…something that is not readily apparent in the linear way of thinking that is so emblematic of German sensibility.

    His observation was borne out on a pilgrim visit to Rome with my parishioners. Looking out the window of the bus, I saw glorious Saint Peter’s and a modest family shrine in the same view. Little Italian nuns strolling past two heavily engaged lovers on a blanket in a park. Earnest workmen next to healthy men on the dole. Modern office buildings adjacent to open-air fruit markets. Fabulous five-star Michelin rated restaurants next to little corner cafe…and, of course, the ever present Chinese restaurant to cap it all off:) It seems that Rome and NOLA have a lot in common.

    An orthodox and faithful Church that can in some organic way embrace these seemingly contradictory elements of life can truly say it has earned the title “catholic”. Wouldn’t you agree??

  5. Ona says:

    Rio has a similar sort of appeal. Come visit sometime!

  6. Thomas jordan says:

    What a medley of flavors your life and sweet family is!

  7. Judy Svendsen says:

    I loved your post!! I miss NO!! We loved our 3 years there! As I was reading what you wrote, I so agreed!! You have made me really want to visit NO again!! Nicole was born there and we haven’t been back. I would have to say it was one of my favorite places to live! I loved the people, the food, etc. Maybe one of these days we can come visit. As one of those “North” people who lived there, I totally get it!! Love NO and the Neals!! Miss you both!!

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