The Crowd of Witnesses

Crowd in St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis’ first Angelus blessing March 17. (Photo: Joshua J. McElwee/NCR)

I hate crowds.

I hate being in the middle of a mass of people. I hate standing in long lines. I hate traffic jams. And I hate elevators most of all.

Maybe it’s because I’m claustrophobic. Or because I’ve lived in big cities most of my life. But I would rather be in a big, open space, either by myself or with a few people, with room to stretch out and breathe.

I hate crowds. With one exception.

As much as I love praying alone in a beautiful old church, I love it even more when I’m surrounded by people at Mass. I love joining my prayers with others and I love seeing the long lines leading up to the altar as each member of the Body of Christ takes a turn receiving the Body of Christ.

And in my imagination I can see all the people in all the churches in the world united with Christ. One Bread, One Body.

And that unity goes beyond the Mass. When I say the familiar prayers with my family or I pray the Liturgy of the Hours, trying to time my prayers to coincide with the monks at Mt. Angel Abbey (as much as my schedule allows) I know that I am part of that great cloud of witnesses.

That great crowd of witnesses. In heaven and on earth. The Communion of Saints.

That’s the one crowd I want to be in.

Five Minute Friday

Note: This Five Minute Friday post was delayed one day due to circumstances beyond my control, but since I usually take longer than five minutes to write these posts, consider it a Six-Minute Saturday.

Broken and Whole

Bowl repaired with gold laquer

Kintsukuroi (Photo via Google Image Search)

I broke my arm when I was twenty-one years old. I was playing flag football on a muddy field when I fell awkwardly and snapped my right humerus (upper-arm bone) at its midpoint. It was the most intense physical pain I’d ever experienced.

The bone healed in time, but now—over twenty-five years later—I have a bump in the middle of my right upper arm that always reminds me of that day and that injury.

We break and we heal, but we carry the scars with us for the rest of our lives.

We are like kintsukuroi (or kintsugi), the Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold lacquer. Like kintsukuroi, we are both broken and whole, and our cracks are both visible and beautiful.

For they are the record of our lives.

Five Minute Friday

Living in the “In Between”

We are in an in-between time.

It’s summer. Anna is between grades. She is also between schools, which wasn’t something we planned—we hoped to give her some of the stability I lacked in bouncing from school to school—but we felt like we had no choice.

I’m between books. Deciding the next one to read—which will take a day or two—and the next one to write—which may take a little longer.

Julia’s in a in-between place at work too. She’s taking on new responsibilities while still handling old ones. At some point, we hope these new responsibilities will evolve into a new and better paying position. But for now she’s in between too.

Everyone in some way is in between. In between past and future. In between an old life and a new life. In between the mistakes we learn from and the plans we make  to do better next time.

It’s easy to look back with nostalgia or regret, or ahead with anxiety or excitement. It’s tempting to dwell in the past or daydream about the future.

It’s harder to live in the present. To be present to the in between.

But that’s where we are and it’s the only place where our choices and our actions matter.

Here.

Now.

Living in the “In Between.”

Five Minute Friday

Broken for You

Crucifixion

Paolo Veronese, The Crucifixion (16 Century)

This is my Body, broken for you.
This is my Blood, shed for you.

O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
“Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.”

O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us your peace.
Today you shall be with me in paradise.

Behold the wood of the Cross.
Behold the Lamb of God.
Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.

“O Lord I am not worthy . . . but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

It is finished.
It has begun.

For “truly this is the Son of God.”

Amen.

Five Minute Friday

God With Us

Four lit Advent candles

Photo: Elmar Ersch (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The seventh and final O Antiphon, which will be chanted tonight at Vespers at monasteries around the world:

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Emmanuel: God with us. This is the meaning of Christmas. In a cave—which is what the “stable” in Bethlehem really was—born to a poor teenaged girl: a powerless child of a powerless mother in the shadow of the most powerful empire the world had ever known.

God chose not to come in power and glory, but in humility. He chose not to stop all the suffering in the world—and we struggle to understand why—but he chose to suffer with us.

God is with us. In our joy and in our sorrow. He is with all the children who eyes will light up on Christmas morning when they see their presents wrapped and left under a tree, and he’s with the parents who children are not with them anymore: not this Christmas or any other.

And he is with those children too, for nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death.

God is with us.

December 23

Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.

A Different Kind of King

Christ the Redeemer, Rio De Janiero, Brazil

Photo: Sean Vivek Crasto

The sixth O Antiphon, which will be chanted tonight at Vespers at monasteries around the world:

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

All of these antiphons allude to the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah, with their promise of a coming king. But what kind of king? One that would rule by force and terror as all kings had in Isaiah’s time and throughout human history? Or did these prophecies point to a different kind of king? One that “shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks”? (Isaiah 2:4) A peaceable king for a peaceable kingdom?

O King of the nations, save us, for our desire is to be at peace:

December 22

Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.

The Sun Rises and the World Goes On

Painting of sunrise over the Catskills

Thomas Cole, Sunrise in the Catskill Mountains (1826)

The fifth O Antiphon, which will be chanted tonight at Vespers at monasteries around the world:

O Rising Sun, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

The sun rose today, just like every other day. The world didn’t come to an end. But for twenty-six families in Connecticut, the world as they knew it ended a week ago.

And yet the sun still rose today. I’ve read that the only way to live through profound, life shattering grief is to get through each day as it comes, but I can’t imagine how people begin to do that. I can’t imagine how someone grieving that deeply can muster the act of will to take another breath.

The sun rises and the world goes on, but not for them. They are still in darkness. All I can do is pray that eventually the day will dawn once more and the morning star will rise in their hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

O Rising Sun, enlighten those who dwell in the shadow of death:

December 21

Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.