Holy Saturday: what a weird liturgical moment. It’s that unexplained double-space between the psalmists lament and prayer of thanksgiving. Just a blank line with no text and everything changes. In the cosmos, we know Jesus is defeating the forces of sin and death, but we’re waiting. Holding our breath, crying, hoping, despairing who knows how to even go about feeling today? I read a great poem for good friday several years ago, Salvator Mudi Via Crucis– and in my sweet-I’m-a-sophmore-in-college-with-lots-of-feelings head decided the best way to process holy saturday would be a poem.

Here is the good poem: (about Good Friday)

Salvator Mundi: Via Crucis
Denise Levertov

Maybe He looked indeed
Much as Rembrandt envisioned Him
In those small heads that seem in fact
Portraits of more than a model.
A dark, still young, very intelligent face,
A soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging.
That face, in extremis, would have clinched its teeth
In a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions.
The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him
That He taste also the humiliation of dread,
Cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go,
Like any mortal hero out of his depth,
Like anyone who has taken a step too far,
And wants herself back.
The painters, even the greatest, don’t show how,
In the midnight Garden,
Or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross,
He went through with even the human longing
To simply cease, to not be.
Not torture of body,
Not the hideous betrayals humans commit
Nor the faithless weakness of friends, and surely
Not the anticipation of death (not then, in agony’s grip)
Was Incarnation’s heaviest weight,
But this sickened desire to renege,
To step back from what He, Who was God,
Had promised Himself, and had entered
Time and flesh to enact.
Sublime acceptance, to be absolute, had to have welled
Up from those depths where purpose
Drifted for mortal moments.

 

I’m a terrible poet. But I still struggling to get my hands on Holy Saturday and some of these same themes keep popping up. Don’t judge this on the theological terminology or style of poetry, please: I was 19 and painfully fond of parenthetical asides in poetry when I wrote it. I have no idea why. But I’m still kinda partial to the ideas. Anyway- this one’s mine:

Salvatore Mundi: Silence
3.22.05

What came then?
How was it next: when the Face had gone?
Because, what can it really mean;
what remains when the fingers and toes seem to have abandon us?
And what are we to do on the day He leaves his definition
to be a vestige of a oddly written history.
How can this silence, this vast frightening nothingness
signal the return to omnipresence, to Love?
Maybe it is true, their stories of the veil rent into pieces;
perhaps the sky did turn black,
and boil with unspeakable glory (as so many imagine).
But i saw, as Elijah touched, we too will hear.
As the beloved one and the rock, we will see
He is not there.
The crashing and rending and quaking of words is not Him.
He is the silence
where the Woman weeps.
He is the silence
in the rooms of the helpless clinging to one another, locked away.
He Was; Is; will Be, the door never opened.
(the need for such a movement, now dismissed.)
The gates splinter under the weight of glory:
Creator breaks into creature: then assumed, now redeemed.
“It is finished”:

silence.

 

By and large, the Advent season and Christmastide are heavily Marian. I have no complaints about this. I’m a Marian devotee and rosary collector through and through. So I would like to think that her intercession, along with the grace of her Son, who happens to be God, that should be credited with my growing devotion to her most saintly spouse, St. Joseph. Ever since preaching on St. Joseph for my ordination sermon a few years ago, I can’t shake a burgeoning devotion to him.

Enter: the Feast of St. Andre Bissette, a brother of The Holy Cross (cheers to my favorite order), and a devotee of St. Joseph. St. Andre’s greatest virtues mirror that of his patron, Joseph– obedience and obscurity-especially in the face of burdens, pain, and frustration. When people asked St. Andre for help, the ‘miracle man of St. Royale’ never pointed to himself, but to Christ and to the intercession of St. Joseph. I suspect it would have been easy for Saint Andre to let the miracles and healings “raise him in the ranks” of the world. Not only credited with miracles and healings, St. Andre raised the funds and supervised the building of the Oratory of St. Joseph, the largest shrine to Joseph in the world. Not too shabby. Clearly he lacked no charisma or force of character. Which makes his self-imposed holy obscurity all the more impressive, but what else would we expect from a man devoted to St. Joseph?

St. Joseph’s story, or the very little of it contained in scripture, points not at all to him, but to his blessed wife and especially towards his foster Son. Joseph is a good man, not immaculately conceived and not the rose of Sharon. Joseph isn’t translated into heaven or assumed or even wheeled away in a golden chariot. There’s no proto-evangelium of James to tout Joseph’s awesome family. Nope. Joseph is a good man, in the Genesis 1 sense of the world good. If all generations call Mary blessed, they might equally call Joseph good. Joseph hears God’s call. Joseph does what God says. Rinse and repeat as long as is necessary to raise the Son of God. Pretty normal, excepting the part that he’s God’s foster-father, not just any foster-father.

Not many of us are called to be Marys, I suspect. Most people aren’t immaculately conceived. Most of us are ordinary, plain, and obscure. If it weren’t for twitter and blogs we couldn’t even delude ourselves into thinking the world really cared about our thoughts and opinions. Our greatest deeds rank on the lists of simple and ordinary goodnesses. We’re not the “ring bearers,” to use a nerdy Lord of the Rings reference. We are the gardeners in Hobbiton. But the ordinaries have a part to play too we bear of our holy friends. We can’t carry their special holy deeds for them, but we can carry them. Through our prayers with the prayers of the saints, we lift others up to claim their vocations in God. Through our care and compassion, we help our friends who labor to bring Christ into their lives. Through our love, we build a home for Christ and his servants in the spaces of our own lives. Not too shabby for a bunch of obscure simple folks.

Were it not for St. Joseph, a good man and for St. Andre, his devotee, it might be easy to look at superstars of the faith and say, “pin a rose on your nose,” before going our merry way. We may not all be the shining stars of faith like Mary or the great patriarchs and matriarchs in Hebrews 11, reflecting the brilliance of the Son with in your face virtue and grace. That’s the beauty of St. Joseph and the ordinary grace to which we are all called. Some of us embrace our God-given identity along with the St. Josephs and brother Andres of the world who live in the painfully obscure light of God with all the obedience and goodness God helps us muster.

After all, Mary wouldn’t have got very far without St. Joseph.
St. André and St. Joseph, pray for us.

Stitch in Time

May 28, 2011

Yesterday (Friday) we traveled to visit Acamujeres, a women’s co-op in Zaragoza, a mid-sized town about 45 minutes from the central part of San Salvador. About 40% of El Salvadorians live below the poverty line (that means they earn less than $200 a month), with women and children being the most vulnerable and adversely affected demographic of the population. Women are especially vulnerable because their husbands and boyfriends often move to the US to find better work, effectively making them single mothers. Some men get there and are able to send some money back, but due to the difficulties of boarder crossings and anti-immigration laws many of the men do not or can not support their families. Micro-finance and small co-operatives are beginning to catch on, especially among women, as a means to provide for themselves and their children as well as offering skill sets to other women with which they might lift themselves and their families out of abject poverty and debasement.

After hearing about the co-operative’s organization and history and eating an unbelievably delicious lunch prepared for us by the women, we each received a small piece of embroidery to work on and were sent out in small groups for afternoon home visits where we finished the embroidery. I and two other classmates went with a very sweet lady named Esmerelda and her 8 year old son, Daniel, to sit on their porch, embroider, and talk. When I say porch, I mean, small cinderblock room for eating dinner and collecting rainwater because there is no plumbing. When I say talk, I mean Esmerelda talked, we listened. I don’t understand much spanish, but with the translating help of one of the students with us, Esmerelda opened not only her home but her life story to us. As I sat on her porch in the warm central- american afternoon stitching away at a flower, Esmerelda wove the story of the civil war in El Salvador around us, telling us about her family, their flight from the army, her father’s imprisonment and their eventual settlement in Zaragoza as an attempt to hide from the people pursuing her family. All the while we sat and sewed, with her interruptions, laughs, and patient corrections.

The most surprising thing about the afternoon came after she asked us what one thing we would ask God if we could meet God and ask something. After we each stumbled through something, still digesting the incredible story she wove for us, our friend who spoke the best Spanish asked her, “and what would you ask?” After all this- pain, suffering, sorrow, joy, love, hope, rebellion, overthrowing a government, an absent husband, starting a mirco-finance co-op in the middle of poverty stricken Zaragoza where the pipes carry no water but the bills continue to be collected — after all of that– her question for God was, “How do I raise my children so that they will live in the way God wants them to?”

The one question- ‘how do I raise my children so that they will live in the way God wants them to?’ seems to reflect back to so many leaders the real issue at stake in our ministry, whether lay or ordained. I succumb to the ‘leadership industry’ sometimes. Even with its overkill on hair-product, skinny jeans I will never fit into, and emphasis on mocha bars above liturgical lovin’ even I fall prey to the desire to be one of “those” leaders churning out programs and formulas that will save what we can no longer deny appears to be a dying church. But listening to Esmerelda today, I learned the one question worth asking God in the midst of chaos- whether it be capitalistic overindulgence or a civil war for the rights of the poor, “how do we raise our children, our people, so that they will live in the way God wants them to?” Maybe I can embroider that and put it over my study desk. If that’s not the fundamental question for any model of pastoral leadership, we’re probably wasting our time.

Love from El Salvador,
A

Celebrating Mass today at La Divina Providencia evoked an incredibly intense and intricate knot of emotions and thoughts. Here, in this very spot one of God’s saints (though officially titled “servant of God”) offered a most full imitation of Christ when he was martyred for his identification with “the least of these,” God’s beloved children the poor. Three weeks out from my own commissioning (for higher church folks, that’s roughly akin to a transitional diaconate- we call it commissioned elder) I couldn’t help but think of Romero, himself a young priest once, coming home to El Salvador without any thought of what might be asked of him as he shepherded God’s people. He knew only the “little way” of Love and yet offered so great a gift not only to El Savadorians but all God’s people with his self sacrifice of poverty and life itself.

In such a holy place, full and running over with memories of pain and joy, love and fear, the most profound sense of the mass was for me its very ordinariness opening a door through which the most extra-ordinary events of Romero’s death, and ultimately the mystery of our Lord Christ’s death and resurrection, could be encountered, engaged, and emulated. Daily Mass follows its own almost unchanging rhythm, day in and day out, from one season to another. It makes the alleluias disappearance at Lent and reappearance at Easter really pop. When we say some parts in latin we are reminded of the solemnity of the season. The celebration of the Lord’s Word, spoken and poured out needs no added gravitas, but speaks with its own voice through out time, steady and constant. Indeed, the very constancy of the liturgy provides the solid ground to stand upon while each experience of worship offers us new insights in the few changes made to the rhythm or the changing cycle of scripture read.

I thanked God for that consistency today, some solid ground upon which to stand in God’s grace. The sacredness of the place, so overwhelming, could only be encountered, at least for me, through the steady rhythm of the ordinary worship of God, the same daily pattern followed by the Archbishop, God’s grace manifested itself in an encounter with the truly extraordinary love of God. Each movement and word could take on new life not because an insatiable human need to pour words into a holy silence by “saying something” or making the moment solemn. The very ordinariness of the liturgy opened human eyes and ears, tongues and hands to receive the blinding, deafening, dumbfounding grace of God.

A malleable worship certainly offers strengths for engaging an ever changing world. But we must be mindful of our quick changes, lest we loose the ground upon which we must stand if we genuinely desire to offer the constancy of God’s love to a people always facing new moments. I fear that if we forget to train our tongues, hands, and spirits in a search for malleability, we may find ourself dumbstruck, pitifully unable to receive the wild holiness with which God sometimes speaks.

Above: The altar at which Monseignor Romero was celebrating Mass when he was martyred.

I flew out for El Salvador with several other ND students this (I think it’s still Thursday) morning about 5am. We’re here to study both the history of the Church in El Salvador and the preferential option for the poor as it works in base communities on the ground. While I am here for the next few days, I’m trying (the operative word there is try) to blog some of my experiences as a sort of mystagogical discipline, engaging some raw reflections on my experiences during the trip. I imagine other days will be slightly busier than this one later in the day, but hopefully I will carve out a few moments each evening for a posting.