Do you have any idea what if feels like to be pulled have a rope tied around your chest, or maybe a life preserver or harness, which is fastened to a line, and used to pull you up? Maybe it pulls you from out of the water where you float drenched, overwhelmed, cramped, and tired? Do you know what it feels like to be retrieved from an ocean, whose turbulent waters, you desperately try to navigate, only to realize in hopelessness, that you are overwhelmed? If you have, please tell me what that is like, because I have no idea what it feels like.
Except that it is the only mage I can use to describe what happens to me on Holy Thursday.
I have been quite honest with all of you that I “get” a lot of Catholicism, and other parts I “don’t get”. I’m quite big on some things, and not on others. I have preferences, and things I prefer not to do. I was joking with Fr. Carcar yesterday. We were talking about Lay Movements and BEC (subjects I promise you that I will return to later when they are more applicable). I told Fr. Carcar that I was going to start a lay movement and we where going to have the charism of not having a charism. We would be neither liberal nor conservative, but constantly go around to other movements and glean from them their charisms, never really committing to any set rule that could be identified by anyone. Fr. Carcar laughed and said “Why not! I like it.”
Of course the real reason “why not” is because no bishop in his right mind would buy into it a constitution whose community rule was to object to having a community rules. The Church is quite unlike Hollywood, in which Jerry Seinfeld could make a show about nothing that run for eight seasons.
Anyway, my point is that I enjoy Eucharistic Adoration, but not as my dominant modality of prayer. Holy Thursday is usually the one evening a year that pulls me in, and for some reason, I can spend hours just sitting in silence, before the Blessed Sacrament.
Today, I started the day attending the Chrism Mass with Pope Benedict in St Peter’s Basilica. The Mass was glorious, with the blessing of the oils used in Rome for Confirmation, Baptism, the Sick, and for Ordination. It was exciting to be in the center of Catholicism in the cathedral of all cathedrals, with the head of the Church, the Pope.
I have to admit, the experience of waiting in line to go to the Chrism Mass has caused to posit two new clichés for the world to use. The first is whenever you don’t really need something, say for example another task to do on a busy day. You can say, “I need another thing to do like Rome needs another church.” That is because… Rome really doesn’t need another church. The demand for churches in the city are adequately met with the 241 that it already has.
The second new cliché can be used whenever you see someone running fast. You can now say, “He was running faster than a nun to see the pope.” “Crazier than a nun trying to see the pope” also works. I mean no offense to the nuns who can’t run, nor the nuns who actually care very little for the pope, but I have to tell you how funny it is to see women committed to religious life, who otherwise are the beacons of charity, goodness, and love in the world, virtually rip one another apart, as they race to get the best seats in St. Peter’s Basilica. It is quite a sight to behold.
In the afternoon, I traveled to Perugia where a good priest friend of mine, Fr. Dennis Kiyenje, is stationed at San Biagio e Savino for the weekend, hearing confessions and assisting with holy week services. It was a joyful reunion for the two of us who have not seen each other in 2 years. I will see him for the rest of my stay in Rome.
Out here in Perugia, I attended the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with the annual washing of the feet at San Biagio e Savino parish. To see the pictorial I made of the parish click here. The amazing thing about Holy Week services are that they really make me feel at home. I didn’t know anyone in the parish except Fr. Dennis, but felt as close to my family, as the when I was forced to go to watch my brother lead the Eucharistic Procession at Holy Thursday Mass years ago.(I know that sounds like a negative analogy, but really it is quite positive in a spiteful way. I cherish the memory of seeing my brother’s agony as he was forced to wear a suit at such a young age.) Seeing the children at San Buigio e Savinot as they led the procession at Mass helped me to reconnect to my own childhood, and the sanctity of the holy rituals of Holy Week.
Fr. Dennis could not find another place for me to stay in Perugia, so after the Mass, we had to drive me to a residence attached to the Cathedral of Perugia, San Lazaro where I would spend the evening. I was somewhat disappointed, because I could not stay to do Eucharistic Adoration at San Biagio e Savino like I wanted to do. It is the one time a year where I find it very easy to sit and meditate. I’m usually the one who locks the doors at the end of the night back at St. Ignatius in Chicago.
So here I was, and thought, “The least I can do was work on my calorie intake.” I have to use the times in countries where food is abundant, to gain a few extra pounds for the times I’m in countries where I could easily get sick, or the food is less agreeable to me. I usually justify a beer or two as a means to get my sufficient calorie intake.
But then there was this door. It was open. It pulled me in.
It was the door to the Cathedral. The Cathedral was having Eucharistic Adoration. I went in, tentatively, and withholding even my breath in order to sustain quiet. God and I had a little talk. I’m tired and worn out. I’m lonely. I miss my friends back home. Being a pilgrim is not that easy. I see the future, and know that 10 weeks in Africa is going to put a bit of a damper on my spirits. Not that seeing millions of people suffer from curable diseases is ever easy, but why not follow that up with 18 weeks in South America with similar conditions? I’m thinking that I’m headed for one heck of a therapy bill when I get back to the States and I’m putting the blame on God.
I was not planning to go into the Cathedral. I was hoping to get a drink. Instead I was pulled in, and not only pulled in, while I was there I felt pulled in. I realized that the resources that I have to complete this mission, are not my own. It is obvious to me that they are coming from a power beyond me. I know that I don’t have the energy to keep moving, and yet, somehow, I am still moving.
It was ecstatic, to just sit there, and be. I didn’t have to say anything. I didn’t have to do anything. 2000 years ago, on the eve of his death, Jesus prayed in a garden, knowing he did not have the power to face what the next days brought. He prayed, and agreed to surrender to the will of God.
I’m not looking forward to death, and I don’t honestly imagine that my traveling will lead to my death, but I can tell you, I would rather not face the road ahead.
God and I had a little talk. It is in that talk that I remembered something that I’ve said before, but really haven’t owned very well. This isn’t my pilgrimage. It is God’s. I’ve got to get out of the way of my doubts and fears, and let God work with me. As long as I keep making it about myself, I will not have the energy, I will not have the strength, and I will not make it through.
Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, on Holy Thursday in Perugia, felt like I was being pulled, with a rope around my chest. Like I was being dragged out of the waters of hopelessness.
Even though I have no idea what that feels like.