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It was 1965, Holy Thursday evening at the Motherhouse in Rome, Italy.

I pressed my back against the straight chair, one of twelve lining the fringed edge of the Oriental rug covering the marble floor, then stole glances around the great parlor, transformed into a sanctuary for this evening’s ritual. Candelabra of beeswax candles cast shadows upon twenty-foot ceilings. Across from me stood a white-draped lectern, the Mass book opened to the gospel of John. Next to it was a table with white towels, a china basin and pitchers of water. Raised platforms held cloisonné urns filled with flaming gladiolas and bridle wreath that perfumed the air.

Behind me, footfalls of nuns formed concentric rows, their Libers in hand, some clearing throats, sneezing.

All was ready, but was I?

From an opposite door emerged the Superior General of our community and her counselors. In no time were the opening prayer and reading from John’s gospel read. A long pause followed. Like Jesus that night centuries ago, the stooped Superior General girded herself with a long towel and prepared to wash my feet and those of the other probanists sitting with me. She nodded to her counselors, then approached the first “disciple.” Strains of the chant Ubi caritas carried the profundity of this event as the washing began. I shuddered.

Then, it was my turn. I lifted the hem of my black habit and extended my bare foot over the basin held by one of the counselors. Water trickled over my instep, followed by its wiping, followed by the Superior General’s kiss.

It was over, the lesson learned, my body chilled with perspiration.

Throughout my life, other washings/purifications have offered correction, encouragement, forgiveness, and courage from which I‘ve emerged with élan. Yet, my end time’s psychic washing contains more shadow stuff to process: there seems no end of it—I’ll keep surrendering to the washing.

 

 

This week, many in the Christian world remember.

More than two centuries ago, a misfit was hounded to death on a cross atop a steep hill outside the city walls. Before sundown, friends removed his desiccated remains to a nearby cave for burial, then huddled together in secrecy lest they be discovered. Days of indescribable angst followed. The third day, several women sought out their beloved, only to find the tomb empty and an angel proclaiming his resurrection.

Empowered by this phenomenon, this man’s followers spread his teaching throughout the world. Deep joy spirited their footsteps toward neighboring villages; its flame ignited those who were receptive to its transforming message of littleness and service. Merriment tickled psyches, drew broad smiles.

But as with such divine in-breakings, its fire flickered. Materialism, secularism, and hedonism spawned other sophistries that undermined the humility and truth and simplicity, the very foundations of this life path. The pursuit of comfort and prestige and power became paramount, no matter the misery, even bloodshed, of those in the way.

Even the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) did little to deter this spiritual malaise.

Like “The Fool on the Hill,” alone, scorned, ignored, the Crucified still looks through the eyes of the poor, the afflicted, the harassed. He cannot stay away. These are his people and they know it.

But there’s more to this picture. Such suffering passes; within its wake easters in unfathomable LIFE. We are invited to participate, even now, within moments of grace.

 

 

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