June 26, 2016

Wretched Flesh Heaped Up In A Corner

Today was my turn for the Sunday Mass at the Bethlemite Sisters' old folks home. I enjoy taking my turn. The Mother Superior leads the singing from the back pew with her very particular voice. The Sister Sacristan is very funny. To save washing I guess, she has a large collection of little boxes in the sacristy in which she keeps each priest's purificator from Mass to Mass. Mine used to be labeled P. Carlo tedesco, "Fr. Charles [the] German," to distinguish me from my confrere P. Carlo italiano. I guess at first they thought I was a German. Now my box says P. Carlo tedesco USA.

USA! USA!

Anyway, today I think it was the hottest Mass I had ever celebrated. The weather report says it's only 90 degrees out today, so that's not hot enough or Italians--left to their own judgment--to turn on the air conditioning. (For Italians and air conditioning, see various reflections easily searchable online, which I need not duplicate for fear of falling into fraternal uncharities.) I don't think it was any cooler in the chapel.


Sure, we had some hot days back at good old Sacred Heart in Yonkers, especially after a few sunny days had heated up the bricks real nice. But there we always had a couple of fans in the sanctuary, and the merciful breeze that might pass across the sanctuary between the propped open side door to Convent Ave. and the friars' chapel. (Passing also by the door on which the stained glass window depicts, according to me, St. Norbert, against the opinion of certain pastors who say it's St. Dominic.)

No such mercies at the Sisters' today. Not to be gross, but I was sweating outrageously. So much so that I was very careful when making the slight bow at the institution narrative not to sweat onto the sacred species! I read once that this was one of the original purposes of the maniple, to be a kind of hanky for sweaty celebrants. But no maniple for me. Thanks Tres abhinc annos!

The point is that I was nonetheless very happy. Happy to have been given, even with all my distraction and sin, this beautiful and mysterious service at the altar of the Lord's Sacrifice, happy to love the people he gave me to pray with today, doing my best to gather up their own prayers into that same one Sacrifice.

I think these are very precious moments in the spiritual journey, these moments when we have an experience of spiritual joy even in the midst of some more earthly affliction, whether that be something as simple and bodily as the heat or something touching more on the interior person like depression or anxiety. We experience, at least for that moment, the spiritual truth that our deliverance from suffering doesn't exactly mean we don't suffer anymore, but that we have found ourselves within a reality that it is greater than ourselves, and more beautiful, joyful, and durable than our suffering.

In fact, our suffering can even make this distinction more apparent, more clear. I think that perhaps this is what the saints were about when they experienced a desire to suffer; they wished to see more clearly the peace and beauty of the divine reality on which their truest selves stood, and were able to do so better when this experience was in contrast with their experience of their own wretchedness.

During Holy Communion, I was reminded of Simone Weil's description of her experience at Solesmes:
In 1938 I spent ten days at Solesmes, from Palm Sunday to Easter Tuesday, following all the liturgical services. I was suffering from splitting headaches; each sound hurt me like a blow; by an extreme effort of concentration I was able to rise above this wretched flesh, to leave it to suffer by itself, heaped up in a corner, and to find a pure and perfect joy in the unimaginable beauty of the chanting and the words. This experience enabled me by analogy to get a better understanding of the possibility of loving divine love in the midst of affliction. It goes without saying that in the course of these services the thought of the Passion of Christ entered into my being once and for all. (Waiting for God)

1 comment:

Judy Kallmeyer said...

What a blessing that the wonder and beauty of the Holy Mass was able to lift you above the discomforts of the heat! The Lord certainly wanted to communicate to you something of His loving nature and there is no better place to experience this than in the Mass. For what greater sign do we have, other than the cross, of Jesus' great love for us, love that He never stops giving to us. I praise Him for your experience.