Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Today I took the day off work and drove down to my hometown to honor the life and memory and offer prayers for a man who was a father figure for me in some very difficult years.
The other night at my brother's house, we discussed our memories of our friend and near-relative, realizing together how like a father he was to us. He had no children of his own, but was one of those people who was often called upon for help...and he was always there. He taught me to drive, he taught me how to shoot and handle weapons, and he taught me how to Polka. He and my brother had a special connection through their love of music and the guitar.
Dancing the Polka
Oh, yes. I still remember the evening P. taught me to dance.
I grew up in a town that contained three Catholic churches, all within walking distance, and that evening Mom and I went to the Saturday vigil Mass at St. Lawrence, then attended the parish festival afterwards. A polka band played loudly, we could smell hamburgers and popcorn, barbecue sandwiches and cole slaw....all to the lively rhythm of polka.
I remember that he invited me to dance, and I didn't know how. His wife told me to go...she loved dancing, said he could show me how. And indeed, he did. He loved to dance, he loved music, he loved people, and in between our convesations about guns and law enforcement, we hit the pavement of the parking lot and danced a lively jig while others walked the cakewalk or tipped back a brew in the beer tent.
He and Mom had grown up together, and he was a natural part of our family. Even though he wasn't really a cousin to me, he was so for Mom. Today Mom told us how he helped to tear down the barn at the old family farm when she was a child, and I remember from years ago her confession that he taught her how to smoke after he came back from the Vietnam War.
She doesn't smoke anymore.
Today was hard. I walked into the Church of the Immaculate Conception, not realizing how small it really was. The last time I'd been there, it was the largest parish in our town, and it's where the "rich people" attended Mass. But it was a beautiful Church, constructed of grey stone, the sanctuary was a a perfect grotto, with a couple small rose windows. I took in the beautiful stained glass, wishing that, as a teen, I'd understood what was there. With no surprise, after we were seated in a pew, I looked up at a wonderful window depicting Christ in His Agony. How appropriate.
One of my greatest devotions is to Jesus in His Agony in the Garden.
The funeral was quite dignified, the deacon who gave the homily was family to our beloved deceased, and spoke clearly and accurately, in both a rememberance and an exhortation to exemplify Christ.
But it was hard to believe who we were sending off. I still can't quite grasp that he's gone.
I guess I'm still in the agony.
This was the last time I'll be in that church. It seems that Immaculate Conception is scheduled to be razed at some point in the near future. This town that used to have three Catholic churches has only one now, spread in between different properties. They are building another one on the outskirts of the city, and once I saw the model, I wept. It is the typical modern design. Typical lateral theology. I understand building a new church...I don't understand why modern architects can't honor the sacred architecture that draws us uncompromisingly towards Christ and takes us out of ourselves.
I took a few photos before I left, quite conscious of the fact that our departed friend would have been doing the same, as the holder of the office of picture-taking.
En route out of town, I stopped at my home parish, where I'd been Confirmed when I was fifteen. The funeral reception was supposed to be there, although the guests were still at the cemetary. In the solitude, I went inside and into the sanctuary where I'd spent so many hours of my life as a teenager.
The church was dark, but Christ was still present, evidenced by the flickering red candle on the right side altar, just as He'd always been. This house of God wasn't the same, but at least it wasn't vacant.
The white marble altar on the right that held the tabernacle was so familiar, and so was the matching one on the left, sporting the Risen Christ.
The church was too dark to take photographs, but it was perfect for prayer. I walked up the aisle on the right, passing the detailed stained glass windows. Remembering the same walk every Sunday, remembering Confessions made in this very space. Remembering...
Nearing the front, I knelt, right in the side aisle, knowing I had to apologize. For all the years I entered the Presence of Christ...and did not acknowledge Him. For all the years I cantored, not even understanding the meaning of that candle. I knelt there, on the same thin, tan carpet, remembering all the years spent in that church. But not knowing what it was all about. Still understanding that in my ignorance, Jesus had taken over, and I am only alive because of that time spent at His feet.
It's still home. Jesus is still there. He always was, even though I didn't understand. Even though I didn't know Him...He knew me.
I'll never forget the arching supports, I'll never forget that side altar, I'll never forget standing in the choir, singing for Jesus, playing my flute for Jesus.
It used to be so big, and now....it seems so small.
Sacred Heart has already been partially stripped. The big crucifix is gone, moved to the new construction. I hear they've taken the tabernacle from St. Lawrence, and I pray they save the stained glass from ALL the churches. That is art that cannot be reproduced. It's our history. Our patrimony. The white cloth that represents the resurrection in the place of the absent Cross does nothing other than emphasize the impending demolition of the buliding.
Today has been such a strange day. It's been a trip through my pre-teen through graduation years. Our old house is still there, but painted, and somewhat run down. Our our church...losing ground. It's not the vibrant place it was when we arrived. I'll never forget Father P. who made us so welcome, whose big hands were always read to grasp ours. He died of cancer only a few years after we moved to that town. But our parish embraced us. It became home.
I prayed to Father today, asking for his intercession. The hall below is named for him...and now that hall will be sold. Where does his memory go? We are his children...where do we go?
The bell towers are silent, the bells having been moved to the new contraption they call a "church".
I wished I had more time today. I wished I could stay in the shadows of the Sacred Heart, reaching for the elusive light cast by the flickering candle. But I couldn't.
I did kneel before the sacred shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, a shrine I've twice visited in Mexico. That wasn't there in my teen years, although our hispanic population was growing. It is clear they found a home at Sacred Heart, too. It's so sad; those who found a home away from their own country are having to flee again.
In my life as a suburban Catholic, I've congratulated myself and my diocese of avoiding the heartache that has attacked so many others around the country. And meanwhile, back home, still in the same diocese, my own home is being lost. One church has already been sold, the tabernacle take away. Today when I drove past, I crossed myself, thinking Christ was there. He wasn't. Jesus has left the building...and it's no longer a church. Just a bunch of stones, heaped one upon another. Once a witness to God's glory, now...just a shell of memories to be razed or remodeled according to the whim of the buyer.
What a gift to enter Sacred Heart. Jesus was waiting. There I was, how many years later? Coming home. Kneeling in adoration. Remembering the liturgies, the choir rehearsals...my first Christmas as a flautist. My first experience, at Christmas, as a Cantor. The book thrust into my hands with the command from the choir director: "Sing this!" as she took off to assist where help was needed.
What child is this, who laid to rest, in Mary's lap is sleeping?
The shadows spoke to me. The glow from the windows. The flicker of the presence of Christ.
Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in Him and not be afraid... ~ 1st Song of Isaiah
It wasn't an elaborate church, but it was welcoming. It was reverent. It made sense. It draws one to Christ.
When I turned to go, in the back stood my brother, who had arrived with Mom, and waited for me. Almost embarassed, I joined him, and took a photograph of the stained glass depicting the namesake: The Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I said goodbye to my family today, there in the basement of that parish hall, where we'd spent so many years. I walked up the steps alone, and knelt in the center aisle, bowing to Jesus. Atoning for all those years of ignorance. Knowing He understood.
A bittersweet homecoming. A little girl grown up. Another home lost.
A new parish formed, from the vestiges of the old.
Fr. Peichel, pray for us.
Sacred Heart of Jesus...have mercy on us.
Divine Heart of Jesus...I trust in thee.