A Few Thoughts in Holy Week

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I didn’t really do Lent for the kids this year and have been feeling guilty about it this week when I suddenly realized that Lent had hardly registered for them. Why didn’t I do more? Then I realized that Ash Wednesday fell in the period when I was still in recovery. Of course I didn’t plan any Lent. Now I feel up to it, but it’s too late to try to recover it. We’ll do Easter and then maybe next year I can figure out Lent for Bella. Maybe by then she can make her first confession during Lent and make her first communion on Easter or in Easter season? See if I can talk our pastor into going along with that. And Sophie and Ben too of course. Even Anthony will be three then. Yes, next year we’ll have a Plan.

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Meanwhile my sister arrives on Friday and I’m doing a happy dance. This year we’re doing an Easter potluck at my brother-in-law’s.. I just have to come up with some sides to go with the spiral hams. I am doing a leg of lamb Thursday. But with minimal fuss.

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So one of my Lenten plans for myself was to read Pope Benedict’s volume on the Infancy narratives. I read the first bit and was just blown away. Then I laid it aside, got distracted by some other books and only got back to it this week when I found it in a pile of books on my night table. When I spied the cover I realized that I hadn’t picked it up since Pope Benedict resigned. Not a conscious decision, but perhaps unconsciously it was a way of mourning him. I don’t think I could have faced reading it during the time when we didn’t have a pope. I felt so bereft. Not that I think he was wrong to step down, mind you. Just the discomfort, the dissonance. It’s not like we were mourning a death. And yet I don’t think I’d have been any sadder had he died suddenly and unexpectedly. I’d have had about the same feelings of sadness for myself and happiness on his behalf that he finally gets to rest. But this way is actually a little happier—selfishly so—seeing those pictures of him with Pope Francis made my heart sing. I was glad that his seclusion didn’t preclude that handful of photos.

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Anyway, now it’s Holy Week and as usual I feel woefully unprepared. My Lent was full of failures big and small. Once again the main thing I’ve got out of it is how puny my will power is and how impossible it is for me to change myself. No, if there’s any hope for me at all it’s in God’s endless mercy.

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A crucifixion scene for Holy Week.

However this morning I find that Bella is getting ready for the Triduum in her own way. On the bookshelf she has constructed a cross out of blocks. She’s found her paper dolls of Mary and Mary Magdalene. For now the knight in armor is standing in for Christ (how beautiful is that?) but she’s planning to make a new paper Christ to hang on the cross. Also she tells me she needs to make a Christ for the Last Supper who will be holding bread or a chalice. She also needs to make a St John, she says. And some apostles. 12 of them. I might not have the Montessori thing down. No beautiful wooden figurines. But Bella reminds me once again that it doesn’t matter. She will retell the story in her own way, with materials of her own making. And thus she makes it hers. And thus she teaches it to Ben and Sophie.

See how good God is. He provides where we fall short.

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Speaking of providing, the following will seem a strange way of seeing God’s generosity. I’m sure non-Catholics will only see it as proof of our nuttiness. Still… Last night was one of those terrible nights. First Sophie woke up with wet pajamas. Then Ben woke up from a nightmare and wanted to sleep on the chair in the living room. No sooner had I fallen asleep then he was crying again from another bad dream. I got him resettled with socks on his feet, a cup of water, his crucifix and Good Shepherd icon and St Benedict medal that my dad brought him from Subiaco. And then I went back to bed, having to nurse Lucy again because of course he’d woken her up. No sooner were we asleep then he was crying again and this time nothing I could do would comfort or console him. Prayers to his guardian angel were met with scorn, no we needed to go straight to Jesus. Prayers to Jesus were of no avail, he didn’t want to be left alone. So Dom was booted to the couch and Ben took his place in our bed. But by this time Lucy and I were thoroughly awake and both of us cranky as could be. I held her for another hour and a half, both of us sobbing in turn.

This morning as I glanced at the psalms over breakfast I was startled to find that the first psalm of Morning Prayer was an incredibly accurate picture of my early morning agony:

I cry aloud to God,
cry aloud to God that he may hear me.

In the day of my distress I sought the Lord.
My hands were raised at night without ceasing;
my soul refused to be consoled.
I remembered my God and I groaned.
I pondered and my spirit fainted.

You withheld sleep from my eyes.
I was troubled, I could not speak.
I thought of the days of long ago
and remembered the years long past.
At night I mused within my heart.
I pondered and my spirit questioned.

“Will the Lord reject us for ever?
Will he show us his favor no more?
Has his love vanished for ever?
Has his promise come to an end?
Does God forget his mercy
or in anger withhold his compassion?”

When all our attempts at penance and self mortification fail still we may find that we suffer agonies nevertheless. And perhaps those opportunities to suffer are themselves a sort of gift? Is it crazy and upside down to see them in that way? A Father giving me a chance to die to myself, to undergo the merest shadow of Chrisy’s agony in the garden? After all have I not been singing:

Thou who dost give the accepted time,
give, too, a heart that mourns for crime,
let those by mercy now be cured
whom loving – kindness long endured.

Spare not, we pray, to send us here
some penance kindly but severe,
so let Thy gift of pardoning grace
our grievous sinfulness efface.

Spare not we pray to send us here / some penance kindly but severe Who am I to refuse to see the answer to this prayer when it appears? From the perspective of daylight the agonies of 3 am seem overblown and melodramatic but in the early watches of the night the soul’s suffering is real. I wish I could say that I gracefully offered up my agony in sacrifice but I’m not that holy. No, I whined and complained and doubted and bemoaned my fate. I am so grateful for the Psalms that give perfect voice to those experiences so that I know I am not alone and that my doubts and sufferings too are encompassed within God’s boundless mercy.

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Tomorrow we enter into the sacred Triduum. May God, the Father, Son and Spirit, come to you in this holy time and bring you His peace.

 

 

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