Wednesday, May 26, 2010
My swell pal, Cricket, is one of the most decidedly Catholic people I know.
(There should be some way of rendering that word with both a small and a large "c" simultaneously, since he is an adherent of the religion as well as one of the most well-rounded and universal of my friends. I'm somewhat surprised his photo doesn't appear with the dictionary definitions. However, I digress.)
(I'm disappointed that my photo doesn't appear with digress. However, etc.)
Anyway, Cricket will sometimes write marvelous small expository essays concerning his faith. One of them, which you can find HERE - and which I'd recommend reading, if you wish to get the most from what follows at this address - concerns that peculiarly Catholic ritual, praying The Rosary.
Reading Cricket's piece will give you the soul of doing so, but here are the mechanics. The Rosary (which is both the name of the beads closely associated with Catholicism, and of the prayer sequence associated with the beads) consists of a repeated sequence of The Lord's Prayer (the "Our Father") followed by ten renditions of the Hail Mary (it's not just a desperation pass in football, folks) and then a "Glory Be to the Father" (which surely has a proper name, but that's what we called it in our neighborhood.) Each of these repetitions is known as a 'decade'. After each decade, the Mysteries (events in the lives of Jesus Christ and his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary) are recalled and meditated upon (or, in public group prayer, perhaps expounded upon a bit by the prayer leader, most often a priest.)
As much of a Catholic as I was (and still am, in many ways) the rosary was never something that did it for me. I understand all that Cricket says concerning it, of course, and it's not that reflection holds no gift for me - for instance, I especially enjoy the peace and connection with God one can acquire via walking a labyrinth - but The Rosary tends to put me in a mood that I think is less worthy of God's audience, not more. I find myself wishing for it to end. Perhaps I need to learn patience.
Well, all of that preamble leads to this: I have a couple of interesting little stories concerning Mary and they may lend a clue concerning the final disposition of my soul. When all is said and done, God will decide where I'm headed, but, in the meantime, you can offer your thoughts on the matter, if you wish.
(The order in which these two tales occurred may be of some small import if you wish to pursue the thought that one had an effect on the other. However, I truly can't recall which happened first. We'll pretend that they happened in the order given here, but feel free to switch them around as you desire.)
MY WIFE and I were attending Catholic mass one Sunday, and the priest was delivering a homily concerning the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. He elaborated upon what he felt was his own special connection to Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. He then asked for those who felt that they, too, had a special connection, to stand up and acknowledge that connection before both God and the assembly.
After a few uncomfortable seconds, one brave parishioner rose to his feet. As is often the case in such situations, this led to others becoming a bit more courageous. Another person stood. Then another. Then a couple more. Then MY WIFE stood (who, it should be mentioned, has a middle name that could be translated 'Mary', so she has that connection, and whom I have truly witnessed praying fervent devotions to Mary - for instance, she had a special crown of roses made, for our wedding ceremony, which she personally placed upon the head of the statue of Mary, prior to the ceremony proper - so she wasn't just being a total sheep.) Finally, when all was said and done, every person in the congregation had risen to his or her feet, except one.
I don't know what those people standing may have thought of me (if, indeed, they noticed me sitting) but I knew that I didn't have some sort of extraordinary connection or devotion to Mary that warranted me proclaiming it in public, and I felt I would have been a hypocrite and a liar to say, by the action of standing, that I did. So, I stayed seated. I like to think that my honesty in the situation was commendable. MY WIFE, on the other hand, loves to tell the story whenever Mary's name comes up in conversation, and she always starts it by saying, "Jim hates Mary. One time, in church..." I usually let her finish amusing herself (and, depending upon the religious convictions of those present, either shocking or delighting the listeners) before I set about defending what I believe was my wholly defensible inaction.
The other story concerns a vision of Mary. Or, in my case, not.
Milton Hospital, in Milton, Massachusetts, is only a few minutes drive from our former home in Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston. In 2003, we were visiting old friends in the area, so we decided to stop by the hospital to check out what was supposedly a miracle. There had been a sighting of The Virgin Mary at the hospital.
[At the linked site, scroll down slightly to entry #2.]
Actually, Mary herself had not been seen walking the corridors or anything, Rather, her image had appeared in one of the second-floor windows. Or so folks said, anyway, and we decided that, if it had, it would be truly fascinating to see.
(The photo at the top of this piece shows the window in question.)
I am open to the miraculous. I truly do believe that anything is possible with God. If you accept the concept of God, how could you believe otherwise? And I was truly hoping that the viewing of the window would show me something so startlingly clear and convincing that it would leave no doubt in my mind. I truly believed it could be, and I truly wanted it to be.
While MY WIFE and I stood there looking at the window, others would arrive and give out an audible gasp. A few fell on their knees and prayed. MY WIFE, for her part, saw the image. Me? For the life of me, I didn't see anything even remotely resembling Mary, or any representation of a being, celestial or otherwise. Zip, nada, zero, not a thing.
MY WIFE suggested that perhaps the sun was obscuring my sight, and that I shade my eyes. I did so. Still nothing. She then pointed at various sections of the window and explained what she saw. At that point, I could imagine something perhaps vaguely Madonna-like, but it was just that - imagination.
I believe in God. I haven't even a shred of doubt concerning God's existence. And I believe in Jesus Christ. He is my Lord and my savior. I am not a religious skeptic. I would have been extremely pleased to have seen the vision, but I did not. I was the only one in the crowd on that day who did not. As a matter of fact, I look at the photo above, no doubt taken and framed to show the vision to best effect, and I see something that one might, with vivid imagination, take to be a poor rendering of a Madonna statue of the type seen in some yards, but it is still as blurry and indistinct, to my eyes, as it was that first time I saw it. Had I not been told it was supposed to be Mary, I certainly never would have looked at it and reported to anyone else that I had been witness to a miracle.
So, do you see it? How do you feel about it? And what do you think my experiences, as related here, say about me? I'd like to think they say something good, but I have to think everybody else in attendance at both places (with the possible exception of MY WIFE) would believe otherwise.
Soon, with more better stuff.