(warning: LONG entry. But, it all ties together and I didn’t wanna break it into multiple sections)
Monday, April 25, 2011 – 11:18am – School Room @ Marian Home Mission House in Castries, St. Lucia
For the first time in my life, I spent Easter away from family. To the best of my recollection, I’ve never spent it overseas or away from family. There’s a first time for everything, right? I think a good recap of Holy Week and the week before is in order. (sidenote: I just realized it’s been over a month since I’ve had a regular journal entry. that’s flippin’ crazy. Usually i do it at least once a month. But that illustrates a point that I’m learning quite well: once you get into the mission field and get settled in, time begins to pass by quickly.)
The week before Holy Week was a really good week. We had our parish Lenten retreat. It was led by Brother Jeffers Paul, a layman from Dominica who works for his home diocese. I don’t really remember the theme of the retreat. As is usual with anytime i’m in church, I daydream even when I try not to, and have a hard time paying attention. But what I do remember is that he was a very passionate preacher. Not that passion and performance is everything, but being able to get excited about something you’ve devoted your life’s work to, says alot in my book. I could also tell that his life reflected what he preaches, which is what I think drew so many people to the retreat. It was the perfect blend of charism and orthodoxy. Besides the actual talks, which helped me to grow in my journey with Jesus, the sacrifice of my own will and plans to go to the talks and the closing Mass at the end of the retreat were also good for me. This is how the week basically went: Sid realized he’d have to get out of his comfort zone, sacrifice his own desires and plans, and not be able to sit at home to relax and veg out. Sid got mad. Sid went to the retreat anyways. Sid’s eyes were opened and he was blessed. Sid was then glad that he went and participated.
Palm Sunday was not much different from the 29 previous Palm Sundays I’ve experienced. What I did notice however was the lively faith of the parishioners at our church. Well, I’ve noticed it in bits and pieces before, in fleeting moments. But there was something about Palm Sunday where I really noticed it. The best way to sum it up is that for the recessional hymn, I was waving my palm around like there was no tomorrow, dancing to the music and being joyful in the Lord. Genuinely joyful in the Lord. Not just faking it. Playing around with the kids as we started to walk out of church.
The next three days were fairly non-descript. We had our normal daily routine of prayer, Mass, meals, ministry, fellowship, etc……. The routine took a backseat once Wednesday evening rolled around and we attended the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral. For those unfamiliar with it, the primary things occurring at that Mass, besides the miracle of the Eucharist are 1.)Priests renewing their vows, and 2.) Bishop consecrating the holy oils to be used by the priests for the year. It was my first Chrism Mass ever. Even in the age of priest shortages, it was truly amazing to see all the priests from the whole diocese together on the same altar. Makes the priest shortage not seem as bad. I was also really blessed by the loving words spoken by the archbishop. The other thing I remember most about this Mass was the blessing of the oils. Part of this blessing involves the bishop breathing on the oils, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and is also a reflection of Scripture, where the Spirit hovered over the waters during Creation, and when God breathed into Adam to give him life.
Thursday night was the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It’s when we focus on The Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist. For this Mass, me and Mark, my mission partner, were chosen as two of the twelve men selected to represent the apostles for the foot washing ceremony during the Mass. Again, the Scriptural symbolism of this is a real and powerful way of internalizing the virtue of humility. It was humbling for me to have my feet washed, cuz i’m definitely not worthy. And it was also humbling for me to have to lower myself to the seemingly mundane task of washing someone else’s feet. It was the first time in my life I have experienced being part of the foot washing ceremony.
Good Friday had a very sacrificial feel to it, as it should. Our church parish has the tradition of doing the Way of the Cross starting at 4am. If you thought you knew early and tired, you don’t know early and tired until you’ve done Way of the Cross at 4am! 🙂 It was a beautiful thing though. We started at the doorstep of our church with the first station, did the meditation, and then following the person who was carrying a wooden cross, walked through the streets stopping along the way to do each of the stations. We had a truck with a loud speaker on top so that everyone could hear the choir leader singing the hymns and the people leading the prayers. About halfway through the stations, we paused on the road we were on and prayed a chaplet while we waited for the other church parishes to meet up with us. By the time the other group met up with us, we were 4 church parishes total. And, I kid you not, by the time we reached the end of the Way of the Cross, the crowd was easily 2000 people. It was quite a sight to see, this massive crowd of people walking through town, praying and meditating on Jesus’ own Good Friday journey. We too had people along the way that were, as I shall attempt to diplomatically put it, not reverent towards what we were doing. We also experienced a little bit of physical discomfort. That’s what I love so much about the Catholic faith, it makes the experience of God real in a very physical and present way.
After we were done with that Way of the Cross, we headed back to the mission house to have a cup of coffee, and try to regain a little bit of strength. Then, me and Mark went with our pastor and his driver to a little mountainside community that is within the boundaries of our parish, and did another Way of the Cross. Although it was not as long, it was also a walking Way of the Cross. We started at a parishioner’s house about a mile or two down the road from the chapel. As we got ready to do the Way of the Cross, and everyone else assumed their duties, no one had take up the cross yet (literally). So by chance, but perhaps by Divine Providence, I became bearer of the Cross. I had not set out to assist at this Way of the Cross with that intention, but I was happy to be able to do so. In the same way as the first Way of the Cross earlier that morning, it had some lifelike similarities and characteristics to Jesus’ Way of the Cross. We had those who were less than thrilled with what we were doing, though thankfully not many. At one point during the walk, the car with the loudspeaker we were using was parked on the side of another car that was on the side of the road, while we stopped to do one of the stations outside the house of a blind lady who was a parishioner. As we were about halfway through the station, a bus was coming up the road in the opposite direction. Seemingly unable to wait three or four more minutes, a man got off the bus and complained and said we needed to get out of the way. That in itself, while it may have manifested some impatience was not really out of place or unjustified. It was when the guy, maybe after seeing the wooden cross we were carrying, or seeing the plaster relief of the Station we were meditating on that was being held by Mark, made a comment in frustration about “Catholics worshipping statues”. Like I said, small thing overall, but it was a small “persecution” of sorts, that made the Way of the Cross seem that much more authentic and real. There was also the physical discomfort associated with such a journey. In St. Lucia, the weather is summer year round, literally. Lows are never below the 70’s with daily highs in the mid to upper 80’s. Even earlier in the morning, it still gets hot and sweaty. Add to that the exhaustion and tiredness I was already feeling, plus the headache and neckache, and it made for a very poignant and real experience. In the end, I was thankful for such an experience, and that God revealed to me things that I could improve upon.
After a break for a few hours, we headed back to our church parish at 2 for a meditation on the seven last words (phrases/utterances) of Jesus. Again, I had a hard time focusing, and didn’t remember much of what was said. But what I do remember was good stuff, and the opportunity to further try and sacrifice myself to be more available to God was good for me to experience. Then at 3 we had the Veneration of the Cross. It’s basically a liturgy, but it’s not a Mass, because there’s no liturgy of the Eucharist. The liturgy of the Eucharist is left out on Good Friday, because that’s something that first occurred on the first Holy Thursday at the first ever Lord’s Supper. On Good Friday, we remember Jesus’ death and that he’s in the tomb, and one of the ways we do that is by not celebrating the liturgy of the Eucharist and the consecration of the bread and wine into Jesus’ actual body and blood. The precious body and blood of Jesus that is consumed on Good Friday was already consecrated the day before and held in the tabernacle. We were told on Good Thursday that the “apostles” who did the foot washing ceremony would have to bring their robes on Friday because we might be asked to represent them again. Because of this, I wore a small white t-shirt and a pair of shorts to church so that I would not be too hot underneath my robe. Normally I don’t wear this kind of wardrobe to church. But when we got there, we found out that we wouldn’t have to wear the robes. Not thinking far enough in my preparations, I had failed to bring a pair of pants that I could slip on so as to be more presentable in my dress at the service. So, as to not be too much of a distraction, I sat almost all the way in the back. For the part of the service where everyone walks up to kiss the Cross, I stayed in my pew. There was only one line, and the Cross was all the way in the front. I know Jesus loves me anyways, but i did not want to distract or cause scandal by my casual dress. However, I was blessed to still be able to receive Jesus precious body and blood. When it came time for that, the area I was sitting had a Eucharistic minister at the halfway point of the pews, instead of all the way up in front. Plus, it was a side aisle. So, I felt like the combination of not having to walk past many people (and thus not being a distraction), plus feeling called by Jesus to receive his precious body and blood, justified my decision. After the Veneration of the Cross, we were quite happy to return home. We had been so busy the previous 2 days that it was nice not having anything scheduled.
Saturday morning was a normal workday. Shoveled some compost that quite literally smelled like crap. Smell didn’t leave my hands for a full day, no matter how many times I washed them, or how many times i used hand sanitizer or poured rubbing alcohol on them. It still hasn’t completely left my workboots and work gloves. Finished off the workday by cleaning my room, doing laundry, eating lunch, and taking a nap. Woke up, played games with the kids and hung out, and then had supper. After supper, had some more downtime and then I showered, dressed, and got ready for the vigil, which was to start at 10pm. Right before we left, I downed a cup of coffee, which coupled with my later than usual in the afternoon nap, proved to aid me in staying awake at the Easter Vigil Mass. Atypical of St. Lucia/the Carribean, the Mass was really close to starting on time (things here are rarely on time). Only about ten minutes late. Had the lighting and blessing of the fire outside, we all lit our candles, and processed inside. Had the Liturgy of the Word, complete with it’s 9 scripture readings, the Homily, the baptisms and confirmations, and of course, the Liturgy of the Eucharist where we got to receive the precious body and blood of Jesus. The thing that I was expecting but was not prepared for, was the length of the Vigil Mass. Over here, a normal weekday Mass is 30-45 minutes, and a Sunday Mass is about 2 hours. All in all, Mass here, in whatever form or time of year, is twice the length of what it is in the States. So, I knew that the Vigil Mass was going to be long. Monsignor told us that it was going to end at 3. However, it “only” lasted until about 2:30. But, it wasn’t hard like I thought it would be. The reason the Masses here last so long is that there’s ALOT of singing. So while it makes Mass longer, it also helps things to pass by quickly. After we left church, we arrived home and happily acquainted ourselves with our beds. 🙂 Easter Sunday (yesterday) was a good day. Had a lazy and relaxed morning, ate Easter candy and chocolate, played games, and got to talk to my family on the phone. It really was a blessing to be able to talk to my nieces and parents. Then yesterday evening, we went to the Chancery to participate in the Knights of Columbus Easter Family Gathering. Several of the Knights and their family members (including the Eckstines) did various musical performances and then we enjoyed fellowship and dinner together. Among the various people I got ot visit with, I met a young woman from Canada, who is in St. Lucia for 3 months, living at the orphanage run by some Dominican sisters. It’s part of her Master’s degree program, and she’s helping to come up with a strategic plan for the future of the home. It was a blessing to meet at talk with her, because one of the things I lack here are people close to my age that I can visit and establish community with. The more fellowship and community we have, the more fulfilled we are, and the less likely we are to go looking for love in all the wrong places. What’s interesting is that she’s not Catholic. She’s Indian, though she talks and acts like a “normal/typical” Canadian or American because she’s lived in Canada her whole life. She didn’t say what religion she was either. I hope that I can receive some extra graces from God to represent my Catholic faith in a way that is loving and inspiring, and at the very least, does not turn her off to Christianity and Catholicism. And my real hope is that somehow I can plant a seed that leads her to a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Now I sit here, enjoying my day. It’s a national holiday today (Easter Monday), so we’ve been taking it easy. Did some reading and prayer earlier today. After I finish this entry, I’m going with the Eckstine to a local friend’s house to visit for a few hours. PTL for all of these blessings. Until next time, I leave you with a bible passage I stumbled upon recently……..
“Coasts and islands, listen to me, pay attention, distant peoples. Yahweh called me when I was in the womb, before my birth he had pronounced my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, he hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me into a sharpened arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, ‘Israel, you are my servant, through whom I shall manifest my glory.’ But I said, ‘My toil has been futile, I have exhausted myself for nothing, to no purpose.’ Yet all the while my cause was with Yahweh and my reward with my God. And now Yahweh has spoken, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him and to re-unite Israel to him;-I shall be honoured in Yahweh’s eyes, and my God has been my strength. He said, ‘It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I shall make you a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of earth.’ ” –Isaiah 49:1-6–