Monday, April 30, 2007

Child's Play

After morning Mass, he sidled up to me in all his three-and-a-half-foot glory, hands in his jean pockets, hazel eyes twinkling and said, "Can I come over to play at your house?" I looked down at his smiling face, freckles like brown sugar sprinkled across his nose and cheeks, how could I say no? Though there were a thousand things clamoring for my attention, somehow the prospect of children's happy noises was a welcome one.

I bent down toward him and said as solemnly as I could, "Would two o'clock this afternoon suit?"

"Oh, yes," he answered emphatically. And the smile that I thought would break his face, grew even larger. Off he bounded to his brothers, curly paprika-red hair bouncing with each step.

"She said yes!" he declared triumphantly to his brothers. The three boys rushed toward my daughter standing at my side, grabbed her hand and dragged her outside to celebrate. His mother, mortified, came up to me and asked tinged with not a bit of desperate embarrassment, "What did he say to you??"

I laughed as I reassured her. Relieved that her son didn't ask anything embarrassing, she was pleased to have some time to herself while the boys were at our house.

The doorbell rang a little after two. When I opened the front door, the three boys were pressed against the glass of the storm door with grins that could have melted the sheet of glass between us. Within the blink of an eye, if that, the shoes were discarded and they had flown up the stairs to the second storey. Did their feet touch the floor at all? Oh, to have joy like that to make the mundane task of going up and down the stairs into a exercise in defying gravity.

Soon, the floor is strewn with Playmobil princesses sitting down to dinner with Confederate soldiers. Unicorns trot alongside bunny rabbits. Union soldiers guard the Magi's box of gold for the Baby Jesus. Whole worlds and stories are lived out in my livingroom. I return to the kitchen to bake the children some cookies.

Soon, all is hushed and I hear the oldest boy say, "The Lord be with you."

"And also with you," answer the rest.

"The Gospel according to John," he continues solemnly, "now Jesus went into Galilee and he saw people there. They were hungry and he told them to sit down and then he fed them."

I slowly creep back to the livingroom and surreptitiously peer in. This is deeper child's play, these children who attend daily Mass, their souls nourished by the liturgical action that is now being mirrored.

"This is a miracle, you know. God does that. Miracles. Like feeding lots and lots of people."

Indeed. Our Daily Bread, give us this day.

What do children miss, when they're relegated to the nursery? From their infant days, my children were always with me in church. I had my Mary Poppins bag full of books, crayons, papers, little soft toys, and we would sit in front so that they could see what was going on. They learned quickly what was acceptable behavior. People used to come up to them to compliment them on their exemplary behavior.

Recently, there was discussion why our parish didn't have a nursery or a crying room. I was gratified to hear mothers speak up to say that children belonged in the church learning the liturgy, and that children who don't participate grow up to be adults who don't participate.

So, at daily morning Mass, it gives me immense joy to see very young children right alongside adults, the whole spectrum of generations come to greet the Lord on this new day.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Rilke on contemplating Rome

I don't know how much I'll be able to blog whilst in Italy. I hope to at least post a picture or two every other day. Somehow, spending time on a computer (that prosaic daily activity to which we're tied) while in the midst of much to do and see seems like a waste of precious time. But, there's also the idea of joy extended when others who can't be at the glorious sites can share the experience through the extended lens of the internet. So, I'll have to find a way to balance it all.

My parents are perturbed that we're returning after a year-and-a-half since our last trip. I find it amusing since they lived in Rome in their salad days, and would have reunions with university friends in Rome every so often. But I think since we're bringing all of the children, there's an element of danger that unsettles them.

Embedded in all this is that age-old struggle that parents have of how to view their adult children. There's still the memory of the irresponsible youth that has to be melded into the present reality. I should bristle, but it's all endearing to me. I try to reassure them and tell them what a great opportunity it is for the children and to remember when once they saw with wonder the Baths of Caracalla, or the Catacombs of San Callisto, or St. Peter's Dome.

Anyway, if you were to ask me who the influences were in my writing, one would have to be Rainier Maria Rilke. His ability to capture living breathing moments with words that shimmer and sing with the beauty of internal cadences...well, I'll just stop here and let you read.
+ + +

~from a Letter to a Young Poet, October 29, 1903 [paragraph breaks added for readability]

We arrived in Rome about six weeks ago, at a time when it was still empty, the hot, the notoriously feverish Rome, and this circumstance, along with other practical difficulties in finding a place to live, helped make the restlessness around us seem as if it would never end, and the unfamiliarity lay upon us with the weight of homelessness.

In addition, Rome (if one has not yet become acquainted with it) makes one feel stifled with sadness for the first few days: through the gloomy and lifeless museum-atmosphere that it exhales, through the abundance of its pasts, which are brought forth and laboriously held up (pasts on which a tiny present subsists), through the terrible overvaluing, sustained by scholars and philologists and imitated by the ordinary tourist in Italy, of all the disfigured and decaying Things, which, after all, are essentially nothing more than accidental remains from another time and from a life that is not and should not be ours.

Finally, after weeks of daily resistance, one finds oneself somewhat composed again, even though still a bit confused, and one says to oneself: No, there is not more beauty here than in other places, and all these objects, which have been marveled at by generation after generation, mended and restored by the hands of workmen, mean nothing, are nothing, and have no heart and no value; - but there is much beauty here, because everywhere there is much beauty.

Waters infinitely full of life move along the ancient aqueducts into the great city and dance in the many city squares over white basins of stone and spread out in large, spacious pools and murmur by day and lift up their murmuring to the night, which is vast here and starry and soft with winds. And there are gardens here, unforgettable boulevards, and staircases designed by Michelangelo, staircases constructed on the pattern of downward-gliding waters and, as they descend, widely giving birth to step out of wave. Through such impressions one gathers oneself, wins oneself back from the exacting multiplicity, which speaks and chatters there (and how talkative it is!), and one slowly learns to recognize the very few Things in which something eternal endures that one can love and something solitary that one can gently take part in.

I am still living in the city, on the Capitol, not far from the most beautiful equestrian statue that has come down to us from Roman art - the statue of Marcus Aurelius; but in a few weeks I will move into a quiet, simple room, an old summerhouse, which lies lost deep in a large park, hidden from the city, from its noises and incidents. There I will live all winter and enjoy the great silence, from which I expect the gift of happy, work-filled hours. . . .

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A pride of lions

from The Book of Kells

from the Lindisfarne Gospels

from the Book of Hours

On this feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist

This Lions 'blog celebrates today's feast of St. Mark the Evangelist. Oh to be in Venice today.

Catechetical Lectures

~from St. Cyril of Jerusalem's Catechetical Lectures

Disciples of the New Testament and partakers of the mysteries of Christ, as yet by calling only, but ere long by grace also, make you a new heart and a new spirit, that there may be gladness among the inhabitants of heaven: for if over one sinner that repents there is joy, according to the Gospel, how much more shall the salvation of so many souls move the inhabitants of heaven to gladness.

As you have entered upon a good and most glorious path, run with reverence the race of godliness. For the Only-begotten Son of God is present here most ready to redeem you, saying, Come unto Me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. You that are clothed with the rough garment of your offences, who are holden with the cords of your own sins, hear the voice of the Prophet saying, Wash you, make you clean, put away your iniquities from before My eyes: that the choir of Angels may chant over you, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. You who have just lighted the torches of faith, guard them carefully in your hands unquenched; that He, who erewhile on this all-holy Golgotha opened Paradise to the robber on account of his faith, may grant to you to sing the bridal song.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Practice makes perfect

I have a violin and piano recital next month a few days before we leave for Italy. I haven't performed much in the past year, concentrating mostly on sacred music in the parish setting. So I'm in a slight panic. There's nothing like the bareness of a stage save instruments and performers to strike fear in one's heart....especially if you're that performer. Even worse, if it's Mozart on the program. Worse still if you've not had much chance to really practice seriously.

So what am I doing to prepare? It may sound odd, but I've been playing Bach Toccatas and Fugues. There's nothing like the perfect architecture of a toccata to bring discipline to unruly fingers that have been playing typical church fare for the last six months. Marty Haugen isn't exactly conducive to maintaining fitness.

I remember years ago when I was working through a Mozart piano concerto, a girl came up to me and said rather snidely, "Oh, Mozart is easy. So's Bach. Give me Rachmaninoff any day." I was too chagrined to say anything clever as a rejoinder. It's one of those episodes that I keep replaying in my mind and wished that I had said, "Sure, yeah, Mozart's butcher that is." And I in that scenario would've flicked my hair at her and walked away. Alas, that was not so then, and here at present, I just hope that I don't butcher Mozart.

Practice makes perfect. Slow and easy. Which is what I tell my children when they try to practice cadenza passages in dizzying tempos and get tripped and snared in all the notes. Slow and easy. Something I have to heed for myself.

The neophytes in Mystagogia will start gathering for rosary prayer. Some have said that they're having difficulty remembering where all the prayers go, let alone keeping all the mysteries straight. I don't know if they expected that Easter Vigil would have turned on some proficiency switch, but I tell them not to be afraid of making mistakes and that it's perfectly alright to have a printed guide on their laps while they pray. We practiced saying the rosary in class throughout the past year, which must have been a bit like learning the parts of speech. Now they're learning to string those words together and trying to be grammatically correct at the same time. Someday, eloquence will come. Slow and easy, I say to them, with persistence. Soon they'll gain mastery and pray from the heart. For now, they tease, they'll pray awkwardly together.

I'm happy to see them learning the great devotional prayers and have their sponsors help them along the way. Some of the class members have started attending the rosary prayers at church. So much has happened to them this year, and maddeningly continue to happen to them. They'll need the prayers, especially the rosary, to get them through difficult days ahead.

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of death.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Freedom to Choose

One of the saddest things I've heard from people entering RCIA is, "My parents didn't raise me in any religion telling me that they wanted me to have the freedom to choose."

In the latest round of inquirers, there are a number of them with this story. There is deep sadness in them as they related the sense of being on the outside looking in. It may have sounded noble to their parents' ears to pass on the choice to them, but what pierces me is what one said, "I wonder if I had had God in my life if I would've avoided the stuff that I'd done."

I told him that, yes, indeed, God was and is present in every moment of his life. And the fact that he had walked through the doors to join RCIA, was in response to God's calling him. I quoted St. Augustine (an oft-quoted passage, I understand, but for those who've grown up without the company of the saints and angels, it's clear as clarion): You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

So we spoke about holy longing, touched a bit on God's grace, and discussed why they were particularly drawn to the Catholic Faith. They mentioned how counter-intuitive it was, especially here in the South where there's a Freewill Baptist Church round every corner, literally. And all of them said, "The Eucharist draws me."

For all the casual Catholics in my parish, I wish I could pair them up with one of these who earnestly seek communion with the Church so that their hearts may be stirred from a complacency about the most precious thing that they possess. During the Elevation of the Host, I want them to gaze in astonishment and say, "My Lord and my God."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Child Art

My daughter at eight is a devotee of Fra Angelico. She scrutinizes his works and the fruit of her contemplation is readily seen in her sketches. She began drawing at the age of two, the simple primitive circle faces with stick arms and legs. The archetypal circle people soon gave way to more expressive faces, so that at the age of three, her sketches told whole stories. She was and continues to be prolific in her work, which I cannot bear to throw away, so I have dutifully kept her drawings in a trunk which is soon to be full. She has art journals scattered throughout the house, one that is strictly for meditating on the life of the Virgin Mary, another that is for the Passion of Christ, one for her girly-girl princesses and their adventures, one for the warrior princesses that battle dragons, and another for processing daily events in her life.

I, being a fan of Italian Renaissance art, have a huge collection of Madonna images that I've found via the internet. She loves to sit on my lap and look through each of them. We'll tell each other the stories that the pictures seem to be telling us. And later on, she'll share with me her latest interpretations of the Crowning as Queen of Heaven, or the Annunciation, or the Nativity, or an ordinary day in the life of a Blessed Mother with the baby Jesus in a backpack and Mary baking a cake.

Soon, I know that she'll need formal art lessons, and though I've given her some simple art lessons, I love her easy, unconscious natural style. I see my role as helping her see as an artist sees...the soul of story. I want her to continue learning how to see with her innocent child's eyes the different layers that a story presents. With formal art lessons, her focus would have to shift to the mechanics of drawing...and there, I would miss the rich pictures of Mary and her constant companions of angels, one holding up a cookbook while Mary stirs a pot, another angel holding open the door to the oven, and the orchestra of angels holding various instruments serenading Madonna and Child. I know these are fruits of the rich interior life that my daughter has, a love for Our Lady and the Babe given for our salvation. Her schoolwork has been turned into illuminated manuscripts. Her division problems are hidden in the body of dragons, while her solutions are borne upon crusading warrior princesses' broadswords.

I gave her this book, Saints and Angels by Claire Llewellyn for Christmas. It has become her most treasured possession which she carries with her everywhere she goes. Do yourself a favor and buy this book. Here's a site to preview its contents. Since receiving this book, my daughter has started expressing her own interpretation of the Litany of Saints.

Next month, we will be spending three weeks in Italy, and prominent in our itinerary is San Marco Convent in Florence where there is a treasure trove of Fra Angelico paintings. I cannot wait to see her face light up when she sees the paintings in real life.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Habemus papam--a call to conversion

When Gerald posted my conversion story last year, The Anchoress said that technically, I came into full communion with the Church. While that may be true, there was a change of heart that necessarily had to take place--a letting go of the pride that kept me still rooted in the Episcopal Church. My coming into the fullness of the faith was a long process from the first impulse 10 years ago. So here's what I wrote last year ahead of the first anniversary of coming home to Rome.

It was the day of the words, "Habemus papam!" on April 19, 2005, that electrified me and led me to call the local Roman Catholic parish the next day. Before that, the weeks of John Paul's illness increased the longing to become Catholic, but still something held me back. Perhaps it was a reluctance to let go of Anglo-Catholic worship. But at John Paul's death and subsequent funeral, I felt as if I had missed something. Watching then-Cardinal Ratzinger during the Funeral Mass, I sensed with an overwhelming certainty that he would be the next Pope and that I would be standing at St. Peter's Square before the year was out.

The days leading up to the Conclave, I found myself scouring the internet looking for conversion story after conversion story. It is said that people convert for one of two reasons, the beauty of the Sacraments or the Truth in the Magisterium of the Church. What was drawing me? What was breaking down the walls of my own resistance? I pondered the meaning of Jesus Christ's Real
Presence in the Eucharist. As an Anglo-Catholic, I believed in the Real Presence, yet I was surrounded by people who didn't. Is it really just personal preference? If the consecrated bread and wine weren't truly Jesus' Body and Blood, what were we playing at every Sunday at the altar?

The turmoil within the Anglican Communion and the depressing dead-end political fights which shoved Truth to the side left me in despair over where I should go. Over and over I asked myself that if Jesus prayed that 'they would be one' as He and the Father are one, why, oh why were all these churches fracturing? And why was I considering going to yet another branch-of-a-branch-of-a-branch that had split off from the trunk? Lord, to whom shall I go? Going to another off-shoot must surely be offensive, must give lie to the prayer that Christ prayed for his disciples.

So, early in the morning of April 19th, I thought to myself that the Conclave would take some time, so I could unglue myself from the television. I met with a friend who was seeking guidance in his discernment to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. I was explaining to him what the Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders meant and he looked at me quizzically and said, "You better watch out or you'll end up becoming Catholic." To say that
I was floored was an understatement and I left that meeting feeling as though I had been exposed and all my longing was laid bare. When I returned home and switched on the TV, there was the white smoke. For an hour as we waited for the announcement, I prayed and wept, knowing that I stood on the edge of a precipice. Would I have the courage? What will happen on the "other side"?

"Habemus papam!" declared the Cardinal Deacon with joy. The crowds roared with gusto. I knew then that I must become Catholic. When the new Pope Benedict XVI appeared on the balcony, there he stood, the visible sign of God's enduring presence with His Church, keeping the promise that He would not allow the gates of hell to prevail. How could I stay where Truth was casually treated, and where adherence to the faith once delivered was scorned as being intolerant?
So, goodbye to private judgment, I said to myself, goodbye to being my own pope. Time to place myself under the Magisterium of the Church.

And as I took that "leap of faith", that affirmation of what had been a quickening revolution in my heart, it wasn't a hard landing after all. For there was Christ waiting for me all along. This past year has been full of unexpected graces and I am grateful to be where I am. What took me so long? I echo St. Augustine, "Late
have I loved Thee, O Lord." There are days that I feel giddy with happiness, and others, I am filled with sobriety in understanding the struggles within the Church. But I have found strength in the Catholic devotions, and discovered a deeper desire to know God, though I have followed Him all my life.

This letter at Pontifications by Al Kimel brought back so many of the memories of that April morning. I commend it to you, "A letter to an inquirer", as a response to someone inquiring entry into the Episcopal Church yet reluctant to leave behind the Catholic Church's sacraments. He touches on so many things that I wrestled with. If I do regret anything, it is not coming into the Church sooner. But I take comfort that my comings and goings are all in His hands. And yes, I did make it to St. Peter's Square before 2005 ended. In fact, while in Rome, I spent a few evenings strolling around the Piazza looking up to the Papal Apartments and saying, "Thank you, Papa. Sleep well, tonight, sweet Vicar of Christ."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Litany of Saints

One particularly moving part of the Easter Vigil is the Litany of the Saints while the catechumens solemnly process to the baptismal font behind the Paschal candle. This year's class was large, so the procession lasted for a long time, the choir chant accompanying them all the way.

Holy Trinity, One God, pray for us.
All you Holy Angels and Archangels, pray for us.
All you Holy Patriarchs and Prophets, pray for us.
All you holy Apostles and Evangelists, pray for us.
All you holy Disciples of the Lord, pray for us.

Yes, all you holy men and women, pray for us, as Mother Church gives birth to these new children of the Light.

Our choir director likes to weave the names of catechumens' patron saints. The class had a long year to choose their saint. Choosing the right patron saint was a transformative experience for several of the class members who came from evangelical backgrounds deeply suspicious of the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints. Truthfully, I had expected that some of them would eschew a patron saint.

But they all threw themselves wholeheartedly to the task with the guidance of their sponsors. My fears were dispelled when I caught snippets of conversations among themselves on the process of choosing. Thank you, saints in heaven, for your myriad prayers.

So, yes, St. Gabriel, pray for this mother and her children as they must live in a violent home. And, too, for this young unwed mother in a dangerous pregnancy.

St. Clement, we invoke you for this young man desiring to be a priest, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for this young woman who will soon be a teacher.

Lord, be merciful, save your people.
From the snares of the devil, save your people.
From anger, hatred, and all ill-will, save your people.
From everlasting death, save your people.

For here again, we hear news of deaths of loved ones for class members. And sorrow continues to haunt us.

By your Cross and Passion, save your people.
By your Death and Burial, save your people.
By your holy Resurrection, save your people.

And news of cancer burdens some of these your infants in the Faith .

Strengthen and preserve us in your holy service, hear our prayer.
Raise our minds to desire the things of heaven, hear our prayer.

And soon, some must leave us for other places, be with them, Lord.

Lord, have mercy on them.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I shall know why

I shall know why, when time is over,
And I have ceased to wonder why;
Christ will explain each separate anguish
In the fair schoolroom of the sky.

He will tell me what Peter promised,
And I, for wonder at his woe,
I shall forget the drop of anguish
That scalds me now, that scalds me now.

~Emily Dickinson

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lectio Divina

~We were discussing lectio divina a couple of weeks ago. There's nothing more humbling than having blank faces stare back at you. Deflated me arrived home needing some comfort, so rooted round my library and found this from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.

Now Niels Lyhne will open to you, a book of splendors and depths; the more often one reads it, the more everything seems to be contained within it, from life's most imperceptible fragrances to the full, enormous taste of its heaviest fruits. In it there is nothing that does not seem to have been understood, held lived, and known in memory's wavering echo; no experience has been too unimportant, and the smallest event unfolds like a fate, and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide fabric in which every thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand and laid alongside another thread and is held and supported by a hundred others. You will experience the great happiness of reading this book for the first time, and will move through its numberless surprises as if you were in a new dream. But I can tell you that even later on one moves through these books, again and again, with the same astonishment and that they lose none of their wonderful power and relinquish none of the overwhelming enchantment that they had the first time one read them.

One just comes to enjoy them more and more, becomes more and more grateful, and somehow better and simpler in one's vision, deeper in one's faith in life, happier and greater in the way one lives. - From a letter dated April 23, 1093, Pisa, Italy

In Gratitude

They were unexpected...the cards and flowers left on my desk.

"Thank you for all that you did to help me come into the Church," one card said.

Here was a box of chocolates and there a vase of lavender tulips. And here was a bottle of hand lotion--a most practical gift. Through the winter months, my wearing of tipless gloves while teaching Catechumenate became a running joke. Catechumenate class fell in between Masses for which I had to play the organ. Thus, the gloves to keep my hands from getting cold and stiff.

Another wrote: "Your humble service was a testament to your love for God."

I felt a stab of guilt and embarrassment, knowing that I hardly deserved this kind of esteem. What did I do, really, but merely to share what I'd been given. And isn't that what we're all to do in fidelity to our baptismal vows?

Everyday, in the dimness of the church for early morning Mass, I receive the most incredible gift of all in the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Was there really a time when I wasn't Catholic? How did I manage? Yes, there was a time when I wasn't Catholic and it was very much like being on the outside peering into a window, wanting to be in that room next to the fire. But stubbornness had me returning to the familiar cold room where aching longing was a constant companion.

When my whole family and I were finally received into the Church, my priest gently patted my cheek and said softly, "Welcome home." How could I think about going into the pew to sit and not give that homecoming joy away.

So, no, the sacrifice wasn't really much of one. I received far more than I gave. It was a privilege to be there at the door welcoming the stranger in. And in return, I was drawn into intimate parlors where family pictures were shared, and life stories were exchanged. And what higher tribute is there than to be asked to have a picture taken with them, realizing that that snapshot will have its place in the family album.

This week, another round of inquiry classes begins, bringing a whole new set of people. I can't wait to hear their questions.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Driving Lessons

Our second son has reached an important rite of passage...learning to drive. He had been reluctant to take on this responsibility. I suspect that the reticence stems from watching his older brother be given the onerous task of being assistant family chauffeur, his life inevitably put on hold for the good of others. It's a lesson we all have to learn, and for mothers, it's the story of our calling...our life is not our own.

So, this past week during Easter holiday, we enrolled Son-Number-Two in driving school, telling him he couldn't put off the inevitable. His reluctance surprised me because this is the child who fearlessly skis down black diamond slopes, who took to sailing solo as naturally as breathing, who rock-climbs as well as he walks on flat ground, who plays a mean game of street hockey. I think he's dealing with what driving symbolizes--moving into grown-up territory. And that can sometimes be unnerving even to the most fearless of us.

Today on Quasimodo Sunday, especially for RCIA, I think of our neophytes who are learning to grow into the Catholic driving lessons, must take things at a reasonable pace. Learning to live out the sacramental life takes time. One was lamenting how in the world he could ever learn all the responses. I told him that we'll all be disoriented right along with him when the new Mass translations come out.

This morning, in spite of the Easter holiday and the torrential rain, some came to mystagogia. Their bright faces revealing an eagerness to share their Easter Vigil stories. There was solemn remembrance mixed in with laughter. The heartaches continue for this class as we received more bad news for several members. This has been the way with this class--a piling on of real life's dark valleys. But now, now, they have the Body and Blood of Christ. No longer will they have to step aside to let others pass. May the Body and Blood of Christ sustain them and strengthen them in their hours of testing.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Long-awaited Homecoming

They were an unlikely pair--Merric, built like a football linebacker tested in the rough neighborhoods of Philadelphia, and Grayson, sickly, gaunt with pained halting steps. Yet, Merric, for all his swagger chose the fragile Grayson for his sponsor. I watched the two of them huddled together at the RCIA retreat...Grayson reclining in his special chair with eyes closed and Merric in intense concentration speaking in low tones. Merric glanced up at me, sensing that I was looking at him. Whatever expression that he read on my face triggered a deep ho-ho laugh from him. I turned away to give them back their privacy to complete the task that I had given all the retreatants.

Later, Merric came up behind me and gave me a bone-crushing hug as he lifted me off the ground. "I'm so happy," he said into my hair. I swiveled around after he put me back down and peered into his face.

"Took you long enough," I teased. Again he answered in the Santa laugh that I'd come to love, eyes alight with bliss. Outside may have been cold and grey, but here standing before this giant of a man, I was dazzled by his smile.

It was a decade-long conversion with so much reluctance and unwillingness to overcome preconceived notions. But he faithfully came with his Catholic wife and children, self-consciously stepping aside for others to pass to receive Communion, Sunday after Sunday, year after year. I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for all the saints' and angels' prayers offered on his behalf. And in a few short hours would be his homecoming.

A few weeks earlier, at the Rite of Election, I spoke to his wife and squeezed her hand telling her how happy I was that Merric was finally coming into the Church. She burst into tears and said, "You have no idea."

Then at the Easter Vigil, just a few minutes before midnight, he finally received the Body and Blood of Our Lord. He crossed himself and looked up at the crucifix. There were tears in his eyes.

At the reception afterwards, I could hear his booming laughter above all the din. I wondered how long before he returned to his normal intimidating persona. A couple of days ago, we drove past each other in the street. When he recognized me, he gave me that transfigured smile and I knew that he'd not yet climbed down from the mountain.

Welcome home, Merric. Enjoy the feast!

Friday, April 13, 2007

What She Has

Her hands were clutching a prayerbook that was crisp and new, the gilded letters glowing in the eastern morning light which bathed the church. She sat hunched over in prayer as we daily communicants filed past her to receive the Body of Christ.

Here was a new face at daily Mass and instinctively, I knew that she must have been my early morning appointment.

"To whom it may concern," began the e-mail. "I would like to become a Catholic. Please tell me how." We made arrangements to meet this morning after Mass.

As I moved past her pew, I realized, here was not a casual seeker. If one can sense desire, hers was there in spades.

After Mass, I approached her and her companion who turned out to be her mother. I shook her mother's hands and noticed that she was struggling to maintain her equilibrium. No, this was not a casual decision on her daughter's part. I was intrigued.

"May I see the confessionals?" the daughter asked. What an unusual place to start a church tour. As we neared the confessional booths, mother and daughter walked slowly with a hushed reverence.

Did lightning strike? Because I certainly felt a powerful jolt at the moment...that I was witnessing something holy and powerful happening with these two people. I stopped in my tracks, feeling a bit of a voyeur.

At the end of the tour, I asked the daughter what drew her to the Catholic Church.

She looked at her mother with all the tender love and said, "She just became a Catholic this past weekend. And she's so happy. I want what she has."

I have been a practicing Christian all my life and I don't ever remember a time when I wasn't aware of walking before God. But at that moment, I fell in love all over again. And it was because of a young woman's desire to know God and become part of this mystical body. I hope I never grow weary of sharing this Faith.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

April Showers

They fell from the sky...huge white fluffy flakes of snow. At first I thought they were dogwood petals blowing in the wind, the sky grey, forbidding on this silent Holy Saturday. But word spread among the RCIA retreatants that yes, indeed, it's snow.

Out they ran, flicking out their cellphones to call home.

"This is Mama, get out of bed. It's snowing."

"Robbie, it's Daddy, guess what, it's snowing!"

And I, incredulous at the unlikely April showers that turned into snow, looked up into the sky, miniature meteorological missiles hurtling down landing softly on my eyelashes, my nose tickled by the cold sharpness of each. How right was this snow, just a few hours before the catechumens will be dressed in white garments...will be washed in the clean holy waters of Baptism.

I look around and relish the sound of laughter, joy and happiness for a cosmic event about to happen to them. Laughter, which for this class was buried under the storm of sorrow at deaths suffered, life-threatening illnesses discovered, even domestic violence experienced that befell this RCIA class in a few short months together.

"It's not always like this, I promise," said my pastor helping calm the anger I felt at the injustice of crisis upon crisis. Why this class, I asked? Why would the testing be so agonizing this first year? All I said yes to was to teach the Catechism. Having my heart pierced was not part of my plan.

Then here, under the falling snow, I recall St. Paul's words, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15). This wasn't a sterile classroom experience, it was learning to love as Christ loves...each of these Elect whom God called and is calling to himself. How can I remain distant from their intensely personal stories?

A few hours later, the church is dark save for the Paschal candle. "Christ our Light, " intones our pastor. "Thanks be to God" we respond. Yes, thanks be to God for the immeasurable Love that untiringly calls people back into his fold. Thanks be to God for the Light that pierces our darkened imagination flooding us with the knowledge that God is Love.

April showered us with God's grace.

The Land of the Unlikely

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
~W.H. Auden

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Old Maps

I love old maps. "Here be dragons" would denote dangerous and unexplored lands. In many ways, it's like being a catechist, a title which I wear most uncomfortably...this mantle thrust on my shoulders hastily. It is dangerous to say, "Yes". Dangerous to step into the shoes of a beloved predecessor. Dangerous to give away the Faith which I so recently embraced. Dangerous to open my heart to new people whom I might come to love.

When I was little, my family and I lived in the Tropics. There was an old mango tree in the front yard that I loved to climb. The higher the branches, the happier I was because I could see far away and from my vantage point, I could dream dreams. One day, inevitably, I fell out of that tree, but my guardian angel prevented anything serious from happening to me. I have the scars to remind me of my carelessness. But the fall wasn't enough to keep me from climbing again. Oh, what kingdoms I inhabited in that tree.

Perhaps it is safer to stay in my fluffy bathrobe and sit in my armchair sipping coffee, tut-tutting the cars speeding by my window. But that unexplored country would remain unexplored, the sites unseen, the people unmet. How poorer I would be.